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Posts Tagged ‘British politics’

The next Battle of Britain is going to about England’s future

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 6th 2019

Brexit certainly seems increasingly to be about England – or a certain version of England and a rather specific version of the past.

Take last week for example. The previous Tuesday was another landmark day for Brexit. There were numerous big parliamentary votes and the House of Commons made clear again that it was unhappy with Theresa May’s deal with the EU.

BBC News knew this was a big moment and the next day ended their flagship ‘Six O’Clock News’ announcing: ‘Theresa May says she intends to go back to Brussels to renegotiate her Brexit deal but EU leaders say the deal is done and they will not reopen talks.’

Dramatic stuff. But what footage did the BBC have as a backdrop to showcase a British Conservative Prime Minister with their back to the wall standing up to Europe? They inexplicably choose footage of World War Two Spitfires and the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. The reason for this, the Beeb later revealed, was ‘a production mistake’ of loading a previously shown film again. That seemed a little disingenuous to say the least! Read the rest of this entry »

Britain, Brexit and Why Winston Churchill is Alive and Kicking in this Mess

Gerry Hassan

Le Monde, January 21st 2019

Britain is not a happy place. But then neither is much of the Western world. Instead, it is angry. A country where many people feel let down, not respected or listened to by politicians, institutions and elites.

In the UK, unlike elsewhere, this discontent fed into and aided the victory of the Brexiteers in the 2016 referendum. The subsequent near three years of continual Brexit discussions between the UK and EU, and within the UK, have not produced an agreed plan for leaving – or national unity. Rather, all this has fed even more disquiet and distrust.

This state of affairs has not just emerged in the last few years, but has been building, slowly and imperceptibly for decades. It has been driven by disappointment amongst many voters at the condition of post-war Britain, anxiety about change, and a fear of the future: all of which have contributed to more and more people taking refuge in an imagined version of Britain’s past.

A pivotal figure in all this has been Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the UK between 1940-45 and 1951-55. Churchill’s political record saw him first, Conservative; then, Liberal, and finally, Conservative again. His public life spans most of 20th century Britain, from the turn of the century Boer War, to Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ in 1909, the First World War and the Gallipoli disaster. Then there was his disastrous decision as Chancellor in the 1920s to return Britain to the Gold Standard, resisting the General Strike, and the wilderness years of the 1930s opposing Indian home rule and appeasement of the Nazis. Then came redemption, as he became PM in the ‘darkest hour’ of May 1940. And after all that, there was even a final act, returning as premier in 1951. Read the rest of this entry »

Salmond, Sturgeon and the End of an Era for the SNP

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, January 16th 2019

Britain stands at an abyss. Three years of endless Brexit deliberations have resulted in the UK facing crisis, doubt and anxiety about what the future holds. Politics has become a high wire act of competing intransigencies and denials of reality – with the only certainty that there is no easy way out of this mess or simple resolution.

This is a crisis of mainstream politics, democracy and Britain’s political parties. The Tories continue their thirty-year civil war on Europe, while Corbyn’s Labour continue to uphold constructive ambiguity informed by their leader’s long held Euroscepticism. The Lib Dems struggle for any relevance after the Cameron coalition.

If that were not enough, this present impasse has shown the limitations of British democracy, with Brexit debates reduced to Westminster parlour games shaped by the most obsessional opinions. This isn’t some arcane and elite concern, for underlying this is something even more serious: a deep seated malaise about what the idea of Britain is, and the grip of a reactionary, insular, backward looking English nationalism on the Tory Party, which has the potential not only to destroy the Tories but take all of us over the cliff into the abyss.

This is to put it mildly a historic moment for the UK – but as Fintan O’Toole has suggested one where there is a sense of anticlimax as much of the script has been written by a fantasy version of history. Brexit, he writes, is ‘full, not just of nostalgia, but of pseudo-history. It is an old curiosity shop of fake antiques.’ Read the rest of this entry »

The Brexit Disaster is an Existential Crisis in the ‘Idea’ of Britain

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, December 5th 2018

Last week I attended an event at Dundee University on the ideas and impact of the Scottish thinker Tom Nairn. Many of his books were discussed, including his critique of the monarchy, and the insularity of the British left, but his most important work – ‘The Break-Up of Britain’ – published 41 years ago, seems more relevant than ever as we live through Brexit.

‘The Break-Up of Britain’ explores the archaic, ossified relic that is the British state; undemocratic, anti-modern and that sees itself as ‘the mother of Parliaments’. It is also a book in which the state of England is central to this mindset – its gathering unease at events in Europe and the European project, and in which a reactionary English nationalism is emerging, initially around Enoch Powell (who was obsessed with ‘sovereignty’), but then taken up by Thatcher, and now by Brexiteers.

Brexit has caused many surprises, but it should not have come as a surprise. The UK Government has shown a scale of incompetence unprecedented in recent times. Leavers have had a cavalier disregard with coming up with a feasible plan for leaving, while the Labour Party has been too often posted missing in action without a Brexit policy worthy of the name. And to cap it all, Theresa May and her Tory Government have managed to lose three Brexit parliamentary votes in a single day – including for the first time having a UK Government held in contempt of Parliament. Read the rest of this entry »

This should be the time for Corbyn’s Labour but so far it isn’t

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, November 28th 2018

This should be the moment for Corbyn’s Labour. They face a divided, incompetent Tory Government. A party that has lost nine Cabinet ministers in the last year, which has no domestic agenda to speak of, and is not even bothering with the pretence of a Queen’s Speech.

The Government has no direction or purpose, no credo beyond continuing limpet-like in existence, clinging onto office and pursuing the project of Brexit. And yet at this moment of decision, when Labour should be harrying this government and holding them to account on Brexit and more, despite everything it is the Tories who consistently lead Labour in the opinion polls, rather than the other way round.

As profoundly, the intellectual climate has turned against mainstream Conservatism, as well as moderate social democracy, opening up the terrain for Corbyn’s Labour.

The zeitgeist of the age has finally turned against the assumptions that have dominated British politics for so long. The assertions that markets should be left unfettered, that deregulation is a good thing, that government and the state should just get out of the way of private initiative and believe in the super-rich, that making things doesn’t matter, and that ownership is ultimately just an irrelevance, have all been shown to be bogus. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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