It’s the inalienable role of state: to engender and maintain security. It’s the premise of our institutions, our engagement with the outside world, and embodies the very foundation of that which allows democratic systems to function, trust. An essential character, a faith, in political actors to know and relay fact – sustaining a system that can, and should, reconfigure, transform, again and again, into whichever configuration best serves the polity, the people.
The term ‘security’ is multifaceted. Of course, there is a defensive, military face to state security, but, taken in fundamental form, security renders the preservation of stability – the insulation of a world, a state and its people, from destabilising forces – be they militaristic, natural, economic and so on. Security, is the very ability for a citizen to go about his or her business, to pursue the betterment of his or her position in the free-market, to, as S-Club once put it, ‘reach for the stars’.
The very function of self-replicating democracy is dependent on the notion of superior access to knowledge – a popular faith in the capacity of political actors to ‘read the manual’, cover to cover, to grasp the state and its systems, in all their complexities, to foresee and fortify from threats to state security, in its broadest terms.
It’s not terror, nor rouge states, that have embodied the most pervasive security threats to have faced the United Kingdom over the last several decades – the unpleasant features of this mantle are resoundingly economic. The 2008 global financial crisis inflicted a universal insecurity – a mortal uppercut at the jaw, the head, of the tenuous relationship between government, knowledge and trust.
Essentially, what the global financial crisis wrought was a severing of the claims of the highest echelons to a superior knowledge, a superior understanding. What we have witnessed since, as successive governments and institutions have grappled to quell the violence of the beast that couldn’t be known, is the proliferation of this undermining. In the advent of a rapidly integrating global financial apparatus, and a continued commitment to an economic orthodoxy that failed to appreciate the intrinsic role of banks and financial institutions, for global leaders, economists, and experts more broadly, there simply was no manual to be read.
Consider the complicity of the Blair government – acknowledged by the contentious statesman himself, in a 2012 Sky News interview. Blair is not a critic, but remains a staunch proponent of a strong financial sector. Nonetheless, Labour have failed to recover from their ‘too close for comfort’ association with economic incomprehension, ceding ground to populist fervour – the SNP, north of Hadrian’s Wall, and the Tories, pretty much everywhere else. The necessity of Blair’s 2012 proclamation is debatable. If the outcomes of the 2010 and 2015 General Election cycles signify nothing else, it’s popular acknowledgement of the decimation of Labour’s claim to access to knowledge – a persisting malady.
Then-candidate Trump and the pro-Brexit arm of the Conservatives illustrates an interesting, if not morally reprehensible, retort to the end of superior access to knowledge and political apathy. More than decline, such movements have flourished, rolling about in the sordid mud of popular political dissatisfaction. The once-precarious confidence of entire citizenries has been undercut by the fallibility of government, glaringly exposed by the financial crisis. The degree of this erosion has been extensive enough to allow such movements as Trump and Brexit to position themselves as harbingers of a new-kind of interpretive politics – one in which sweeping, oft-fictional statements and promises are no longer subject to rational debate, to the refutation and corroboration of evidence and outright fact.
This is truly the age of alternatives, a post-truth, post-fact era has emerged with the demise of popular trust in the political arena’s access to supreme knowledge – spurred by the fatal blow of the 2008 financial crisis. No political agent is blameless for this erosion. Every proponent of non-committed manifesto points, every allusion to ‘Big Society’ that manifests in welfare cuts and tax-breaks for the 1%, is complicit in the death of truth, working only to exacerbate the political apathy wrought by the crisis. Perhaps, in the advent of Scotland’s seemingly inevitable second independence referendum, and the prospect of Irish reunification, power should read-up on the splintering implications of the demise of supreme access to knowledge in the Soviet Union, Arab-Spring states, and Ukraine. In an arena increasingly defined by populist fervour, our democratic leaders would prove wise not to consider themselves immune to such existential threats.