Does nostalgia for the slave trade lie behind Brexit?


This essay, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a masterpiece. He argues that Trump’s white supremacy is not a tumour on the body politic, one that can be simply excised, but something that feeds on the roots of the USA, a society build on stolen land by forced labour. Trump’s victory drew its strength from far beneath the soil, tapping into seams of ancestral resentment from whites conditioned to think they’d been usurped. It was nourished with the blood of generations of whipped and beaten slaves.

The essay set me thinking about how its thesis relates to the UK. Clearly, we could have seen Brexit coming – Sunderland shouldn’t have come as such a shock. It was similarly fuelled by buried resentments which exploded like fracked flames bursting out of suburban kitchen taps. Just as the civil rights movement in the US didn’t uproot racism, the appeal to deeply-buried imperial nostalgia was – as many have explored – central to the Brexit victory. It drew on melancholy and resentment from the loss of status that the end of empire occasioned. There is plentiful evidence of this, from the Tory MP tweeting how many Olympic medals the ‘Empire’ won, to Ukip’s rhetoric of ‘Bongobongoland’, to the woman on the Croydon tram bemoaning ‘my Britain’s fuck all now’, to those who suggest that the Commonwealth will be a more than adequate replacement for the EU, to the Whitehall officials who talk openly about “Empire 2.0”.

While it’s axiomatic that saudade for the symbols and status of empire played a role in Brexit, what about the slave trade which served as its centrepiece? Although there were slaves in Britain, few white British people actually brandished whips. Unlike the US, the empire was not built on the direct use of stolen labour to develop land, but on the wealth which came from slave-trading. White people in Britain gained in status from the slave trade, much like slave labour enabled American whites to feel that they weren’t at the bottom of the pile. The roots of Britain’s economic development lies in the imposition of an ideology of white supremacy. Napoleon Bonaparte, when explaining his remark about the British being a nation of shopkeepers, allegedly commented:

I meant that you were a nation of merchants, and that all your great riches, and your grand resources arose from commerce…What else constitutes the riches of England. It is not extent of territory, or a numerous population. It is not mines of gold, silver, or diamonds. 

That commerce was in black people and the labour they embodied; Britain led the world in buying and selling human beings. When pro-Brexit politicians such as Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell fantasise about Britain once again dominating the high seas of commerce far beyond European shores, the wind that boosts their sails blows from centuries of race-based atrocity. The ships that they pine for carried hundreds of thousands of black lives treated as nothing but expendable merchandise. It’s no accident that the Daily Mail’s peculiar agenda encompasses both deep distaste for foreigners and intense fury at any threat to the value of property. Perhaps, deep in the collective imagination of the British, our homes carry much the same value as holdfulls of slaves did in the past. When the effect of Brexit on house prices becomes clear, we know who such newspapers will blame: those foreigners who no longer submit to the imperial yoke.

Not being a historian, I’m certainly not the person to write such an account. Coates spent two years researching another of his celebrated essays; I’m trying to get this written and posted in time for lunch. It’s also possible that someone is already investigating this theme – or rather, given the vastness of the topic, that several PhD theses are being written at this very moment. (At least one satirist has reached the same conclusion.) A central character in any such a narrative is, of course, Boris Johnson, with his undisguised and unapologetic nostalgia for Empire. His list of things that post-EU Britain can sell to the world was missing the one item that we grew rich on, and it certainly wasn’t cupcakes.

The horizons of those who dream that Britain can blithely abandon Europe lie in the past. This does not mean that those who voted to leave the EU were consciously motivated by longing for the return of the slave trade, nor that the Foreign Secretary is keen to literally bring back slavery, but on reflection, the fact that successive generations, including my own, were brought up to boast in song that ‘Britons never shall be slaves’ is a clue to the ‘role’ that unashamed (and economically illiterate) imperialists foresee for the country’s future.

Brexit Shorts: A must-see for anyone interested in why the UK voted to leave

Brexit dynamited the edifice of British political life, and as a result some parts of the building are still unsafe to enter. For that reason, Jeremy Corbyn is wise (as Tae Hoon Kim argued) to steer clear of the issue for the time being and to allow the monster that the Tories created to tear them apart. 

