2007 - 2020

Beyond Decline, Welcome to Parody Britain

As the whole phenomenon of Meghan Markle and Harry hovers somewhere between Grazia and Made in Chelsea, so it’s difficult to comment at all without being sucked into a vortex of stupidity. You can agree with Afua Hirsch about the torrent of racism endured by Markle and what it tells us about the cultures inculcated by establishment and tabloid Britain, but it only takes you so far. Hirsch wrote:

“From the very first headline about her being “(almost) straight outta Compton” and having “exotic” DNA, the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee. Then there was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists.”

The debacle has been followed by the phenomenon of male commentators queuing up to expose their own ignorance and bigotry as the British media spiraled into a frenzy of hysterical incomprehension. These are Tom Nairn’swatchdogs straining at the leash to keep the population inside the Britain theme park“.  If Piers Morgan was peerless in this regard, he is followed by Iain Macwhirter’s privileged whitesplaining on The Nine and Jonathan Freedland breezily explaining: “The second warning for republicans is that, once we’ve left the EU, Britons will hold even tighter to those things that are uniquely or peculiarly British.”

The premise that this charade was based on was never tenable. The fanfare that greeted the couples marriage ceremony was always a slightly uncomfortable one, with strange notions of a “Feminist Princess” walking hand in hand with even wilder notions of a post-racial Britain just as a blatantly racist Prime Minister was elected into office and figures revealing that racially motivated hate crime has increased every year since 2013, doubling to 71,251 incidents in England and Wales in 2018, according to the Home Office.

Meghan and her mum couldn’t fix this. There was no redemption.

But the spectacle of a dysfunctional family imploding and the racism it reveals shouldn’t obscure the deeper British crisis we’re in the midst of.

We are experiencing late or terminal Britishness. As Tom Nairn puts it in Pariah:

“Decline was the older, more genteel form of putrefaction which prevailed until the close of the 1970s. But from then on, a qualitatively distinct phase has taken over – the brazen simulacrum endured by all subjects of the Crown today.”

If bunting and confetti were important to Declining Britain they are essential to Parody Britain. That’s why the failure of the Meghan and Harry Reboot is important. It will of course be followed shortly by the death of Prince Philip and the Queen, and they will be left with Charles and Camilla and Andrew (who seems to have successfully disappeared into the shadows).

Identity River

But as this all unfolds in all its tabloid glory, commentators like Freedland (and many others) continue to assume that the process of leaving the EU is strengthening Britain and Britishness. This is the world seen through an English lens and represents staggering ignorance of what’s happening.

This has been a long time coming and commentators have had a long time to catch-up.

If September 1997 was one landmark, so too was the landslide of 2015 and the surge of 2019.

The idea that democracy doesn’t matter, or that it’s viable to shut-off all means of democratic expression that is being put out there by Alister Jack and Boris Johnson is the very caricature of a crumbling ancien régime.

The Scottish Secretary announcing the result of the 2021 Holyrood elections in January 2020 is Not Normal – and it stands next to Priti Patel’s attacks on Extinction Rebellion today as a serious assault on democracy. People need to start making these connections and get out of the silo.

As the saying goes: “A Union needs a unionist at both ends” – and the new sensibility that this is not a Union based on consent is beautiful as a revelation and a campaign tool.

It seems that something is broken and much more is breaking down.

Johnson’s election – and the wider crisis of Anglo-British identity – threatens to bring the “underground river to the surface”.

As Nairn writes in After Britain (Granta 2000):

“That is, the “identity-river” or undermining stream of abnegation, self-suppression and doubt, what had been until then) the sustaining junior-partner negativism of modern Scotland. For the first time since 1707 – since “the last day Scotland was Scotland” – the black waters reached the open air again and began to flow something like normally.’

Soft Totalitariainism

What was apparent on Saturday in Glasgow seemed to be the breaking down of self-suppression, a new normal emerging in the face of the abnormality of Brexitland Britain and the retreat from the world it represents.

Jack and Patel’s attacks on democracy can be seen as what Nairn foretold as a new “soft-totalitarianism”:

“…this impersonation of old Britain should not be confused with real continuity. The country’s rulers have now become a parody of themselves. “After-Britain” is simultaneously the heir to, and the absolute betrayer of, its past and traditions. Its real meaning is a “soft totalitarianism” under which society is ceaselessly convoked into whatever redemptive dream is projected by the governing elite and its media. The “revolutions” of 1979 and 1997 have continued to nourish the Unwritten Constitution, and to revere its retrospect of glamour and untouchable stability — a paralysing façade of reassurance, behind which a deeply divergent country has in truth emerged.”

