The Guardian

Why we stopped trusting elites. By William Davies

William Davies, sociólogo y escritor británico

29 noviembre 2018 / THE GUARDIAN

More from this series: The new populism

For hundreds of years, modern societies have depended on something that is so ubiquitous, so ordinary, that we scarcely ever stop to notice it: trust. The fact that millions of people are able to believe the same things about reality is a remarkable achievement, but one that is more fragile than is often recognised.

At times when public institutions – including the media, government departments and professions – command widespread trust, we rarely question how they achieve this. And yet at the heart of successful liberal democracies lies a remarkable collective leap of faith: that when public officials, reporters, experts and politicians share a piece of information, they are presumed to be doing so in an honest fashion.

The notion that public figures and professionals are basically trustworthy has been integral to the health of representative democracies. After all, the very core of liberal democracy is the idea that a small group of people – politicians – can represent millions of others. If this system is to work, there must be a basic modicum of trust that the small group will act on behalf of the much larger one, at least some of the time. As the past decade has made clear, nothing turns voters against liberalism more rapidly than the appearance of corruption: the suspicion, valid or otherwise, that politicians are exploiting their power for their own private interest.

This isn’t just about politics. In fact, much of what we believe to be true about the world is actually taken on trust, via newspapers, experts, officials and broadcasters. While each of us sometimes witnesses events with our own eyes, there are plenty of apparently reasonable truths that we all accept without seeing. In order to believe that the economy has grown by 1%, or to find out about latest medical advances, we take various things on trust; we don’t automatically doubt the moral character of the researchers or reporters involved.

Much of the time, the edifice that we refer to as “truth” is really an investment of trust. Consider how we come to know the facts about climate change: scientists carefully collect and analyse data, before drafting a paper for anonymous review by other scientists, who assume that the data is authentic. If published, the findings are shared with journalists in press releases, drafted by university press offices. We expect that these findings are then reported honestly and without distortion by broadcasters and newspapers. Civil servants draft ministerial speeches that respond to these facts, including details on what the government has achieved to date.

A modern liberal society is a complex web of trust relations, held together by reports, accounts, records and testimonies. Such systems have always faced political risks and threats. The template of modern expertise can be traced back to the second half of the 17th century, when scientists and merchants first established techniques for recording and sharing facts and figures. These were soon adopted by governments, for purposes of tax collection and rudimentary public finance. But from the start, strict codes of conduct had to be established to ensure that officials and experts were not seeking personal gain or glory (for instance through exaggerating their scientific discoveries), and were bound by strict norms of honesty.

But regardless of how honest parties may be in their dealings with one another, the cultural homogeneity and social intimacy of these gentlemanly networks and clubs has always been grounds for suspicion. Right back to the mid-17th century, the bodies tasked with handling public knowledge have always privileged white male graduates, living in global cities and university towns. This does not discredit the knowledge they produce – but where things get trickier is when that homogeneity starts to appear to be a political identity, with a shared set of political goals. This is what is implied by the concept of “elites”: that purportedly separate domains of power – media, business, politics, law, academia – are acting in unison. Advertisement

A further threat comes from individuals taking advantage of their authority for personal gain. Systems that rely on trust are always open to abuse by those seeking to exploit them. It is a key feature of modern administrations that they use written documents to verify things – but there will always be scope for records to be manipulated, suppressed or fabricated. There is no escaping that possibility altogether. This applies to many fields: at a certain point, the willingness to trust that a newspaper is honestly reporting what a police officer claims to have been told by a credible witness, for example, relies on a leap of faith.

A trend of declining trust has been underway across the western world for many years, even decades, as copious survey evidence attests. Trust, and its absence, became a preoccupation for policymakers and business leaders during the 1990s and early 2000s. They feared that shrinking trust led to higher rates of crime and less cohesive communities, producing costs that would be picked up by the state.

“What nobody foresaw was that, when trust sinks beneath a certain point, many people may come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham.”

What nobody foresaw was that, when trust sinks beneath a certain point, many people may come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham. This happens not because trust in general declines, but because key public figures – notably politicians and journalists – are perceived as untrustworthy. It is those figures specifically tasked with representing society, either as elected representatives or as professional reporters, who have lost credibility.

To understand the crisis liberal democracy faces today – whether we identify this primarily in terms of “populism” or “post-truth” – it’s not enough to simply bemoan the rising cynicism of the public. We need also to consider some of the reasons why trust has been withdrawn. The infrastructure of fact has been undermined in part by a combination of technology and market forces – but we must seriously reckon with the underlying truth of the populists’ charge against the establishment today. Too often, the rise of insurgent political parties and demagogues is viewed as the source of liberalism’s problems, rather than as a symptom. But by focusing on trust, and the failure of liberal institutions to sustain it, we get a clearer sense of why this is happening now.

The problem today is that, across a number of crucial areas of public life, the basic intuitions of populists have been repeatedly verified. One of the main contributors to this has been the spread of digital technology, creating vast data trails with the latent potential to contradict public statements, and even undermine entire public institutions. Whereas it is impossible to conclusively prove that a politician is morally innocent or that a news report is undistorted, it is far easier to demonstrate the opposite. Scandals, leaks, whistleblowing and revelations of fraud all serve to confirm our worst suspicions. While trust relies on a leap of faith, distrust is supported by ever-mounting piles of evidence. And in Britain, this pile has been expanding much faster than many of us have been prepared to admit.

Confronted by the rise of populist parties and leaders, some commentators have described the crisis facing liberalism in largely economic terms – as a revolt among those “left behind” by inequality and globalisation. Another camp sees it primarily as the expression of cultural anxieties surrounding identity and immigration. There is some truth in both, of course – but neither gets to the heart of the trust crisis that populists exploit so ruthlessly. A crucial reason liberalism is in danger right now is that the basic honesty of mainstream politicians, journalists and senior officials is no longer taken for granted.

There are copious explanations for Trump, Brexit and so on, but insufficient attention to what populists are actually saying, which focuses relentlessly on the idea of self-serving “elites” maintaining a status quo that primarily benefits them. On the right, Nigel Farage has accused individual civil servants of seeking to sabotage Brexit for their own private ends. On the left, Jeremy Corbyn repeatedly refers to Britain’s “rigged” economic system. The promise to crack down on corruption and private lobbying is integral to the pitch made by figures such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro or Viktor Orbán.

One of the great political riddles of recent years is that declining trust in “elites” is often encouraged and exploited by figures of far more dubious moral character – not to mention far greater wealth – than the technocrats and politicians being ousted. On the face of it, it would seem odd that a sense of “elite” corruption would play into the hands of hucksters and blaggards such as Donald Trump or Arron Banks. But the authority of these figures owes nothing to their moral character, and everything to their perceived willingness to blow the whistle on corrupt “insiders” dominating the state and media.

Liberals – including those who occupy “elite” positions – may comfort themselves with the belief that these charges are ill-founded or exaggerated, or else that the populists offer no solutions to the failures they identify. After all, Trump has not “drained the swamp” of Washington lobbying. But this is to miss the point of how such rhetoric works, which is to chip away at the core faith on which liberalism depends, namely that power is being used in ways that represent the public interest, and that the facts published by the mainstream media are valid representations of reality.

