The Eternity Politicians of Little Britain
Death like snowfall, so thick the actual sound of the street is changed; neighbourhoods muffled by melancholy and delirium. On the last day of 2020 981 UK citizens were recorded as dying of #COVID19 the highest daily figure for eight months. The government’s response? Mostly nepotism and flags. This isn’t the end of the coronavirus but it’s only the beginning of Brexit.
This is the dawn of a new era, this is a huge victory for the right and the far-right. We are are hugely diminished by this process and the “leave a light on” schtick doesn’t really cut it.
As rUK descends into an ethno-state breaking news as the year changes that the ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ aren’t being used because there just aren’t enough staff to fill them. Covid landed in Austerity England, still waiting for Brexit’s Magic Millions. The Independent reports that NHS England is in talks with the military to redeploy army reserve nurses and other clinicians working at NHS hospitals in the north of England to help bolster staffing levels at the London centre.
Triumph and chaos.
In Scotland Ruth Davidson weaponises Arbroath Smokies and Richard Leonard attempts to frame Nicola Sturgeon as an anti-pub puritan driven by “authoritarian SNP nationalism”.
In England the tabloids are in frenzy.
The Express talks of Destiny and has Johnson with his jaw set in Churchillian stoicism set next to the Union Jack transposed on the White Cliffs of Dover.
The Conservatives declare “We have taken back control” with echoes of an ominous Dr Who alien, though they may have stumbled over the truth having ‘breaking breaking breaking breaking breaking’ across the Union flag.
Innocence and Danger
If the triumphalism is tinged with regret at the fiasco of the coronavirus it doesn’t show. Instead we get Vaccine Nationalism and exceptionalism.
We are ruled by what historian and Yale professor Timothy Snyder has called ‘eternity politicians’ who place “one nation at the centre of a cyclical story”.
“Eternity politicians leap from one moment to another, over decades or centuries, to build a myth of innocence and danger,” he has argued. “They imagine cycles of threat in the past, creating an imagined pattern that they realise in the present by producing artificial crises and daily drama.”
The confusion about which nation it is doesn’t really matter, nor, apparently does the impact on the Union. Who can hear the bleating of the recalcitrant Jocks over the Bongs of Big Ben and the shrieks of Brexiteer glee?
We are deep in the Myth-Making of the Eternity Politicians, surrounded by their neurosis, simultaneously provoked and inspired by oscillating between despair and Our Glorious Future, Our Glorious Destiny.
As David Edgerton talks of a ‘bonfire of national illusions’: “As things now stand, Brexit is a pointless gesture, a politics of headlines in which sovereignty is performed by bleating world-beating absurdities.”
But that – as others have pointed out – is the point. As Fintan O’Toole has it: “Brexit is the Confederacy without the Civil war, a journey from cause to loss with nothing in between.”
Nobody really knew what it was about, nobody really knows what it has achieved, nor will you ever.
You can’t really talk of English Nationalism, because they don’t really have aspirations for self-rule. You can’t really talk about racism because that’s taboo.
It’s a world of tedium and absurdity. Exhausted and surrounded by death we can no longer distinguish between the economic chaos caused by Brexit and that caused by the virus. That’s convenient.
Death and farce hold hands.
My timeline today includes outrage at the Sausage Ban, John Redwood celebrating Britain banning stun-fishing in our waters and Sarah Packer (“UK Senior Showbiz Reporter @MailOnline, and former Senior Bizarre Reporter @TheSun“) dazzled by the depiction of “Sir Captain Tom” …
— Sarah Packer (@Sarah_EmilyP) January 1, 2021
But amid the sheer mind-numbing inanity of it all there’s a more bitter element. The virus has provided fertile breeding ground for the ideology of the hard-right, the infectious populism of the libertarian right and the narrow xenophobia of Anglo-British nationalism.
Big Pharma and the Edgelords
Earlier this week an image circulated of the thinkers and influencers of the new right that are triumphant today.
From Melanie Philips, to James Delingpole, from Neil Oliver to Rod Liddle, Julie Burchill, Clare Fox, Toby Young, Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins, Brendan O’Neil, and Lawrence Fox this is the enfant terrible of Brexit Britain. They are some of the most repellent people you’d ever have the misfortune to come across but collectively they have quite a sway in British media steering the narrative through their obsessions of opposing lockdown measures, climate change denial, eugenics and relentless racism. They pockmark the pages of the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Spectator. They are given permanent presence on broadcasting and social media so as they become the surround-sound of hate. Delingpole is executive editor for Breitbart London,and O’Neill is editor of Spiked and all are given air time and newspaper columns to spout forth. Bile sells papers, hate and outrage fuels clickbait.
But they’ve not come from nowhere.
Delingpole was was awarded the 2010 Bastiat Prize for online journalism by the free-market International Policy Network, a group that, according to public 990 forms, has received over $1 million from the secretive Donors Capital Fund, and $390,000 from oil giant ExxonMobil.
They funded Spiked, the Institute of Ideas‘ Battle of Ideas in 2005 and 2006, the Debating Matters programme and two organisations with which the LM network has connections, the Science Media Centre and Sense About Science.
The LM Network is caught between peddling its libertarian line about “freedom” and its obsession with “progress” and science. As Powerbase tells us: “As well as funding the LM network, Pfizer funds free market think tanks such as the US-based Competitive Enterprise Institute and Cato Institute, the Netherlands-based Edmund Burke Foundation, the Brussels based Centre for the New Europe (which also does work on climate funded by Exxon), the UK’s Social Market Foundation and the American Council on Science and Health, a deceptive front group.”
This collective of ghouls is maintained and curated by Britain’s far-right press who have done much to enable the hatred that has fueled Britain’s Brexit experience. Stating the obvious the left (or even just anyone with an ounce of decency) need to create and maintain alternative spaces and media platforms to combat this.
The Left, such as it exists at all, is caught between its own bizarre pro-Brexit messaging and siding with a sort of blinkingly uncritical pro-EU liberalism. Neither seems tenable. And if we in Scotland have a Get Out of Jail card to excuse us from this Shitshow it’s not an eternal one. We are not immune from the messaging by the above Gallery of Rogues and the drivers of Brexit don’t stop miraculously at the border.
There’s also a problem that the clickbait columnists of the far-right find fertile ground in their posturing as Edgelord Outsiders – perpetual mavericks even though they are in power and in ascendancy. They can therefore operate as the ever-provoked and ever-outraged, even in their bleak victory. As the incompetence of vaccine roll-out emerges and lockdown frustration and anxiety boils over they can therefore feed on the festering carcass of Brexitland, simultaneously gorging on its putrid decay and accelerating its breakdown.
This is a bleak prospect I know, but if there is room for hope it is in looking not at the characters and careers built on propagating hate but at the remarkable examples of resilience, community and solidarity that surround us every day and the inspiring examples of people carrying on throughout all of this and supporting each other. In this spirit Bella will be carrying on through 2021 and trying to shine a light not just on the worst aspects of Brexitland but the best alternatives too.
Happy New Year.
Image credit: Darren Cullen @darren_cullen. See his work here.