Britain: A country that cannot say those Three Little Words

August 1, 2021

by Martin Odoni

Around twenty-five years ago, the stupidity of the average Briton was substantial, but not dominant. Even where stupidity was clearly ruling the day, the country developed a strange, “set-the-bar-low” culture of laughing at the perceived stupidity of the average American, as self-reassurance. Any Briton despairing at British stupidity could get a copy of Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Big Country, just for instance, and laugh smugly at the examples Bryson had stumbled upon of how the art of thought seemed to be dying out in Clintonite America.

“Oh well,” we reassured ourselves, “at least we’re not as stupid as the Yanks!”

(I doubt too many Britons then or now could win a battle-of-wits with Americans like, say, Neil de Grasse Tyson, the late Carl Sagan, or Aron Ra, but hey, stick with the stereotype. Stereotypes seem oddly reassuring to so many people.)

By believing rubbish the Tories would tell us

Intellectual race-to-the-bottom

The last few years though have turned into a bizarre race-to-the-bottom between the two countries, and I have to say it; the British have decisively won the contest in which everyone should hope to finish second or lower.

The USA took a spectacular early lead in 2008, by causing a Global Financial Crisis of a scale not seen since the 1930s. This was caused by blind overpricing of toxic debt obligations in the absurd Derivatives Market, and led to a massive series of bail-out payments from the Federal Reserve to prop up the banks who had created the problem. With a stupidity that nearly put the USA 2-0 up, no serious attempt was made by successive Presidents to reform the financial sector to make sure such unnecessary risk-taking could be allowed in future.

However, it was not long before the British came up with a spectacular goal of their own. In the UK, the Crisis was somehow allowed to be blamed on the post-1997 Labour Government for supposed ‘excessive spending.’ The spate of bankruptcies very visibly and obviously began in the USA, and the knock-on effects hit almost every country in the developed world, and had absolutely nothing to do with public debt anywhere. But somehow a very large proportion of the British public proved so stupid that they were drawn into thinking that the ‘Credit Crunch’ was caused by allowing people out-of-work in East Grinstead to claim about £50 per week in Jobseeker’s Allowance. They ignored the cool half-a-trillion-pounds given to the banking sector to repair the self-inflicted damage, and then voted Labour out of power at the 2010 General Election, even though they had done a fairly decent job of shoring up the economy against the worst effects of the Crunch. One goal each.

There followed an exchange-of-goals as both the British and the Americans accepted, at a time of deep recession when investment is required instead, that Austerity was the answer. “Let’s destimulate the economy when it is already badly hamstrung by a lack of stimulus!” said Governments on both sides of the Atlantic. “Brilliant idea!” responded millions-beyond-counting on both sides of the Atlantic. Anything to avoid admitting that they did not know a damned thing about economics, and that they think it means the same thing as Budgeting. 2-2.

The British really set the stall out though in 2016 with the Brexit referendum ending in a Yes vote when there was clearly no plan in place to implement the withdrawal from the European Union. (That decision is already battering the country in ways some people have yet to notice – see later.) 3-2 to the British.

The Americans, bless their li’l hearts, did their best in reply, by the highly skilled act of stupidity called, “Electing Donald Trump to be President of the United States.” Bravely clawing their way back to three goals apiece.

But the British had a trump-card (pun entirely intentional) of their own up their sleeve, and in 2019 they played it. They elected Boris Johnson to be their Prime Minister, even after they had had nearly six months of his bumbling, chaotic leadership to let them know what they were letting themselves in for. 4-3 to the British in extra time.

The Americans wave the white flag

The Americans, realising that even they could hardly compete with stupidity this pure and unrefined, finally admitted defeat, choosing to vote Trump out of power a year later, and thus plumping for second place in the “Anglosphere League of Stupid”. (Brazil tops the non-Anglosphere League of Stupid, with Hungary pushing them hard in second place.) It was an American move implying an ability at least to learn, and only modestly compromised by the fact that it meant Joe ‘Diet Trump’ Biden got into office instead.

All of this, and then the Coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, which causes Covid-19 fever, arrived, and handed lots of Britons the eagerly-seized opportunity to flex the muscles of their stupidity yet again.

As I pointed out back in the winter, Johnson’s handling of the Government’s response to the pandemic has been bad universally, at times to the point of complete futility, at other times arguably making matters worse. This is because his priorities at every step of the crisis have been 1) making sure his Government cannot be blamed for anything, and 2) making sure any measures he takes to fight the virus do not in any way impede the profits made by his rich billionaire supporters and donors, insofar as any such avoidance does not leave him open to failing aim 1).

The list of Johnson’s Covid foul-ups

Johnson ignored the looming crisis initially, failing to attend a succession of COBRA meetings arranged to prepare for the UK’s response.