When Nairn wrote of the UK as a “changeling Kingdom of Thatcher, Major and Blair — a parody of Britain which strives to rejuvenate itself by will-power, charisma, histrionics, cascades of “new ideas” and ingenious policies from cones to domes — anything except a new political constitution. Within this non-stop, non-revolution from above, what we see are features of revered tradition reinvented as farce, and sometimes transformed into their opposites.”

What is Brexit if it’s not a “non-stop, non-revolution from above”?

The “cones and domes” have been replaced but now with bridges to Ireland, Johnson’s techno-gibberish at the Tory conference and the Legatum Institute’s drones and zeppelin.

These stand in place of any meaningful reforms, as Labour blah-blahs about Federalism and organises an away-day to talk to itself about it’s terminal decline (again).

There are two themes that survive against the background drone of Harry and Meghan chatter.

One is the almost constant refrain that this is the time for “unity” and “continuity” and going “beyond rancour” etc etc. Conveniently unity trumps democracy with Jack saying: “Referendums are very divisive for our society and I think the time now is for us all to pull together as one United Kingdom, and go forward and take on the benefits that exist”.

The second is the continual backwards reference to war, empires and former glories. This is normally heard from the vantage point of those wanting a Festival of Brexit and proclaiming January 31 Liberation Day.

This strand neatly brings together a quasi-religious vibe with a retro-British militarism. Leave.EU here somehow equating Brexit with defeating Nazism in 1945, mixing LEAVING Europe with LIBERATING Europe. A campaign run by forces allied with some of Europe’s far-right now channeling the defeat of fascism, a political force intent on de-regulation and selling off of public / collective areas of the economy celebrating the moment that heralded a Labour government and the modern welfare state.

I’m not sure how many “patriots” will find their way to bell-towers but the state of English politics continues to resemble a weird hybrid of the hyper-normal and the Orwellian.

All of this is to say that whilst talking about – or writing about – Meghan and Prince Harry is faintly embarrassing it does have meaning in the context of the wider historical collapse of British institutions and meaning.

The British state is incapable of re-inventing itself because it is incapable of reflecting on its past or distancing itself from the structures of power and privilege which its institutions are designed to protect. There will be no Federal state, there will be no reformed House of Lords, there will be no modernised Monarchy, there is no Feminist Princess. There is no ‘post-racial Britain’ and Brexit will not strengthen Britishness.

Meghan and Harry have been removed from the stage at Madame Tussaud’s. The press dutifully reported this as if it was part of some ancient meaningful ritual:

Steve Davies, General Manager at Tussaud’s said:

“Alongside the rest of the world we are reacting to the surprising news that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be stepping back as senior Royals. From today Meghan and Harry’s figures will no longer appear in our Royal Family set.”

Images of the display today now shows an empty space next to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip where the couple once stood.

Britain is being melted down and re-ordered before our very eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (18)

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  1. Josef Ó Luain says:

    “The British state is incapable of re-inventing itself because it is incapable of reflecting on its past or distancing itself from the structures of power and privilege which its institutions are designed to protect.”

    Ex Tory P.M. John Major’s, outright refusal in 1996 to become involved in any manner of State apology regarding the Irish Famine and the resultant deaths of a million-plus then British subjects due to starvation, at a time when food was being exported from Ireland, is a grotesque example of the above.

  2. Jo says:

    I still haven’t shaken off the depression swirling around my head after the election and that Tory majority.

    Listening to Jack on Sunday Politics yesterday I was just aghast at the verbal contortions he went through trying to unsay everything he’d previously said about an SNP clear mandate in 2021. It was excruciating. And a pile of dung.

    “Scottish” Labour’s EC have kicked Leonard’s ass for suggesting there’s no harm in backing indyref2.

    Prity Patel is claiming the UK isn’t racist when the Tory Party is awash with racism, something she’d once admitted herself. She’s also insisting that Prince Harry’s wife hasn’t been subjected to it, which just isn’t true.

