Strange Times: A Personal Reflection

These are surely strange revulsive times.

If there ever were before, there are no safe assumptions to make now. Because the assumed solid ground of shared meaning has become a squelching phenomenological quicksand.

The change manifests in scenes otherwise fundamental to family life: I cannot sit easily in a room with some erstwhile loved ones – without knowing that there has been a shift that dislocates. For either there is contrived avoidance of any mention of the European Union or of the refugee crisis or of the tanking of the pound or of a certain court case, or there is fighting and screaming and a visceral incomprehension and hating.

They are patently, obviously, and with self-proclaimed certainty, the same as they have ever been. It’s just that their xenophobia and racism and fear of the other and innate wall-building nationalism have been given a visibility, a vehicle and a mainstream voice.  And I am really seeing them now.

We have not had this conversation before. I say to myself that’s because the need had never arisen.

But I know – and I am willing myself to be honest here, though it doesn’t reflect well on me – that it’s because I didn’t want to examine the racism of family or friends. Or the reactionary and parochial insularity. I didn’t want to be repelled by my own kin. These kind folk. People who would sacrifice their lives for their family. But who are filled with an ugly unthinking suspicion; who blithely buy into the Brexit myths and are filled with a race-fear big as a murderous and bloody stain. Where is the congruence there? Can I love the man yet hate the sin?

So, yes, I feel as though I am living in a revulsive time.

A time, apparently, for the smashing of shibboleths.

A tearing of the veil. And with it, the revelation that the veil was made by the Emperor’s new weavers anyway.

I thought I’d understood the rules. I’ve worked hard to comprehend this worldview I’ve inhabited for so long. But it turns out I’ve been viewing the world through a kaleidoscope – and it has just been twisted.

I suppose, if you consider the past 30 years, there’s a certain inevitability about where we are now as a country.

It is closely aligned to the curse of being an island nation (and however disunited we may be, we share this much: that we inhabit an island) that our default outlook is that of the most superior of islander nations. It’s the island mentality that jet-propelled the overwhelming sense of superior nationhood that created the Empire. We islanders feel no real sense of connection to mainlanders and therefore no real sense of obligation to get along. But we do feel different – different better. We are not team-players. Though we will always be happy to lead. 

So we see WWs I and II as our victories. Victories against those folk over there. We’ve been fed a jingoistic tabloid diet of comprehensive British superiority. Superiority to cheese-eating surrender monkeys and the fascist hun and to petty regulations and rules made by unelected civil servants. Our writers (though only those solely English writers) are vastly superior to the legions of those who (otherwise lauded) write in languages that are not English. Our constitution (entirely unwritten and a shambolic mess) is held up as a global beacon of democratic light. Our Monarchy is preferred to those dodgy foreign alternatives of Republic and Presidency. Our utterly risible voting system praised for its delivery of ‘strong government’. Our power and might – as evidenced by our superior military is paraded abroad on foreign soil and in arms sales. And witness our extraordinary (all the more so because it is innate) sense of decency that means we don’t need a Bill of Rights – in fact, any human rights at all. We still refer to Nelson and Trafalgar, for fuck sake!

The devolution-design that was delivered following pressure from member nations prepared the ground for increasing tension within ‘the Kingdom’. There was the short-sighted arrogance that rejected a Federal structure and preferred devolved ‘administrations’ (dismissed derogatively as Toon Cooncils) – with Westminister perceived by the English as their Parliament but with UK-wide bolt-ons. This ensured there would be grumblings when Northern Irish or Welsh or Scottish MPs voted on matters that were (at least in direct effect if not in financial impact) English matters. And when the centre doled out the cash.

Cameron and Osborne’s ideological pursuit of economic austerity – designed to undermine the welfare state and to prepare the ground for privatisation of those public services so far held to be sacrosanct (NHS) – heightened social tensions and increased the sense of (largely white and predominantly working class) indigenous grievance. This grievance was fanned by the anti-EU authoritarian right-wingers from UKIP (UK Independence Party) – who followed the usual authoritarian right wing model of ‘blame it on the immigrant’ whilst at the same time capitalising on the power vacuum created by the meltdown of the centre (Liberal Democrats) and left (Labour).

As UKIP began to pose an increasingly credible (but primarily very English) electoral threat – directly threatening the Conservatives in their Southern English heartlands – the formerly maverick and formerly sidelined fringe nutters amongst the Tories seized their opportunity and began to foment trouble.