“Populists target various centres of power, including dominant political parties, mainstream media, big business and the institutions of the state, including the judiciary.”

Populists target various centres of power, including dominant political parties, mainstream media, big business and the institutions of the state, including the judiciary. The chilling phrase “enemies of the people” has recently been employed by Donald Trump to describe those broadcasters and newspapers he dislikes (such as CNN and the New York Times), and by the Daily Mail to describe high court judges, following their 2016 ruling that Brexit would require parliamentary consent. But on a deeper level, whether it is the judiciary, the media or the independent civil service that is being attacked is secondary to a more important allegation: that public life in general has become fraudulent.

Nigel Farage campaigning with Donald Trump in 2016.
Nigel Farage campaigning with Donald Trump in 2016. Photograph: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

How does this allegation work? One aspect of it is to dispute the very possibility that a judge, reporter or expert might act in a disinterested, objective fashion. For those whose authority depends on separating their public duties from their personal feelings, having their private views or identities publicised serves as an attack on their credibility. But another aspect is to gradually blur the distinctions between different varieties of expertise and authority, with the implication that politicians, journalists, judges, regulators and officials are effectively all working together.

It is easy for rival professions to argue that they have little in common with each other, and are often antagonistic to each other. Ostensibly, these disparate centres of expertise and power hold each other in check in various ways, producing a pluralist system of checks and balances. Twentieth-century defenders of liberalism, such as the American political scientist Robert Dahl, often argued that it didn’t matter how much power was concentrated in the hands of individual authorities, as long as no single political entity was able to monopolise power. The famous liberal ideal of a “separation of powers” (distinguishing executive, legislative and judicial branches of government), so influential in the framing of the US constitution, could persist so long as different domains of society hold one another up to critical scrutiny.

But one thing that these diverse professions and authorities do have in common is that they trade primarily in words and symbols. By lumping together journalists, judges, experts and politicians as a single homogeneous “liberal elite”, it is possible to treat them all as indulging in a babble of jargon, political correctness and, ultimately, lies. Their status as public servants is demolished once their claim to speak honestly is thrown into doubt. One way in which this is done is by bringing their private opinions and tastes before the public, something that social media and email render far easier. Tensions and contradictions between the public face of, say, a BBC reporter, and their private opinions and feelings, are much easier to discover in the age of Twitter.

“Whether in the media, politics or academia, liberal professions suffer a vulnerability that a figure such as Trump doesn’t, in that their authority hangs on their claim to speak the truth.”

Whether in the media, politics or academia, liberal professions suffer a vulnerability that a figure such as Trump doesn’t, in that their authority hangs on their claim to speak the truth. A recent sociological paper called The Authentic Appeal of the Lying Demagogue, by US academics Oliver Hahl, Minjae Kim and Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, draws a distinction between two types of lies. The first, “special access lies”, may be better termed “insider lies”. This is dishonesty from those trusted to truthfully report facts, who abuse that trust by failing to state what they privately know to be true. (The authors give the example of Bill Clinton’s infamous claim that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”.)

The second, which they refer to as “common knowledge lies”, are the kinds of lies told by Donald Trump about the size of his election victory or the crowds at his inauguration, or the Vote Leave campaign’s false claims about sending “£350m a week to the EU”. These lies do not pretend to be bound by the norm of honesty in the first place, and the listener can make up their own mind what to make of them.

What the paper shows is that, where politics comes to be viewed as the domain of “insider” liars, there is a seductive authenticity, even a strange kind of honesty, about the “common knowledge” liar. The rise of highly polished, professional politicians such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton exacerbated the sense that politics is all about strategic concealment of the truth, something that the Iraq war seemed to confirm as much as anything. Trump or Farage may have a reputation for fabricating things, but they don’t (rightly or wrongly) have a reputation for concealing things, which grants them a form of credibility not available to technocrats or professional politicians.

At the same time, and even more corrosively, when elected representatives come to be viewed as “insider liars”, it turns out that other professions whose job it is to report the truth – journalists, experts, officials – also suffer a slump in trust. Indeed, the distinctions between all these fact-peddlers start to look irrelevant in the eyes of those who’ve given up on the establishment altogether. It is this type of all-encompassing disbelief that creates the opportunity for rightwing populism in particular. Trump voters are more than twice as likely to distrust the media as those who voted for Clinton in 2016, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, which adds that the four countries currently suffering the most “extreme trust losses” are Italy, Brazil, South Africa and the US.

It’s one thing to measure public attitudes, but quite another to understand what shapes them. Alienation and disillusionment develop slowly, and without any single provocation. No doubt economic stagnation and soaring inequality have played a role – but we should not discount the growing significance of scandals that appear to discredit the honesty and objectivity of “liberal elites”. The misbehaviour of elites did not “cause” Brexit, but it is striking, in hindsight, how little attention was paid to the accumulation of scandal and its consequences for trust in the establishment.

The 2010 edition of the annual British Social Attitudes survey included an ominous finding. Trust in politicians, already low, had suffered a fresh slump, with a majority of people saying politicians never tell the truth. But at the same time, interest in politics had mysteriously risen.

To whom would this newly engaged section of the electorate turn if they had lost trust in “politicians”? One answer was clearly Ukip, who experienced their greatest electoral gains in the years that followed, to the point of winning the most seats in the 2014 elections for the European parliament. Ukip’s surge, which initially appeared to threaten the Conservative party, was integral to David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership. One of the decisive (and unexpected) factors in the referendum result was the number of voters who went to the polls for the first time, specifically to vote leave.

What might have prompted the combination of angry disillusionment and intensifying interest that was visible in the 2010 survey? It clearly predated the toughest years of austerity. But there was clearly one event that did more than any other to weaken trust in politicians: the MPs’ expenses scandal, which blew up in May 2009 thanks to a drip-feed of revelations published by the Daily Telegraph.

Following as it did so soon after a disaster of world-historic proportions – the financial crisis – the full significance of the expenses scandal may have been forgotten. But its ramifications were vast. For one thing, it engulfed many of the highest reaches of power in Westminster: the Speaker of the House of Commons, the home secretary, the secretary of state for communities and local government and the chief secretary to the treasury all resigned. Not only that, but the rot appeared to have infected all parties equally, validating the feeling that politicians had more in common with each other (regardless of party loyalties) than they did with decent, ordinary people.

Many of the issues that “elites” deal with are complex, concerning law, regulation and economic analysis. We can all see the fallout of the financial crisis, for instance, but the precise causes are disputed and hard to fathom. By contrast, everybody understands expense claims, and everybody knows lying and exaggerating are among the most basic moral failings; even a child understands they are wrong. This may be unfair to the hundreds of honest MPs and to the dozens whose misdemeanours fell into a murky area around the “spirit” of the rules. But the sense of a mass stitch-up was deeply – and understandably – entrenched.

