It’s sad that no journalist has ever had the wherewithal or courage to ask Nigel Farage what his favourite Hitler Youth anthem was, back in the halcyon days of his Hitler-worshipping adolescence. Might it have been ‘The Horst Wessel Lied’? ‘Deutschland Erwache!’? Or perhaps gut alt ‘Morgen gehört zu mir’? Maybe somebody, or indeed everybody, should phone him up between 6-7pm on 0345 60 60 973 any day of the week and ask him.
You can bet he’s whistling them all now, in a joyous medley, an overture to the realisation of his wildest fantasies. If Carole Cadwalladr is to be trusted (note to BBC: she is), he and his sugar daddy Arron Banks are cooking up a deal with their far-right ally and fellow Russian gold enthusiast Matteo Salvini (among others) to veto any extension to Article 50. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll succeed. After all, Salvini wanted all his life to get to play at being Il Nuovo Duce, and it’s only now, with the support of the single stupidest collection of stupid individuals outside the United Kingdom, that he’s finally achieved his dream. Now he’s got his sights set on being the new Napoleon, or…well, we’ll see. Even if the whole thing turns out to be bluster, the EU is not going to grant the UK an extension just so Theresa May can piss it up the wall. She’s a problem gambler, a terminal alcoholic and an insatiable powerophile who is going to keep trying and failing to force us to eat her shit sandwich of a deal until, well, round about 11pm on March 29th.
That leaves us leaving without a deal. As it happens, the notion of a sustainable “no deal” solution is a myth, a happy-ever-after fairy tale. It would result in immediate and total supplication, with the UK reduced to renegotiating on every conceivable front from a position of such weakness it would be akin to Joe Louis hoping to be awarded the 2019 Heavyweight World Title on points.
I suspect that Farage and his fellow fascist revivalists know that in the event of a crash-out Endlösung Brexit they will have to move very fast to install a regime based on hard power, with May swiftly overthrown and martial law declared amidst conditions of total social and economic collapse. At the dark heart of Conservative politics there is a sense of burning resentment that it was the Germans, not us, who got to strut around Europe in snazzy uniforms playing kill the jew. After all, as Winston Churchill proudly boasted on several occasions, it was we, not the Krauts, that actually invented concentration camps in the first place.
At least, some will say, we can put our faith in Corbyn. To his credit, Jeremy is not actually (unlike his brother*) an anti-Semite. But he is a turdworm, a species of mini-reptile I’ve just invented. First case in point: the day after the referendum, when he set his alarm for 6.15am just so he could go on live TV and call for an immediate and total absence of national reflection. Second case in point: last week, in a speech in Scotland, when he referred to Brexit as a mere “constitutional question”. Yes, Jezzers. A constitutional question. Just like Pinochet’s coup. They did institute a new constitution, although not immediately, because they first spent several years throwing everyone who thought like you out of a fucking helicopter.
Still, this impending total deadlock will hopefully concentrate minds. Excepting, that is, those who don’t actually possess a mind, or a brain, those who have brown rather than grey matter between their ears, aka the second stupidest collection of stupid individuals who have ever existed (closely followed, obviously, from the Movimento 5 Stelle): Lexiters. They’re still out there, leaping onto any passing far-right lies about WTO/GATT24/MADEUPARTICLE365 Brexits, bleating at anyone dozy enough to speak to them about Greece, kidding themselves they’re to the left of Syriza while supporting a cause even the Golden Dawn would acknowledge may have involved at least some right-wing influence.
Labour so far has completely and conveniently ignored the overwhelming evidence that the referendum was won thanks to various innovative forms of cheating. Well, perhaps it might start to maybe think about starting to possibly pay attention to that uncomfortable collection of facts round about now. Also, the People’s Vote campaign needs to set aside its call for a second pretend referendum and instead start screaming and occupying and smashing lots and lots of shit up in support of the only demand that has any actual verdammte meaning right now: REVOKE ARTICLE 50.
*I don’t really know whether Piers Corbyn officially hates Jewish people, but he makes a lot of money lying about climate change, so it’s reasonable to assume he spends a fair amount of time hanging out with the sort of people who also deny the Holocaust.
