The Liberal honeymoon of the 1990s and early 2000s is now conclusively over; Brexit has happened and the only – horrific – question is what will happen next?
Following a cat-and-mouse (really Tom and Jerry) December General election in which flag-waving (Union Jack, Red and blue-crossed) extremists accrued by far the larger part of the vote one needs to ask whether there remains any room at all for centre politics in the UK? This is not a rhetorical question, either; much action is needed, and quickly.
What is the British electorate seeking? Surprisingly, possibly not Conservatism; but definitely not socialism either. A majority does however, at least on the surface, to slaver after a ‘greater Britain’ option in which for some (unexplained) reason other states are imagined to wish to be at Britain’s beck-and-call. Remaining a moderately-performing economy, part of a similar group of nations – some of whom are already outperforming Britain and will utterly outstrip us once all ties are broken – is no longer enough for many UK residents If we can’t match Germany, Scandinavia et al economically then at least we’ll outdo them in terms of isolationist belligerence appears to be the new watchword. This is most worrying, replicating a routine fallback position for dictators in less-developed countries everywhere. In reality our own land is, however, in full-scale social, even if not yet economic, retreat. Brexit – especially if there’s ‘no deal’, will aggravate both.
So why did our electorate vote the way it did in December?
Extreme nationalists can sometimes be crafty too, knowing that more poorly-educated citizens may turn to them in times of crisis, when internal and international completion and success, and harmonious community relationships, may be in jeopardy. Such a situation redounds in Britain today and nationalists such as Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Gove and Farage have capitalised thereon. It’s not a new phenomenon. Hitler (let’s be clear), Mussolini, Franco and Putin have all exploited it/come to power in similar circumstances. However we are right to share alarm about how far the borders of the new UK nationalism now extend, and their seemingly endless flexibility. Many of its backers are quite ruthless enshrining utter contempt for good societal relations in their pell-mell rush to ‘reconstruct’ their image of former Empire glory. Take Johnson’s prorogation of the UK Parliament in September 2019, carried out with utter disregard for constitutional delicacy; or the entirely casual way ‘settled status’ has merely been dangled before EU nationals resident here.
On the doorstep, following a period of comparative post-2015 tranquillity with relatively-inept moderates David Cameron and then Theresa May at the helm. Liberals are now again seen by many suspicious and tabloid-informed voters, egregiously in urban but also in rural areas, as ‘enemies’. We uphold and try to preserve values of freedom and friendly collaboration, both of which it seems are inimical to the Brexit ethos and to the world of ever more run-down, automated, illiberal, facebook-styled claustrophobia they both inhabit and yet now feel accustomed to. Complaints are raised against Lib Dem activists in some cases simply for their being liberal or even for daring deliver socially-liberal material. Those who do so are deemed to threaten the predictable inevitability of ongoing UK chaos. If we still care what might we do?
The Labour party is currently (Feb ’20) in absolutely no position to contribute sound advice. Leaderless – at least for the meantime -and with half its membership overall still supporting reductionist far-left dialectic, it offers little today even to its traditional working class, let alone any more enlightened, educated middle-class following. Labour has just gone berserk! But this should turn to stone those who recognise that there is now no tangible opposition to unrelenting, escalating British nationalism. Dialogue amongst all on the left is essential yet it has been strenuously avoided by Labour’s own leadership.
And let’s not imagine Brexiters will stop at merely leaving the EU – they won’t Further scapegoats will be sought on whom to offload responsibility for ‘blemishes’ in progressing the cause of ‘Greater Britain’. In Nazi Germany it was ‘first the Jews, then the Communists…’. Who might it be next in Britain once the EU is ‘out of the way’? Because of course the rhetoric claims that the 2016 UK- EU exit referendum was the only time this our ‘great country’ ever evinced (or seemingly even needed) democracy…
So once more, what can be done? We must challenge Britain’s electorate, even at this late stage, to think once more, and more clearly too, for itself. Yet how easily can this be done when education itself – that universal connector and well-founded disciplinarian – is being so relentlessly and inexorably worn away by Conservative government policies? Perhaps some people will see for themselves what needs to change and socially-liberally minded folk will need to seize on all opportunities to furnish our somewhat bewildered population with more truly accurate information.
We must never give up. We must work with anyone who is prepared to listen and to co-operate. If even Winston Churchill, who like Lloyd George shifted to the right for pragmatic reasons later in life, could usefully deploy the terminology of resistance then so certainly can social liberals, even post-Brexit.
Ancient Carthage, that imperial city of conquest, took centuries to fold from within. We don’t have such time on our hands and we must hence expedite a more rapid solution to modern British imperialism.