Does that mean we as a nation should ignore the whole thing, pretend it never happened? While it’s hard to see how John Harris’ laudable call for open and honest dialogue with those who voted to leave can take place within the walls of conventional political debate, there are other fora which enable us to try to understand what circumstances lay behind the explosion. One such forum is art, ‘the lie that tells the truth’, and specifically drama. 

We should be grateful to The Guardian for providing us (in the form of ‘Brexit Shorts‘) with nine eloquent if sometimes excoriating explanations of the causes of the vote. They remind us that few of those who voted Leave did so out of myopic xenophobia. Many did so because they were living in a different country to the rest of us. To dismiss them as reactionary dullards is to refuse to acknowledge that the prosperous Britain we felt we lived in, a place where most people enjoy a reasonable standard of living and the prospect of a bright future, was not by any means the universal experience. 

Significantly for my own position on all this, I was not in the UK at the time of the vote, but in Thailand, enjoying a very relaxing couple of months while my wife did a course at the university. Previously we’d spent a fabulous year in Mexico City, living in a very pleasant part of town taking full advantage of all the opportunites that our suddenly enhanced economic status afforded us. My working life consisted of flying to other cities, staying in nice hotels, interviewing a handful of local people and then going to nice restaurants. After a while, such experience of unwarranted privilege gets under your skin, begins to seem natural. If you think of the effect of several centuries of automatic entitlement, the arrogance of people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, who were secure in the knowledge that whatever happened to the UK economy as a result of the vote, their privileges were guaranteed, becomes more understandable. Although I would never have admitted it to myself a year or so ago, my fear about the possible loss of the fruits of my own good fortune partly fuelled my fury at the result.

Watching the videos I was reminded of the days of the London riots of 2011. I had a colleague who, sneering at the young people on the streets, rhetorically demanded to know why they couldn’t just follow his example. When I pointed out that his example consisted of going to a good school in a well-off area followed by a publicly-funded university which he had paid nothing in fees, he responded as though, well, as though I’d challenged his automatic sense of entitlement. More recently, a discussion with Nick Currie aka Momus about the motivations of Brexit voters ended up in Norman Tebbit territory: if there are no opportunities where they are, they should all just move. Although I feel distinctly chippy pointing it out, it’s not quite irrelevant that Momus went to a private school and then a public university on a full grant. It’s not possible to talk about such things as Brexit without reference to class, that great taboo in British life, and that does mean being honest about our own privileges.

The dramas presented in the Brexit Shorts series all, thankfully, take a more considered and searching approach than just dismissing Brexit voters as lacking in ambition, empathy and geographical imagination. It also explains to those who voted for Brexit the grief and fear that the decision engendered in other people whose lives could in no terms be described as privileged. I found watching them both enlightening and therepeutic. Anyone who is even remotely interested in how the Brexit vote happened and what sort of country Britain is as a result should watch them all and encourage their friends and families to do so. If we are to build a progressive movement in the UK against austerity, xenophobia and in favour of equality and urgent action on the climate, it will have to be alliance between those of us who voted to remain and those who voted to leave.

‘Lexit’ supporters welcome new round of austerity

Supporters of the ‘Lexit’ faction in last June’s EU referendum have proclaimed themselves “satisfied” with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s explanation that Brexit will necessitate a new round of austerity for the public sector.

Jane Blobb, from Sheffield, said she was “not in the least bit surprised” that Britain’s leaving the EU will now serve as a pretext for even more cuts to services essential to the running of society. “It’s just what I expected”, she said. “I mean, Remain voters did warn me that this is exactly what would happen, that they would use it as an excuse, another ‘shock doctrine’ if you will, but I’m not in the least bit bothered that they are indeed doing so, because…er…the EU is a…capitalist club. For…neoliberals”.

Fellow Lexit enthusiast, SWP member John “Johnny” Johnson of Hemel Hempstead, agreed. “It’s a price worth paying”, he said. “We’ll almost certainly see the end of the NHS now, and I helped make that happen. As a lifelong socialist, I’m proud of the decision I made. The EU is a bosses’ club. A neoliberal one.”

Hammond also warned that their calls for wage hikes for teachers, nurses and others may have to mean tax rises for millions and further ‘savage’ cuts to social welfare benefits.

