It’s the marching season in Belfast and Glasgow. The ethno-religious superiority of the Protestants will be on display emboldened by their pact and their raid on the coffers of Westminster. It’s the pinnacle of Britishness, a hyper-nationalism. Let’s hope it goes well.
What we have here is the emerging outline of an authoritarian regime based on traditional ‘values’, fear of “other”, homophobia and an appeal to the abstract ‘Nation.’ It’s only possible to create such a regime with a level of passivity to rapid change. Culturally the value that’s being celebrated today is obedience.
The New Patriotism
From Priti Patel to Wendy (“None of us need to know”) from Plymouth through to Angela Leadsom’s extraordinary call for “patriotic broadcasting” to Ruth Davidson being appointed a Colonel, to David Davis – who resigned over ID cards but is now introducing them for EU citizens, to the dirty deal done with the DUP, we are entering a new era of extreme British nationalism based on an unquestioning loyalty and quietism.
If this was happening in an another country we would look-on astonished and alarmed as this move to the right and to the use of authoritarian language appears before us.
This false sense of “national unity” is being evoked from a group of politicians desperately pulling together as they enter a minefield of negotiations they are ill-prepared for. They are evoking and stoking a new and sinister patriotism.
Leadsom the leader of the House of Commons said: “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic. The country took a decision, this government is determined to deliver on that decision.”
Emily Maitlis, who was presenting the show, asked Leadsom if she was accusing broadcasters of being unpatriotic .
“Are you accusing me of being unpatriotic for questioning how negotiations are going, questioning whether you have the position of strength that she said she wanted?”
Leadsom replied: “I’m not accusing you of anything, Emily. I’m simply saying we all need to pull together as a country. We took a decision a year ago today to leave the European Union, we have a very strong hand and we are very well prepared for the negotiations.”
This is a threat to a free media (and we didn’t take a decision a year ago.)
The devolution settlement is being undermined at every turn, and the very concept of the Opposition is being re-framed.
Priti Patel the International Development Secretary, and co-author of ‘Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity’ the most right-wing tract to appear in Britain for a great many years, said of the Labour Party:
“Their role should be in supporting the Government, supporting the Government through these negotiations and also supporting our 12 negotiating objectives as well…We have set out our negotiating objectives. These are not objectives that should be fought across in the United Kingdom, as if we were having a rerun of the referendum last year.”
Patel wrote Britannia Unchained with Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, Chris Skidmore, and Elizabeth Truss – all members of a new far-right Conservative parliamentary faction called the Free Enterprise Group.
Raab wrote a paperfor the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) – one of the radical right’s most forthright thinktanks – urging that “the definition of fair dismissal should be widened … to encompass inadequate performance … [This] would help employers get the best from their staff.”
These aren’t rogue backbenchers or the old school “Hang em and flog em” brigade that used to appear on the fringe of the Conservative Party. Those are the people running the show.
This is the cabinet.
Ruth Davidson is about to marry an Irish/Catholic woman and her sexuality is frequently flaunted as proof-positive of her progressive credentials, and yet the Tory party seems riddled with homophobia.
Stephen Kerr, the new MP for Stirling is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of their key messages is that “Marriage: defined as a man and a woman”. Last week the Sunday Herald revealed last week that gay men were “outed” by homophobic church leaders when Kerr was a high-ranking figure in the church amidst further fears that the church had a policy of getting its representatives into positions of political power “Revealed: Tory MP in fresh equality row over church’s stance on equal marriage and ordination of black priests”.
The Sunday Herald reported:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not allow black people to become priests until June 1978 when it was said “the Lord revealed” that all “worthy men” could be ordained whatever their colour. Kerr was asked why black people had second-class status in the church when he appeared on Channel Five programme Do you believe in?, broadcast in August 1998. He said: “I don’t know. We don’t know. None of us know. Only God knows.”
Now we’re told that the newly appointed Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb has links to a ‘gay cure’ organisation.
Pink News reported that the MP employed interns in his parliamentary office through a scheme organised and funded by Christian Action Research and Education (CARE). CARE has previously sponsored events which refer to gay and bisexual people as “sexually broken” and advocating that they can become “ex-gay”.
The Conservatives may find their new allies to share some of their own questionable ‘values’.
Ian Paisley Junior’s father founded an organisation called ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’.
Paisley Jr has spoken of his “hatred” of homosexuality, saying: “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.”
His views are shared across the party. Gregory campbell, the MP for East Londonderry has described homosexuality as: “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice. My opposition to that is based on the Bible and also based on natural justice and I know many people who do not share my Protestant faith but who would share my opposition to homosexuality because they believe it is something which would corrupt society as a whole, and is something so radically awful as to merit total and utter opposition. You’re not even talking about someething which is a run of the mill sexual practice but something which is totally and utterly depraved. The AIDS scare which is currently running through America is proof that homosexual practice is something which calls upon the curse of God.”
