2007 - 2022


Ckf26ImXIAAP7IBAs England lurches to the right and Blair readies his army of lawyers for the incoming Chilcott, as Hillary glides on a sea of cash into pole position for the American Democratic candidacy, and countries like Spain teeter on the brink of social and political crisis, as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to defend Britain and Scotland’s place in Europe, we are at another tipping-point with radically different outcomes.

First up let’s be clear it’s definitely an Exit not a Brexit. Leave or Remain is an English question, initiated by a tiny group of public schoolboys based on a series of myths about Europe inculcated and obsessed on by the English tabloid media for decades. So from current polling it looks possible that England and Wales will vote for Brexit while Scotland may vote to Remain at a level that will keep the UK in the EU. More likely we will be removed against our will and in direct contradiction of the lies of the referendum. This much we know. We saw this coming. Tom Nairn wrote in After Britain in 2000:

“The Constitution of old England-Britain once stood like a mighty dam, preserving its subjects from such a fate; nowadays, leaking on all sides, it merely guides them to the appropriate slope or exit. Blairism has reformed just enough to destabilise everything, and to make a reconsolidation of the once-sacred earth of British Sovereignty impossible. As if panicked by this realisation, his government has then begun to run round in circles groaning that enough is enough, and that everything must be left well alone. The trouble is that everything is now broken – at least in the sense of being questioned , uncertain, a bit ridiculous, lacing in conviction, up for grabs, floundering, demoralised and worried about the future.”

So this is a crisis of English politics engendering a crisis of the British state.

As Anthony Barnett writes in ‘Its England’s Brexit’ on Open Democracy:

“Like a bad cyclist who stares at the large, wild-looking dog they are trying to avoid and therefore steers into it, the English nation that alarms you so much is now giving you a well deserved bite up the bum. You should have befriended it. Whatever the result of the referendum, whether it is a healthy majority for Remain, a narrow one, or a vote to Leave, the heart of the matter is that England has to have its own parliament. What the referendum reveals is that England both monopolises and is imprisoned by British Westminster and its culture of ‘to the victor the spoils’. To escape from this England is embracing Brexit because no other solution is on offer. It may be intimidated into remaining in the EU through fear of the economic consequences. But England’s frustrated desire for democracy has turned it against the EU rather than the real culprit, the British state.”

“Like a bad cyclist who stares at the large, wild-looking dog they are trying to avoid and therefore steers into it, the English nation that alarms you so much is now giving you a well deserved bite up the bum. You should have befriended it. Whatever the result of the referendum, whether it is a healthy majority for Remain, a narrow one, or a vote to Leave, the heart of the matter is that England has to have its own parliament.”

This won’t quite do, for reasons we can come to in a moment, but Barnett’s careful dissection of the voting patterns puts lie to the repeated assertion by many Scottish commentators that distinct political cultures simply don’t exist between Scotland and England. The ‘you’re the same so you don’t really exist’ line of argument was put again and again and again by David Torrance, Alex Massie, and a coterie of writers dedicated to the Union during the referendum. The forced Brexit just nails that lie.

13327490_1543435475966192_7086622701969218672_nThe media’s obsession with the debate as a binary ‘Britain versus Europe’ distorts the reality of what’s going on here.

There is no such thing as a united coherent ‘Britain’ any more. And what ‘Europe’ are we talking about?  As Suzanne Moore writes today: “Lots of people say, vaguely, that they love Europe, that they feel European, and talk as though the EU is some sort of benign, almost charitable organisation. No. The EU is an organisation of free trade. It exists to deliver the neoliberal capitalism I thought the left was not so keen on. Sure, make the argument that free trade is a way of maintaining peace, but this is not some humanitarian NGO. It is run by Jean-Claude Juncker, former leader of Luxembourg, Europe’s biggest tax haven. Mario Dragi, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, runs the European Central Bank, while Donald Tusk, a former rightwing prime minister of Poland, is president of the European Council. Angela Merkel heads up the most influential nation within it.”

