Keep Calm and Carry On

It’s a form of delirium. Memory loss and the failure to process events into sequence is the sign of a degeneration in mental capacity, and yet here we are. After the debacle of Liz Truss, we are presented by the idea of the return of Boris Johnson to the position of Prime Minister. This requires two things: an active and energetic Memory Hole, and a dynamic sense of complicity by the wider society and culture.

It also demands that neither we, nor he, have any sense of shame.

“History repeats itself. First as tragedy, second as farce”, the famous line from Marx, via Hegel, which refers to Napoleon and his nephew Louis Napoleon seems apt as we watch the extraordinary events unfold.  I’m not sure what big Karl would have made of Boris Johnson’s return but it plays-out as British politics defying any sense of rationality or morality.

The Times tells us that: “Boris Johnson has assembled the support of dozens of Tory MPs, former donors, party activists and the team that helped him to win the election in 2019 as he attempts to make it to the final two of the Tory leadership contest. The former prime minister is expected to end his holiday in the Dominican Republic and return to Britain as early as today as he attempts an extraordinary political comeback.”

The Comeback Kid

Ben Elliot, the former party chairman, is among those backing him. David Canzini, Johnson’s former adviser who also worked for Liz Truss, is also in the group as is Sir James Duddridge, his former parliamentary private secretary, who is gathering support among fellow MPs. These include Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg and a predictable collection of rogues and nutters.

The story they will tell is this. The 80-seat majority was won by Johnson, it is his to defend. No-one has the charisma and the ability to reach out to the public and ‘unite the country’ than Boris. He is the Comeback Kid. He was betrayed like Jesus. His re-birth is a miracle. Rishi is a traitor, and worse than that, wooden. They will be digging the dirt on him as we speak. Beyond that Truss was feeble and inarticulate, Boris is the opposite. Johnson will go from Not Being May, to Not Being Truss.  

The political message will be twofold: one, get Brexit Re-Done (again); and two ‘restore confidence in Britain’. The fact that this is a repeat of everything that went before (and was a complete disaster) doesn’t matter at all. The fact that the technique and tactics – lies, bluster and performance – was a complete disaster doesn’t matter at all either. The fact that Johnson was hounded out of office by his own party because he was completely unfit for office and had terminal popularity ratings certainly doesn’t matter at all. The fact that he is a proven liar and racist doesn’t matter at all.

Nothing matters at all. Nothing matters.

And that is the problem for Unionist and British Nationalists who have attempted in the last few days and weeks to put clear blue water between the fiasco of the Conservatives and the wider politics. This isn’t possible. It may be unpleasant but it’s impossible to pretend that the Tory shambles doesn’t derive from, thrive on and contaminate the wider politics. It does.

It comes out of broken institutions and culture and it’s allowed and nurtured because there are no checks and balances whatsoever, be they constitutional or by force of good journalism holding power to account.

If you have created and celebrate a political culture as corrupt and useless as this you don’t get to claim everything is okay, that nothing has changed, that we should all just Keep Calm and Carry On. You can’t present the great entity of Britain to be some sanctified space, a rock of stability and international repute, then watch it being wrecked and debased so there is literally no language to describe how bad it is and just shrug and say ‘it’s fine’.

You don’t get to do that anymore. The toxic malfunctions of the Tory party have dominated British life for decades, not weeks, it is a product of the system and the culture not an aberration from it. Our politics has been reduced – arguably for some time – to a competition amongst sociopathic members of the political elite of one party. In this sense Britain is technically an oligarchy not a democracy, and we have Oligarchs, just like the Russian ones we mock.

The Red and the Yellow

It is not of comfort that polling continues to display vast ridiculous ‘historic’ victories for Labour, this one showing not just a Tory Free Scotland but a Tory Free Britain.

This scenario would mean annihilation of the Conservative Paty as a political entity, an event that would be made even sweeter by the fact that it would have been achieved entirely by their own devices.

But because our political system is rigged in favour of the incumbent, precisely because there are no real checks and balances, this delicious prospect may not emerge at all. Precisely because of the slush of money in politics and the clandestine networks that run through London we may never see that red and yellow map at all. Instead, we could see the grotesque spectacle of Boris Johnson’s second turn in office. If this happens, as it may well do within the week, we must face the fact that British democracy is deeply broken.

The idea that Sunak or Johnson can bring calm and stability to Britain is a fantasy. With either the sleaze and carnage will continue and deepen, as their nationalist junket descends further. If Johnson returns to Number 10 we need decisive action and leadership from the democracy movement in Scotland, but we also need some honest appraisal and self-reflection from the Unionist side, the soft-No’s who are swithering and watching this unfold. It is simply beyond credibility to sustain a position where you are complicit in this and demanding that fellow Scots go along with it.