“Well that’s fine,” said Billy Bonehead as he folded and unfolded a three-day-old edition of the Morning Star while waiting for the off-license to open. “I haven’t worked since 2013, and I’ve been sanctioned six times for the pettiest reasons you can imagine. I’ve been staying on a friend’s sofa for the last three months and it’s getting to be a real strain. But if Mr Hammond says that we need to tighten our belts even further, I can respect that. People like him have got a difficult job on their hands managing public finances, and at least it’s not the EU calling the shots this time. They’re neoliberals, you know.”

Hammond, one of the ministers battling for a “soft” UK exit from the EU, defended the 1% pay cap for public sector workers, declaring the Government “must hold our nerve”. He also said that any attempts to address the climate crisis would now have to “take a back seat” to efforts to promote economic growth at any cost, and that any responsibility the UK has to help tackle the global refugee crisis were “not now a priority”. He added that the Government is looking seriously at abolishing corporation tax, bringing in a ‘fasttrack’ fracking compulsory purchase order system, erasing all health and safety legislation from the statute books, tripling VAT and replacing the progressive tax regime with a flat tax, in addition to reintroducing conscription, setting up a network of Victorian-style workhouses, decriminalising child labour and introducing on-the-spot execution of dissidents. This was all necessary because of Brexit, or “whatever you choose to call it”, he added.

“Fair enough,” said another Lexit supporter, Sadiq Eejit of Birmingham. “That’s more or less what I voted for. As long as it doesn’t affect my political principles, I’ll put up with it. God knows what sort of world my kids will live in. It defies thinking about. But as long as we do whatever Mr Hammond and Mrs May think is necessary, we’ll get through this. We’re all British, after all. I’m sure after a few more decades or possibly centuries of entirely necessary austerity and corporate looting, we’ll be back on our feet again, and then there’ll probably be a revolution, or something. Did you know that the EU is run by neoliberals? It said so on The Canary.”

Additional reporting courtesy of The Huffington Post.

LEAKED! List of types of Brexit currently under consideration

Image stolen from

The Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson has opened up a new front in the debate over what sort of Brexit the Government should work towards. It should not, she argues, be either soft or hard but open, which presumably means ‘not closed’. As it happens, this website has been handed by an anonymous source a list of other alternative Brexits currently under consideration by the new Government. The list specifies that “given that, as modern Conservative thinking prescribes, the Market is All-Knowing and All-Powerful, it may work best if each individual consumer of the Brexit range choose whichever variety best suit their pocket and lifestyle aspirations, although as many components will be sourced overseas there is no cast-iron guarantee that a particular Brexit will be available”. Several of the items on the list have been marked ‘need to think of potential sponsor’, ‘no answer as of 11/06’ and ‘marketing dept will call back’.

  • Inside-out Brexit
  • Upside-down Brexit
  • Back-to-front Brexit
  • Side-to-side Brexit
  • Do-the-hustle Brexit
  • Hokey Cokey Brexit
  • The Mashed Potato Brexit
  • Tizer Brexit
  • Irn Bru Brexit
  • Dandelion and Burdock Brexit
  • Buckfast Brexit
  • Jasmine Green Tea Brexit
  • Rooibos Brexit
  • Camomile Brexit
  • Perrier Brexit
  • Tesco’s Value Still Water Brexit
  • No Brexit
  • London Review of Books Bookshop First Tuesday of Every Month Wine, Nibbles and Discounts For Subscribers Brexit
  • Wetherspoon’s Thursday Night Is Curry Night Brexit
  • #WhatOddsPaddy Sunday Specials Paddy Power Brexit
  • Burger King Limited Edition Angus Whopper Brexit
  • Ryanair £10 Priority Boarding Brexit
  • El Cubano Salsa Nite All Welcome Discounts for Beginners Brexit
  • George at Asda Brexit
  • Cash for Gold Sutton High Street Top Prices Paid for Jewellery Brexit
  • Domino’s Pizza 2 for £20 Collection Only Brexit
  • Crystal Palace 20% Off All Season Tickets Before The End Of June Brexit
  • Norwegian Wood Brexit
  • The White Album Brexit
  • Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey Brexit
  • The End Brexit

Although the printed list ends there, four items appear to have been amended in handwritten form:

