Empire 2.0

In years to come, historians will look back at the ruins of the country that was once the United Kingdom and wonder what brought about its spectacular and stunning collapse. As they pick their way through the rubble,  they will eventually end up in the strange and barren period that we are now living through, in which there is almost nothing that we seem able to do except watch as one of the greatest collection of fools, frauds, fakes incompetents that has ever led the British state leads the country towards disaster with the gleeful insouciance of a drunk batsman tottering out to the wicket to take a wild swing at any ball that moves.

Yesterday, for example, Theresa May had the unbelievable gall to accuse Nicola Sturgeon of ‘playing politics’ with the country’s future, as if she would never dream of doing such a thing.   And today, the pitiful David Davis admitted that the government has no contingency plan for leaving the EU without a deal, even though Theresa May only recently insisted that leaving the EU with no deal would be better than leaving it with a bad deal.  How could she be so sure, if she hadn’t actually assessed what might happen?  We don’t know, and she obviously doesn’t know either. Yet that didn’t stop her promising to inflict on the country what she didn’t know, regardless of the consequences, and there is little indication that those who voted to leave want to know, or even know that they don’t know.

This is the terrifying dynamic that the country is now trapped in.  It unfolds day after day, gathering pace and idiocy with each passing week.  There appears to be nothing that anyone can do to stop it.  Today, a report from the construction industry predicted the loss of 200,000 construction jobs.  Since the Referendum there has been a 90 percent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK and there are nowhere near enough nurses to replace them.

Try and stop this – or even try to allow parliament to actually look in detail at what the unelected PM is planning – and you are likely to be dismissed as a ‘Remoaner’ and ‘whinger’ or even a ‘traitor’ who has defied the ‘will of the people’.

With hindsight historians may be able to understand how this incredible disaster was allowed to happen.  And when they sift through the fanaticism, the arrogance, the glassy-eyed optimism, the flagwaving jingoism and the sheer stupidity and destructive malevolence of the political class that made it happen, they may well discover something called Empire 2.0.

This apparently is the name that Whitehall civil servants have given to the government’s proposal to reinvent the Commonwealth as a post-EU substitute for the EU.  Liam Fox, the sleazy spiv who should never have been allowed to take office yet has inexplicably become trade secretary, does not like this terminology, saying ‘It’s a phrase I find slightly offensively caricaturing. So it’s not a phrase I would use.’

No one could caricature Fox and his colleagues better than they do themselves, but Empire 2.0 is in fact a very good shorthand explanation for what is taking place.  Empire 2.0 sounds like Hawaii 5.0 and for these clowns it is just as thrilling, or ‘terribly exciting’ as Nigel Farage put it.   Because one of the main reasons why this country is now preparing to commit collective national suicide is because it once had an empire and it has still not got used to the fact that it does not have one.

Like the woman on Question Time who insisted that Britain ruled as  ‘the light of the world’ for ‘thousand of years’, the British political class, and a significant percentage of its population believes that the British empire was great and it cannot get used to the fact that it no longer great.

This is a country haunted and poisoned by imperial nostalgia and imperial amnesia.  It’s a country that has tried to cling onto greatness by stacking up nuclear weapons so that it can sit at the big table at the UN; above all by kidding itself that it was acting like ‘Greece to Rome’ in its servile and subordinate relationship with the United States and its willingness to ride shotgun with every lunatic American military adventure.

But despite all this, the country senses that it is not great as it once was or has it should be.  It remembers a time when the tables of the world ate with British steel, when gunboats were there to remind dodgy foreigners and governments trying to prevent their populations from becoming opium addicts of their duties and responsibilities.

Now we have to abide by the rules of an organisation – the EU – that we willingly joined, and so we tell ourselves that the EU is a new ‘Reich’ and that we are living under the ‘dictatorship of Brussels.’

Having foreigners tell us what to do is bad enough, but the real indicator of our fall from greatness is the presence of foreigners inside ‘our’ borders.  It was alright once for us to emigrate to any country that took our fancy and conquer countries that opposed us – immigrants were not supposed to come here, at least not in such numbers that they became noticeable.  They were not supposed to walk around our streets and SPEAK THEIR OWN LANGUAGES.

