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"Then frightful a nightfall ...
29 May, 2019

... folded rueful a day’"

Charles Parselle opens with a quotation from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem about a shipwreck as he surveys the political scene. Farage as pied piper of fantasy beguiling the Conservative leadership hopefuls, Corbyn triangulating indecisively. We have to hope that after all the centre can hold - the elections are a good sign. Our correspondent calls on the Remain parties to form a common front against the extremes.

 

Theresa May announced her resignation on 24 May and was promptly damned with faint praise as Tory politicians filled the airwaves with faux tears for the departing Prime Minister. She alone wept real tears but they were tears for herself. The opinion writers have been unsparing: “She decommissioned the truth;” “She doesn’t really do human.” Unwept, unhonoured and unsung will be history’s more mature assessment of a politician who failed abjectly in the task she assumed office to accomplish, her tenure littered with disastrous decisions. Though a Remain campaigner as Home Secretary, as Prime Minister she ceaselessly proclaimed her intention to deliver Brexit “for the people,” yet never including the 48% Remainers in her idea of "the people". Even had she never become P.M. she would have left a toxic legacy as a Home Secretary who treated immigrants with indifferent cruelty. Yet we will live to regret her departure and wish we had hung on to nurse, for we will soon be finding something worse, much worse.

Worse will be any of her likely successors. The role model for the Tory party is now, gut-wrenchingly, the naked emperor himself, Nigel Farage; Ni-Gel as his adorers call him, gunk for the hair. Farage is very much today’s politician of the kind increasingly favoured in countries embracing nationalism/populism – Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, the Peace and Freedom party in Poland, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, Maduro in Venezuela and others, some of which inclining in the direction of fascism.

Farage will never be Prime Minister; he is a bell-weather, a pied piper of fantasy. Yet by reason of the election results, Farage is now the de facto model for all the Tory leadership hopefuls, though only one of them is similar enough to Farage to make it seem likely. It is clear that if Boris Johnson makes it to the ‘finals’ in the Tory parliamentary leadership contest, he will then be clear favourite to be elected by the Tory membership, because he is their darling just as Farage is the darling of his Brexit party. The Tory party membership is a mere 124,000 people, empowered to choose the nation’s next leader solely because they have been willing to pay the monthly membership dues of £2.09. The Tories are now sucked ever closer towards Farage’s lobster pot, forced to adopt much of his rhetoric. They cannot pivot left because their elderly membership will not allow it, and partly because that space is now occupied by Liberals and Greens.

For Change UK, the election may well prove their epitaph; everything happened too soon for them, before the public even had time to assimilate their existence. They demonstrated political courage though rather less political savvy. Even so, failure comes with lessons, and these gutsy politicians may yet have much to contribute.

Tory meltdown should be Labour triumph, but Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has ‘triangulated’ itself into a knot and looks merely indecisive. Its potential gains have gone to the Liberal Democrats and the Green party. Labour continues its long internal civil war between those still devoted to outdated 19thcentury political prophets, and its normal politicians who could otherwise offer a workable alternative to the austerity hardships imposed by the Tories for so many years. The country’s inequalities continue to fester, and a recent book demonstrates how half the country is owned by 1% of the population.  (Who Owns Britain, Guy Shrubsole, 2019)

The nationalist/populist poison is a mixture of fantasies - of escape, betrayal, victimization, of return to earlier happier times. ‘The worst are full of passionate intensity,’ and Ni-Gel proves the poet right. Clearly personalities matter, because Farage’s old party, UKIP under new management, has been ignored into extinction by electors. Populists over-promise and under-deliver; they talk a good game but deliver blood, toil, tears and sweat, though not in a good, Churchillian way. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a Churchill in today’s Tory party.

Nationalist poison is a worldwide trend, which confirms the accuracy of Bruno Latour’s insight: ‘…we can understand nothing about the politics of the last 50 years if we do not put the question of climate change and its denial front and centre…’ Down to Earth (2018) Though there is no way to prove Latour’s hypothesis, it is certain that climate scientists have been warning us about climate crisis for at least forty years. Whether or not our fractured politics are indeed responding to the dangers posed by global warming, it is heart warming to see schoolchildren regularly demonstrating in Parliament Square. It is heart wrenching to realize that they are doing what their elders have failed to do. The nationalist/populist response to the threat has been to retreat into regional defensiveness and external antagonisms, with policies that amount to denial, denial and more denial.

For Remainers, the attitudes of acceptance, engagement and mutual problem-solving are the only attitudes that make any sense if we are to pass on to our grandchildren a world no worse and preferably much better. Fortunately, the nationalist/populist vote did not do as well in the MEP elections as many had feared. The middle ground has held reasonably firm. That middle ground is fragmented in the UK between Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK, as well as the regional parties. Surely these centrist parties will now see the wisdom of combining their forces and policies, to present a common front against the extremes now (incredibly) represented by the Labour and Conservative parties. Remain continues to hold the keys to success.  

 

 

The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.