Johnson then failed to take the crisis seriously, actually boasting in a childish televised speech that he had shaken hands with people already suffering the illness, and thus giving many Britons the impression that the pandemic was no big deal.

Johnson allowed a football match at Anfield in Liverpool to go ahead, when the visiting team were Atletico Madrid of Spain. Spain was one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic in the first months, and it should have been obvious that there was a risk in letting the Atletico squad enter Britain. Worse, they brought something like 3,000 supporters with them, and the subsequent surge in Coronavirus cases in Merseyside and Cheshire made it all-too-clear that many of the visiting fans had carried the virus into the UK with them. Just a couple of days later, the entire football program in the UK was suspended for what turned out to be three months. But a couple of days too late, for the virus was already out-of-control across the country.

Johnson then tried to avoid doing what was so obviously required i.e. locking down, closing the airports, getting supplies of necessary equipment into hospitals etc, by dabbling in a pseudo-eugenics approach; seeking to encourage the illness to spread through the population. It was only when he fell ill with the Coronavirus himself that he had second thoughts. (Not so much out of sympathy for his people, as realising that if millions of people became that ill under his watch, his popularity would plummet.)

Johnson dilly-dallied over readying the National Health Service for the inevitable surge in demand that lay ahead. He needed to make sure that front-line staff in particular were properly supplied with large quantities of good quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), so they could treat patients without being openly exposed to the virus. He also needed to make sure that hospitals were well-stocked with ventilators for Covid patients having breathing difficulties. He did neither, and there was a mad scrambling period of absurdity in which doctors and nurses in Accident & Emergency wards up and down the country were improvising PPE using bin liners, and patients who could not breathe on their own were essentially finished.

You really thought THIS man would make a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn?

PPE and ventilators did start arriving, too late for many, but even there, the Government repeatedly released deeply misleading statements, including claiming that 30,000 ventilators had arrived, when the real number was just thirty, and the rest had only been put on order. They also tried to inflate PPE delivery figures by counting gloves individually rather than in pairs.

Rather than rewarding NHS workers with a pay-rise they both sorely needed and deserved due to the danger they were putting themselves into, Johnson and his Government made the empty gesture of an occasional round of applause. (The latest offer of just 3% is an outright insult.)

At no stage did Johnson close the airports, meaning the protection possible through Britain’s insular condition was squandered.

Johnson re-opened schools too soon, and lowered restrictions as early as he could wherever they impacted on profitability, especially for of large chain firms.

During August 2020, the Government unveiled its notoriously myopic ‘Eat-out-to-help-out‘ scheme of subsidising meals and drinks for people going on nights out. This was designed to re-stimulate the culinary industry. Inevitably, within a month, there was an enormous spike in Covid-19 cases, which the Government blamed on irresponsible members of the public going out and mixing together, when they should have stayed at home. Never mind that the Government itself had encouraged people to go out with Eat-out-to-help-out in the first place. Oh no, got to be the fault of the undisciplined little ‘plebs’.

Johnson guaranteed everyone would be free to travel at Christmas and spend time with people in a wider ‘bubble’. People made plans, bought tickets for travel, got themselves prepared, and then with two days left, Johnson announced that he could not allow it after all. It was the right decision to re-impose restrictions, but how cowardly of him to wait until so late in the day before letting everyone know.

The Test-&-Trace program has proven an expensive shambles, only intermittently functional. Worse, the Government, always so obsessed with reinforcing its ideology, has tried to blame its failure on the NHS, rather than on the private companies that developed it, such as Serco and Sitel.

The vaccination program, by contrast, has been a reasonable success, but this has had nothing in particular to do with Johnson’s governance. (Indeed, that is probably why it has been a success.) Instead, it is being carried out by the NHS, whose integrated national facilities allow it to roll out the vaccines quickly and efficiently. And yet Johnson tries to take the credit for it.

Johnson, according to the egregious Dominic Cummings, tried to avoid re-imposing lockdown in the Autumn last year when it was clear that the virus was spreading out-of-control again.

This year, Johnson has allowed sporting events to go ahead with huge crowds of spectators and minimal social distancing. The Centre Court at Wimbledon was almost full for the Singles Finals this summer. The Men’s European Football Championship Final at Wembley this month had an attendance of 60,000, some two-thirds of capacity. Clearly too high (anything above half-full is likely to be too high), but Johnson caved in to pressure from UEFA to allow a higher attendance than could be managed safely.

And now, once again, Johnson has lifted lockdown measures when it is clear that the pandemic is spiking again. He seems convinced, like some kind of bureaucratic oaf, that he can just ‘insist’ that the pandemic co-operate with his schedules. It has not done so to this point, hence why previous lockdown-easing has failed and led to repeated re-imposition of restrictions. Why should this latest round of stubbornness be any different?