For too many of our countrymen, such things are unacceptable.   And that is why we had to leave the EU.  That’s why we want Empire 2.0 to restore our links with our old friends from the Commmonwealth who once belonged to Empire 1.0, because we are a ‘great trading nation’ and great trading nations can do what they like even if they can’t.

It’s no good pointing out that countries that replace a rational and thoughtful analysis of their actual possibilities and prospects in the real world with fantasies are not going to get very far.   You can try to explain that leaving the single market and falling back on WTO rules is a catastrophic error.  People like Fox, who believe in the ‘tremendous opportunities opportunities to importers and exporters from across the whole Commonwealth, a genuinely win-win situation’, will never listen.  They will never change their minds, never think twice, never allow even the shadow of a doubt to drift across the bright horizon.

They remember when we were great and they know we can be great again.  For them, every precipice is a chance to fly.   Unfortunately, too many people share the same belief, and they will probably continue to share it, long after we hit the ground, and the bubble of Empire 2.0 floats out of reach, and bursts above their heads.

 

Who let the dogs out? Brexit

More than two months after the Brexit referendum, the surge in hate crime and racism unleashed by the referendum shows no sign of abating, and the politicians who did so much to help bring it about continue to deny any responsibility for it. Farage has done this on various occasions, and now MEP and arch-Brexiter Daniel Hannan has joined the dismal chorus.  

Asked by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News whether he felt there had been ‘an increase in hate crimes involving foreign nationals in the UK’,  Hannan denied that any such increase had taken place and accused Murnaghan of being ‘tendentious’ in his questioning.

How so?  Because, according to Hannan,   ‘ there has been for a long period a rise in the reporting of hate crime incidents because of the way in which the police have their websites and treat every report as an incident.  There hasn’t been any increase in the number of cases referred for prosecution and some of the cases the media have jumped on have turned out to have nothing to do with Brexit at all.’

Of course tracing a direct causal link between every instance of racist violence and Brexit is difficult, if not impossible, but Hannan’s denial of any connection at all is weak, self-serving and intellectually dishonest.  Police figures make it clear that there has been an exponential rise in the number of reported racist or hate crime incidents in the months since the referendum, which has nothing to do with ‘the way in which the police have their websites,’ whatever that means.

Hannan is right that such incidents preceded Brexit.   Long before the referendum, politicians and newspapers were portraying migrants and foreigners as feckless parasites who come here either to take ‘our’ jobs or batten off the taxpayer.  If you routinely criticize people for not speaking English in public and accuse them of being cultural usurpers or invaders, you can’t be entirely surprised when Polish migrants are physically and sometimes verbally attacked if they speak to each other, or when mothers are frightened to talk to their own children in their own language in public.

After all, some of our leading politicians and newspapers have saying for years that migrants must be like us or leave, and they’ve done this without a sliver of shame and without any acknowledgement that their words might have actual consequences for the men and women who they were directed against.

This steady drip-drip of contempt, disdain, paranoia and chauvinist poison has eroded decades of slow and often painful progress towards a society in which overt expressions of racism were not socially legitimate or acceptable.

So on one level the surge in post-Brexit racism is something that has been incubating for a long time.  But the referendum brought out into the open what had previously been covert and underground, to the point when too many people now feel legitimised and justified in persecuting migrants or anyone who looks and sounds like one.

The politicians who directed the campaign may not have wanted this to happen, but they deliberately and cynically inflamed the most primitive xenophobic and nativist instincts in the population, because they knew that these were the sentiments that would bring them victory.    They may not think of themselves as racists and xenophobes, but in moral terms you don’t really look that great if you aren’t a ‘genuine’ racist, but someone who merely uses racism and xenophobia to your own political advantage.  It’s nothing to boast about, frankly.

In his Sky Interview Hannan tells Murnaghan that he has no right ‘ to insult 52% of the British electorate by suggesting there is some connection between voting to take back our laws and being unpleasant to people who have made their lives here, I think that’s an extremely dangerous way of going.’

