London’s Burning: Brexit and Climate Change

Photograph Source: The Great Fire of London, depicted by an unknown painter – Public Domain

I’ve just arrived in London from Houston, needing another spell of psychological decompression from Trumplandia. I didn’t watch the televised military parade, though I gathered from social media that there was enough there to make one howl with laughter or cry like the copious rain that fell on the crowd ad marching soldiers.

The reports and photo galleries on social media told many stories: from Melania’s murderous look directed at Tiffany Trump to Donald’s teleprompter miscues and gaffes.

It was clear that Donnie or his speech writer (or both) needed to go back to fourth grade to learn some basic American history.

London, like most of Europe, endured a heatwave a couple of weeks ago. London’s top temperature was 34C/93.2F, though this was nowhere as high as temperatures registered on the Continent (France hit an all-time high of 44.3C/111.7F).

Unlike the US, air-conditioning is a relative rarity in Europe, usually to be found in offices, restaurants, and big shops, and not often in household dwellings. Most of the latter are in 4-5 storey apartment buildings, often more than 100 years old and with the solid stone or brick construction of a bygone era. Knocking through these walls to install vents and ducts for air-conditioning will be an expensive undertaking. It will be interesting to see how this challenge is going to be met, especially for buildings that happen to be 200-300 hundred years old.

I spent the summer of 2003 in Paris, when the (last) great heat wave occurred. It was at that time the hottest summer on record in Europe since at least 1540, with temperatures in France regularly exceeding 40C/104F between August 3 and August 13. The European death toll from that heatwave was estimated to be more than 70,000.

The wizened old lady, in her late 70s or perhaps 80s, who lived in the apartment across the narrow street on the same level as our 5th floor apartment, would appear naked on her balcony in the evening to water her potted plants. Our amused/bemused children wondered why my wife and I did not put on a similar show. I can’t recall what excuse I gave.

Our arrival in London coincided with the Pride Parade, in which 1.5 million people took part. The speakers included the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who lambasted Trump for his homophobia.

The Brexit farce continues, this time compounded by the pantomime that is the Tory-party leadership election. Both candidates are from the monied elite (of course), and will be disastrous as prime minister. The choice between them will be made by the largely male, white, and geriatric Tory party membership– it is a standing joke in social media that the meeting of the Young Conservatives at their annual conference has an average age of over 40.

The one certain to lose, Jeremy Hunt, is the current foreign secretary and before that long-time health secretary, where he oversaw a massive privatization of the NHS. Hunt uses a goofy choirboy façade to conceal his malevolence.

The other candidate, the better-known Boris “BoJo” Johnson, has been shielded from the media by his handlers, almost certainly because a mischievous journalist is likely to ask him how many children he has fathered with his string of mistresses (BoJo appears to have lost track of this number).

So while Hunt campaigned, albeit ineptly, BoJo’s has been a non-campaign by design.

Both say they will undertake a no-deal Brexit– Hunt with a “heavy” heart, and BoJo, who treats the whole thing as a schoolboyish jolly jape, says Ukania will be out of the EU by October 31st, deal or no deal. The eurocrats, predictably, have said again that he’ll be in the same boat as Theresa May, that is, the EU’s position is not up for renegotiation.

BoJo’s post-Brexit proposals (nothing he has said resembles a plan) are totally incoherent—more tax cuts for the already wealthy, and the promise of more funding for education, health, the elderly, etc. etc. All this in the face of the fact that Brexit will have a serious drag effect on the already-sputtering UK economy. Nothing has been costed, because obviously nothing would add-up if this were attempted.

BoJo is widely acknowledged to be a charlatan, declared by his own family to be a congenital liar, and deeply unserious. After attending Eton, he went to Oxford, where he belonged to the notorious drinking and dining club, the Bullingdon (members and ex-members, BoJo among them, typically greet one another with the shout “Buller! Buller! Buller!”). The former prime minister, “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, was also a member.

Someone who knew BoJo during his Bullingdon days at Oxford described him thus to The Observer: “The characteristics he displayed at Oxford– entitlement, aggression, amorality, lack of concern for others—are still there, dressed up in a contrived, jovial image. It’s a mask to sanitise some ugly features”.

No sane person would want such a person to be a member of their village council, let alone prime minister of their country, especially since BoJo has botched both the previous political jobs he’s had (mayor of London and foreign secretary).

But Ukania is an absolute basket case over Brexit, a laughing-stock everywhere I go. How BoJo and Hunt can pretend to take themselves seriously is a mystery.

How so many in Ukania can want either of them to be prime minister is an even-deeper mystery bordering on the occult.

Actually it isn’t: a country whose political institutions are in a state of palpable crisis allows the hitherto abnormal to become normal, thus allowing every kind of creature– presumably just short of minotaurs, centaurs, and unicorns—to lead people by the nose. Even Hitler became sufficiently “normal” for the people who believed in him and what he represented.

Hence, it is hardly surprising that Trump says he is a big fan of BoJo.

Both BoJo and Hunt and their backers have promised deregulation on a scale not seen before, in effect aiming to be more Thatcherite than Thatcher.

All Ukania’s previous efforts at deregulation and outsourcing have been disastrous failures, with the possible exception of telephone services.

Ukania is now the money-laundering capital of the world, a place where Russian oligarchs, Gulf sheikhs, and Chinese tycoons can park their dosh while the Tories turn a blind eye to what is going on.

Meanwhile the issue of The Observer mentioned above reports that London’s homeless population in 2018-2019 increased by 18% over the previous 12 months.

Nothing outlined by BoJo in his leadership campaign will do anything for Ukania’s great unwashed, perhaps the fastest growing segment of its population.

Only financiers, property speculators, landlords, and assorted rip-off artists will benefit from his tenure in 10 Downing Street—the same old story since the Tories came to power in 2010.

There’s the basket case that is Ukania in a nutshell.


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