After all the hoo-hah about choosing between two equally daft voting systems last week, things at Westminster will shortly have to revert to what passes for normality these days. But contemporary ‘business as usual’ is beginning to look increasingly like a large, unwieldy, and underperforming company about to be broken up. Words like British Leyland come to mind – as do others like Ancient Rome. Let me explain.
If I’m not mistaken, it was after the Act of Union in 1702 that the term United Kingdom first began to be used. For some two centuries after that, the various island races that make it up worked to become the sailors, engineers, poets, writers and mill owners at the heart of the biggest Empire ever seen. But first a ruinous naval arms race with – and then a catastrophic fight for survival against – Germany left the Imperial homeland at the mercy of lenders. The main lender – the USA – went on to fulfil its destiny as global policeman, and the former enemy Germany recovered to lead Europe to a degree it never achieved via war. Our chief ally, France, wisely contributed little beyond wasted human lives to this saga, and ended it by cuddling up to our old adversary. And latterly, the US has come to regret the cost of running a police force; while the Germans are having profound second thoughts about dragging Latin Europe behind its already overloaded wagon.
The only sovereign State that has failed to learn the lessons of this history is the one that used to run things – this great ‘United Kingdom’ of ours. But it is time we got around to dropping the term: whatever David Cameron says, we are not in any way a united kingdom. We are now four very different cultures with very different econo-political structures and Parties.
In the Scottish elections last week, it wasn’t just that Labour was humiliated in a traditional heartland – it was Alex Salmond whose policy of looking competent in government and ambitious about his country’s future finally bore fruit. Do not underestimate the spectacular success achieved by the SNP last Thursday; theirs was not a protest vote – a patronising insult if ever there was one – but rather an act of filling the waffling vacuum first created by Blair, since puffed up into a gigantic black hole of polemic anti-matter by Ed Miliband.
The Scottish model of society never accepted Thatcherite ideas, and has now firmly rejected them in favour of a welfare society where property ownership is abnormally low, and banking is eyed with deep suspicion. For myself, I think the economic numbers both now and in the future are stacked high against an Independent Scotland, whose bloated State and overdependence on whisky and cloth exports is there for all to see. The country gets an annual £26 billion subsidy from Westminster; it will surely and sorely miss this – as it will, as a struggling society, membership of the EU.
But Salmond’s achievement is to have replaced Left and Right with Scottish. This has become an unstoppable patriotic bandwagon: and it will grow in size and confidence as the older and more conservative Scottish professionals retire and die. For Cameron to talk of fighting to retain the Union at this point is nothing more than his usual bombastic drivel in the face of harsh facts. I won’t be sorry to see the Scots leave the Union, but I do genuinely wish them luck: my adult kids are half-Scottish and proud of it, and I believe that once they no longer have the Sassenachs to hate, the folks to the North will focus their very real energies on how to survive without them.
Wales is also often seen as a bit of England clinging to its odd little language, but it too rejected the UK political consensus on where ‘Right’ begins last week – by effectively voting in a solid old-Labour National Assembly. I make regular jokes about the Welsh language and culture, but my wife is Welsh and I go there a lot these days – as I did on holidays when I was a kid. It is about as English as Brittany – whose language and separatist culture it resembles in many ways.
Wales has a State even more swollen than that of Scotland. Its coal and iron-smelting wealth is no more, and while slate has recovered some popularity, the main employers are (after the Government) farming and tourism. There is no conceivable way based on known resources that Wales could exist as a nation State at anything above subsistence level. Nor, in reality, is there much of a desire to do so. But its traditional culture is one of mining, singing and worship. It refers to its main clients as ‘FETS’ (F**king English Tourists) and in the Northern areas of the country, 1 in 4 has Welsh as their main language.
The Welsh have no desire to be run by a bunch of metropolitan wah-wahs in Westminster. They don’t have the self-destructive drink-fuelled patriotism of the Scots – but they are far less English………..if you catch the irony.
Ulster has largely given up fighting and being right. This was to everyone’s advantage, and although there are signs again of The Troubles resurfacing, I have felt for decades now that the problem for the two religious communities is having London there to pull them apart – and slag off as a common enemy.
