Britain’s Belle Époque

How we measure change and decay is important. Slow change can become almost unidentifiable. A measure of political change, in this case an ongoing lurch to the right, became apparent at the moment of silence to remember the events of 6 January 2021. The Republican Party were entirely absent from the ceremony – still indulging in the myriad conspiracies that the election was ‘stolen’.

As Chris Murphy, a Senator from Connecticut pointed out: “At the moment of silence for the Capitol Police officers who died, there were only two Republicans who showed up. Rep. Liz Cheney. And her father. The 80 year old former Vice President. An extraordinary image of where this country’s politics are right now.”

Yip, Dick Cheney is now part of liberal America’s conscience. Dick. Cheney.

The decline of America can be gauged by the fact that the vast numbers of Republican voters and the wider Wild Right believe entirely that the election was rigged or stolen and will willingly back Trump or some replicate candidate in 2024. It seems unlikely that Biden’s tepid programme and alternative vision can really change the narrative about this. But while the commemoration of the January 6 attempted coup shone a light on the seemingly equivocal status of democracy in the US events here also exposed the state we’re in.

From Tony Blair’s knighthood to the ongoing pantomime of life at No 10 under Boris Johnson; to the increased powers of stop and search under draconian new legislation; to the aftermath of the Colston statue case unleashing a wave of far-right discontent (including the Attorney General for England & Wales undermining trial by jury & the rule of law); to the pending economic disaster of people not being able to heat their homes in winter; British democracy is broken and breaking down.

As Brexit disappears (sort of) into the rear view mirror of our daily politics other new scapegoats must be found after The Foreigners have been expelled or repelled. The latest to fit the bill are ‘Woke Jurors’.

Tabloid Britain, unable to cope with the basic concept of how trial by jury works, are, hand in hand with the actual Attorney General attacking due process of law. Stop and think about it as you laugh at Trumpian America.

This week saw the ‘Ministerial Code’ being (yawn) broken (yawn) again and by this stage the idea that people just have any belief in accountability of those in office just beggars belief.

But if sleaze has become so commonplace it has become normalised to become invisible. We can’t be shocked any more just bored and stunned into a sullen quietism. This level of sleaze is (I believe) new and different, in part because it’s so brazen and chaotic. But most of my adult life has just been about a cycle of watching decades of sleaze and corruption followed by interminable and utterly useless inquiries (of differing scales) just like the mini one we saw this week.

It tells you something if this can be witness and charted over decades and over countless administrations. What it tells you is that this is systemic. There is something about Britain, its state and institutions and cultures that is systemically corrupt. What is that something? It clearly has something to do with the class and privileged networks that the higher echelons are riddled with; the close relationship and convergence between ‘business’ interests and ‘political’ interests and the cultures and patterns of ownership which shape the media which describe all of this.

But a wider phenomenon can be witnessed as Britain deteriorates further. Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP representing Romford, has urged the Government to get public broadcasters to play God Save The Queen at the end of every day. He suggested it would be a patriotic way to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee year.

Andrew Rosindell told the Commons on Thursday: “I know the minister will agree that the singing of the national anthem is something that provides great sense of unity and pride in our nation.”

“So in this year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, will the minister take steps to encourage public broadcasters to play the national anthem and ensure the BBC restores it at the end of the day’s programming before it switches to News 24?”

This is the phenomenon I’ve called the Golden Tortoise.


I had begun to think of Brexit Britain as a sort of Weimar Republic, collapsing under its own decadence and decay. But maybe it’s more like the La Belle Époque – the period in France at the end of the 19th Century characterised by extravagance and excess. It was said to be “an age of neurotic, even hysterical national anxiety, filled with political instability, crises and scandals”.

The novelist Julian Barnes in his novel The Man in the Red Coat tells the story of Count Robert de Montesquiou, a notorious poet and dandy of the era. He is said to have gilded a live tortoise with gold and encrusted its shell with diamonds, sapphires and amethysts. The splendid creature was the Counts ultimate party-trick, but it of course died from the experiment. Brexit Britain is like Montesquiou’s tortoise, a freakish exercise with no apparent purpose, staggering along giving mesmerised entertainment.

