Popular Culture, Brexit and the One Nation

There was a palpable sense of euphoria on the BBC during the morning after the night before of the General Election of December 12, 2019. It had a feeling of glee about it; a childish excitement that the un-English dragon of socialism – as represented by Jeremy Corbyn – had well and truly been defeated by the forces of St George of England. These forces, amazingly, had included many of those who had been reduced to the level of serfdom by the political party they were now supporting. Dragon Jeremy had promised these serfs their rightful inheritance and they chose Boris, the court jester, instead. England’s green and pleasant lands could remain forever precariously green – a bit like the serfs themselves.

In a sense the BBC was entitled to this gleefulness because it had helped to orchestrate a campaign that told the serfs of England’s former industrial areas that the court jester needed their seats to Get Brexit Done. Many duly obliged because they too wanted to Get Brexit Done. No-one asked them why they wanted it done and why Europe was so noxious to them. No-one asked them if they thought it was the EU that was responsible for the de-industrialisation of their areas; if the EU was responsible for the austerity they lived under; for the food banks they go to for food or for the zero hours and chronic low pay they receive. No-one asked them if all these adversities were made in the UK or in the EU. For the court jester, however, Europe was foreign and too left wing with too many regulations for a free-marketeer like him. England did not need to be a vassal state any longer. She could be free from all the regulations that guaranteed the serfs minimal rights and be great again.

The political media pundits though never spoke much about England at all. They spoke about Britain and the British election and about how the incoming British government would Get Brexit Done. England and Britain are clearly inter-changeable words, for them. The reality, however, in this election was that of the 365 seats won by the Conservatives, an enormous 345 were secured in England. Scotland gave them 6 out of 59 and Wales gave them 14 out of 40. Northern Ireland gave them a Remain vote and a nationalist majority. The overwhelming mandate for Brexit came overwhelmingly from England as a result of the English nationalist genie that had been released from the Brexit bottle. What has to be examined is how this huge English mandate has come about.

Yes, of course, the TV channels and newspapers will support any form of Conservatism including the cabal currently associated with Johnson’s extreme right-wing coup leading his Party. It doesn’t matter how far right this Party goes because – so we are repeatedly informed – the Conservative Party is the natural Party of Government. Any cursory look at the record of who has been in power down the last 120 years will confirm this rather easily. What has to be considered is why this is the case and how has it been achieved.

The latest sensation on Netfix is called The Crown and it traces the reign of the current monarch, Elizabeth. This series may soon have to compete with Andrew Marr’s new series Elizabethans telling the people of the UK how lucky they have been to be subjects of such an outstanding monarch. His book of the same name follows fairly fast from his The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth 2nd and her People which came out in 2012. TV schedules and daily news items abound about the monarchy. It is a bit like the logic of advertising whereby consumers will invariably buy what is most known to them. The more you are harangued the weaker your defence can become. Monarchy is certainly a product that is force-fed to the British people.

There are countless films and TV programmes dedicated to monarchs past and present. Some recent ones dealing with Queen Victoria, once Empress of India, include Young Victoria, Her Majesty Mrs Brown, Victoria and Abdul and Victoria. There has also been films further back on The Madness of George111, The King’s Speech (George V1), The Favourite (Queen Anne), Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age ( Elizabeth1), Henry V as well as The Queen about the current monarch. This is by no means an exhaustive list but these films do come immediately to mind. There has also been a rather morbid fascination in film with Henry VIII, the monster who gave England her first Brexit by breaking with Rome. Keith Michel played the tyrant in The Six Wives of Henry VIII as far back as 1970 but there has also been A Man for all Seasons (1966 &1988), Anne of the Thousand Days, The Other Boleyn Girl and several historical novels by Hilary Mantel which focus largely on the character Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s Machiavellian fixer, in Wolf Hall (2009), Bring up the Bodies (2012) and The Mirror and the Light (2020)


[the parallels between Victoria and Abdul and Mrs Brown in terms of unspoken colonialism are quietly hilarious – Ed]

Just below the level of monarchy we have Winston Churchill portrayed in films like Young Winston (1972), The Gathering Storm (2002), Into the Storm (2008), Churchill (2017) and Darkest Hour (2018) to name only a few. There have been countless biographies also written about him including one by Johnson in 2014. And like the monarch he turns up all the time in other TV programmes. The greatest offenders are programmes like Antiques Roadshow and Flog It. These programmes, while certainly interesting in terms of objects that have been superbly well made by magnificent craftsmen, often throw up pieces of Churchilliana along with the usual items associated with the reign of some monarch.

We are back to the effect of constant advertising again. While it has to be agreed that Churchill played a significant role during the Second World War, it should always be remembered that he was first and foremost a Tory and an imperialist with everything that usually goes along with that. Dundonians to this day continue to tell us that he was run out of Dundee after his comments on their drunkenness became widely known and another seat had to be found for him.

