A Disaffection

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The sight of a braying hysterical Tory MP (Jonathan Gullis) is the image of the week. It encapsulates the raw Tory energy at this time; full of malice and feeling more than slightly unhinged. Gullis was responding to Ian Blackford raising the issue of mounting poverty and the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Johnson responded with a fat-shaming joke.


To be honest I’m not greatly impressed by Blackford, and I’m increasingly sceptical about the SNP, but that’s almost irrelevant. The moment revealed the sheer contempt with which Scottish MPs are treated in Westminster. Almost every time Blackford or one of his colleagues get to his or her feet they are treated with groans and moans and a tirade of jeers from the Conservative benches. I’d love to know what proponents of the Precious Union think and feel as they watch this? The very presence of our elected representatives is treated with disapproval. They are not shouted down for their views they are shouted down for who they are and where they come from.

It feels like a descent in a political culture that is jettisoning credibility every day.

The problem for the SNP, for the Scottish people, and for Labour (not necessarily in that order) is that it’s not clear who benefits from any of this. As John Harris writes the “anger spread by Johnson’s misconduct and broken promises may partly bypass Labour and feed into something much more insidious and grim.”

The problem for Starmer – and for Sturgeon in a different way – is how do you capture this anger and this dismay and turn it into something positive? Starmer has been great at Not Being Jeremy Corbyn and carved a benign, lawyerly centrist figure. He is a safe, if bland pair of hands. But I doubt if you asked 100 people on the street if they could describe a future Britain under his government you’d get much back. He has to offer some ideas, some shape, some vision for people to turn to. Not Being Jeremy Corbyn and Not Being as Corrupt and Useless as Johnson isn’t enough.

Stephen Bush at the New Statesman suggests it’s the subject of some personal satisfaction to Starmer that Christian Wakeford, an MP who represents a constituency with one of the largest Jewish populations outside London, and who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, feels comfortable switching to Labour. The optics – whatever the reality – of antisemitism – were terrible for Labour under Corbyn. But as Bush points out many others just feel that the celebration of Wakeford’s defection is just further evidence that the party now stands for nothing at all.

This in turn fuels a Labour version of the disaffection as the Momentum drains out of the Labour Party.

Some of Labour’s stuckness is mirrored by the SNP’s Westminster contingent and the air of stagnation is matched only by the extraordinary turn of events as Johnson’s regime reaches week five of partygate chaos. Johnson’s disastrous government now threatens to destroy not just his own career or the Conservative Party but the credibility of Westminster itself. Having been repeated the weird mantra of “Wait for Sue Gray” for a week now, we now have her investigation, that was raised to a a bizarre status, completely undermined by the Met.

Scotland Yard has said it has asked for references to matters it is now investigating to be removed from Sue Gray’s report into parties held in breach of lockdown restrictions at Downing Street.

“For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report,” the Metropolitan police said in a statement on Friday morning.

The Johnsonian chaos is now spiralling out of Downing Street and across the capital engulfing the institutions of power.

As ITV’s Paul Brand laid out the Met’s evolving position seems to be: “We don’t investigate Covid crimes retrospectively – there is insufficient evidence – we’ll see what comes of Gray – Gray found evidence so we’ll investigate – we don’t want Gray to publish her evidence as it’ll prejudice our investigation.”

The impression is one of police bailing out political leaders – and Johnson’s regime being impregnable to any consequences at all for their actions. The impression is one of the British State in tatters, a scene of surreal chaos and one that reflects a system of governance with seemingly no checks or balances or constitutional restraint other than the occasional social media celebrity presence of a Gary Neville or a Marcus Rashford or a Jack Monroe. Occasionally the House of Lords will take the edges off the worst of the draconian legislation coming down the line and we will celebrate the prospect of an unelected chamber defending democracy without a trace of irony.

At this stage I have no idea why there isn’t civil unrest in this country. It may be that the wells of public interest have been so polluted that mass disaffection is the only response. It may be that people are just so exhausted by the pandemic so numbed by the daily dose of corruption and so disillusioned by the political classes that we are just reduced to a sullen mass. On Friday George Monbiot explored these contradictions and asked how is it that such a system holds?