Not nearly as dangerous as the menacing forces that Hannan and his cohorts have helped to unleash.   And regardless of what he says, I will insult and condemn the politicians who made this happen, and never more so than when they have the gall to pretend that it was nothing to do with them.

 

Troll Nation

Anyone who has published, tweeted or posted anything on the Internet will be aware that the worldwide web can be a dank and hateful environment in which all kinds of wild and extremely poisonous creatures flourish.  Whether it’s the anonymity provided by an avatar, or simply the fact that the Internet provides a tool for bullying and harassment as well as communication and discussion, it enables people to behave in ways that would not be possible and would certainly not be acceptable anywhere else.

To point this out doesn’t mean that I am anti-Internet, or that I believe, as Nick Cohen and others seem to, that the Internet has made people nastier and more stupid in the ‘real’ world.  It’s tempting to believe this, but I don’t see any evidence of it.  What I have seen is that the Internet provides a forum that did not previously exist, in which stupid and nasty people can flourish and even gain a power that they would not otherwise have had to bully, threaten, menace, or simply express views that would be generally considered shameful and reprehensible if they were not tapped into 140-characters or below-the-line comments sections.

There are so many dreadful examples of this.  No one will be surprised that Katie Hopkins marked the death of five men by drowning last week with a tweet suggesting that they were illegal immigrants.  That’s what made Hopkins famous.   Others with a similarly tenuous connection to humanity are known by their tweets rather their names. Three years ago Caroline Criado-Perez received hundreds of rape and death threats for having the temerity to suggest that Jane Austen should be on a pound note.   In May this year the 15-year-old British-Palestinian schoolgirl Leanne Mohammed was subjected to a storm of online abuse because she won a debating prize defending Palestinian rights.

Recently the actress Leslie Jones.was subjected to an absolutely savage misogynistic and racist twitter assault which forced her to abandon Twitter.   Her crime?  Jones is black and stars in the new female version of Ghostbusters – an apparently unforgiveable transgression in the eyes of thousands of bug-eyed racist morons who have harassed her and regarded the remake as some kind of heretical violation.

Clearly the Internet doesn’t turn people into jerks, but it nevertheless enables them to be jerks or reveal their innate jerkishness more openly.   Take some of the below-the-line commentators who saw fit to pontificate beneath the blog  by Rosie.Ayliffe, the mother of the young woman who was horrifically murdered in a backpacker’s hostel in Australia last month by a Frenchman named Smail Ayad.   I always find these murders of young women utterly depressing, but this one was more shocking to me than most, because Mia Ayliffe-Chung was a local girl and a friend of my daughter’s.

She once spent a night in our house with a group of my daughter’s friends and kept me up because she wouldn’t stop chattering away in the room upstairs. Another time we picked her and my daughter up from a local festival.  All this happened some years ago, and I hadn’t seen Mia or even thought about her till we found out that she had been murdered as we were driving back from France.

My daughter was not surprisingly stunned by this, and the murder of a local girl of her age brought home to us that it could very easily have happened to her, or to any of the young men and women who were once part of her life and who we have also known, who have left this obscure corner of the East Midlands to go travelling.

Since then I’ve followed her mother’s blogs on the Independent and followed the case in the media to its latest grim development, the death of Tom Jackson, who tried to save Mia and was killed.   I have to admit that I was initially surprised that she wanted  to write a blog about her journey to Australia to retrieve her ashes, and suspicious of the Independent’s motives in doing this.

Reading the blog however, I was very impressed by Rosie Ayliffe’s grace and decency, and  by her quiet determination not to allow the murder to become a pretext for anti-Muslim hatred or become another sensationalised media-victim.  It is clear that Rosie has attempted to celebrate Mia’s short life in public in order to prevent her daughter from being co-opted by the media or by anyone else, and also in an attempt to deal with her own grief.

All this is admirable and even heroic.   But that is not the opinion of some of the truly repellent creatures who have come swarming in below the line.  Most of them were as supportive and empathetic as you might expect from human beings worthy of the name, but others were disgusting and contemptible.