So both Britain and Europe are highly contested concepts with multiple meanings projected as if they are unified certainties.

Everyone from the Sun to the Guardian is guilty of this. Barnett rightly chastises Martin Kettle for talking about Britain in glowing singular unitary terms, arguing: “It’s wrong to write about the UK like this. Britain is no longer a single political country with a unified people. If Brexit happens it will only be because a majority of English voters have lost confidence in the way they are governed.”

st-george-tories_1622283iFalse Victim Status

But here’s the problem. While Barnett may be right that there may be an undercurrent of dissent and dissatisfaction behind the Leave movement that stems from a rebellious streak about ‘how they are governed’, a larger current of it stems from a set of assumptions about a false victim status that England cradles in its arms. From Boris and his Bananas to the grand presumptuousness of ‘Thirty Years of Hurt’ to the Brexit campaigns squalid, racist NHS broadcast – to Farage’s foul conflation of sexual and racial threats – the false sense of entitlement and idea that England/Britain has been stolen or undermined by some external force (not the failed elite they elect) is palpable and enduring.

It’s an exercise in massive self-deception foisted on the public by a governing class that have been systematically asset-stripping the NHS and the rest of the public sector for a very long time. Blaming it on Brussels or immigration is an age-old trick of the stage-hypnotists but it doesn’t stand a moments scrutiny.

If you think this week’s revelations about ‘Shirebrook’ (which sounds like a fusion of a failed 80s Channel 4 soap-opera and a Tolkien re-boot) are appalling – a company where zero hours contracts, surveillance, poverty wages, harassment and routine searching of workers are everyday realities – consider this. This is what a large section of the English electorate vote for. This is the reality of all those years of ‘cutting red tape’, ‘being open for business’ and stripping back ‘the power of the unions’.

This is Tory law. Who thought it would have a different outcome?

One of the two agencies Sports Direct uses for a permanent supply of 3,000 temporary workers had already been prevented from operating in the food sector by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority. New female workers we’re told are referred to as ‘new meat’. 

This is Britannia Unchained.

The idea that Britain is being held back by egregious EU bureaucracy, that pesky Human Rights Act or similar is just part of the pattern of mass delusion that is being indulged in. Exit will only accelerate and exacerbate these abuses of workers rights as the far-right is further emboldened.

Barnett is aware of the problem: “The English nationalism that shouts out today from the Daily Mail is at once over-baked and half-cooked. Unable to find a proper home it feeds UKIP’s appeal for self-government and control of our borders. The response needs to be what Billy Bragg calls Progressive Patriotism in his autobiographical argument for the need to prevent the right with its capacity for racism and neo-fascism from occupying the terrain of national identity – with a songwriter’s sense of public need. Instead of being acclaimed, Bragg’s arguments have been largely ignored, even patronized, as being the voice of an unsophisticated, working-class Essex boy.”

But where is the progressive patriotism of England?

This is where we get back to the media and who controls and frames the ‘national’ agenda.

England needs not just a platform for Bragg and Barnett’s declamatory progressive patriotism it needs a coherent movement for reclaiming democracy and instating an English Parliament. The problem remains: why would you do that when you control the British one?

Of course the British Parliament and its institutions work on behalf of the British State and an economic class and strata. But the constant pride and propaganda that is pumped out to celebrate these institutions and traditions – combined with a political culture that has already swallowed wholesale the myths of a country stolen, undermined or at threat by external forces – means that the energy for an alternative is nowhere to be seen.

Britain is broken, but England doesn’t have the energy or intuition to do anything about it. This is a country built on bunting. Get the Carling out, it’s the Euros.




Comments (19)

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  1. Dj says:

    Truly terrible article

  2. Dj says:

    It gets worse the more you read it

    1. Steven Milne says:

      I think the key to why the article is so supernaturally awful is the blatant lie that Brexit is purely an English issue and the implication that Scotland is totally pro EU.

