Sunday round-up

No, Donald Trump is not going to be a candidate in 2024

Donald Trump is not mentally competent. He has not given a live speech or interview for months. His postings on his new social media site are disconnected gibberish, and this will continue. However, the GOP remains captured by his deeply undemocratic ideas.

The UK elections reveal a dangerous disengagement

Amidst all of the hoopla over the Hartlepool by-election, a very worrying aspect of the election was almost completely ignored. Less than 50% of the electorate in Hartlepool voted. This is not a sound basis for representative democracy. It certainly should result in anybody claiming a “mandate” being ridiculed into silence, but the evidence is that a lot of electors are withdrawing from participation. All political parties should be worried about this, but the reality is that the winning parties do not care (for obvious reasons).

The results in the rest of the UK are highly region-specific. The Conservatives actually lost seats and council control in parts of South East England, notably Kent, where the negative impacts of Brexit first showed up in the form of massive lorry parks, the ludicrous Kent Access Permit and other assorted disruption. However, the distorting effects of the First Past The Post system mean that there was little overall impact, even in Scotland.

The Scottish referendum issue will continue to rumble on, but the mathematics shows that a majority of voters in Scotland supported parties who also support an independence referendum, so people claiming otherwise reveal themselves as mathematically challenged and unserious warblers.

As Covid-19 recedes, Brexit will dominate the political world again

Because Brexit is already an economic failure, the only way in which the government can provide even a fig-leaf of justification is by presenting it as a necessary cultural and historical event. We can therefore expect to see continued invocation of slogans and fine-sounding ideas based around “sovereignty” (which was never defined except in very abstract terms, so it is an ideal slogan around which to build rhetoric. Like beauty, sovereignty is totally in the eye of the beholder), plus the dismissal of pro-EU voices as disloyal or unpatriotic (this, by the way, is the Hermann Goering playbook, as revealed in his Nuremberg interrogation).

The slowly increasing financial impacts of Brexit will be ignored, or waved off as “this would have happened anyway”.  However, every time the UK argues with the EU and loses, or tries to negotiate a trade deal with another country and is forced to accept poor terms, we will be reminded of the strategic folly once again. This, like a dripping tap, will slowly have an impact. However, I expect Brexit support to stay high, because nobody likes to admit to having made a mistake. Like racism, I expect a lot of Brexit support to slowly, literally, die with the supporters.

The government is already expanding on the culture war aspects of Brexit via its sudden demonization of “woke” groups presumed to be dangerous. All of the old suspects are there, colleges and teachers being at the top of the list. It’s like reading 1970s Tory propaganda sheets all over again. Nothing is new under the Sun. The entire approach is to demonize groups for narrow political ends, and it is already working.

Why these culture war diversions always seem to work is a complex topic, but it has a lot to do with media incuriosity. When did you last hear a media interviewer say “can you define Woke?” to a politician?

A determined attempt to demand definitions for glib slogans like “woke” or “will of the people” (a phrase that should worry anybody with a good grasp of history, given its fascist popularity) is a good way of uncovering bullshit, but the modern media is not equipped attitudinally to do that. Until people peddling slogan word salad are forced to define it, rhetorically empty phrases like “woke” will continue to be used as emotional activation code phrases.

The UK government has discarded norms, and is going to try to consolidate a one-party regime

All of the recent evidence suggests that the UK government, as Chris Grey has noted, now lives in a weird parallel universe. In order to perpetuate that state of mind in their minds and the electorate, they need to be able to be above scrutiny, both by the media, and by Parliament. It is a re-run of the scenario in “1984” (“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”)

We can therefore expect to see the following two strategies unfolding in parallel over the next 12-18 months:

  • Determined attempts to reduce media scrutiny, via a combination of assuring BBC compliance and ignoring or denigrating all media outlets that are not obviously pro-government
  • The formulation and passing of laws designed to reduce parliamentary and independent scrutiny of government actions

The first of these strategies is well under way via the appointment of Conservative sycophants to the BBC governing body, and the recent announcement of the intent to privatize Channel 4. Make no mistake, “privatize” in this context translates to “sold to a group of Tory supporters who will enforce fealty to the government”.

The second strategy is visible via periodic government complaints about “independent” scrutiny, and a series of actions going back years which have reduced opportunities for debate and scrutiny of government plans and decisions. The plan to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act is the most recent example. The government wants to pick and choose the date of the next General Election in order to maximize its chances of governing for another 5 years without any checks and balances.

The absence of a written Constitution in the UK makes the exercise of power not bounded by historical norms and conventions very very easy. The only person who could stop that would be the Queen, who is not supposed to intervene in any way in the political process.

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