Common sense? From the British?

The July lifting of lockdown defies analysis. Johnson and the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid (a banker – why is a banker the Health Secretary?), have both insisted that they favour and strongly advise people to continue social distancing, regular sanitisation of the hands, and the wearing of facemasks in public.

So why not just leave the legal requirement in place until such a time as these measures are no longer necessary? Somehow, even though this advice makes clear that the Government knows the measures are still critical, they do not want them to be compulsory anymore. They want to leave it up to us to decide for ourselves whether we want to adhere to the essential or not. British common sense will lead us to make the right choice for ourselves. Or something.

This is libertarian gibberish at best, obsequious crawling to the Covid-denier fringe at worst. They know lockdown is not enjoyable, and so they want to give people who do not like it the chance to go out and behave as irresponsibly as they wish, knowing it will help Tory polling. But they continue advising to do what was already a legal requirement, just to cover themselves. Once more, the Tory priority is not keeping the people safe from the pandemic, but to keep themselves safe from legal ramifications.

But also, one studies the way the British – particularly the English – have behaved over the last few years, especially this very summer, and it is quite impossible to argue that common sense is what is driving them on.

Riots, over-the-top partying

Quite simply, this summer in particular has seen quite reprehensibly foolish behaviour from a large minority all over the UK. It arguably started in Scotland back in May. Rangers Football Club won their first Scottish Championship in ten years, and the club’s fans started partying in the streets of Glasgow, all thoughts of social distancing or wearing of masks abandoned. The party turned sporadically violent, especially on George Square.

This brand of fun-and-games carried over into the aforementioned European Championship tournament. England and Scotland fans clashed both before and after their respective teams met in a first round match. England fans are understood to have threatened and even spat on Danish fans after the semi-final – and no one should need telling what a terribly dangerous stunt it is to spit at anyone during a pandemic – and London saw worse chaos on the day of the Final, with England fans trashing Leicester Square, before a large, ticketless group tried to force their way into the stadium. (On a side note, what would football fans around the rest of England be saying if Liverpool fans without tickets had tried to gatecrash a big game like that?)

Not only was there minimal sign of social distancing or other basic precautions being observed even while they were still a legal requirement, there was also little sign of ordinary ‘common sense,’ such as it is defined. Hundreds of grown-ups were behaving like children, and when dealing with a highly contagious virus, you only need a few hundred to misbehave to send infection rates spiralling upwards. The boorish, idiotic habit of booing visiting teams’ national anthems – a futile and ugly gesture that only serves to motivate opponents when all is said and done – reared its head all the way through the tournament. It reeks of a similar lack of intelligence, and underlines that at some point in recent generations, the British have simply lost the knack for ‘common sense’ (if ever they truly possessed it).

No, not enough of the British public can be trusted to stick to lockdown behaviours at their own discretion.

And what does Labour do to fight it?

All of this should be an absolutely wide open goal for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. Unfortunately, their priorities appear to lie entirely elsewhere.

Starmer genuinely seems convinced that purging the Labour Party of the left is more important than saving human lives, making him every bit as morally bankrupt as Boris Johnson

At a time when the NHS, Labour’s most prized creation, is being sold off to the Zombie industry of private healthcare, when Boris Johnson is genuinely happy to let the nation get hit full in the face by the most that SARS-Cov2 can throw at it, and when he is trying to make it very easy to make protests illegal, Starmer’s priority is… to attack his own party.

In the process, Starmer has allowed the bumbling carnival of psychotic clowns in the Government to maintain a regular lead of ten-points-plus in most opinion polls, and has wasted a fortune in subscription fees, to the extent that the party, which was thirteen million pounds in the black under his predecessor, is now on the edge of bankruptcy after less than eighteen months. This might have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but even so, Starmer has shown himself to be as monumentally lacking in ‘common sense’ as he is in basic honour and integrity. He has lied, broken countless promises, kowtowed to right-wing imperialist elements such as the Zionist lobby, and basically failed to convey any message or policy. It is quite literally impossible to say what he would do in Government, either by judging his reluctance to criticise Johnson’s brutal policies, or by any description of his own. The whole Opposition leadership has maintained a ludicrous theatrical pretence for well over than a year.

And still, while guilty of the breathtaking dishonesty required to maintain their absurd position, Starmer and his allies on the Labour Right remain unshakeably convinced that they are doing the right thing.

That is stupidity in itself.

The British public, who again showed astonishing stupidity in being easily convinced that one of the country’s most tireless anti-racism politicians of the last fifty years is “an anti-Semite,” are at least showing a healthy skepticism this time, judging by election results and opinion polls.