  • Death to all Taigs! Brexit
  • Jesus was an Ulsterman Brexit
  • “That bloody woman says they’ll only do it provided we make it illegal to be gay, catholic or female and under 40. I say we should go for it” Brexit
  • “Don’t write down the last thing I said on the bloody list of Brexits you bloody idiot!” Brexit

“Neoliberalism had some good points”: An interview with Momus about Europe, politics, identity and Japan


Momus is a polymath: a musician, novelist, blogger, artist and occasional journalist and curator. Unusually for someone who bestrides different fields, whatever he turns his hand inevitably turns out to be absolutely unique and compelling.

I’ve been a fan since the late 1980s, back when he styled himself ‘the third Pet Shop Boy‘. Since then he’s released over 30 albums (all of them unerringly excellent), six novels (every of one of them a cracking and often uproarious read), and several thousand consistently fascinating posts on his now-defunct but still celebrated blog Click Opera.

Most recently he’s opened his own online ‘open university‘ and continues to produce occasional soundscapes called ‘hearspools’, which frankly defy description, but any one of which could change your way of seeing and thinking about the world. Although he lives in Japan, he’s also doing a series of appearances around Europe and I caught up with him in the really quite magical setting of Swiss Institute in Rome, where he was doing a talk on sublimation in his lyrics and a concert, during which he played songs related in some way to Rome and its history.

Read the interview in full at

Theresa May’s secret plan for Brexit

As I’ve argued here from the start, Brexit is impossible. David Cameron blithely drew us all into a trap set by the far-right, and whoever has the responsibility for actually implementing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will quicky find that it’s no easier than building a physical wall between Mexico and the moon.

Trump’s ‘friend’ Nigel Farage, aka the trickster who brought us to this point of total intractability, is a lifelong fascist who would happily, in collaboration with his US and Russian counterparts, start a world war. Seeing the situation the British Government is now in, he’s as gleefull as a bulldog in a kennel built of its own excrement. As a proper pre-referendum democratic debate, i.e. one not distorted by the strident lies of Farage, Johnson, Murdoch* and Dacre – not to mention the illegal manipulation by Cambridge Analytica – would have established, it would take decades of negotiations by legal and constitutional experts on both sides to even begin to disentangle the British State from the European Union.

So what’s Theresa May’s plan, given that she’s always known that the whole thing is a non-starter and that attempts to enact it would destroy the British economy? Even after she’d achieved her vanity project of becoming Prime Minister her early attempts to even define the project were absolutely devoid of meaning. So far she’s toughed it out, pretending that she has a clearly-defined notion of what’s involved. Call it ‘hard Brexit’, to prepare the population for decades’ more austerity. Use the opportunity to put into action the final solution for the NHS and all the other eternally cruel dreams of her political tradition.

In relation to the actual negotiations, she’s attempting to set the country up to take part in a geopolitical tantrum, trying to persuade voters and herself that the UK can realistically just walk away from the whole thing. It’s absolutely to Corbyn’s credit, despite his woeful prevaracation in the run-up up to and immediate wake of the vote, that he’s insisted that ‘no deal’ is not a plausible possibility.

In the meantime, I suspect that for all that she’s just about managing to robotically bluster and fib her way through this campaign and will probably get a majority (although not nearly as big as she wanted), May simply doesn’t want to be Prime Minister any more. I think that her calling of this election was an attempt to establish in her own head a mandate for national suicide, but that however hard she tries she just does not have the courage. It is highly possible that she will do the same as Cameron and wash her hands of the whole disaster. But whether it’s on the individual level of resigning, or at the national level of activating the suicide belt of abandoning negotiations with the EU, Theresa May’s secret plan for Brexit, whether she knows it or not, is to walk away and let everyone else deal with the consequences.

Over the next week, every single person who wants the Tories to be defeated needs to be banging on doors, sticking up posters, striking up conversations with strangers at bus stops and at every point reminding their fellow citizens: the Tories do not give a flying fuck about the future of our society. They just want to get even richer at our expense. And when they say they have a plan for Brexit that involves anything other than the sacrifice of our livelihoods and the martyrdom of our children’s life chances if not their actual lives, they are lying through their expensively-upholstered teeth.

