What dark forces lie behind the Brexit façade?

World view: Britons who see Brexit as a domestic conflict fail to recognise that this is a global political conflagration.

Boris Johnson last night turfed out 21 Tory rebels. Now he is preparing to put British democracy to one of its greatest tests, writes Geoff Kitney.

A new breed of toxic conservatism is sweeping the world, smashing and trashing the institutions and moral values that are the foundations on which traditional conservatism and today’s civilised world are built.

The clearest manifestation of this new political phenomenon is the now hyper-driven rush of British Conservatives to crash out of the European Union and the powerful international forces wanting this to be the catalyst for the destruction of the EU and all it represents.

The adherents to this new politics are taking an almost brutish approach to achieving their goals, prepared to smash conventions and adopt a “whatever it takes” contempt for the accepted rules and conventions of democratic politics.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s willingness to traduce the authority of the Queen of England to crash through the parliamentary and political obstacles to getting Britain out of the EU by October 31, come what may, is the latest example of this style of politics.

This brings to the government of the UK a contempt for the norms of democracy which makes Tammany Hall almost seem genteel. The latest manifestation of this in the Brexit campaign – to dis-endorse Tory MPs who don’t toe the line – smacks of authoritarianism.

But in this case the Tory rebels did not buckle. Instead, late last night 21 – many of them senior Conservatives – voted with opposition parties in the House of Commons to seize control of the parliamentary agenda and defeat the government in a bid to stop a no-deal Brexit.  The Whip was promptly withdrawn.

Sky News reported that with the Whip removed, the Tories will go down to 289 out of 650 seats

A source close to the rebels, who will have the Whip removed so they no longer represent the Conservatives, said: “Tonight’s decisive result is the first step in a process to avert an undemocratic and damaging no-deal.

“Number 10 have responded by removing the Whip from two former chancellors, a former lord chancellor and Winston Churchill’s grandson.

“What has happened to the Conservative Party?”

Britons who see Brexit as a domestic conflict in which they have to choose sides fail to recognise that this is a global political conflagration.

There are now a rapidly diminishing number of countries where respect for democratic discourse and the modern tradition of seeking progress through negotiation, compromise and consensus is not under threat.

The last stronghold of these values is the major countries of the European Union. It is quickly becoming apparent that Europe is facing an existential battle to uphold these values, save itself and continue to be a beacon for the world of liberal values.

The nature of this battle is as brutal as it is possible to be short of physical conflict.

Follow the course of this battle on social media and you will find shocking examples of language being used as weaponry.

All pretence at civilised discourse is gone. Abuse, threat, intimidation, blind prejudice and hatred reek out of the on-line postings of the advocates of this new toxic politics.

To describe some of the practitioners of this new politics as “hard” is inadequate. When David Cameron described Dominic Cummings as “a career psychopath” he could have been referring to a whole cohort of practitioners of the new toxic conservatism. Think of Steve Bannon. Think of Vladislav Surkov (Vladimir Putin’s chief adviser). Think of political leaders like Viktor Orban or Jair Bolsonaro and, of course the Disruptor in Chief, Donald Trump.

Their agendas are similar. Their tactics are identical.

Britons who see Brexit as a domestic conflict in which they have to choose sides fail to recognise that this is a global political conflagration.

A generation of political figures and their fellow travellers want to turn upside down and inside out the political order of the past 75 years, the post-war era of democratic consolidation, peace and prosperity. They want to do it to advance their own interests and the interests (in many cases financial interests) of their cabals of supporters.

On the pretext that the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 proved that liberal democracy and globalism had come to the end of their usefulness and that reviving nation states and nationalism should be their cause, the advocates of this change have used some of the ugliest elements of political populism to win public support.

With the long, slow recovery of much of the world economy from the GFC, with ordinary people feeling that there could be no end to hard times under the present political order, with fears of the loss of cultural heritage, there has been fertile ground in which to cultivate a dangerous new ideology.

There are now a rapidly diminishing number of countries where respect for democratic discourse and the modern tradition of seeking progress through negotiation, compromise and consensus is not under threat.

The new figures leading this change have no memories of the events which led to World War Two. Their world view goes no further back than the 2008 economic crisis and what they see as the causes of it. They have no sense of the danger of a world returning to – and divided by – nation state rivalries. National identity, self-interest, neo-liberal capitalism and competition between nation states, they argue, will lead to dynamic new opportunities and a return to prosperity no longer possible under the post-World War Two order.

The dangers this thinking could lead to are dismissed as failed or outdated “leftist”, “socialist” or “progressive” thinking.

The threat to Europe is obvious.

In the new world order that would emerge from the success of this new thinking would be dominated by the biggest nation states – the US, China, Russia. The European Union, as it currently operates (cumbersomely, muddled-headedly, bureaucratically) would be threatened with greater internal instability, especially if it fell behind economically.  The forces that always threaten to pull it apart would grow and the beacon it shines on the virtues of shared sovereignty would dim. The European Union – and the more civilised and peaceful world its ideals embody – would be unlikely to survive.

The thinking that has been at the heart of the Brexit campaign since UKIP (UK Independence Party) first began to emerge has always been inward looking, much of it focussed on petty issues related to bureaucratic rules emanating from Brussels or on exaggerated fears about national identity and rates of immigration. Boris Johnson and his cabal desperately want to maintain this focus to ensure that continues to be the force for change that will deliver Brexit.

But they are trying to hide a much bigger and more important reality – that darker forces lie behind the Brexit façade and that Brexit will not be an end in itself but just a step towards a dangerous future.

 


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Headline image credit:  M-SUR / Shutterstock.com

 

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