And now… Brexit

All of this despair is before we revisit the subject that has divided the country so much since around 2014. Brexit. Bloody Brexit.

I will restate my position on Brexit one more time. I was against it back in 2016. Not on principle, understand; I had no strong feelings either way on the matter, and I do recognise that there are genuine, non-xenophobic reasons to oppose membership of the European Union.

But by the time the referendum had arrived in mid-2016, after months of waiting for an explanation as to how the complex process of withdrawal was to be carried out, and what the strategy would be to keep the economy ticking over afterwards, it had become clear to me that none would be forthcoming. The whole business was being driven by narrow, self-interested con artists whose only interest was removing EU laws that obstructed their power to manipulate workers. It meant that, whether Leaving was potentially a good move or a bad one, it was bound to be enormously damaging in practice, because if it happened, it would happen without being planned out. So I voted to Remain.

Eighteen months have passed since Great Britain (though not quite Northern Ireland due to the ‘protocol’ keeping it in the Single Market) withdrew from the EU, and it is now a reasonable time to assess whether the effect is good or bad. The effects of the pandemic striking shortly after ‘Brexit Day’ last year would undoubtedly distort any earlier assessment.

Assessment: Sorry, it really is that bad

A lot of what follows, I must stress, is my own experience of what has happened since 31st January 2020. I realise there is an outside possibility that I just happen to be in a specific role in a specific industry that has been specifically badly hit. However, all indicators I can see and hear suggest that my experiences are shared widespread across the country.

Firstly, let us consider Northern Ireland, which will have “one-foot-in-the-EU-and-one-foot-out,” as though it is performing an pan-Irish-Sea version of the Hokey Cokey. Now, the company I work for is a global firm selling electrical goods, and not only does it have branches all over England, Scotland and Wales, but it also has a branch in Belfast. For the first eleven years I was with the firm, it was perfectly normal practice for branches to send stock to each other as customers required. This frequently included customers in Northern Ireland, and so it was an almost-daily occurrence for me to pack parcels of electronic goods and despatch them to Belfast.

Now v Then

It is, shall we say, not quite like that suddenly. Because of the Northern Ireland protocol in Brexit, any goods our firm sends to Belfast crosses the new Irish Sea boundary into the EU Single Market, and has to do so while subject to the same rules as a parcel sent from, say, Peru, or Turkmenistan, or Vietnam to Belfast. (The Tories, in their arrogance, now expect to be allowed to renegotiate the agreement over Northern Ireland, after three years’ worthless faffing to accomplish the present one. To that I say, if a new referendum is not allowed, a new renegotiation of the deal is out too.)

It was already hitting crisis point as far back as January

This includes, among other things, a quite astonishing degree of paperwork, sometimes requiring literally thousands of pages of documentation. All must be in black ink, not blue nor red, and all must be filled in fully and accurately, with weights and dimensions correct to the nearest kilogramme and centimetre. If just one signature or tick is missed, if just one entry has been filled in with the wrong colour ink, if just one weight or dimension has been miscalculated, the whole shipping process grinds to a halt at the Belfast Harbour, and the goods will not get through. The onus is also on the sender to get the goods back, and to re-ship them again later with the paperwork (hopefully!) corrected.

Fortunately, once a shipping firm gets the hang of it, they can speed things up considerably by photocopying much of the paperwork from previous shipments, and only filling in the forms that refer to aspects that are different. But in the first few weeks in particular, this process was an unmitigated nightmare. Goods that we were sending to Belfast that used to arrive at their Goods-In after one or two days were now getting stuck at the port for upwards of two weeks, and by the time the Coronavirus interrupted, we had a backlog of about three-dozen parcels from our mainland branches into Northern Ireland. And this was doubtless happening with loads of other companies in Britain shipping across the Irish Sea, not just to Northern Ireland, but to the Republic as well. The logjam was not only bewildering, not just frustrating, it was downright embarrassing. This sort of thing should not be happening in the 21st Century, least of all shipping between provinces of one of the richest, most advanced nations on Earth.

With the pandemic leading to lockdown and wide numbers of workers staying at home for lengthy periods, this backlog had time to be worked through as the flow of goods slowed to a trickle. But how much of that was down to the pandemic, and how much of it was simply down to companies giving up trying to ship to Ireland at all, is a question to which I am unsure I will ever know the answer.

What I do know is that, well over a year on, we are still seeing frequent delays shipping to what is supposed to be a fellow part of the United Kingdom.

Our firm used to be able to send goods to and from the continent itself too. I work on the desk dealing with returned faulty goods, many of which have been imported. Therefore being able to send directly to manufacturers in places like the Netherlands and Germany sped up the process by some days. But now, everything has to be sent to the company’s head office and then forwarded through our Export department, adding around a week to the shipping time. Then, when the manufacturer sends anything back, it has to get through the aforementioned bureaucratic minefield before they get back to our Head Office, to be forwarded back to our branch again.