(knock on door)
Hi! Sorry to bother you. I’m sure you’ve heard there’s a general election coming up. I’m here to encourage you to vote for the Labour candidate. Which is me! Daniel Dongle, aspiring member of Parliament. Nice to meet you! Is that your dog??
Ah! Ok. It looks a bit like…but we mustn’t essentialise! Now, I see you voted for us in 2017, much appreciated! Have you thought about how you might vote this time?
Well, it depends. What’s your position on Brexit?
We think austerity is completely unnec…
But where do you stand on Brexit?
I’m sure you’ll agree that the rise in homelessness is an absolute abom…
But do you still think the UK would be better off outside the EU?
Climate Change is the biggest emergency we have ever faced as a sp…
Should we remain in the Customs Union?
We wholeheartedly oppose the rise in xenophobia around the world in the l…
What alternative do you have to the Withdrawal Agreement?
Like AOC says, we need a Green N…
Is Labour prepared to whip its MPs to support a second referendum?
Trident is a total waste of m…
Isn’t it now pretty much incumbent on whoever’s in government to revoke Article 50?
Er…we believe in a Global Br…
My girlfriend’s from Poland. Will she be able to stay here after Brexit?
Rebuilding the NHS is…
What’s your position on the Irish border situation?
As Jeremy says, valuing the contribution immigrants make to British soc…
What’s Labour’s reaction to all the revelations about illegal practices by both leave campaigns?
Secure homes for..
Are you still in favour of Britain leaving the EU, even with no withdrawal agreement in place?
Err…(triumphantly) For the many, not the few!
OH, FUCK OFF!!!
Andy Beckett (‘We exclude the Labour left from British politics at our peril‘) makes some valid points about the ‘othering’ of the Labour left, which combined with Corbyn’s haplessness at managing the party and at communicating his agenda has seemingly led Labour to the brink of self-destruction.
It’s not only left-wingers who point out that much written about Corbyn is untrue. But there’s certainly at least one sense in which Corbyn himself is insufficiently left-wing: his inability to think dialectically, as shown by his insistence last week that poverty and the climate are “more important than Brexit”. Actually those three phenomenon are inherently and intimately interlinked. In Marxist terms, there is a section of the ruling class that wants the UK out of the EU so it can escape all forms of regulation, particularly with regard to taxation and the climate. The fact that involves making most people immediately much poorer and, in the medium term, making everybody dead, is a mere and not particularly regrettable side-effect. They know that climate change is real and that austerity and Brexit are economic suicide – their mission is to take advantage of the mounting chaos in order to stamp out democracy and human rights and loot what’s left of the State. Corbyn’s role should have involved exposing and challenging the machinations that underpin this agenda, but tragically, given that in any age the dominant ideas are those that reflect ruling class interests, what dominates in many nominally left-wing fora is a disguised form of extreme conservatism which presents itself as radical, mostly taking the form of conspiracy theorising and railing against whatever scapegoats are made available by any passing troll or bot – witness the ease with which far-right ideas you to and including anti-Semitic tropes are insinuated into Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups, or drop by the Labour List website to see the extent to which arrant nonsense about a “WTO Deal” Brexit has taken hold of those who, like Italian M5S supporters cheering on Salvini, think of themselves as on the left while doing a job for the far-right. (Ecco a shining example of someone doing just that.) Partly due to the loose populism in such slogans as “For the many, not the few” and talk of “elites” and “the Establishment”, Corbyn’s supporters include many who have fallen into the same puerile ideological mentality as much of the Italian (former) left – lazy, easily manipulable populism – and he and his leadership haven’t known how (or have been insufficiently motivated) to challenge that.