The use of monarchs past and present along with the figure of Churchill continues to be pervasive. This pervasive usage permeates the public mind and perpetuates the values of conservatism. This is how the masses are psychologically programmed to accept ruling class values –through these values being pervasive, through their permeation and perpetuation. In every city in the UK there are streets named after monarchs and aristocrats, hospitals, bridges, theatres, public buildings, coinage and stamps and countless mugs, tea-towels and all the rest

Even the anti-working class soap Eastenders where the characters are aggressive, violent, duplicitous and generally venal – and that is just the female characters – all meet up in the pub called The Queen Victoria. The action also takes place in Albert Square. Monarchy can seem to be as natural as breathing if it is so pervasively used and being so pervasively used as it is in the UK means that the UK also has one of the most secure ruling classes in the world.

The aristocracy and landed gentry have also been rehabilitated and legitimised by TV. The Antiques Roadshow and Flog It again often either have their programmes set in stately homes or in the spacious grounds of such Palladian pads. The genial presenter Paul Martin will often have a chat with the owner about the wonderful, marvellous history of his house and marvel at how he has managed to keep it looking so spruce for another 500 years. Questions about how his ancestors acquired the wealth to build such palatial residences are seldom asked. Programmes such as these ones enable the success of long running series like Downton Abbey.

And then there’s our armed forces. Sometimes these antique programmes can take place in buildings associated with the navy or in some armed forces museum and the memory of Abu Ghraib and what our soldiers did there can be conveniently forgotten. Dad’s Army has been running continuously since it first came out in 1968. When it did first come out it was funny with the memory of the war not too far distant. By running continuously there is the permeating agenda about how we won the war which was all down, of course, to Churchill.

It seems that the further right the UK has gone politically, the larger and larger poppies have become. No other European country that took part in either of the two world wars commemorate these conflicts quite like the UK. It is now mandatory to have poppies emblazoned on football shirts from October to November. Football fans will stand quietly to remember the war dead so that the same ruling class can remain in power despite the fact that it was the same ruling classes that got us into such wars in the first place. Those who have died in war should be remembered but remembered in such a way that will prevent wars from happening ever again. With the arms industry the biggest one in Britain with exports around the world, conflicts have become inevitable. None of Her Majesty’s leading subjects standing proudly at the cenotaph wearing their poppies will ever mention this fact.

The poppy is also the ultimate item associated with charity, something the ruling classes worship because they lack totally in any sense of generosity. Sales of the poppy are encouraged on TV and radio so that they can help the charities that help our retired and wounded ex-servicemen and women. Charity does not seem to have filtered down to many of the ex-soldiers currently begging on our streets who all went off to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as heroes and are now forgotten.

With Vera Lynn dead, the way the craven media has embraced Captain Tom Moore is quite incredible. Here we had a 99 year old ex-serviceman walking in his garden to raise a charitable donation to give to the NHS. While that is laudable given that the NHS has been underfunded by the Tories for the last ten years and the Covid crisis places huge demands on its services and staff, old Tom Moore did his walking dressed with all his military medals on his blazer. That was a moment the media loved because it played beautifully into the paradigm of our wonderful armed forces and charity at the same time.

Captain Tom, just like Vera Lynn before him, was knighted for his services to charity. He became Sir as she became Dame. While citizens who have achieved great things and contributed to the welfare of others should be recognised by the state, the honours system in Britain does something else entirely. By calling people Sir or Dame or Lord or Baroness the British state separates people from others by giving them such titles. To be in possession of an OBE, MBE or CBE is to be a recipient of the Order, Member and Commander of the British Empire. Such titles which Robert Burns derided as mere tinsel show, are seen as being the very epitome of respectability despite the fact that the words ‘British Empire’ refer to something that no longer exists and was brutal in the extreme when it was around.

Charity has become pervasive and its operation permeates minds just as monarchy does. The word comes from the Latin caritas meaning love and compassion. The word is also one of the seven Christian virtues but much of its practice is associated with the already rich becoming recognised and deemed respectable by receiving honours for charitable work. The same people have been silent on inequalities, food banks and zero hour contracts.

Children in schools are conditioned to believe that social inequalities can effectively be ended by recourse to charity. There are countless charity days in schools to raise funds for various causes throughout the school year and you get to dress up in silly clothes or outfits from Harry Potter for the occasion. Teachers as well get down with the kids by dressing up. There are also the charity evenings on TV for Children in Need and Comic Relief. Here we can all see the latest celebrities doing their bit for charity and viewers are led into the belief that such celebrities are genuinely caring people. Some may well be. However, the fact that many of these celebrities bank their cash in off-shore accounts is never raised. And the fact that such off-shore accounts are facilitated by those in power who value charity so much is also never questioned. The question why one of the richest countries in the world has to have such recourse to charity is also a silent subject.