Instead of gold we are covered in Union Jacks and prompted to venerate the Royal Family, with anthems.

Johnson’s flat can be seen as part of the Golden Tortoise effect, our own Belle Époque – excess and corruption in an era characterised by disease death and poverty, a man literally lining his walls with golden wallpaper at at time when people can’t afford to heat their own homes, and all of this in plain sight, what a disgrace. When will it end?

Help to support independent Scottish journalism by subscribing or donating today.

Comments (34)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. SleepingDog says:

    If British imperialists were capable of being embarrassed, they might want to avoid thinking about the British Empire’s culpability for some of the greatest cultural vandalism of all time, including the looting and burning of China’s Summer Palace in 1860 during the second Opium War (see Dan Snow’s Twitter summation), the Benin Expedition of 1897, and the Christianisation project of the British Empire which saw much of local culture destroyed. Along with beating, imprisoning, torturing, raping and murdering the locals, of course.
    Much of the loot ended up in British royal palaces, the British Museum, and British institutions and private homes. And in even more modern times, whilst Allied including British troops were helping topple statues of Saddam Hussein, their invasions unleashed vast waves of looting of artefacts, and their basing and bombing campaigns damaged and destroyed enormous amounts of cultural heritage.

    When it comes to defending our living heritage from corporate despoilers, however, Conservative contributions are largely limited to rhetoric as they gallop, steal and party through nature-depleted Britain towards ecocide. However, the next ‘woke jury’ they might be concerned about could be in an international court.

    1. Jacquie Tosh says:

      Sleeping Dog, one can only hope!

    2. Dougie Harrison says:

      I fear no international court can rescue us from a slide into fascism pal. My fear of that is underlined by Mike’s careful analysis here.

      What are we to do about it? I couldn’t even persuade the leaders of my barely-functioning Scottish Green Party branch to actually DO something about Shell and the continuing rape of our offshore hydrocarbon fields during COP in Glasgow. Not even to put a demonstration picket on a big Shell station during it.

      The left has a moral responsibility to initiate something big, to start impacting on public opinion.

      1. @ Dougie Harrison says:

        ‘The left has a moral responsibility to initiate something big, to start impacting on public opinion.’

        But has it the means? And is public opinion still in any way receptive to the initiatives of the left?

        1. Dougie Harrison says:

          In case you huvnie noticed pal – though someone who conceals his/her name is unlikely to ever be my pal – Bella Caledonia is generally a left-ish site. Mike is hardly a Tory!

          1. @ Dougie Harrison says:

            Bella Caledonia is indeed a generally left-ish site. And Mike is indeed hardly a Tory!

            Your point is…?

    3. Johnny English says:

      Britain has always over-represented the ‘celts’ and so the ‘celts’ bear the lions share of culpability for britains sins. Opium war?? That was a the doing if a pair of scota called matheson and jardine. Behind every colonial ill lies a ‘celtic’ face. Its time these despicable people manned-up and owned their history instead of race-hating it onto the untermensch. I would puke eachmorning if I woke up to find i was you

      1. @ Johnny English says:

        What on earth is this ‘celts’ thing you’re talking about? Sounds suspiciously racial to me.

        1. Johnny English says:

          Do you see what i did there?
          I’m a mirror to you and you dont like what you see

          1. Johnny English says:

            Telling that you feel the need to respond. Does your mate Toque know you throw your hat in with the national/sturmer? I guess any port in a storm, especially when youre crewing a sinking ship. Do you make much money with this hate speech or is it that you need to reassure yourself that its all Their fault and not in any way yours, which of course it is? Why is it that such uniquely brave scots are so uniquely spineless when it comes time to critique themselves? Throughout the empire the ‘celts’ bullied and abused the locals and now with no empire they think they can do the same to the mudbloods. But watch out because the tide has turned and their uni educated left leaning britnat cheerleaders are all gone

  2. Johnny English says:

    Mike small tells us everything we need to know about himself and the drivers behind the things he says by publishing this tedious little diatribe in The National – an overtly racist outlet by any metric. Like a german intellectual contributing to Der Sturmer, mike makes it clear who he will be scapegoating and sure enough he’s at it once more. Mike never looks closer to home when hating. He cant even if he wanted to. He knows he would get bullied if he ever dared to critique his own so he runs with the pack like the rest of them.

