Saturday, 24 June 2017

Britain as a Tired Global Player.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, has come under fire for calling on broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” in their Brexit coverage.
Politics is a game, despite May's attempt to pretend it isn't while acting very much so as though it is. What Leadsom is doing is trying to play a slightly UKIP line about the media not being free and dominated by a sinister liberal elite. The accusation, then from Farron, that Leadsom is 'sinister' means then, that Farron is 'sinister'.

Calling for the media to be 'a bit patriotic' implies the idea it is trying to sabotage Leaving the EU, one which might have an element of truth as many liberals are very unhappy and resentful about it and so want to balance the right wing media bias for Leave with 'a bit' of its own bias in showing May in every photo looking deranged.

'But she is deranged and evil !' squeal the detractors. The point, however, is that it's a sign of a lack of confidence in arguments and reason for the liberal media and politicians to start playing the same subtle mass media conditioning mechanisms as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or other abysmal 'newspapers'.

May is a sinister authoritarian but the trend towards that was set in motion long ago by the Blair regime and its spin machine and post-truth politics. Brexit has only given an added impetus to the potential for a melding of media and political power towards a model that exists in Putin's Russia. But it wasn't the cause of it.

Certain liberal progressives are just in a tantrum because the politics of mass manipulation and conditioning of opinion on no rational and post-truth grounds has been seized upon with greater zeal by the populist right in Britain. When New Labour was at it, it was at best mildly criticised and seen as a regrettable necessity in modern politics.

Unfortunately, liberal progressives are reaping the consequences of the post-truth politics they pursued with patronising disdain for 'the masses' in their heyday during the Blair years. The lack of public confidence in a relentlessly bland and manipulative set on 'on message' clone MPs and the Iraq War discredited them entirely.

It set the way forwards for a populist 'tell it like it is' anti-liberal establishment politicians like Nigel Farage to rise and push Brexit as a 'solution'. The Iraq War was unpopular not only with the left and liberals who suddenly discovered Blair was into manipulation and deception but also with the populist right who saw him as 'Bliar'.

The hard truth is Britain's dysfunctional political system barely works any more and it could be heading for a crisis of legitimacy as economic volatility increases. The EU is not actually in broad sunlit uplands either and this could make for a period of political turbulence and also a renewed upsurge in nationalism, not least in Britain.

'British nationalism' is a paradox as Britain is actually the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is no 'British nation' but a dynastic state that unified multiple 'nations' together under one crown from the Tudor period onwards or, from arguably, an earlier time. Even so Britain is not a nation.

The UK, however, was an imperial state in which 'Britishness' was fostered as a project of unionism and as a Great Power to which allegiance and affection could be nurtured. The closer integration with the EU, for good or ill, had tended to water this down a lot by the 1990s with Blair's devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Leave vote in the 2016 referendum shakes all this once more. As Brexit proceeds in turbulent times, any deterioration of EU-British relations could well lead to a resurgence of Britishness once more. The indications are this could have been a factor in the Tory success in the June 2017 election which saw 'indyref2' decisively rejected.

Politics has been galvanised once more by Brexit towards issues of identity and power politics as well as the prospect of polarisation between rival left and right nationalism. May's Brexit is a post-imperial one that draws on Britain's supposed Great Power role in the world whereas Corbyn's Labour wants a socialist commonweal.

Both visions are British ones, though Corbyn's is anti-nationalist in so far as it is against the idea of Britain being an imperialist state and one that turns swords into ploughshares and through a great abnegation of its power would act as a Great Power promoting true 'internationalism' by ending empire and being a force for peace in the UN.

The irony of this, as AJP Taylor once pointed out as regards CND and the peace campaigners, is that it depends on Britain retaining this status as a Global Player. It might be that if Brexit, soft or hard or however 'staged', means a turn away from Great Power status through nuclear weapons and military power, then it effectively means no global role.