“I would see homosexuality as something which merited the curse of God.” He continued: “AIDS came about because of sexual contact between homosexuals. Now that to me is something which shows in a small way that there is more than just human opposition to homosexuality.”
It will be interesting to see how the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party deal with the explicit homophobia of their Protestant brothers.
Under the new patriotism, all principle should be set-aside for the common good.
This is a bonfire of human rights akin to the bonfire of red tape thats become so unpopular recently. Women’s rights are undermined by the alliance with the DUP that have been steadfastly against the right to an abortion for years, an issue quietly forgotten about in the furore. Now we’re told that “EU citizens living in the UK will be forced to apply for identity cards after Brexit”.
And of course at the very heart of the DUP worldview is an aversion to catholicism. As David Jamieson has outlined their vision is inspired by a religious fundamentalism:
“The DUP is only partly the product of British Nationalism and political loyalism. Its world view is deeply impacted by religious thought.”
“For Paisley, the Plantation of Ulster in the 1600s, which saw English and Scottish Protestant farmers colonise parts of the North West, was an important part of God’s plan for the world – and for the end of the world. Liberalism made a major impact on Protestantism, and other religions and denominations, throughout the twentieth century. Paisley thought this “apostasy” was part of the end of the world, foretold in the book of Revelations in the Bible. He resisted liberalism – insisting on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. He especially resisted ecumenism, the movement towards reconciliation between the world’s Christian denominations. ‘Protestant Ulster’ would hold out against the tide.
He believed these developments were part of a global conspiracy, conducted by the Catholic Church and the Pope, who he believed was the anti-Christ foretold in Revelations. He believed that the Irish Catholic community’s demands for reform of the sectarian state were stimulated by the conspiracy, as were the republican movement and mainstream unionism.
The EU was also part of this “Romanism”, and he resisted it all his life. In 1988 he heckled Pope John Paul II at the European Parliament and held a poster claiming he was the ‘anti-Christ’.
These eccentric views are not incidental to the DUP, and its rise and success during the Troubles. It’s religious fervour reinforced the DUP against any temptation to compromise with the Irish Catholic community or the British state to bring the conflict to an end.”
So there is a convergence of several strands of bigotry, racism and misogyny combining together in this sordid deal to prop-up May’s regime.
It’s about to go up in smoke.
Gaslighting is usually a process of deliberate manipulation and that may be being too generous here.
The vision of Colonel Ruth in khaki is not remotely intimidating, it is adjust a symbolic nod and a wink to those who have their antennae tuned to the signs and the signifiers that a politician in uniform offers.
It is worth noting the very last sentence of the agreement between the DUP and the UK govt that keeps this regime clinging to office. It reads: “Both parties reiterate their admiration for the courage and sacrifice of the police and armed forces in upholding democracy and the rule of law and will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe them.”
Yesterday the former UVF commander for north Belfast and south east Antrim, Gary Haggarty admitted five murders for which he was given five life sentences. These will be significantly reduced as he is an assisting offender under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA).
We’re told that: “The BBC understands he told his interviewers that some of his Special Branch handlers not only protected him from arrest and prosecution, but also actively encouraged his activities. Those allegations are the subject of a separate, parallel investigation by the Police Ombudsman. The public prosecution service is to decide whether to prosecute two retired Special Branch officers based on files sent by the Police Ombudsman.”
I don’t think we all need to wait on tenterhooks for that one.
And the Irish Times today revealed “fresh documents which allege waterboarding was used by the British Army and the RUC in the North in the 1970s have been uncovered by a Derry human rights organisation.”
Upholding democracy and the rule of law.
The last few months has seen the light being dimmed on democracy in Scotland.
The routes to democratic expression are being shut down by a woman now posing in a military uniform – declared the victor in an election she clearly lost.
Significant parts of the constitution and landmarks of peace are just slid away without question.
The DUP deal announced today has other immediate impacts.
Since 1991 the British government has tried very hard to maintain a position of neutrality in Northern Ireland. The DUP deal scuppers that and not only undermines the peace agreement but also any efforts to set up a new power-sharing executive.
At a stroke the Barnett Formula is essentially shredded without the need for proper consultation, discussion or process.
Authoritarian regimes don’t emerge all of a sudden with jackboots and high-kicking soldiers. They emerge out of extreme values becoming mainstream and human rights being eroded as we dutifully consume and go about our daily lives exhausted by the quiet horror of it.
There’s a fear of diversity, there’s a regression and an assault on human rights. There’s a celebration of state power and an anticipation of a response. We still haven’t seen the Grenfell Tower tragedy play out and the reality that is spilling out is not a pretty picture.
This isn’t going to be the Summer of Love.
Remember when we were the divisive nationalists, and Britain was presented as the source of stability, the rock of economic and cultural certainty? It doesn’t seem so long ago.