I was last in the UK a couple of months ago. Two key analytical vectors suggest themselves in attempts to understand Ukania (and of course other places and other times).
One is of course the longue durée, with its transformations on an epochal scale. The other is the conjuncture, that is, the prevailing configuration of forces and counter-forces currently defining the political, economic, and social terrain of X (in this case the UK).
The UK’s longue durée is relatively easy to specify– imperial decline, for some managed “gracefully” on the whole (more or less the official narrative of the elites), or (a great deal more truthfully) a decline that large numbers of Brits have yet to come to terms with. Symptomatic of the latter is the rightwing rationale for Brexit. Albion will be “great again”, say these deluded individuals, once it extricates itself from the cesspool of eurocratic mediocrity that is the EU, ignoring the fact that Ukania’s own reek of mediocrity matches, or even surpasses, that of the EU. Or when immigrants are sent “home”.
The case for a Lexit is of course completely different. The UK will never become a socialist democracy, freed from the deadening hand of neoliberalism, as long as it remains in the EU. The EU is wedded root and branch to neoliberalism, and if the UK wants to pursue an internal development not hamstrung by an out of control financial sector, greedy banks, rampant tax evasion (it was revealed this week that even Elizabeth Windsor and her son the future king do this), widespread inequality, failing health and education systems, it needs to extricate itself from this neoliberal behemoth.
Jeremy Corbyn, like his mentor Tony Benn, used to make this Lexit argument. However, now that he is the leader of the Labour party, he’s decided to make party “unity” his priority, and focus instead on issues of procedure and protocol where Brexit is concerned.
Labour is just as split on Brexit as the Tories are, but while the latter are pushing this division to the point of electoral self-destruction, Labour has chosen to watch this part of the show from the sidelines.
Labour’s strategy is to highlight Tory ineptitude to the electorate (an easy game to play), while giving clear signals to the EU mandarins that Labour will be a much more competent and reliable negotiating partner should Brexit really get underway.
Theresa May, almost demented in her day-to-day vacillations on Brexit and other issues, looks unlikely to last 6 months as Tory leader, while an increasingly assured Corbyn will lead Labour up to the next election, and should Labour win, beyond that. Even if they can’t say it out loud, the wily and ruthless eurocrats know at this stage which they would rather have to deal with.
The rat-infested Tory ship is sinking. The last week has seen two ministerial resignations. The revelations concerning Harvey Weinstein have had a spillover effect in UK politics– numerous women have come forward to say they had been sexually assaulted by politicians, most of them Conservatives. The first to go was the defence minister Michael Fallon, who seems to have difficulty keeping his hands to himself when he’s had a few drinks and women are around him. There was a tragic Labour casualty in all of this– Carl Sargeant, the Welsh minister of Communities and Children killed himself a few days after he was removed from the Welsh government because of the allegations directed at him.
A couple of days ago, the Minister of International Development, the loathsome Thatcherite Priti Patel, was given the boot by Theresa May when it was revealed by a newspaper that she had secret meetings with Israeli politicians in the illegally-occupied Golan Heights (thereby breaching UK diplomatic protocol), with a view to seeing if UK foreign aid could be given to the Israeli military hospital there! The delicious irony here is that Patel campaigned during the general election for the abolition of this department, which of course now outlasts her time as its head. The wheels of (mis)fortune can turn in strange ways.
A political commentator said that the hapless May now heads a coalition, but alas within her own party. Both wings of this coalition are in a death struggle with each other, and May’s fate as leader hangs, literally, on which one of her colleagues will succumb to allegations of sexual assault, or cavorting with agents of foreign government on illegally occupied territory in breach of diplomatic protocol.
The Tories are at a complete standstill not just on the Brexit negotiations, but also the potentially severe winter crisis facing the deliberately cash-starved NHS, rising discontent in several sectors (education, and the railways which have seen industrial action this week), and the revelations, in the Paradise Papers, of wide-scale tax evasion involving Elizabeth Windsor, her repulsive son Charles Windsor, the racing-driver Lewis Hamilton, an array of “entertainers” (including the ever-hypocritical Bono), Tory parliamentarians, newspaper magnates (pro-Tory to the core), numerous Tory donors, indeed, almost the entire rotten show that is the British establishment.
To paraphrase the multi-millionaire tax-dodging New Yorker Leonora Helmsley: only mugs pay taxes.
Arriving in London, I went online to look for street protests against the tax-dodging revealed by the Paradise Papers I could join in, but found nothing. In quiescent Britain, ordinary people somehow seem willing to be shat on from a great height by the 1%!
What strikes one, in the UK as in the US, is the absolute shamelessness of the ruling elite, from the Queen to Bono (okay, he’s Irish) and Lewis Hamilton, as well as any number of Tory donors. As a taxi driver put it to in me when we discussed the colossal scale of such tax-dodging: “Everyone’s cuttin’ corners, innit? No one wants to do it right”.
The taxi driver got it right, at least where the 1% are concerned—in Ukania these bastards know they can get away with anything.