Fields of Wheat and a Country for Ryon

On Friday Theresa May choked out a speech littered with bizarre lies and nonsense before staggering off into No 10 in tears.

Incredibly she claimed that:

“Brexit was not just a call to leave the EU but for profound change in our country, a call to make the United Kingdom a country that works for everyone.”

I must have missed that amongst the dog-whistle politics, the rampant xenophobia and the resurgent Anglo-British nationalism.

Suddenly, improbably, this hopelessly inflexible and socially dysfunctional leader was all about compromise and social inclusion.

Perhaps less amusingly, the woman who sent out ‘Go Home’ vans and sabotaged the Dubs Amendment dared to invoke the Kindertransport hero Sir Nicolas Winton in her defence. Graceless doesn’t quite do it justice, it’s breathless cynicism.

If her speech was a melange of contradictory messages, fabrication and disinformation, so was her reign which consisted of contrived nostalgic disinformation (“fields of wheat”) and mythical “red lines”; truly a country built for Ryon.  Hers was a time in office that shed Cabinet Ministers like confetti – and saw government control and colective responsibility effectively collapse. 

She leaves behind her a show-reel of terrible vignettes and cameos, her dancing in Africa, her speech at Conference where the staging collapsed around her, and a series of humiliating social events across the capitals of Europe where her complete inability to communicate, negotiate or navigate a strategy meant that she wasted months and years of time.

Her reign of power will be remembered as an exercise in futility that opened the door to an even more toxic Tory leader and oversaw the inexorable rise of UKIP and the Brexit Party.

But if May’s departure was peppered by odd incoherent language, completely contradictory statements and an impression this was almost completely inauthentic, this was appropriate as that was the characteristics of her time in office. Her reign has been littered by almost gnostic phrases and half-quotes that hint at something but remain obscurely banal, the language of a woman who was always slightly out of control:

“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed” – at the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto in Wrexham.

“I have to confess, when me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat, the farmers weren’t too pleased about that” .

“No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”.

“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

“Brexit means Brexit”.

“Crush the saboteurs”.

These phrases hang in the air like dark epitaphs, memorials to May’s dismal reign.

She’ll be remembered as the PM who couldn’t deliver Brexit, but she should be remembered for other things too. Despite her notion that Brexit would mean Britain would become a “country for everyone” this week saw the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty say successive governments continued to inflict austerity “largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences.”

In a damning indictment of the British welfare state, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty said policies introduced after the coalition took power in 2010 had continued “largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences” such as record levels of hunger and homelessness.

Philip Alston’s report found that although the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, one-fifth of its population – 14 million people – live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017, while close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021.

“Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated,” said Mr Alston.

As part of the fact-finding mission, Mr Alston said he met with women who had sold sex for money or shelter, young people who felt gangs were the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they must go back to work – against their doctor’s orders – or lose support.

The report finds that in the face of these problems, the government had remained “determinedly in a state of denial”, concluding that “much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War had been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”.

The reality is that these damning indictments of British welfare policies are not new, they are the outcome of years of ideological consensus. But this idea that the social cohesion that bound Britain together has been unbound is key. The Union will not collapse because the people of Scotland want self-determination, because there’s a border poll in Ireland or because the Welsh wake up. The Union will collapse because the institutions and structures and the social capital has been systematically destroyed.

A Department for the Provinces

In the post-May Tory party there is deep unease about how this is all going to play out. Stirling Tory MP Stephen Kerr told MPs he is “worried about the fragility of the Union” and called on the Government to “seriously consider” the idea of setting up a new ministry focused on cohesion between the different countries in the UK.

Setting aside the obvious colonial feel that the proposed “Department for the Union” evokes, it does smack of an attack on devolution. Kerr writes:

“Scottish local authorities are separated from their English counterparts, Scottish Enterprise competes with UK government agencies and systemic incompatibilities in the health service make staff transfers difficult. There is no good reason for any of this. A road that needs repair, a child that needs support or a disease that needs curing is no different on either side of the border. Surely by working together across governments, parliaments and throughout society we can achieve much more for the good of everyone. This is the message I receive consistently from my constituents in Stirling.”