TV also seems to encourage tears. Chat show hosts, newsreaders and reporters seem to welcome tears from people who invariably say sorry as they dry their eyes and the interviewer says no, it’s fine. Sometimes this is done by people outside courts or people who have witnessed terrible events or, more generally, people who have come through adversities. Shows of emotion seem to be welcome. This has become particularly true on The Repair Shop, a programme that is a wonderful tribute to the highly skilled craftsmen and women who brilliantly repair objects brought in by members of the public. The programme is also a wonderful antidote to our throwaway society by getting skilled workers to repair a whole assortment of items.

Often when people come to see their items newly restored there will be tears of joy but often this can end up degenerating into sentimentality. And sentimentality is now part of a media dialectic which enjoys shows of sentiment and emotion while failing to adequately expose the actual brutality of the nation’s underlying economic base.

Marx once posited the base and superstructure theory. In this he noted the unequal economic base and its relations are made manifest in a cultural superstructure which establishes its right to rule through the people being told to believe in all the wrong things such as to love monarchy, Churchill, honours, widespread charity and shows of sentimentality. And the actual news programmes now treat viewers as idiots with graphics on screen to help them understand the simplest things. The Covid tier system recently announced by Johnson became a three- tiered wedding cake to help us understand what tier actually meant.

The last thing any capitalist state wishes is for is for its inhabitants to be well educated. The £9,000 per year fees in England and Wales confirms this. Also the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations is a case in point. When statues of former slave owners were toppled or reactionary figures on plinths daubed with paint, the ruling class was temporarily shaken. But the idea that the Proms should abandon singing the imperialist ditties Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory and God save the Queen because they hark back to the days of slavery and empire was just too much for Johnson who insisted these traditional songs be sung out loud. Sadly, many ordinary people would have agreed with him. For someone like Gramsci it is what the state and its media arms present to you all the time that gives the ruling class their ability to rule. The word hegemony meant for Gramsci an effective means of domination founded on acceptance. The dominated accept the rules of the social and political game, being convinced that such rules serve them well and form part of some kind of immutable order to which they are a part. The programme The Apprentice: You’re fired! can be seen as an example of this.

This gigantic con-trick was in fact leaked by that grand old Victorian reactionary, the writer and journalist Walter Bagehot as far back as 1867 in his English Constitution. There is, of course, no English or British constitution written down anywhere. When Burke extolled its virtues to the republican Tom Paine it was Paine who asked Burke if he could furnish him with a copy so that he might read it for himself. The whole business of government is made up on the hoof. When the masses rebel sometimes they may win but generally legislation will be brought in to keep them in their place like Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation. At other times when there is serious pressure from below there can be legislation on race relations and sex discrimination. For Bagehot royalty functioned as a disguise. He elaborated further:

It enables our real rulers to change without heedless people knowing it. The masses of Englishmen are not fit for an elective government; if they knew how near they were to it, they would be surprised, and almost tremble.

In his customary invective against what the Queen Mother apparently called ‘the lower orders’, Bagehot went on to say that royalty ‘has a comprehensible element for the vacant many’ and in comments like these we can see how the ruling classes hide behind the monarchy, how it is used to keep us as subjects rather than as citizens. Bagehot again puts it so much better when he said ‘it is at the bottom of our people that we have done as well as we have.’

Johnson, Gove and all the clan from the 1922 Committee and the ERG could not have put it better themselves. Yet these people all claim that they are one nation Conservatives. This baloney is supposed to imply that they rule equally for everyone regardless of nation, region or class when their rule actually is designed to cater for the one nation across the country who have all the wealth. They have been using this term ever since it was coined by Disraeli in the 1870s. He used it to counter any expectations from the working classes after their agitation to further extend the franchise. His novel Sybil or the Two Nations came out in 1845 and the two nations of which he speaks are the rich and poor. His one nation term was coined to appeal to the masses that his brand of Conservative paternalism will look after them while not changing the structures and levers of the system that made them poor in the first place. Ironically, in the same year that Sybil was published Engels brought out his devastating critique on the two nations in his The Condition of the Working Class in England which was devoid of any paternalistic solutions whatsoever.

Bagehot described Wales as ‘a corner of England’ while deriding the Scots for their ‘intolerant common sense.’ As for the Irish he said predictably that ‘it is not so much the thing agitated for that they want, as the agitation itself.’ These attitudes are alive in today’s Conservative Party and this is best exemplified in the Internal Markets Bill that is strongly opposed by First Ministers Drakeford in Wales and Sturgeon in Scotland. The Tories were clear that they were taking back control and this Bill will certainly do that by centralising power away from devolved administrations.

