The familiar revelations in Dominic Cummings’ testimony are a reminder that facts don’t ‘cut through’ on their own
One of the first things we are taught about liberal democracy is that the structure of a healthy political system has separate branches with distinct responsibilities, so that “checks and balances” will prevent the concentration and abuse of power. But one of the many difficult lessons for liberals in recent years has been the belated realisation that accountability requires more than institutional structures. A functioning democracy also depends on a balance of power between the government and an ecosystem of independent actors who can publicly hold the state to account – including a formal political opposition and media organisations that are not affiliated with the government or beholden to its backers.
What Dominic Cummings described in his testimony last week was not just the government failing in its duty: it was the absence or weakness of those oppositional forces that might curb the excesses of power, or demand that it change course. Unless you’ve wiped your memory of the past year, none of what Cummings revealed about the early stages of the pandemic was new.
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