Photo: © Petros Diveris, Manchester, Early "summer" 2017
Those who always looked at Britain with a mix of bemusement and suspicion will find the recent events in the country delightful. The island that once defined "empire" has now turned into a gigantic asylum, the lunatics of which have taken over and have just shot the little kingdom on the foot. Those of us who have also grown increasingly suspicious and wary of what the European Union has become will be even more delighted. For as the eccentric English patient is self harming, the EU itself have gone out of their way to prove that they too are on a path of self destruction.
As you almost certainly know by now, Theresa May announced in early April 2017 a surprise general election. The accepted wisdom is that with this election Theresa is hoping that she will strengthen her position in the looming "Brexit" negotiations with the EU. Yannis Varoufakis was quick to offer his views on our PM's fantasy of an "enhanced mandate", which he simply called naive. Drawing from his own experience from negotiating with Brussels on behalf of Greece, he dismissed her belief in strength from an enhanced mandate as simply wrong.
In fact Varoufakis went as far as to describe the Prime Minister's tactics not just as "wrong," but "precisely so." Incidentally, according to Varoufakis, the reasons May's tactics are doomed are that Britain has to be made an example of, but most importantly because the Prime Minister is not alone in her hatred of democracy. The EU hates democracy just as much as she does. The main difference is that the EU is bigger than the UK in every way and that, unlike the UK, time is on the EU's side. Furthermore, the EU doesn't even need to pretend that it is democratic.
At the same time, the whole raison d'etre of the current government is simply Theresa May's premiership. The only ideology at play is May's determination to fulfil her childhood dream of one day becoming the Prime Minister. Everything else has to come second. Her "views" can be constructed as she goes along, and be preferably reduced to a change of apparel for the occasion. It is because of this that the total lack of any credible counterargument until recently was all the more appalling.
Strong and stable
Theresa May's campaign will most certainly be associated in people's minds with a Prime Minister who dried the entire process into one in which simply swapping outfits and accessories is somehow a substitute for policy. For those who are more accustomed to speech rather than visual cues, the campaign is catering aptly by insisting into reducing everything to the infantile slogan "strong and stable leadership." Of course people do not usually discuss their strength or stability, unless they feel weak or perhaps on the verge of a breakdown. Nor is there anything particularly strong in having to negotiate with twenty seven nations, in order to inflict harm on oneself. As with regards to stability, that's a matter of perspective. If we forget the sterling's recent parity with the euro, the rapid growth of inflation, the collapse of our productivity, and the foretold rises in utilities bills and transport, then perhaps we are as stable as we always were.
In all truth, the reason Theresa May called an election now might well be a very plain and sinister one. It may simply be that in five or eight months time people will get to face the music. People who had stopped worrying about the state of their bank account in the week leading up to the payroll may well be reminded once again how life is when counting pennies. As today's tobacco act showed, the British are equally good at regulating everything, from alcohol measures to the internet, a habit which until recently they claimed it was enforced upon them by the EU.
Of course none of the above seems to be of any concern to the many who voted for the country's confinement in the darkest corners of the early 21st century. The prevailing mood still is that people have got "control of their country back." Having not seeing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roaming the streets of Rochdale and Powys yet, the proud English and Welsh folk feel more than justified to shout the "Bremoaners" back to their caves. So far those people can pretend that they haven't received their first quarterly bill for gas or electricity yet. Perhaps they haven't had to purchase euros as yet, or indeed buy a new car.
Above all, like their government, these people despise the experts. They detest and loathe the educated "liberal elite", an expression which today has acquired a significance and meaning similar to the term "communist" in the 50s and 60s. Their clumsy and utterly unphotogenic leader went one step further when she declared that "if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” In a previous but not so distant era the term "citizen of the world" could have been used as a codeword for the wandering Jew, the "cosmopolitan" citizen from "nowhere", as pointed out by a Guardian reader in a recent letter to the paper. And who are the most visible of the "rootless" and "cosmopolitan" elites? The educated liberal classes of course, the academics and other liutenants of the "politically correct" brigades. The enraged but until recently silenced patriot has suddenly got his voice back, has even been given at last the opportunity to hit the educated bourgeois hard, to hit them where it hurts. With the mania and determination of an unchained cannibal the righteous patriots deliver one blow after another onto what was once the body of the British academic miracle, the hundreds of years of almost virtual dominance of the world's higher education sector, the flesh of what has being traditionally one of the best selling British export products ever, academic excellence.
If we are to build new Britain on a set of lies and delusions then thinking has to stop, and the thinkers have to be silenced. Depending on the geolocation and the kind of society, there are many ways of achieving this. The kingdom's friends in Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan typically employ straightforward tactics in dealing with the intellectuals and other subversive elements. In this country the solution was a lethal cocktail of tuition fees, and Brexit itself as an excuse for the casualisation of academic jobs, which then fed back into the perceived need for... Brexit! As long as the academics and thinking people are free to think, discuss and write, it will be impossible to sell the squeeze in our wages, the destruction of the health system and the dramatic increase in homelessness and food banks as a success. With them around it would be impossible to describe this act of self harm as having "taken back control of our country."
