The UK is broken, and I can’t see how it can ever be fixed. Like Humpty Dumpty, all the constitutional monarch’s horses and all the constitutional monarch’s men can’t put it together again (other animals and sexes are also available) (as are other governing systems, if not actually right here, right now…)
Even if, by some conjunction of planets, runes, entrails and chance, the new PM manages to avoid driving the country over the hard Brexit cliff which we are inching ever closer to, there are too many scars, too many open wounds and too much bile to allow us to revert to how things were before. Obviously things weren’t perfect then – prior to June 2016 we had still endured five years of ideologically driven, cruel and pointless austerity, we still had a Tory government led by a front bench of self-satisfied, self-serving, arrogant and entitled ‘old Etonian scum’. The NHS was still being run into the ground to be made ripe for being broken up, parcelled up and sold off to hedge fund managers and the already obscenely wealthy, well connected friends of friends of people in government.
Rents were still ridiculously high, zero hours contracts and low wages still impoverished people in work and the benefit cuts/Universal Credit roll out was starting to wreak havoc on the most vulnerable amongst us. But although ‘the system’ was creaking, it was still at least a system. The left in opposition may have been licking its wounds and undergoing a refit, but it was but still a coherent force. Democracy would not always deliver the hoped-for result, but was surely, assuredly, uncorrupt. There were checks and balances built into the parliamentary system, and in any case, we were part of a bigger world – at the heart of the most powerful trade bloc the world has ever seen, insulated against the tides and seasons of political extremism to some degree by our European alliance and on cordial terms with an Obama led US.
I know the Pandora’s Box metaphor has been exhausted post Brexit and is almost certainly screaming to be put out of its clichéd misery by now, but it has been overused for a reason. Perhaps a better, though darker metaphor would be that the patient has been brutally cut open by an unqualified chancer pretending to be a surgeon, and the entrails carelessly spread around the operating theatre. Getting the scalpel back from him won’t be easy, nor will fitting the viscera neatly back inside the body. What has been released cannot be easily recaptured; what has been said cannot be easily unsaid and what has been seen cannot be easily unseen. I have come to realise that what I took for phlegmatic British tolerance was actually a kind of impotently suppressed rage, a very grudging acceptance that masked a deep and dark suppressed hatred of the different, the incomer, the other.
What I took for a post-war social consensus, with lessons learned and progressive changes applied, was just masking a festering resentment that the days of empire were no longer with us. I did not realise that the Fortress Britain mentality was alive and well, and living probably a couple of streets or houses away from me here in Hampshire.
Back then, I would naïvely have assumed that people like me – tolerant, leftist, internationalist, inclusive and optimistic – would pull together in times of danger. This has been the most jaw dropping realisation for me personally; I could never have foreseen a time when leading left wing commentators would recommend that their followers vote for a party led by Nigel Farage. You cannot redwash a vote for fascism, and I am aghast that anyone would think you could, let alone advocate this as a recommended course of action for their supporters.
But beyond this, I am astonished at how few people on the English left seem to understand the ramifications of this current morass in terms of Scotland and Wales. Without the votes of Scottish and Welsh supporters, Labour will never be in government again. It seems to me that this is a real possibility; Brexit has refreshed and reinvigorated the idea of Scottish independence, hence the SNP has benefited electorally. Nicola Sturgeon has more than proved her mettle as a resolute, intelligent and forward-looking leader, I think; she has so often seemed to say what I felt needed to be said in response to the Tories, both about Brexit, and about other issues, as they tear themselves apart. Her standing, both domestically and internationally has doubtless benefited enormously, and justifiably, as a result.
There is a new energy to the independence movement in Wales too. I had and have a great deal of respect for Leanne Wood, and am already impressed by Adam Price and the new impetus he brings. PC are on the rise, as the nascent AUOB marches in Wales have shown; I am waiting to see the outcome as the independence co travellers in Scotland and Wales start pooling resources, experiences and strengths. I cannot see either party being satisfied with promises, undertakings or any other form of worthless Westminster words. They have been lied to before and in terms of pushing for independence, if not now then when?
All the new voters the SNP, and PC are attracting aren’t dropping from the skies, though. They are not people who haven’t voted before and the majority are former Labour voters. From what I can see, few Labour supporters seem to be trying to address or even acknowledge this; all I see is ignorant comment and factionalism directed at anyone outside their tribal bubble. So I will say it again: without the votes of Scottish and Welsh supporters, Labour will never be in government again. This is, of course, without even factoring in all the Labour voters who feel abandoned by the party’s stance on Brexit and who do not have the faith necessary to believe that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘playing a blinder’. Nor do I believe that trying to win over potential defectors to Farage is a sound plan.
Latest polling suggests Labour is losing up to four times as many voters to parties backing another referendum than to Nigel Farage. This suggests that the much-vaunted strategy of appealing to the pro Brexit Labour supporters who have been threatening to defect isn’t working to party’s advantage. Besides which, pandering to people who are willing to support fascism isn’t my idea of fighting fascism, to be honest.
The Tory party too is in tatters, even if still nominally in government too. They are split so deeply by Brexit and all its attendant chaos that I wouldn’t be surprised if they disintegrate entirely, which of course would be a great thing. I am not going to waste too many words on them, though, save to say that a split in their party will only serve to bolster the far right, further the disaffected, insular, xenophobic home counties. Conservatives are going to lurch left when they seek their new political home.
I am not a Labour party member and so it is not my business to tell them how to proceed. I hope that somewhere in their high command, though, someone is doing some ‘blue sky thinking’ about this (do people still do that?). Thinking about what England will look like once Scotland and Wales have won their independence and NI has become part of the Republic. Thinking about how best to use their influence and past experience to deal with that new landscape; thinking about how to bring a socialist utopia into the dark satanic mills which will characterise Tory dominated England.
Thinking about how much more difficult isolation makes the slow process of change. I hope someone in a position of influence is thinking about how important alliances can be as a force for good and how you should work to maintain friendships in good times. I hope someone is reaching out and making overtures, however embryonic, to the SNP and to PC now. I hope someone is putting pragmatism before dogma.
But then again, I hoped for all this post 23rd June 2016 and post 8th June 2017 so I am not holding my breath. Otherwise I will turn as true blue as the country I was born and currently live in.