Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. International
22 July 2020

How hostile disinformation by Russia has harmed the UK

Vladimir Putin has succeeded in creating division and sowing uncertainty about the British state’s legitimacy

By Stephen Bush

David Cameron’s government knew of claims that that the Russian security services had interfered in the Scottish referendum but did nothing to safeguard the EU one. Theresa May’s government failed to investigate it. And the governments of John Major, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May all provided a warm and willing home for figures close to Vladimir Putin to launder their money and their reputations.

Across the security services and the government, there was uncertainty about who, exactly, has responsibility for tackling disinformation from hostile state actors, with the British state displaying the same sensibility to monitoring the threat as the Arsenal squad does to tracking the opposition’s runners, while the United Kingdom’s security laws are painfully out of date and inadequate to the challenge. 

That’s the damning conclusion of the intelligence and security committee’s report into Russian involvement in British elections. The question at hand is not, despite what the government and several commentators seem to believe, “Did the Russians do Brexit?” or, “Did the Russians want Scottish independence to happen?” 

The purpose of hostile disinformation is to create division and sow uncertainty about the state’s legitimacy. To take Scottish independence: our present unstable equilibrium, of SNP dominance within a Scotland that remains part of the UK, is a victory of sorts for any hostile state. To take Brexit: a political atmosphere in which it is perfectly respectable to spread conspiracies about the civil service, or about whether Boris Johnson’s baby is fake is a victory. 

The question is: have successive governments done enough to tackle the problem of disinformation from hostile powers, and is the government getting a grip on the problem now? The answer to the first question is that they haven’t, and the answer to the second is it doesn’t yet look like it.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action