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Why the West Needs to Stop its Moralising against China


The great German philosopher Leibniz put it well over three centuries ago. Writing in his `Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese’ he stated, `I did not want to examine to what extent the manner of worship of the Chinese could be condemned or justified… I only wanted to investigate their doctrines.’  These days, the issue of what to think, and in particular, what to feel about China has become entangled in the domestic politics of Europe and America to such an extent that attempts to do precisely as Leibniz did so long ago and simply describe and understand without being seen as validating and condoning become next to impossible. Finding a reasonable, critical space to look in all directions has seldom been harder.

Hong Kong is one issue where this is particularly true. The UK has historic links to the city. The capitalist world has always thought of it as a benign place, despite the fact that since 1997 it has been part of the sovereign territory of a Communist country. Everyone had feelings towards this remarkable, hybrid, and unique place. Perhaps that is why it arouses such strong, possessive feelings. It might not belong to you, but it is still, in some ways, a place everyone can feel is theirs.

If there was a time in recent history when the words of solicitude and concern could, and should, have been expressed with the maximum of force and conviction, that was the 31st of July when Chief Executive of the city, Carrie Lam, declared that local Legislative Council elections due in September would be delayed for a year. Ms Lam, calling it the `most difficult decision I’ve made over the past seven months’, went on to say that `this postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations.’The COVID19 virus, which has raged across the region and the world over the last six months, was the reason for this unprecedented decision, she said. But even the least cynical would have had a hard time ignoring the fact that in the weeks and months building up to this moment, from the passing by Beijing of a new security law covering the city coming into effect on 1st July to the refusal to allow some pro-democracy party candidates to stand, even if the government was not avoiding the elections, it was doing a remarkable job of looking like that was precisely what it was up to.

Declarations followed, from the UK , the European Union and the US. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State in the US, issued one of the most curt and forceful responses on 1 August: ` The elections should be held as close to the September 6 date as possible and in a manner that reflects the will and aspirations of the Hong Kong people,’ the statement said. `If they aren’t, then regrettably Hong Kong will continue its march toward becoming just another Communist-run city in China.’

There is nothing wrong with the US statement. The concerns it expressed all needed to be said. But the context in which it was issued could not have been more tragically symptomatic of the mismatch between word and deed that has all but stymied anything currently put out on China by the administration Pompeo is a key member of, and of those that try to follow it. Only a day before the announcement in Hong Kong, the leader of the free world, Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, tweeted that the imminent November presidential election in the US should be delayed. `With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good),’ he tweeted, `2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,’ he wrote. ‘Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???’. This was despite the fact that everyone, including senior members of his own party, agreed that he had no constitutional right to demand this, or bring it about. Only Congress is able to do that. Nor that his claims about possible voter fraud are almost wholly unproven and not backed up by serious evidence.

This extraordinary example of a mismatch between word and deed is, however, not an isolated one. It is the culmination of a long, lamentable process in which the Enlightenment powers (multi-party developed democracies like the US, countries in Europe, and inclusive of others like Australia and New Zealand) have slowly, but surely, lost their moral stature. One of the many outcomes of this is to have reduced the force of words directed at China to, at best, political rhetoric, much of it performed for domestic constituencies in their home country with no real impact intended or actually achieved on the supposed target. In this situation, the conclusion is a sobering one. At a time when the outside world should speak strongly in order to uphold its values, the Hong Kong postponed election example cited above is symptomatic of how the US, UK, Europe and other democracies have never been in a weaker position. Beset by the sort of divisions seen in the protests in Portland, Oregon over the last few weeks or in the UK over Brexit in the last few years, it would be a brave leader in Beijing who would stand up to their own colleagues on the grounds that the West still offered a model attractive enough for them to consider emulating in terms of its ability to deliver stability and consensus.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Historians will probably trace this decline to the moment when the US and its allies and their values looked at their peak, around 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Bush the elder and then Clinton, the unipolar moment dawned. Russia descended into chaos. The Chinese also underwent their less dramatic but equally profound soul searching after the uprising of June 1989. Communism was no longer a viable option. The capitalist, free market West knew how to make people prosperous, strong, and happy. No wonder the 1990s now evoke so much nostalgia.