Brexit, we were told, was about taking back control but the question of who will be in control after Brexit was never asked. As far as I am aware there will still be a monarchy, an unelected second chamber in the House of Lords and the House of Commons will continue to function as an extension to the debating chamber of Eton, the place that has given us 20 Prime Ministers to date. The Church of England will continue to be established by the state and guarantee that no liberation theology will ever break out. And the Mother of Parliaments will continue to function without any written constitution and continue to make it all up as it goes along. Watch out on TV for repeat viewings of The Dam Busters, Colditz, The Great Escape and more programmes on royalty along with as much dumbed down reality TV as you can take.

Labour has been in existence for 120 years and her founder Keir Hardie loathed the privilege and hypocrisy associated with royalty. He described himself as an agitator who sought to ‘stir up a divine discontent with wrong.’ These are Labour’s roots and they have been steadfastly ignored even during the time of Corbyn. With Ireland gone, Northern Ireland with a changing demographic that could result in Irish unity, with Wales beginning to assert herself and Scotland with one independence referendum behind her and another looming, it is Labour too that will have to be taken to task for never having challenged the nature of a state that is designed to benefit the Tories. They created it, after all, to suit their needs. Maybe this has been inevitable considering for most of the last 120 years Labour has been happy with the nomenclature of being Her Majesty’s Opposition rather than being a socialist alternative.








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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Labour is the BRITISH (ENGLISH) party in a way that the Conservatives have never really been since the days of Mrs Thatcher. She played the patriotic card with probable deep sincerity, but it was a British/English patriotism. When she gave her interview in which she spoke about ‘We in Scotland’ it was so stagey and affected that it was clear that she had been coached. Her sponsors and successors had little real attachment to Britain/England and her abolition of exchange controls was a first step in allowing the financial clique to avoid taxation and launder money on a huge scale. And, Brexit is a key stage in that. Blair and Brown were complicit in that and, when Brown and Darling had the chance in 2008 to rein in the financial leviathan, they poured shedloads of public money into saving the leviathan – socialism for the rich, indeed.

    Labour’s ‘internationalist’ heritage combined with a rarely-examined acceptance of the British myth, is a contradiction which it fails to recognise. Scottish independence is bad (according to them) because it is ‘nationalist’ and ‘separatist’ (again, unexamined, concepts) and is ‘identity politics’ which is most unBritish! It rejects the idea of English nationalism (as portrayed in the mongrel, John Bull myth), but embraces British nationalism, while failing to acknowledge the ‘nationalism’ part. It has not separated England from Britain in its conception of ‘the nation’. Britain/England is an axiomatic good and, if it gets control it thinks that it can use the British state to redistribute wealth (a bit of it, anyway) but certainly not power (because Labour KNOWS what people need, so there is no need to ask them or even let them exercise power.) The British state exists to serve the purposes of the wealthy.

    For all his sincere belief in internationalism including a good understanding or Ireland, Corbyn is a British Nationalist, although he is unaware of it. Labour is flailing around for something to save Britain as it sees it crumble, but, because it has never set out a vision of what Britain and, indeed, a distinct England are, it has nothing of substance to offer, save for Bodger Broon’s ‘federalism’. Federalism in this context is just rebranding like the risible attempt years ago to rebrand the Post Office as ‘Consignia’.

    The Tories, or the clique with Johnson as figurehead, have no nation. They live wherever their wealth will be unchallenged. Most have several passports and residences in a number of locations around the globe. They bank ‘offshore’ and pay far less tax in relation to their wealth as those earning little more than the minimum wage. A de-regulated, Britain/England will provide them with a powerless workforce to enable them to live the kind of lotus-eating life they want. If the serfs get ‘bolshie’ they might permit a Labour government under someone like Starmer to do a bit of token redistribution, before the state will arrange ‘a run on the pound’ to bring the government down.

    We need to leave this union as soon as we can.

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    A good read and all based on an accurate depoiction of the situation we are in. Turn the telescope the other way and look forward to where we want to be. What do we want for Scotland in 10 years time and what are we likely to have?

    I would like to see a country where EVERYONE is offered meaningful employment at a rate of pay that will sustain a happy family life without hunger. I would like us to rebalance our economy so that young people are both encouraged and able to marry, set up home in an afforable dwelling place and be able to start a family early in life. I would like to see our land ownership properly recorded and those that benefit most from it paying a fair share for the upkeep. I would like to see much of our land returned to proper use rather than the green wet killing deserts we have at present. I’d like the old, the infirm, those that suffer loss of memory and the younger people that are not equipped to manage in our world to be properly looked after and cared for as equal citizens. I’d like those people that come to Scotland, looking for a better life to be treated with dignity, not prevented from working and fed on scraps while we try to find an excuse to send them away.

    This wish list is obviously only a small part of what a decent civilised society should be considering. We wrinklies mostly enjoy the best of conditions with houses, pensions and taxation levels beyong the dreams of all but a very few of our present young people. No wonder we are unable to maintain our population without the top up from immigration. An independent Scotland needs to think about all of its citizens and value them all equally. Will we ever get to a fair and equal society? Probably not but I would like us to try.

