If you can put down the Trump popcorn for long enough to pay attention, it’s worth a look. Separate happenings throw the British crisis into sharp relief. First Adam Tomkins admitted meekly, as Mundell and Davidson have also done, that the thought of the House of Lords discussing and voting on the Withdrawal Bill, while elected MPs are excluded, is an affront to democracy that is an unsurvivable event. The EU Withdrawal Bill will now be debated by Lords that aren’t just unelected, they have been explicitly rejected by their constituents. Like photos hanging around in your Deleted Items folder they refuse to go away, bobbing back up in Britain’s opaque and foosty Undemocratic institutions. Secondly. the Scottish Tory narrative has collapsed, even in their own terms. Mostly because the idea that they have power and influence is a fiction. They get treated with the same contempt the rest of us do. Their glorious leader is now a laughing stock. As Ruth Davidson said in 2016: “You don’t fund schools and hospitals, and you don’t control immigration by crashing the economy. And that’s what leaving the EU would do.” The only problem she has is she is now saying: “… just bloody get on with it, will you?” You can’t come back from that. Watching this short clip of Ruth’s flip-flops it’s difficult to know hows she’s in the position she’s in at all.
— Pilar Fernandez (@pilaraymara) January 16, 2018
But crucially, the Scottish Conservatives tentative, over-blown and media-hyped ‘revival’ has been blown away by their mishandling of Brexit and their own misguided sense of their own importance. What was described as a “Power Grab” has become explicitly just that. As Philippa Whitford has put it: “Under original Devolution settlement, specific powers were Reserved and PRINCIPLE was that anything not so reserved was Devolved. This Principle is reversed by Clause 11 as powers go to WM who then decide what when and how might be Devolved.” A third snapshot of the British crisis was the spectacle of MEP Stephen Woolfe sending a basked of consumable goods to ‘Mr’ Barnier in act of savoury cuilinary defiance that will come to represent the Brexit farce as much as the Winter of Discontent, Sunny Jim or the Falklands represented the 70s or 80s. He wrote: “Looking forward to giving Mr Barnier some fantastic products from Britain including some British wine and gin.” It may seem like a stupidly obscure point, a detail amongst the farce, but as a symbol of the futility and the extraordinary lack of self-awareness it’s an eye-opener. The case for English nationalism, hiding behind its British proxy is based on a basket of Marmite, wine and gin, and a jar of Piccalilli. Amongst this all Conservative revanchism spasms uncontrollably with every new day, the Conservative vice chairman for youth obliquely apologises for comments suggesting that people on benefits should be sterilised, as if that’s a social faux-pas not an articulation of political thought. All of this would be containable, manageable if the pretence of economic competence wasn’t collapsing. The violence of finance capital, spiralling debt, the Carillion exposure and the social fascism of sanctions and benefit culture are a Perfect Storm, and at the heart of that storm is the great deception of Brexit. Haunted by the Past Nicholas Boyle writing in the Irish Times summarises:
“For the English the United Kingdom occupies the psychic space once filled by the empire. Haunted by their unassimilated imperial past, the English continue refusing to think of themselves as a nation in the same sense as Scotland or Ireland and maintain a constitution for their United Kingdom which denies the obvious. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have their variously titled national assemblies, but England has none – not out of modesty, but in order to claim for itself the exceptional position of anonymous master of its now diminutive empire.”
This is becoming more and more apparent and is dawning on a widening group of people like sunrise on a misty morning. He goes on:
“The end of empire meant the end of the English pretension to have and need no national identity of their own. Once they admitted their empire was no more, the English would have to become just another nation like everybody else, with a specific, limited identity, a specific history, neither specially honourable nor specially dishonourable, with limited weight, limited resources, and limited importance in the world, and on the Atlantic archipelago. That is the terrifying truth that membership of the EU presents to the English and from which for centuries the empire insulated them: that they have to live in the world on an equal footing with other people.”
And that’s where it gets interesting, as Scotland in Union revelations are about to reveal. This is elite power masquerading as a grassroots revolt. As Adam Ramsay writes:
“Many of the spokespeople for Euroscepticism like to talk about representing “ordinary, decent people”. They are the so-called “bad boys” who dared to stand up to the elites. Speaking at a Trump rally last year, Nigel Farage claimed, “we made June 23 our independence day when we smashed the establishment.” The fascinating details I have found while investigating the people who make up a key pro-Brexit group, Veterans for Britain, make one thing clearer than ever. The Brexit movement was led by Establishment England.”
