On October 21st 2016, Leonard Cohen released his last album – ‘You want it darker’. He passed away on November 7th, a day before Trump’s extreme kind of darkness descended on the US. ‘You want it darker’ reconfirms his 1992 analysis of the US as a laboratory where confrontations between race, class, gender, sexual orientation are still to be resolved before ‘Democracy is coming to the USA’.
Part One of this series demonstrated how the veneer of representative democracy was manipulated to mount a successful coup in which extreme right wing forces take control of the apparatus of the US state. Had Cohen wanted a more graphic vision of what ‘darker’ looks like in redneck, Anglo-Saxon, failed democracy, he only had to look across the pond at UK experience since June 2016
Part Two of ‘The plot against Europe’ restates the unfolding progressive critique of May’s UK coup. It suggests how the toxic combination of Trump and May governments are likely to assault a tolerant, civilising Europe, and most likely also Cohen’s Canadian homeland.
The June referendum in the UK gave the population a binary choice between remaining or exiting the EU. The population split roughly four ways between Brexiteers (26%), Remainers (24%), Did not vote (20%), and not allowed to vote (29%). Cameron ‘threw in the towel’. May became PM on the outcome of an aborted Tory leadership election with the recorded support of 199 Tory MPs.
May could have chosen to shape a Government to take the country in any number of directions. Her July 13th speech on becoming PM gave us the “country that works for everyone” sound bite. However, her leadership campaign slogan, and the more potent catch phrase over the summer – “Brexit means Brexit” – was clearly aimed solely at the Tory Party (where she put four Brexiteers in charge of the four internationally facing Ministries) and the 26% BREXIT voters.
Faced with a choice between a meaningless Tory/UKIP catch phrase and a “country that works for everyone”, May repeatedly chooses the meaningless catch phrase.
As brilliantly put by ‘Neil411’ on Guardian comment pages, “Breakfast means breakfast…I want a fry up with all trimmings says one; I want only fruit and yoghurt says the 2nd. The thirds wants some fruit with bacon and egg to follow; their partner just wants a continental breakfast instead. Almost half the group, people hanging around the back, are just having coffee and don’t really want any breakfast at all.
So it is with vapid pointless soundbites like Brexit means Brexit…. Parliament has to be asked what breakfast we are having because there is no settled will of anyone as to what sort was asked for, because the little form simply said Breakfast – yes or no – it didn’t ask the sort of Brexit/ Breakfast wanted, therefore that is for Parliament to choose”.
To any believer in representative democracy, the logic is impeccable. But the reality is May is not a believer in representative democracy. Rather, she purports to put ‘respect’ of the Brexit referendum victors as the principle purpose/mandate of her Government.
‘Respecting the voice of the British people’, though is a further ‘vapid pointless’ soundbite. At best, it might be May’s tactic to obscure her almost total lack of understanding of what detailed BREXIT policies might be deliverable. It is obscenely disrespectful to the 74% of UK population who did NOT positively assent to EU exit. It is also either a linguistic abuse of the concept of respect, OR, if it is meant literally, exposes the intolerant and fascist values of the May government.
This blog argued in 2013 that one doesn’t have to respect UKIP voters. When politicians express ‘respect’ for blocks of voters, they are sometimes humouring them as a tactic to gain that group’s allegiance to support their own political ambitions. I absolutely do not ‘respect’ people who voted for BREXIT because it fed their racism and xenophobic passions, or because it suited their personal political (Boris, Farage) or business (Hargreaves, Dyson) opportunism. If the May government is not linguistically illiterate, one can only assume their ‘respect’ for the BREXIT 26% is because they are prepared, at the minimum, to pander to racism, xenophobia, and ally with opportunists, to cement their undemocratic power base.
The only way for May to enforce ‘Brexit means Brexit’ as ‘Brexit means whatever I want it to mean’, in an unelected Government with minority support in the country, is through Trump-esque ‘mob rule’ stirred up by her media (and normally non-Dom expatriate) allies.
So, when the judges interpret the law, they are charged by the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. With its Nazi and Stalinist overtones, this is incitement to violence against those judges, pure and simple. And indeed, those who brought the case to court have received death threats. Farage and his fascist goons intend to march to intimidate the Supreme Court when Government’s appeal against the ruling is heard. May and her Lord Chancellor, on the other hand, put defending the right of the press to incite hate and violence on a par with the independence of the judiciary.