That Corbyn himself is unable to recognise that austerity, climate denial and Brexit all form part of a concerted neoneoconservative assault on democracy, social provision and basic human rights, one which is – shock! Horror! – even worse than the braindead neoliberalism of the neo-Blairites suggests that neither does he have the intellectual wherewithal to respond to the myriad challenges that face him and us; while his acknowledgement that climate destruction is a class issue is welcome, his dismissal of Brexit as a mere “constitutional question” displays an idiocy which it’s hard not to conclude is wilful. What Britain needs is a local version of AOC, someone talented at articulating a modern (as in green, intersectional and digitally savvy) left-wing agenda in the face of the opprobrium such a project will inevitably face. Of course, no one can click their fingers and make such a figure magically appear, and Corbyn’s agenda has much to recommend it despite the resistance it faces and despite his apparent inability to communicate it effectively. But some on the left need to stop pretending that he’s doing a great job or that his leadership is our best and only hope.
There’s a thread on Reddit called “Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”. It was presumably started by someone from the States, given their choice of epithet. It’s certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself, what with its uncomfortable evocation of tabloids and expattery. I saw some right-wing troll (or, more probably, bot) on Twitter using the term ‘Britons’ in relation to Brexit, suggesting that his normative understanding of British identity draws on a mythical idea of pre-Roman/Norman/Windrush purity without jollof rice or vaccines.
Nonetheless, it’s a fair question. I’m a ‘Brit’, if you like, and I don’t appear to be panicking, despite the fact that in three weeks’ time there may well be troops on the streets to quell potential food riots, and all sorts of infrastructures whose existence, let alone importance, I have remained blissfully aware of all my life could collapse overnight. (The amount of unknown unknowns is, inevitably, unknowable.) If there’s a glimmer of sanity in Theresa May’s head that scenario won’t quite come to pass (yet), but if so we can be sure that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson will be doing all they can to spark an immediate civil war and (in Farage’s case) will be given plentiful access to the airwaves to do so.
Philip K. Dick wrote that sometimes it is an appropriate response to reality to go insane, and this would appear to be an opportune moment to do so, except for the fact that people all around the world are very noticeably not panicking about rapidly rising temperatures or the return of the far-right to power in some of the world’s most powerful countries, which might give us pause to think: how do we “panic” if no one else seems to be doing so? Perhaps I am panicking without quite being aware of it. After all, we already have food stored under the bed and precautionary plane tickets booked for the end of the month. And yet, in the meantime, we still need to eat, sleep, see friends, take the baby to the park, go to work; there are Michael Jackson documentaries to watch, and subsequent arguments to pursue online with people who (mystifyingly) refuse to accept the facts; there are articles to read which reflect intelligently on how we should react to the final evidence of Jackson’s corruption: should we continue to play his music? Write it and him out of history? And yet, it’s been a central element in our shared emotional life. More, one might even say, then the European Union…
So what’s a reasonable reaction to news that shakes the ground on which one stands? It may be rational to panic, to scream and run away, but where do we run to? It is, in the words of this article, “easier not to believe” such terrifying truths, especially when, away from social media, so few people seem to be even slightly perturbed by what’s happening. Maybe our sense of how to behave is akin to how we construct our identities: in the words of the sociologist Charles Cooley, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am”. The reason that British people are not panicking is partly that other British people are not panicking. After all, not panicking is what we’ve all been doing on a wider scale in relation to even more terrifying news about our climate.
No amount of frozen metaphors about frogs in boiling water or memes of dogs in burning rooms can begin to do justice to our failure to respond adequately to collective existential threats. Michel Foucault talked about how power operates through a shifting process of normalisation, where even the most radical changes to our daily lives can be incorporated into our picture of the world, while Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of habitus, according to which it’s practically impossible for us to think beyond the parameters of our working assumptions about our lives and our reality. Not only do we live in an environment saturated with reassuring messages about the future, we live, speak and breathe those messages, reproducing them in our thoughts, posts, conversations and actions. We see adverts for events that take place in April, May and beyond, myriad timescales which take no notice of March 29th, market imperatives that must supercede whatever happens in news headlines, just as everyday life and consumption has so far managed to outlive any number of terrorist atrocities or climate catastrophes in cities we visited just a few weeks or months before and just as the global market was able to incorporate the election of Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini with nary a blink. When we were considering what to do at the end of March and trying to make plans for the following month, I made the following suggestion: Imagine we know there’s going to be a hurricane or a flood, one whole scale we can’t predict until just before it happens. But perhaps a better analogy, given that Brexit is first and foremost an ideological project, is a terrorist attack way beyond anything Isis could dream up; given the nature of such attacks, we don’t know whether it will hit the particular station or square we happen to be passing through, but it won’t stop us travelling or holidaying or going to work or shopping – although actually, you might want to strike that last one off the list, and the first and second come to think of it. As for our jobs… Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that the greatest strength and weakness of human beings is that we can adapt to any set of circumstances; post-modern society thrives on disruption, according to any number of Ted Talks. The statement that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has been attributed to everyone from Frederic Jameson to Slavoj Žižek to (I seem to recall) Peter Andre. In such a setting it’s impossible to overcome the sensation that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in ‘Against the Day’, “there will always be time”.