* I’d just like to take this opportunity to suggest that Rupert Murdoch is the Robert Mugabe of British politics.

I no longer feel ashamed to feel ashamed to be British


What I most wanted to become when I grew up was a foreigner. My father was from another country and my mother hadn’t been born in the city where we lived (Sheffield), so I always felt like a bit of an Ausländer. I must have heard my dad and his mum speaking German together and wanted to join in, to be part of another world. I remember my mum being appalled when I, aged about 6 during an overenthusiastic game of toy soldiers, shouted with glee and fury as I smashed my fist into the enemy lines, “TO HELL WITH THE BRITISH ARMY!”. Straight after university I moved to Ireland and started to reinvent myself as someone a bit more worldly.

Something I subsequently read which left a major impression on me was Declan Kiberd’s classic book ‘Inventing Ireland‘, in which he wrote about how national identities are formed through mirroring, through a dialectical process of subjecting and objectifying. ‘Us’ can be defined as ‘not Them’, and thus the British projected onto the Irish all those qualities they didn’t want to acknowledge in themselves: catholicism, irrationality, brutishness, ignorance, free-spiritedness, etc. Much more recently, another Irish writer and thinker, Fintan O’Toole, has helped me reflect on what being British (and English – see below) entails in the wake of Brexit. In a recent article for the Irish Times he wrote:

Brexit and the English nationalism that underlies it are redefining England for the rest of the world as an angry, hostile, unlovable place. And it’s vital for Ireland that we are clearly distinguished from that new English identity.

An exemplary British European, Julian Barnes, expressed similar thoughts in an article for the LRB called ‘People will hate us again’:

We have our sentimental vision of how others see us: as correct, humorous, eccentric, polite, tolerant, phlegmatic and so on – ‘très British’. But historically, they have equally – if not more often – thought of us as cold, arrogant, violent, self-interested, racist and hypocritical.

Both writers are concerned with how Brexit changes the international reputation of the British. What about the view from inside? What will Brexit do to our sense of ourselves, especially those of us who live abroad?

The process of even acknowledging myself as British was a long one. Although in May 1997 I was living in self-exile (and no fan of Tony Blair), I shared at a distance the widespread relief that nearly 20 years of Tory rule were over and some measured optimism. I was glad to be out of the country when Diana died, with the public outpouring of sentiment for the loss of the national poodle. At the time I thought the whole morbid fanfare was both hilarious and contemptible; by the standards of 2017 it seems quite harmless, even laudable. When Blair sold Britain into the war in Iraq I expressed outrage and joined the march in Lisbon, but also felt that I benefitted from years of distance – he wasn’t ‘my’ Prime Minister, I thought.

I’ve written here about the process of coming to terms with my identity through living abroad, learning languages and reflecting on my own culture and history. In China I was confronted with the contradictions of presenting myself as someone who was all foreground, no background. My students’ questions revealed an assumption that as a British person I admired ‘my’ Prime Minister and was happy to be seen as a representative of my culture, my country, and my government. Such preconceptions were never hostile. They were positive stereotypes and as such, although they challenged my own view of myself, I benefitted from them.

I’ve also written (here) about my insecurity when it comes to claiming the status of a foreign language speaker, seeking acceptance as a member of another cultural community. My anxiety about that status being rejected – when, for example, someone switches from their language into ‘mine’ – houses a fear of being seen as small-minded, provincial, and naive. What results is an instinctive chippiness and defensiveness. Similar emotions arise when food is mentioned in class. In response to the stereotype of the British being unsophisticated in their eating habits, I get riled and feel compelled to point out that We, because of Our History, have a very cosmopolitan diet…I’ also have to keep in check a tendency towards snobbery in relation to less culturally or gastronomically diverse cultures. My sense of entitlement (“curry is a British invention! of course we know how to cook pasta properly!”) has deep roots, partly buried in centuries of colonialism. Barnes was right to mention hypocrisy. My defensiveness when it comes to languages and food and my refusal to wear the badge of my own culture ignores the fact that my livelihood is entirely founded upon on centuries of colonial and imperial dominance.