And yet the divisions were soon visible. Perhaps the shock of September 11th, 2001 was the most dramatic moment. But it built on simmering resentments on the one hand, and complacency on the other, that allowed the management of its aftermath to cause the US and China to paper over their differences and wage a war on terror that meant the State Department Pompeo now heads allowed two Xinjiang groups to be put on an international terrorist list. From that first, albeit small, act of complicity, many others flowed.

The Chinese and others watched as the US and its most faithful allies went back into the Middle East, waging the Second Iraq War in 2003. That soon unravelled. Its grounds were spurious (no weapons of mass destruction were found, despite the use of these as the reason for going in). The war was won, but the peace became long, chaotic, and bloody. Perhaps most damaging of all, with extra renditions, enhanced interrogation techniques (for which read torture), Guantanamo Bay, and the exposure of appalling abuses in jails in Iraq itself by American soldiers, the `free world’ looked harder and harder to admire. In the end, a sort of truth prevailed. Accountability was exercised. Bush and Blair, in particular, suffered catastrophic collapse in their reputations from which they have never recovered.  But the proponents of democratic, Western based values emerged from all of this battered, and often tarnished, their moral stature diminished.

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 only reinforced the message that the capitalist world was not even able to supply answers to the very things it still maintained the strongest claims to leadership on. As historian Adam Tooze has shown in clinical detail in his 2017 book `Crashed’, mismanagement in the first place was more than supplemented by greed, protection of vested interest, and immorality. Even more devastating, it was the Chinese and their growth after 2009 that stabilised much of the global situation. Unlike with the Gulf War debacles, however, almost none were held to account for the loss of livelihood and wealth that flowed from the collapse of markets and growth around 2008. On top of the moral collapse in geopolitics, there was an even more damaging one in the world of finance and the economy.

In all of these issues, China in particular, despite many accusations levelled at it, is not guilty. It did not remotely have a role in the reasons for the US and others getting sucked into the War on Terror – and nor did it want to see 2008, despite some economists blaming its own economy for bringing about the distortions that led to the whole event. China’s main issue, as has become clear since, is that, in both these historic areas, it was largely able to move through without any detrimental effect to itself. In fact, by accident rather than design, as the US and other powers harmed themselves, China simply carried on economically, growing stronger.  

The War on Terror and the financial crisis were political and geopolitical issues. But they have had a massive impact on the moral standing of the West and have undermined their confidence. They have created clear, and in many places tragic, divisions. No one can observe the protests that swept across the US over Black Lives Matters in mid-2020 and see people pitted against people without a deep sense of unhappiness. The US seems to be going through a terrifying breakdown, in which its most senior elected official, a person who has historically been regarded as the most important spokesperson for democratic values by the world’s most successful and important democracy, seems to be trying to undermine and denigrate the values they are meant to stand for. For all the complaints about interference by parties from Russia to China in the 2016 US election, one has to be clear about one thing. Even if these claims are true (and many probably are), no one, neither Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, could more forcefully and effectively undermine the values of democracy than Donald Trump has done over the last few weeks.  And it was, in the end, not Xi or Putin that put him there, but the electoral system and the electorate of the United States of America. If one does not apportion blame fairly and honestly in the right place, how can one really deal with the problems one is facing?

In this context, COVID19 carries deep symbolic weight. As of August 2020, China, where most believe the virus started, has managed to control the spread of the infection and is now emerging from the initial phase of economic downturn by reporting a 3.2 percent GDP rise in the second quarter of the year. As this happens, Europe is moving into a deep recession, with fears of a second spike in infections and fatalities. The UK has shrunk by a fifth of GDP in the first three months of the year while suffering one of the worst levels of death from the disease. By the end of June, America had lost around 12 million jobs and saw its GDP contract by 4.8 per cent, with a 30 per cent contraction predicted, the worst figure ever recorded. It, too, is still fighting the disease, with issues like the wearing of masks politicised and fought over.

