Do you believe in Father Christmas?
“You can only deliver Brexit if you believe in Brexit” Theresa May has told us, which is interesting given she didn’t believe in Brexit until it became politically expedient. But the elevation of Brexit into a semi-mythical entity, like Nessie, Santa or Bigfoot is in line with much of their current thinking. At first we were just told ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Then we were told everything was about “Strong and Stable Leadership” and “Take back control” of course “No deal is better than a bad deal”.
This is the emergence of a new post-truth British politics which has developed out of the No campaigns famous NHS bus slogan and gained arms and legs in this election campaign. It’s characterised by gnomic slogans and phrases which carry little or no actual meaning but can be repeated by politicians and supporters like a faithful mantra. They enter the political discourse like earworms and can alter the debate despite the fact that they are little more than absurdist poetry.
The Conservatives managed to publish an entire manifesto without costings and have attempted to steer their leader round a host of contrived and stage-managed events with party members, and of course avoiding live tv debates. Theirs is a fact-free mission, tugging on peoples fears, re-calling the IRA and smearing their opponents whilst muttering these strange and stupid phrases.
The elevation of Brexit to this Myth Status has the effect of avoiding the need to explain what it is, what its aims are and what process we can expect to achieve it. If it is something that you just believe in – or don’t – it becomes a test of national loyalty, not a policy you can judge on any merits or failure. It’s being made synonymous with Britishness: if you believe in Britain you should believe in Brexit. If you don’t you’re a traitor.
This has been the language used repeatedly by Theresa May, “there are people who are trying to delay Brexit”. The result is to shift the ground so that even to ask questions or to think critically becomes a crime against Britain and a crime against the democratic will.
Brexit as mythical re-birth of Britain (ancient and uniquely aggrieved nation) has a twin in the ‘Precious Union’, which has also been elevated to a new (and equally vague) status of something that must not be challenged.
“Do you believe?” becomes the plaintive nonsensical test of political value, like a Greg Lake politics, a new high-point for Parody Britain, sharply juxtaposed by the social violence imposed through austerity, sanctions culture, growing poverty and zero-hours precarity.
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