The other significant thing about the expenses scandal was the way it set a template for a decade of elite scandals – most of which also involved lies, leaks and dishonest denials. One year later, there was another leak from a vast archive of government data: in 2010, WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of US military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. With the assistance of newspapers including the New York Times, Der Spiegel, the Guardian and Le Monde, these “war logs” disclosed horrifying details about the conduct of US forces and revealed the Pentagon had falsely denied knowledge of various abuses. While some politicians expressed moral revulsion with what had been exposed, the US and British governments blamed WikiLeaks for endangering their troops, and the leaker, Chelsea Manning, was jailed for espionage.

Rupert Murdoch on his way to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry in 2012.
Rupert Murdoch on his way to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry in 2012. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

In 2011, the phone-hacking scandal put the press itself under the spotlight. It was revealed that senior figures in News International and the Metropolitan police had long been aware of the extent of phone-hacking practices – and they had lied about how much they knew. Among those implicated was the prime minister’s communications director, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who was forced to resign his post and later jailed. By the end of 2011, the News of the World had been closed down, the Leveson inquiry was underway, and the entire Murdoch empire was shaking.

The biggest scandal of 2012 was a different beast altogether, involving unknown men manipulating a number that very few people had even heard of. The number in question, the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, is meant to represent the rate at which banks are willing to loan to each other. What was surreal, in an age of complex derivatives and high-frequency trading algorithms, was that this number was calculated on the basis of estimates declared by each bank on a daily basis, and accepted purely on trust. The revelation that a handful of brokers had conspired to alter Libor for private gain (with possible costs to around 250,000 UK mortgage-holders, among others) may have been difficult to fully comprehend, but it gave the not unreasonable impression of an industry enriching itself in a criminal fashion at the public’s expense. Bob Diamond, the CEO of Barclays, the bank at the centre of the conspiracy, resigned in July 2012.

Towards the end of that year, the media was caught in another prolonged crisis, this time at the BBC. Horror greeted the broadcast of the ITV documentary The Other Side of Jimmy Savile in October 2012. How many people had known about his predatory sexual behaviour, and for how long? Why had the police abandoned earlier investigations? And why had BBC Newsnight dropped its own film about Savile, due to be broadcast shortly after his death in 2011? The police swiftly established Operation Yewtree to investigate historic sexual abuse allegations, while the BBC established independent commissions into what had gone wrong. But a sense lingered that neither the BBC nor the police had really wanted to know the truth of these matters for the previous 40 years.

It wasn’t long before it was the turn of the corporate world. In September 2014, a whistleblower revealed that Tesco had exaggerated its half-yearly profits by £250m, increasing the figure by around a third. An accounting fiddle on this scale clearly had roots at a senior managerial level. Sure enough, four senior executives were suspended the same month and three were charged with fraud two years later. A year later, it emerged that Volkswagen had systematically and deliberately tinkered with emissions controls in their vehicles, so as to dupe regulators in tests, but then pollute liberally the rest of the time. The CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned.

“We didn’t really learn anything from WikiLeaks we didn’t already presume to be true,” the philosopher Slavoj Žižek observed in 2014. “But it is one thing to know it in general and another to get concrete data.” The nature of all these scandals suggests the emergence of a new form of “facts”, in the shape of a leaked archive – one that, crucially, does not depend on trusting the secondhand report of a journalist or official. These revelations are powerful and consequential precisely because they appear to directly confirm our fears and suspicions. Resentment towards “liberal elites” would no doubt brew even in the absence of supporting evidence. But when that evidence arises, things become far angrier, even when the data – such as Hillary Clinton’s emails – isn’t actually very shocking.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the scandals of the past decade, nor are they all of equal significance. But viewing them together provides a better sense of how the suspicions of populists cut through. Whether or not we continue to trust in politicians, journalists or officials, we have grown increasingly used to this pattern in which a curtain is dramatically pulled back, to reveal those who have been lying to or defrauding the public.

Another pattern also begins to emerge. It’s not just that isolated individuals are unmasked as corrupt or self-interested (something that is as old as politics), but that the establishment itself starts to appear deceitful and dubious. The distinctive scandals of the 21st century are a combination of some very basic and timeless moral failings (greed and dishonesty) with technologies of exposure that expose malpractice on an unprecedented scale, and with far more dramatic results.

Perhaps the most important feature of all these revelations was that they were definitely scandals, and not merely failures: they involved deliberate efforts to defraud or mislead. Several involved sustained cover-ups, delaying the moment of truth for as long as possible.

Several of the scandals ended with high profile figures behind bars. Jail terms satisfy some of the public demand that the “elites” pay for their dishonesty, but they don’t repair the trust that has been damaged. On the contrary, there’s a risk that they affirm the cry for retribution, after which the quest for punishment is only ramped up further. Chants of “lock her up” continue to reverberate around Trump rallies.

In addition to their conscious and deliberate nature, a second striking feature of these scandals was the ambiguous role played by the media. On the one hand, the reputation of the media has taken a pummelling over the past decade, egged on by populists and conspiracy theorists who accuse the “mainstream media” of being allied to professional political leaders, and who now have the benefit of social media through which to spread this message.

The moral authority of newspapers may never have been high, but the grisly revelations that journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler represented a new low in the public standing of the press. The Leveson inquiry, followed soon after by the Savile revelations and Operation Yewtree, generated a sense of a media class who were adept at exposing others, but equally expert at concealing the truth of their own behaviours.

On the other hand, it was newspapers and broadcasters that enabled all of this to come to light at all. The extent of phone hacking was eventually exposed by the Guardian, the MPs’ expenses by the Telegraph, Jimmy Savile by ITV, and the “war logs” reported with the aid of several newspapers around the world simultaneously.

But the media was playing a different kind of role from the one traditionally played by journalists and newspapers, with very different implications for the status of truth in society. A backlog of data and allegations had built up in secret, until eventually a whistle was blown. An archive existed that the authorities refused to acknowledge, until they couldn’t resist the pressure to do so any longer. Journalists and whistleblowers were instrumental in removing the pressure valve, but from that point on, truth poured out unpredictably. While such torrents are underway, there is no way of knowing how far they may spread or how long they may last.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in Belfast in April 2018
Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in Belfast in April. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The era of “big data” is also the era of “leaks”. Where traditional “sleaze” could topple a minister, several of the defining scandals of the past decade have been on a scale so vast that they exceed any individual’s responsibility. The Edward Snowden revelations of 2013, the Panama Papers leak of 2015 and the HSBC files (revealing organised tax evasion) all involved the release of tens of thousands or even millions of documents. Paper-based bureaucracies never faced threats to their legitimacy on this scale.

The power of commissions and inquiries to make sense of so much data is not to be understated, nor is the integrity of those newspapers and whistleblowers that helped bring misdemeanours to light. In cases such as MPs’ expenses, some newspapers even invited their readers to help search these vast archives for treasure troves, like human algorithms sorting through data. But it is hard to imagine that the net effect of so many revelations was to build trust in any publicly visible institutions. On the contrary, the discovery that “elites” have been blocking access to a mine of incriminating data is perfect fodder for conspiracy theories. In his 2010 memoir, A Journey, Tony Blair confessed that legislating for freedom of information was one of his biggest regrets, which gave a glimpse of how transparency is viewed from the centre of power.

