Nigel Farage – Donald Trump’s useful idiot.

As the only person in my household to be white, male and over 65, I fit the demographic to get a personally addressed leaflet from the Brexit Party. This arrived at the same time as the postal vote. Good timing for them, as postal voters are mostly elderly people; Farage’s core vote.

These leaflets are designed to be scanned with as little conscious attention and thought as possible, so let’s examine it in detail and think about it.

On the first page is a logo in a soothing greeny blue (a colour considered psychologically positive and easeful, unlike the jarring rhubarb and custard of UKIP) – with a white arrow pointing symbolically from left to right, looking both like a road sign – and therefore an instruction for all careful drivers – and a house on its side – indicating both that the old order must be upended and remain in its traditional shape. The arrow points to a strap line that reads “changing politics for good” – implying better and forever -that sits neatly beneath the name and address of the voter; implying that voting for them is your chance to do just that.

Turn over and there is Farage’s head –  taking up a third of the page and trying to look like a man of destiny – no froggy gurning, no cigarette, no pint – a new dawn breaking behind him, the golden sunlight lighting up the back of his head with just a hint of halo, looking gravely from left to right like a man practicing for the day his head is on coins – and his eyes gazing ever onwards and upwards towards the promised land that he is at pains not to describe in the message to the right of his mug shot. This is probably just as well, given that his new convert, Anne Widdicombe, has described the sacrifices involved in a no deal Brexit as not as bad as World War 2. A selling point for any policy for a generation bitter and twisted enough about loss of status to actively embrace the idea of more blood sweat and tears to get it back.

Farage’s missive is light on specifics, with neither programme nor policies, no way forward at all; but big on emotive, tribal buzz words. He makes no attempt to win over anyone who does not already agree. He simply presses the buttons of those that do. People are angry. This party is a vehicle for that anger – and if it drives off a cliff – well – that’ll show ’em. That’s all that he needs for now. There are three basic claims.

  1. The 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU are “the people”and the embodiment of a democratic mandate. Those that did not are invisible. This is not an attempt to unite the nation as it is, just to impose the will of a minority fraction of it and remake it in their image. For nationalists, only other nationalists are a legitimate part of the nation.
  2. MPs – in not pressing straight ahead regardless of the consequences – are “betraying” “the people” and humiliating “our great nation”. This is playing on the sense of distrust at “politicians” that showed up in a recent poll in which 54% of respondents claimed to prefer “a strong leader” to politicians – because the latter find it difficult to come to simple conclusions that save “the people” from having to think that things might be a bit more complicated than they’d like. Rather than take the time or trouble to learn anything – the default position is to get angry and blame others. Why hasn’t this been “sorted”? Why can’t they “just get on with it”? The message here is – even if you don’t agree with us, vote for us to give these useless articles a kick. People who feel like that – and think they are being self righteously rebellious by voting for Farage – could be setting themselves up for a level of national humiliation that they can’t begin to imagine – when  an exit from the EU leaves the UK naked in the negotiating chamber for a trade deal with Trump’s America. As they used to say on Batman – “The worst is yet to come.”
  3. Farage’s party would be a new start for “British democracy” because its stands for “Trust, Honesty and Integrity.” Seriously? Just like UKIP did when Farage was leading it?  The business newspaper City AM notes that” Since 1999, two Ukip MEPs have been sent to prison. Ashley Mote was jailed for benefit fraud in 2007 and served nine months. The judge presiding over his trial described Mote as “a truly dishonest man”. Tom Wise, elected as a UKIP MEP in 2004, pleaded guilty to charges of expenses fraud and was sentenced to two years in prison.”  Farage himself – a man with all the gravitas of a barrow boy selling knocked off nylons from the back of a lorry – was done for expenses fraud after illegally channeling substantial European Parliamentary expenses towards running the Party. With trust, honesty and integrity like that, who could doubt the glorious renaissance that he has in mind?

Below the fold we have three smaller mug shots.

The useful idiot Claire Fox – formerly of the Revolutionary Communist Party (a very 1980s organisation that elevated being a contrarian smartarse into the first principle of political discourse) states that “left wing democrats should vote to deliver the referendum result” – somehow not noticing that she is standing for an alt right party that is a danger both to democracy itself and the left.

June Mummery from the Fishing Industry – a third of which is controlled by just five wealthy families – https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/10/11/fishing-quota-uk-defra-michael-gove/ – talks of taking “our waters” back, so we can fish it to extinction free of catch quotas – and to “restore our coastal communities.” When Farage stood on the pier in Clacton to launch his campaign, gestured towards the North Sea and said that it “belongs to us” he perhaps didn’t reflect (or know?) that without the international co-operation needed to hold back climate change – large parts of Clacton and towns like it will be under water by the end of the century and sea levels will keep rising. So, in some sense, perhaps the relationship is reversed and Clacton belongs to the North Sea.