This is not to denigrate the efforts these countries have made to deal with the pandemic. It is to acknowledge that no one has found this vast challenge easy to handle. In the very early part of the year, there were criticisms made of China being unfit to deal with an issue like this because of its governance system. This was going to be, in the words of one analysis, the country’s Chernobyl moment. And yet, others quickly became consumed in events that showed their own decision making processes and governance capacity were also, albeit for different reasons, imperfect and chaotic. Had COVID19 been like the SARS crisis of 2003, it would have neatly fitted the narrative of a regional China-centric problem, and one that showed why this area and its values and governance were a problem. Any sober analysis of COVID19 would need to recognise that, in different ways, and for different reasons, almost everyone has a problem. This pandemic has been a great leveller. The narrative has clearly changed.

That means that the most prudent response should be one of humility. No one knows what sort of world we are moving into. The economic impact of the pandemic will produce a politics it is hard to predict for governments no matter what their structure and nature. The worst outcomes – high job losses, disappearance of growth – are too terrible to contemplate. At best, there needs to be more unity, more joint purpose, and far less parochial political point scoring in order to confront this vast shared problem.  The need for humility and a more circumspect tone in order to achieve that have never been clearer. Instead, there have been almost toxic levels of anger and blame that have boiled over from this towards China, particularly in the US and to some extent in Britain, Australia and other democracies. The desire by some political figures, from Trump downwards, to clamber on a moral high ground that has long since disappeared for them has simply proved too hard to resist.

In 2020, there is an important moment to stand back from the chaos we all see unfolding and do two things fundamentally differently. The first is to purge our language, outside China, of the constant desire to urge it to become like us, and to be constantly wanting to preach and urge it to reform and change in ways that will, we assume, make it more like us. I write as someone who in the past did think that was what we should do. Events in the last decade or so have shown that the situation is far too complex and the variables culturally and politically in China far too great, for one to start projecting on it templates and models from elsewhere that we have no idea will really work. These range from the rise of a highly autocratic leader like Xi Jinping against some expectations that China would move in a more liberal direction, to the constant predictions that the country is about to implode. It is a difficult thing to say and cuts against our usual desire to be idealistic, but at the moment, and probably far in the future, the best we can hope from China is simply to be stable. We no longer have the luxury of our own stability and its track record to sit on when making judgements about the People’s Republic. The harsh fact, and one that needs to be honestly and candidly recognised, is that in the last two decades, it is the US and its allies who have been the source of more instability than China!

That doesn’t mean that on issues like Hong Kong and the postponed, even cancelled, elections that the democratic world shouldn’t speak out. But the most powerful thing it should do is to start living up to its own values and in that way, being the best advert for their desirability and attractiveness. That means an acknowledgement that, in the last few years, this has not been the case. Europe and the US have often been internally divided, fractious, and angry. They have acted much of the time almost as though they didn’t really believe in the values they were espousing. It is no good blaming Moscow and Beijing for this. The deepest wound were the self-inflicted ones. Consensus was lost in our societies. 2020 should be the moment when that gets rebuilt. Otherwise, we will be living proof that our values are just for speaking about, not living up to. And finally, there is the second thing we can all do: inculcate the idea of a responsible attitude towards China. It is fine that, for instance, politicians in the UK now feel because of COVID19 that they have to have an attitude and an opinion about China. But it would be good if they were to also avail themselves as much as possible of some knowledge and understanding available.

There needs to be much more support for basic education about China and for knowledge-based engagement with it. The posture of the Johnson government, on the surface at least, is to be data driven. And yet, on China, there is scant evidence of even a decent level of understanding amongst most politicians, opinion formers, and commentators. This was recognised in a report recently by Professor Rana Mitter of Oxford  and Sophia Garston for the British Foreign Policy Group issued on the fateful day Carrie Lam made her declaration in Hong Kong on July 31.  Knowledge, humility, and honesty will be the things that help the outside world deal with the historic challenge of China’s rise. Without those, it is hard to see how any impact will be made on the leaders of a country that currently see in the politicians facing them from Canberra, to Berlin, London and Washington the precise opposite.

Further Reading on E-International Relations




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Thugs Mugging Nurses for IDs to Get Free Coronavirus Food and Drink



Thugs have been mugging doctors and nurses to steal their identity badges in order to access priority shopping and freebies from supermarkets during the coronavirus pandemic.