But perhaps, in the end, Brexit is not the cause of the (apparent absence of) panic, but rather its consequence. Maybe panic is setting in at the level of politics, and that’s what Brexit, much like Trump, Salvini et al, is an effect of. Maybe for many people the notion that their decision has somehow had an impact on world events serves to assuage the sense of doom and helplessness they feel in their daily lives.
In the meantime, then: Michael Jackson. I’m writing this in an airport. All around me people are going on with their lives: chatting, sipping coffee, unfolding pushchairs, tapping out sanctimonious diatribes about other people’s complacency on their devices. It’s soundtracked at this moment by some Motown classic which might be called ‘I believe you’. If I sit here long enough I’m sure to hear one of the totems of our culture: maybe ‘ABC’, ‘Rock with you’ (one of my personal favourites) or maybe (possibly, apart from the pedophilia, his nadir) ‘They don’t really care about us’. On the way into the terminal I saw a young woman wearing the same jacket Melania Trump when she went to sneer at terrified children ripped away fron their parents: ‘I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO YOU?’. I briefly thought about remonstrating with her, but didn’t want to create a scene. Which raises the question: how does one show that one cares? And related to that: what does it mean to panic? Maybe initiatives such as this and this can help us to, to borrow a phrase, take back control of our fears and frustrations in a way that’s doesn’t involve lashing out at conveniently-placed scapegoats.
Update: Someone on Reddit responded to this piece by accusing its writer (me) of being ‘ill-informed’, ‘stupid’ and ‘apathetic’. Here is another version written especially for him:
Having posted to his blog yet another diatribe about how Other People’s inertia, apathy, laziness, complacency, cowardice, greed, ignorance and selfishness were responsible for austerity, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Climate Change and so on, and how it was not just incumbent upon Other People but actually pressing, urgent (and some or other synonym for those previous two words) for those aforesaid Other People to take action up to and including risking their personal relationships, livelihoods, freedom and physical safety to stop, overthrow and/or prevent those things, there really was no higher priority for Other People than that as it was a matter not just of principle but also of survival, so basically why weren’t Other People panicking or revolting, what was wrong with those Other People, like were they all fucking stupid or mad or evil or something like that, having typed all that, chosen a fitting image, selected some appropriate tags and clicked Upload, he caught the train to St. Albans, took a wander round the local gallery/museum and perused the street market, stopped for lunch in a pleasant café before visiting the cathedral and graffiting the words ‘YES, WE ARE ALL TO SOME EXTENT APATHETIC AND COMPLACENT IN THE FACE OF SUCH TERRIFYING THREATS AND HORRIFYING REVELATIONS, WE TEND TO DENY OUR OWN ROLE IN QUIETLY ALLOWING ABUSE TO BE PERPETRATED, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT’ on the walls of the 13th century crypt, and then catching the train back to London to spend the rest of the day reading a book about climate change denial, eating the remains of the curry he and his wife had ordered off Just Eat the previous evening and watching the rest of the Michael Jackson documentary.
