This essay is a follow up piece to the EU Referendum essay published in Lighthouse #10
The EU referendum is the single biggest threat to the postwar international order since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. In the Lighthouse Literary Journal, I wrote about the nationalist routes of the referendum. Here, and in forthcoming articles across various platforms, I want to expand on that.
This is about the Conservatives, who have pulled the trigger of the referendum, and why they felt as if they had to do so.
Picture a chewed piece of chewing gum, stretched so that the center is near transparently thin. Then imagine a baseball bat swinging round to obliterate that centre, taking a vast amount of the gum with it, and leaving only the top and the bottom. That’s a good idea of how the last financial crash affected us.
The collapse of the middle is important because it explains why David Cameron talks like a baby when appearing on daytime TV to explain why, because of “very bad people” who want to “do bad things, ” he has decided to trade in our irreplaceable liberty for ill-defined “security”. It also explains why UKIP had room enough to entertain the idea of turning the UK into a police state, in order to deport those who will automatically lose the right to reside in Britain once it leaves the EU. They do this because the collapse of the middle in the wake of the financial crash means there is no buffer between the “top” and the “bottom” anymore, and in England the quality of education has (for many years) been based upon income.
In the past, this bifurcated society was the Conservative’s home turf. Ever since Disraeli, the fallback position of the Conservatives has been ‘“One-Nation” Conservatism. This can be best described as the top talking directly to the bottom, ignoring the various shades of Liberal or Blairite middle. It has always been patriotic, rambunctious, and populist in tone. It has also always been successful. The collapse of the middle ought to make the Conservatives the natural party of governance.
The problem is that they are not, and they can barely scrape together an election win. Why?
Imagine if the Earth was turned upside-down but we kept the outlines of the map as if it hadn’t, and acted as if Canada was the same as it always was even though it was now blatantly Argentina. The politics of Britain is like that. The political landscape has fundamentally and obviously changed, but the political parties that we have aren’t representative of that change, and remain the same.
The real parties are unnamed, and drift and coalesce within and outside the traditional party borders. The main political parties in Britain are more brands than political parties. The brand power rests in the belief in the brand’s ability to be sold, which in politics is in its ability to gain office. The brand, therefore, only exists as a means to power. This means that the investment (often called “donations”) that finances and thus binds the wholly fractured political parties, invests only because it sees the party brand as a means of privileged access to that power. The Conservative Party, for example, exists only so long as it can convince potential candidates (and party funders) of its viability as a party of governance.
The coalition was a boon to the Conservatives, because it allowed one fraction (let us call them “Blairites”) to work outside of its false party borders, but within its natural “real” political border, with the “orange book” Liberal Democrats. The problem with having a small win, and an even smaller majority, is that now the Conservative Blairites are forced to work outside of their “real” party borders (which means, confusingly, within
their “brand” party borders) with people whom they share nothing but a brand name with. To maintain the brand they must stay in power. With such a small majority this gives the Blairites very little room for manoeuvre. With the middle (their natural party base) annihilated, they have been forced outside of their comfort zone.
To placate their own party (to whom they must deliver power) and under pressure from the investors (who expect to see a party that can deliver on its promise of power) the Blairites have turned in desperation to what always worked in the past, to maintain the Conservative brand as a party of governance: One-Nation Conservatism, aka the race to the bottom I mentioned at the start.
The Blairites strategy of One-Nation Conservatism has, however, proved less like discovering the forgotten tribe and leading them out of the wilderness, and more like discovering a guerrilla army with their own list of demands and with nothing but your reputation to defend yourself. As early as the 1970s, it was very apparent that the postwar egg was cracking, and the post=industrial economy had begun to arrive. What emerged from that was a two-tier society, based upon access to education (the “top” and “bottom” mentioned earlier). Those without the wealth required to access education, who would have been members of the proud industrial working or artisanal class, were now part of the long-term structurally unemployed. As poor as the immigrants who were arriving to compete in an already crowded market, and wholly dependent on a welfare system their structural unemployment sadly rendered untenable, they were the targets of the new far-right “anti-politics”.
“Anti-politics” is characterized by Robert Paxton as a complete lack of trust in a political “elite”; a belief in an existential threat to national cultural heritage and identity; anti immigration; a promise to “protect” public services for those who deserve it (hardworking nationals and taxpayers) from those who seek to “abuse” it (the lazy and foreigners). For many years, Britain’s antipolitics was contained by Thatcher’s massive Total Patriotism, and by the artificial credit and housing bubbles which hid the true cost of living. When New Labour recalibrated the normal position of governance as a triangulated Gramscian “centre”, this left the right wide open for anti-political movements. The financial crash destroyed any boundaries that minimised the effect of burgeoning British anti-politics. The continued high levels of immigration, coupled with the crippling austerity with which the Government attempted to rewrite an economy that had suffered greater damage than Greece’s, was like massive doses of gamma rays to British antipolitics. Within the last five years it has transformed from a chimp’s tea party into Mobzilla. These are the English Nationalists of whom I wrote in Lighthouse Journal #10. Nominally coalesced around UKIP, their natural, “real” party boundary fall deep within the Conservative Party.
The vanishing of the Blairite middle, its retreat from the Labour front-benches following a “leftwing coup”, and the rise in Scottish and English nationalism (not to mention the cruel decimation the Liberal Democrats) has left the real party that David Cameron represents, the Blairites, as a minority government.
The Blairites must placate the blackmailing Conservative English nationalists to maintain power, thus placing us exactly where I began my Lighthouse piece. In calling the referendum, they are acquiescing to a viewpoint that threatens to destroy the United Kingdom, and seriously undermine the postwar consensus, if not our own democracy. The more ground the blackmailed Conservative Blairites give, and the more they rely on mimicking the nationalists to maintain their credibility, the more it looks like cultural preparation for something historically unpleasant. The only answer is to wish for a collapsed government and opposition in the hopes that new, representative parties will emerge.
Posted 5 years ago