    Sorry for going off message but got a wee bit carried away.

  3. Kenneth G Coutts says:

    Pure unadulterated clarity!

  4. Jim Ferguson says:

    A true and accurate piece of writing. Thank you Jim Aitken.

  5. Axel P Kulit says:

    “The last thing any capitalist state wishes is for is for its inhabitants to be well educated.”

    I have said this for over thirty years ever since Thatcher started defanging academia as a home for principled well argued opposition to the Establishment. She could not tolerate even a tame academia spouting hollow denunciations of her ideas.

    But the rot started earlier with the murder of the grammar schools. A well intentioned move by champagne socialists who worried about children growing up disadvantaged by the schools they attended. The number of working class children who not only graduated but became eminent in their field passed them by: none ever asked how comprehensive education should be implemented to ensure accidents of birth were not an impediment.

    This was followed by steady instrumentalisation of the curriculum. Arts and the humanities were defunded in favour of what employers said they wanted and Wilsons White Hot Technological revolution left the professions in their dominant position while ensuring the plebs got an education largely devoid of critical thinking.

    We have seen secondary education turned into a machine for producing fodder for the factories known as offices and universities turned into money making machines. I knew someone who was a senior lecturer but left academia some 30 years ago because they felt it was no longer a good place to carry out research.

    You want proof? read the letters columnsand the editorials of broadsheets of the 70s and compare with today.

    All these changes were made in order to render the populace easier to control. They were needed once the plebs started getting a real education, something our establishment and a capitalist system could not handle.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    While I agree, broadly speaking, with much of this article, it attempts to disguise the historical record of Labour being a party of Empire while in power, whatever it did domestically or in opposition. The British Empire has not ceased to exist. In fact its existence is something of a double-edged sword for its rulers when it comes to national security, as its various territories offer both opportunities to hack into international communications networks but also vulnerabilities in lightly-regulated jurisdictions which invite cyber-attacks and information exploitation. Tax havens, non-self-governing territories, anti-democratic Privy Council moves to kick people off islands to lease them to the USAmerican Empire as torture-rendition-bombing bases, neo-imperial arrangements for military recruitment, worldwide resource grabs, various blacksite bases and so forth. All continued under Labour as well as Conservative governments.

    WW2 (notable for Churchill’s many military blunders, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also the incompetent service of royal Mountbatten) was also an imperial war, with the British helping other Allied Empires to regain lost territory, even if they had to re-arm surrendered Japanese troops to help them fight local independence movements who generally had until then been allies of the British. What was Captain Tom Moore’s unit doing in the East in 1945 and 1946? The British armed forces were bloodily reconquering Allied ex-colonies in conflicts like the Battle of Surabaya, shelling cities and inflicting many civilian deaths:
    The Empire was also apparently bled dry to pay for British reconstruction under a postwar Labour government determined to hang on to its colonies and the coat-tails of city-nuking USA. To give Corbyn’s platform its due, I gather it did include a policy for teaching this sort of thing in schools.

    And of course the Queen retains many overseas powers and titles, although may not be head of state of Barbados much longer. If we would not invent a hereditary monarchy for any new state, why would we keep one? The vast Royal and Crown wealth would be better given in reparations to the peoples and areas impoverished by British slavery, colonialism, war, neocolonialism and corporate environmental degradation. #RoyalReparations

  7. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Terrific article – both sweeping and comprehensive. Please spread widely.

    Please can we own up to the scale of the task ahead: an actual revolution is required. System change.

  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    Great article Jim and good follow up comments. The stupefied masses are exactly what Johnson needs to bring about his “new golden age for Britain” – slaves. Do they all think they’re going to get a nice wee cosy job downstairs in Downton Abbey? Mind you, I suppose anything’s better to them than the absolute terror of free broadband.

  9. robert Hughes says:

    Absolutely brilliant Jim ; this article articulates everything I personally think is wrong about the UK and Scotland’s place within it . You say there is another Scottish Referendum ” looming ” , I sincerely hope you’re right but my fear is that the current SNP Leadership is too ( IRONY ! ) conservative to exert the sustained pressure and commitment necessary to achieve one . I also sincerely hope I’m proved wrong about that . Thanks for expressing so thoroughly and perceptively what I – and I imagine many others , have been thinking and feeling for a long time

  10. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    Why would political commentators have spoken much in the media about England? England doesn’t exist as a polity. These were British votes; we voted for both a Tory UK government and for Brexit in our collective capacity as British citizens, not against either or both in our equal capacity as citizens of our respective nations, in which capacity we here (for example) will be voting next year to determine our representation in the Scottish parliament, which is more than those British citizens who live outside of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can do.

