The Tory Leadership Scrum

Photograph Source: Philip Halling – CC BY-SA

To universal relief the Maybot has announced her resignation, with effect from 7th June.

The relief was so heartfelt everywhere that her final meeting with the stone-hearted eurocrats in Brussels– who did her in as much as her treacherous colleagues– was so cordial that Christmas seemed to be around the corner.

Messrs Juncker, Tusk, and Barnier were drinking toasts, real or metaphorical, to the prospect of never having to see the Maybot again– Herr Juncker, the EC President, usually gets paralytic on such occasions to the obvious delight of social media. (Two school friends of mine, recently retired after spending decades in the EU’s top echelons, tell me Juncker tends to lose it after bottle or two of Mosel, his beloved beverage of choice.)

Any such joy at May’s departure should however be tempered by the realization that anyone who takes over from May is unlikely to be better than her.

After all, May saw off all the main contenders in the current election when she won the party leadership in 2016. She is going to be replaced from the bunch of also-rans in that election.

All this huffing and puffing over Brexit cannot obscure the truth that the UK has been in a long-term decline since the end of the First World War.

The processes underlying this obscuration have been long and convoluted, but their outline is readily identifiable.

The tawdry glitz of the Roaring Twenties, when everyone seemed to have money, was brought to an end by the Great Depression, which at that time seemed like a crisis (and which like all previous capitalist crises was thought to be overcomeable in principle).

And indeed it was, this time by the industrial mobilization necessitated by the Second World War.

At the end of the war, recovery and reconstruction generated a decades-long period of economic growth which came to an end in the 1970s, but which breathed life into the illusion, thereby allowing it to persist.

Thatcherism was the next project, failed of course, intended to arrest this (long-term) decline. Using such slogans as “You’re on your own (so get off your bum, or if you’re off you bum, stop leaning on your shovel)” and “get on yer bike”, and so on, Thatcher and her associates somehow persuaded the British people into thinking that this was essentially all that was needed to restore prosperity.

Far from making prosperity more available, Thatcherism brought about, or started to bring about, the opposite: economic inequality not not seen since Victorian times, where many of the people who backed Thatcher to make them “winners” ended up being losers on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

The Tory party’s current austerity agenda is a mere repristination of Thatcher’s failed doxa. In place of “you’re on your own” and “on yer bike”, Brits are now being told “you can’t live beyond your means”. At the same time, exactly as intended, individual Tories and their supporters are living the life of Riley.

Brexit is the latest stage in this long process of obscurantism and effacement, and can be seen as yet another repristination of Thatcherite doxa.

The Brexiters (who are neo-Thatcherites to a man and woman) are telling Ukanians that their salvation now lies in the fantasy that is Empire 2.0, with the dastardly EU standing in the way of the materialization of this fantasy.

This is absolute piffle of course– there is no way its former colonies will come to Ukania’s rescue.

What has decrepit Ukania got to offer India, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and so forth, except an example (such as Thatcher’s wiping-out of the UK’s manufacturing capacity while putting nothing in its place) only the stupid would emulate?


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Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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