      Around 40% of Scots will vote for Brexit.

      Why is it that a website which claims to promote independence and self-determination wants Scotland (population 5m) to leave the UK (population 60m), and with which we share a common language, culture and history, and to fully sign up to the project of the EU (population 400m) which is committed to ever closer political union.

      Do you not understand that any new EU members MUST adopt the Euro?

      Do you not remember what happened in Greece last year when the elected government were forced to abandon their “anti austerity” policies in return for an EU bail out?

      1. Nobody argued that Scotland was totally EU, certainly not this writer.

        The argument, which seems to have passed you by, is that the cultural and political roots of the present vote are predominantly English. No serious commentators would really argue with this.

        I do understand the pooling of sovereignty that is involved in membership of the EU, yes.
        We’ve published arguments for the left wing case against the EU.

        I think what your comments really translate as is: “I don’t like what I’m reading and I dont agree with it so I’m going to be really rude.” Which is fine but also pretty stupid.

  3. GMc says:

    A firm opinion there Dj. Any chance of telling us why?

  4. Alex says:

    Earlier comments are ambiguous. The article is an accurate analyis. Sadly it is not good news for Scotland, as we have 55% of our voters who simply don’t understand that their status of being irrelevant to Westminster, means that decisions made there, result in little or consideration of Scotland. Westminster effects on Scotland have included the halving of the Scottish population as a percentage of UK population, since the union.

    1. Steven Milne says:

      Classic separatist argument. Those of us who voted against independence “simply don’t understand”.

  5. Anthony Barnett says:

    Thanks Mike. Very good. And great Tom quote – we are all footnotes of Nairn. Not sure how you are disagreeing with me. Am I not allowed to call for a positive English politics because its fruitless? I agree the English/British fusion has v strong appeal for the elite. Including both sides of Brexit and Labour. But it will break at some point.

    1. I’m not sure I’m disagreeing with you either, and yes you are allowed to call for a positive English politics even when it’s fruitless …

      1. Anthony Barnett says:

        Thanks, just checking, am writing the constitution chapter of the book at the moment which points up some of what used to be called contradictions in the old Ukanian ship of state.

        1. I think your piece is wonderful, insightful and important. I worry that people are being duped and the issues framed in ways that are disempowering.

          1. MBC says:

            I thought your piece (and this one of Mike’s) wonderful too. My big problem is that I just don’t know how many ‘decents’ like you exist in England to build a positive patriotic Englishness. I know they exist. I wish it well, and if I truly had confidence in it, I doubt that I would want Scottish independence as ardently as I do. Because what would be our difference? I have had many conversations with English people of the left in recent years who despair what has happened to left wing progressive politics in England. It’s like 1066 all over again. A neoliberal takeover has happened, only by stealth, over several decades. The ordinary English have become the dispossessed, in their own land. As in 1066, when the Conqueror seized all, many now take flight in Scotland. History repeats itself. Scotland was Ultima Thule, the refuge of the desperate from the southern despotism, and Englishmen of that ilk make good Scots – the last of the free. I have heard several of my English colleagues at the OU say that they will move to Scotland because they are so despairing of what is happening in England.

  6. Broadbield says:

    One of the problems with England is that it’s ruled by a privileged, public school educated, Oxbridge self-replicating elite sharing the same politics, philosophy, networks and has been for several hundred years. Prior to that it was warlords and aristocracy. England has never had a real revolution to sweep away the birth-privileged with an ossified monarchy at its pinnacle, so the same sorts of people are still in charge, in politics, in the law, the judiciary, finance – just about everywhere you look.

    Then there’s the merchant class who have captured the political class. Adam Smith was explaining in “The Wealth..” how the merchants always managed to get the legislators to do their bidding, to provide them with monopolies in trade, often to keep foreign competition as bay, which enabled them to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary folk. Plus ca change….

    The roots of England’s, or rather Westminster’s, crisis of political imagination go back a long way.