    Which latter could be part of the problem: unlike Scottish nationalism, English nationalism has no political institutions of its own through which it can be given civic expression; it’s continually being thrown back into the old ethnic tropes of race and culture.

  11. Willie says:

    What a long but thought-provoking article.
    “considering for most of the last 120 years Labour has been happy with the nomenclature of being Her Majesty’s Opposition rather than being a socialist alternative”
    That has been the story of the 77 years of my lifetime. Too many of the labour hierarchy wanted a knighthood while supposedly promoting socialist policies. Look at the present Leader of that party. A royalist in charge of what had been regarded as a socialist party. This would make an ideal scenario for a Gilbert & Sullivan type comic opera. And remember when Corbyn was leader his party enthusiastically endorsed the basing of Trident in Scottish Waters. He also approved of Scotland paying a share of expensive English-only projects. Corbyn, Starmer and the rest of them are ‘little englanders’.

  12. John Learmonth says:

    ‘False consciouness’why can’t the working classes just do what us well educated middle class Guardian readers tell them what to do. Life would be so much easier………

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Yep, the idea that this nebulous ‘working class’ is made up of dupes is terribly patronising. But thank God they do have those wised-up shepherds to wash the scales from their eyes and guide them truly onto the strait and narrow road to salvation; else, where would the poor lost sheep be?

      Radical politics in Scotland… It’s all very Biblical, don’t you find?

  13. Ian wood says:

    Also do not forget that the royals left a losing germany in 1917 to change there name from sax cobergs to Windsor and that the troops killed in europe were fighting
    Victorias Gransdson the Kaiser.
    Further back I was taught at school about our “wonderful ” victories at Crecy and Agincourt in the 100 yrs war I was never told about Patay,Formigny or the greatest humilation of Castillion which ended the 134yrs war with our defeat and expulsion and huge loss. It was said that every cannon shot at Castillion killed six Englishmen whose sheaves of arrows never got fired the end of the Longbow as a credible weapon . WE were excluded from Calais 90 yrs later when presumably they no longer wanted to trade through the port. So what is an englishman we were ruled by the Normans we had roman rule and prior to that the vikings and Phonecians and of course the hominids moving up from Africa crossing the land bridge that is now the north sea and the channel . Nationalism is a Horror.

  14. MacNaughton says:

    Good article, Jim Aitken…
    To which I would add, the English ruling class seem to have lost their sense of humour and now take themselves oh so seriously again.
    I mean, if you think back to the 70’s and 80’s, the Carry On movies like “Carry On Up The Kyber” lampooned the British Empire and “Fawlty Towers” was a satire of certain type of Englishman who was completely out of date and full of prejudices from the past, Basil Fawlty.
    But now, alas, Basil Fawlty is running the country!
    And the Empire is no longer something from the past, but the declared project of the Tory entryist faction, The European Research Group, who talk openly of Empire 2.0 as their plan for post Brexit Britain…
    As for clownish Boris, beware, because Mussollini was also a clown, and Hitler was a clown too in a way…

    1. MacNaughton says:

      The word for all these period films and TV series the UK Film & TV industry spend half their time doing is RANCID….

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @MacNaughton, and there are topics which hardly ever appear in mainstream British culture (otherwise people might realise that the British Empire exists today and is perhaps not so much as a beacon as a stain on the world). Perhaps Bella can run a series on culture, media and language in the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

      Apparently Covid-19 has put back the chance for Gibraltarians to repeal legislation which criminalises abortion in all cases with a life sentence (the harshest abortion law in Europe, according to the Guardian):

      Let us just see, in these (lightly- or draconianly-regulated) British-run places, just how positive (or otherwise) direct British influence on the world has been and is today, and let us see if any Unionists would like to defend such.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        What’s this got to do with Britain, SD? Gibraltar has full internal self-government under its 2006 Constitution. The referendum that was to be held on the decriminalisation of abortion was indeed postponed (the Gibraltarians like a referendum – in that held in 2002, they voted by 99% to retain its status as a BOT). But the polls in advance of the vote had been suggesting that the proposal to decriminalise it would again be roundly rejected.

        Over 70% of Gibraltar’s 34,000 population identify with the Roman Catholic church; a large proportion of the remainder identify with one or other of the several evangelical Protestant churches that infest the territory. I suspect that the population’s reluctance to grant women reproductive rights has more to do with this than with some draconian UK regulation of life on the Rock.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @ Foghorn Leghorn, for someone who prides themselves on terminological exactitude, it is curious you use the landmass term ‘Britain’ rather than referring to whatever political overlord entity used to rule over Gibraltar from afar. Of course, some the niceties of democratic form must be adopted in this part of the world, unlike, say, the Indian Ocean or whatever. Your blatherings ignore that many European countries are majority-Catholic, which cannot explain why Gibraltar has the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in Europe. Anyway, the Queen appoints the Governor of Gibraltar, its head of state, with quite sweeping powers:

          But what I was asking was not what effect British Imperial direct rule had on the various British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, but what was the effect of its soft power, its cultural influence. If British culture often seems backward to Europeans, how does culture in the remnant British Empire (non-self-governing as well as self-governing) compare to similar places around the world?

