Britain Is Becoming A Post-Political Country
In psychological terms, it is called projection.
British political observers watch Donald Trump’s presidency with the cringing fear reserved for a cheap slasher movie. In every comment the underlying, but unasked, question is: “How could they have voted for this?”
The thing is, observant Americans - those who even notice these isles - are asking the same question of Britain.
If it were just Brexit versus Trump, we could claim a draw and go back to debating the advantages of metric and imperial systems.
It is not to deny the deep problems in American politics to say that Britain is in a far worse situation. British politics, in any meaningful sense, has stopped functioning.
So ham-fisted has been Britain’s negotiation strategy that former European allies are reduced to thinking the incompetence is some form of strategy. The opposition Labour Party is playing fantasy politics with no agreed Brexit position. And the British population is playing along with it.
Forget post-truth, Britain is post-political.
public discourse is at a rancid low
In any strong political system, the weakness of the Brexit argument would be rapidly exposed. Yet, Brexit is still supported by the majority of the mainstream press who close down debate with cries of betrayal at any hint of compromise. Lacking thorough arguments, senior Cabinet ministers - when questioned by the BBC - implore interviewers to show more patriotism.
What was remarkable about Britain’s election was the absence of debate. The Prime Minister's decision to forgo television debates could have been justified had she engaged with the public. Instead, Theresa May offered soundbites. She lost her majority but her Brexit stance gained a share of the vote worthy of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.
Despite unrelenting bad economic news, public opinion has not shifted since the referendum. A recent poll found that a majority of Leave voters said that economic hardship was a price worth paying for Brexit. The proof of that pudding will be in its eating.
Meanwhile, the Labour party went into the election with a deliberately ambiguous position on Brexit. Since its magnificent defeat, Jeremy Corbyn has backed leaving the Single Market.
The absurdity is that Corbyn’s position is now identical to May’s and just as economically damaging. It is in contradiction to the electoral coalition he surprisingly built when he won solid Conservative seats that had backed Remain in 2016. His own party members back Single Market membership. The language he used in a recent interview about EU immigration would not have disgraced Mr Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, or even Trump.
But it does not seem to matter.
A crowd at Glastonbury chanted their adulation. All he needed to complete the image was a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. He unveils murals to himself with the kind of conceit that would shame minor royalty. What he does not do is explain how his policy would actually protect jobs and the economy.
It is a continuation of the election’s CloudCuckooLand populism. Corbyn promised to transform British politics with big increases in spending and the nationalisation of key public services: Few questioned how he was going to achieve this while simultaneously conducting the most consuming negotiations in decades.
In many ways, the left’s problems are greater. After the recent Grenfell tower block fire, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, called the deaths “social murder.” Labour politicians called for the illegal requisition of empty homes to house those left destitute, even though it would land the council with huge legal bills when courts inevitably found against them. Responsibility was thrown out the window. Shortly before decency.
There is a serious debate to be had about poverty and inequality in Britain but Labour is not providing it.
From left and right, extreme language has given license to an atmosphere where abuse is tolerated.
During the fevoured referendum campaign, Jo Cox was murdered by a white nationalist. Afterwards the intolerant language used on immigration led to a rise in hate crimes. Equally, there are consequences to the kind of debate we allow on social media. Each abusive or dehumanising tweet is part of the problem. Yet those doing this to our political system either deny their responsibility or are deliberately mendacious.
As the election campaign began, the Daily Mail carried its now famous headline saying “Crush the Saboteurs”, while Corbyn himself is a conspiracy theorist so it is little surprise that public discourse is at a rancid low and that politicians have spoken out about the abuse and intimidation they have received.
A fish rots from its head but that does not excuse the parasites who feed from its flesh.
Politicians have given up on any form of rational discourse
Politics has never been for the squeamish. Nor has it ever been conducted with absolute rationalism. Despite their self-image, Brexiters and Corbyn supporters are inherently apolitical. Like Trumpism, theirs is a feelgood politics conducted without recourse to facts. Therefore abuse, not debate, is part of the DNA: their political identity is sustained through denigration of political opponents and minority groups.
This type of “politics” used to exist on the fringes. Now it is mainstream. Where there should be opposition is only a vacuum. The calamity of Brexit may herald a return to reason or it may reinforce the denial.
Still, Britain watches America in amazement. However, the Trump phenomenon is just part of a vast political system. He faces a vigorous media and, on his Muslim ban and on healthcare, there are signs that the courts and Congress can ultimately restrain him.
The same cannot be said of Britain.
The country is blind to its own failings. Politicians have given up on any form of rational discourse. A soundbite once framed a wider argument. Now it is an argument.
Leaving the EU is bigger than one presidency but those who question Brexit or Corbynism, are shouted down.
What’s worse, the public seem quite happy with that.
About the author
Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.
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