“The Canadians have a Department of Intergovernmental Affairs that provides the impetus for co-operation at all levels of government. It holds meetings throughout the provinces with staff representing all parts of Canada. The Canadian prime minister is the “unity minister” in charge of this department.”

“Here, a Department for the Union could replicate this function, drawing staff from all parts of the UK with a mission to drive co-operation and partnership working. It would help spread good ideas and improve services where difference has driven successful innovation, and serve as a respectful place to negotiate where there are arguments to be had.”

I don’t think they’ve thought-through the ‘optics’ of this one, as the saying goes.

A clearer attack on devolution couldn’t really be articulated.

It’s as if the (18) 90s had never happened at all.

Boris’s Brexit Britain

The problem for the Conservative vision of a post-Brexit Britain is that their getting high on their own supply. The vapours of nationalism, the idea of an Imperial Britain sailing off into a sunset of Greatness is thin on detail. But it’s intoxicated the Tory mind. Where once the Union was treated a something to be nurtured with condescending platitudes and crumbs, bought-off and assimilated politicians and just enough symbolism and ceremony to keep the Jocks placid, now its treated as something to be imposed. Conservative paternalism is dead and you can see this from social policy to constitutional strategy.

The arrival of any of the contenders for the vacant leadership role will only exacerbate that further.

But if a Boris Johnson premiership would no doubt be a major boost to the cause of independence, we should not forget the work that May has put in to lay the groundwork.

In assessing May’s time in office we shouldn’t let her personal fragility and the isolation she experienced within her own party and cabinet, to blind us from the darkness of her own policies and worldview.

This is a verbatim quote real audio from a speech she gave in 2017 in which the Prime Minister of Britain compares those who argue for self-determination for Scotland with ISIS:

“It’s about ensuring we are a more united nation. That means taking action against the extremists who try and divide us. But it also means standing up to the separatists who want to break up our country.”

May’s reign in office will be remembered as the time when Britain dissolved in humiliating shame and farce, and the case for independence was made by the election of people previously thought unfit for office.

Comments (16)

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  1. Roland Laycock says:

    Spot on

  2. John Monro says:

    Excellent. I am a very charitable chap, and tend to feel sorry for people when they are distressed, and I did suffer a pang of sympathy for Theresa. But as my wife pointed out, one can feel sorry for someone in human, or perhaps Shakespearian tragedian terms, for the disgrace, the fall from favour, but in reality, everything that she’s suffered she’s brought on herself, both personally and in being a very willing cog in the toxic machinery of the Tory government. I’ve just listened to her resignation speech, it contains that same rightfully scorned plea- the “we’re all in this together” as previously espoused by David Cameron. Insightfulness does not seem to be a strong Tory trait. The end of the speech was, again so sadly and painfully, seriously comic. Your article cuts through any mist of sympathy, so thank you for that.

  3. Alan says:

    Kerr’s comparison with Canada is quite inappropriate as it leaves out the fact that Canada has one of the strongest federal systems in the world. There is a written constitution in which the provinces have real power. Sovereignty isn’t concentrated in the federal government.

  4. Wul says:

    “Stirling Tory MP Stephen Kerr told MPs …“Scottish local authorities are separated from their English counterparts,.. There is no good reason for any of this. A road that needs repair, a child that needs support or a disease that needs curing is no different on either side of the border… This is the message I receive consistently from my constituents in Stirling.”

    Aye, right!

    I lived in Stirling for 15 years. I don’t remember anyone wishing that they could start paying for their prescriptions. Or students desperate to pay £27k for a university course. Or NHS users wishing they could halve the number of GP’s available to them per head of population…like in good ol’ England.

    And actually their IS a difference. Boris told us so. “A pound spent in Strathclyde is worth less than a pound spent in London.”

    The idea that any, Eton educated spiv in Westminster gives a flying toss about a potholed road in Coatbridge or sick wean in Airdrie is laughable.

    1. Dougie Blackwood says:

      Now that is spot.on.