          And by the way, according to Wikipedia on the law in neighbouring Spain:
          “Abortion in Spain is legal upon request up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and at later stages for serious risk to the health of the woman or fetal defects.”

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yep, you’re right; the Queen remains Gibraltar’s head of state, and she delegates that function to a governor. But, as I said, the electorate overwhelmingly endorsed this state of affairs in the referendum of 2002 and in the constitution of 2006.

            And you raise an interesting question re. the soft power that the UK of GB and NI (commonly ‘Britain’ for short) continues to exercise over parts of its former empire. What is it about British culture that enables it to continue to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce (‘hard power), and shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction? Why, for example, did the Gibraltarians elect in 2002 to remain ‘British’ rather than become ‘Spanish’ or some combination of the two? Why do so many people in different parts of the world cling to their colonial heritage?

            Do you think they’re dupes? Do you think, perhaps, that they need some wised-up shepherds like ourselves to set them on the strait and narrow?

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Foghorn Leghorn, I am not sure who you and your tribe are trying convince by this pattern of trying to smear your political opponents with your own dung, but the society-model of shepherd and flock comes straight from royalist, patriarchal and hierarchical-Christian ideologies (the Unionist trinity?). Wikipedia has this:

            “In his first speech to his southern assembly on 19 March 1604 James gave a clear statement of the royal manifesto:
            “‘What God hath conjoined let no man separate. I am the husband and the whole isle is my lawful wife; I am the head and it is my body; I am the shepherd and it is my flock. I hope therefore that no man will think that I, a Christian King under the Gospel, should be a polygamist and husband to two wives; that I being the head should have a divided or monstrous body or that being the shepherd to so fair a flock should have my flock parted in two.'”

            Even vanguardism, as adopted by VI Lenin’s Bolsheviks, is a pragmatic (if ‘temporarily’ undemocratic) revolutionary approach not a species divide (although it can become divisive). If you are thinking in class war terms.

            No, it did not occur to me that Gibraltarians were sheep or dupes. Indeed, I was asking for more in-depth analysis of the present British Imperial outlands. And since many in these populations have (or did not have until very recently) much political say at all, we would need to examine their cultures for evidence of dissent, repression, corruption, bliss and so forth.

            Actually, James VI and I’s speech is quite interesting in this context, since it takes the form of an assurance by a head of state that they will not play favourites, or head up a monstrous, divided body: yet here we are, with three Crown Dependencies, 14 British Overseas Territories and a bunch of governor-generals and whatnots, ruled over by successor Elizabeth II.

            The fable of a British Imperial ‘civilising mission’ should be empirically-testable. The longer a territory remained under British rule, the more ‘civilised’ it should become. We should be able to analyse each for signs of progress against international norms. Has Gibraltar even ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Anyway, we can look at the recent histories of each territory (colony or whatever) and even if they have recently caught up with modern norms, see how long it took them (compared to the Motherland and other nations and territories and imperial colonies). Remember that the British Empire only started introducing limited democratic reforms in Hong Kong in the run-up to handing it back to China.

          3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, ‘civilising’ was what the Victorian reformers called the extension of our norms and values across the globe; today, we call it ‘imperialism’, blind to the fact that we too are ‘imperialists’ in the universalisation of our present notions of ‘truth’ and ‘justice’, taking our own historically contingent local moral construction and declaring it to be the product of some timeless and universal ‘biology’ or ‘human nature’, as you’re wont to do when discussing right and wrong. The Western hegemony extends even unto our own liberation theologies.

            For example, the question ‘Have the Gibraltarians ever ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?’ You would take this as an indicator of how far the Gibraltarians have progressed in catching up with international norms and values, of how ‘civilised’ they have become by our standards and definitions, and what work needs to be done in civilising them. This thinking is no less imperialist than that which has shaped them over the past 300 years.

          4. Ian wood says:

            You have to make your own mind up , Imperialism is dead its globalism that will create the new climate we all know how nationalism has failed us all and cost so many lives . Pun intended with the climate word. Populisn will also fail as it is only supported by a few and the troubles political in This country are all about bragging the other half with policies that wasted so much talent . We need coalition and compromise to defeat the jingoistic claptrap of Johnson , Farage and all those others worldwide and internal I notice we have another “World beating” first with the new coronavirus strain , the separatist loonies need to think about the difference between nationalism and patriotism.

