The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.
Denying the seriousness
In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:
“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”
There are grounds for believing that some people see a “no deal” Brexit as meaning things would carry on as they before, as if it’s refusing imagined future encroachments from Europe, rather than a rash leap into the unknown.
This article was originally written at the start of 2020, but it gives a perspective on why Brexit supporters are not (yet) switching away from support for Brexit, even with the threat of no deal — or a very bad one (and why they don’t seem to share others’ horror at the Internal Market bill, even though this breaks what the British Government agreed last autumn and presented to the electorate as an “overn-ready deal” in the 2019 General Election, runs foul of our commitments under international law and has led the EU to begin legal action.
A “No deal” Brexit would mean leaving the EU without the benefits of any of the trade deals the UK currently enjoys. The UK would immediately face tariffs on international trade, major disruption along the border with the Republic of Ireland, and significant damage to all the businesses currently using just-in-time delivery chains that cross borders. Failure to recognise its seriousness make it easier for supporters of Brexit to dismiss any adverse predictions as “project fear” and fuels the claims of people like Nigel Farage, that the softer forms of Brexit are “Brexit in name only”. Both introduce an unhelpful level of unreality into the process around Brexit.
Pretending Covid-19, Brexit and climate change don’t matter: why do some people need to ignore reality?
On 24 March 2020 Paul Bullen, formerly leader of the UKIP group on Cambridgeshire County Council, put out a jaw-dropping tweet where he said:
“Isn’t it about time we stopped this nonsense. The majority don’t care about Covid-19, don’t care if they catch it and know that it won’t have any adverse effects. Do we really want to kill our economy? Let’s get back to work, open our pubs and restaurants and get back to normal.” (click to view tweet)
After the Brexit party chose not to stand candidates against sitting Tories, Bullen became an independent candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in the General Election, where I stood for the Liberal Democrats. He took a position that was strongly in favour of Brexit. In hustings he repeatedly claimed that climate change, though real, is not the result of human activity, and that, if elected, he’d not be beholden to any party line, but would speak for his constituents.
I don’t know Bullen well enough to speculate on what he actually thinks, and note that this twitter account seems to have been deleted.
Brexit “gets back” what was never lost — Boris Johnson has set up himself (or his successor) for failure when this becomes obvious. The consequences will be serious.
The vox pops in my social media feed on 31 January sent a shiver down the spine. There were comments on getting back “our freedom” (that we never lost), “our independence” (that we never lost), our “sovereignty” (that we never lost), our “democracy” (that we never lost) and “our industry” (that we have lost, but not because of the EU).
That’s a heady mix. On social media people were quick to lampoon these positions — with good reason — but people are believing them.
Early in November 2019, the news that a Chinese company was buying what’s left of British steel injected some reality into the seriousness of Brexit party’s decision not to stand candidates against the Tories.
Sometimes the coincidence of what happens to appear in the same news broadcast is startling. 11 November 2019 saw the news that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was not going to stand candidates against the Tories, and that the Chinese Jingye Group was to buy British Steel.
The People’s Vote march on 19 October 2019 had a sadness to it — akin to depression — and which should be taken seriously.
A friend commented that she was struck by the sense of sadness. There was also fear, but much less of the carnival-like atmosphere of previous marches. One of the hallmarks of emotions in groups is that, if they affecting the whole group, they are less obvious because people don’t look around and see others in a radically-different space. My friend’s words called my up short, and made me wonder.
Freud’s essay Mourning and Melancholia suggests that the big difference between the two is that, in mourning there is real grieving for something that has been lost, such as after the death of a loved one, but in melancholia, though the sadness is real, but it’s not so clear what has actually been lost. That’s part of the territory of depression.
19 October 2019 was a day of high drama in Parliament — in its first Saturday sitting since the Falklands invasion. The media has been awash with speculation and interpretation — often adding more heat then light. Perhaps that’s justified, but I wonder if it was also a distraction from something much harder to name.
An un-nameable loss
I could point a finger at both the Conservative and Labour parties, suggesting that they’ve both lurched to extremes, leaving many of their traditional supporters with a sense of abandonment. I could point to the serious threat of Brexit, in both economic and cultural terms. But these have all been around for a while. They don’t adequately explain the sadness now. Continue reading “Repercussions of a sadness around Brexit”
The ancient text of the Mahabharata seems to speak into the latest craziness of Brexit — speaking of the folly that comes with blind ambition, and the price paid by the next generation.
