Der Schrei der Natur
31st July 2017
If anything captures the mood of the nations (s) and the madness infecting Anglo-British politics, this image of the Tories seated in front of Edward Munch’s The Scream is it.
The painting which was given the original German title by Munch as Der Schrei der Natur (“The Scream of Nature”) has become an icon of despair. Its scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, from the hill of Ekeberg, and is said by some to be influenced by the nearby slaughterhouse and lunatic asylum. The figure at the front is said to be a Persian Mummy.
The fact that this photograph isn’t real doesn’t matter at all. It’s as real as the phenomenon we’re living through and is being imposed on us.
As ecological catastrophe unfolds – a ship sets sail across the Northwest Passage and the Conservatives record on the environment is predictably disgraceful – the image represents better than anything these sense of staged, fake, decay that’s swirling around us.
In a brutal assessment of his own parties handling of government, Matthew Parris writes: “What have we come to? Like some dark moon below the horizon, a rogue force is wrenching us from our orbit, and nobody knows what to do.”
He continues (seemingly running a bout a year behind the curve): “The Tories are turning Brexit into a humiliating shambles.”
“It now appears they and their leader started the countdown to Britain’s expulsion without even the vaguest plan for what we’d be aiming to achieve, let alone realistically likely to achieve. Worse, they pulled the trigger knowing very well that “Brexit” still meant different things to different members of the party and its government, and there was no reason to hope that divergent aims were ever likely to converge. I call this criminal: irresponsible to the point of culpable recklessness towards their country’s future. The Conservative Party just thought they’d give it a whirl and all but one of them voted for the adventure.”
He concludes: “I left Spain feeling ashamed to be British. I return to England ashamed to be a Conservative.”
Holidays can do that to you.
But if that’s the view from within the Tory party what the hell are the rest saying?
Joyce McMillan writes about the “the kind of chaos that results when politicians start to make policy in response to populist myth, rather than to the reality of the society they represent”.
She identifies three related tragedies unfolding before us, both international and inter-generational:
“…behind all this sound and fury, meanwhile, there are a growing number of real human tragedies that no-one in the upper echelons of Britain’s two main parties seems to have the courage to name, never mind to prevent. The first is the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of valued EU workers who are now, in many cases, making plans to leave, such is the uncertainty they face; the health workers, care workers and young entrepreneurs who have become part of the lifeblood of our economy and our communities. The second is the tragedy of the 48 per cent, those 16 million people across Britain who never wanted to leave the EU at all, and are now obliged to live through the multiple disruptions of Brexit without either government or opposition willing to stand up for our views and our culture. And finally, there is the tragedy of the future generations who would have voted Remain by a vast majority, and whose entire future will now be darkened by this ill-fated decision.”
This disruption and betrayal isn’t going to go away.
Meanwhile Ian Dunt at the Independent has a go at trying to peg down some meaning to the bizarre statements swirling out of Downing Street about freedom of movement and Article 50 (“No.10 announcement on free movement completely without meaning“):
“This morning Downing Street moved to reassure them. Yes, there would be transition, but free movement would end in March 2019. Details of a new immigration system would soon be brought forward. “It would be wrong to speculate on what these might look like or to suggest that free movement will continue as it is now,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said.
So that’s it then? The big announcement has been made. Free movement ends when Article 50 does, making it much less likely that there’ll be any transitional deal. The nightmare rears its ugly head again: regulatory chaos, queues at customs checkpoints, a degradation of supply networks, businesses hammered by their inability to satisfy country-of-origin checks, lost jobs and lost investment. Britain humiliated and impoverished.
Or possibly not. It’s also possible that the Downing Street statement means precisely nothing. Listen to that Hammond interview again. When he’s told the immigration minister is promising that free movement ends in March 2019, Hammond replies:
“He’s right because freedom of movement is a concept defined under the European Union treaties.”
So according to Hammond, his plan to keep free movement in practise on April 1st 2019 is compatible with the Downing Street claim that free movement will end in reality on March 31st 2019. Everything stays the same, but technically free movement has ended as that is a term defined by the EU. Try not to beat your head against a wall.”
It’s increasingly looking like Brexit is just an exercise in self-harming motivate by a grand but often unspoken ideological agenda married to a dangerous new nationalism.
Dunt concludes: “So in summary: Today’s announcement means either that free movement will end, or that it won’t end, or that it might end after a while, or that it won’t end after a while, or that if it does end the system which replaces it might be completely different or that it might be identical.”
Eagle-eyed readers might recall that Philip Hammond was the chap who came out with the wheeze that an independent Scotland might be more vulnerable to attack from outer space. So searching for sense and meaning from him may be an unenviable task.
But what is the ideological programme the Brexiteers are pursuing?
A quick note that last year the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book about privatising the NHS – might offer a clue.
We are looking at an extreme ideological dogma married to a buoyant (if incoherent) new national fervour.
The difficulty here is that English nationalism isn’t allowed to exist and you aren’t allowed to talk about it.
Unless you are English.
Which is fine and grand because there are some eloquent writers trying to make sense of it all. Not least of which is Anthony Barnett who notes: “Now, a new wall has been thrown up across part of Europe. At the moment the barrier is just a declaration. Perhaps it is all the more alarming because its meaning and consequences are still unclear.”
He writes in his new book from Unbound: “The Lure of Greatness: England’s Brexit and America’s Trump”:
“If you are young and British you have had your freedom to move, live, love and work in another country of our continent taken away from you by the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Your right to be a European and, just as important, your right to welcome Europeans to live with you, has been removed. Perhaps your expectations were unspoken and it is only now you realise something precious has been lost that is akin to bereavement.”
But, he continues, the situation is unclear and fluid:
“Put the pain to one side for a moment. When 17.5 million people voted to take the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland out of the European Union by a majority of one and a quarter million, they did at least three things: they repudiated their governing elite; they challenged the oligarchy of the European Union and its associated network of global power, even if they did so by walking away; and they tore our country apart from our neighbours in a dangerous fashion that risks turning it into a closed and bigoted place. We face the prospect of England being reduced to a self-regarding country: prejudiced and divided, impoverished yet obsessed with money-making, separated from Europe’s culture and leaving its immediate close neighbours Ireland and Scotland infuriated by our selfish recklessness.”
As the independence movement feels itself to be immersed in despondency it’s worth remembering three things: first that plans for new strategies and new ideas are very close to being presented, and a positive unifying programme will soon emerge. Whilst there is a lot of infighting and bitterness going on that takes prominence there is also a lot of hard-work and practical development work going on int her background. Keep the heid. Keep the faith. Ca canny.
Second that some of the divisions that have emerged have always been there and that a sense of false-unity might be worth dropping.
Thirdly that the level of structural and meta crisis the Tories are leading Britain into is completely unprecedented. As Matthew Parris puts it: “the Conservatives are criminally incompetent” – but they are working harder than ever to break up Britain and destroy the last vestiges of credibility they might have amongst there own supporters. We could never have managed it alone.
The Tory Scream photo is fake, the reality is not.
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