Each week it seems hardly possible that the UK’s descent into Ruritanianism can get worse, but somehow it does.
Rampant corruption, cronyism, and grifting; a bungled response to the pandemic (apart from the vaccine rollout, this thanks to the NHS); the mishandled aftermath of Brexit; growing inequality; a housing and hunger crisis; a fund-starved healthcare system; window-dressing measures with regard to global heating; a hopelessly inadequate response to the debacle in Afghanistan: an untrustworthy media, extending from the Murdoch press to the BBC, committed overwhelmingly to securing the interests of the Ukanian plutocracy; all this presided-over by a government of third-rate power-grubbers and charlatans.
Add to this a feeble Labour opposition headed by the Blairite “soft Tory” Keir Starmer.
The rot exists right at the top as well— one of the Queen’s children, closely connected to the late Jeffrey Epstein, is shielding himself, with the possible connivance of his mother, from the US justice system, which considers him to be “a person of interest” in its investigations.
These failures and defects are compounded by an antiquated parliamentary system that is simply not up to the task of addressing the wide-ranging challenges it faces. At the same time, this ruinous system is just as much a symptom as cause of Ukania’s maladies.
Social theorists would say that Ukania’s problems are “conjunctural”, that is, too many negative variables are combining to create circumstances that can’t be addressed by the piecemeal or ad hoc initiatives afforded by “electoral democracy”.
In particular, the fiction that media-oriented elections every few years to rotate the 2 main parties in government is a barely concealed futility—how is Keir Starmer any different from a (small third-party) centrist Lib Dem MP, just as the US Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, is hardly distinguishable from his Republican counterparts Susan Collins and Mitt Romney?
In the UK the successful vaccine rollout may be creating complacency. Data from Public Health England (PHE) indicate uptake of second doses is leveling off in older sectors of the population and is less than for the first dose. The data, complete up to August 22, also shows uptake of first doses has essentially leveled off in almost all appropriate age sectors except the very youngest, and declines with age.
Possible explanations for this drop-off in the vaccination rates include the belief that one dose is sufficient to provide protection from the virus, that August is a peak holiday period, and that the ending of lockdowns may be encouraging a sense that the more severe phases of the pandemic are over.
This over-confidence, also due in part to “Covid fatigue”, may be misplaced. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Covid infections in England are now 26 times the levels existing this time last year.
Covid experts say that the reopening of schools in England last week is likely to cause further increases in Covid cases, with numbers growing when the academic year begins at universities and colleges.
For now news sources seem to be focusing more on the fact that the combination of Covid and Brexit is causing major breaks in the UK’s supply chains. It is estimated the UK is short of about 100,000 long-distance delivery drivers at present.
Supermarket shelves are bare. Food and beer are running-out, and toys will be more expensive this Christmas. Fast food outlets are running out of chicken. McDonald’s said it has run out of milkshakes and bottled beverages. Prisonlabour is being used at meat processing plants. The shortage of seasonal farm labour from the EU countries is causing fruit and vegetables to lie unpicked in fields. Doctors have been ordered to ration vials for blood tests.
Brexit and its aftermath have involved 2 major lies.
The first was to dupe a sufficient number of Brits into voting for Brexit in the 2016 referendum campaign, primarily by hammering away at meretricious slogans lacking any content: “taking back control”, “global Britannia”, “Independence Day”, and so forth.
The second is the one taking place now, namely, putting egregiously cosmetic glosses on Brexit’s increasingly evident drawbacks.
Much-hyped trade deals with other countries to compensate for the loss of trade with the EU are at the forefront of Tory post-Brexit policy. The latest such deal is with Australia.
The deal with Australia could increase UK GDP by an estimated 0.01 to 0.02%. Loss to UK GDP due to reductions in trade with EU as a result of Brexit is estimated at -2.25%.
To conceal this deal’s palpable negatives for the UK, resort is being made to PR fakery.
A few months ago the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott was made a trade envoy on the UK’s behalf. Abbott promptly disappeared from public view.
Last week a retired cricketer, the Tory peer Lord Ian Botham of Ravensworth, was trotted out as the UK’s trade ambassador to Australia (no mention was made of Tony Abbott). The announcement was a field day for social media, especially in Australia.
Botham, who goes by the nickname “Beefy”, was a legendary cricketer, but has, by his own admission, no qualifications for, or experience of, trade negotiations.
Beefy, a staunch Brexiter, doesn’t even live in the UK—he prefers to live in the EU (in Almeira, Spain)!
The cricketing rivalry between England and Australia is the game’s longest and most intense, and the pugnacious Beefy has not endeared himself to Australians.
He’s maintained a decades-long feud with the prominent former Australian captain Ian Chappell, both of them trading punches at an Aussie hotel bar in 1977 (the 21-year-old Botham was there on a cricketing scholarship), and having a furious altercation in a car park in 2010 before they were separated by colleagues.
in 1986 Botham received a 2-month ban for bringing the game into disrepute after he admitted to smoking cannabis on a tour of New Zealand 2 years before.
In 1987, Beefy, playing for Queensland state, was charged by Perth police with assault during a disturbance on a domestic flight while travelling to Perth for a cricket match. His contract with Queensland was terminated as a result.
In 2005 Botham wrote in his newspaper column that “anyone who has played against [Australia] will tell you there is no better feeling than beating the convicts”.
Beefy, who is an ardent monarchist, stormed out of an official dinner in 1992 in Melbourne after taking umbrage at an Australian comedian who impersonated the Queen in drag with a stuffed corgi (Her Majesty’s favourite canine) under his arm. The homophobic Botham described the comedian as a “gay poofter”.
Anti-monarchist sentiment is high is Australia at the moment, and a sure way to sabotage Beefy’s trade talks in the country (assuming these will take place) will be to hold an official dinner for him with a reprise of the Queen impersonator.
Commentators are wondering why a greenhorn Brit when it comes to trade negotiations (admittedly Beefy owns a vineyard in South Australia), with a long history of fraught dealings with Aussies, should be made the public face in boosting UK business in Australia.
The UK could however have done worse by sending Beefy as trade ambassador to Pakistan. In 1984 while playing in Pakistan, he ignited a diplomatic incident by describingPakistan as” the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid”.
(A thought experiment: how about the US making Denis Rodman one of its trade envoys? It could just work, and this possibility can’t be ruled-out where Beefy is concerned.)
On a more serious note, on January 1, 2022, full border controls on imports of most goods from the EU, so far delayed, will be introduced.
On that date, imports from the EU will be subjected to the same requirements as goods imported from the rest of the world. To quote from the Travers.Smith website:
“For example, full “upfront” paperwork will be required including customs declarations, together with UK Safety and Security declarations (at present, no Safety and Security declarations are required and customs declarations can be provided in arrears). Meanwhile, physical checks on products of animal origin will be introduced and are expected to be carried out at Border Control Posts located at ports…”.
These requirements will add further to the already-increased costs of EU imports into the UK.
The glossiest and most deceitful Tory PR notwithstanding, not even the fabulous Beefy Botham can fix the inevitable problems arising from these increased costs for huge numbers in the UK who consume EU products.
Tory flummery has its limits?
Kenneth Surin is emeritus at Duke University. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.