Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Nation in Meltdown?

With its departure from the European Union less than six weeks away and the terms of Brexit unclear after years of negotiation and bickering, the UK seems to be on the verge of meltdown.

In the House of Commons there is no consensus to be found, not in the government ranks nor among the opposition. Prime minister Theresa May co-exists with an insurgency among her caucus. Opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has seen a dissident group leave his party's ranks.

Watching the proceedings in the House of Commons affords a crash course in chaos. One faction wants a second referendum. Another has demanded a snap election. One wants to buy time for some delusional renegotiation of the EU terms for withdrawal. May and her supporters want Parliament to accept Brussel's terms and hope for a better deal later or at least some forbearance from the EU, especially over the Irish question.  Then there's a group, within the minority Tories' own ranks that rejects the withdrawal deal altogether and favours the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal. Some want the "Norwegian" option. Others want the same arrangement Canada negotiated with the EU. Northern Ireland wants this, Scotland wants recognition and respect. Speaker John Bercow grows hoarse from endlessly demanding "order" in the House.

For her part, Theresa May is desperately trying to stall Parliament, promising a serious vote on something at some time before the Brexit bell sounds. Her opposition, within and without her party, see through it. She is obviously buying time, hoping to leave MPs with just two options; the deal she has negotiated or no deal at all.  Meanwhile she furtively scurries to Brussels, begging bowl in hand, only to return with nothing.

Negotiating complex deals is rarely easy. Look at what Canada went through with Washington over NAFTA II.  When the Brits and the Euros negotiated the withdrawal agreement that seems to satisfy no one in Parliament, May was told  that was as good a deal as she was going to get and yet she keeps going back to plead for more.

May exudes the scent of despair, something that rarely plays out well in tough negotiations.  The Tories have recently bested Labour in the polls but it's hard to imagine they'll hold that edge after trucks carrying medicines and food from the continent begin backing up at Channel ports.

Britain's GDP could take a big hit. Some companies are already pulling up stakes and heading across the Channel, some, like the quintessentially British Dyson, are moving their headquarters to Asia.  Britain's pride and joy, its financial sector, is likewise leaking operations to Europe.

Wales, like Scotland, is against Brexit. Both want to remain in the EU. How that will play out in the devolution game will probably depend on the aftermath of the UK withdrawal. Then there's Ireland, Northern Ireland and the "backstop" that the EU insists it will not yield.

This is a scary situation for the peoples of the United Kingdom. There is no consensus only narrowing and increasingly unpopular options. It's a giant sh!t sandwich and everyone is going to have to take a bite. Rule Britannia - hardly.

For observers from the Western democracies, we are watching unfold something that a decade ago we would have considered unthinkable. This is more than the UK's chaotic withdrawal from the EU. It is the utter failure of governance on an epic scale. It is a constitutional union in peril, destabilized by its own hand.

I've been focusing on the decline in democratic governance lately. Britain isn't really unique. The spread of rightwing populism ushering in the rise of authoritarianism is probably a more dangerous manifestation. We have an extreme example in our next door neighbour. Decaying governance seems to go hand in hand with the decline of social cohesion. There's a real danger to this.

Poor governance and social division portend real trouble with the challenges we all will face in the coming decade and beyond.  A reluctance to bridge divides seems to be standard fare these days. Politics is no longer a contest of ideas aimed at bettering the nation and its people. It has now become hyper-partisan, tribal with occasional glimpses of a Lord of the Flies ethos. No one seems able to stop this slide into destabilizing uncertainty.

Readers of this blog will know that my concerns are not primarily political. I focus on the greatest threat facing our nation, our people, our families and ourselves, a threat that utterly eclipses and yet can be deeply worsened by political squabbling. I refer, of course, to mankind's savage and unrelenting attack on the planet itself.

Where are the visionaries that built this country, leaders such as Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson and Pierre Trudeau? Most of what had been the leading democracies could ask the same question. What happened to statesmanship, where did it go? Has neoliberalism so sapped our political vitality as to leave us paralytic in the face of looming crises? Can we even understand each other any longer?


Trailblazer said...

Can we even understand each other any longer?

I doubt that we do or a the least we don't wish to.
Selfishness has replaced nationhood and fear of others taking away our toys (particularly brown people) is rampant.
For too long we have been taught that 'self' is the most important attribute.

As for the UK and having friends and family there I can say that the Brits are in a stupor having let the genie out of the pot.


Karl Kolchak said...

Where are the "visionaries?" They've all been sidelined by the neoliberal globalists who destroyed Great Britain's sovereignty. The reason right wing authoritarian nationalists are on the rise everywhere is that liberals refuse to acknowledge that most people yearn to be a part of something bigger--and up until recently that something was their nation-state. Take that away from them at the same time you destroy their livlihoods by exporting their jobs and they will turn ugly, vicious and mean.

Britain shows what happens when a nation's elites have sold out their citizenry for far too long. It's a lesson to be heeded elsewhere, but of course it won't be.

Toby said...

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. It doesn't have to be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see what is wrong with the United States of America, look no further that the poster using the name of Darren McGavin's character in the Night Stalker/Night Strangler movies and TV series, Karl Kolchak. He is what is wrong with the USA, him and those who (ahem) think like him. The Republicans have controlled the presidency for 22 of the last 38 years, controlled the congress for much of that time and control the Governor's chairs (through gerrymandering) in the majority of the states themselves. In the UK, the Conservative Party has held power for 27 of the last 40 years. So the world economy today has been influenced more by these politicians than any other politicians with the exception of China. So what does Mr. K do? Blame the Libs. They don't understand, he says (without evidence) that people want to be part of something. Tribalism. Keep away the people with the wrong skin colour. The wrong religion. Give them that Liberals and the world will be better. Like Northern Ireland. Like the Balkans. Like the economic and historical anxiety on display in Charlottesville N.C. (Jews will not replace us). It all seems so simple (emphasis) in the rarified air in Mr. Kolchak"s bubble.

mr perfect

Purple library guy said...

The ultrarich figured they could systematically screw everyone over and as long as all everyone saw in the media was propaganda it would all be OK, they could just erase reality from everyone's consciousness.
It doesn't work that way. Even if you atomize people, even if you try your hardest to make everyone suffering think they're suffering alone, in the end people who spend their whole lives poor, desperate, or always scared they'll be next, will get pissed off, and they'll look around for something to hit.
Now we're at the point where the rich are like OK, we'll channel the rage, we can keep it contained to just going after immigrants and minorities. I don't think that's going to work either. Gonna be some bad craziness coming, and I just hope a bit of it hits the bastards who made it inevitable with their greed.

The Mound of Sound said...

Karl, do you stay up at night making up those arguments? Please, don't neglect your sleep.

The Mound of Sound said...

Mr. Perfect and PLG, I think we're all on the same page on this one. Thanks.