Some criticized Ayliffe for ‘politicizing’ her daughter’s murder by writing about it and insisting that it was not an ‘Islamic’ crime – even though there is nothing to suggest that Ayad was anything more than yet another misogynistic and possibly deranged male who did not like being rejected.   Yes there are reports that he supposedly cried ‘Alahu Akbar’ during his frenzied attack, which does not make it a ‘Muslim’ crime or an act of terrorism, as some of the below-the-line commentators immediately claimed – and attacked with the usual sarcastic ‘religion of peace’ comments that the likes of Katie Hopkins think are withering and devastating.

Some of these commentators have had the temerity to suggest that Ayliffe was some kind of ‘useful idiot’ deliberately playing down the ‘Islamic’ motivation in this crime out of political-correctness or ‘idealism.’  Today someone called her an ‘idiot mother’ supposedly profiting from the murder in order to make a career for herself as a journalist.   Another took time out to provide a little erudite mansplaining, criticizing Ayliffe for using the word xenophobia on the grounds that the word ‘xeno’ comes from the Greek word for ‘stranger’ and therefore could not be racist.

Some of this is outright hate-mongering, of the kind that regards even a mother’s blog about her daughter’s murder as a suitable forum, and some of it appears to come from the kind of dim, hectoring men who have always been among us.  What is clear is that none of these correspondents could care less about Mia Ayliffe-Chung or her mother, and are only interested in the murder insofar as it supports their bigotry.

The Independent has a long track record of allowing such comments and not monitoring its below-the-line pages, and it has wisely removed all comments and stopped doing comments under Ayliffe’s pieces now, and this is a good thing, because if the Internet has shown us anything these last years, it is that there are no barriers where trolls cannot travel, and no limits to what they are prepared to say or who they are prepared to hurt.

The fact that these poisonous bile-carriers feel justified in sneering at a grieving woman and using her daughter’s murder as a forum for spreading anti-Muslim hate is one hand a consequence of the digital revolution, that has given power to people who may not have any power that they may not have in any other sphere of their lives.  But the Internet is only partly responsible for removing or weakening the ethical and moral constraints that might once have induced such people to think twice about what they say and keep their ‘thoughts’ to themselves.

Ultimately the responsibility is theirs, but no matter how much they hide behind their avatars and abbreviated names, they are the ones we should condemn, again and again, till they are too ashamed to show even their digital faces in ‘public’.

Liars’ Ball: the Unbearable Lightness of Brexit

There’s a tendency in some fringe political circles at both left and right-wing political circles to imagine that the ‘system’ we have is secretly or overtly controlled by an all-powerful and all-seeing group of malevolent men who are able to direct events entirely according to their own whims..  They might be the Bilderberg group, the Illuminati, David Icke’s lizard-people or Dick Cheney and his neocon cabal holed up inside a mountain coolly pulling the levers of 9/11in order to justify endless imperial war.

The monumental political car-crash that has taken place in the last few days suggests a very different explanation of why things happen.  Malevolence is certainly not lacking in this horrendous episode; in fact it practically oozes out of every pore of the disgusting campaign that Leave is now erasing from the Internet.   In the last few days a succession of Brexiters have admitted that the promises they made and the outcomes they hinted at will not be realised, and they have also made it clear that they have no plan about what to do next.

Daniel Hannan has said that freedom of movement will not stop. Farage has said that the £350 million NHS promise was a mistake.  Ian Duncan-Smith now says that the promises made during the campaign were only ‘possibilities.’   Liam Fox says we won’t trigger Article 50 without a period of reflection.  In a stunningly fatuous and glib Telegraph article on Sunday, even by his standards, Boris Johnson essentially said that nothing would change as a result of Brexit.  We can all go on living, working and studying in Europe.   We will continue to cooperate with Europe.  The only change is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.’

Something tells me that that is not what many leavers voted for.  Even the newspapers that did so much to promote and sell the Brexit idea to the public now admit that there will be serious negative consequences for their readers.  The Sun had a piece over the weekend on ‘how leaving the EU will affect your wallet’.  Among other things it warned that ‘buying goods or services will become more expensive’ – something that clearly impact on the British economy.   The Sun also suggested that inflation will rise, accommodation could cost more; unemployment may increase and wages could fall, leaving the average worker £780 worse off; that the falling pound would push up interest rates, thereby increasing rents and mortgages.

