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Reading About Worse Crises Has Been My Solace from This Election
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I suspected from the moment the general election was called that the result would be a large Conservative majority, a calamitous defeat for Labour, and a decisive victory for Brexit. To prevent myself getting too depressed by this grim prospect, I picked out and read two books on crises that were far more dire: one on the Wars of the Roses in 15th century England and the other on Verdun in 1916, perhaps the most horrific battle in the First World War.

My idea was that by concentrating on these savage conflicts I would have some relief from thinking about Brexit and its consequences. It would also help me view the turmoil over leaving the EU in less apocalyptic terms than is usually the case. Is it, for instance, likely that we are facing the break-up of the UK as nationalist parties – Conservatives, SNP, Sinn Fein, DUP – establish their dominance over different communities? For all the debate over Brexit, it is still unclear how far Britain ruled by a hard-right government will diverge from EU norms and follow the US model.

Reading these two books – Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 and Thomas Penn’s The Brothers York: An English Tragedy – was also a useful distraction from another irritating thought. This was that Boris Johnson might be the luckiest politician alive. It never made sense that Jo Swinson should have precipitated a general election, in which the Liberal Democrats would be squeezed, and would give up the advantages of being a small party in a hung parliament. Jeremy Corbyn should have been able to see that the one thing Labour had to avoid, as Tony Blair had warned, was a Brexit election in which its ambivalent policy on leaving the EU was bound to sink it and close the door to remaining in the EU.

Commentators before and after the election queued up to deny Boris Johnson’s claim that he would get Brexit done and denounce it as a fraud because he still has to negotiate the terms of departure. But, more realistically, the Rubicon has been passed and Brexit of some sort is bound to happen soon.

Johnson could adopt a more conciliatory mode, but I doubt it. Much the same was said about President Donald Trump when he was elected. Populist nationalist politicians, of whom Johnson is one, tend to repeat the same political gambits that got them into power in the first place.

Now that Brexit in its current version has been approved by the electorate, it is easy to forget what a weird project it continues to be. Much of what its proponents say is fantasy or simply unrealisable. There is only so much Britain can do to diversify its economy away from the EU, since 45 per cent of British exports go to there compared to 15 per cent to the US, while exports to Ireland easily exceed those to China. Britain’s negotiators will once again bump into economic and political realities that are the same as under Theresa May.

Brexit is bound to leave the UK weaker and poorer as a state than it would otherwise be – and part of this damage has already been done. But for Leavers, Brexit was always more of a political than an economic project. However often Remainers proved to their own satisfaction that leaving the EU was economic idiocy, it never made much impression on the level of support for Brexit.

Earlier this year, I visited different parts of the UK to discover why so many people appeared to be voting against their own best interests. Why, for instance, did people in the de-industrialised Welsh Valleys want to leave the EU when Brussels had heavily funded projects in the area. The answer in Wales, and in the rest of de-industrialised Britain, was that EU funding was never enough to reverse their decline, though it was not clear that anything could have done so.

The EU became the great scapegoat. Graham Simmonds, an independent councillor in the Valleys, told me that everybody from the government in London to the Welsh Assembly might have failed Wales, but “it was the EU against which people decided to push back.” They were impervious to arguments about the damage Brexit would do to the national GDP because they never saw it as their GDP.

This alienation was there at the time of the referendum in 2016, but it solidified farther between over the next three years, which helps explain Labour’s rout in its former working class strongholds on Thursday. Alex Snowden, a radical activist in Newcastle, told me that people’s core sense of identity had become more wrapped up in their position for or against the EU since 2019. He said that Brexit “isn’t just about views on the EU anymore, but a wider sense of alienation and dislocation.” A canvasser in the Canterbury constituency made the same point to me this week, saying that she had just talked to some Leave voters and “it is as if supporting Brexit is part of their identity. They don’t want to discuss it.” For many, Brexit and English national identity have united and submerged traditional loyalty to the Labour Party. This will be difficult to reverse.

The triumph of nationalism was always a likely outcome of the election. The three parties that had most to celebrate after the poll, primarily appeal to a single national community: Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives in England and – exceptionally – to some small degree in Wales.

