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 should 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 re-framing 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?
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.