Britain, in other words, under Corbyn would be better off simply permanently renouncing its status as a Global Player and becoming a nation as insignificant as Switzerland or Norway. This would imply a certain determination to break with the post-1945 US led Western order and imply the final conclusive end to Britain's imperial story.

Of course, that isn't what Corbyn is openly calling for as it certainly is not want the PLP would want with so many of it having geared their careers and status up towards strutting around as Global Players. But, as Linda Colley has made plain, it is time that the British might have to learn to let go of their sense of entitlement in the world.

While that would appear to be clear with the stalling elite Brexit populist project offered by May, it seems less the case with Corbyn's alternative Bennite vision of the socialist millennium which implies it could afford both Brexit, though a 'soft one', a social and economic programme of nationalisation and social welfare spending.

The Labour manifesto, though 'costed', depended on the economy ticking along without the cost of Brexit. If that's on the agenda, then Colley suggests Labour would really have to consider whether it could really afford Trident renewal. Corbyn was against but he puts out controversial decisions to 'collegiate' ones when they threaten his leadership.

Britain is best by two competing visions of the future, neither of which from either party is connected much to the reality of priorities or of telling the British public that if it wants Brexit, it cannot remain a Global Player and its decline to a more insignificant offshore island means getting used giving up on a lot of its influence in the world.

Many in Britain might accept this as a cost for splendid isolation'. There is barely any appetite for military interventionism or the idea of making the globe safe for democracy elsewhere. The Blair, Brown and Cameron years and the folly and waste of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya Wars have put an end to this.

Even so, the elites are loath to give up on their status through self importance and obsessive arrogance and careerism, as well as the liberal idea Britain is an internationalist force, a microcosm of multi-culti harmony and diversity that could act as a model for how the world ought to be and could be if only we willed it into existence.

The irony is that Corbyn believes this just as much as any Conservative believes in it. It's just that the Tories realise a military is needed to sit 'at the top table' and be in a position to 'intervene' to make the world 'better' for the sake of those suffering under tyrannies that impede its geopolitical interests and those of its American partner.

The only possibility this could finally be ended would be is President Trump decides to scale up the drive towards a war against Iran over geopolitical clashes in eastern Syria, a Third Lebanon War between Hizbollah and Israel and the looming diplomatic crisis over Saudi Arabia's ultimatum to Qatar over its tilt towards Tehran in the Gulf.

With Corbyn as long term anti-war politician who rose to the top by being the ultimate nemesis of Tony Blair and opponent of his wars with the US, the stage could be set for stormy political confrontation over the 'special relationship' with the US and whether it would be prepared to oppose the US over military action against Iran.

The post-1945 US led order is beginning to fragment. Trump has already shown disinterest in the EU and of NATO and any multilateral model in international power politics preferring to strike bilateral deals with independent Global Powers. This indicates a reversion to a more nineteenth century approach to Great Power politics.

These sea changes are set to be dramatic and potentially traumatic. The US remains the Global Superpower but a Brexit Britain would be globally less able to play its old role as 'bridging power' between the US and EU. At best, Britain would become Norway or more like Singapore, a rich trading state but no diplomatic weight.

Shifting away from the EU might, in reality. mean deepening the military alliance as a mini-me version of the US and that would mean even more lack of manoeuvre in opposing US wars and willingness to go along with them, not least as the US-Saudi alliance is central to the US-UK military industrial complex of which BAE is part.

All these possibilities and drawbacks, some might argue new opportunities, are there but the realities need to be confronted clearly without illusions or even delusions. This means a return to proper political arguments, debates based on facts, evidence and putting the case of alternatives before the British electorate beyond media propaganda.

Britain needs a more 'grown up' political and media culture, one that isn't based so obsessively in 'shaping the narrative' and spin. If one good thing could come out of Brexit and the rise of Corbyn's leftist populism, it is that political discussion is going to have to revert more to logical and reasoned political arguments and less choreography.

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