Here’s the thing: if you still want Brexit, you support May’s deal. If you don’t like her deal, you don’t support Brexit. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what fantasy Brexit exists in your own personal head. It’s not important whether you prefer a Norway-style, Singapore-style or Narnia-style Brexit, because such options are not on or near the table, in fact at this point there are no more negotiations (she’s lying to you about that) so there is no table; there’s no furniture in the room at all except a toilet, and in the bowl of that toilet is a particularly unpleasant turd, and if you voted for Brexit that is your turd, produced after very great strain, it’s true, but at least it’s finally out and we can all peer inside and behold what you’ve achieved: a messy, bloody, stinking turd. You know, probably the best thing to do at this point is for the whole thing to be flushed away and forgotten. Is that what you’d like? Or would you rather smash the whole sewage system to pieces so that from now on we will all live in the midst of our own effluence as if the whole process of human civilisation had been nothing but a bizzare hallucination? It’s an inviting proposition but I think, given the choice, I and many others would prefer not to.
Put another way: when May became Prime Minister she uttered the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’. A gnomic statement, as many commented, but now we know what she meant. She got to define Brexit. The fact that she is PM of a Government dedicated to implementing your decision means she is your Prime Minister, her Government is your Government, her negotiations are your negotiations and yes, her Brexit is your Brexit. So: if you don’t support May’s deal, you don’t support Brexit.
So here’s a modest proposal: we obviously can’t just leave it lying there, so let’s just flush it away for once and for all. Unless, that is, you’d prefer to scoop it out with your hands and find some of other way to dispose it of. Maybe you’d like to…eat it?
It’s well worth reading this piece by ‘Otto English’, which argues that, depressing as it may be, Brexit offers an opportunity for national renewal. I follow the writer on Twitter and he’s consistently astute and entertaining, but I think he falls prey to a very easy illusion, as I explain in the comment reproduced below:
This is entertaining but misconceived, falling prey to the same illusion that fires up both Brexiters and (ahem) ‘Lexiters’. The discourse of national decay/decline and impending renewal is a dangerous one in itself – it posits the existence of a body politic on a national scale and thus gives succour to any currently available nationalist project which seeks to rouse it. The writer may believe that the FTTP system is the culprit for the national malaise – others will insist it’s Muslims, the EU, or a lack of faith in this national project. As for “Once we are no longer entwined with our neighbours, who will they have to blame for NHS waiting lists, the housing crisis, queues on the motorways, foreign criminals and straight bananas?”, the EU will still be a readily available scapegoat, as will Muslims, foreigners, immigrants, or any other individual or group held up as a threat to the cause of national revival.
Generations of ultraleftists have in their desperation turned to the comforting illusion that the masses, once reduced to a level of piteous degradation, would wake up to their plight and, as it were, take back control. Unfortunately one dominant narrative right now is that that is what they’ve done. It’s tempting to pretend that this dismal crisis represents a golden opportunity. Of course, some of “us” will benefit. On the whole, most will suffer enormously, particularly those who have made their lives here but have supposedly been rejected by this national organism. Perhaps thinking in terms of “our nation” is a turning away from the responsibility to think through why this happened and how those who value solidarity above sovereignty can defend what is most valuable and think beyond national borders and national origins. Not engaging in vainglorious rhetoric about “our nation” and “our reputation” is a good starting point.
As it happens I do believe that our voting system is not, as that horrible bit of neoliberal verbiage has it, “fit for purpose” (vomits). However, it’s not going to be changed any time soon (thanks, Clegg); if it were to be replaced overnight, then in the current climate any number of neo-Farages would storm the polls, as we saw at the last EU elections and may well see at the next ones, should they take place (should they?). In the meantime, far-right parties throughout Europe and beyond take their energy from a depressingly familiar discourse of polishing up the national sceptre, refurbishing the national throne, weeding the national garden to get rid of decadent and unpatriotic sentiment and behaviour, etc etc. Over the next few months they will be seeking to apply their pseudo-Spenglerian diagnosis to the whole of Europe, and then, as they see it, donning the surgical gloves to excise the tumour that threatens our civilisation.