Our firm had an arrangement with a courier firm for shipping all over Europe, with a daily collection of the parcels we sent out by the courier’s local office. However, in March this year, and completely without warning, their local office was shut down, and all staff there were made redundant. Our parcel contract was passed to another office based in Irlam, which is miles further away, and already had a very full quota of customers. No explanation was ever given for the sudden closure, but the likeliest one by far is that there had been a massive reduction in demand, especially for sending to the continent or Ireland, doubly so with the expensive backlogs at ports going both in and out of Britain. Service from the Irlam office, meanwhile, has been choppy and unreliable at best, due to their drivers becoming badly overstretched.

Lorries queue to enter the Port of Dover as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31, in Kent, England, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

People who manufacture food and sell to the continent pick their way through this same minefield. It used to be when sending goods overseas that only one word was needed for the manifest e.g. “cakes.” Not anymore. Now the manufacturer has to list every single ingredient in the cakes, including the precise weight of each one.

All manner of goods that our firm used to sell plentifully are now in short supply. Even goods made in Britain, because many of the raw materials needed to make them come from overseas, and are being delayed for weeks on end at the ports. It is humiliating how much we are presently apologising to our customers for not having goods in stock.

Sometimes on receiving a delivery of goods, we find we have to pay cash to the courier to cover part of the shipping costs, something that never happened before.

One truly ridiculous bureaucratic change is that during any official international business the firm carries out, we are not allowed to refer to our branches by name. The branches are usually named after the nearest major town. However, due to an obscure rule about cross-channel trade, we can only refer to our branches by a four-digit ID code instead. Not actually harmful, but takes some getting used to, and a thoroughly pointless practice in repeatedly biting the lip to make sure we do not say, “Manchester branch” instead of the code.

But above all of course, prices are going up, some of them dramatically, due to the enhanced legal and practical difficulty involved in procuring items, or in procuring the materials needed to make them. One of our most important suppliers of basic technical fittings has imposed repeated price increases. The most recent of these were just a couple of weeks ago, and they averaged out across their inventory as a 12% hike.

Er… where is this ‘Brexit Dividend‘ we were promised? I really see only costs.

Brexit even hampers our response to the pandemic

The Delta variant of the Coronavirus was, on discovery, originally called ‘The Indian variant,’ because it was first identified in India. Epidemiologists however became concerned at the way that many people, especially right wing politicians like Donald Trump, would keep using the name of the country where strains of virus are first detected to blame that country for its existence. (Any other country could respond by renaming the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 the “US Financial Derivatives Foul-Up That Destroyed Life For Everyone Else Too,” but I digress.) So they started using Greek letters as the identifiers instead.

It was soon very clear that the Delta variant was more contagious than the original ‘Alpha’ strain, and was spreading very quickly around parts of India. What was the obvious response Johnson should have pursued? Well, clearly to halt entry for, or at least heavily filter, people travelling from India to the UK, at least until the spread of the contagion was under control there.

Johnson did not. The reason he did not was, at root, Brexit.

All the UK’s trading agreements from prior to 1973 became null-and-void on joining the Common Market, and the UK became subject to the agreements of the European Economic Community (as it was then). Now the UK has left the EU, all Europe’s trading treaties have ceased to apply to mainland Britain (but still apply for a few years in Northern Ireland). The old pre-1973 deals could not simply pop back into existence. Therefore, there is presently no trade deal with India in place for Great Britain, and with its surging industrial base, India is one of a number of really huge overseas markets the British Government needs extensive trading access to.

The UK must not upset India

So India is a priority country in the UK’s hunt for new trading agreements, and one mistake the British Government cannot afford is to rock any diplomatic boats relating to the former “Jewel in the Crown” of its old Empire. A great many Indian people, for entirely understandable reasons, feel very little sympathy for the nation of their cruel old colonial masters at the best of times, meaning they can be offended by British careless talk very easily.

Making the task of negotiation even more difficult is that the current Prime Minister of India, Nahendra Modi, is a ruthless Nationalist who must be tempted every day to pull the plug on talks just to humiliate the old conquerors. Pragmatic realisation that he is in a good position to drive a hard bargain keeps Modi from taking that step, but it would not take a particularly heavy ‘slap-in-the-face’ on Britain’s part for him to cancel negotiations. Therefore, Johnson was too scared of offending Modi or the Indian Government by slapping a ban, however necessary or temporary it might be, on Indian citizens entering the UK.