Anomalous and incongruent (in the context of ‘strong government’ and first past the post UK) Coalition government had stretched the thin skin of British democracy to its limits. Believing they could not hold their party together or win a General Election without pacifying their rabid right wing, Cameron et al decided they would put party over country by pledging to hold a Referendum on EU membership.

Cue the massed reactionary forces of the far right British press. Cue the populist calls to ‘take your country back’. The mawkish ‘queen and country’ sentimentality. The backward-looking invocation of Empire and Greatness.

And then cue the attacks. Attacks on immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants. Attacks on folk heard speaking another language. Attacks that resulted in deaths. Cue the islamophobia and the linking of EU-exit to an increased ability to protect ourselves against islamist terrorists – terrorists who were seen on every street. Cue the denigration of anyone daring to question or challenge the received right wing orthodoxy that the EU was the evil empire or that foreigners were the problem. Denouncements range from cries of ‘Traitor’ to ‘Enemies of the People’ and are then followed up by threats of violence and then of real death (think Jo Cox MP; think Arkadiusz Jóźwik).

Yesterday we reached a fresh new nadir with the death threats against those who had dared to take their cause to Court and against those judges who had found in the plaintiffs’ favour. And yet the heinous attacks on the legitimate judgement of our independent Judiciary have found tacit support in both formal governmental silence – and off the record succour and support.

There is nothing good will come of where we are. Some principled folk still exist – but begin to deselect themselves and soon their voices will be lost. I may not agree with the position he took during the EU Referendum but Steven Phillips – a Brexiter by virtue of his belief that the EU undermined ‘Parliamentary sovereignty’ – resigned yesterday because he no longer wanted to be associated with what ‘Tory’ was rapidly coming to signify. The rest are just too power hungry and status driven to rock that boat – and they will keep their mouths shut while their formerly extremist (and in the cases of some, formerly discredited and allegedly corrupt) sidelined colleagues become the new mainstream political norm.

Labour, having disintegrated as a credible and effective political force in the aftermath of internal disruption and external media propaganda and the LibDems having borne the blame for perceived Coalition failures both remain completely neutered as a political force. If they don’t completely split, it’ll be a decade at least before Labour become electable again – and the LibDems are an irrelevance.

No comfort can be derived from the current Labour Party and their embrace of Brexit. I suspect their MPs will ultimately (regardless of latest flip-flopping from Corbyn regarding voting down Art 50) be whipped into voting with the government – for fear of pissing off even further the folk they previously took for granted as their core vote. Anyone who was working class could have told them that there was a rich and fertile seam of xenophobia that could be mined amongst their own class – but there’s so many layers of failure on Labour’s side, not least that they have made too many assumptions and latterly wouldn’t know a working class voter supposing they’d to identify themselves.

And then there’s the global patterns to be discerned.

Hungary; Turkey; Poland; the US… dominoes falling to the hard authoritarian right.

Erdogan is a dictator. Brutally suppressing dissent. Then we have Victor ‘migrants are poison’ Orban fomenting EU divisions with his far right anti-abortionist hardline conservative Polish pal Kaczynski and the Czech Republic’s Sobotka (egged on by the hassle his former ‘socialist’ (aye right) President pal Zeman has caused him domestically.

And then we have Trump – the ‘weaselheaded fucknugget’; ‘witless fucking cocksplatt’; ‘touped fucktrumpet’; ‘tiny-fingered, cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’; ‘bloviating fleshbag’ …(ah jeez we Scots have a glorious way with words).

Trump.

What to say.

Maybe only this: that he is reprehensible but that the people managing his campaign and providing support and endorsing this monster – they are even worse. And that I think the man will win.

I am frightened.

I am afraid that no good can come of any of this. That whilst power for power’s sake is the sole motivation for the sickening lot of politicians who strut the national and global stage then the shift will be ever more to the political right. And that whilst our media here in the UK is a conduit for hardline English nationalism and for racism and xenophobia and hate speech, then we are being propelled fast towards the breakdown in democracy itself.

So whilst May and her current bloviating Brexiter Ministers and her tabloid paymasters fan the flames of xenophobia and hate they create a monster that is likely to overwhelm and destroy even them.

We cannot turn the other cheek. We cannot simply hide behind our own front doors. To do nothing is a choice. It is not a good choice. To do nothing is to collude – it is to be guilty ‘art and part’.

And part of that fight back must be the naming of the enemy – identification and then analysis of what must be repelled.

Part of that fightback is the calm challenge of the dearest of family and friends – the refusal to accept ugly, lazy thinking and repetition of tabloid propaganda – the facing up of the ‘enemy’ in the eyes of the people you love.

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