Britain at War
As if the disreputable state of British elite rule couldn’t fall any further in this year of covid and kleptocracy, the prosecution of Ghislaine Maxwell shines a light on a whole strata of society, a jet-set of sex traffickers rubbing shoulders with celebrities and royalty. But if there is relief that someone has been prosecuted in this sordid affair that feeling must be over-ridden by the lingering thought that she’s just a patsy.
As Maxwell faces the clink (found guilty on five of six charges of sexual trafficking) it’s worth recalling the Met decided to take “no further action” over allegations involving her, Epstein and the Prince formerly known as ‘Randy Andy’. This was the same police who wouldn’t look into Downing Street parties and have hardly covered themselves in glory in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard murder. The overwhelming impression watching Maxwell’s conviction is that of justice being served but an elite acting with impunity. That Prince Andrew, the ninth in line to the throne is one degree away from a convicted paedophile is the stuff of the wildest conspiracies, but in 2021/2022 it is a simple fact.
Such has public life warped that Andrew is now the subject of a frantic PR campaign; plus efforts of the rest of the Monarchy to create a firewall between him and themselves; ans the earnest procrastination of the fleet of Royal Correspondents employed by the State and Public broadcasters.
On Thursday Sabastian Payne the FT’s Whitehall Editor announced that the Prime Minister was to be cleared of breaking any rules about his flat refurbishment. The idea that Johnson would be cleared of breaking the Ministerial Code by an internal Whitehall inquiry surprised nobody at all, the code has been devalued to the point of irrelevance for years. A pal of Johnson’s letting him off the hook for whatever he was told to let him off the hook is not news. But if the politicians investigate each other and the police investigate themselves all this ‘marking your own homework’ has a cost.
The putrid edifice of Broken Britain that has been exposed through the pandemic staggers on. But if the powerful are beyond recourse the damage to what’s left of their credibility is further undermined. The whole super-structure of British rule is so damaged and broken by years of this process that it will collapse at the first opportunity.
As if knowing this the language has changed. Gone are notions of unity and alliance, gone is Johnson’s awful ‘Awesome Foursome’ or Cameron’s ‘Family of Nations’ – now Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are referred to as ‘territories’ or ‘principalities’. The pandemic has unleashed a new wave of British nationalism and a new language of vaccine-colonialism. As Rory Scothorne writes in The New Statesman: “In Scotland (as well as Wales and Northern Ireland) another Covid-19 ritual is being performed. Nicola Sturgeon’s devolved Scottish government has responded to the Omicron variant by strengthening its guidance and restrictions so that they are stricter than those in England, and it has done so with a finger of blame pointed south. Announcing new guidance for the public and businesses on 14 December, Sturgeon suggested that “our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance”. Without further funding from the UK Treasury, there were insufficient resources to support the hospitality sector through a tougher pandemic approach.”
The pandemic shows both the strength and weakness of the devolved settlements which ,more than ever are revealed to be a ‘process not an event’.
The idea of ‘coachloads of clubbers’ heading to England for Hogmanay was being punted this week by Simon Johnson (Scottish Political Editor at the Telegraph) and The Sun this week, as the English media tried valiantly to stem the flow of Johnson’s waning reign of error. But this media plot narrative of England as a sort of Bachannalian Honeypot for Jocks weary of Nicola’s Nanny State was rather undermined by reality. The concept of hordes of tartan revellers swarming irresistibly over the border to the petri-dish of sado-populism was just a media hallucination.
The hallucination stems from a populist understanding that the public are somehow seething about the terrible ‘restrictions’ we endure, rather than quite happy with the public health measures we share. The language is important. In all of this the devolved nations must be portrayed as outliers, out of step and endlessly peripheral, only maintained by the generosity of the central authority.
If the principalities are under attack, so too are the experts. The Pandemic Politics have grown out of the Brexit Saga and one of the ongoing populist memes is the idea of a problem with ‘experts’. This week saw Rees-Mogg announce that in response to the pandemic “We should listen to the people, not the experts like we did with Brexit”. It’s this psychosis which has left millions of people exposed to the virus in the past few weeks. It’s this weird populism which as united right wing authoritarians with self-styled libertarians and led Conservative MP Joyce Morrissey to rail against “a public health socialist state”.
And so it goes, a false libertarianism paving the way for a new authoritarianism. Just as the war against ‘the experts’ continues unabated so too does the Brexit obsession with war. As Richard Seymour points out:
“We have been treated to military metaphors throughout the pandemic, from Boris Johnson’s “great national effort to fight Covid” to Macron’s declaration of “war” against the plague. As Susan Sontag has pointed out, the war metaphor fosters imprudent zeal and sacrifice in a society that otherwise “restricts the scope and credibility of appeals to ethical principle”, and in which “realism” demands that we calibrate our actions with an eye to “self-interest and profitability”.
Britain, a construct that barely exists, is at war with itself, it is at war with its people; its constituent parts; its judiciary; its scientists and experts; in fact the only people it seems NOT to be at war with are the politicians themselves. The war is carried out across the airwaves and timelines by the phantasms of freedom and liberty while the warmongers create more and more the conditions for grinding poverty and exclusion. The war will only be over when Britain defeats itself and implodes into the atoms of its own absurdity.
Self-determination – Autonomy – Independence
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