Johnson looking happier to be talking to Modi than the other way around. Despite the ‘big’ announcement in early-May, no deal has been reached between the UK and India yet, only a commitment to seek a deal, which they were already seeking anyway. Big deal

Funny how Brexiteers kept telling us how leaving the EU would “allow us the freedom to negotiate our own deals.” Precisely as I have warned more than once though, this is not a ‘freedom’ but a requirement, and one so pressing that it has us negotiating from a position of weakness. Such weakness, we cannot even afford to close our borders to a country where a pandemic is out of control. Had we already had a trade deal with India in place – as we did when within the EU – we would not have been compelled to leave the path into the UK open for carriers of the Delta variant. (So much for Brexit giving us back control of our own borders, eh?) Had it not been for Brexit, we would still have a deal with India in place.

For want of a nail, and all that. The upshot is, the Delta variant is now possibly the most dominant form of Covid-19 in the UK, and the vaccines we have available are less effective against Delta than they are against the Alpha strain.

Whether you favour being outside the EU or not in principle, the reality is that the process of departure has been botched appallingly badly. In so many areas, we have been left in a weakened position. Only stubborn stupidity leads Brexit supporters to resist this inescapable reality. And on that subject….

‘Pingdemic’

But of course, Brexit is not to blame for the shortages on shelves at the supermarket or, if you can afford to be more principled, the greengrocer. No. According to the Daily Telegraph, that organ of blue-tinted truth (well, an organ of some description anyway), it is because so many workers are self-isolating after being instructed to by the NHS smartphone app.

Once again, this an example of stubborn British stupidity refusing to accept that a huge undertaking was an obvious blunder. The Telegraph, being a very Tory-orientated journal, does not like seeing poor people being allowed time off work. It is also heavily euroskeptic, and firmly supported Brexit during the 2016 referendum. Therefore, it would much prefer that workers get the blame for doing the right thing to prevent the spread of SARS-Cov2 than Brexit get the blame it deserves. The shortages we are now seeing were warned of repeatedly, especially in the event of a full crash out of the EU.

Rather than draw the sensible conclusion of the ‘Pingdemic,’ as they childishly call it, which is that the virus is still spreading rapidly and dangerously and more measures are needed to contain it, British journalists instead take a fantastically stupid line; that it proves that the app is an inconvenience to industry and that it should be switched off. This is like turning off the smoke alarm in a house, instead of getting unsafe wiring repaired and replacing the timber parts of the structure, in order to have fewer safety alerts. As I pointed out many years ago, Tories are often obsessed with the look of issues rather than the need to deal with them, and in many cases would rather that the public either not perceive them, or at least misinterpret their causes.

The reason we can be confident that this is more a Brexit problem than a Covid problem (although it might again be exacerbated by Covid) is that these supply shortages are not happening in the EU, even in countries with high rates of the virus, and thus large numbers of people going into self-isolation.

There is no pingdemic, there is only Brexit

In the UK, we have a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers, and that is not just because they have all started isolating. Many of them have simply gone, because they were from overseas and have been frightened off by the xenophobia of the last few years.

We also have huge backlogs of goods at the ports. Deleting the app will not solve either problem, it will simply allow the Covid problem to get worse at the same time.

We are heading somewhere dark

More than at any stage of our history since probably the Civil Wars, the country’s politics seem to be dominated by an irrational impulse. It is one every human being is prone to from time-to-time, but only some seem even sporadically capable of resisting it in the present climate. That impulse is to hunt vigorously for any way not to say those three little words; –

“I was wrong.”

Of course, politicians have been like that for as long as the profession has existed. It is a tiresome form of machismo that is seen as essential for the stability of a political movement or Government. In the aforementioned Civil War period, it was King Charles I who embodied that attitude – and he wound up on the scaffold!

But in the modern era, it has taken hold of the loudest and most influential voices in British politics. Frauds and conmen, such as the Prime Minister, and Nigel Farage, are so divorced from common decency that when the evidence of their incorrect declarations is placed in front of them, they just lie flat-out and stand their ground. And their supporters, many of whom cannot tolerate admitting to having been conned – in the hierarchy of failings most people would rather admit to being bad in bed than admit to having been gullible – just lap up the lies supporting the previous lies.

We are heading into darkness precisely because as a country, we are refusing to illuminate the pathway ahead for fear of discovering we opted for the wrong path. Worse, the darker and more obscure the path, the faster so many of these people want us to drive. So often during the spell of gridlock in Parliament under Theresa May, the commentary from ignorant Brexit-fanatics was always, “I don’t understand why we can’t just get on with it!!!” Hence why they were so easily seduced by such an uninspired and lame slogan as “Get Brexit done,” as the Tories repeated ad infinitum during the 2019 General Election campaign.