    The sad truth is that mike and his clique of neuveau-racists is the source of the disease that he is offended by. They are whats wrong with the place. That overpowering stench is in fact coming from them. The era of appeasing this poison is over

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Johnny English, yes, Jardine Matheson & Co. were founded by Scotsmen who illegally trafficked opium in Asia and I think encouraged the British Empire to wage war on China for vile pecuniary gain. They appear at the start of documentary series Crime of the Century, which tracks their appalling legacy up to the current opioid crisis/pharmaceutical crime wave in the USA.

      I have been making progress with my homemade investigation board, and I expect like yours it has lots of red string connecting London with Celtic HQ in the ‘tax haven’ Isle of ‘Man’. Although frustratingly I have not yet found evidence of a widespread Celtic conspiracy amongst those Manx-speakers, news of high-level corruption between London government, House of Lords and Manx financiers is breaking:
      “The Conservative peer Michelle Mone referred a business to the Cabinet Office for potential multimillion pound PPE contracts before it had even been incorporated as a company, it has emerged.”
      If you have any more details on this shocking Manx-based conspiracy please post them here.

      1. Johnny English says:

        You can see those ‘celts’ very clearly on this thread. They are the ones with 2 identities, one ‘british’ (when there is a trough to get the snout into) and the other ‘celtic’ when race hating, scapegoating and blamestorming the English mudbloods. Yes, absolutely 100% racial. But it pays a few bills I guess. Not sure how much the national pays though. Maybe better getting a cleaner job?

        1. @ Johnny English says:

          Sorry, Johnny, but I only see discourse on these threads, not ‘the celts’. Some of that discourse is informative (it communicates facts), some of it is expressive (it vents feelings), some of it is directive (it prescribes or commands actions), and some of it is performative (it enacts rituals). Only the first can be true or false (and therefore literally meaningful) according to whether or not the information it communicates corresponds directly to or can be logically inferred from the facts.

          The discourse that’s tagged with the label ‘Johnny English’ is ritualistically expressive; it vents spite through the ritual enactment of ‘race’ as its dominant trope or motif. It communicates no facts, and it’s directive only indirectly insofar as it only conversationally implies that we should behave in certain ways towards the spiteful object.

          Such discourse – that is, uninformative discourse that functions only to express spite (or perhaps more accurately, what some psychologists call ‘ressentiment’ – a sense of hostility directed towards an object that one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration; that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration) through the ritual enactment of ‘race’ as its dominant motif – is not unknown on the discussion threads on the Bella site. But because it’s uninformative, we needn’t pay it any heed except as a symptom of some neurosis. Otherwise, it simply ‘does not signify’, as Miss Jean Brodie used to say in her prime.

          1. Johnny English says:

            … as I already said but you didnt understand…
            I am a mirror to you. Dont like what you see?

          2. @ Johnny English says:

            Yes, you did say, Johnny; but what you say literally doesn’t signify.

          3. Johnny English says:

            Here you are with your gang, endlessy spewing out this hate towards the mudbloods and never applying any standard to yourselves; the dividing line being one that is fundamentally racial… Youre just textbook racist. You assert that in your opinion you dont see your prejudice but if you had any ability to critique yourself you would understand that no racist sees their own disease. Youre surrounded by it and it reinforces you. Its your ‘culture’ and ‘politics’ and ‘history’ so of course it isnt wrong. In your mind anyway. But it is and you could spot this immediately if you had the education and balls to do it but you dont.

            Q: see your article lambasting the british yet again.. are you one of those british? If yes then own your part of it. If no then youre just a race hater, right?

          4. @ Johnny English says:

            By what pseudo-phylogeny of ‘race’ are ‘the British’ a race, pray tell?

            Aren’t ‘the British’ just all the people who inhabit the British Isles and participate in the civic life of the UK, whatever phylogenesis is ascribed to them?

