Death Star Britain

After two years of keeping some belongings in storage, my flat is now piled high and deep with boxes of useless but cherished items and strewn with books and magazines spilling ideas and dust. From The Drouth: “A failed state becomes a death star” (2014) seems to loom out of the piles like an mystic prophecy or a constitutional Fortune Cookie.

As the multiply-rejected Nigel Farage is groomed for a Peterborough seat, and as the threat of a Corbyn government provokes a Pre-Election Coup taking place in plain sight, living in Britain today feels like being a character in a David Peace novel. However feint they may be, the prospects of a left-wing government in Britain are unacceptable for the British elite. As Paul Mason has pointed out: “The “old” method of dealing with a left-wing Labour government — sabotage by unaccountable elements of the executive as in 1924 or under Wilson — has become impossible. The “very British coup” has to take place before the election, not after it.”

And so with little resistance a Brexit Britain emerges and energises itself off-of catastrophe, Disaster Capitalism morphing into Crash Brexitism with its jubilant supporters high on their own rhetoric, feted and urged on to more and more excess. It’s Shock Doctrine with a lot of bunting. As competing government departments realise the sedulous impact reports rumoured (then denied) by David Davis, chaos ensues. Today we’re told the Department of Health have warned that “women will have to give up work to look after their ageing parents unless EU care workers are given priority after Brexit.” It’s a strange statement, which presumes that men were born magically without parents, or responsibilities, but it does confirm our status as a nation (sic) hurtling backwards to some time in the past with pink maps way back before “political correctness went mad” etc.

Mainstreaming fascism over your coffee and Sunday papers is now just a part of what we shold probably stop calling ‘modern Britain’.

There’s an irony in the deception too of course, as the Conservative Party – itself riddled with racists – doesn’t need to lead the smear campaign against Corbyn’s Labour. The irony is that for all the visceral fear of a left-wing government that is floating in the air, it’s the right not the left that are the radicals and the revolutionaries. The elite are in full revolt against their own failed system. This is a populism of the rich, as John Harris points out:

“Two things pull together some of the most notable members of this coalition: personal wealth sufficient to ride out Brexit with ease, and increasingly evident ties to Steve Bannon, the former strategy guru to Donald Trump, who is now spending half his time in Europe and plotting the arrival of something called The Movement, a pan-European populist organisation. Bannon has reportedly been talking to Johnson and hailed him as a key player on the world stage; his encounter with Rees-Mogg late last year similarly convinced him that the MP for North East Somerset and descendant of coalmine-owners is “one of the best thinkers in the conservative movement on a global basis”.

Keeping Bannon’s company highlights the extent to which these politicians are blazing a trail for a rightwing politics that has decisively left behind any semblance of moderation, and fully embraced the reckless mindset of the revolutionary. There is a reason why the hard Brexiteers cannot coherently explain their vision of Brexit: their chief aim is to break as many things as possible, in the belief that from the rubble might arise a kind of flag-waving, small-state, free-market utopia that even the blessed Margaret might have found unpalatable.”

Burnt Goat Heads

As we’ve spoken about before, the imminent Shock Doctrine Brexit will arrive into a land of hunger, food insecurity and calculated, long-term, avoidable dietary-related ill-health.  Radically reframing food and farming is a key part of the Brexit agenda.

Today it was reported by Business Insider that in any trade deal the former diplomat Sir Peter Westmacott is warning the USA will force the UK to ditch European standards in favour of Washington’s (especially in agriculture).

He said: “In would come high growth hormone beef, chlorine-washed chickens, GMOs, and even lamb produced at high volume and relatively low cost, all of which have the potential to do serious damage to Britain’s agricultural industry.”

The magazine reports: “The US fight with the EU over agricultural products runs back decades. The EU bans the imports of US-produced products including high-growth hormone-treated pork and beef, genetically modified cereals, and chlorine-washed chicken.”

Elsewhere an investigation by Friends of the Earth has revealed the extent of lobbying by the Australian meat and livestock industry as Brexit draws closer.

The Independent reports: “Australian meat industry leaders are heavily lobbying their government to put pressure on Britain to accept products currently banned under EU law after Brexit.”

Among the meat products suggested for export to the UK are hormone-treated beef and “burnt goat heads”.

The paper reports: “Ministers from both countries met last week to discuss the future of their trading relationship, amid concerns that the Australian government could force the UK to lower food standards.”

“Sheep and beef imports of that nature risk depressing the UK beef price, beyond which our producers really couldn’t remain in business if it happen on a larger scale – it’s not something I’d like to see Liam Fox trading away,” he said.