And the left are not much better

This is not exclusively a problem on the right wing either. There are many pro-Brexit figures on the left too, and many of them are proving equally stubborn about admitting that leaving the EU was a mistake. Brexit may have been a good move under certain circumstances and handled a certain way. Under a left-leaning Labour Government administered by competent Ministers, it might have been planned out correctly, with proper arrangements for all legal and practical issues that were bound to develop. After that, with the EU’s founding rules out of the way, it might even have made a proper socialist program easier to implement.

But Brexit-in-any-circumstances and at-any-cost was foolish. Especially so was supporting a Brexit implemented by Tories, particularly incompetent Tories with no patience or skill for minutiae, and imagining that somehow there was a pathway to socialism from there. ‘Lexit’ was never going to happen under any procedure implemented by the likes of Theresa May or Boris Johnson. All that has actually been achieved is that the Tories have been handed control of the statute book at the time when it is easiest to turn the UK into a tax haven.

When I have argued with Lexiteers about all the indicators that things are going horribly wrong, I again encounter that same reluctance to admit that they made a mistake. Their reluctance is to recognise that what they have helped do is hand the Conservative Party a blank slate on which to draw a new set of laws reinforcing Establishment power.

Despair

I have seldom been by nature a great optimist, and so perhaps my bleak look at the current condition of Britain should surprise nobody. But I really cannot see anything but trouble in the years ahead. Northern Ireland is already as good as gone from the United Kingdom thanks to Brexit, and thanks to Johnson’s betrayal of the Democratic Unionist Party. Even a great many Unionists will feel there is no loyalty to them from England, so what is the point of offering loyalty the other way? Unification with the rest of Ireland is likely to happen within the next ten years. Scotland is also clearly close to Nationalist boiling point too, and if/when the next Independence Referendum is called, I struggle to see anything other than a Yes vote. The older generation of Scots were key to the No vote in 2014, and many of them will be gone by the time of the next poll, replaced with younger generation Scots all livid about being dragged out of the EU against their will.

Wales will probably not break away, as it is a little too small and rural to exist on its own. A small majority of its people also voted for Brexit, so they can hardly complain that they are not getting what they wanted. But there are clear ideological differences at a fundamental level between Westminster and the Senedd, and the strains when policies east of the border clash with those in the west will make the ongoing union between Kingdom and Principality an uncomfortable one.

But the UK is now looking very likely to break up. Given it was once at the head of a slave-trading, all-conquering Empire, many would argue that its destruction is what it deserves. But I argued many, many years ago, in fact in one of the very earliest essays I ever wrote for this blog, that the break-up of a nation, or even of a political union of nations, is seldom a painless business. “Let the UK go the same way as Yugoslavia!” argue the radical voices. “Why not?”

Why not let the UK go the way of Yugoslavia? Here is why not

The reason why not of course is, “Because of what happened to Yugoslavia after it broke up.” The Balkans were torn apart by an absolutely savage internecine conflict that lasted nine years. Old underlying tensions between different ethnic groups that had been pushed together under one flag for most of the twentieth century finally exploded into war, ethnic cleansing, brutal crimes against humanity, and attempted genocide.

If you do not think comparable underlying tensions exist in Britain and Ireland, you have not studied much history, and also are not paying much attention to conversations outside your own corner of the world. The English, fairly or otherwise, face great historical resentment from their three ‘celtic’ neighbours. There are historical animosities, chiefly on religious grounds, between Scotland and Ireland, with the Irish particularly remembering atrocities by Scots Presbyterian armies in Ireland during the Civil Wars era. England’s own history in Ireland was essentially an eight-century exercise in brutal colonialism and murderous oppression that will almost certainly never be truly forgiven west of the Irish Sea. Parts of the north of England hold historic grudges against the Scots for centuries of burnings, slave-takings, and other barbaric atrocities in the region by Scots marauders. (Despite the conventional interpretation of Anglo-Scottish history of the Scots being the ‘plucky, innocent victims’ of ‘English tyranny,’ the real picture is vastly more mixed. Rulers of Scotland like Malcolm III and David I committed countless unprovoked crimes and blood-soaked atrocities in England as they tried to gain control of its northern counties, long before Edward “Longshanks” was ever heard of. It often startled and offended me when I was living in Scotland how the natives appeared either unaware of that side of the history, or even seemed to regard it with a kind of mischievous glee.) Some parts of England, such as Cornwall and Merseyside, have a lot of inhabitants who do not consider themselves English. There is a developing movement with its own political party looking for the land between the Midlands and the Scottish border to secede from England and form a separate country. People in the Outer Isles consider themselves more Norse than Scottish; inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland retain bitter folk memories of their home being violently annexed by James VI of Scotland. Old Protestant-Catholic sectarian tensions remain present in cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Belfast and Derry.

In short, there is plenty of potential for ethnic or religious animosity between different parts of Britain and Ireland.