ORDER IT NOW

Scotland is not Catalonia, but the repeated successes of SNP and Sinn Fein are bound to loosen the bonds holding the UK together. There will come a moment when people in the British rust-belt notice that voting Conservative has done them little good. Fresh crises are in the offing. I suspect it will not be long before I will once again be seeking solace in reading up on Verdun or the Wars of the Roses and thinking that at least things are not as bad as that .

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Boris Johnson, Britain, Jeremy Corbyn 
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  1. A123 says:

    It is sad to see “Project Fear” still being pushed after it has been completely defeated and debunked.

    Brexit is bound to leave the UK stronger and richer as a state than it would otherwise be – and part of this damage to the EU has already been done. But for Remainers, defeating Democracy and Brexit was always more of a multi-culturalist project. However often Brexiteers proved, as a matter of objective reality, that remaining in the anti-Democratic, elitist, EU was economic idiocy, it never made much impression on the brainwashed victims of “Project Fear”.
    ____

    Does anyone want proof? — I am glad you asked for proof!

    The EU is trapped by negative interest rates designed to prop up investment vehicles for the Globalist “German Elites”, such as Deutsche Bank. This objectively unworkable currency policy is generating massive resistance (1):

    Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement that’s a partner in Conte’s second government, has denounced the reforms as penalizing the country. Italy’s objections to changes such as limiting the amount of sovereign bond holdings of banks, earlier this month delayed the approval of a long-planned overhaul of the European Stability Mechanism, the euro area’s bailout fund.

    What is going to happen when the UK stops paying into the EU budget:

    — Will Germany pay more to keep funds flowing to periphery countries such as Italy?
    — Or, will the Globalist elites cut funds to periphery countries, thus escalating conflict and disunity in the EU?

    Objective reality is undeniable. Losing the economic strength of the UK is a brutal blow to the precarious financial and political stability of the EU.

    Will the Globalist EU Elites keep digging the hole deeper?

    PEACE 😇
    _______

    (1) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-12-11/italy-s-conte-insists-on-red-lines-for-euro-area-reform-measures

    • Replies: @animalogic
  2. But for Leavers, Brexit was always more of a political than an economic project. However often Remainers proved to their own satisfaction that leaving the EU was economic idiocy, it never made much impression on the level of support for Brexit.

    Then there’s room for hope. Leavers wanted to get out of the political institutions and end free migration. They don’t care too much whether we stay in the Customs Union – which is what we were originally told the “Common Market” would be. The EU, teetering on the edge of recession, is not likely to refuse the request.

    she had just talked to some Leave voters and “it is as if supporting Brexit is part of their identity. They don’t want to discuss it.”

    The same is true of Remain voters. After 3 years of argument, people are not going to change their minds in a doorstep conversation.

    Johnson could adopt a more conciliatory mode, but I doubt it. Much the same was said about President Donald Trump when he was elected.

    Johnson shares Trump’s scatty image, but he is far more intelligent and adaptable. My bet is that he will “get Brexit done”, but it will be such a soft Brexit that we will not notice much change.

    Scotland is not Catalonia, but the repeated successes of SNP and Sinn Fein are bound to loosen the bonds holding the UK together. There will come a moment when people in the British rust-belt notice that voting Conservative has done them little good.

    As if they would have done better by voting for nationalisation of entire industries, and government-supported green energy as a job-creation scheme! The problem with the political classes on the Left is that they think working people are fools.

    The English and Welsh voted for Brexit to stick up two fingers to Brussels. The Scots send SNP MPs to Westminster with the same motive, even though they voted to stay in the UK in 2015. As long as Johnson is not foolish enough to force public spending cuts on Scots, they are likely to continue preferring to stay in the UK.

    Sinn Fein’s number of seats is unchanged. The total votes cast for Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland is still slightly less than that for Unionists, but Alliance and other non-sectarian parties have enough votes that Northern Ireland is unlikely to vote to leave the UK soon. It is doubtful that its people will vote to leave the UK while the Northern Ireland Assembly is not functioning, because in that situation the transfer would be a major political disruption – and so, for the time being, the non-sectarians will vote to keep the status quo.

