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A Fellowship in Dark Times

A 2021 message from Byline Times’ co-founder and executive editor Peter Jukes

A Fellowship in Dark Times

A 2021 message from Byline Times’ co-founder and executive editor Peter Jukes

Since its inception, Byline Times has been focused on misrepresentation and under-representation in the media.

Now, at the end of its second full year, those germs of concern we’ve pursued along with a few other independent news outlets have mushroomed into a growing public realisation that we are in the midst of an unprecedented period in national politics: an era of mendacity and misrule at the top, aided and abetted by media collusion, which conceals a deliberate and systematic raiding of the coffers of the state for personal gain, and an erosion of our rights as citizens.

For us, having investigated both the lies and unlawfulness of the Vote Leave campaign five years ago, led by the current Prime Minister, none of this comes as a huge surprise – though the pace and spread of it still shocks in retrospect. When Boris Johnson entered Number 10 as Prime Minister in September 2019, we were sadly confident enough to opt for the headline ‘Goodbye Liberal Britain’. 

For those who had not been paying attention to the hidden stories of continuing press phone-hacking and privacy intrusion cases in the courts, Cambridge Analytica, Russian interference and the cascade of far-right US dark money into British politics, the idea that the cosy, funny, cosmopolitan former Mayor of London could lead us to the edge of a populist, authoritarian regime must have seemed far-fetched. It wasn’t. 

There is now a growing acceptance, after the first full year of a hard Brexit, that there are no economic or free trade benefits of leaving the EU – despite all those promises of £350 million a week for the NHS, the easiest trade deals in the world, growing prosperity and an outward-facing ‘Global Britain’. Instead, we have a much diminished inward-looking country, focused on demonising foreigners, or looking for enemies within to explain our shortcomings. 

Brexit Britain has become a global example: a lesson to the rest of the world of the dangers of cheap solutions and false dawns. Our country has become a case study on how quickly democracy can deteriorate without the safeguards against electoral interference and unaccountable financial interests – whether they be rich Russian donors or US-based media barons – and the spiral of cover-up and corruption that results. 

The scandal of the Downing Street Christmas parties, and revelations that lying about breaking lockdown has become obligatory for those working in the highest offices of the land, is just the latest salient example, and by no means the most important one. 

Greed and deception have spread across politics like a virus, and the exponential spread of the Johnson variant will be a case study in the history books. 

We take no pleasure in being proved right but, along with the dire diagnosis of our ills, comes the possibility of remedy. This is not about having a shambolic, selfish and incompetent Prime Minister – it’s a wider pathology, that should now focus on all the interests and institutional failures that enabled and amplified him. 

There are grounds to hope that – by providing the public with true information about their rulers – good journalism can shine a light in this dark time. Investigative reporting, whether of corrupt Government contracts or incompetence in office, has already led to the departure of senior ministers.

Public opposition – whether in the form of protest, non-compliance or support for members of the England Euro 2020 football team against a welter of right-wing racist attacks – has helped reverse the concerted ‘culture war’ launched by the Government and its media outriders at the start of 2021. Who would have thought, at the beginning of the year, that the leading figure for the new TV channel GB News and its ‘war against woke’ would soon be publicly decrying its bias and lack of principles? 

Meanwhile, the coalition that created the Conservatives’ electoral majority is already beginning to fracture, and its fragility becomes more apparent every day. It was hard to imagine this time last year that the Prime Minister’s former chief advisor would provide some of the most important evidence of his callous mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis – yet it has happened. 

But we must not be deceived. Boris Johnson may or may not survive the next year, but the forces behind him remain in place. Over the past decade, the Conservative Party has switched leaders prior to a general election – and from David Cameron, through Theresa May to Boris Johnson – each internal replacement has become more extreme.

Byline Times’ mission for 2022 is to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, and to expose both the constitutional shortcomings, institutional weaknesses and national culture that enabled the current malaise, whether the fault lies in the system or in ourselves.  

In the meantime, I would like to extend a genuine heartfelt thanks to all of our subscribers and readers for your continued support and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. As our editor Hardeep Matharu often says, you’ve been a fellowship in dark times.

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