We are witnessing a breakdown in trust and political processes, the like of which we haven’t seen since the Civil War almost 400 years ago.
These are tumultuous times and the mood is febrile.
If things go disastrously wrong, unscrupulous politicians will look for scapegoats. These high stakes blame games can have devastating consequences.
A hundred years ago, vainglorious German generals, eager to avoid responsibility for defeat in WW1, promulgated the notion that the army had not been defeated on the battlefield but had been “stabbed in the back” by treacherous civilians back in Berlin. It was nonsense, but it gained traction. It was a poisonous myth that the Nazis then exploited to the full.
Depending on how events pan out in Brussels and Westminster this week, there will be politicians here similarly looking for someone else to blame for the dire predicament we find ourselves in.
The press must not be their megaphone.
Editors have a weighty responsibility to set the right tone with their headlines over the next few days. For better or worse, they will help shape the public mood. Bandying around words like ‘treason’, ‘betrayal’, ‘sabotage’ and ‘enemy’ could prove incendiary.
The UK finds itself in a fiendishly difficult situation. The nation voted narrowly to leave the EU but without giving our elected representatives any guidance on how to do it. We are in a mess and calm heads are needed.
The press still shapes the national debate. In this time of national crisis, it must report on events even-handedly and objectively.
It should eschew simplistic narratives and scapegoating, report intelligently and accurately, and stress the need for due process and the rule of law. This is no time for rabble-rousing, circulation-chasing headlines.