  3. What does Verdun, battle in an imperialist war, and the War of the Roses, a family feud, have in common? They were power struggles. Power (manifested as interest) has been present in every conflict of the past – no exception. It is the underlying motivation for war. Other cultural factors might change, but not power. Interest cuts across all apparently unifying principles: family, kin, nation, religion, ideology, politics – everything. We unite with the enemies of our principles, because that is what serves our interest.
    https://www.ghostsofhistory.wordpress.com/

  4. Commentators before and after the election queued up to deny Boris Johnson’s claim that he would get Brexit done and denounce it as a fraud because he still has to negotiate the terms of departure. But, more realistically, the Rubicon has been passed and Brexit of some sort is bound to happen soon.

    The cunning Etonian is just a supreme opportunist.

    He has used Brexit to cement his premiership and salvage fortunes of the Conservative Party after Treason May’s awful stint e.g losing a comfortable majority.

    Bercow and the previous parliament helped by firing up leave voters as did Farage, the SNP and LibDems by taking votes away from inept Communists’.

    As noted by someone above the next trick is north of Hadrian’s Wall. Remember Thatcher and independence after oil and gas finds?

    The triumph of nationalism was always a likely outcome of the election. The three parties that had most to celebrate after the poll, primarily appeal to a single national community: Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives in England and – exceptionally – to some small degree in Wales.

    How can that be?

    We are told by members of a certain ethnic minority ‘Britain is a country of immigrants’. They also claim Nigerians predate Hengist and Horsa plus that Africans built the country.

    Britain was built on the backs of slaves. A memorial is the least they deserve
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/23/memorial-2007-enslaved-africans-black-history-britain

  5. Sean says:

    [W]e are facing the break-up of the UK as nationalist parties – Conservatives, SNP, Sinn Fein, DUP – establish their dominance over different communities?

    I disagree, separatism in all those countries/ regions may exist but actual independence has become impossible now. If all those countries /regions were in the EU it really would not matter if some or they all became independent, but Scotland’s independence in the EU while England is outside the EU it is a totally different proposition,

    How could Scotland, which voted against Independence in a Referendum against the SNP’s ‘Independence in Europe’ platform (ie Scotland, Eire, Northern Ireland, Wales and England were in the same customs union as Scotland because all were in the EU) could work when England is not in the EU. It couldn’t obviously. Post-Brexit, Scottish independence is a non–starter. Put it out of your mind. Journalists like to conjure up the spectre, but it is bullcrap. Britain sells more to Ireland than China? Well that cuts both ways.

    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2019/09/backdoor-backstop-ireland-s-shifting-relationship-britain-and-europe England’s security was Ireland’s opportunity. […] De Valera thus continued the trend of uncoupling British-Irish relations and mainstream nationalism from European geopolitics. […]

    [T]o anyone familiar with British history, the latent strength of the present-day UK, and the profound structural weaknesses of the EU, it seems — prolonged clash is more probable, in which the gulf between Britain and the Continent will only deepen. Ireland will be caught in the middle.

  6. They were impervious to arguments about the damage Brexit would do to the national GDP because they never saw it as their GDP.

    That is, people have come to realise that fretting about the GDP has about as much to do with their daily lives and their personal circumstances as fretting about the number of tulips. It is a false measure of prosperity, and furthermore, prosperity itself is a false measure of how good and happy a nation is. “But Brexit will reduce the net yearly increase of our tulip stores by 0.25%!” cry the economists, while the Poles are taking their jobs and the Muslims raping their daughters.

  7. Smith says:

    LOL, keep seething Cockburn.

    Know you and your friends have no fucking power anyone, you slimy rat.

    • Agree: YetAnotherAnon
    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  8. @A123

    There’s no mystery about the EU — every one knows it has problems right up the wharzoo.
    Yet, things are relative. The question for the UK is whether there is profit or loss in leaving. Contra your belief — in the short-medium term the UK will likely lose.
    The EU holds all the cards – it’s already factored in its losses. The UK does over 40% of its trade with the EU. That trade is now in real danger. And what trade remains will have extra transactional costs. (let’s not even discuss the possibility of short term chaos — sheer anathema to leavers).
    And please don’t say, “oh, but the UK can do deals with other countries”. Sure it can, but such deals take years & years to nail down… & again the UK will be the beggar not the chooser….
    As to your points about EU finances — yes, they are an abortion. However, the UK is a monetary sovereign– it already has some distance from Euro issues.
    From the very beginning, the UK has approached Brexit in a deluded, half-baked manner. Many suggest that the UK simply doesn’t possess the civil servant talent & experience to do such a titanic deal. That is NOT the case with the EU.
    And the EU gets a number of secondary Brexit benefits: it gets rid of a nation it considers a whinger & a wrecker. It gets rid of a back door for the US to interfere in EU interests.
    On a long enough time line maybe Brexit will be a success… but, then again, on a long enough time line we’re all dead….