With shops facing supply chain delays and National Health Service (NHS) staff working long hours, supermarkets have opted to support their healthcare professionals by offering them priority shopping and freebies like snacks and hot drinks. Britons on social media reported earlier in the week major shops like Lidl and Waitrose giving nurses bouquets of flowers in appreciation. Dominos, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Burger King, and Pizza Hut are also offering free food and coffee to those who work for the National Health Service.

However, amidst these acts of appreciation and kindness has arisen a new type of crime, where thugs are mugging medical professionals of their lanyards and IDs to obtain freebies meant for those on the frontline of the coronavirus battle.

So concerned is NHS England by the reported incidents, it is preparing to tell staff across the country to hide their IDs and NHS-branded lanyards when out in public, according to The Guardian.

The left-wing newspaper reported that reprobates had tried to grab lanyards off of two doctors as they were leaving Lewisham hospital in south London.

One doctor said: “Something like this is appalling. It’s beyond the pale and so shocking. Someone tried to grab my colleagues’ ID badges as they were leaving but didn’t get them.”

Staff at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust’s two hospitals were told on Monday: “Following reports of an attempt to take the ID badges of two members of staff as they were leaving work, please make sure your ID badge is out of sight.”

Staff at University College Hospital London have also been warned to be vigilant when leaving facilities after similar incidents.

A National Health Service official told The Guardian: “This is absolutely grim. ID badges are being stolen in a few places as staff come out of their trust. As soon as staff are coming off-site they are waiting for them and stealing them, to get the free food and also so they can go shopping during the protected early morning shopping hour that some supermarkets have put in place for NHS staff.

“It’s mainly nurses who have been targeted. They’re the ones who often walk out of the main entrance of a hospital with their lanyards on.”

These are not the only abominable acts of criminality to have been committed against the medical service as it is gearing up for the worst pandemic the United Kingdom has seen in a century.

Earlier in the week, thugs drilled holes into the tires of six ambulances in Kent, south-east England. The vehicles had been damaged whilst parked in an ambulance centre in Ramsgate. Kent’s ambulance service is under “significant pressure” following the coronavirus outbreak, according to KentOnline.

Supermarkets have also moved onto the frontline, continuing to ensure the supply chain for food reaches vulnerable citizens, and have likewise faced their own assaults. “Youths” were reported to have burnt out two Iceland delivery trucks in Bristol earlier this week after police officers had told them to disperse.

In response, the CEO of the budget supermarket wrote: “Two of our vans in Southmead were burnt out last night during disturbances in the town. At a time when home delivery is literally a lifeline for some vulnerable people, this is sickening.”

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Resounding win by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in U.K. election brings end to Brexit deadlock


LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a resounding election victory on Friday that will allow him to take Britain out of the European Union in matter of weeks.

For Johnson, whose 20-week tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in parliament and stark division on the streets over Britain’s tortuous departure from the European Union, victory in Thursday’s contest was vindication.

Educated at the country’s most elite school and recognizable by his bombastic style, the 55-year-old must not only deliver Brexit but also convince Britons that the contentious divorce, which would lead to lengthy trade talks, is worth it.

A landslide Conservative win marks the ultimate failure of opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union who plotted to thwart a 2016 referendum vote through legislative combat in parliament and prompted some of the biggest protests in recent British history.


Conservative party leader Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks after winning his seat in Britain’s general election, Dec. 13, 2019.

Toby Melville/Reuters

Johnson won an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament after an exit poll showed the Conservatives on course to win a landslide 368 seats, the biggest Conservative national election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph.

“I think this will turn out to be a historic election that gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people,” Johnson said after winning his seat of Uxbridge.

He said the Conservatives appeared to have won “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”

U.S President Donald Trump said it was “looking like a big win for Boris.”

Labour were forecast to win 203 seats, the worst result for the party since 1935, after offering voters a second referendum and the most radical socialist government in generations. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down.

With results from across Britain indicating the exit poll was accurate, Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, meaning he will swiftly ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the EU so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31 – 10 months later than initially planned.


Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the party’s headquarters following the general election on Dec. 13, 2019.

Henry Nicholls/Reuters

But nearly half a century after joining what has become the world’s largest trading bloc, Johnson faces the daunting challenge of striking new international trade deals, preserving London’s position as a top global financial capital and keeping the United Kingdom together.

Sterling soared and was on course for one of its biggest one-day gains in the past two decades. The pound hit a 19-month high of $1.3516 versus the dollar and its strongest levels against the euro since shortly after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

As of 0510 GMT, Johnson’s Conservatives had made a net gain of 41 seats.

After nearly four years of Brexit debate that has riven the United Kingdom, deadlocked parliament and shocked allies, a majority will allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the club it first joined in 1973.

But Brexit is far from over.

He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, possibly in just 11 months, while also negotiating another trade deal with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain’s economy. After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states.

This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

A big majority may give him the political security to extend the trade talks beyond 2020 because he could overrule the Brexit hardliner European Research Group (ERG) faction in the party.

“The bigger the Tory majority of course the less influence over this the ERG and Eurosceptics will have,” said Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. “It will be called Brexit but it won’t really be.”

Johnson called the first Christmas election since 1923 to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over Brexit.

I think this will turn out to be a historic election

The face of the victorious “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done,” promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.

He was helped early in the election by Farage’s Brexit Party which stood down hundreds of candidates to prevent the pro-Brexit vote from being split. Early results showed the Brexit Party had poached a significant number of voters from Labour.

While Brexit framed the election, the slow-motion exit from the EU has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.

Results showed Johnson’s strategy had successfully breached Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” of seats across the Brexit-supporting areas of the Midlands and northern England where he cast his political foes as the out-of-touch enemies of Brexit.

The Conservatives took Sedgefield, once held by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader.


Conservative leader Boris Johnson stands with Independent candidates Bobby “Elmo” Smith, Independent candidate Count Binface, Green Party candidate Mark Keir and Independent candidate William Tobin after winning his seat for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in Britain’s general election, Dec. 13, 2019.

Toby Melville/Reuters

A defeated Labour now faces a civil war between the socialists who control it and more moderate factions which will demand power.

“This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour Party with the result that we’ve got,” Corbyn said after being re-elected in his own north London electoral seat. He said he would not lead the party in any future elections.

Weary Labour candidates said his leadership had played a major role in the defeat.

Ruth Smeeth, who said she also expected to lose her seat in Stoke-on-Trent, laid the blame firmly at Corbyn’s door.

“He should have gone many, many, many months ago,” she said.

The Liberal Democrats were forecast to win 13 seats, the exit poll said. Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat party leader, lost her seat to the Scottish National Party.

The Brexit Party were not predicted to win any.

The Scottish National Party, which strongly opposes Brexit, would win 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland, the poll said, setting the scene for it to demand a second independence vote, after secession was rejected by 55% to 45% in 2014.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said Johnson did not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the EU.

“We don’t want Brexit,” Sturgeon said. “Boris Johnson may have a mandate to take England out of the European Union, he emphatically does not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union.”

Here is what to expect from a majority Conservative government:

BREXIT BY JAN. 31

Johnson has promised to bring back to parliament before Christmas the legislation required to ratify his exit deal with Brussels and ensure it is passed by the end of January.

All Conservative candidates have signed up to the deal, so it is expected to have a relatively smooth journey through parliament as opposition parties will not have the numbers to defeat it or make changes to it.

NO EXTENSION OF TRANSITION

After Jan. 31 Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU27.

This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

If they fail to hammer out a new trade deal by the end of 2020, a deadline trade experts say is unrealistic, Britain could effectively be facing a disorderly no-deal Brexit again.

BUDGET IN FEBRUARY

The party has promised to hold a post-Brexit budget in February, boosting spending on domestic issues such as the health service, education and police.

IMMIGRATION

The Conservatives plan to introduce an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system. They have promised to reduce overall immigration numbers. In particular there will be fewer low-skilled migrants.

Under the new system, which will treat EU and non-EU citizens the same, most immigrants will need a job offer to come to Britain. There will be special visa schemes for migrants who will fill shortages in public services, or who are leaders in fields such as science and technology.