Joel Chilaka – a token black medical student – who doesn’t seem to have noticed that he is surrounded by people who would be uncomfortable in a room with him – wants to “keep our democracy intact for future generations” – as though anyone else doesn’t.

On the reverse there are three statistics

  •  that most Labour MPs favour a second referendum. This must be a bad thing, because it is contrary to democracy to let people vote more than once, especially if there’s a risk some of them might have changed their minds – or vote on a deal that is actually on offer rather than the cake an eat it deal they thought they could get.
  •  that 92% or Brexit voters feel “betrayed”. That the easy deal, the financial bonus and the renewed prestige that Farage and co promised have not fallen into our laps and that that is the fault of the people who didn’t promise these things.
  • and 498 MPs voted to “honour” the result. The word “honour” makes this a moral imperative that cuts through the practical difficulties of trying to work out what “the result” might actually mean in practice – given that trying to unravel a forty year long economic integration is  like the sort of operation that surgeons have to carry out to separate Siamese twins – an operation in which the weaker twin often dies. 

Then four even smaller heads in more ways than one.

A grumpy looking CEO of a property company – and therefore obviously a man of the people – arguing that “taking no deal off the table” is “bonkers”; as if a country representing 2% of the world economy is capable of successfully playing chicken with a bloc representing 20% – ten times bigger. The same will apply even more to trying to do a deal with the United States – 24% of the world economy and 12 times bigger than the UK. This would – indeed – be very quick and easy because the way the USA does trade deals with qualitatively weaker countries is to tell them what the deal is; and they either sign or don’t. National humiliation anyone? Farage (and Liam Fox) are already in the queue for that one.

A “Chairman/entrepreneur” – clearly another man of the people – calling for “better leadership”. Wonderfully unspecific. Could mean anything.

Annunziata Rees-Mogg – how could you not be “anti-elitist”  with a name like that? – making the pitch for disgruntled Tories and – slightly more alarmingly – a “decorated Royal Marine” who “fought for our country” and is not prepared “to see it humiliated” –  without specifying if he thinks he’ll need to fight again to stop it happening- nor who he thinks he will have to fight against. This is an echo of the presence of veterans in blazers and berets on the front rank of UKIP marches and the parachute regiment using pictures of Jeremy Corbyn for target practice.

The digested read is: You are Angry. We are Angry. Vote for an Angry Party led by Mr Angry.

The paradox of all this emotive patriotic reflex whacking is that if it were to end in a no deal Brexit, it would be to serve the UK trussed up on a plate to Donald Trump. The hedge funds that financed the leave campaign want nothing less. That means being signed up not only to wholesale deregulation domestically and handing the NHS over to US insurance companies; but also to Trump’s trade war with China; which involves doubling down on the outmoded fossil fuel economy that is leading the world to disaster.

The attempted denial of the UK’s sinking standing by blustering out the old tunes one more time- symbolised by farcical figures such as Farage and Boris Johnson – will end up confirming it even if they win. The pathetic self subordination to an outmoded American way will only be highlighted by attempts at compensatory cocksure British swagger – which would be taken as seriously as Farage’s Union Jack shoes – because the gleam on the back of Farage’s head is not a new dawn, it is a fading glow from the embers of Empire.

Despite Farage’s strong position in current polling, a hopeful sign is that younger people don’t dance to these tunes any more. Only 19% of young people have a favourable view of him, compared with 69% who have an unfavourable view. 43% of younger voters are reported as saying they will vote Labour. The task is to get that vote out on May 23 and mobilise it between now and then to change the framework of the debate.

 

 

 

 

The time’s out of joint episode 3. We the people?

The real divisions in a society in crisis are often obscured by the form of the apparent political rift. When Polly Toynbee (Guardian 26/3/19) argues from opinion poll results that the divide between leavers and remainers is now more strongly felt than prior allegiance to political party she underlines a disjunct between a passing sense of identity and a longer term set of alliances based on material interests that are more fundamental.

These interests cross borders. A paradox of globalisation is that the ethno-nationalist reaction against it is being encouraged, assisted and funded by the policy of the Trump administration in the United States, and some of the right wing  media outfits associated with him. Some US businesses are doing this directly – looking forward to serious pickings as big polities are broken up into weaker fragments. They are working on the EU. They would like to do it to China.

The most fundamental  division in Britain is between those who have wealth and power and those who do not – however they voted in June 2016. It is in the interests of the former to coral as many of the latter as possible behind them and the most potent way to do so has always been “patriotism” – the assumption that being born in a place should put you at the front of the queue for whatever is going and – that your particular “identity” somehow makes you both better than other people and gives you a wider significance- as a compensation for your very real subordination and obscurity in everyday life. In countries that are no longer as powerful and influential as they were, this often becomes toxic.

A division within the wealthy – in which one faction breaks with the established way of doing things- leads to all sorts of weird developments in which all that is solid turns into air – old Etonians claim to be anti-elitist, a leadership contender for the Conservative Party says “Fuck business”, the Daily Express, Sun and Mail denounce the House of Lords and the judiciary; and hedge fund managers short sell UK stocks and bonds to cash in on the economic consequences of their “patriotic” campaign – in which the lower orders are urged to “believe in the country” – taking as their motto an inversion of JFK – “ask not what you can do for your country” – ask only what your country can do for you.” and go laughing all the way to the tax haven.  Because the country is set up for their benefit and only functions in order to do so, they wrap themselves in the Union flag while deftly stashing their assets in Dublin or Belize or Singapore, and preparing to burn “traitors” on bonfires made of red tape, as a distraction from the grand opening of

  • Free Trade Ports and Enterprise zones (in which they and their friends will be bribed and subsidised to invest, while paying no tax back)
  • the take over of the Health Service by US insurance firms (and probably Virgin) -so check the wallet before the pulse
  • and the spread of chlorinated fried chicken stands- finger lickin cheap and nasty.

disguising their venality in the name of “The People.”

So, who are “The People”?

When Michael Howard went on the radio on Sunday (24 March) to argue for the hardest available Brexit, he talked about honouring the wishes of the 17.4 million people who vote to leave in the referendum, without troubling himself to question whether his own preference was indeed what they were voting for. He had a point as far as it went. 17.4 million is a lot of people and their views have to be taken into account. But, beyond the 17.4 million, what about the rest of us?

In a country with over 66 million people, that’s just under 50 million who’s views – in Howard’s world – are simply to be excluded from having any say or influence in the future direction of the country.

One of his Conservative colleagues commented today that “the British people” had “voted overwhelmingly” to leave the EU. Thinking that a ratio of 52:48 of those voting is “overwhelming”is sufficiently odd to require some investigation as to who he thinks “the British people” are.

Of a population of 65.5 million in 2016:

17.4 million voted leave.

16 million voted remain.

13 million were under 18 and ineligible to vote.

3 million were EU citizens not entitled to vote despite working and contributing.

16 million didn’t vote at all.

As a graph, this looks like this.

imageunnamed

For this Conservative MP, the bloc represented in dark blue is an “overwhelming majority.” For Michael Howard these are “the people”, or at least the people that count – in whose image the nation must be recast. This is also about the control of the 17.4 million. Their views were and are far more diverse than they have been presented, but for people like Howard they are a useful statistic forever frozen in 2016 – the time of The One True Vote.

This sets us up for continuing crisis and polarisation. A political project that seeks to slash and burn regulations and protections for workers rights and the environment, that favours the replacement of the civil service with ad hoc committees of businessmen, that is prepared to see social security, farming and manufacturing go to the wall by slashing tariffs, and the re-ignition of the Irish troubles over a reimposed border, cannot afford to have a consensual approach. The sheep must be separated from the goats and the goats must be slaughtered. The cultural revolution style shrillness of the headlines – CRUSH THE SABOTEURS – ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE –  matches the disruptive scale of the project and also the impossibility of it being carried through without a breakdown in an agreed political framework in which differences can be resolved without violence. It is in this context that a reviving UKIP is seeking to build an effective  street fighting movement led by Tommy Robinson, pulling firms of football hooligans into some very large and aggressive mobilisations which have attacked trade unionists and the police.

If Brexit is averted the crisis will continue because everything that then goes wrong will be attributed to “the great betrayal” – in the same way that Germany was only defeated in World War 1 because the army was “stabbed in the back.” Untrue myths are often the most potent – because they cannot be tested. The scale of this remains to be seen, but anyone who thinks that just remaining in the EU as it currently is will solve all our problems has not noticed the economic stagnation of the euro zone, the impasse of Macron, the backsliding of Germany on its climate change commitments and the continent wide spread of US backed ethno-nationalist currents likely to make the next European parliament the most right wing in its history.

If Brexit is not averted – especially if we get a hard version – the grim realities are likely to turbo charge a hunt for further “saboteurs” and “enemies if the people”.

Although the weariness at all this is often expressed in the infantile injunction to “just get on with it” – as if “it” was something that you could “just get on with” – most people want to be able to get on with their lives without massive upheaval and disruption. Remaining, or the softest possible Brexit, like Labour’s deal or Norway plus, offers the best chance of relative stability in which “The People” can realign around more fundamental questions.