Destructive feelings

I do not blame the Scots or the Irish for feeling angry towards England at the moment. Brexit is the core of so many current difficulties, and it was chiefly people in England that created Brexit. But the strange idea I see developing, especially evident during the European Championships, that “Englishness” is the problem, and that “anti-Englishness” is therefore the solution, is rather missing the point, just as blaming the EU for our troubles five years ago was also missing the point.

The root is not Brexit, not Englishness, not even the Global Financial Crisis. The root of our problems is not ‘England’ as such, or indeed any nationality or ethnic culture. The root of our problems is that England has been taken over by conmen. Conmen like David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. Cameron conned the country by convincing them that the National Debt was some kind of ‘crisis,’ even though the country cannot go bankrupt. He conned the country into believing the Debt had ballooned, not through rescuing a self-crippled banking industry, but through excessive public spending. He therefore forced just enough people to accept crippling Austerity to ‘pay off’ the Debt, even though Austerity by its very nature cannot do that, that the country has not been able to throw off the policy for over ten years. The root of our problems is Austerity. That is what we should all be targeting and pushing against, not idiots with shaved heads waving the St. George’s Cross around and booing other countries’ national anthems.

It may not seem like it has been that long, but ‘the riots’ happened ten years ago next month, and they were the first backlash against needless Tory wealth-hoarding. Yes, there were crooks and criminals taking advantage of the violence, and the original trigger had been the police killing of Mark Duggan. But some of the people taking part in the riots complained of never being heard out. Many rolled their eyes at this, paradoxically demonstrating precisely the attitude the rioters complained of.

Since then, so many public services have been pared to the bone or sold off that there is very little left for the people who need them. All because, as a country, we have spent the last forty years making the futile attempt to satisfy the greed of rich people, whose appetites only grow with the eating.

As more and more people have felt abandoned, the more resentful they have grown of the perception of ‘our’ money going to other people. Hence the ill-informed animosity towards the EU, towards overseas aid, and towards refugees and asylum seekers. People feeling this way are not evil, they have simply been misdirected by the conmen to blame the wrong targets. Getting them to admit to themselves that they have been fooled is the biggest step; not an easy one when the conmen are still putting out the propaganda. The stubbornness is a destructive feeling in itself.

Reverse Austerity. All of it. Now

This is the tragedy. None of this would have happened had the Tories not chosen to take advantage of the 2008 crisis as a pretext to kill off the last remnants of the social democratic consensus of the post-war era. After Cameron’s demise in 2016, there has been repeated talk in the media about how ‘Austerity is over’ under both May and Johnson, but both times it has simply been the same policy of unashamed cuts with a change of name.

None of it has ever done any good for the economy, and that is because it was never meant to. It was meant to make it possible to restore the old inequalities of Britain’s shameful past with the minimum of resistance from those it would rob of hope.

There would have been no Brexit, no Liberal Democrat collapse, no surge in xenophobia, no resurrection of British imperialistic sentiments, no obsolete corruption of ‘Englishness,’ no new alienation of the celtic fringe, no climb in authoritarian security, no anti-democratic bans on protests, no exponential rise in homelessness, no sell-off of healthcare, no expulsion of the Windrush Generation, no abandoning hundreds of thousands to illness and even death, no crumbling state structures ill-suited to battle the pandemic… We might even have been in a better-equipped place to fight the ‘now-arrived’ horrors of climate change.

What might have been, if the support structures across British society had not been kicked away. So many people would not have needed to look for radical explanations for what was happening to them, or worse, to put their trust in radical solutions that always involved hurting people who looked or sounded ‘different’.

Do I think reversing Austerity would repair everything? Of course not. But it would relieve the terrible pressure on large parts of British society, and might just ease tensions enough that people can at least start talking to each other instead of hurling abuse at each other. Restore funding to the police, to the NHS, to local councils. Re-nationalise the utilities, the railways, Royal Mail. Give back to the people what was theirs in the first place and sold off from under them without their agreement.

Nothing can undo the harm of such an utterly botched Brexit of course. Rejoining the EU would probably be even worse than leaving, due to the likely price of rejoining being to join the single currency, which would be the true death-knell of British independence. But reversing Austerity would at least shift more of the strain of Brexit damage onto the financial shoulders most-equipped to cope with it.

But that same old problem rears its head again. Getting the Tories truly to undo Austerity requires them to say those three little words. They have to admit they have been doing the wrong thing for over eleven years. And they simply do not have that maturity. Without it, the vehicle of Britain has no brakes, and drives deeper into the darkness, still accelerating, unwilling to risk looking ahead in case it observes self-destruction in its path.

2 Responses to “Britain: A country that cannot say those Three Little Words”

  1. Lynn Dye Says:

    Great analysis, Martin. I agree with every word.


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