Our Post-Brexit Britain, a country where the last two Prime Ministers have been so second-rate, you exclusively refer to them on a first-name basis: “Has Boris been booted out yet?” or “Has Liz legged it?”. Forget the surname, even a lettuce has a longer shelf life.
Some background to Post-Brexit Britain’s conception
It’s important to understand this was always going to be the Conservative Party’s (and therefore the country’s) pathology. The divisions within the party began in the 90’s and kept them out of office during the New Labour era. They never went away. Instead, the divisions were temporarily ironed out under David Cameron’s tenure, in order to let the party return to office in 2010. Cameron was the perfect choice for leader of the party, as he didn’t really believe in anything.
The austerity measures of the Cameron years showed the cruelty of the supposedly compassionate Conservatives. The measures left sluggish growth, stagnant or declining living standards and rising child poverty in their wake. Pain now and pain forever…
The Cameron government could be rightly described as the first ‘anti-growth coalition’. The Cameron ministry’s response to the financial crisis led indirectly to Brexit (with people stretched to breaking point) and directly by the proposed EU referendum.
Meanwhile, UKIP’s ‘fancy a pint and a fag with Nigel?’ and the Fisher-Price-binoculars-over-the-White-Cliffs-of-Dover campaign style/aesthetic tapped into the smirking laddishness of post-industrial middle England and warmed the hearts of the blue ribbon brigade in the South alike. It made the coalition Conservatives insecure. It seemed like their voters were turning away from them.
The EU referendum in 2016 was the boiling point for the party. The divisions within became alive and animal. Brexit is the full moon to the Tory werewolf. The 2019 election was their golden opportunity to define the future of the country. So far, the victory has been more Pyrrhic than prizewinning.
Five years later, these divisions are just as alive and visceral as they were back in 2016. Brexit fundamentally defines the future of the country and the Conservative Party. It acts as the perfect synthesis of the divisions contained within both.
For the Conservatives, Brexit either means ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ and deregulation bonfires every night or a chance to bring Britain back to the Victorian era. Both indicate a desire to further dismantle the welfare state, as well as the idea that the government has any positive role to play in people’s lives. For the country as a whole, it brings to light a multitude of divisions: between the four nations, between different regions of England, between ethnicities, age, class. You name it and it’s there.
A central division within the country seems to be the relatively high levels of income inequality. This drives strong scepticism in institutions, ‘experts’ and the government at large. Apathy and political scepticism are combined to create the sublime supporter base for any-would-be populist/authoritarian.
The second leadership contest
The second leadership contest of this year is just another symptom that the party is bloated and saturated after more than a decade in power. It’s simply the sludge of the Cameron years having their turn in charge (reminiscent of a Spitting Image sketch linked below). In sounder times, the types who serve in the top cabinet posts would be loud-mouthing it on a BBC Question Time panel or writing polemic pieces of right-wing bile in the tabloids. Soon enough, they may crawl back to these positions. But first, they will make sure the country endures their incompetence for another two years.
Rishi Sunak’s premiership will attempt to return post-Brexit Britain to the ‘grown-up politics’ of supposedly greener pastures. This means making ‘tough choices’ and ‘doing what’s best for the country’ i.e. austerity will haunt Britain once more. However, this austerity will be of the Conservatives’ own making. Most importantly, it will be a hard sell going into the next general election.
The visions of a bright future under neoliberalism are being proven to be false time and again. The cost of living crisis is the final nail in the coffin. It’s pushing the party, which ever since Thatcher has been the apotheosis of neoliberalism in Britain, to its breaking point. The short-lived Truss government was characterised by a doubling down on this vision. ‘Trussonomics’ was essentially a form of nostalgia politics. Pristine Thatcherism through and through. In Truss’ retromania: the cost of living crisis is the winter of discontent, Truss is Thatcher and Starmer is Callaghan. But, the global markets rebelled and began targeting Britain. It’s ironic that the economical logic of neoliberalism, i.e. the impartial axiomatic judgements provided by individuals and market forces were the deciding factors in the downfall of poor Liz. ‘It is here, Liz: Liz thou art slain’.
Coda (Deal Wiv it)
When writing on the 2015 election, Professor Jeremy Gilbert said: ‘Forget opinion polls. You get a better sense of what’s going on in the electorate by sniffing the wind, sensing the affective shifts, the molecular currents, the alterations in the structures of feeling. Listen to the music, watch the TV, go to the pubs and ride the tube. Cultural Studies trumps psephology every time’.
Using that analysis, we see fear and loathing running deep within the psyche and the fabric of this country. All states of political life exist on the macro and micro level. Representative democracies demonstrate binary segementarity in political life. The politicians are tentatively trying to tap into the voters’ psyches; their individual fears and desires.
The Partygate scandal of last year, proved just how much the Conservatives were content with inequality. The pigs were wearing clothes in the farmhouse. They could party while the public locked down. The revelations of the Partygate (apologies for the overused gate suffix) scandal coming to light, created a new cognitive restructuring across the population. Lockdown could be tolerated as everyone was in this together, right?
So we all thought. The culture changed markedly, Boris was no longer the laughable ‘man of the people’ who got Brexit done as well as being our Churchillian saviour during the pandemic. No. Instead, Boris was at the butt of jokes in non-political programs e.g. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Boris was a liar, the Daily Express was turning against Boris in his final days and Labour began to seem like a credible alternative.
The loathing in unfulfilled political libido which the complicated Brexit process brought, coupled with the fear factor of the cost of living crisis, all add to the bleak mise-en-scène of this enraptured isle.
Featured Image Credit: Daniel Howard / Flickr