Following the release of the war logs by WikiLeaks, nobody in any position of power claimed that the data wasn’t accurate (it was, after all, the data, and not a journalistic report). Nor did they offer any moral justification for what was revealed. Defence departments were left making the flimsiest of arguments – that it was better for everyone if they didn’t know how war was conducted. It may well be that the House of Commons was not fairly represented by the MPs’ expenses scandal, that most City brokers are honest, or that the VW emissions scam was a one-off within the car industry. But scandals don’t work through producing fair or representative pictures of the world; they do so by blowing the lid on hidden truths and lies. Where whistleblowing and leaking become the dominant form of truth-telling, the authority of professional truth-tellers – reporters, experts, professionals, broadcasters – is thrown into question.

The term “illiberal democracy” is now frequently invoked to describe states such as Hungary under Viktor Orbán or Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In contrast to liberal democracy, this model of authoritarian populism targets the independence of the judiciary and the media, ostensibly on behalf of “the people”.

Brexit has been caused partly by distrust in “liberal elites”, but the anxiety is that it is also accelerating a drift towards “illiberalism”. There is a feeling at large, albeit among outspoken remainers, that the BBC has treated the leave campaign and Brexit itself with kid gloves, for fear of provoking animosity. More worrying was the discovery by openDemocracy in October that the Metropolitan police were delaying their investigation into alleged breaches of electoral law by the leave campaign due to what a Met spokesperson called “political sensitivities”. The risk at the present juncture is that key civic institutions will seek to avoid exercising scrutiny and due process, for fear of upsetting their opponents.

Britain is not an “illiberal democracy”, but the credibility of our elites is still in trouble, and efforts to placate their populist opponents may only make matters worse. At the more extreme end of the spectrum, the far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, has used his celebrity and social media reach to cast doubt on the judiciary and the BBC at once.

Yaxley-Lennon has positioned himself as a freedom fighter, revealing “the truth” about Muslim men accused of grooming underage girls by violating legal rules that restrict reporting details of ongoing trials. Yaxley-Lennon was found guilty of contempt of court and jailed (he was later released after the court of appeal ordered a retrial, and the case has been referred to the attorney general), but this only deepened his appeal for those who believed the establishment was complicit in a cover-up, and ordinary people were being deliberately duped.

The political concern right now is that suspicions of this nature – that the truth is being deliberately hidden by an alliance of “elites” – are no longer the preserve of conspiracy theorists, but becoming increasingly common. Our current crisis has too many causes to enumerate here, and it is impossible to apportion blame for a collective collapse of trust – which is as much a symptom of changes in media technologies as it is of any moral failings on the part of elites.

But what is emerging now is what the social theorist Michel Foucault would have called a new “regime of truth” – a different way of organising knowledge and trust in society. The advent of experts and government administrators in the 17th century created the platform for a distinctive liberal solution to this problem, which rested on the assumption that knowledge would reside in public records, newspapers, government files and journals. But once the integrity of these people and these instruments is cast into doubt, an opportunity arises for a new class of political figures and technologies to demand trust instead.

The project that was launched over three centuries ago, of trusting elite individuals to know, report and judge things on our behalf, may not be viable in the long term, at least not in its existing form. It is tempting to indulge the fantasy that we can reverse the forces that have undermined it, or else batter them into retreat with an even bigger arsenal of facts. But this is to ignore the more fundamental ways in which the nature of trust is changing.

The main feature of the emerging regime is that truth is now assumed to reside in hidden archives of data, rather than in publicly available facts. This is what is affirmed by scandals such as MPs’ expenses and the leak of the Iraq war logs – and more recently in the #MeToo movement, which also occurred through a sudden and voluminous series of revelations, generating a crisis of trust. The truth was out there, just not in the public domain. In the age of email, social media and cameraphones, it is now common sense to assume that virtually all social activity is generating raw data, which exists out there somewhere. Truth becomes like the lava below the earth’s crust, which periodically bursts through as a volcano.

What role does this leave for the traditional, analogue purveyors of facts and figures? What does it mean to “report” the news in an age of reflexive disbelief? Newspapers have been grappling with this question for some time now; some have decided to refashion themselves as portals to the raw data, or curators of other people’s content. But it is no longer intuitively obvious to the public why they should be prepared to take a journalist’s word for something, when they can witness the thing itself in digital form. There may be good answers to these questions, but they are not obvious ones.

Instead, a new type of heroic truth-teller has emerged in tandem with these trends. This is the individual who appears brave enough to call bullshit on the rest of the establishment – whether that be government agencies, newspapers, business, political parties or anything else. Some are whistleblowers, others are political leaders, and others are more like conspiracy theorists or trolls. The problem is that everyone has a different heroic truth-teller, because we’re all preoccupied by different bullshit. There is no political alignment between figures such as Chelsea Manning and Nigel Farage; what they share is only a willingness to defy the establishment and break consensus.

If a world where everyone has their own truth-tellers sounds dangerously like relativism, that’s because it is. But the roots of this new and often unsettling “regime of truth” don’t only lie with the rise of populism or the age of big data. Elites have largely failed to understand that this crisis is about trust rather than facts – which may be why they did not detect the rapid erosion of their own credibility.

Unless liberal institutions and their defenders are willing to reckon with their own inability to sustain trust, the events of the past decade will remain opaque to them. And unless those institutions can rediscover aspects of the original liberal impulse – to keep different domains of power separate, and put the disinterested pursuit of knowledge before the pursuit of profit – then the present trends will only intensify, and no quantity of facts will be sufficient to resist. Power and authority will accrue to a combination of decreasingly liberal states and digital platforms – interrupted only by the occasional outcry as whistles are blown and outrages exposed.

• William Davies is a sociologist and political economist at Goldsmiths. His latest book is Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World

• Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

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‘The only Olympic legacy I see is repression and war’ – a year in the life of Rio’s favelas

guardianFew visitors to Rio 2016 will see behind the ‘wall of shame’ – colourful murals that screen off the city’s poorer communities. Here, young journalists from three of the biggest favelas look back on 12 months scarred by Zika, landslides and the ramping up of police violence.

The Maré favela is one of many poor communities that continue to suffer despite the growth and media attention surrounding the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The Maré favela is one of many poor communities that continue to suffer despite the growth and media attention surrounding the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Jonathan Watts, Thaís Cavalcante, Daiene Mendes and Michel Silva. Additional reporting by Shanna Hanbur, 2 agosto 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

When the Guardian asked community journalists in three of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas to start a year-long diary last August, few could have predicted just how tumultuous the following 12 months would prove for their city and Brazil.

Read more:
From the streets to the Games:
Brazilian Olympians’ extraordinary stories

The idea was for the young reporters – Daiene Mendes in Alemão, Michel Silva in Rocinha and Thaís Cavalcante in Maré – to record life in their communities as the city geared up to host the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics – an event that has brought R$39.1bn (£9.1bn) in spending, but also far more police activity.

