Notes on Brexit 1 of n

Hot air

You fire the burner in a hot air balloon and a change in your height begins to register several minutes later. A Parliament, another instrument powered, some say, by hot air, could be considered to be a similar beast. It is common to hear a present administration blaming the previous lot for the nation's woes much as Spinal Tap blamed the previous act for the crowd booing them. It is not uncommon for there to be a strain of truth to some of these claims, though the convenience of the plaint as a rhetorical strategy does to any reliable correlation. Short-term-ist fixes aside, however, it is often the cosmetic changes to a country that happen in the short period of, typically, four or five years between every significant national election, that could actually be felt and perceived directly without exaggeration, fabrication, or framing, by a significant-enough portion of the electorate to rationally influence voter's opinion for one of the various choices. These kinds of paparazzi-lens-framed shots from history are optimal for what we might perhaps, just, still be able to call deadline-driven written journalism, but also what we might perhaps, just, still be able to call television, where personality and gesture is everything. Panning out, like you might zoom out of the mountains of a graph of a dramatic ralley on the pound during a twelve hour period following the latest absurdly-improbable Brexit false ending to see it is merely part of an unappealing downwards slump lasting three years, it is not altogether often that historians see these trends predominate. There have of course been some. Churchill as “War Lord” in his finest years. Yeah yeah. Atlee? Mostly, though, it takes historical periods of time for significant discontinuities that will change a nation absolutely, or which will, given less flexibility, mount up like the tension in the San Andreas Fault until it, traumatically, shifts abruptly to adjust. No longer do most of us ask the equivalent of “what went on in San Francisco in 1905 for them to earn themselves the San Francisco earthquake of 1906?”.

There is a further problem of course, which will be noted by anybody who has studied either history or politics, which means, of course, to study both history and politics. It is not necessarily the case that it merely becomes a rather less rhetorically-convenient matter of blaming the other lot before this last lot, because they might not have had anything to do with it themselves. Historians, even those who trained as historians (rather than journalists and politicians writing some broad brush history blockbuster about a Great Man of History who might be made the embodiment and spirit of an age as a punt at a 'gong' or 'posterity' or 'the top job') and who adhere to most or all of the more judicious conventions of the discipline, tend often to find not only 'chaps' but various factors, acting at various distances.

Brexit as a response to David Cameron's wrongheaded and brutal Age of Austerity? Certainly. But then look deeper and David Cameron's Age of Austerity, for him and for others, was a way of delivering the promise of what? And what had to have happened for that even to be possible? Do not we already have the events of the eighties, from their very beginning, to their very end, and the nineties, same?

Go deeper. Look at the players. Eton was quite a player here. How old is that place? What is the focus of its syllabus? Who writes it? Oh, but some of it was short-term, look at Russia's interference in the election using social media. That could not have happened at any other time! Not in the same way (though the truth of what happened and how it happened, if it ever gets known with the approximate precision of the notorious fire at the Reichstag, will be figured out by the next historians to not be read or not be read in time or not be read by the right people) but there has always been interference between states. It only generally is said to be underhand or unfair when the victims have let their guard down or did not see something coming. Most or much of what we already for the most part do not know in terms of Russian interference, in any case, can be mapped in diagrams of interactions between people that can still, in fact, be found in documentary evidence before anybody calls in Belling Cat. It makes absolute party political sense, and almost naturally by extention, journalistic sense, but absolutely no political or historical sense, to render it 'controversial' to remark upon previous, permitted, forms of foreign interference, from the ruling over an empire, to the sponsoring of coups and foreign political campaigns, to the funding of proxy armies, to the training of foreign paramilitary groups no nation would wish to harbour in their own lands. When it comes to Russia in particular this is treacherous territory, full of landmines and gravity wells. Still, it may be remarked that, quite aside from the fact that the interference being described (in the most extreme of the descriptions) is in all but a handful of cases a distributed denial of democratic service which makes use of a number of willing domestic groups, many of which seemed to revolve around old money, tech money, tech, oil, celebrity, and all of the other styles of most prominant status we see in these times, it has been done, by all sides, regularly. That is, every Western state has been poking at Russia for years. Here we go, we'll expand here. Here you are, have the world's largest trading block on your doorstop, we loved that kind of game when you did it to us. Let's all write about this spontaneous revolution in a country that used to be in your orbit a full quarter of a century after, I don't know, as a for instance, Roger Scruton running an underground university in Prague in the communist days (he was today sacked from the current Conservative government for talking up George Soros's influence in Hungary while also sharing his line on muslim immigration to Europe). Mentioning such things in proximity to Russian interference is thought to be uncouth, or to be treacherous, or is accused of being an example of false moral equivalence. In this instance that latter charge would be hard to argue given that it is my intention that the reader should be left to make up their own mind about Roger Scruton, then and now, about Putin, Orban, and whoever. In case you are reluctant to believe me, I'll try to throw in a curveball. The Guardian once ran an influence campaign in a single state in the United States in an attempt to influence the curve of the US Presidential Election. Had they succeeded, I would have argued that that was morally questionable. Worse, though, would have been what it said about the resilience of the presidential election infrastructure in the United States (not that plenty could not have been said about this, and was indeed judiciously written about this then and before).

So what are the other long-term trends? What is it that has come up from the ground of the leave lands and has now threatened to break apart a union that has been around (kind of, like Trigger's broom in Only Fools and Horses, perhaps), for hundreds of years? What do you say? “There is no such thing as society”? (Yes I know the original quote is longer, no I don't think it matters.) Hold on, you get worried about your little darling not taking a year out at the Sorbonne but you don't want to talk about child poverty or food banks?

Is that all you've got? No, not far from it. Elite-led Orientalism from Tony Blair onwards, just like back in the day, but in performative cockney. Selling off the newspapers. Media monopolies. Not only structural unemployment but a refusal by all sides to do anything constructive about it for decades. The neoliberal consensus on top of that.

What else? All of them stopped walking those streets. Those streets that look like Shameless. The local papers got bought up. Journalists weren't walking the streets in any case. That was far too old hat. Do you know who was? UKIP. And the BNP. They were recruiting from the ranks of the marginal.

But whether that referendum comes down to what happened last week or three or four or five decades ago in Britain or in Belgium or Moscow or New York or Prague (Cambridge Analytica had nothing to do with Cambridge), I have seen one poxy series of short films that put the focus on the people who delivered that result as something other than be a foreign species to be pitied or feared. And then bridging the gap was sometimes too much.

Those people know that Britain was broke for years. Some of them know a little of why. Some of them don't. What they are sure of, with some fuck of a lot of just cause in my view, is that nobody has given a fuck about them for years and that nobody gives a fuck about them now. They are not wrong. Are they?