I am 25% Irish – perhaps more, the genetics of this are hazy at the grandmother level – and thus entitled to assert that the fiery Irish temperament remembers everything and learns nothing. But I do think this is also because it’s been allowed to. Either way, in the North there is a tradition of marching tribalism that few mainlanders outside Liverpool and Glasgow can comprehend; and in the Irish Republic there is a gab genius and marketing skill existent alongside a philosophical outlook based on the entirely foreign logic of Gaelic and its traditions.
Ireland was the first to throw off the Union yoke, and it will unite in the end. In the meantime, the South has a new and far more evil enemy than we ever were – and confidence in its traditional religious precepts has been shaken to the core by social change and disgracefully tolerated church child abuse. Ulster is a serious money-pit for Westminster; and as people Ulster Protestants are, by and large, folks whose accent seems to be everywhere in the media, but whose majority religious observance strikes most English citizens as being roughly on a par with tolerant Islam. Ireland is populated largely by Celts, Scots and the odd Romany – with a smattering of picts who lost their way. They are a nation with enormous divisions and huge culture-economic problems. But their culture is not (and is proud to be not) Anglo-Saxon.
That leaves England, easily now the most multiply splintered culture in the UK. Ruled by a Coalition nobody really wanted (but intitially took to on the desperate basis of Anyone But Gordon) its cobbled together Government is a decidedly un-English pact between people of almost entirely opposing ideas: conservative free marketeers on the one hand with – or rather versus – State welfarist fluffy Europhiles on the other. In ‘opposition’ to this curious melange is a Highgate Nutter-cum-pc Labour Party vaguely at last able to admit that it should’ve cut State expenditure earlier, yet somehow determined to show that the Coalition is cutting too soon.
In fact, this is the accurate but potentially misleading end result of a schism that has existed in England since roughly 1974. The split is between two churches, both of which are internally catholick in belief and tradition.
The Fabian Church stems from the bourgeois evolutionary socialism of Edwardian England. It was gradually adopted first by working class people as a Lib/Lab ticket at constituency level, and then by a new generation of University-educated intellectuals during the years 1940-1975. These latter promoted and installed the Welfare State. After the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher, Labour first went to a split Left – working class Scargillite trade union confrontation in one corner, and legalistic/intellectual radical middle-class Bennism in the other.
The mutual suspicion between the two led to impenetrable manifestos and a string of defeats, until the Blairite clique of Thatcherlites captured the Party from the sparring Left after 1995. The running battle between Old Labour Brown and metropolitan New Labour Blair in turn produced Government anarchy from roughly 2004 until the defeat of 2010. In the meantime, Ed Balls claimed the mantle of Brownacus, while Ed Miliband is a sort of Pax Socialismus between Harmanite minority-rights insanity, and Mandelsonian pragmatic inanity.
The Margaretian Church is no less mutually hateful. Margaret Thatcher took the Conservative Party away from ‘wet’ One Nation Toryism, and then hatched the brilliant idea of stealing Labour voters by giving them a house more or less free – up to but not including the mortgage payments – and more disposable income to spend on bling.
It is I think fair to say that Baroness Thatcher transformed British society like nobody since William the Conqueror; and if nothing else, she put the power-mad TUC back in a box called ‘pressure group’ – as opposed to what it had become: the power behind the Throne. But it all went badly wrong because her Administration compounded the encouragement of City greed by trying to reintroduce the taithes system for the peasantry. Ever since that time (1989), the Conservative Party has had two endlessly squabbling tendencies: the anti-EU-free-market-everyone-must-pay-Lord Tebbitt-is-Margaret’s-agent-on-Earthers, and the we-must-stop-being-nasty-but-we-don’t-know-what-to-be-except-pragmatic Cameroons. And while many on the Labour Left feed on their paranoia that the Bullingdons around the Prime Minister are really Hard-faced Margaretian fundamentalist clergy in disguise, this is most emphatically not the view of the right-wing 1922 Committee.