  9. nymom says:

    If it’s any comfort Patrick, I don’t think the Left is going to give up so easily. If they are like the Left everywhere else they will begin their counterattack using both the media and the courts to continue the fight through other channels…

    Even as we speak they are planning demonstrations in London and smearing everyone from the Queen to Boris Johnson’s dog as a bunch of racists…

    The struggle continues…

  10. A123 says:

    The EU holds all the cards – it’s already factored in its losses.

    How has the EU factored in its losses? The EU has built its entire budget on the false assumption that there will be a huge amount of UK–>EU contributions. Now the entirely unready EU is going to lose that cash and they hold NO cards.

    Explain how the EU budget is going to work:

    — Will Germany pay more to keep funds flowing to periphery countries such as Italy?
    — Or, will the Globalist elites cut funds to periphery countries?

    Either way in the very short term (less than 12 months after Brexit) the EU will go into a deep recession and possibly have a civil war. Their only way out is to play nice with the UK.

    The UK does over 40% of its trade with the EU. That trade is now in real danger. And what trade remains will have extra transactional costs.

    The EU will bear massive transactional costs if they choose to unilaterally start a trade war with the UK. What happens when the UK cuts bank taxes to 6%? Or 3%? Or 0%? Or, negative 3%?

    The UK can extract jobs from the EU at will. How can the EU respond?

    — Start a WTO case that will Take 10+ years to resolve? Not very helpful.
    — Further lower the already negative interest rates? Penalized deposits would end as entities move reserves to printed notes and other currencies. DB would follow Lehman into bankruptcy.
    — Immediately slash their own taxes? Oopsie… Every Euro Currency member is already at the budget wall mandated by the EZ agreement. “German Austerity” has cut off all possibility for an economic response.

    Again, the UK has all the cards. They can pit 10+ EU/EZ countries against German Elites and the Euro-Reich Central Bank (in Frankfurt) more or less at will.
    _____

    It is objectively true that “Project Fear” was a lie. Anyone still believing in “Project Fear” prognostication about UK doom scenarios is holding the wrong end of a burning torch and will soon be burnt.

    PEACE 😇

  11. Reds out, Cucks in. Then:

    Cucks out, Reds in. Then:

    Reds out, Cucks in. Then:

    Cucks out, Reds in. And

    it’s all supremely irrelevant. Voting at

    (((open-borders globohomo)))

    will not change a thing.

    White extinction will continue

    via Cucks and Reds. So you better

    think of something else.

  12. ” Jeremy Corbyn should have been able to see that the one thing Labour had to avoid, as Tony Blair had warned, was a Brexit election in which its ambivalent policy on leaving the EU was bound to sink it and close the door to remaining in the EU.”

    But it was the Blairites (Starmer, Watson, Streeting & co) who pushed the poison pill “second referendum” onto the manifesto. In 2017 they were going to implement Brexit.

    IMHO for the Blairites it was more important to sink Corbyn than stop Brexit. Ideally they’d have liked both, but you can’t always win ’em all.

  13. @Smith

    Alas there are still plenty of EU 5th columnists in the Tory party, like the “One Nation” group who asked for the EU rebels to be allowed to rejoin. Boris actually let half of them back, though the most toxic were booted.

  14. nymom says:

    The British left is already implementing Part I of their strategy to undermine the people’s choice in this last election.

    They are sending out feelers to see if they can push some of those politicians who lost their seats into the House of Lords to block or overturn anything that the House of Commons attempts to push through.

    You see and Patrick was worried…

  15. Stogumber says:

    Well, REMAIN is definitely an identity for Mr. Cockburn. His allusions that working class people might be worse off after Brexit are rather weak – and obviously not the reasons which govern his personal stance.
    By the way, why does he presuppose that the EU is and will be a success? Von der Leyen was a miserable administrator in Germany and may become an equally miserable administrator in Europe – perhaps ten years from now the Brits will be glad to have left the EU in time?

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