2007 - 2022

Britain in Turmoil

Jonathon Shafi on the deeper crisis facing the British state – and the challenge it offers to left reformism.

1. The deep crisis of the British State is not simply the product of multiple scandals. It has much bigger a problem – with far more profound and far reaching consequences.

2. The Tory ‘government’ reflect a broader decline rooted in a decaying social, political and economic order.

3. Each and every calamity is leading not towards an increased unity of a beleaguered ruling class – but towards splits, faction fights and and shattering of confidence.

4. There is no road map for British capitalism. Privatisation, deregulation, and the supremacy of financialisation has failed. It is not just the left who are saying this. It is the experience of millions of people.

5. The major centres of capital no longer have a coherent political wing. Brexit has hard wired a split into the core of the UK establishment.

6. That overlaps with a pre-existing economic crisis – the religion of neoliberalism is over. They have lost their back bone. You can visibly see that their once assured certainty is fading.

7. Some put hopes in the likes of Emanuel Macron – himself the target of a mass protest movement. This is a hope for a miracle, not a strategy.

8. Others attempt to channel memories of Empire. And with it racism, scapegoating – the death agony of imperial decline.

9. Some – well outside the Tory party – are sure a sense of order will be restored, and that this is a blip. The world will reset somehow. But it won’t. History is on the march.

10. An earthquake in consciousness is taking place. Every contradiction that arises as a result of the system is unraveling and is the subject of polarisation. Gender, race, class, power.

11. Cynicism is the last vestige of comfort now for an ailing system. In its place we need: ideas, action, leadership, radical democracy, debate beyond the old paradigm and tenacity.

12. The left has a choice now. It will either see itself as a force to revamp the system – to in a sense give it new life and to restore faith in the old institutions. Or it will be bold enough to confront the decaying social order by building an alternative.

13. Can the latter can be achieved via the British state itself? Or must that state must be the subject of radical democratic overhaul and dismantled. The next decades will be as much a test of Left reformism as they will neoliberal capitalism.



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Comments (7)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    The British state appears somewhat like Microsoft Windows 3.1 built on MS-DOS. An application to hide the crumbly inner workings with secrecy and confusing layers. Doubtless its many security flaws leave it open to hacking by foreign powers who can isolate and exploit vulnerable components. Its design would confuse people looking for advances in software, because its main purpose is to keep a few enriched.

    In such cases of legacy codebases, it is common for the vendor to cease development and invest resources in producing a replacement. Nowadays, the value of open source is generally recognised, and it brings into question why we still have closed, proprietary government supporting ancient and vastly-resource-inefficient entities, prone to system crashes and offering a wildly-dangerous root global delete function.

    Not only that, system maintenance appears to be in the hands of the marketing department warring with the still-resident punched-card division in charge of development.

    In a world of dynamic, complex adaptive systems, the British state is far, far too slow to evolve to meet the exponential challenges of its environment, and does not appear even have the stability or robustness or structural strength that might otherwise compensate in tiny part.

    1. Willie says:

      To use your computer analogy Sleeping Dog, at what point do you wipe the system and start again.

      A factory reset may indeed be the answer, but who decides to press the button.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        You could break state functions into separate services and replace each in turn. UK governments have tried switching functions from one (public) system to another (corporate): this is called privatisation, and has not produced notable success as a strategy, as far as I know.

        Or you could phase in a new system. To use a slightly different computing analogy, an organisation might keep an old information system operational while switching to and breaking in a new one: this requires some temporary parallel/dual processing with associated costs but reduced risk. I believe that local government restructuring is sometimes done this way.

        But my larger point is that we may need a whole new system architecture to cope with current and future challenges. For example, we may prefer a political system with a high degree of self-organisation as opposed to top-down design. This should bring more resilience to shocks and present fewer vulnerable, critical points (like people organising help for neighbours after disasters, or a guerrilla army forming around local towns to resist a foreign invader). In computer terms, a distributed network rather than a central processor.

        In some cases, community shadow organisations form to supplement or even supplant government services, often run by unpaid volunteers. My local newspaper is full of reports of people organising to attempt to solve problems, sometimes using a co-design approach: partnership with other bodies. I guess there are many functions of central government which could be opened up in this way.

        But the problems and tensions and resistance to change are all too easy to imagine. The hierarchical, monarchical form of state exists for reasons of power, dominance, privilege. Avenues for testing, reflecting, reforming, monitoring are closed off or channeled into narrow ideological grooves. Secrecy, vagueness, double standards are held up as worthy traditions. Ancient legal code piled up through the centuries is left uncleared from system memory, creating a cruft of confusion, incompatibility, maintenance cost and intimidation.

        Crisis, revolution, cultural implosion, critical infrastructure failure, environmental collapse, financial meltdown, war, famine, disease could all provoke a major overhaul; but sometimes the user simply gets sight of a better system and says “I’ll have that!”. Competition and the threat of a good example…

        1. Willie says:

          Yes an upgrade to a better model is our choice.

          We could have had it in 2014 but that doesn’t mean we will never have it. Our electorate is funny. It makes decisions based upon irrational perceptions. The example of the no vote prevailing in a Britain where the rich get richer, the poor poorer is the example.

          But of course, like malware, the MSM and the establishment release their relentless poison to compromise the choices that many of the electorate make. Why else one would ask would Iimpoverished areas to elec a Tory councillor recognising what they see in people like Mogg, Johnston, May et al.

          Or was it rational for older citizens to think that their NHS was safe in the hands of a Westminster government who in England, who are privatising the NHS bit by bit and who are now introducing the charging infrastructure under the widely published guise of recovering charges from diary foreigners. Once the charging infrastrucure is in and the credit card terminals in place, what next.

          Or was I the poisonous ” Vow” by Gordon Brown soon to be forgotten mere hours after the referendum result, and now potentially heading backwards with a post Brexit power grab.

          In truth, maybe we actually need articificial intelligence to deliver the best for the most of us because we do seem incapable of doing it for ourselves.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Willie, I think you may be right about a role for artificial intelligence (AI). At the moment, you can find apps using basic AI to help you with simple legalistic issues like contesting a parking ticket. In future, apps which assist voters making a political choice, or citizens co-design a policy with a government department might become common. After that, who knows? President Al Gorithm?

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