As the dust settles on another wall collapsing in the crumbling house of parliamentary democracy, this time in the (currently) United Kingdom, there are many interpretations of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. These range from AI Facebook bots to the new nationalism. The realignment of political forces around strange new fault lines did make for a curious spectacle.
We never really know how we look to other people, and now the British nation, just like the United States, has paraded itself in front of the world, all lumps, bumps and pimples on full display. One explanation that I am favouring is that voters as a group made a really dumb mistake, both for themselves (in most cases) and for their society in general. This is likely to be dismissed as the sour grapes of a cosmopolitan elitist, which may or may not be true, but doesn’t affect the obvious truth of the judgement.
As a joint UK citizen, I have never had much enthusiasm for the European Union’s neoliberal bureaucracy, but the longer the unspooling of the British collective mind went on, the further I had drifted into the Remain camp.
There were plenty of arguments for and against Brexit but over time the Leave camp had been absorbed into the machinations of chancers like BoJo and the risible Nigel Farage, to whom truth is less a stranger and more an existential threat. Rather than an ennobling conversation about sovereignty or the best way to improve Britain’s relentless social decline, we were treated to a ya-boo fest, laden with racist innuendo, buzz bombed by a constant stream of lies and propaganda, all stirred along by the malignant Murdoch media system. This approach was naturally a complete success for the perpetrators.
The election was an entirely contemporary phenomenon in many ways but also seemed to reached back into the dim recesses of the ‘reptile core’, that part of the human brain that deals with the base functions. When reporters with their TV cameras went out to the streets to ask the people about their concerns, their motives, their aspirations, they recorded a dogs dinner of reverse logic and outright gibberish. BoJo had screaming rows with his girlfriend, made up policy on the go and hid in a commercial fridge. Corbyn however was seen as the weirdo. “I don’t like his mannerisms,” stated one Tory convert as the hapless Labour leader made another stump speech about saving the NHS. “Britain’s most dangerous man” shrieked a tabloid headline.
Corbyn made a honest mistake in thinking that people may have been concerned about waiting lists at hospitals. It turned out that voters are happy about queues as long as they don’t have any foreigners in them, or doctors with ‘foreign’ looks at the end of them.
If anything the election cleared up any doubt about the priorities of the majority of British voters. Pre-election, with a small majority in the polls wanting to Remain, it seemed obvious that surely there would be a pushback against boot boy tactics to negotiating with the Europeans.
On the day the reverse happened. People went out and voted for the Conservatives in clear support of their maximum damage gambit, where upon being firmly escorted out of the EU nightclub they behave like an angry drunk flinging stray punches and shouting insults.
This is something of a pyrrhic victory for Johnson and his faction. He has ridden on the tiger of nationalism, a beast that is notoriously unpredictable, and been carried along so far. It has been a very long opening act to what could be a very short main feature. It is the end of the beginning, or at least the beginning of the end of the beginning. As anyone who pays attention can see, leaving the EU will be like pulling a hippo backwards through a cat door. The idea that Britain will somehow latch on to “other” trading partners (Burundi? Uruguay?), but not the 400 million across the road, is a laughable conceit.
Left outside the tent are the losers. The minority of Conservative remainers, the the crushed Liberals, and the Labour Party, which will now enter into a period of internecine warfare as revenge minded Blairites seek to purge the party of any taint of social democracy.
Compare this jigsaw of parts that don’t fit with the victorious blob of Little Englanders. Whether unemployed Northern pigeon fanciers or time warp anomalies like Jacob Rees-Mogg in his top hat and spats, the Brexiteers are hot tubbing in a pool of warmed over backwardness. Old, angry and missing the point entirely , the doughty Northerners and village fete brigade from the Home Counties, shot out of their front doors like funnel web spiders and stabbed at their ballot forms with spite. The main complaint seemed to be the concern that “the people’s voice” was in danger of being thwarted by the now open evidence the Leave Camp, or specifically the far right nerve centre, had been pouring out complete bilge to a bewildered electorate in the previous referendum.
This has all locked in the chain of events that will see the inevitable dissolution of the United Kingdom. Scotland will be out of the UK and back into the EU, and one suspects will do very well out of it. Northern Ireland is a mystery prize who no one wants to unwrap. The old will see their golden years as a long wrangle over trade deals and the young will add another cross to the grudge list in a simmering demographic war. The North has gone Tory but Liverpool holds out. Cosmopolitan London might as well be in a different dimension now to the nation it is supposed to be the capital of.
A curious aspect of the election is how the behaviour of the leaders seems to be measured by a new matrix of values. The more boorish, and arrogant, the better, in a kind of pale reflection of the troglodyte Trump in the midnight dim of his tweet bunker. BoJo, a blustering, buffoonish figure with a colourful personal life and the cocksure confidence of an Old Etonian, can be contrasted to the measured and entirely decent Corbyn with his Tube pass and allotment. Perhaps this is an inevitable side effect of the growing rage and alienation that bubbles under the surface of society, providing the gravitational pull towards the ‘strong man’ who will ‘make our nation great (again)’ in a world of other people who aren’t like us.
The nefarious Farage, with his olive tweed and pint of Real Ale, whose various Brexit political fronts have simply been creatures to drag the Tories to the right and bring bigotry into the mainstream, has yet again tweaked the world’s model democracy and will depart with his personal brand intact to create havoc elsewhere.
Britain is a country of two souls: on one side clinging to the ruins of Empire, divided by class, weighted by tradition and prejudice, and on the other side, its love of fairness and justice, tolerance, and the home of an immense cultural heritage that has been enriched by the centuries of cross pollination and melding of global influences.
In this battle, the former has emerged victorious.