dc:creator=o'toolefintan   7

It was never about Europe. Brexit is Britain’s reckoning with itself | Fintan O’Toole | Opinion | The Guardian
Paradoxically, this drama of departure has really served only to displace a crisis of belonging. Brexit plays out a conflict between Them and Us, but it is surely obvious after this week that the problem is not with Them on the continent. It’s with the British Us, the unravelling of an imagined community. The visible collapse of the Westminster polity this week may be a result of Brexit, but Brexit itself is the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order over recent decades.
UK  EU  Brexit  identity  nationalism  nationalIdentity  England  GoodFridayAgreement  indyref  Scotland  welfareState  democracy  politics  dctagged  dc:creator=O'TooleFintan 
january 2019 by petej
How Brexit Broke Up Britain | by Fintan O’Toole | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
Another word for “control” is “regulation.” The fundamental appeal of Brexit is that the British have had too much regulation imposed from Brussels and desire in the future to regulate themselves. Thus the British will control their own environmental safeguards, their own food safety, their own labor standards, their own laws on competition and monopolies. The EU does indeed do many of these things and there is a perfectly coherent argument to be made that the British state should do them instead. It is a safe bet that this is what most people who voted for Brexit want and expect.

But that’s not actually what Brexit is about. The real agenda of the Hard Brexiteers is not, in this sense, about taking back control; it is about letting go of control. For people like Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, the dream is not of a change in which regulation happens, but of a completion of the deregulating neoliberal project set in motion by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The Brexit fantasy is of an “open” and “global” Britain, unshackled from EU regulation, that can lower its environmental, health, and labor standards and unleash a new golden age of buccaneering hyper-capitalism. Again, this is a perfectly coherent (if repellent) agenda. But it is not what most of those who voted for Brexit think it is supposed to be. And this gap makes it impossible to say what “the British” want—they want contradictory things.

The second question is who is supposed to be taking control: Who, in other words, are “the people” to whom power is supposedly being returned? Here we find the other thing that dare not speak its name: English nationalism. Brexit is in part a response to a development that has been underway since the turn of the century. In reaction to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 that created a new political space in Northern Ireland and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 that did the same for another part of the UK, there has been a rapid change in the way English people see their national identity. Increasingly, they are not British, but English. This resurgent identity has not been explicitly articulated by any mainstream party and surveys have shown a growing sense of English alienation from the center of London government in Westminster and Whitehall. Brexit, which is overwhelming an English phenomenon, is in part an expression of this frustration. In Anthony Barnett’s blunt and pithy phrase from his 2017 book The Lure of Greatness: England’s Brexit and America’s Trump, “Unable to exit Britain, the English did the next-best thing and told the EU to fuck off.”

There is stark and overwhelming evidence that the English people who voted for Brexit do not, on the whole, care about the United Kingdom and in particular do not care about that part of it called Northern Ireland. When asked in the recent “Future of England” survey whether “the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland” is a “price worth paying” for Brexit that allows them to “take back control,” fully 83 percent of Leave voters and 73 percent of Conservative voters in England agree that it is. This is not, surely, mere mindless cruelty; it expresses a deep belief that Northern Ireland is not “us,” that what happens “over there” is not “our” responsibility. Equally, in the Channel 4 survey, asked how they would feel if “Brexit leads to Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic of Ireland,” 61 percent of Leave voters said they would be “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned.”
UK  EU  Brexit  withdrawalAgreement  customsUnion  MayTheresa  ToryParty  CorbynJeremy  LabourParty  opposition  ThornberryEmily  StarmerKeir  referendum  regulation  deregulation  control  neoliberalism  hardBrexit  England  nationalism  NorthernIreland  dctagged  dc:creator=O'TooleFintan 
november 2018 by petej
Britain: The End of a Fantasy | by Fintan O’Toole | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
There were three problems. Firstly, May demanded her enormous majority so that she could ride out into the Brexit battle without having to worry about mutterings in the ranks behind her. But she has no clue what the battle is supposed to be for. Because May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. She’s a terrible actor mouthing a script in which there is no plot and no credible ending that is not an anti-climax. Brexit is a back-of-the-envelope proposition. Strip away the post-imperial make-believe and the Little England nostalgia, and there’s almost nothing there, no clear sense of how a middling European country with little native industry can hope to thrive by cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner and most important political alliance.

May demanded a mandate to negotiate—but negotiate what exactly? She literally could not say. All she could articulate were two slogans: “Brexit means Brexit” and “No deal is better than a bad deal.” The first collapses ideology into tautology. The second is a patent absurdity: with “no deal” there is no trade, the planes won’t fly and all the supply chains snap. To win an election, you need a convincing narrative but May herself doesn’t know what the Brexit story is.

Secondly, if you’re going to try the uno duce, una voce trick, you need a charismatic leader with a strong voice. The Tories tried to build a personality cult around a woman who doesn’t have much of a personality. May is a common or garden Home Counties conservative politician. Her stock in trade is prudence, caution, and stubbornness. The vicar’s daughter was woefully miscast as the Robespierre of the Brexit revolution, the embodiment of the British popular will sending saboteurs to the guillotine. She is awkward, wooden, and, as it turned out, prone to panic and indecision under pressure.

But to be fair to May, her wavering embodied a much deeper set of contradictions. Those words she repeated so robotically, “strong and stable,” would ring just as hollow in the mouth of any other Conservative politician. This is a party that has plunged its country into an existential crisis because it was too weak to stand up to a minority of nationalist zealots and tabloid press barons. It is as strong as a jellyfish and as stable as a flea.

Thirdly, the idea of a single British people united by the Brexit vote is ludicrous. Not only do Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London have large anti-Brexit majorities, but many of those who did vote for Brexit are deeply unhappy about the effects of the Conservative government’s austerity policies on healthcare, education, and other public services. (One of these services is policing, and May’s direct responsibility for a reduction in police numbers neutralized any potential swing toward the Conservatives as a result of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.)

This unrest found a voice in Corbyn’s unabashedly left-wing Labour manifesto, with its clear promises to end austerity and fund better public services by taxing corporations and the very wealthy. May’s appeal to “the people” as a mystic entity came up against Corbyn’s appeal to real people in their daily lives, longing not for a date with national destiny but for a good school, a functioning National Health Service, and decent public transport. Phony populism came up against a more genuine brand of anti-establishment radicalism that convinced the young and the marginalized that they had something to come out and vote for.
UK  politics  generalElection  ge2017  Brexit  populism  UKIP  nationalism  tabloids  TheRight  appeasement  MayTheresa  ToryParty  LabourParty  CorbynJeremy  austerity  dctagged  dc:creator=O'TooleFintan  Corbynism 
june 2017 by petej

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