On almost every demographic and geographic dimension below the politics of Westminster, English society is hopelessly divided. There is:
- The London city-state bubble v the Southern Shires v the North v The South West
- The unapologetically very rich v the comfortably-off decent v the Underclass
- The pc teacher-failures v the sane parents v the Tory reformers v the Inner City nutters
- The mad feminists v the reasonable career women v the gender revisionists
- The Young Right v the middle-aged nettle winers v the Hard Left
- The Guardian v The Telegraph v The Independent v Mail v The Mirror v The Sun
- The retired anti-ageists v the Treasury v the Inland Revenue v the Banks
- The globalists v the sane majority v the anti-G20 Hairies
- The immigration incontinents v the sane majority v the BNP/UKIP wing
- The regulators v the Banks v the same majority v The Occupiers.
And yet….the reality is that there are really only four groups that matter:
- The econo-constitutional reform radicals v the tinkerers v the diehard greedy buggers v the Asleep.
Since May 2010, the only good result from Coalition government has been an improved ability to describe each of these groups more exactly. And they are, respectively, most fair and intelligent citizens who realise the mess is insoluble without drastic action; the main Parties at Westminster; bankers, property developers, ambulance chasers, online crooks etc etc; the young, poor, drunk, Hello-reading, X Factor watching, government employee axis of mediocrity….aka, about 44% of the UK citizens.
There go those initials again: UK. But we can never be united about anything as long as:
Nobody in the Establishment elite turns on the reform realists
Nothing breaks the power of the Party Whip and the unaccountable Executive
Nobody stands up to the bad guys
Everyone among the apathetics feels alienated and let down.
I don’t know about you, but I see absolutely no sign on the horizon of this situation being about to change. This morning on the Marr Show, even Slick Nick Clegg was momentarily flummoxed when the show’s presenter asserted, “Your strategy’s in tatters, isn’t it?”
Clegg’s problem appeared to be twofold: (1) Strategy? What’s he on about? And (2) How to talk his way out of the tatters thing. There was a genuine hesitation, and a sense that the Deputy PM was waffling in the hope of a credible response popping into his mind. It didn’t.
Later on the same show came Ed Miliband. Here we have a man who thinks “This election has sent a message to Westminster” isn’t a laughably clichéd soundbite. He must think this because last Thursday, he said it several times. A nation groaned.
“I think what we have to do is explain clearly to the electorate what our alternative is,” he told a nodding Marr.
Our Alternative as a concept occupies a special place in Ed’s mind. Perhaps it’s a leftover from taking on board The Alternative Vote, a majoritarian electoral system with which he failed to show much familiarity during the Referendum campaign – let alone any enthusiasm.
But satire aside, Our Alternative is a mantra Big Ed has taken to his heart. He would’ve been in better shape to answer Marr’s next question had he taken it to his head.
“Uh-huh,” said the Scottish taxi-door-eared injunction server, “And what is your alternative exactly?”
The Opposition Leader deftly stepped aside as the Big Issue headed towards him, preferring instead to drone on about deep lessons.
“What deep lessons?” asked the ever-interested Andrew.
Ed said the Party had staged a post and thus made progress. “I think that there was a context in this election where you had two parties,” he ventured. He added that Labour must set out an alternative vision. Andrew Marr was too kind to repeat his earlier question. One suspects that this is a major flaw in the mild-mannered Scot’s interviewing technique. Although in this particular case, perhaps he felt embarrassed about having shared a shag with his interviewee in the past.
Marr’s final interview was with the Chancellor George Osborne. George was in fear playing-down mode. He tried to play down fears that the proposed NHS changes amounted to backdoor privatisation, saying: “We want to reassure people we’re not – and never have wanted to – privatising the NHS.”
Nor has the Cabinet ever wanted to protecting the RMS – Rupert Murdoch Sky. Nor has it ever yearned to covering up the Met Police collusioning with the RMS.
Well, that’s good enough for me, what?
Mrs Thatcher offered us more bread. Tony Blair promised more circuses. So the only thing on offer now – declining empires being what they are – is the break-up of the homeland, with barbarians about to start dictating the agenda. The whole thing feels very Edward Gibbon to me. The writing is on the wall: we should stop using ‘UK’ as a generic description of our country.
Perhaps English Islamic Republican Emirates would be better – EIRE. No, hang on….I think somebody’s already got that one.