Many of their entries – extracted below – are filled with tension and violence as they describe being woken by police helicopters and going to sleep with the sound of shooting outside their homes. The number of killings is worse than some war zones. All too often, they write, the police are to blame.

Some of their views are contentious. For their own safety, the three reporters are limited in their ability to touch on the subject of the drug-trafficking gangs that still dominate their communities. Public security authorities dispute their claims that police pacification units (UPPs) in Alemão and Rocinha, and increased operations in Maré (which has no UPP) have led to more violence. Many academics believe the situation in Rio would be worse if police resources were only used to protect rich neighbourhoods. The city government says it has improved the lives of favela residents by building more roads, upgrading public transport and opening more schools and clinics.

But such benefits – which vary enormously from place to place – are overshadowed by conflict, which the diarists believe has worsened with the upcoming Olympics. They have also had to deal with the Zika outbreak, recession, government budget cuts, the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff and (in Rocinha) mudslides.

By any measure, it has been an extraordinary year. But, what also comes through in the diaries is how residents in the favelas get on with their lives, celebrate festivals, share achievements and support one another. The Olympics and the police, it seems, merely get in the way. Jonathan Watts

Michel Silva, reporting from Rocinha. Daiene Mendes, reporting from Alemão. Thaís Cavalcante, reporting from Maré. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

Michel Silva, reporting from Rocinha. Daiene Mendes, reporting from Alemão. Thaís Cavalcante, reporting from Maré. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

21 August 2015 – Rocinha

A teenage resident is killed today during a shootout between drug traffickers and police. It barely makes the news. Rio de Janeiro is more focused on the Olympic test events in the richer areas of the city. Shootouts and killings in favelas are rarely reported. There are many clashes between police and gangs. When two armed powers operate in the same territory, confrontation is inevitable.

“A teenager is killed in a shootout between drug traffickers and police. Unlike the Olympics, it barely makes the news”.
Michel Silva

23 September – Maré

My bus home is stopped by a protest. I don’t discover the cause until I arrive home. Hours earlier, 11-year-old Herinaldo Vinícius de Santana was fatally shot in the head on the way to buy a ping-pong ball. He is the second young victim this month in Maré. According to data released by Amnesty International, more than half of registered killings by on-duty police in Rio de Janeiro between 2010 and 2013 were of young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Of those killed, 79% were black.

30 September – Alemão

At 10am, a young man, 20-year-old Deyverson Avelino, is shot dead in the Canitar neighbourhood of Alemão. The favela is flooded with police. Residents say Avelino died on the spot, but police claim he succumbed to his wounds at the emergency care unit. Sometimes the police lie. There have been times when I have seen something happen, then requested a press release from the police, who have provided a completely different story.

Favelas are often flooded with police. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Favelas are often flooded with police. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

31 October – Alemão

The NGO Voice of the Community, which I used to work for, holds a festival for children in Alemão’s Olympic Village, a large sports complex. The event lights up the community with the smiles of hundreds of local kids. It is a lot of fun. In the evening, the police hand out baskets of basic necessities in the Alvorada neighbourhood. It is an attempt to win over the residents. The gangs used to provide this service so now the police have sort of taken over the task.

17 October – Rocinha

Rocinha is very tense after the shooting of two young men in the favela in less than 24 hours. One of the injured, Adson da Conceição Figueiredo, 24, was shot by police during a raid. The other, whose identity was never revealed, was shot while hiking from Rocinha to Chacara do Céu in Leblon. Angry residents block a highway in protest and the UPP commander requests reinforcement to control the situation. Police use teargas, pepper spray and rifle fire to suppress the demonstration.

24 October – Alemão

Commerce in Alemão is ordered to shut down after police kill a drug-trafficking gang member, 26-year-old Paulo Ricardo da Silva, known as PL or Polho. The gang insists all shops close to mourn him.

2 December – Rocinha

A pregnant woman has to be rescued from a landslide in the Trampolim neighbourhood of Rocinha after a thunderstorm hits our community. Storms are always a concern because people build houses on slopes where the ground is not stable. Construction is supposed to be prohibited, but everyone knows the authorities won’t do anything.

 ‘I am infected by the Zika virus. I don’t plan to get pregnant any time soon but, if I do, I will worry whether my baby will be born healthy.’ Photograph: Buda Mendes/LatinContent/Getty

‘I am infected by the Zika virus. I don’t plan to get pregnant any time soon but, if I do, I will worry whether my baby will be born healthy.’ Photograph: Buda Mendes/LatinContent/Getty

5 December – Maré

There is growing concern about the Zika virus in the news. It seems to hit favelas hardest. In Maré, I’ve seen at least six people who have been infected. I am one of them. Often, when we get sick, doctors at public hospitals will not see us because they are not being paid their salaries. And when they prescribe medicines, we are left to pay for them. I had to go home and wait until I got better. The reports say it can cause problems in foetuses, but we don’t have enough information. I don’t plan to get pregnant any time soon but, if I do, I will worry whether my baby will be born healthy.

6 December – Rocinha

Tour operators treat favelas like zoos, but that might end soon. A motion to reform the “safari trips” through favelas was tabled in the municipal government today by councillor Célio Lupparelli, who says the visits are arranged by companies from outside the favela who pay little heed to the cultural, historical and artistic aspects of our community. Instead, tourists just focus on degradation, poverty, violence and misery and leave without any interaction with local culture.

13 December – Rocinha

Rocinha social networks were buzzing today with a community appeal to raise money for a family who lost everything in a fire. It is often the case that the community fills the gap left by social services. If we waited for the authorities, it would take too long because of the bureaucracy involved.

25 December – Rocinha

Instead of Christmas cheer, there was fear in Rocinha after a shootout between police and locals that left one dead and six injured. Jorge Arui, a 49-year-old merchant, was killed on his way to the shops to buy bread. Locals said the gunfight started after the police demanded music from a party be turned off.

2 January 2016 – Alemão

It’s 5.40pm and I hear shots nearby. Over time, your ears grow accustomed. The volume and crack tell you how far you are from the gunfire and whether it is from a powerful weapon. I would rather not learn these things, but it is not a matter of choice: it is a question of survival. My ears are used to it, but my heart is not. The closer the shots, the stronger it beats. Each time, the symptoms are the same: pounding heart, cold trembling hands, eyes wide open and all senses on alert.

19 January – Maré

The construction of the Factory of Tomorrow School – a municipal educational project – is underway. It has been a long time since the authorities invested so much time and money in our children. The promises came only after they announced the World Cup and Olympics. It will be good to have more schools in Maré – but it’s frustrating that our demands are not met without political motivations.

Ongoing preparation at Porto Maravilha ahead of the Olympics. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty

Ongoing preparation at Porto Maravilha ahead of the Olympics. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty

23 January – Maré

The community is full of energy today as we celebrated summer in Maré with a pre-carnival street party. Our goal is to have this event recognised as one of the city’s blocos or neighbourhood parades. Everyone met at the Lona Cultural, a hub for music and other events, in the heat of the afternoon and then we sweatily partied our way towards the Pontilhão at night. This is an area that was taken over by the military but today we occupied it with dancing and festivity. The drummers kept up a strong rhythm, people painted their faces, mothers in brightly coloured clothes brought their young children along. We will have other blocos at the Pontilhão. The police put their armoured cars there, but we bring baile funk and go to play at the nearby amusement parks and skating rinks. I think it’s important to occupy these areas as a form of resistance.