Over the years I’ve met both anglophiles and anglophobes. I like people who don’t speak English, but I have sometimes detected a certain antipathy from a lot of lingua-franca-refuseniks, particularly from those whose dislike of the language of neoliberal globalisation is motivated by anti-imperialist sentiment. It’s almost refreshing to have to challenge that stereotype of myself as cold and lacking in empathy. It’s a rare novelty and as such a luxury to encounter anti-English/British racism. Few other nationalities enjoy such privilege.

It’s always felt like a small victory to be told I’m not typically British. At the same time, I’ve very slowly came to realise that my response is by no means atypical: as Kit Wright’s poem ‘Everyone hates the English‘ exuberantly points out, no one resents the English as much as the English do. My self-deprecation (e.g. wanting England to lose at sport) is in some ways typically English. (Indeed, someone once wrote a book about this very attitude.) When it comes to coldness, what ‘we’ see as humour and irony doesn’t translate. In the notion of ‘taking the piss’ there’s a defensiveness, as a character in ‘Against’ the Day’ by Thomas Pynchon remarks: 

Any who may come to feel betrayed by them, insulted, even hurt, even grievously, are simply ‘taking it too seriously.’ The English exercise their eyebrows and smile and tell you it’s ‘irony’ or ‘a bit of fun.’

Here we come to a tricky area: am I concerned with being British or English? As the Scottish writer Momus points out, there’s a marked difference. Very few Glaswegians voted for Ukip. His classic essay is about English self-deprecation, not Scottish or Welsh*. He quotes Minette Marin making a similar point to Pynchon:

“To me, as an American on my father’s side, one of the most unattractive aspects of Englishness has always been false modesty. It’s called self-deprecation, but springs from a deep sense of superiority (not unjustified, and all the more annoying for that) and it was traditionally both a ruse to placate inferiors and a game to tease equals – a national form of self-aggrandisement and exclusion.”

While an English cliche has it that the Germans excuse their historical misdeeds with the phrase ‘I was only following orders!’, it’s long seemed to me that the English/British equivalent is ‘I was only having a laugh!’. It’s significant that insofar as Britain has sought to come to terms with its history of racism and violent plunder, comedy has been one of the main media.

I’ve gradually come to accept my national background as a defect, albeit one that I’m powerless to change, whether I eventually manage to acquire an Italian passport or not. I’ve lost some of my sense of shame, although I’ve never got to the point of cheering on the football team. I would never declare myself proud to be British. I didn’t like the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony any more than I liked Blair, but I could see that there was an aspiration towards a more inclusive cosmopolitan self-image, one that celebrated the progressive aspects of the country’s past without shying away from the guilt occasioned by slavery and empire. I began to see my antipathy towards my own national identity as a little more than an overgrown adolescent impulse.

Now, five years on, we have the most right-wing and nationalistic government of my lifetime, led by someone who actively sneers at ‘cosmopolitans’. Politics is dominated by a tone of unreflective and unrestrained imperial nostalgia and unreconstructed xenophobia of the most facile and obnoxious kind. Downton Abbey, Ex-NF thug Nigel Farage and scumbags beating up asylum seekers are all of a piece, symptoms of a deep reactionary shift towards the most repugnant aspects of our history. If you add in the media treatment of child refugees, the screeching of Katie Hopkins and all the other professional shit-stirrers and the fact that millions are expressing an intention to vote for much more of this, it’s hard to feel anything but a renewed sense of deep, deep mortification. We unambiguously are, as Barnes says, “cold, arrogant, violent, self-interested, racist and hypocritical.”

It’s shameful to be British, and I for one no longer feel ashamed to say so.


* I apologise for sometimes using the two terms interchangeably but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’ve tried to use them appropriately. It’s worth noting that: a) it was the British Empire, not the English one b) Tony Blair joined in with the invasion of Iraq in his capacity of Prime Minister for the whole of the UK, not just England, and it wasn’t just English soldiers who killed and died there and in Afghanistan c) Wales as a whole voted Leave d) I happen to think that Scotland made a catastrophic mistake in 2014. However, do feel free to challenge individual misuses, in the meantime I’ll just leave this here:

Are the Tories throwing the election to escape responsibility for Brexit? No, but…


As I’ve argued all along would be the case, an orderly Brexit is turning out to be impossible. The early stages of negotiations have been like trying to make an omelette using shit instead of eggs. It was never going to be anything like a ‘clean divorce’ – that metaphor is just as unhelpful and misleading as Thatcher’s comparison of a national economy to that of a household. Instead the UK wants to unilaterally break a contract with 27 partners and define some sort of mutually beneficial relationship afterwards in the face of a politically justifiable desire from other partners to eliminate any possible benefit.