    And then there’s Harry and Meghan. I’m sad for them actually. Families can be difficult things. I have been shocked by the viciousness of many journalists, even male journalists, who have sniped with the worst of the super-bitches at this couple. Kevin McKenna and Iain MacWhirter both offered up scathing pieces at the weekend claiming Harry was “talentless”, had never had a proper job. Didn’t he serve in the military and train? Didn’t he do tours of duty in Afghanistan and only return home because our halfwit press told the world he was there, thus putting his whole group in even more danger? Would McKenna and MacWhirter dare say such a thing about any ordinary guy who’d served in the military? I don’t think so.

    Our press are pretty much as low as they can go. Worrying that one of the nastiest out there is the wife of a Cabinet Minister who spent most of last week kicking lumps out of Prince Harry and Meghan.

    Meanwhile we managed to dodge WW3 after the US decided to assassinate a senior figure in Iran and Australia is still burning. Funny old things priorities.

    1. K says:

      Jo, I totally agree with you. The way Megan has been treated is awful. I wish Harry and Megan all the best and good luck to them. The outrage in the MSM about this is ridiculous! It’s a shame these so called journalists didn’t act this fervently about the Tory lies during the election. Overall I think the MSM are just using this as a distraction so we don’t notice what the Government is up to.

      1. MBC says:

        I was shocked by McKenna’s piece. And McWhirter. They are republicans trotting out the same republican jibes against royalty. They just don’t get it. McWhirter doesn’t get the racism and the tabloids that have been so vicious towards Meghan. McKenna doesn’t get that the issue isn’t money, it’s security. They have enough to live comfortably as private citizens. Harry could renounce his titles but he can’t escape from his blood. He’s trapped. He is the Queen’s grandson. He also did tours in the military in Afghanistan. They can’t live quietly as private citizens. There will always be somebody who will try to have a pop at him, and the wee fella too, because he’s royalty now as well. He can’t protect his family that means so much to him. He didn’t ask to be born Prince Harry. He has the same human rights as anybody else to privacy, security and family life.

        1. Jo says:

          MBC

          Totally agree.

      2. Jo says:

        It’s certainly alarming, the sheer arrogance of the media in their demands to know everything takes the breath away.

        Lizzie has issued a statement tonight in which she refers to “Harry and Meghan”. This prompted the media to declare she’d stripped them of their titles. (She calls them the Sussexes later in the statement!)

        I think she’ll probably handle it better than anyone. He is still her grandson. She wants something sorted. I think that will happen. It is, however, truly frightening how the media can suddenly turn on a person. Harry was commended for opening up about mental health issues and coping with his mother’s death. Now many in the media are denouncing him as a basket case, a weak man. What hypocrisy. No wonder he wants out and away from the vile UK media.

        If only we could all escape from its drivel.

        1. MBC says:

          Yes the media they are fleeing from is the same one that brought us Brexit. They are both linked to a general crisis of a putrefying empire.

          I watched that wee boy follow behind his mother’s coffin killed by that same sewer of a media that now threatens his wife and his wee boy. He’s striking out for freedom and I wish him well. The money’s not the problem, it’s how his security can be met and if he can ever really escape.

          1. Jo says:

            Yes, MBC, I think he saw how it was going to go and he wasn’t prepared to leave her open to what was done to his mother. No wonder.

            I can’t get over how all these folk feel they have the right to do such awful things. They’re even on about the other American, Wallis Simpson! Such hysteria.

            The day the announcement broke last week Sky were interviewing Meghan’s awful sister who was putting the boot in as well. “This is what Meghan does. She divides families.” What a piece of work!

            I hope they’ll be ok.

          2. I think they’ll be okay … outof al the people in the world to worry about I dont worry about them

          3. Jo says:

            I’m not worrying about them, Mike. I get what you say. It’s not like they’ll be in the street, I get that. It’s just the poison that can flow from the laptoppers in the tabloids and even the “quality” titles. KMcK and IMacW articles were just ridiculous and I felt disappointed in both of them.

            I know a lot of YES folk despise the monarchy but I’ve never been into all that stuff. I honestly feel quite sympathetic. I mean, Andrew, he deserves all he gets but Harry hasn’t actually done anything wrong yet he’s being hung out to dry. I just think it’s really out of order.

  3. MBC says:

    This is a great article Mike. I don’t know how you can bear to look into that bitter swirling cauldron of hot poison with such clear-eyed vision.