29 January – Rocinha

My sister, Monique, witnessed a shooting and robbery inside the Rebouças tunnel, which links the north and south zones of Rio. According to the military police, a motorbike was stolen and the victim was shot twice in the arm. The incident caused panic. Drivers feared it was a mass robbery and abandoned their cars to run outside the tunnel. There is a frightening climate of fear in this city. People head off to work each morning, not knowing whether they will return home in the evening.

9 February – Alemão

I go to a carnival party in Inhaúma, which ends in chaos at 2am when police try to drive through the crowd to turn off the sound. Locals throw beer bottles. Police respond with shots and stun grenades. For more than 30 years, the state had not been present in Rio’s favelas, and now it is mostly represented by military police. The police can’t be the solution because they are protagonists and lack legitimacy.

“I go to a party that ends in chaos. Locals throw bottles.
Police respond with shots and stun grenades.”
Daiene Mendes

22 February – Maré

Today, I have one of the worst experiences I can remember. On my way to college, I am almost caught up in fighting during a police action. I take shelter behind a car and cover my ears. The gunfire is very loud. So is my crying. I drop my food and go to college in a state of shock. When I return home, there are empty rounds of ammunition on the floor. The news reports that 19-year-old resident, Igor Silva, 19, was fatally shot in the chest by an officer from the core special police unit. He worked at a local pharmacy, but the police insist he is a criminal. This is a day that makes me rethink my life.

8 March – Alemão

Last night, there was such a fierce gun battle that I could not go home. My WhatsApp groups warned of the tension in the favela, so a friend offered to let me stay at her house.

A police officer walks past distressed residents in the Alemão favela. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP

A police officer walks past distressed residents in the Alemão favela. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP

12 March – Rocinha

Heavy rain turns the community into a river. That’s not news. It is always like this in a storm. One resident – 58-year-old Carlos M da Silva – dies after being dragged into a ditch. When it rains, the volume of water and garbage that comes down the hillside is huge. Residents say Carlos was trying to unclog a manhole and was carried by the force of the current and debris. He was a street cleaner and worked clearing ditches. He died trying to help the community, as he had always done.

23 March – Maré

The country’s economic crisis is affecting many sectors of society. Teachers are on strike because of their low salaries. This has gone on for so many months that students have occupied more than 30 public schools to stake a claim to a better education. They sleep in the classrooms. My old high school where many Maré residents have studied – the Viscount of Cairo College – is one of the occupied schools.

17 April – Maré

A very important day for the country – the lower house votes on the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff. We are experiencing a coup. There are protests across the country, but Maré does not raise its voice. We have not forgotten that the president approved the military occupation of all the favelas of Maré in 2014.

Life on the margins of Rio’s upcoming Olympics. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

Life on the margins of Rio’s upcoming Olympics. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

21 April – Rocinha

A newly built cycle lane collapses after being hit by a strong wave. Among the fatalities is a 60-year-old Rocinha resident, Ronaldo Severino da Silva, who used to go for walks along that cycle path on his days off. The construction, which was inaugurated in January, cost R$44m (£10m) but failed to account for the impact of waves. This is absurd because it was built on the coast. But it is not an isolated accident – Rio is full of botched work.

7 May – Rocinha

The Olympic committee hosts a one-day festival in the Rocinha sports complex, from 8am to 1pm, where people can try out popular and unusual sports and children can pose next to the Olympic and Paralympic mascots. There wasn’t much information about the event, and not many people come. It is the first time the mascots visited Rocinha. Until now, there hasn’t been any legacy for the community. Just marketing.

12 May – Maré

On the way home from my sister’s house, I hear shots ahead of me. I call my mother to check whether it is safe to return. Later, I learn that a core special police unit has killed a local resident – 24-year-old Oswaldo Rocha. This time, the lethal shooting doesn’t even make the newspapers. Violence in the favela has become trivialised. People have a new topic of discussion when they chat at bus stops and in checkout queues and lifts: Rousseff has been removed from the presidency. And who will lose most from this? As always, it will be us. The vice-president, Michel Temer, who has taken over, has promised to reduce workers’ rights. I’m worried about what will come next.

17 May – Rocinha

The extension of Metro Line 4, which will finally give Rocinha residents a subway station, has been delayed – and when it does open, we will not initially be allowed to use it because priority will be given to Olympic pass holders, including athletes, organisers and tourists.

The cable-stayed bridge that will carry the new Metro Line 4 subway line into Rocinha. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

The cable-stayed bridge that will carry the new Metro Line 4 subway line into Rocinha. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

10 June – Rocinha

A court has awarded damages to the family of Amarildo de Souza, a Rocinha resident who was tortured and killed by military police in July 2013. About a dozen officers have been convicted for the case, which was a turning point in relations between the UPP police unit and the community. Since de Souza’s death, the UPP has lost credibility with the locals. The number of police officers has been reduced and the level of violence has increased. I used to think the UPP programme was good but, over the years, I have come to feel cheated. There is no point investing in security if there is a lack of other basic public services such as health, leisure and education.

19 June – Alemão

On TV, I follow the Olympic torch passing through several cities of Brazil. Nearer home, there is a major confrontation. Police are everywhere. I cannot leave the house – the shots are too close. Instead, I wait. Another resident, 31-year-old Roseli Jesus, has a different fate: she is shot in the back and dies instantly. Another local, 19-year-old Luiz Felipe Alves, has to be hospitalised. Ahead of the Olympics, police operations have become more intense. More people are dying. That could be my family, my friends, maybe even me.

Both police officers and civilians have been injured in shootouts in Alemão. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

Both police officers and civilians have been injured in shootouts in Alemão. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty

22 June – Alemão

A distressing day. I’m outside the favela, but my phone buzzes with messages throughout the day as people simultaneously report hearing shots at various locations. I don’t know how to return home. One resident, Isabel Martins, is hit by a bullet in the Alvorada community. It wounds her arm. In a shootout in my own neighbourhood of Nova Brasilia, a police officer is struck in the thigh. Given the terrible situation, the best response from the government would be to remove police from Alemão. The UPP has not worked. We want police who respect us as citizens.

24 June – Maré

Today is the birthday of my older sister. We have spent the past week organizing a surprise party, but it proves difficult. We wake at 5am to the sound of shots. Live television coverage shows three armoured vehicles patrolling the neighbourhood. Amid all this uncertainty, my family decides to go ahead with the party. Outside, three men lose their lives. They are shot a short distance away from the house where we are. It is really sad to celebrate life amid so much death. But this is our way to resist.