Jon Andrews, a farmer from south Devon and England chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network is quoted saying: “Our standards adopted through the EU are possibly some of the highest standards in the world.”

“Sheep and beef imports of that nature risk depressing the UK beef price, beyond which our producers really couldn’t remain in business if it happen on a larger scale – it’s not something I’d like to see Liam Fox trading away.”

If we put that in a context of Scottish rural agriculture there may be a direct threat to hill-farmers and beef farmers and a crucial blow to Scotland’s burgeoning food economy which has tried to emphasise quality and provenance.

But why if such threats are real and not some Remoaner Fantasy is there such a feeling of stupor and lack of resistance?

Not Normal

Over time you become used to relentless crisis, political farce and low-grade corruption. That becomes just the backdrop to how politics is done. As we have seen recently with the racket around Dark Money and election rigging, when such behaviour comes without any credible recourse, the view is reinforced that the activity is normal, “everybody’s at it” or as BBC Scotland put it with a quite shrug at the weekend about the impact of Vote Leave corruption: “we’ll never know”.

But whilst this is certainly a state of exception – which in Britain means the Defence of the Realm Act and the Emergency Powers Act amongst others –  of heightened and resurgent English nationalism – and of aggressive neoliberalism – it is also one in which wider system failure is becoming too difficult to sweep under an already over-crowded carpet.

First the climate.

One hot summer seems to have woke the Sleeping Beauties of the London commentariat to this reality.

Richard Seymour citing Arctic loss, charred Boreal forests, and bee colony collapse argues: “The catastrophists are the optimists here”.

“We are already in the midst of a mass extinction event. The regularity with which new or threatened extinctions are announced – from the white rhinoceros to the lemur – is staggering. The background rate of extinction is 150-200 species a day. This is “biological annihilation”. Mass extinction is not new, but its speed is.”

Seymour guards against lecturing against consumerism and concludes darkly: “We need more than catastrophist foresight. We need something to yearn for. We need to answer a question that we barely even know how to ask: what will we do with ourselves as a species if we choose not to go extinct?”

Second, the economy.

Umair Haque begins a story about the world we’re in by observing that while Soviet style communism was always marked by chronic, predictable shortages for luxuries, capitalism is collapsing now in a weirdly similar way: “It’s marked by chronic, persistent shortages for just the opposite. Not for luxuries — but for life’s basic necessities.”

By creating an artificial scarcity in such areas as housing, affordable education, decent jobs, food or water (see Flint or Cape Town), Haque argues, capitalism is failing in the same way that communism did.

“Unless you believe that a bigger TV is a substitute for a stable job, a raise, savings, a mortgage you can pay off, healthcare you can afford, and stability that you can depend on. The rich have grown astronomically richer — but life below the line of being super rich is something between precarious and implosive, and that is because artificial scarcity keeps the basics of a decent life just out of reach, endlessly. That’s not a bug — it’s a feature of predatory capitalism. And that is why the future is a choice between of two kinds of socialism.”

So the rise of ultranationalism isn’t just about wonky Facebook algorithms, dark money or Hillary Clinton, it’s another indicator of a deeper system failure.

Into these spaces steps the far-right, drawing on peoples fears and desperation and confusion.

As Fintan O’Toole has laid out: “One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed.”

It may be counter-intuitive but the most radical thing we could do is step out of our comfort-zone and speak (and listen) beyond our tribe.

As Britain moves into Death Star mode we need to move beyond localised grievance to thinking and acting for system change, to disrupt the narrative being pushed into our heads and re-connect in our communities.

 

 

 

 

Comments (12)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    “The catastrophists are the optimists here”.

    Love it. Was looking at Margo’s Healing Channel on Youtube, the current Arctic sea ice is about 60-75% down in volume compared to 2012. Whilst the current extent area is slightly greater than 2012, the thickness is massively reduced with very little at 1m thickness.
    Blue Ocean Event becoming a distinct reality given we have 7 more weeks melt season to go.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I think this article is missing something somewhere. Do we really think that Corbyn can lead any government? The various groups that have gathered under the banner of what used to be the Labour party could not hold together long enough to form a workable cabinet never mind run a country.

    If Labour was a credible government in waiting we would now be in a general election. Enough of them voted with the Tories in the last Brexit vote to let them get over the line into the recess when any form of discipline would have brought them down.

    There is a growing conspiracy on the right of politics that is taking control but many of their adherents are elected members of the Labour opposition that arrived in the Blair version some years ago and have never been thrown out. Are these crypto fascists being weeded out? There is not a chance of a real socialist Labour party without a purge and that is nowhere in sight.

