Friday, 21 October 2016

An elegy for England

Were Theresa May merely to represent the bastard offspring of Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Farage, as opposed to a treacherous demagogue whose tendency towards authoritarianism then there might be cause for optimism.  Instead, she presides over an amoral administration that, paradoxically, may be doing us all a favour by calling time on the United Kingdom.

Throughout the miserable period in the run-up to the European referendum, and the frightening descent into fascism that we have been witnessing since its cocked-up bravura and constitutional illiteracy (thank you Cameron, you will be judged accordingly), the one theme that should be obvious is the extent to which this is a triumph of ignorance and idiocy.  Any sensible individual with a grasp of history will recognise that the Little England trope was played out even before the accession of the UK to the EEC in 1973, and that its resurrection is the final triumph of venality and manipulation over evidence.

May's appropriation of the language of extreme nationalism has been odious but predictable, and will make her easier to dislodge.  It is the exercise of an evil, deluded fantasy that the decline of British power, entrenched since 1918, can be rolled back by an advisory poll in a world where hubris will meet the reality of the neoliberal jungle that May's chorus of corrupt spivs echoes as some form of aspirational state.

The resurgence of English nationalism is ugly and irreconcilable with a realistic view that the British nations are a global participant, with a legacy of imperialism but without the moral or actual superiority that provides a springboard to tell the rest of the world what to do.  This delusion propels the Brexit maniacs into further lies about the queues of countries lining up to make trade deals with an isolated Britain, and into the territory that would be pathetic and mad were it not so damaging for the remainder of the country.

As someone who grew up in England, and whose culture and values were informed accordingly, this is a tragedy.  This is the appropriation of a diverse, mongrel but ultimately tolerant culture into a weak and deliberate parody of a Nazi Volk, appropriating the symbols and the rhetoric for a sick initiation of sovereignty and influence.  The radical, anti-establishment tradition, still bubbling despite all efforts by the right to silence it, is now in danger beneath a sanitised, pseudo-patriotic agenda of disgusting xenophobia and ignorance, where to be narrow-minded, dismissive and deluded is a badge of pride rather than something to be hidden and corrected.

England is no longer a relevant state of mind.  The principal reason for the UK joining its neighbours in Europe is even more pressing in 2016 than it was in 1963, when De Gaulle rebuffed Macmillan.  A declining, deluded peripheral power, distinguished principally by its denial and its possession of nuclear weapons, is not relevant, nor is it likely to benefit from cutting itself off from its main markets.  The Brexit delusion was spread around on the basis of some form of harking back to Empire, and the simplicities of a world where May and Paul Dacre can tell us what to do.

Instead, the lack of constitutional propriety and oversight means that citizens have to go to court to challenge an unelected traitor in Downing Street to use the imperfect scrutiny of Parliament.  The electoral system and the structure of government would disgrace a country emerging from dictatorship, rather than sliding into one, and all for the name of a non-patriotic delusion.  It is hardly a thing of wonder that people beyond this particular bubble are convinced that there is more to be gained from leaving such a monstrosity to work out its own fate rather than hang around hoping that there are groups prepared to challenge it.

May is diminishing the UK's standing every time she opens her unprepared mouth.  The end of the Union will probably result.  This will be a forcing of the historical pace, but for those in England it may push the authoritarians into hegemony.  Whatever the ultimate outcome, the logic of May's abandonment both of the rest of the Union and common decency will haunt her, and she cannot expect those of us who have been disgusted, put off and disparaged to lift a finger to save her, her cronies and her failed country when there is a prospect of something better beyond.

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