    1. MBC says:

      Exactly. They never shook off the Norman yoke. A military dictatorship of the privileged few took over in 1066 and has gone on mutating ever since in every generation. They are still in the saddle. They are deeply entrenched in England and Wales, but they had a lesser grip on Scotland and Ireland. The political culture of the elite Normans is at odds with the social culture of the majority Anglo-Britons. Dispepsia is the routine result.

      The English are dysfunctionally schizophrenic politically. No wonder Albion is perfidious. Authoritarian, domineering, chauvinist; and liberal and libertarian by turns. They haven’t identified yet the sickness from which they have long been suffering.

  7. tartanfever says:

    Something I’ve noticed of late, and not just here, but across many discussions about the upcoming Chilcot report, is the idea that Blair is preparing for a bit of a pasting when the report is released, and maybe some hope that this could be a trigger for some further action against the former PM.

    It should be abundantly clear that the Chilcot report is not required when asking if the invasion and murder of countless civilians was a war crime. It clearly is.

    There are two ‘legal’ ways to go to war. The first is to get a UN resolution, which failed ( despite UK intelligence bugging the conversations of the non-permanent members of the UN security council as revealed by GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun). The second is in self defence, which as we were not attacked, nor planned to be attacked or indeed, Iraq did not have the means to even attack us, clearly does not constitute the military invasion that we then carried out.

    Blair is clearly a war criminal, arm in arm with the USA in perpetrating a clear war of aggression against Iraq.

    If you are in any doubt, then turn the question around and ask yourselves and others for the international law/treaty that legitimises a deliberate war of aggression.

    I fear that the report will come and go, much like Leveson, little will be done, and the establishment will continue much as before. Chilcot will become the full stop and we, in our misunderstanding of events, will allow it to become so.

    Remember, virtually all the press were in favour of war, the last thing they want to be reminded of is their sordid role in all of this. Don’t let yourself be led by their agenda, we don’t need Chilcot to tell us Blair is a war criminal. Chilcot is not the end of the discussion.

  8. john young says:

    Read “Family of Secrets” by Russ Baker and it will give you an indication of where ordinary people come whether in Europe or out.The mad/bad men that are the USA/conglomorates/military industrial complexes rule certainly the western hemisphere,and they are shaped from the same moul as our elites freemasons/secret societies really really scary folks.

  9. JohnEdgar says:

    England’s answer is to follow through EVEL. It is perfectly capable of leaving the 1707 Union. The Scots ate mot holding it there against its wishes! The majority English party in England – Conservative-(Ukip) would have its way always in the future. No Scots SNP or in the past Labour from Scotland to form coalitions.
    Small’s article ir right in one point, this referendum is about England!!
    If England is “kept” against its vote in the EU by the rest, will its national party, the Tory-Ukip conglomerate accept the result as good Brits, I have my doubts?
    Watch over the next two weeks to see if the projected result is the Schadenfreude result. If it looks like England is going to be dragged to remain in the EU against EVEL, then look for wee hints about the sovereignty of the HoC and the referendum is only “advisory” and MPs are not obliged to heed the referendum result etc. Or there will be a Vow2 for English consumption.
    One could almost predict if England votes after all to remain, then the Tory party will split and a new Engip from Ukip and Tory remnants and Labour Englanders will form. One cannot see the English Tories being put together again after the 23 June. The party split over the Corn Laws in the 19th Century and formed the Liberal Party. Maybe a new party called Engip will emerge shedding the pretence of UK dahn sath.

  10. Edwin Moore says:

    ‘There is no such thing as a united coherent ‘Britain’ any more.’

    But there never has been such a thing. The empire, the monarchy, all the supposed unities have been fiercely contested in the past. Even the Times was arguing in the late 19th cewntury that the time for a republic had come.

    And what states are ‘united, coherent’? The US, Belgium, Spain, Russia, France? Arguably the UK remains one of the most ‘united, coherent’ states in the world. Is Scotland – for that matter – a ‘united, coherent’ entity? I don’t think so.

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