Despite the soap opera, none of this is personal. Although the drama is laid out as if it’s a story about personal advancement and jostling and back-stabbing it’s not really about that. English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Yes Johnson’s self-pity (that will be pulled-on ad nauseam this week) is a mirror of the national story of ‘betrayal’ that England tells itself. But this is a delusion and it’s a reductive one. It doesn’t end in renewal, it doesn’t end in re-birth or a commitment to values that could be used to rebuild or restore. It is a story based on denial and lies and in that sense it can’t carry them forward. It alludes always to a Great Decline and apportions blame (always) to someone else: foreigners; the EU; single-mums; shirkers; the bone idle; the Irish, or whoever. If we can’t find a new story to tell ourselves about Britain and what it could be, then it’s time to close the book and write a new chapter.


Comments (14)

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  1. Iain Macphail says:

    Agree with every word, well said

  2. Alan C says:

    We should quietly sneak out of the abusive ‘union’ While westminster are in melfdown, some hope

  3. Robbie says:

    Compared to this bunch of so called politicians, the Kray Brothers were law abiding citizens, and jimmy saville who had Many Tory friends was an Angel. Why do we keep talking about it Get Out Now.

  4. Robert Gilchrist says:

    Excellent. But there seems to be a real issue for the whole Scottish Nationalist movement over not landing its punches.
    While just about e eryone here realises that Scotland is indeed a resource rich country with great potential, the argument over whether it operates better in the UK has astonishingly not been resolved – even now, as the whole Westminster system of governance unravels before our very eyes.
    Part of it is I think is all questions round independence have turned into zero sum attritional battles. In a lot of cases a lot of noise is generated but precious little information is distilled. A curious numbness has settled over the whole debate after years of Unionist gaslighting on these issues. Lots of money has been poured into making it thus. Everyone is becoming sick of it all and perhaps have tired of the ‘one final push’ mantras from the Scottish Nationalist side. There is a lack of clarity over how we will move from a devolved into an independent and fully functioning state and the fiscal and policy impacts of this process. Or how we get back into the EU and what the timescales may look like.
    Ultimately we need to get clarity, a bit of focus and into gear to build momentum again.

    1. 221023 says:

      ‘There is a lack of clarity over how we will move from a devolved into an independent and fully functioning state and the fiscal and policy impacts of this process.’

      But it’s always been the independentistas’ position that this will all be ironed out (somehow) AFTER independence has been won, presumably to prevent divisions appearing in the independence movement that would be potentially damaging to its winning the main prize of independence itself. Maybe it’s wise to thus postpone a civil war among the various shades of nationalism and its running dogs on the left. Fun and games to look forward to.

      But, of course, the present Scottish government’s intention is to avoid such a disruptive civil war among the independentistas by retaining a Westminster system of government in Scotland once it gains its independence from the UK. Plus la change…

      1. 221023 says:

        ‘Plus ça change…’, Twat!

      2. Niemand says:

        I think with any body / leader who has been in that position for a while, inertia and an unwillingness to listen to others, let alone have any meaningful democratic process, ebbs away. A tiredness sets in and a frustration of having to deal with all these annoying people who don’t quite agree with you enough (let along disagree). You can get round this by riding roughshod over dialogue and just retreat into edicts and diktats, especially if you have compliant, shallow underlings whose main aim is now personal ambition. Even I, as line manager for some 8 years went this way and I resigned the position when I realised the thought of a meeting where I would have to deal with discussion and collective decision making was causing me to think ‘why bother, I’ll just say we are doing this, get on with it’.

        I don’t think the SNP, let alone the SNP under Sturgeon have got anything left in the tank and will never return to being a democratic, galvanising party (at least not in the foreseeable future). They cannot gain independence with that attitude. It’s over. They need replacing.

        1. Robbie says:

          Well how many replacements has it bee now in wasteminster and look at the state uk is in.You May be right in some aspects ,but given a chance to do things differently does recharge the batteries and get you going, nothing beats seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We all need inspiration time to time.

          1. Niemand says:

            Yeah, good points fir sure Robbie.

  5. jim ferguson says:

    ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

  6. Derek Cameron says:

    Excellent Mr Small.
    It is a pity that the politicians who seek independence for Scotland are not motivated to go to war on this ground, instead preferring to pretend they are doing their ineffective ( and btw ill prepared for debate on the unanswered questiins from 2014 ) business in some gentlemanly debating club. Time is fast running out and feeble calls for a General Electionare pathetic.

  7. Robbie says:

    It appears there is Division and Civil War going on in the Tory party alone and has been for some time , with backstabbing being discussed by gentlemen and ( women )in their clubs

  8. BSA says:

    Very fine piece

  9. Ros says:

    More great analysis from Mike Small, thank you.

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