    This came today. https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/the-scottish-people-vs-the-uk/?fbclid=IwAR00ONs6JDXZjzRDlG3AzD06srEkrk1Rr4MN8UXb4aaFeJEKZN6MMRSG5Ag&utm_source=sendinblue&utm_campaign=Update23382078onTheScottishPeopleVsTheUKGovernmentonIndyref2January132020&utm_medium=email

    They will soon pass a bill that will make referendums impossible.

    We have reached the limit of constitutional politics. The MPs should come home and start campaigning for independence,

  4. Hamish100 says:

    The truth is what we are talking about is England and only England. We are collateral damage.

  5. Josef Ó Luain says:

    The longest running soap-opera in the English-speaking world – The Royals. But who am I to opine on what the public should or should not consume in the privacy of their homes? Particularly so when I can press “mute” or “off” on the remote-control before some Royal correspondent or other gets the chance to launch into his or her predictable spiel. It’s so easy not to catch The Royals.

    1. Jo says:

      Josef
      Well, yes, but we could say that about anything couldn’t we? So in the end it’s about the different things people pay attention to.

      There’s also another issue tho’ which isn’t about anyone’s taste in news. It’s about the appalling standards in journalism that exist now, the machine that is our media which produces massive lies on a daily basis on whatever subject required.

      Our national broadcaster is now part of that pack. The lies can be about any subject under the sun. There is no limit.

      1. MBC says:

        Agreed Jo. I call it the msm the Daily Spew.

  6. MBC says:

    I think why this subject is so engrossing is that it’s another example of the dissolution of the British state and empire. We are one step closer to abolition of the monarchy and the glue holding Britain together.

    I’ve always thought that the end of British monarchy would come when the royals themselves decided to throw the towel in, as Harry evidently has.

    But Harry can’t ever be free as long as the rest are there. Because until they decide to go, he’s still the Queen’s grandson and can’t escape from his blood even if he renounces his titles and any royal privileges.

  7. John Monro says:

    Good luck to Harry and Meghan. I mean that in normal humane terms. I certainly don’t wish them badly. I was one of those who wondered how this marriage would proceed and didn’t subscribe to the fluff of Meghan bringing new blood and modernising the Royal Family. I thought she would find very quickly the stultifying nature of her position, and unfortunately the country she is now part of. And nothing to do with being “Royal”. How many feisty American women wouldn’t find it difficult to emigrate to the UK, its weather, its crowded streets, its strangeness? In any marriage across borders, it’s more often the wife that gets to chose where you live, and the homing instinct is very powerful. But in escaping back to N America, is it really going to be that different?. Politics and society in the USA is equally pathological, perhaps less so in Canada, I don’t know. But it’s ok I suppose if you’re rich and you have wealthy friends. But nor do I see this couple’s escape as “good on them”. There’s a bit of having your cake and eating it – they wish to remain “Royal” and have even trademarked their position “Royal Sussex” and have had someone produce a slick internet site to promote themselves. So I remain just a bit cynical about their actions and what they actually represent. It’s no wonder William and Harry have fallen out, slimming down the Monarchy would never have been to the extent of removing Harry from the scene; William and Kate will be feeling just a bit isolated, and wondering about the sort of work-load they may be needing to take on. The ready and unconditional support of a loving brother will be a big loss. They both suffered the same loss, after all. The Queen will just be very sad and upset. Not needed at the end of her reign. Andrew, and now this.

    When Queen Victoria died, it was the end of an era, and a violent convulsion was not that far away. Queen Elizabeth’s death will mark just as great a transformation as we start having to face the mountains of difficulties that we are creating for ourselves with rampant consumerism, extreme capitalism, geopolitical rivalries, over-population, environmental degradation and global warming – we will in future look back on this age as the last of humanity’s summer wine (as regards our Western nations), not a golden age but at least an age when we thought we knew what we were doing and could generally look benignly to our future. Britain’s failure doesn’t just belong to us, but pretty well the whole planet. Whilst I agree with much of this article, it could be criticised as being just a bit too parochial. Much of what is described could be equally applied to many other countries and societies.

    1. MBC says:

      The security is the issue. If they are royal, they can argue to have security provided. By either Canada or UK or both. But if they renounce their titles they can have no expectation of security from either government. Yet Harry and Archie will remain targets whether HRH or not. I think that’s a real bind and dilemma for them and I think that’s why they are not talking about renouncing their titles to become private citizens. I don’t think that is a realistic choice for them.

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