It may not be clear from reading the domestic press, but the UK Govt is currently undergoing galaxy-wide humiliation at its lack of preparedness, its self-delusion and its misplaced arrogance. Foreign news outlets tend to report what people like Juncker have actually said, not some self-serving distortion of it. The Tories and their pet bulldog newspapers can snarl emptily about sabotage and bluff and bluster about being ganged up on but the fact that May et al do not know what they are doing is now public knowledge from Torino to Timbuktu. There are probably peasants in the North Korean countryside having a good laugh at May’s plight over their breakfast of grass and bits of their house as they try to find light relief from thoughts of impending nuclear annihilation, not to mention spladgequards from planet Beetlewoox 4 scratching whatever they have for heads and wondering why this particular species of human known as The British insists on behaving in such a hostile manner towards its nearest neighbours.

At the same time, Corbyn’s Labour Party is rising slightly in the polls (not that much – it’s rather like someone you were sure was dead moving an eyelid slightly). Would Corbyn be better placed if this somewhow was to become known as the Lazurus election? That would place him in the not-exactly-to-be-coveted position of having to negotiate in the national interest for something which is against the national interest. After all, even the most ardent Brexiteers did this primarily for their own ideological jollification. Instead, the likeliest scenario is that following a probably slightly less emphatic Tory victory than we had feared, the UK will call off talks and resort to extreme hostilities as the economy collapses and the country quite possibly prepares North Korea-style for a war which may or may not ever arrive. If the whole thing wasn’t so depressing I would bet good money on some form of conscription being introduced before Article 50 expires. That’s the sort of thing merchants of chaos like Farage wanted all along and Cameron was prepared to risk for the sake of short-term political expediency.

The Tories are, of course, not about to throw the election. They want to achieve their long-standing ambition of crushing the godawful upstart Plebs Party for good*. The polls may well be misleading – Michael Ashcroft certainly made sure they were in 2015. But they must be having very serious qualms about the trap that they’re backing themselves into. The Tories have been able to get away with austerity by blaming everything that’s wrong in society on the previous Labour Government. No opposition means fewer scapegoats at a time when they need them like never before. This is not a good time to turn the country into a one-party state.

* It may be due to missing the irony in this sentence that some idiot on the Labour Party forum (possibly a troll) said that this article ‘reads like Tory Party propaganda’. This may mark an all-time high in terms how inane political debate on social media can go, I’ll keep you posted.

I was a teenage Lib Dem


It was my (German) grandmother who first introduced me to acid house. She’d just got back from a all-nighter in a field off the M1 and with shaking hands and gleaming eyes she pressed a Todd Terry mixtape into my hands with the words ‘Dies musst du einfach nur hören!’. In suburban Sheffield in mid-1988, a period soon to be known as the second summer of love, there was a huge opening of like minds, a spiritual confluence of tribes and generations united around bleeps, beats and togetherness.

Actually none of that is quite true. There may have been people nearby getting into raving and revelling in e-fuelled dionsyan madness but I’d just finished my GCSEs and was working in a supermarket stacking shelves as slowly as I could. When my dad offered me the chance to deliver Liberal Democrat Focus leaflets I must have leapt at the opportunity for some excitement. To my eternal shame my attachment to the Lib Dems continued on to University. I think I must have quite fancied one of the people on the stall on Fresher’s Day and so spent several weeks trudging around Norwich in the runup to the local elections trying to get people to vote yellow (I don’t think I actually voted for them myself). I vaguely remember a couple of barbecues at which I met well-meaning and very polite local people who cared very much about their streets (for them the Lib Dems were essentially  a national version of Neighbourhood Watch) but were either clueless about the world beyond or sounded to my ears distinctly like Tories.

