Politics In A Land Of Broken Dreams

Dismaland. That was the ‘holiday resort’/art installation created by Banksy in Weston-Super-Mare. It needed no explanations, no careful curation, to ensure that visitors got the message.  Dismaland is where we live.

For we are all dismal now.  From Ranty Remainers, desperate in fancy dress, to Rabid Leavers foaming at the mouth, from Northern plebs in our deindustrialised, disinvested shells of once great municipalities, to Southern metropolitans paying penthouse rents to share sub-standard hovels, unhappiness stalks the land like a manic Skeletor.  Even the wealthy and secure middle classes feel terrible discontent, as their privilege feels puny compared to the staggering wealth of the plutocrats, kleptocrats, and oligarchs now living in the London homes that were once their birthright.  As for our political leaders, who range from the robotic to the bathetic, their capacity to offer hope – not as a tone, but as a programme – seems much diminished.

To be fair to the Labour leadership, they really are trying. The last manifesto was a glorious, and effective, dog’s dinner; part nostalgia, part hard-headed retail politics.  That it didn’t result in a Labour government is an inconvenient truth, but anyone who denies that the campaign pulled a kind of, if not victory, a vindication, from what looked like being an historic defeat is really being unfair. The boy Jez done well.

But doing better by failing to address the Brexit pachyderm in the chamber does look bathetically unambitious to the point of wilful myopia.  I keep hearing loyal Corbynistas repeating, as truth, that the referendum happened, a decision was made, no point fighting it now. Corbyn himself said as much to Jon Snow on C4 News last night.  And it is not good enough.

I could go with a Brexit fudge for a little longer, if I believed it was part of a greater plan. That plan would be a version of John McDonnell’s scenario-planning for a run on the pound in the event of a radical Labour victory in the very near future.  For a victory night speech calling for a revocation of Article 50, and a resetting of the clock on Brexit would have a different kind of effect on the markets.  That might be fiendishly clever.  I can see Keir Starmer coming up with something like that. (What followed such an announcement could take many forms, but it is unlikely that Brexit would be one of them.)

The trouble is, I have no sense that this is Labour’s direction of travel.  Like much of the British public, the Labour leadership, and swathes of its too loyal membership, are dealing with Brexit by pretending it isn’t happening.

As a result, Labour is being too timid, too unambitious, too un-radical.

At present, there is a penchant in the media, and on social media, for framing politics in the UK as Tory/populist right, Vs Labour/populist left, with a gaping centrist hole.  Realign the Centre, call many siren voices.  But this is no time for ‘centrism’.  There is no centre position ‘between’ Brexit, and not-Brexit. There is no centre position between white supremacism and civil rights. This is a time not for ameliorating putative extremes, but for restating, defining, and creating programmes for action based on philosophical first principles.

Yes, Brexit is a distraction from such an important job as redefining politics (and our whole constitutional settlement)  in an age of globalisation and insecurity.  But it is also a real thing that must be fought and defeated before anything else becomes possible.

Fight Brexit as the first stage in a programme of real, long lasting, ambitious radicalism!  Dreams need not be broken.

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Mrs May’s Chicken Lasagne

The most exciting revelation in a new book about the Tories’ nightmare election campaign concerns the fact that May served her campaign team a meal, at Chequers, of chicken lasagne with boiled potatoes.  I’ve just been asked by YouGov whether I thought this sounded “delicious”, or “disgusting”.  Because at a time when people are contemplating nuclear war, climate chaos, ethnic cleansing, an airhead in the White House, and a chimp on a zip wire in command of Britain’s foreign policy, there is no subject more serious than Theresa May’s election menu.

And yet, there is something highly revealing about that scummy supper.  It is the very essence of Brexitism, which is what contemporary conservatism must now be called.  Chicken lasagne with boiled potatoes might be the Daily Mail Diet – white food for white people.  Unlike the suet pudding nostalgia of Orwell, or the boiled cabbage cut into sections hailed by T.S. Eliot, this is the food of the English today, probably available in the M&S Thames Valley Range.  The pasta signifies the ‘sophistication’ of the timid and unadventurous, the cheese sauce speaks of a desire for a comfort blanket, and the chicken (soon to be chlorinated) is the ‘diet meat’ of preference for Daily Mail ladies, bland and fat-free, at least before being coated with the cheesy slop.  As for that accompaniment – boiled potatoes – it’s the perfect, unInstagrammable food.  No vibrant green leaves, no modish beetroot, chia seeds, amaranth, none of that jungly-looking food, in which beasts might lurk unseen, to be forked into the unfortunate germophobe’s mouth.  It is the modern equivalent of the days of old where true English people would swear that they couldn’t tolerate onions (a vegetable associated with moustachioed men in Breton shirts and berets).  Chicken lasagne is Englishness in a baking dish.

For all the instant mythologising of the Brexit vote, that it was all the fault of the beer and pork scratchings classes, the real backbone of Brexitism is the insecure, less educated, older middle classes, fearful of anyone ‘below’ them, and resentful of being patronised by those ‘above’ them.  May brooded for six years (or eleven, if you count the years of Opposition) over how the posh boys looked down on the plodding vicar’s daughter.  May must have watched Cameron with seething resentment across that Cabinet table.  He just had the effortless self-assurance of his class.  He was thoughtless, indolent, had never had to work hard for anything.  Until Brexit took him down.

Brexit took him down.  Perhaps we are imputing too much clever manoeuvring to May when we observe her under-the-radar ‘Remain’ stance before the referendum?  Perhaps this is simply a matter of opportunism?  When Cameron limped away to his Cotswold shed, May seized her moment with the sharp elbows of the English middle class with a grievance.  It was no more, or less, than the revenge of the chicken lasagne people.

May owes them.  And fears them, for they know no loyalty, save to themselves.