Similarly, this last decade in the UK has shown once again that the doctrine of necessary suffering for the sake of national recovery is a gruesomely dishonest one. The continuation of that project of decimating democracy at every level is, as it happens, about to take on a renewed vigour. If you’re looking for less problematic metaphors in the attempt to find consolation in the current conjuncture, I suppose you could say that at least the dark clouds of Brexit are less depressing in their implications than the warm bright sunshine of a couple of weeks ago…but even that’s only true in a (partly) literal sense. Especially now we know that the Mediterranean diet will soon be no more and that the oceans are burning. No amount of renewed national fervour, however progressive or enlightened, is going to solve that, and as for The Independent Group representing “just the start” of the “revolution”, Mr English might like to look at Anna Soubry’s voting record. She may share his desire for national revival, but she’s consistently taken a stand against human survival.
Ian Dunt makes the following prediction about Theresa May:
“She is going to ask for a short (one-off) extension – probably a couple of months – then refuse to take part in the European elections. July 1st then becomes the cliff-edge-which-cannot-be-moved.”
He goes on to argue that our only hope of staving off a cliff-edge Brexit is to demand that our MPs insist on the UK’s participation in May’s (as in, the month’s) elections. However, the EU is unlikely to accede. As one of the EU negotiators said, they don’t want another 75 Farages turning up. They’re already going to be swamped by Salvinis, Le Pens, AFDs, Voxes and all the rest.
If there were EU elections in the UK, Remainers would have to swarm the polling stations, but who would we even vote for, in the face of a (presumably) concerted, and well-funded, and typically manipulative effort on the part of UKIP, Farage’s grouposcule and extremist Tories? It’s tempting to think that no-deal supporting Leavers would be too dozy to turn out in huge numbers, but it’s not a given, and in any case it probably ain’t gonna happen.
At some point, with a one-off extension in place and no time left to hold a second referendum, the notion of a people’s vote will lose its rationale. Then we will, as Dunt says, be totally at the mercy of May and her psychotic devotion to her deal. This is and has been for a while a hostage situation, with a no deal exit her suicide belt.
I think it’s fair to say that at this point most people want Brexit to be over and done with, whatever that may mean. A mixture of that with the general ignorance/denial of what no deal entails partly explains why Rees-Mogg et al are still given credence. Thus, the People’s Vote campaign, Another Europe is Possible, and all the other pressure groups need to change tack and start demanding the revoking of Article 50. This needs to be backed up by massive demonstrations of civil disobedience after the exemplary fashion of the Extension Rebellion protests, along with properly funded and designed publicity campaigns pushing the message that Brexit has been tried and (thanks to the incompetence of the Tories in Government and the dishonesty and malice of those outside who never had a plan for it to succeed) failed.
A reversal of the decision was what many of us called for in the immediate wake of the vote, which just had the effect of hardening the resolve of Brexit voters; it’s now almost three years later and the only available form of Brexit is universally unpopular – despite what Labour said yesterday in its futile and dishonest pursuit of a fairy tale outcome, May’s deal is the only ‘credible leave option’. Meanwhile, the economy is already falling to pieces, the climate crisis emergency breakdown collapse is proving to be even more of an urgent priority than appeasing Nigel Farage, and pretty much everyone is exhausted at the very mention of the B word.
Of course, it will be a huge struggle to get the Labour leadership on board, given that they’ve only just grudgingly accepted the intractability of the situation, but at this point, or at least very soon, we will collectively reach a point of general recognition of the futility of the whole exercise. This is why the message ‘Brexit has failed’, with fingers clearly pointed at those who told us the whole process would be easy as (Woolton) pie, is our only chance of preventing Rees-Mogg et al from doing what they intended to do all along, ie use this as a pretext for seizing power on behalf of a version of Conservativism so bigoted, repressive and elitist its difference from fascism is sort of moot.
All my endeavour in maintaining this blog has finally been rewarded: I have been asked to write a speech for the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Eccolo:
“Ok, so, Brexit. Yes. I’ve got something to say about leaving the EU. It shouldn’t take long.
On June 24th 2016 I totally fucked up. I called for the immediate implementation of Article 50. However, at that point in time, there had been no meaningful and honest debate about what leaving the EU would mean, something that became abundantly clear when Theresa May came to power and declared, with impeccable inanity, ‘Brexit means Brexit’. What I should have called for is a period of reflection and a widespread national debate about what sort of country we wanted a post-EU Britain to be.