A kinder politics
Of course, the "silent majority" who delivered this almost fatal set of blows to the country were offered virtually no resistance. Whist the decent patriotic folk were using the British post war consensus as a punch bag, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, was calling for a "kinder" politics. This call for kind politics extended to the point that Jeremy would not take openly a position during the run up to the referendum. The two leading "Brexit" groups, apparently hostile to each other but in reality collaborators when it came to employing American vote-spinning "big data" companies, were bombarding the electorate with false statement upon false statement. They created a scare story by simply pointing at the EU supporters as the scary monster. What we need to be scared of is not the consequences, we were told, but the scare stories the EU supporters might come up with! If this tactic reminds you of Trump is because it is indeed a squid tactic, the kind of ink spraying out of which the American president has made an art form.
The Labour party somehow fancied itself as above all this. In fact, a lot of people who are working hard today to promote the party and protect its beleaguered leadership were even toying with the idea of the "left argument for Brexit" back in the days of the referendum. Some people even told me that their Brexit vote was an act of revenge for what the EU has done to my country, Greece. Since they are decent folk, they would treat the voters as adults, grown ups who don't need the party's opinion and benevolent guidance.
The party could have come up and said that you know what, we don't like what the EU is today, what it has morphed into, or what it stands for. We don't like its unaccountability, the dictatorship of the Euro Working Group, that of Brussels over Strasbourg, of the Commissioner, of the European Central Bank. At that point the party could have spelled the two inevitable possible lines emanating from said conclusion, the first being a line of officially advocating Brexit, for the reasons above. The other possible outcome could, would, and should have been a simple statement whereby Labour made clear that it would fight for democracy in Europe, against the institutions mentioned above. That it would seek to hold a strong place within Europe in order to reclaim democracy. And that the party doesn't confuse Europe with either the EU, or the euro. That when it talks "Europe" it talks of a prosperous and peaceful continent, where education and healthcare and a pension are provided by the state, that it talks about a continent without borders. In short, that it's a Labour party promoting and defending all workers' rights, not just those of the English or Welsh.
Alas, a kinder politics meant that the party didn't seize the opportunity to pull the rug from under UKIP's feet, or indeed those of the frightened and aggressive silent majority. Sadly, as a result, we ended up simply needing politics, preferably kinder of course. The party needs to start shaping the discourse again, not just observe it with a hope that good manners will ultimately prevail.
The EU is in many ways the UK's ideal partner. As an institution it lost any democratic pretence a long time ago. The Greek drama, of which I've been reminded on a daily basis, showed clearly that the shots are being called by a group of unequal finance ministers, who simply follow Berlin's orders. A whole country had to be punished, transformed into a periphery, looted and humiliated for both material gain, and as a means of showing the rest who's the daddy in the EU. As the crisis started, German investors visited Greece a few times to explore opportunities. Special free trade zones were considered as a means of establishing pockets of unregulated labour within the EU, presumably for the benefit of the big northern multinationals, which would love to have a mini China at their doorstep. When such demands were met with opposition the investors simply vanished. The pensioners of Hessen did manage however to get Lufthansa to act as an adviser to Greece, and facilitate the fire sale of only the profitable Greek airports to their fund. Privatisation in Europe simply means that some pension funds are better than others. When China put their money where their mouth was, by investing so that Piraeus could overtake Antwerp and Rotterdam as the largest port in Europe, the northern "partners" of Greece started voicing their concern, they even employed the European Parliament to stop Chinese investment in the protectorate. If they don't feel like investing in Greece then no one can invest. Europe doesn't want to invest in Europe, therefore China must back off.
As it was the case with the introduction of a jury into the venerable institution that was the Eurovision, so we are now told that the European Commission has precedence over the national parliaments in the forthcoming "Brexit" negotiations . Brexit was never about restoring sovereignty of the national parliaments. It was purely about immigration, for if it really was about the democratic process then the UK would be quick to protest at this coup by the European Commission. As it happens, this coup means that the UK was essentially right in leaving, even though the proponents of Brexit never cared about democracy, nor did they ask to leave for that reason. Not only is the EU willing to come to a deal with the UK modelled on the EFTA, it is also openly saying that it is expecting resistance from the subject members, and so it will cancel the democratic process.
In lieu of a conclusion
I think that May felt that she had to call this election now because in a few months this posse will be utterly unelectable. Of course that is assuming that the electorate and the general public in this country are still sane folk. Given the fact that the approval ratings of May far exceed those of the Tory party, this remains to be seen.
If anyone can make a success out of this sad affair, Brexit, it can only be the European Union itself, in the sense that only they can prove the UK right after all, by just being themselves.