‘THEY haven’t gone away, you know’. Gerry Adams’s gloating riposte in 1995 concerning the IRA has come back to haunt us yet again. In a narrow sense it pertains to the horrible general election results in Eire, of which we are informed, ironically, that in backing Sinn Fein the young ‘didn’t know what they were voting for’, a charge hitherto levelled at elderly British Brexiteers.
However, in a broader sense Eire is just the latest example of a clear trend across the West: populism ‘hasn’t gone away’. Nor will it, because its roots are in deep economic and social trends that afflict the entire Western world, principally the dramatically slowing of growth in individual prosperity, that have been going on for several decades. As growth slows, political culture changes, and we are inexorably returning to the ugliness of the zero-sum game, which we tend to forget was the norm for all societies prior to the vast explosion of wealth that followed the Industrial Revolution. Increasingly divisions across nation, class, gender, age and race are breaking down the organic bonds in society as disparate groups fight for a greater share of a static resource pie. For a very short time, post-Brexit Britain alone seemed about to find a way out: having made such a giant leap of faith, there exists in our society the psychological capital and expectation of radical change that may allow us to tackle deep-seated problems.
So, forget all the bright shiny boondoggles: it’s the culture, stupid, and on that score Johnson’s government is clearly doing execrably badly. Firstly there is the wholly unnecessary defenestration of Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, another victim of the outrage mob.
By doubling down on their appalling treatment of the late Sir Roger Scruton, the Tories have signalled to friend and foe alike that they have no intention of fighting any kind of culture war.
Unfortunately, zero-sum game politics is manifesting itself as culture war, and has been doing for a considerable time. In Anglo-Saxon societies this is most visible in the march of ‘wokeism’, a more virulent and bizarre version of the political correctness that started way back in the 1980s. ‘Woke’ is likely to increase, partly from Tory pusillamanity and partly because almost every decision this government has made – HS2, IR35, Huawei – suggests that this will be a big state, highly corporatist administration. As we all know, big corporations love ‘woke’: thinking as they do in terms of marketing taxonomies, supporting causes where human individuality can be reduced to crude categories makes perfect sense for them.
Then there is the green madness, highly likely to destroy what is left of our manufacturing industry and leave a large chunk of the North with nothing but white elephants such as HS2 to show for their trust in Johnson. Not just Toryism but capitalism itself will have been totally discredited: can you see the ’Red Wall’ voting for either ever again? It would seem highly likely that, so betrayed, the post-industrial North will return to the ancient, self-destructive bitterness of class war.
Finally, we mustn’t forget the pro-EU elites, currently lying low. No group in the past four years have been more responsible for spreading hatred and division in society. Sadly, the high-spending, big-state pro-corporatism of this administration is unlikely to lift economic growth beyond the short term. If Brexit is seen to be an economic failure, this still very powerful identity will feel thoroughly vindicated. ‘Remain’ will become ‘Rejoin’.
A smug complacency has set in amongst elements of the Tory supporting commentariat, suggesting Britain is an island of stability in an increasingly destabilised continental Europe. How short memories are! Two months ago Britain stood on the edge of electing an ultra-Left, terrorist-supporting anti-Semite, and might have done so but for the first-past-the-post electoral system.
For social conservatives, concerned as we should be with culture rather than economics, the portents seem unremittingly grim. One can easily see a future of an even more divided Britain, sullen and resentful, shattered into a mosaic of ever more antagonistic groups. That such a culture will give rise to some deeply unpleasant political movements seems highly likely. To quote our ‘friends’ in Sinn Fein again, ‘their day will come’.