Dispatches from a failing state

There’s been a trend over the past decade in translating forgotten Eastern European plays from the 1930s and 40s, resetting them in a contemporary Britain and staging them to new London audiences. The problem I’ve always found with these adaptations is that the plays – often satires – only really make sense in the context of the time and place for which they were written. Emerging into a relaxed 21st century London after curtainfall, stretches the “it could happen here” premise too far.

The events of of the past week have undone this certainty – have undone me.

As I write, Britain faces a deep economic recession with cuts areas already struggling in the wake of years of austerity policy, including our cherished National Health Service, social care, transport and infrastructure, housing, regeneration for deprived areas, education and environmental services. Food, energy, oil prices are set to rise. Jobs will certainly be hit, opportunities for young people slashed as the 27-nation options become limited to just one. Where there was unity, however fragile, there is now dangerous division – between nations, within nations, between rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and uneducated, white and coloured, native English speakers and those with foreign accents. A week ago, an English MP was murdered in a racist attack, and such attacks have increased across the country. Our social democracy and our shared value system is threatened – and what threatens us in Britain threatens our European neighbours too.

How the hell did we get here?

  • Tory austerity policies that hurt the poorest, most vulnerable most, combined with policies that enriched the very richest, helped to increase inequality and foster a consensus among the disenfranchised that things couldn’t get any worse for them, and that voting Leave was a vote for change, a protest – two-fingers up to the ruling elite.
  • Ineffective opposition from Labour to the progressive dismantling of our social care and justice systems, to austerity and, ultimately, lack of leadership in campaigning for the Remain cause. Effective leadership could have persuaded the poorest that their situation was the result of government austerity not EU policies, and revealed just how reliant on EU funding many of their communities are.
  • Selfish careerism from David Cameron who called this unnecessary and ridiculous referendum, and with such arrogance he did not even contemplate losing it.
  • Irresponsible programming and reporting by the BBC and mainstream media, which has given Nigel Farage such a sustained and regular platform on TV over the past five years that he appears to have the same legitimacy in the public debate as our elected members of parliament. It is partly for this reason that Cameron felt so bullied into holding the bloody referendum. Further, though, the BBC has again been creating false balance. Just as it created a false balance between scientists warning about human-caused global warming and those who claim it is not happening, so the same false balance was created between Remain and Leave arguments. For example, although the City and financial institutions overwhelmingly supported Remain, the impression given – largely because the format for TV/radio coverage is debate between a pro and anti  was that there is an even split between the experts. Here’s an extract from a Boston Globe article on this: “The relentless hostility of large parts of the press has also cowed the BBC to the most extraordinary extent, so that in its quest for “balance” it has largely abandoned its obligations to the truth. A lovely example came over the radio news the other day, when one report started “Leave campaigners have attacked a claim by 17 Nobel Prize winners that leaving the European Union would damage British science.” Framing the matter this way suggests a complete equality between the people who actually know what they are talking about and anyone else with an opinion.” Other publications – The Sun, The DM – typically abandoned truth in an extreme betrayal of their readers’ interests.
  • Voters have not taken seriously the responsibility that comes with having a say in the democratic process. Too many appear to have not understood or researched the repercussions of the two options, or used their vote for point-scoring. We are all paying for the consequences of this in Britain and beyond.

Next steps?

  • It is my hope that Labour quickly unites behind a new, electable leader. She or he must then liaise with the government, with Lib Dems, SNP and others to coordinate a strategy that minimises the negative consequences of this referendum.
  • My hope is that a cohort of the inept – Boris, Farage, Gove – attempt soon to negotiate a Leave deal with EU members. The package they bring home is so unattractive that it is overwhelmingly voted out.
  • A general election is called at which time policies will have to be declared and properly debated.
  • Britain remains in the EU.

And us?

We must stand with our values. Where we see racism, we must challenge it. Where we hear lies, we must challenge them.


I should add, as a postscript, that I see many problems with the EU, for example, the TTIP. If there had been an intelligent campaign for leaving, based on well thought-out arguments and policies, a plan for managing our relationship with European partners, I may have considered its merits. There was not. The Leave campaign was a racist, inward and backward-looking propaganda based on lies and orchestrated not out of the protagonists’ heartfelt beliefs and public service commitment, but the worst sort of careerist game playing. I was unequivocally for Remain.

7 thoughts

  1. Reblogged this on Primate's Progress and commented:
    The Leave campaign used brilliant iconography; a pampered Old Etonian disguised as an ordinary bloke wearing a hard hat at the wheel of a Labour red London bus carrying a mendacious advertisement, despite the fact that both Labour and London supported Remain.its more disreputable wing also used emotional linkage between East European immigrants and immigrants from the Muslim world, as in the notorious Daily Mail front page showing Afghans intercepted in a people- smuggling lorry under the headline “We’re from Europe; let us in”.

    For decades, progressives like Lakoff (“Don’t Think of an Elephant”) have been telling us of the importance of framing our arguments. The point has been well taken, unfortunately, not by the supporters of progress but by their opponents. it is time we woke up.

  2. Many thanks for explaining so clearly the devastation I and so many others are feeling so sharply throughout The Britain Formerly Known as Great. The wretched ‘Leave’ campaign has done nothing but fan the embers of xenophobia that are eternally glowing in the small hearts of our Little Englanders into a full-blown conflagration that damages, not just the UK, but all of Europe. Despite its flaws (and they are many) of the EU, it was an evolving federation that still embodied the best hopes for a world built on co-operation.

  3. Thanks Gaia for sharing your post Brexit insights. Why did Jo Cox MP and mother have to lose her life for this? I agree with you that the disintegrating Labour desperately need effective new leadership to become a credible opposition. Effective communication and collaboration is the way forward to tackle our country’s growing challenges. Ed Milliband surely misused a golden opportunity to link up with the SNP during the 2015 General Election! Will suitable female candidates rise to the post Brexit challenge. The days of the old school Patriarchs are finished.

  4. Thanks for this post. I’m following all this from Canada and am very sorry for the suffering this is causing and will cause for people living in Great Britain and all over the world. London evidently was, as a Chinese businessman said on the radio before the vote, “the cultural capitol of the world,” and now that is over and it is affecting everyone’s future.

  5. Hi Gaia, born in London now in NZealand. It takes huge leadership to inspire a nation. England hasn’t got it at this moment. Terry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s