            Why do you subscribe to this racist nonsense, Johnny? Where’s the truth or falsity in it? It corresponds to nothing but arises purely from and as an expression of your own ressentiment. Seek help! Get over it!

            And for pity’s sake stop seeing yourself as the mirror of others! That’s sheer narcissism. Pull yourself together, man!

          5. Johnny English says:

            Is that all you have in your bag? Very weak. Maybe thats why you’re over-using the thesaurus?

            You come out with this lame line about how the british are not a race and how british includes everyone in the isles to deflect from your crimes. But this moth eaten argument is beneath one so educated as your good self. Firstly, when you lambast the ‘british’ you do so from a viewpoint as a non-briton AKA ‘celt’ ; you absolve yourself of british identity when it suits. And what is ‘british’ with the ‘celt’ removed? Its mudblood of course as we all know. Second, I am not making any assertion about british being a race as you suggest; i am echoing the claims of the ‘celts’ that they are racially different from the English and who can argue with this masterrace.? The devolution swindle set the ‘celts’ up with their own private identities from which they spew out their hostility onto all things English safe in the knowledge that the English mudbloods have no such privilege. But the cat is out of the bag or havent you noticed. No scot will ever have power in london as ling as the devolution swindle exists and ‘independence’ will be dictated on English terms if it ever happens. Time to stand down? We never forget our history and we never forgive it in these islands, right?

          6. @ Johnny English says:

            When do I ever lambast the British, Johnny? Indeed, it’s my failure to lambast the British that often leads to me being lambasted by the name-callers here as some kind of elitist Tory Yoon.

            And if your spite is not against ‘the celts’ as a race, on what are you predicating your distinction between ‘the celts’, ‘the British’, and ‘the English’ who you claim are the victims of some ‘celto-British’ conspiracy?

          7. Johnny English says:

            any one of the following would provoke a ‘celt’ to run crying to teacher if it were directed at them, but mike is so indoctrinated with his own bigotry that he can’t imagine himself in another’s shoes and why should he when he has his own private ‘celtic’ identity to skulk in when he wants to hate the mudbloods. what a privilege these ‘celts’ enjoy:

            – likening britain to Trumps america; perhaps look closer to home. those white supremacists invading the capitol look a lot like Yes marchers
            – ‘Tabloid Britain, unable to cope with the basic concept of how trial by jury works..’ – lets talk about the salmond trial shall we but you won’t hear mike doing that
            – ‘ This week saw the ‘Ministerial Code’ being (yawn) broken (yawn) again…’ – salmond? trial? sturgeon?
            – ‘ But if sleaze has become so commonplace it has become normalised to become invisible..’ – try that line on yourself pal
            – ‘But most of my adult life has just been about a cycler [sic] of watching decades of sleaze and corruption…’ etc. on he goes. hate after hate. but he doesn’t like when his gang get criticised does he? bullies
            – ‘There is something about Britain, its state and institutions and cultures that is systemically corrupt’ – you don’t find this insulting? there is something fundamentally racist about you for sure but you aren’t including your good self in this bigotry are you. nope. the ‘celts’ are not part of this. special people. a better race, clearly. they discount themselves from ‘britain’ and snigger to themselves as they hate britain minus the celts which is of course the English but those English dolts are too stupid to see through this clever deception hahaha. aren’t we clever?
            – ‘Brexit Britain as a sort of Weimar Republic’ – really? what is shitland? you love to give it out but you can’t take it can you? bully culture
            – ‘Brexit Britain is like Montesquiou’s tortoise, a freakish exercise with no apparent purpose, staggering along giving mesmerised entertainment’ – FFS

            I could go on but you claim that you can’t recognise this as lambasting the british. I assume that’s because you’re skulking in your private ‘celtic’ identity when you write this shyte and you only consider british to be british when its a trough that you and your mates can shove your snouts into. Sorry pal. this is pure racism and that stench that you are so offended by is coming from you.

            How do you manage to lie to yourself that you’re a decent person?