For some time now I have been working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, serialised on Indian television in the 1980s, and now on youtube. At its core is a huge war between two sets of cousins. It’s sometimes cast as a war between truth and untruth. Like all wars, its causes are complex.
Part of the explanation is that king Vichitravirya’s elder son, Dhritarashtra, was born blind, so his younger brother, Pandu, was named Crown Prince. Dhritarashtra succeeds to the throne after his brother’s premature death. That contains the seeds of a deadly for succession between the sons of Pandu and of Dhritarashtra — not helped by Dhritarashtra’s blind loyalty to his son Duryodhan, despite his obvious rashness, which stands in marked contrast to the wisdom of Pandu’s elder son Yudhishthira.
The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through. But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.
Recently there was an article in the Telegraph about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other.
The Hindu epic the Mahabharata offers a way to think about the absurdity of attempting of commemorating D-day at the same time as trying to leave the EU set up to prevent another war in Europe.
The last few minutes have seen a startling justaposition in my news feed, in quick succession I heard:
On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One there was coverage of the 75th anniversary of D-day, with a reminder of the seriousness of the task and the sheer amount of support from other countries that enabled this to succeed, which flatly contradicts the idea that “the UK won the war” in it’s own strength.
A video from Russia Today showed both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt advocating leaving the EU with no deal — immediately followed by a commentator pointing out the damage that’s already happened and how much worse “No deal” would make things.
Also on The World at One was a tiny comment about Rory Stewart (also pitching to become Tory leader) explaining that it is crazy to imagine that the EU will re-open negotiations, or to think there is money for drastic tax cuts.
I’m slowly working my way through the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, as serialised on Indian television, and caught a moment where two mothers whose sons are on opposite sides in the war at the heart of the story console each other. One asks the other whether she will pray for victory: she doesn’t want to force the choice on God who has to disappoint one of them if they both pray for this.
This connects with something I blogged recently about the Brexit saga in terms of failed dependency — of the raw emotions exposed when the sense of failed dependency. A very natural response is to seek a leader who can be trusted (or gives the impression that they can).
The Audit of Political Engagement also shows people thinking the government shouldn’t have to worry so much about votes in parliament, that more important decisions should go to referenda, puts public trust in MPs even lower than it was in the expenses scandal, and says 74% trust the military to act in the public interest, but only 34% say the same of MPs (and 29% say it of political parties). On top of this, it adds that 50% say the main political parties don’t care about people like them, 63% say “the system” is rigged to help the rich and powerful and the proportion who don’t think that political engagement can change the way the UK is run has hit a 15 year high.
That’s a heady cocktail. Like the scepticism around MPs, referenda assume we can’t trust parliament — it shifts the decision from politicians expected to find out facts and deliberate with each other to find a way forward with broad consent, to people coming to positions without the facts or the deliberation. That’s dangerous: lots of people would be tempted to vote “yes” to lower taxes and “yes” to more money for the NHS, but those two contradict and it takes information and deliberation to reconcile them. Continue reading “Dangerous support for a “strong leader””
There’s a wild — and delusional — optimism at the heart of the fantasy of a hard Brexit and trading on World Trade Organisation rules. The idea of “lots of trade deals” has been dubbed “British Empire 2.0”. What binds these together is people dealing with the awkward legacy of empire by projecting the negative emotions onto the EU and fantasising that we can capture the imagined glory of empire again.
The problem now is unresolved things from the past being worked out in the present, with the UK seeing its own imperialist tendencies in the EU, rather than acknowledging them, chasing an ill-conceived flight of fancy that tries to recapture the past without recognising its shadow, doing real damage in the present and even more serious damage to our future.
The Guardian piece put a persuasive case for seeing bigotry at the heart of the support for Brexit. It is persuasive but not totally compelling, in that I know people who voted Leave out of a sense of alienation or wanting to waive two fingers at politicians, and others who voted Leave because life has been very tough and they felt that “something has to change” — without thinking too closely of the possibility of things changing for the worse.
What’s intriguing about the Daily Mail story is that the claim has been that “immigrants are taking our jobs”. Though the reality is that immigrants also boost the economy and therefore create jobs, this has been a real fear. But Brexit is leading to staff shortages in the NHS, and the Daily Mail is proud of people volunteering to plug the gap, then something else is going on. Volunteers are not paid. The Daily Mail initiative has turned “immigrants taking our jobs”, which sounds like an economic argument, into “we should be prepared to work for nothing”, as a price (apparently) gladly-paid for getting rid of foreigners.