While this is true, and it’s easy to ridicule the Barnier basket and Ruth’s flip-flops, or Boris Johnson’s zip-wire, there’s another level to Brexit and Anglo-British Nationalism.
Ramsay details some of the individuals who “smashed the establishment”.
One is Charles Ronald Llewelyn Guthrie … ” – or, to give him his full title, Field Marshal Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, GCB, LVO, OBE, DL, Colonel of The Life Guards, Gold Stick to The Queen, Colonel Commandant of the SAS – was head of the British army from 1994-1997 and then chief of defence staff from 1997-2001.”
Guthrie is quite the well-connected character:
“In late September or early October 2014, Guthrie declared that he had become a shareholder in two companies. One of them is Palantir Technologies, a data analysis firm co-founded by the US billionaire Peter Thiel, who was also co-founder of Paypal and a board member of (and the first major investor in) Facebook. Thiel is known for his major donations to Donald Trump and other parts of the American ‘libertarian’ right, reportedly turned down a job as chair of Trump’s intelligence advisory board, and famously argued in 2009 that “the extension of the franchise to women” has “rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron”, that “capitalism simply is not that popular with the crowd” and therefore that his fellow libertarians must focus on developing the technology that will ensure that it is capitalism, rather than democracy, which wins that struggle: “The fate of our world may depend” he wrote “on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism”.
Thiel’s company, in which Guthrie owns shares, is said to be named after the all-seeing stone in the Lord of the Rings, and described by The Guardian as the “‘special ops’ tech giant that wields as much real-world power as Google”. The firm’s founders, according to Jacques Peretti in the book Done: The Secret Deals That Are Changing Our World, aimed to “create a company that took Big Data somewhere no one else dared to go”. As a start-up, they secured support from the CIA, and the Intercept revealed earlier this year that they now work with a string of government agencies, including America’s NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, and Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate and, (according to Haaretz) with the Israeli government.”
Ramsay lays out the dark networks of the Veterans for Britain group one by shady one.
So we have high farce alongside dark arts and the deep state. This is how Britain works, a froth of jovial amateurism masquerading a much darker operating system.
It’s About the Stupid Economy
All of this could and would be defensible amidst a sea of propaganda but not while the economy is failing.
George Eaton at the New Statesman points out:
“The Brexit vote is, however, causing unambiguous harm. Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service (2005-11), who now chairs Frontier Economics, told me: “Economists warned that Brexit would create uncertainty, which reduces investment, and that a big fall in the exchange rate would lead to higher inflation. All of those things have come true.”
The UK is no longer the fastest-growing G7 economy but the slowest (GDP performance has been the worst since 2011). Britain has endured the lowest growth and the highest inflation (3 per cent in September 2017) of the ten major EU economies. The once-derided eurozone grew twice as fast as the UK in the first two quarters of this year (0.5 per cent and 0.6 per cent). The surge in UK inflation is directly attributable to the pound’s diminished value – a mark of investors’ pessimism. Owing to higher prices, real wages have fallen for the past six months. Though less severe, the combination of rising inflation and stagnant growth is reminiscent of the stagflation of the 1970s. The return of negative wage growth for the first time since 2014 could presage the worst decade for pay since the Napoleonic Wars.” Under productivity, a low-wage economy, zero hours contacts, endemic poverty and a burgeoning housing crisis are the backdrop to a government blethering about sterilising the poor and engaged in an exercise of self-harm. Today we have a broken economic model, an ongoing constitutional crisis and an unspoken and unnamed nationalist revival all feeding off each other in incoherent and unpredictable ways. As Aditya Chakraborrrty says, ten years on from the death of Lehman Brothers and all we get is “a broken economy force-fed more of the same ideas that helped to break it.” “When capitalism fails this badly, it jeopardises the very functioning of democracy. So it is starting to prove today.” We live in country where standing ovations in cinemas during Gary Oldman’s climatic “We shall fight on the beaches” speech as Winston Churchill are reported, but Anglican clergy have a say over our constitutional future whilst our elected MPs do not.