From Global Britain to Plague Island, Welcome to Brexitland
Living in 2020 has been like being cast into a feature-film version of Black Mirror. I’m sorry to say this but 2021 isn’t likely to be much better. Years don’t really work like that. Remember that year when lots of famous musicians died and everyone was like – “Oh no this is really terrible at least next year will be so much better” – as if somehow this was how ‘death’ or ‘years’ or ‘pop’ worked or something? 2021 will be when the consequences of the governments catastrophically bad handling of the virus will become manifest in redundancy, mass unemployment, evictions, closures and whole sectors of the economy closing for good.
Is there any upside to this? Well let’s not do the “hopey” thing just for the kicks but, yes.
In no particular order: Trumps coup failed and him and his henchmen will be out by January and facing a barrage of law suits; Boris’s cabal fell apart from internal scheming and he’s now being exposed as the lying useless individual he is; a pro-indy majority is hard-wired into May’s Holyrood elections as a nations jaw hit the floor at the Brexit debacle; the idea that we should create an economy and a food logistics system based on a handful of companies distributing food and export through a couple of ports is exposed as – wait for it – a stratospherically stupid idea. It’s a system that has built into it: massive carbon costs at every juncture; a single point of failure; and last but very much not least – a concentration of power (aka a monopoly) in a few food giants.
We are witnessing the collapse of this system in real time right now. We have no food resilience, no local food systems. We are de-skilled and displaced. We can neither grow nor cook food nor do we have control of food distribution. We’ve outsourced and privatised food. That’s not smart. We are 100% reliant on a completely artificial system for providing one of our most basic needs.
Wasn’t this supposed to be the good news?
Yes. As system failure unfolds the ready-alternatives sit waiting.
Arundhati Roy has written that the virus is a portal: “ …a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
I’d suggest it’s a bealach not a portal but that Roy is right. For all of the political failure the pandemic has exposed the fault lines of our broken society, like the ribs of a wrecked boat at an extremely low-tide, the outline of British society disfigured by inequality is laid bare for all to see, as is the failure of elite rule by silver-tongued Etonian Populists.
But how broken is this? Is it really the case that British society and British institutions can’t respond to this level of deep crisis that seeps through the societal, the cultural, the political sub-strata?
There’s two projects that I’ve heard of at time of writing that suggest they can.
The Metro reports that four generations of the Royal Family have made Christmas cakes for charity and they’ve inserted “four commemorative sixpences to be found by lucky recipients.”
The effort, which is what passes for leadership in 21C Britain means that: “Christmas puddings mixed by four generations of the royal family have been given out to armed forces communities to try and spread Christmas cheer. The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George all joined together last year to cook up the traditional desserts for a good cause. They have now distributed the final festive treats to armed forces communities at home and abroad as part of a project by the Royal British Legion (RBL).”
Alongside this festive treat we have the revelation that Sir Keir Starmer has appointed Gordon Brown to head up a new Constitutional Convention.
Why is this positive?
It’s positive because it’s farce.
It’s the end and it’s a conscious end for both the Union and for Scottish Labour.
The idea is so retrograde so redundant and so beyond its sell by date it beggars belief.
In his delayed speech Sir Keir argued that the shared “history, values and identity” of the people of the UK mean there should be no place for internal borders.
He said Labour’s offering must be “every bit as bold and radical” as the devolution delivered in the 1990s, saying the constitutional commission would target “real and lasting political and economic devolution” to local communities in all parts of the UK.
Sir Keir said this was about more than shifting powers from one parliament to another or transferring “a few jobs out of London”, adding: “There’s a yearning across the United Kingdom for politics and power to be much closer to people.”
The problem is not just that this is drenched in hypocrisy it has no basis in reality.
Brown is held aloft like a relic. Labour now operates as a system of folklore and a Memory Bank. In this system Gordon Brown has cache North of the Border where he is revered for a) Saving the World when the Banking System Collapsed b) conjuring and then delivering The Vow which saved the Union. The fact that these events are either heavily disputed or positively mythical doesn’t matter at all to those who imagine them to be sacred tenets of faith.
Starmer has no ability to deliver any of this, has no record of trust to deliver change (the opposite is true) and chose his timing with impeccable ill-judgement.
As Britain teeters into global humiliation the idea that Scotland should endlessly cleave to this farce is not a strong card to play.
As Steven Topple writes: “Yes, ‘Gordon ‘the Vow’ Broon‘ is back. The former PM had a shambolic involvement in the first Scottish Independence Referendum and its aftermath. Yet Starmer thinks people will still listen to what Brown has to say. You couldn’t make this up – because the former PM is, for many people, as detached from a “positive alternative” for Scotland as you can get.”
It’s as if Labour live in a twilight zone where “Conventions” of the good and gold exist and the long 1980s still have a hold – that Gordon Brown is still a respected figure and some kind of social consensus holds in Scotland. In its place is a significantly altered place, a society with pent-up anger, inter-generational betrayal across a range of issues and a new consensus on independence. The idea that you can wheel-out church leaders and trade unionists and failed Unionist politicians as if they demand the respect they did before is delusional. All of this is a mythology perpetuated only by a pliant press and a sort of distant folk memory about Labour, a memory that has faded for all but those who exist in the SLAB sub-culture or grew up in a bygone era. That consensus has gone and that respect has gone and it’s the result in large part of Labour’s continued misstep and betrayal.
At the same time as Labour hold out the promise of major constitutional reform they also have to cleave to and salute Cameron/Farage/Johnson’s Brexit deal.
These two things can’t hold together.
As Anthony Barnett has written: “Unable to exit Britain, the English did the next best thing and told the EU to fuck off.”
But if English nationalism propelled Brexit it can’t deliver on its own narrative. Instead Brexit, born on the back of resentment and imagined grievance has delivered a vestigial Britishness to be forced down the throats of the ‘periphery‘. The grandstanding, the boosterism and jingoism of Johnson’s Heroic Failure can’t be based also on the Union’s Demise, and it can’t be shouldered by England alone. Instead it needs to be foisted on the recalcitrant Scots who voted overwhelmingly against all of this.
As the ship goes down the ruritanian instincts of Britain kick-in and cakes are baked and Gongs for Blair and Brown are discussed as if this is a serious credible thing to do and Johnson celebrates his dismal deal and the re-opening of Dover is held aloft as a triumph.
Have you found your lucky sixpence?