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Foghorn Leghorn, progress can be measured objectively as well as evaluated subjectively. On objective measures, the nations which ratify international (United Nations, not imperial) treaties such as the UNCRC appear along a continuum, the endpoint would be state consensus on legal international norms.
            It is interesting to compare the lowest-ratifying countries with, say, those comprising membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.

            I thought I had made it clear that I regard ‘civilising missions’ as a fable? A smokescreen for depredation and degradation? Nevertheless, norms which value human and non-human life are universal (throughout the United Nations) and your characterisation of these values as ‘imperial’ is grotesque and perverse.

          6. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            @ Ian

            Imperialism isn’t dead. Globalisation (the development of international influence; ‘civilisation’ on an international scale; evangelical progressivism of the sort advocated by capitalism’s bourgeois-radical running dogs) is only its latest iteration.

          7. Foghorn Leghorn says:


            Aye, but progress towards what? Compliance? Compliance with what? With behavioural norms? Whose norms? The UN’s? But what if the UN is wrong?

            Have a look at John Hick’s ‘Whose Truth? Which Rationality?’, then explain how you can measure anything objectively, how you can establish absolute ‘non-normative’, value-neutral norms against which such measurements can be made. Your attachment to the old-time religion of axiological monism is quaint; pluralism has long since been the order of the day.

            You did claim that you regard ‘civilising missions’ as a fable. But this is contradicted by your other claim that countries like Gibraltar ought to be rescued from their recusancy in relation to moral issues like those around the practice of abortion and brought into line with the more enlightened world; i.e. subject to a ‘civilising mission’. As is my wont, I’m only uncovering this contradiction I find implicit in your thinking, so that you can ‘go beyond’ it.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Foghorn Leghorn, I fear your are drowning in your dogmatic ditch. The values here are not “the UN’s” but shared between the authorities of its state members; you committing a logical fallacy. I explicitly distinguished between objective progress to some goal, and subjective evaluation. I made no claim that these human rights treaties were right or wrong. My personal view is that while the international human rights treaties have a lot to commend them, it is problematic (along with humanist ideology in general) to privilege humanity above the rest of the living world, although the legal progress of human rights treaties towards consensus also paves the way for an emerging consensus on ecocide law. These movements can flow the other way.

            Your main source of confusion still seems to be your rejection of biology (you know in what sense I mean) as a universal (at least with planetary application), which therefore underpins a common, shared core of values (see the Golden Rule and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments based on sympathy, for example). Now, according to psychology, not all humans (even though a social animal) display sympathetic behaviour (at least, this varies to significant degrees) and therefore not all humans will recognise this argument (which does not undermine the argument, if those unsympathetic humans also think themselves unbound by human morality).

            There is another political factor you overlook: the remnant territories of the British Empire tend to be hierarchical and often non-self-governing (wholly, or to a degree). These non-self-governing territories are listed on the UN’s webpages devoted to decolonisation. I hardly have to point out how absurd it is for you to call all UN values ‘imperialistic’ when they are promoting anti-imperial values. And yes, anti-imperial values can be shared broadly across the globe’s human population. Decolonisation is a process, where progress towards a decolonised state can be measured objectively. In a colonised state, the people may have little chance to express or openly debate their own values. In the French imperial system, colonised children were taught about French geography and history and so forth. Something similar seems to have happened in British Caribbean colonies for a long time.

            Further, you are confused in claiming that I reject pluralism. As you should know by now, I am arguing that there is a common core that unites people (biologically-speaking, human expressions are largely hardwired with little cultural variation across the world, and these expressions are linked to the vertebrate-mammal-primate-human neural system evolutions which regulate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from a biological sense). That is important in how human children generally learn from sympathy. But apart from that core, differences in cultures abound. I am not commenting on Gibraltarian cuisine or Chagossian property traditions or the festivals of Turks and Caicos Islanders or Bermudian music and dance.

          9. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Whose biology? The same argument applies.

            I know you think that biology furnishes us with a set of universal values to which we can civilise the whole of humanity. But this naturalism is just the imperialist side of you talking, as a creature of your time and place.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: everything is ideology; we’re self-creative beings, who develop the capacities peculiar to us as we live and work in community with others, whose consciousness of the world and of ourselves is shaped by the processes by which we thus collectively produce our means of subsistence, and who construct ideological narratives, including our scientific accounts of human biology, to express and make sense of that consciousness.

            So, which socially constructed account of human nature do you base your ‘objective’ evaluations?

            Moreover, from a purely logical point of view, I’d be interested in learning how you’d derive an ‘ought’ (value expression) from an ‘is’ (factual expression); a normative judgement of rightness from a purely descriptive (value-free) theory of human biology, say. How, in other words, would you avoid the naturalistic fallacy that Hume identified in such reasoning?

  15. Peter Hurrell says:

    Can we have more from Jim Aitken, top class writing.

  16. Gashty McGonnard says:

    Really a good read. No punches pulled.

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