    Forget Westminster, it’s a lost cause. Our only hope is to convince those that still cling to the hope of better times and a real Labour party in UK that our salvation is in an independent Scotland. Once free of the ruling Eton/Oxbridge clique that run the present state we can develop a truly egalitarian society where those at the bottom are considered and given a real opportunity to escape from their present enforced slavery.

    1. I think its precisely that Labour is a credible government in waiting that we’re not now in a general election.

      “There is a growing conspiracy on the right of politics that is taking control but many of their adherents are elected members of the Labour opposition that arrived in the Blair version some years ago and have never been thrown out.” 100% right – I agree.

  3. Adrian Roper says:

    Thanks for this great post.

    Brexit as calculated step towards trans-Atlantic fascism…
    ….and the answer: a call to lift our heads above the tribal. In a Bella Caledonia context, clearly this means an alliance beyond the Tweed. Or (from my Welsh location) beyond the Wye.

    I agree, and would add (and suspect the author would endorse) that tribalism is nevertheless an inevitable reality of the human condition – and, rather than pretend we can overcome it, we should aspire for good leaders who can use and steer it in healthy directions – and not leave it in the hands of the fascists.

    Healthy English tribalism would find allies with healthy Scottish and Welsh tribalism. It would be healthy in accepting tribal borders, valuing tribal differences, and thereby confidently embracing all that is common and shareable: just as each tribal state currently does in the flawed but unparalleled miracle of the EU.

    Those who demand a British tribe, inevitably dominated by the English majority, reduce rather than increase the chances of supra-tribal solidarity. Worse, they leave the hugely powerful beast of English tribalism in unhealthy hands.

    I think Labour is disastrously failing to grasp this. I don’t see much evidence that Plaid Cymru or the SNP do either. They need to think foreign policy…with England as priority number one.

    We need a love fest between our tribes, honouring our differences as well as our common cause, with a proudly independent England loving its neighbours, and vice versa. We need to help England find its best self.

    Yes?

    1. Yes exactly. Being part of a ‘tribe’ is not the problem, being trapped in a tribe unable to speak to other tribes is.

      WE have much in common and many local difference of place, culture and economy. That’s okay.

      “Those who demand a British tribe, inevitably dominated by the English majority, reduce rather than increase the chances of supra-tribal solidarity. Worse, they leave the hugely powerful beast of English tribalism in unhealthy hands.”

      Precisely.

    2. Graeme Purves says:

      I think that’s very true, Adrian. And if we can navigate our way through the current crisis, institutional frameworks like the British – Irish Council can play a vital role in building better relationships between the peoples of these islands and facilitating collaboration. At present, that sort of thinking is being drowned out by the sturm und drang of the apostles of chaos.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps the politics of Trumpery and much of today’s English nationalism is a kind of mysticism: promoting an ecstasy of anger, a bit like Shakespeare’s Harry Hotspur, “drunk with choler”. Some Scottish nationalism too, I would guess, out on the fringes. If so, arguing with normal political rhetoric to such followers of mystics simply fuels their state of ire. Hotspur’s uncle Worcester rebukes his fault: “oftentimes it doth present harsh rage,
    Defect of manners, want of government,
    Pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain”

  5. florian albert says:

    Mike Small starts his article by suggesting that the Sunday Times, last Sunday, was promoting Fascism. (Later in the article he quotes Fintan O’Toole on the threat of Fascism.)
    Also in the Sunday Times was an article by historian Adam Tooze; author of the most comprehensive analysis of the Nazi economy. Tooze wrote that ‘The 30s parallel is hysterical. … it’s completely superficial.’

    1. Ah well, that’s conclusive

  6. Hilary Christie says:

    About eating imported meat: Most of us know that we should be eating a great deal less meat for a whole load of reasons.. If under quality meat comes rushing in after Brexit then this could be the time to start refusing meat for every day and in stead going exclusively for local, Scottish meat to be appreciated slowly and less often. Make it a speciality. I do this with organic chicken just once in a while and the experience is so different. This would help our farmers and make us more aware.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Hilary Christie, indeed our agricultural policy should be based on such reason, not appetite nor pride; and therefore set an understandable example to others.

    2. Wul says:

      I hope we are able to identify local beef in the post Brexit future.

      The Scottish meat in my local supermarket is now labelled as “British” with a wee union flag logo on it. If I look carefully, I can see that the producer is from Angus. Hopefully this mis-labelling will revert back to “Scottish Beef’ once we are out of this current constitutional hubris.

      When I’m in England I look for “Herefordshire” beef as a source I can trust.

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