29 June – Maré

I go to sleep hearing gunshots and then I wake with them. This is becoming routine. BOPE special police forces have entered three Maré favelas. I have good news today – I have passed a college exam. But any joy I feel quickly fades when I receive a call from my mother telling me to be careful on the way home from work. I spend the rest of the day fearing that something might happen to my family and friends. I want to cry.
The police operation lasts more than six hours. It seems a police officer is shot. So is a bricklayer’s assistant, José da Silva, who is killed by stray bullet. A hospital worker, Carmen dos Santos, is hit in the arm.

“Three men are shot a short distance away from where
we are celebrating my sister’s birthday.”
Thaís Cavalcante

30 June – Rocinha

Until 2014, favelas were almost invisible on the internet, which fed the stigmatising of our communities. But now, with the help of local NGO AfroReggae, Google has mapped streets, alleys and 3,000 businesses in 25 communities. This year, it aims to increase that by 25% with the help of community residents trained in digital cartography. Another digital-mapping initiative has been launched by the community newspaper Foreign Roca in partnership with the Memory and History Museum of Sankofa. According to the organisers, mapping is a way for the favela to assert its place in the city.

1 July – Alemão

I am woken at 7am by shots that sound very close. The noise echoes through my little house. At times like this, I think about leaving Alemão, although I love living here.
On days when there is shooting, the whole routine of the favela changes. The climate of tension makes it difficult for people to return home and even the mototaxis stop working. That means there is less trade and less money for many families. A single bullet can impact the routine of 120,000 residents here.

12 July – Maré

After foreign visitors arrive for the Olympics, they will have to drive from the airport past the colourful murals on temporary barriers that hide our favela. Maré residents have nicknamed this the “wall of shame”. It was erected a few years before the 2014 World Cup. Officials say the barrier is acoustic and reduces the noise of cars. I believe that is a lie. I think they are attempting to deny our existence, which is revolting.

The ‘wall of shame’, which hides the Maré favela. Photograph: LightRocket via Getty/Brazil Photos

The ‘wall of shame’, which hides the Maré favela. Photograph: LightRocket via Getty/Brazil Photos

1 August – Daiene Mendes in Alemão

Over the past 48 days, I have counted at least 25 days of gunfights, two residents have died, and another five, including two police, have been injured. Alemão was better off in the past when it was abandoned by the state. Now, I believe the state looks at us with the eyes of an assassin.
I hope the Olympic Games is over soon because the only legacy I see is repression, militarisation and war.

Read more:
Don’t put your head underwater’:
visitors warned over Olympics pollution

Thaís Cavalcante in Maré

In the past year, the situation in Maré has become more intense than in previous years and everything indicates that this is because of preparations for the Olympics. On the one hand, there have been countless police operations. On the other, there has been more public investment in local culture. Community journalists have had the opportunity to tell the residents’ side of the favela story, yet the commercial media continues to blacken the name of our communities.

Michel Silva in Rocinha

There is a new subway station near our community, but this should have been built long ago. Apart from that, there may be a short-term boost from tourism. But what happens after the Olympics? Many of the subway construction workers are from Rocinha. Now the project has almost ended, they have been laid off. The building workers union estimates 30,000 people will lose their jobs. Meanwhile, the shootings continue. Over the past year, five residents have been killed and 14 wounded in shootings or violence. The government is trying to make the city seem safe for international visitors, but it is not safe for residents. I am glad the Olympics lasts only 17 days. After that, we need time to put our house in order.


The Guardian view on Brexit and our partners: a letter to Europe. Editorial

 Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

guardianEDITORIAL, 3 julio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

The shockwave from the Brexit vote now reverberates through Europe. The dismay felt by so many in the UK is shared on the continent. Some of you reached out to us before the referendum, asking us to stay and stressing our common interests. Now it is our turn to appeal to you. Rebuffed by the result, and alienated by the crude triumphalism of Nigel Farage and other leavers, you may consider any request an impertinence. Your citizens have been among those targeted by the xenophobia unleashed. Continental Europeans may feel we do not deserve an audience.

Almost half of those who voted sought to continue our membership. The Guardian was one of the most determined voices on this side of the divide. But we, like the rest of the 48%, must now respect the verdict that we dreaded. You assumed that British pragmatism would triumph. We share your shock and anxiety. Tempted as you are, don’t write us off entirely. Many Britons seek the closest possible partnership with the European Union, and it is more urgent than ever to continue cooperation through every viable means.

Some of you are angry. Britain was already seen as an unwilling partner, dragging our feet and demanding endless concessions. Many more now see us as a wrecker, too: gambling with a fragile European economy; imperilling an institution created to safeguard peace. Others feel pity or contempt for a nation that backed Brexit on a series of fantasies and lies, already retracted, or schadenfreude as the cost of the folly becomes evident. You may wish to punish us, or simply tell us: good riddance. Britain should not expect special treatment. Nonetheless, at this precarious moment, we ask you to pause – in all our interests.

Above all, we need time. Britain voted against membership; we did not vote for an alternative. The public has not fully confronted the choice it faces between turning its back on the single market, or accepting continued EU migration in whatever form. For sure, make it clear to Brexiters that they cannot have the rights that come with the EU without the obligations. Spelling out Britain’s choices may help us to be more realistic. The country has decided against continuing down the same path, but our new route and eventual destination are unclear. There is a great deal to think through, and further decisions to make. They could involve parliament, perhaps even a general election. You hope for certainty and stability, but pressing too hard for the invocation of article 50 could force us to rush into choices that you may also regret. While Britain chooses a captain for turbulent waters, you will be preoccupied with your own decisions, cast into starker relief by the referendum vote. The UK no longer has the right to express any preference as you determine “how much” and what kind of Europe you want.

Seeking to punish us to prevent further exits is an understandable urge. The right policy will be that which prevents Britain’s exit becoming a ruinous catalyst. Across Europe, there is disengagement from mainstream politics, anger towards the elite and a hunt for foreign scapegoats, and in many places these have coalesced into anti-EU sentiment. We shared your alarm as Marine Le Pen’s Front National and other far right parties celebrated the British decision.

Large numbers of people feel ignored and ill-used, with little sense that they are benefiting from integration. In the UK, lies about straight bananas and exaggerations about the EU’s opacity fuelled feeling against the institution, compounding a sense that the political classes are out of touch with ordinary life and have often put profits before people.

The UK must establish new bonds at home without turning its gaze entirely inwards. Let us continue to work with you wherever we can. We don’t expect to take the lead or make the rules; we can still offer expertise, resources and intelligence in areas such as security. Cooperation between our citizens – cultural collaborations, academic exchanges – in the long run does most to bring Europe closer, and will be more crucial than ever. Remember that younger Britons who voted were overwhelmingly pro-European, and help us to nurture that spirit and the opportunities it may one day present.

Britain, once outside the EU, cannot and should not expect a swift return. It would be politically dangerous at home; it would require generosity on your part. But those facing Brexit with reluctance hope that one day we may rejoin the club. Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.


The Guardian view on the EU referendum: keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated

Economics, foreign policy and Britain’s idea of itself are all on the ballot. But after a divisive campaign so, too, is our ability to get along. Another powerful reason why the wise vote is for remain.

guardianEditorial, 20 junio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

Who do we think we are, and who do we want to be? Are we so different from others that we cannot play by shared rules? Are we one member in a family of nations, or a country that prefers to keep itself to itself and bolt the door?

