The UK is famous for its lengthy line of acerbic and sometimes anarchic comedians—Chaplin, the Monty Python crew, Spike Milligan, Tony Hancock, Rowan Atkinson, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Alexei Sayle, Robby Coltrane, and Victoria Wood, among others. (Admittedly, the US has had the Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor, but they seem not to have had any real successors– or I could be wrong? There are brilliant impersonators such as Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy, but impersonation is a somewhat different genre.)
Why mention comedians in connection with today’s UK? The likely answer: only a viciously good and utterly cruel satirist can do justice to what is going on in the UK, moving from one daily shambles to another as it tries, or rather pretends, to deal with Brexit and the damage done by seven years of Tory misrule. I say this bearing in mind that my American friends say Trumplandia is just as much in need of equally vigorous and punishing comedic satirists.
Theresa May, the fumbling and bumbling prime minister, now on a three-week walking vacation in the Swiss Alps with her multimillionaire husband, has her days numbered in that position. With a commanding 20% lead in the opinion polls, May called a general election, ostensibly to give her a clear mandate in Brexit negotiations, but also with the intention of consigning the opposition Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, to historical oblivion. May was a campaigning train-wreck, terrified of meeting the public and only able to utter platitudinous soundbites, while Corbyn was a highly effective campaigner, and when the votes were counted the Tories no longer had an overall parliamentary majority.
May, a wholehearted supporter of her party’s austerity policy, kept saying during the campaign that there were “no magic money trees” in her mendacious attempts to justify austerity. Now lacking a majority, and needing support from other parties to remain in office, she suddenly found her own magic money tree, to the tune of £1.5bn/$1.95bn, to bribe the small and thoroughly unpleasant Northern Irish Unionist party to bloc-vote with the Tories and enable them to have a small majority in parliament.
So, May remains in power by the skin of her teeth, but without any kind of Brexit mandate. No one, not least the hardline Brexiteers in her own party and the wolfish Eurocrats she’s negotiating with, knows what May really stands for regarding Brexit.
Before the Brexit referendum she campaigned for the Remain side. During the election, May campaigned for a hard Brexit (i.e. a complete severance from the EU) hoping to prevent Tory voters from defecting to the far-right anti-EU UKIP. When she lost her majority, May started to endorse a soft Brexit (i.e. a break from the EU but remaining in a to-be-negotiated market arrangement with it).
The upshot of such vacillation bordering on an ideological incontinence– resulting from May taking at various points all three positions on Brexit to suit her political convenience– is that the Eurocrats, with no love lost for May and her crew of incompetents, have seized the higher ground in the Brexit negotiations.
The Eurocrats have a simple but devastating negotiation strategy for Brexit UK, encompassed in the formula “Please tell us where you really stand and what you really want, and then we can start ‘realistic’ negotiations”. The Tory government, which, apart from a few diehards, never seriously expected a vote in favour of Brexit in the referendum, has no developed and coherent position to present to the EU negotiators. Children writing to Santa Claus might have a clearer idea of their wish list.
In the most recent meeting between the EU and the UK’s Brexit negotiators, there were photos showing the two sides at opposite ends of the table. The Eurocrats showed up with bulging folders of notes, while the UK’s chief negotiator, David Davis, faced them without a sheet of paper in front of him. Davis is one of those tipped to be May’s replacement, which may or may not happen, but what is more certain is that the well-prepared Eurocrats will take him to the cleaners.
Different ministers say different things on different days, and May, knowing she’ll be shown the door any day by her own party, is powerless to make them fall in line. The ministers making her life miserable are jockeying to take over from her when she goes, and their gleaming-eyed political ambitions override the need for a coherent negotiating position with the EU.