Similarly, if one believed in the UK as a ‘country that works for everyone’, the very last thing one would prioritise on the seizure of power in the US by someone very, very unstable and dangerous for the world, would be divisive detachment from our European partners. One might even have the gravitas and humility to explain that circumstances have profoundly altered. A principled statesman might argue ‘now is not the time to be distracted by a fundamental, highly complex and all-consuming BREXIT process which commands neither parliamentary nor overwhelming popular support’. May might even be prepared to fight a general election to test that proposition.
Four months in, May has failed to demonstrate the values, insights or, indeed, competence to either genuinely respect and mediate the multiplicity of opinion unleashed by Cameron’s referendum; or to act wisely and honestly in an increasingly dangerous world. All she has managed to do is cobble together a fragile coalition of her hopelessly divided ‘one nation’ and ‘UKIP-lite’ Tory parties. With Farage as Trump’s ‘best buddy’ and potentially a powerful arbiter of the US-UK ‘special relationship’, May is either ‘toast’ or a puppet in the now inevitable plot against Europe.
Trump and his backers need to prosecute the plot against Europe (and Canada) as arguably their premier foreign affairs goal. The US far right cannot allow a successful ‘world’s largest trading bloc’. First globally in both inbound and outbound international investments, largest trading partner for over 80 countries (the US is top trading partner for only just over 20), a cohesive, determined EU can set the terms of the global economy and frustrate the goals and ways of working of US corporations – from bona fide global brands to Trump-esque gangster capitalists. More importantly, as a successful multi-national political entity, the EU offers a consensual approach to tackling global societal challenges (migration, climate change, demography etc) which is an anathema to redneck extremists and their ‘winner takes all’ way of negotiating. In this respect, CETA provides Canada with an interesting opportunity to line up with Europe in the ‘fightback’ (see Part Three).
May, or her successor if she goes in 2017, will support the US coup conspirators. Whilst government puts ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘respect for the 26%’ ahead of civilised values, they desperately need a failing EU. A cohesive, determined EU could choose to destroy the UK economy (although one suspects the EU is not as vindictive as either Trump’s US or the May government). That is too much for UK political bullies, the non-Dom press barons, and for mob rule to bear.
With Farage as the go-between and arbiter, how might the plot unfold?
First, there will be covert and some overt support for Le Pen in the impending French election. This has already been seen in the extraordinary spectacle of the BBC considering it ‘respectable’ to invite Le Pen on a supposedly serious political programme on Remembrance Sunday! Will anti-fascists in France be more able to resist than their anglo-saxon comrades? They need to be part of the fightback to come in Part Three.
Second, there is major encouragement now for Putin to progress Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine – and thereafter in the Baltic States (with their large sometimes oppressed Russian minorities). Disruption of EU members and neighbours will be a further challenge for EU’s global influence. Expect a knowing nod and a wink from Washington, and poodle-behaviour from the US’s aircraft carrier off the European mainland’s coast.
Trump and May have other options for keeping the EU off balance. How about a deal with Erdogan and a new Cyprus equation? All the elements are there…Turkey’s pivotal role in NATO and Middle East, Russian oligarch interests and three UK military bases in Cyprus, Trump Erdogan and Putin all ‘democratically’ elected – come on, use your imagination!
Third – there might be a US-UK accelerated trade deal to disrupt the EU position in BREXIT negotiations, although with Trump and a Republican Congress as cosignatories it is unlikely to be ‘worth the paper…’.
Fourth, if all the above fails to materialise, both sides of the Atlantic still have the popular press, mob rule, the KKK, the Farage goons etc., and the chaos and havoc they could wreak on values and beliefs Europe holds dear.
This blog cannot command the far-sightedness of Roth’s ‘Plot against America’ or Cohen’s ‘Democracy’. It can, though, assert Cohen’s final recording:
“They're lining up the prisoners And the guards are taking aim I struggled with some demons They were middle class and tame I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim You want it darker…”
And, perhaps, it can also suggest some agenda items for crisis recovery and turnaround. I hope readers will stick with this in Part Three. Please contribute your ideas and energies to the debate and actions now required to counter the plot against Europe.