    2. LOLs – no idea what you are talking about – not convinced you do either. Maybe go and have a wee lie down?

      1. John Mooney says:

        Re.”jonny english” Mike,just another sad. little pathetic rascist troll,more to be pitied than traduced,LOLs

        1. Johnny English says:

          Isnt bigotry brilliant? Start from the premise that your enemy is to blame for all your ills, dig aboot a bit in the infinite toy box of ‘history’ and – SHAZAAM! – your enemy _is_ to blame. Amazing. You lot boss this poison. Look at you go. But we can all do the same thing. The ‘celts’ are to blame for all the ills of britain and so they are. From plantations of ulster thru opium wars and highland clearances to destroying britain itself with the devolution apartheid. We never forget our history

          1. @ Johnny English says:

            ‘Start from the premise that your enemy is to blame for all your ills, dig aboot a bit in the infinite toy box of ‘history’ and – SHAZAAM! – your enemy _is_ to blame.’

            Precisely, Johnny! ‘Ressentiment’; a sense of hostility directed towards an object that one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration (your imaginary ‘celts’); that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. And if one nurses that ressentiment long enough, then – SHAZAAM! – through the magic of hyperstition your enemy *is* to blame.

            You’ve got there at last!

          2. Alec Lomax says:

            Devolution apartheid ! Lol.

        2. Derek Thomson says:

          Nah, traducing will be fine. And a metaphorical boot in the baws for his damned impertinence.

  3. Paddy Farrington says:

    Like you, Mike, I can barely compute the fact that the only Republicans who deigned to attend the commemoration of those killed in last year’s storming of the US Congress were Dick Cheney and his daughter. That’s Dick Cheney, Iraq warmonger, handmaiden to Halliburton, and proponent of waterboarding and torture. This underlines just how far to the right the US Republicans have shifted, and how little they care what the rest of the world thinks of them. Can US democracy survive, even with all its imperfections, when the most basic agreement on the rules of the game has gone?

    We seem to be heading in the same direction in the UK. Time to step up and broaden the campaign to head for the exit.

    1. @ Paddy Farrington says:

      ‘…the most basic agreement on the rules of the game has gone?’

      No, it hasn’t. Americans still have their codified constitution, which enshrines and ties them into the rules of the game that is US democracy.

      Let’s hope that when Scotland has its own codified constitution, it’s inscribed on tablets of stone that Nicola brings down from the top of Ben Nevis.

      1. Marga says:

        You don’t actually want a Constitution inscribed on stone, or at least you should choose the time to do so.

        Look at Spain, 45 years into “democracy”, with a Constitution unchanged since it was crafted with guns on the table. And people still talk about rule of law here!

        1. @ Marga says:

          I certainly don’t want any future remaking of ‘Scotland’ inscribed on stone. As a democrat, I want its constitution to be forever provisional and responsive to the general will of its constituents, which is perpetually changing and never ‘settled’. The ‘best’ constitution is any that provides processes for ensuring that the decisions we make in relation to our public affairs realise the general will of society rather than some particular abstract ideals.

  4. John Monro says:

    Interesting analogy and parallels, Mike. When any MP or PM or Lord or plutocrat says, shamelessly, “Greed is Good”, you know you’re on a down slope to Hell, because greed is the ultimate vice of mankind. Almost everything that ever goes wrong is greed, every sin mankind has invented, and some yet to be so, can be traced back to greed. It’s a fact that most of mankind isn’t naturally greedy, opportunistic perhaps, but not driven by greed. But the 10% or so to whom greed is a virtue and not being greedy is a sign of weakness to be derided are ultimately responsible for the frightening situation so many societies now face. Greed can be dealt to, though. In France they chopped off its head. I hope it never comes to that in the UK or anywhere else, but it needs urgently to be stifled and bled dry before we get to such a pass. (PS I haven’t a clue what so many of the entries below are on about).

    1. @ John Monro says:

      They mostly either comprise of or pertain to Johnny’s ridiculous claim that Mike’s ruminations on ‘Britain’s Belle Époque’ are racist in character. Together, those posts enact a kind of reductio ad absurdum. It’s just me having a piece of dialectical fun at Johnny’s expense.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.