The opposition Labour party is also split. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of a hard Brexit, though he would call it a Lexit since he’s always been against the EU on left-wing grounds. Corbyn is being hounded by the Blairite wing in his own party, which has always been pro-EU, but Corbyn will prevail against the Blairites because he’s just led Labour to its biggest share of the vote since Labour’s landslide win since 1945– Labour lost this time, admittedly, but not even Blair was able to obtain a vote-share on Corbyn’s scale in his 3 election victories.
It is a sheer delight to see the British Establishment riven by fissures and rancid disagreements, with no real clue on how to proceed on Brexit. The media have been reduced to the equivalent of reading its Establishment’s tea leaves. The queen showed up to give her speech at the recent opening of parliament in a hat that bore a suspicious resemblance to the EU flag. Gasp! Was the old dear trying to send an anti-Brexit message?
Of course she was– the royal family owns over 600,000 acres of land, a sizable proportion of which qualifies for EU farming subsidies. In an excellent London Review of Books article on the impact Brexit will have on UK farming, Richard Meeks mentions the EU subsidies received by UK farmers, and says a single royal estate, Sandringham, receives an EU subsidy of £650,000/$847,000 a year. For this amount, most of us would wear a hat of anyone’s colours! With Brexit, EU subsidies will disappear, unless the UK government devises an alternative system, so I don’t blame Elizabeth Windsor for wearing a pro-EU hat. She may be acting out of self-interest, but nearly all the shits in the UK Establishment are doing the same anyway, whether it is landowning plutocrats or the equally avaricious banking sector.
The Tories have no clue regarding Brexit, while the opposition parties wait for them to dig themselves into an even deeper hole. For all political parties, domestic electoral opportunism dominates, absolutely, the UK’s prospects after Brexit.
The Tories, hounded by their pro-EU big business donors while throwing a few bones to their anti-EU “patriotic” base (British xenophobia should never be underestimated where the Tory base is concerned!), are desperate to find trade deals that will somehow compensate for business opportunities lost when/if Brexit is accomplished.
The big prize here will be a trade agreement with the US, which accounts for Theresa May’s puke-inducing obsequiousness when she met with the Orange Swindler during her visit to Trumplandia.
To secure this trade deal with Trumplandia, the Tories will put everything up for grabs. The UK’s health service, already being privatized by stealth, will be open to US “competition”, meaning it will be completely privatized.
An entirely relaxed regulatory framework will be created to suit Trumplandia. The issue of the moment, seemingly comical for some, is the importation of chlorine-washed chickens from the US. Brits love roast beef above all else (the French refer to us as “Rosbifs”), but a jolly good roast chicken comes a close second. Currently banned in the UK, a trade deal with Trumplandia will permit the importation of chlorinated chicken from the US (allowed there), most probably via a processing plant in China.
On the chlorinated chicken issue, the Tories (again) seem to be split. The expense-milking international trade secretary, Liam Fox, seemingly won’t eat a chlorine-washed chicken when he visits the US, but wants them to be allowed into the UK in a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. Fox is a doctor, and a bit of a crook– in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, he was found to have the largest over-claim on expenses (including expenses of more than £19,000/$25,000 over the last 4 years just for his mobile phone!), and as a result was forced to repay the most money of all parliamentarians.
Fox is said to be one of the contenders for May’s position when she’s given the boot, but another possible candidate, the pro-fracking “environment” secretary Michael Gove (the Tories won’t deny he was brought back into the cabinet by a weakened May at the insistence of Gove’s former employer Rupert Murdoch), has ruled out the importation of chlorinated chicken into the UK. Gove, like the American Mitt Romney, is renowned for changing his positions on a weekly basis if this will in any way enhance his electoral prospects. No surprise therefore if Gove subsequently declares his undying love for (much cheaper but less wholesome) chlorinated chicken if his focus groups point him in this direction.
The Tory shambles over chlorinated chicken will provide all too easy fodder for any number of Brit comedians. Hell’s teeth, even I might be able to extract a measly joke or two from this Tory fiasco! After all, aren’t chicken jokes a staple for any stand-up comedian?