Thankfully for my dignity and campus credibility my political trajectory swept me away from Paddy Ashdown and co. When the exchange rate mechanism crashed down in early 1992 and it became clear that no one up there in or near power had a clue what they were doing I decided to abandon my weird form of political contrarianism and go back to being a Marxist. In the meantime, sadly, my adolescent street-pounding in Sheffield Hallam had eventually paid off, and those seeds I’d planted (in the form of leaflets focussed almost exclusively on street lights and traffic containment measures) had flourished to the point where a fresh-faced chap called Nick Clegg was elected local MP. His trajectory surpassed mine, because while I continued on through various trotty groups towards inevitable disillusionment, his star rose to the point where he came to stand on a sunny morning in spring 2010 in the garden of 10 Downing Street and, beaming like a new parent, boast that he and his new friend David were going to “take Britain in a historic new direction” and create a “stronger society” by, er, allowing Trident to go ahead, capping immigration and introducing some spectacular and ‘savage’ cuts.

The rest is history, although not of the sort that should make anyone feel proud. Within a few short months students were rioting in Central London in fury at Clegg’s decision to betray them over skyrocketting tuition fees. By spring 2011 ordinary voters were so sick of the Government’s coalition of sickening cruelty and staggering hypocrisy they rejected Clegg’s prized referendum over the Alternative Vote. In mid-2011 there were (as had been predicted a few weeks earlier by local youth groups struggling to survive those ‘savage’ cuts) riots which quickly spread from Tottenham to cities across the country (and which were sternly condemned by Clegg as ‘completely unacceptable’). Since then things have only got worse, as Gary Younge details in The Guardian this week:

Since 2010 there has been a £387m cut in youth services, and between 2012 and 2016 603 youth clubs were closed. In London, £28m has been slashed from youth services budgets in the last five years, leading to 36 youth centres in the capital closing. A starved NHS is unable to adequately provide mental health assistance to the young. The government now plans to cut funding to schools in urban areas.

Cuts have consequences. They leave wounds and create resentment in those whose lives have been scarred. It’s more than poetic coincidence that Younge’s article also talks about a rise in knife crime and relates it to austerity. The A-word is one that, in the Lib Dem-crowded anti-Brexit Facebook groups I signed up to in the wake of the Brexit vote last summer, I quickly found to be taboo. People were (rightly) horrified and outraged by what had taken place but (as had been the case after the 2011 riots) they weren’t very interested in finding out why it had happened.

At the same time there were a number of well-informed explanations of what lay behind the vote, especially how those who had most to lose (in working class areas which depend on EU funding) had almost uniformly voted to leave. One particularly cogent account by someone who spent weeks talking to people in what became ‘leave’ areas is the Guardian reporter John Harris, who argues trenchantly that decades of economic neglect lie behind the Brexit vote, and that the level of dillusionment is such that it would be a grave mistake for those of us who campaigned to stay in the EU to try to reverse the vote. Instead left-liberals have a duty to make political connections with the areas left out of globalisation, to create dialogue and common causes which aim to draw millions of disaffected people away from the influence of the far-right.

I’m lucky: I haven’t been directly affected by austerity. I’m also one of those who has (on an individual level) done quite well out of neoliberal globalisation and who appreciates the chance to live in other countries and have other people come to live in mine. At the same time, I oppose the austerity agenda of the last few years, which I can see is having a devastating impact on the social fabric of cities like Sheffield and creating unprecedented levels of social resentment and mistrust throughout the country. That resentment and mistrust fuelled the Brexit vote. Nevertheless, in my occasional visits to those Facebook groups I regularly encounter people who like to pretend that everything was perfect until June 23rd last year, that Brexit is an inexplicable stain on reality’s otherwise pristine sofa. In fact, it is partly an incoherent and (deliberately) misguided response to those ‘savage’ cuts Nick Clegg boasted of and then presided over. I know that Tim Farron is not an Orange Book neoliberal like Clegg, but I’m also aware that (as Owen Jones points out in today’s Guardian) he is on record as saying he would enter another coalition with the Tories. Whether he’s being cynical or naive, his party is no alternative to and no defence against the most right-wing government that the UK will have ever seen. Another loved-up springtime morning in the Downing Street garden would be, to paraphrase one of my grandmother’s most illustrious compatriots, a farcical tragedy repeating itself as a particularly tragic kind of farce.