Post-Brexit and The Culture Wars

Britain is in crisis. It didn’t start with Covid but the pandemic has simultaneously revealed how precarious life actually is for the majority of people in Britain, and it continues to be used as a useful distraction by Johnson to cover his Brexit, sleaze and corruption tracks. 

Britain has struggled to understand its place in the world for a very long time now. We could even say this began as far back as the end of WWII with the implosion of the British Empire, when we stopped being ‘the master of the world’. In contemporary times, our existential crisis was worsened by the Brexit vote in 2016. Since then, we have been unravelling, more and more so since we left the European Union. We are fractured because we don’t really know ourselves anymore: who we were, who we are, what we should stand for. This is where Johnson and his cabal see dark inroads to self-serving opportunities. It is imperative for them that the deep divisions within society exacerbated by Brexit remain forever, for people like Johnson feed off the anger, hatred and confusion. 

The political class has failed to articulate a realistic vision of what the future really holds for ordinary people. Instead, they have sold the working classes a nostalgic dream of a return to a ‘golden age’ that never really historically existed.

In the 2021 book ‘How the Word Was Passed’ by Clint Smith (a book about America’s reckoning with its history of slavery), a tour guide for the Jefferson Plantation named David Thorson articulated what he felt the difference was between history and nostalgia:

I’ve come to realise that there’s a difference between history and nostalgia, and somewhere between the two is memory. I think that history is the story of the past, using all of the available facts, and that nostalgia is a fantasy about the past using no facts, and sometimes in-between, there is memory, which is a kind of blend of history and a little bit of emotion … I mean, history is kind of about what you need to know … but nostalgia is what you want to hear.

Throughout our history, the working classes have always suffered at the hands of the ruling elites; British society has always been unequal by design, from feudalism to now. There never truly was a golden age – certainly not for everyone at any one time. There were fleeting moments when society became more equal (e.g., the creation of the welfare system after WWII) but the forebears of the Johnson ideology always worked (often successfully) to try and roll back any moves for a more egalitarian society. 

We have been told that this nostalgic memory of ourselves was interrupted by membership of the European Union, and continues to be tainted by an annoying left-wing, politically correct elite. This politically correct or ‘woke’ culture, as it is now referred to, is the new enemy of Boris Johnson’s government. Johnson tells us since we left Europe, we are close to returning to who we once were, but we just need to eradicate a few pesky flies in the ointment: get our sense of humour back before everyone decided to be so boring and offended by everything. Johnson frames the left as out of touch with the average person’s wants, needs, and fears. Johnson embodies the ‘I’ll say what I want’ mood, the very same one that Donald Trump so successfully latched on to. Politicians like Johnson and Trump like to link what they deem as ‘wokeness’ to a crisis upon freedom of speech. Any consequences from saying something racist/sexist/homophobic/generally hateful, are then categorised as ‘cancel culture’. 

The truth is that the left doesn’t want to take away your rights, or strip Britain of its past. To look at the past and re-evaluate it in all dimensions – even if that means facing uncomfortable historical truths – does not equate to the cancellation of that past. A problem is that Johnson operates in headline mode: he doesn’t want details or issues to be problematised, for analyses risks exposing him. Johnson models himself on Winston Churchill, and only wants Churchill to be talked about as the war saviour because ‘good Winston’ equates to ‘good Boris’ as defender of Churchill’s, and in turn Britain’s legacy. However, there was more to Churchill than this alone. He was an imperialist; he was an anti-feminist, and he was against the creation of the NHS. He was not perfect. But to discuss these points in the political sphere is to risk being shut down under accusation of trying to erase our past. 

Brexit promised more than it could ever deliver. Maybe the only thing it did deliver was the unmasking of a deeply polarised society. Enough voters believed Johnson, Gove and Cummings’ lies promises, which were fuelled by their will to serve their own goals and interests rather than any real idea behind why Britain should be outside Europe. The truth is that Boris Johnson has to hide the actual impacts of Brexit – the damage it has done/will do, and the lack of benefits it has bought/will bring.

Political correctness/wokeness is being used as a way of scapegoating all of our problems while the Tories offer impossible solutions which will bring more damaging consequences. They promised that Brexit would bring us more money, better trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world, less immigration into Britain (or at least a way to limit it), and an end to inequality. Johnson and his party have failed on every single one of these points

The bottom line here is that Brexit wasn’t ever about restoring British sovereignty or democracy. Instead, it’s aim was to reconcentrate power in Britain, allowing those in power to pursue their own goals, without fear of checks and balances from Europe.

~ L&A 7.11.21 ~

Clint Smith, ‘How the Word Is Passed’, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2021

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