Taking a wider view than just the current political debacle he asked: “What’s going on? How has this system created a near-consensus around its ridiculous ideas? How has it ensured not only that people of power and influence defend them, but that almost everyone else nods along, or simply shrugs as Earth systems spiral towards collapse?”

Attempting an answer Monbiot speculated: “That petty ambition (better job, bigger house, smoother car) is as potent an enforcer of consensus as state terror. That spectacle, banter and an obsession with trivia and celebrity are more effective at defusing dissent than coercion and fear. That our current organisational structures, which look as if they offer choice and freedom, actually do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, though it might have been accidentally achieved, we have arrived at an almost perfectly calibrated system of social control.”

To these answers I would add that the sinews of solidarity and collective interest have been undermined for decades, so that they exist only as a membrane and a memory sullied and eroded by the veneration of hyper-individualism.

The need for a mass movement and a revolt against this whole system mounts every day. In times of such chaos the British State lies exposed as one that has nothing to offer ordinary people. We live in a broken country, one in which elected MPS laugh in hysteria at the subject of poverty and a government that makes political capital out of ‘liberties’ introduces authoritarian legislation to undermine our hard-earned democratic rights.

This is now an economic basket case sustained on pure ego, unprotected by constitution, and consumed by political opportunism. The delusion is fading. We are now in a moment where constitutional crisis is colliding with, not economic uncertainty but dire economic certainty.

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Comments (19)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    The “anti-elite” Rees-Mogg (stretched out on the commons sofa) : “One should never underestimate the thickness of The Thick Alliance.”

    It’s no wonder the bstds can’t stop partying.

    As Frankie Boyle said, “Where the fks the IRA when you need them.”

  2. Jacob Bonnari says:

    I read George Monbiot’s article and having just re-read his conclusions in your piece conclude that he is 100% correct. While I like GM and read many of his pieces, I’m always held back by a feeling that he’s a paternalistic posh-boy, and therefore although he’s a supporter of Indy, he is culturally too distant with day to day reality of life for 90% of us in Scotland. More my fault than his (80/20).

    What your article points to though is that Jack Monroe, Gary Neville and Marcus Rashford are more effective in their analysis and opposition to Tory policies than the Labour Party. That’s the real problem that Labour needs to address – they need a leader who is able to relate to what poverty is actually like and not phrases such as ‘cost of living crisis’ bleated out sporadically.

  3. Hugh McShane says:

    Well said- always good to find a source that captures otherwise inchoate feelings about where we are, + how the heck does this happen. The only fear I’ve always had since 2014,+ subsequent analysis of the vote, was that element of the ‘No’ vote who were Scottish, but ‘haves’ , + were spooked by the engagement of the ‘have-nots’ , which I always felt was the rise of the ‘schemey’, + I’m doubtful about it’s revival.

    1. JP58 says:

      I seem to recall that the biggest correlation to being a No voter was being a mortgage holder (as opposed to Brexit where it was level of education and Remain voters).
      This ties in with what you have observed – probably also a throwback to people buying their council houses in 80’s.
      However demographics show the under 45’s are far more pro- independence this could also be related to this group struggling to get on property ladder.
      While the under 45’s may become mortgage holders and more conservative in outlook as they age I think this will only be a small factor in how they view independence for many reasons.
      While I appreciate your pessimism I do not think it is justified on demographics. Just consider how Unionist’s feel when confronted by 50/50 polls on independence, rock solid SNP support and control and demographic timebomb coming down the line?
      In medium term Scots can only lose independence through impetuousness, infighting or general negativity. All of which are possible, witness last year’s shenanigans with Alex Salmond.

  4. David B says:

    Excellent piece, Mike.

    If anyone’s not already watched ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Adam Curtis on BBC iPlayer I highly recommend it. It examines several themes highlighted in this article – especially social control through material rewards.

  5. Niemand says:

    It takes a lot for there to be social unrest in the UK and then it tends to be caused by a specific, tangible thing (Poll Tax or a police killing). General levels of corruption and unfairness don’t really do it and it is easy to be mistaken in thinking one’s own righteous anger is shared more generally – most people look at it as a sideshow to their actual lives which are not about Westminster, BJ or any of them (or independence for Scotland for that matter), but about work, family, doing pleasurable things and trying to feel alive again after the pandemic. The overriding sense is that it doesn’t actually make *that* much difference who is in power or whether Scotland is ‘free’ or not so I will focus on what I can control.

