Friday, November 02, 2018

Of the Kremlin, Arron Banks, and Brexit

The new cold war.

As I have already written, the present Russian regime is a "Disruptive" state which is seeking to mask it's relative decline by causing as much trouble as possible to the weaker and more powerful of its' neighbours alike.

Those nations or groups who are small or weak enough for Putin's regime to openly bully in that way face outright military threats - directly through Russia annexing their territory in the case of the Crimea, or bombing them where the Russian government is allied to the local regime as in Syria,  through proxies in the rest of the Ukraine. Members of NATO who Putin cannot attack without risking World War III face less extreme forms of bullying and in particular information warfare.

For all practical purposes we are in a new cold war.

This does not mean that all, or even more than a tiny minority, of those people in the West for whom Russia's cyber army of bots and trolls posts supportive messages are acting against what they perceive to be the interests of their country or that they are in any sense Russian agents. The Putin regime's propagandists often post divisive messages on both sides of an issue as they are seeking to inflame and divide opinion, not to convince everyone. In fact to the twisted minds of the people running Putin's information warfare campaign, actually convincing everyone of one message would be counterproductive, because it would eliminate rather than stir up divisions.

Russia, Trump, and Brexit

This leads to a very important point about both the election of President Trump and the Brexit vote.

From the Kremlin's perspective, creating a situation where the legitimacy of the vote is called into question is actually a bigger win than any specific result for either of those votes.

Whether or not the Kremlin managed to swing the result of the last US presidential election and cause Donald Trump to get elected when he otherwise would not have been, it is damaging to the USA and a win for Russia that people are forced to ask that question and all the more so if they can get people to seriously question the legitimacy of the result.

Vladimir Putin was careful not to openly support Brexit and the Russian Embassy denied it every time the Remain campaign claimed that he wanted that outcome. Russian bots and trolls put out messages on both sides though much more in support of leave. Again, the Putin regime would see it as a win if they can get people questioning the legitimacy of the result.

None of this is to argue that the activities of people like Arron Banks should not be investigated via due process by the proper authorities to ensure that anyone who has broken electoral law should face appropriate and proportionate consequences through the courts.

But we should recognise that, although this may appear counter-intuitive, Russia may seek to create the impression that their influence on the Brexit vote was larger than it actually was in order to de-legitimatise the result.

Why I don't believe Russia changed the result.

I must add that from the viewpoint of someone who was a floating voter during the referendum campaign, I don't believe the money spent by Arron Banks helped the cause of the leave campaign: I thought it was actively counter-productive, as was much of the material put out by both sides.

With honourable exceptions on both sides, far too much of what was put out by both "Leave" and "Remain" campaigns in the EU referendum was at best dangerously vague speculation masquerading as fact and at worst downright disingenuous.

I was never closer to voting Leave than when I had just listened to or read any of the egregious nonsense put out by too many on the Remain side, and nobody contributed more to my eventual decision to vote Remain than Nigel Farage and Arron Banks.

A set of links to the posts I made during the referendum calling out both sides on the nonsense they were putting out can be found here.

I don't believe that people voted for Brexit because of the money spent by Arron Banks and the unofficial "Leave.EU" campaign. I believe they voted that way because they wanted a change in direction and thought that a vote for Brexit would provide a "wake-up-call" to the establishment.

There is a democratic mandate to leave the E.U. 

* It was in the manifesto of the party which won the 2015 general election to call a referendum on EU membership and abide by the result.

* The legislation setting up that referendum was passed by parliament with an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons.

* During the referendum campaign the government wrote, at taxpayers' expense, to the home of every elector in Britain promising to implement the result of the vote.

* The referendum was won by the "Leave" side by a margin which, although not huge - 52% to 48% - was quite clear.

* When the Supreme Court ruled that parliamentary approval would be required to trigger "article 50" of the Lisbon treaty and start the process of leaving the EU, the necessary legislation to do this was overwhelmingly passed by parliament.

* The vast majority of MPs elected in the 2017 general election had stood on a platform of respecting the referendum result by leaving the EU.

Arron Banks

There will be a great deal of schadenfreude not just among those who voted Remain but among those Brexit supporters who were more sympathetic to the official "Vote Leave" campaign than to the rival "Leave.EU" campaign chaired by Mr Banks to the news that the electoral commission are referring Arron Banks to the police and the National Crime Agency for a criminal investigation into the conduct of Leave/EU during the referendum. That investigation must take its' course and everyone is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

However, I would like to conclude this post by drawing attention to a press article written by Damian Collins MP, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, in response to a letter which Mr Banks wrote to the electors of Mr Collins' Folkestone and Hythe constituency.

You can read Damian Collins' reply here.

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