Such a national dialogue has never taken place. Instead, the negotiations took place in the same atmosphere of empty, mendacious sloganeering and hateful rhetoric that had characterised the campaign. We also discovered that the Leave campaigns had engaged in practices which were clearly in contravention of basic democratic standards. Unfortunately my words in the wake of the vote meant that the Labour Party was hamstrung when it came to intervening, even when it became clear that the incompetence of the Conservative Government would only produce the very worst of deals and could potentially leave the country at the brink of economic, social and political collapse, much as certain key figures involved in the Leave campaigns wanted all along. I’ve pandered to what I must now confess is a totally misconceived notion that a ‘Labour Brexit’ was, with a Tory government firmly entrenched in power, anything other than a pie-in-the-sky castles-in-the-air somewhere-over-the-rainbow wank fantasy pipe dream.
Look, it’s not even the end of February and it’s 18°C outside. The Good Friday Peace Agreement is at serious risk of being torn into tiny pieces. The number of people without a roof over their heads has gone through the fucking roof, and with international companies dumping their staff and heading for the airport quicker than any internet moron can type the words ‘itsnotaboutbrexit’, we’ll all be jobless by the end of March, if we haven’t all burnt to a fucking crisp by then. The party of opposition is falling to pieces, mainly because I decided, wrongly, that appeasement was a sensible response to what was basically a spillover from the Tories’ internal warmongering. But like it or not, Britain, there are bigger priorities right now beyond fulfilling the hate-fuelled ambitions of the teenage Nigel Farage. Whatever the slogan ‘Take back control’ meant, it clearly wasn’t this.
As I say, I fucked up the day after the vote and it’s about time I accepted responsibility for that rather than making the entire country pay for my hadn’t-actually-quite-sobered-up-yet impetuousness. Some of you aren’t gonna like me saying this – particularly Owen Jones – but we’ve tried Brexit, and partly thanks to me and partly thanks to the fact that those who orchestrated it never really intended it to work, it’s failed. We cannot let the country fall into the hands of a bunch of racist shitheads, plastic aristocrats, climate liars and disaster capitalists. So (clears throat) I call for the immediate revocation, revoking, revocal or whatever of Article 50 and a subsequent period of national reflection, followed, possibly, by another referendum when things have calmed down a bit, although given what a farce this’s been that’s soon gonna seem like a heroically shit idea. The only fair second vote would be May’s dogshit deal up against no Brexit ever, ever, ever and prolonged violent televised death for all those who suggested it in the first (fucking) place. As for my own immediate plans, I shall be spending the rest of the day in a deckchair at my allotment trying very, very hard not to think about climate change and ignoring all calls from journalists and from my brother, who I would like to take this opportunity to publicly disown on the basis that he’s an absolute fucking nutcase. That is all.”
I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, where dozens of people are lazing around in the warm late February sunshine.
No, that doesn’t work.
I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth II Congress Hall, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring warm rays of warmth from the warm late February warm sun.
I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really late February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.
Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February heat actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.
There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of life is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words, is the same. We don’t believe them.
In his book ‘Exterminate all the brutes’ Sven Lindqvist’ wrote about the roots of the Nazi genocide in European colonialism. He ended it with the words: “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put both his freedom and his livelihood as a teacher at risk.
Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to, well, melt. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities. Whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.
What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and (by implication) behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to Anna Campbell, the young local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG*. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize 2017 show to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.
If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.
But then, it would be wrong to attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on weasel words like ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the subject when it does come up. My project for the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.
I walk in the door to the sound of an extremely high-pitched and insistent sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I only managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place with substantial difficulty. Later, when the Grenfell Fire happened and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.
Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.
The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently transpires that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm back into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers (DICO! DIIIICO!!!) that I promised we could have a Friday nite pre-pizza disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.
*It would be wrong not to acknowledge that while Anna Campbell gave her life in the fight against Isis, Shamima Begum and her friends must have felt very deep down that they were doing the right thing in going to fight for Isis. That Begum still felt that way despite witnessing how horrendously her new friends regarded and treated her fellow women is not a point in her favour.