    To effect change you need to see things through others’ eyes and it is through the ballot box that things will change in this country – there will be no ‘uprising’ of any great import. I think Labour has a chance in this respect but I am less convinced the SNP can bring about independence as they are actually not that far behind the Tories in being corrupt and untrustworthy (though I admit my bias here, not an SNP fan due to their authoritarian, dictatorial and illiberal mindset that has sought to centralise power in the party to the point of it being undemocratic).

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      To say the the SNP “are actually not that far behind the Tories in being corrupt and untrustworthy” is not only biased, it’s ridiculous. Despite extreme media bias you still see a lot more about Tory corruption than SNP corruption and the Tories wouldn’t get out of bed for the trivial amounts alleged for the SNP.

      1. Niemand says:

        Well I agree ‘not far behind’ is too much, so accepted, but their ultra-controlling attitude and indeed capacity to lie is clear to behold. I do not trust then either to tell the full truth of important matters if it reflects badly on them, nor to act in a truly democratic fashion either within the party or in a wider sense.

  6. @ Bella Caledonia Editor says:

    ‘…I have no idea why there isn’t civil unrest in this country.’

    Which brings us back to politics as spectacle again, whereby the ‘public’ is cast as a passive audience, watching privileged policy actors perform on stage and, at most, booing and heckling or cheering and applauding those performers.

    British politics (and I include Scotland in this) is pure theatre, and civil unrest (or any kind of participation aside from casting a vote every few years) just isn’t part of the script.

  7. Jenny says:

    Loved the audio. Thanks

  8. Stephen Cowley says:

    “At this stage I have no idea why there isn’t civil unrest in this country.”
    The author answers his own question when he writes:
    “the sinews of solidarity and collective interest have been undermined for decades, so that they exist only as a membrane and a memory sullied and eroded by the veneration of hyper-individualism.”

    When people try to collectivise, they are denounced as “fascists” by the Left. So they don’t bother.

    1. “When people try to collectivise, they are denounced as “fascists” by the Left.”

      Really? Where and when has this happened?

      1. Stephen Cowley says:

        At the recent counter demonstration to the “Rape of Britain” gathering in Telford yesterday, for example.

    2. @ Stephen Cowley says:

      My experience has been that, when people do try to collectivise, government bureaucracy (which holds the purse strings and, therefore, power), in pursuit of its own policy agendas and in the name of ‘good government’, undermines their attempts at independent action, which leads to frustration and despair. Such bureaucracy is the bane of community development; it leaves the individuals, whose lives it administers, ‘stuck’.

      1. @ Stephen Cowley says:

        And, again, in my experience, ‘the Left’ only denounces a community’s attempt at independent action as ‘fascist’ when that action is contrary to its ‘leftist’ policy agendas.

        1. @ Stephen Cowley says:

          Around 2006, I was denounced as a ‘Thatcherite’ by Labour councillor for facilitating a meeting, to which neither he nor any government bureaucrat had been invited, and at which a neighbourhood in Craigmillar moved to develop its own action plan to address the community health issues its members had identified, along with the social capital required to implement that plan, as an alternative to the failed traditional strategy of petitioning the government’s health and social care agencies to ‘do something’ about those issues ‘on their behalf’ as the passive consumers of health and social care services.

          Honest to God, he was so livid that you’d think we’d been trying to organise a pogrom rather than enact an anarchist alternative to corporate Edinburgh’s ‘political spectacle’!

          1. Alec Lomax says:

            2006…Craigmillar…..Labour councillor? Now I wonder who that could have been !

          2. @ Alec Lomax says:

            She’s standing down at the upcoming elections. The good folk of Craigmillar/Porty will no longer be able to vote for Child Labour.

  9. Squigglypen says:

    ALL governments are corrupt to a greater or lesser degree. You just pick the one you want. I pick a Scottish one in an independent country. They happen to be the SNP and live in Edinburgh. We can find them quickly and remove them even faster . Let the English have Boris/Snooty /quisling Gove and braying friends… keep them….I’ll vote for the SNP ….so get a move on with the Referendum…..and I’ll vote for you FOR NOW…but once we are independent….. who knows?..think it’s called democracy.

    Enjoyed the audio and watching the braying donkey surrounded by his adoring harem.

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