All of these questions were always on the ballot in this week’s fateful referendum. But after a campaign that has been nasty, brutish and seemingly endless, the UK will be voting on another question too. With all the differences and the diversity among all of us who already live on these islands, how are we all going to get along? In the run-up to polling day this contest has risked descending into a plebiscite on whether immigrants are a good or a bad thing. To see what is at stake, just consider the dark forces that could so easily become emboldened by a narrow insistence on putting the indigenous first.

Head and heart

The backdrop has been the most unrelenting, unbalanced and sometimes xenophobic press assault in history. The leading political lights of leave have claimed to be pro-immigrant and yet have, at the same time, been ruthlessly fearmongering about Britain being overrun by Turks, after a Turkish accession which they understand perfectly well is not on the cards. The mood is frenzied, the air thick with indignation, and clouded with untruths. The best starting point for Britain to reach a sound decision on Thursday is to cool the passions of the heart, and listen to the head.

All reason tells us that the great issues of our time have little respect for national borders. The leave side has attempted to turn “expert” into a term of abuse, but one does not need the IMF, the Bank of England or any special knowledge to grasp that these border-busting issues range from corporate power, migration and tax evasion to weapons proliferation, epidemics and climate change. Not one of them can be properly tackled at the level of the nation state. Impose controls on a multinational corporation and it will move to a softer jurisdiction. Crack down on tax evasion and the evaders will vanish offshore. Cap your own carbon emissions in isolation and some other country will burn with abandon. In so far as any of these problems can be effectively addressed, it is through cooperation. A better world means working across borders, not sheltering behind them. Cutting yourself off solves nothing. That, fundamentally, is why Britain should vote to remain in the club that represents the most advanced form of cross-border cooperation that the world has ever seen.

We need, too, to remember our history. Britain was formed and shaped by Europe. And we are – in historical as well as cultural, geographical and trading terms – a European nation. In almost every generation of European history until the past 70 years, people from these islands have fought and died in European wars. But within the borders of the European Union, there has been no war at all. This has not been an accident. To turn our back on that is unworthy of our traditions.

This is not to dispute that there are flaws in the way that Europe is constituted and led. The EU is a union of nations working together, it is not and never will be a United States of Europe, and so its leadership is bound to depend on the imperfect leadership of all these countries. The single currency has been a flawed project and has set one nation against another, forcing the poor to pay the price for propping up a shonky structure. But Britain is not part of the eurozone, and the EU is not a plot against the nation state. Britain is still robustly herself too, warts and all.

If the EU has become a whipping boy, that is in large part because of the frustration that many inevitably have with day-to-day life in Britain. There are millions of citizens whose wages have been stuck for many years, whose job security has been hollowed out, and whose hopes of a fair deal are being undermined, all at a time when immigration has increased. People are bruised and angry, and many are ready to take it out on those they feel have let them down. Even if the UK government itself actually bears far more of the responsibility, it must be admitted that the EU is part of an international economic order that has been unkind to many. The wish to kick against it can thus be understood, even though it is mistaken.

For the core issues here are labour standards, and they are more effectively governed collaboratively, or else the great danger is of a competitive pressure to strip away protections covering hours, discrimination or agency and temporary working. More broadly, there is no crisis in Europe which is so serious that it would be better for the British prime minister to be outside the EU knocking on the door pleading to be heard rather than inside the room sorting things out. A leave victory would not solve the problems that cause such anger. On the contrary, it would make most of them worse.

The only argument about the immediate economic effects of Brexit is the depth of the hit that the economy would take, not whether it would take a hit at all. The political victors would not be those who wish to rebuild politics. They would be rightwing Tories, and ruthless plutocrats who want freedom to reorder Britain and make money as they choose. They have no interest in fairer taxes on the rich, or higher spending on the NHS. They have spent their so-called Brexit dividend – which in reality is almost certainly a negative number, not the mendacious £350m a week which has earned them an official reprimand – many times over. A significant group of them are flat-taxers who are whispering about deep cuts to corporation taxes. Facile Brexiter talk of a more buccaneering Britain – presumably a country fit for Sir Philip Green or Fred Goodwin to capture other galleons – offers precisely nothing to assuage the fears of elderly voters who simply want nothing more to change.

It is a fantasy to suppose that, if Britain votes to leave, these victors would want to maintain or extend protections for pensioners or workers. On the contrary. Human rights, equality, health and safety, and aid to refugees would be out of the window. Those who vote to leave as a protest against the elite will, in truth, be handing the keys to the very worst of that very elite. There would be no “taking back control” for most working-class leave voters, just less control over their diminishing share than ever. Those who have not yet made up their mind in this campaign should ask themselves this: do you want to live in a Britain in the image of Nigel Farage? Yes or no? For that’s the choice on offer. If the answer is no, then vote remain.

Fantasy island

Thursday’s vote is in some ways a choice between an imaginary past of which too many in this country cannot let go and a future about which all of us are inescapably uncertain. If it goes in favour of leave it will hand Britain’s young people a country that most of them do not intend to vote for. Is that fair? It may push Scottish nationalists to proceed with a break-up of Britain that was rejected less than two years ago. Is that responsible? It will put the settlement in Northern Ireland – the fragile prize won so recently from decades of hatred – at risk. Is that worth it? Not at all. Instead we should be putting our shoulders to the task of building a democratic, devolved, multicultural Britain with a fair deal for all, connected to the world and working with our European neighbours.

The campaign has further alienated voters who were already disaffected. To an extraordinary degree, it has inflicted the Tory party’s pathological obsession with the EU on a country that does not ordinarily share it. No one bears more responsibility for this whole unedifying event than David Cameron, it is true. In the end, though, Thursday’s vote is not about him. It has become a turn-in-the-road issue for Britain and Europe alike. Imagine a world without the EU – without the clout to face down Russia over Ukraine, without the ability to put together coherent answers to carbon emissions, to protect standards at work from a race to the bottom. Like democracy, the EU is an imperfect way of answering the modern world’s unrelenting challenges. But the answer to its imperfections is to reform them, not to walk away – still less to give in to this country’s occasional hooligan instinct in Europe.

Like democracy, whose virtues are in our minds afresh after the violent death of the committed and principled MP Jo Cox, the EU is not just the least bad of the available options. It is also the one that embodies the best of us as a free people in a peaceful Europe. Vote this week. Vote for a united country that reaches out to the world, and vote against a divided nation that turns inwards. Vote to remain.

El Salvador arrests negotiators of gang truce in new get-tough policy. The Guardian

Psychologists, teachers, senior police officers and prison wardens are among 16 held for role in brokering a 2012 deal that led to sharp drop in homicides.

A member of a combined army-police unit secures a school in Soyapango before their deployment to deal with gang violence El Salvador last month. Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

A member of a combined army-police unit secures a school in Soyapango before their deployment to deal with gang violence El Salvador last month. Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters