Friday 13 December 2019

On the General Election 2019

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones

These are not forecasts since I don't consider myself a soothsayer. They are, I would claim, reasonably founded apprehensions. I break them into three headings.

1. Public broadcasting and media

This morning Charles Moore barks at Nick Robinson. He is clearly excited. He is telling Robinson that the BBC should lose its licence fee. In fact he is forecasting it.

Johnson had hinted at this earlier. It is not that the BBC is biased towards Labour, it is that it can, on occasion, be hostile to a Tory (much as it can be hostile to a Labour spokesman.)

Well, we can't have that! We cannot possibly support it. We must have a tamer more Tory BBC. and we will do it by turning it into a purely commercial operation, one ideally in the hands of one of our friendly billionaires, or, failing that, in hock to powerful commercial advertisers. That'll teach 'em!

And as for Channel 4...

This is the beginning of a very slippery slope since it is entirely a political decision. In that respect it is moving ever closer in step with with Viktor Orbán's Hungary where almost the entire national press and public media are government mouthpieces.

2 Brexit and the Red Wall

No, I did not anticipate the scale of the Tory victory, and much of it through the collapse of Labour in the North of England. I am pretty sure Corbyn supporters have a point in arguing that Brexit lay at the heart of it.


... is it not extraordinary that the constituency I think of as the Brexit-maddened poor should vote for an Old Etonian, frequently-confirmed, habitual liar who has no interest in their condition?

Contrary to Theresa May's mantra of Brexit Means Brexit, my contention is that Brexit has never meant Brexit. It has not meant any particular attitude to Europe either economically or politically. Brexit has meant all your grievances bundled into a single package that caters to your pride and insecurity. Europe has very little to do with it.

That pride and insecurity can only be intensified through presenting any case of potential revision as betrayal (a very popular rhetorical trope for Brexiters.) So not only have you been betrayed by an external Them (though any Them would do) but are now being betrayed all over again by an internal Them.

In this case the internal Them were the Labour Party and the liberal-minded as well as radically-minded educated class (which includes most artists.)

The issue extends far deeper than being a member of the EU. It is an existential issue of honour and anger.


I hear people like Lavery, the Labour Party Chair, blaming the Remainers within the party for the loss.


... instead of blaming the Remainers in the Labour Party I would go back to the referendum itself where we were told time and again how Labour - led by Corbyn - were putting the case for Remain.

That was a clearly lie. The fact is that 48% of the voters were left without a major advocate. Labour then pussyfooted around for almost three years before equivocating itself into the worst of all positions.

The position in which it could be accused of betrayal by both sides of the Brexit debate.


Meanwhile one Tory MP has already compared the fall of the Red Wall to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

That is about as foul and disgusting as you can get. That's the direction we are heading in.

3  The Future is Another Country / Rats' Alley

It's a moot but vital question whether the vote reflects the temporary mood of the country or is a sign of deep and significant change in it.

I hope it's mood and therefore temporary (since everything is temporary) but I am apprehensive about a deeper change.

That change (at least on the immediate level since there are always more reasons) began with the drive against immigrants. Not so much as a matter of control but as a matter of downright hostility: the "hostile environment" minted by May. Hostility kicked in immediately as it always does when a scapegoat is offered: it is simply well-tried historical mob behaviour.

The frustrations of any group of people can be offered a useful vent. Just as Brexit didn't mean Brexit, so the immigrant cause was a sign of a much deeper, much more complex malaise,. The individual strands of that malaise would take far too long to analyse.

Fintan O'Toole wrote well about it, maybe because the Burns adage is true: we lack the gift to see ourselves as others see us.

Factors, very crudely speaking, include: the end of the imperial era; the likely break-up of the United Kingdom; the financial collapse of 2008-9; the forces of globalisation, and the climate crisis. These forces play at least some part in the dramatic shifts across the world. They cause insecurities that certain political stances can look to address.

The guilt of empire is now entirely on England's shoulders and the load is all but intolerable. In Germany's case the guilt was clear and imposed as the result of a lost war. England did not lose that war or any other since. Not clearly and absolutely.

The reaction to guilt is hatred and distrust of those who impose it. Who imposes the guilt? As the poor will see it, it is foreigners and the liberal intellectual class who absolve themselves of it by blaming the very feelings that the poorest were told they were fighting for.

Trump wins. Johnson wins. There will be no national introspection under Johnson. There will be Churchillian bluster by the bucketload.


And where is this leading beyond mood?

The old industrial and class loyalties are enfeebled. Cultural loyalties - the least articulate and least useful of loyalties - remain. Those loyalties can be manipulated by the powerful forces of bread and circuses. Give 'em the right sort of blustering pap and make them believe it emanates from their own souls. Do that and they're yours. Their own blusterers will drive you on. Maybe faster and further than you think.

That is, of course, an apprehension, not a forecast. But it is not mere fancy. It is an option, and, I think, an ever more likely option.


This then is rats' alley. How will life change there?

Let's see how many hospitals are actually built, how many schools need support, how many genuinely affordable houses will become available, how much more exploitative the conditions of employment will become, how harsh the penalties imposed on those genuinely unfit for work, how many rough sleepers will be on the street, how many food packages will need to be distributed, and how far the cases of mental illness and suicide will rise.

Rats' alley waits to discover the answers.


John Looker said...

“ The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. ”

In other words, I share your mood – and your analysis too (which has far more coherence than I could achieve).

mistah charley, sb, ma, phd, jsps said...

the quote from t.s. eliot that i find on the internet has it 'where the dead men LOST their bones'

the phrase was discussed by someone - i commented:

my grandfather was in world war i which at the time of the writing of the poem was called ‘the great war’

trench warfare resulted in rats eating the dead bodies of soldiers leaving the bones behind – maybe this is the image eliot is referring to

here is an example

“I saw some rats running from under the dead men’s greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies. His helmet had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured and from the yawning mouth leapt a rat.”

Unknown said...

... and in this morning's speech he joked about the numbers of policemen and hospitals he had promised, a promise that no-one serious believes as you say. And the the same speech, even more unpleasantly he twice made a remark about looking forward to breakfast, a remark designed for the well-heeled and well-fed which entirely ignored (and as so often trampled on) those who had no breakfast to look forward to because under his party's rule for the last years they have become poor and been left further and further behind.
You are right to be angry George; your essay is a remarkable concentration of thought and force. Thank you.

Unknown said...

I didn't particularly intend that comment to be anonymous; it was posted by Richard Apley

George S said...

Thank you so much for the generous comments, John and Richard. The Eliot typo is corrected. It is possible to know some things so well that a typo slips right pass you because you don't bother checking. And Richard, I quite see what you mean. Nothing Johnson says should be believed until he has done it.