Other predictions included a shortfall in government income from taxation of between £28 billion to £44 billion by 2019-2202, leading to higher taxes and more cuts, which might result in some families losing as much as £2, 771 in benefits, according to another of those pesky experts who Leave exhorted the public to ignore, the National Institute of Social and Economic Research (Niesr) – in a report that the Sun now quotes as an authoritative source.

No wonder one Sun reader asked plaintively  ‘ Why didn’t you tell us before? Did you not think of this before the vote? Can we take it back now? Please?’ and another pointed out ‘ All info it would have been good to know BEFORE the vote. Thanks Sun.’

Some may conclude that readers who believe the Sun have only themselves to blame, but millions of people who read other papers also listened to the lies and fantasies propagated by Farage, Johnson, Gove, IDS & Co

Yet even if  you conclude that this deception serves some people’s personal political ambitions, it’s difficult not to conclude that overall, this is a massive enormous own-goal by the British ruling class, which  has precipitated one of most devastating national political crises in recent memory – when it was not even necessary.

In using the referendum as a vehicle for individual political ambition and a solution to internecine Tory political problems,  Cameron and his opponents have acted against the interests of their own party, against their own class,  as well as the interests of the nation as a whole.  They divided the country like no event in its history.  They have weakened the economy and lost money for their rich pals.  They have threatened the disintegration of the UK while simultaneously wrecking its reputation internationally.

It is now horrifically and terrifyingly clear that the men responsible for this disaster did not anticipate it and were woefully-unprepared for its consequences, and had in fact no plan whatsoever.  So we aren’t dealing with Bilderberg lizard-men here, but with political stupidity and incompetence on an epic scale by rulers who ‘neither see, nor feel, nor know’, as Shelley once put it, some of whom emerged from the weekend yesterday to share their grief and repentance with the nation:

David Cameron

In her famous study of historical mistakes and catastrophes The March of Folly, the historian Barbara Tuchman analysed a series of avoidable historical disasters and catastrophes from Troy to Vietnam, in an attempt to understand why rulers and governments sometimes pursue ‘policy contrary to self-interest.’

Given that we have all become spectators of precisely this phenomenon, it’s worth revisiting some of her conclusions.   Tuchman found various explanations for this tendency in government.  They included ‘the insidious spell of wooden-headedness’ in which governments and policy-makers become locked into a kind of internal group-think, so that its members stop asking critical questions about the policies they have chosen.

Tuchman saw this this tendency to ‘breed folly’ as a product of unaccountable power. since ‘the power to command frequently causes failure to think’.  Some these explanations might apply to our current predicament, but Tuchman also quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning that ‘ In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.’

Meditating on this, Tuchman rightly concludes:

‘This is a factor often overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, always treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect.  They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water above their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do.  The trappings of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life.  Shorn of his tremendous curled peruke, high heels and ermine, the Sun King was a man subject to misjudgement, error and impulse – like you and me. ‘

This is true as far as it goes.  But ‘ordinariness’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘well-meaning’, and it can’t be offered as an excuse for the reckless gamble that led Lord Snooty and His Pals to push their country off a cliff.   That requires a combination of arrogance, superficiality, sociopathic indifference, reckless ambition and stupidity of a type that we have rarely seen displayed so openly in British politics.

And the fact that jokers like Cameron, Johnson and Gove have been able to perpetrate such a monumental folly on the nation is perhaps a symptom of a wider rottenness and decadence in the political system, in the ability of the ruling classes to churn out politicians of quality even on their own terms, and perhaps the folly is ours as well, since, as Tuchman argues:

‘The problem may be not so much a matter of educating officials for government as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character and to reject the ersatz.  Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society.’

Perhaps they do, but these are not the men we have, and they aren’t the times we have, and it is now clear that our society is far more troubled and bewildered than many of us knew.