  5. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    “Ryon”? – you have me baffled, there, Editor. Clarify?

    1. See the photo Alasdair … when May had her disastrous coughing / P45 speech half of her backdrop fell off too … “Building A Country that Works for Everyone” became a “Bui ding a C ntry tha orks or Ryone”

      1. Wul says:

        Could have been a lot worse, with a word like “COUNTRY” becoming unglued!

      2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Thanks, Editor. And here was I scouring the Internet for some pointy-heidit allusion!

  6. Peter Murphy says:

    Good points well made.
    Unless we start talking like adults to each other and stop pretending to represent an outdated politic instead of our own agenda…. The whole Policical system is guaranteed to collapse.

    Collaboration is the ONLY way to resolve our Eton Mess….

  7. Alan Bissett says:

    Excellent, Mike. The only thing I’d contest is ‘the inexorable rise of UKIP’. After the EU elections, they appear to be toast. The Brexit Party, on the other hand…

    1. I meant historically, if even briefly, and yes they have morphed seamlessly into the Brexit Party

      1. john burrows says:

        Nigel Farage’s current political vehicle is just UKIP re-branded. Minus any policies.

        Comfortable baby boomers, geriatrics, crackpots and spivs make up nearly 100% of its “membership.” Brexit will literally shorten the lives of most of them. Half of them will probably be bankrupt, dead, or both, within 10 years of their “no deal.”

        Farage’s disciples demand that the young build their fantasy “Global Britain,” paying the price for their elder’s epic stupidity. Apparently while simultaneously insulating the latter from their own misguided choices. This is what will truly condemn them in the eyes of future generations. Future historians will wonder at the pathological sociopathy of these human mushrooms. They are entirely bereft of any kind of moral compass or common sense.

        NF’s current front for hedge funds is no party. It is a Baby boomer suicide pact.

        Ironically, their swift demise will likely be the only real benefit Brexit will confer on what is left of the UK.

  8. Jonno says:

    “Incredibly she claimed that:

    “Brexit was not just a call to leave the EU but for profound change in our country, a call to make the United Kingdom a country that works for everyone.”

    I must have missed that amongst the dog-whistle politics, the rampant xenophobia and the resurgent Anglo-British nationalism.”

    You did miss it, yes, which is why this site continues to churn out clueless shite about Brexit. Perhaps if you went out and spent a bit of time in some working class or ‘provincial’ communities across England and Wales, instead of chuntering from Scotland, you might get beyond the media blah and start to see what’s going on. But I doubt you’d ever be interested enough. Safer, after all, to keep pushing your agenda from up there. BC is, after all, primarily a vehicle for promoting the sectional interests of its editor. As such, it is as small-minded as the Daily Mail and just as predictable.

    As for the ‘resurgent Anglo-British nationalism’: I had to smile! So much worse, after all, than ‘resurgent Scottish nationalism’, which we all know is entirely different, right? It’s not like both are driven by a desire for sovereignty after all. No. Sovereignty south of the border is fascism. Yeah. Keep walking into that wall, angry man.

    1. Thanks Jonno, its inconceivable that you are trying to re-frame Brexit as a project of social justice and national unity, but good luck with that.

      I am chuntering from Scotland because I live in Scotland, so, yeah I’ll be “pushing my agenda from up here”.

      As for Bella being “primarily a vehicle for promoting the sectional interests of its editor” – that’s kinda what an editor does isnt it? If you want to set up your own magazine “How Brexit Can Liberate and Unite Us All” or something, feel free.

      Sovereignty south of the border isn’t fascism – but there are a umber of actual fascists promoting it. This is maybe inconvenient but its true.

    2. Bill W says:

      It’s hard to compare the two counties quest to be Sovereign Jonno. The U.K., or England, wants to take power back from a Union and can do so by simply advising that Union it is leaving. The Scottish Parliament wants the same but has to as ask Westminster for permission to confirm the people agree. Immediately the PM, and a few of her potential successors say “no”. It appears to me you guys are pretty much in control of your own destiny, and ours.

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