GOVERNMENT BORROWING

Finance minister Sajid Javid has said he will rewrite the country’s fiscal rules so he can spend an extra 20 billion pounds per year over the next five years, raising borrowing for infrastructure to 3% of economic output from its current 1.8%.

TRADE

Johnson’s party has said it wants to have 80 percent of UK trade covered by free trade agreements within three years. It plans to prioritize agreeing deals with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

— Kylie MacLellan. Reuters





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UK economy at its lowest point since 2009



The British economy had its worst quarter since 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on Tuesday.

The economy flatlined month-on-month in October, after two months of decline.

Services expanded by 0.2% from August-to-October, offsetting a 0.7% contraction in manufacturing and 0.3% in construction.

Reflecting a drop in manufacturing exports, Britain’s goods trade deficit widened to £14.5bn in October, up from £11.5bn in September.

The pound shrugged off the low growth, gaining both against the dollar and the Euro. The pound broke over €1.19 on Monday, for the first time since May 2017. The rally seems to respond to polling, which suggests the Conservatives have a strong lead, betting on an orderly exit which removes the risk of a cliff-edge exit.



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The Conservative Party Leadership Race


The 2018 dystopian videogame We Happy Few takes place in an alternate version of Britain in 1964. A sparsely-detailed plot suggests that twenty years after the Nazi conquest of Britain, the Soviet counter-conquest of Europe, and the collapse of the Empire, 1960s Britain has become a desolate, hopeless land. Consequently the game’s setting, the fictional island town of Wellington Wells, has completely isolated itself not only from the wider world but even the remains of the United Kingdom. To cope with dark memories and the bleak desolation of their collapsing dystopia, the citizens of Wellington Wells have psychologically retreated into a land of make-believe. In a collapsing realm with no agriculture, no industry, a media which broadcasts recycled lies and fanciful nostalgia, Wellington Wells’ complete isolation from reality is maintained through constant xenophobia towards every nation (including all other Britons not of wealthy, Southern, English descent); and heavily redacted, over-the-top patriotic versions of history in which Britain is not the destitute and forgotten land it has become but that England always was, England still is, and England always will be, the supreme nation on Earth. This delusion, though, is not found only in the fictional Britain of We Happy Few.

After three years of Brexhaustion, the political deadlock is about to be broken. At least in name, if not practice. Following Theresa May’s repeated failure to pass the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament and her subsequent resignation, the future of Brexit now rests with approximately 160,000 fee-paying members of the Conservative Party who are offered a choice of Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. Barring the most unlikely of circumstances, Boris Johnson is all but guaranteed to become the next Prime Minister, a position he has been waiting for for at least two years. His victory is assured because, in spite of his unpopularity among Conservative MPs and the widespread contempt in which he is held by swathes of the British population, Boris Johnson is the natural choice of Conservative Party members. Because of their demographics, Conservative Party members are not only highly Eurosceptic but, like the citizens of Wellington Wells, entertain questionable versions of history and exhibit an isolation from the rest of the country.

Brexit was not the result of a single factor. But as many commentators and analysts have indicated, nationalist sentiments and imperial nostalgia, particularly among older sections of an English population who believes that Britain alone won the Second World War (despite there being very few people left alive who were combat-active in a war that ended 74 years ago), were significant motivations. Now that the choice of the Prime Minister who will be in Downing Street when October 31st comes, is the choice of 160,000 party members, the demographics of the Conservative Party demonstrate not only why Boris will win, but what awaits Britain after Hard Brexit.

Recent research reveals two significant datasets. First is the demographic composition of the Conservative and Unionist Party. 97% of Conservative members are white. 70% are male. The average age is 57, while 44% of members are over the age of 65. Economically, the vast majority of members are very wealthy homeowners; and geographically, the majority of members are concentrated in rural areas and small towns in the southern shires.

Second is party members’ political preferences surrounding Brexit. The party is conservative not only on economic and constitutional matters but on social issues, as evidenced by the party losing 35-40% of its membership over same-sex marriage in 2013. Research from Queen Mary University shows that half of Conservative members support bringing back the death penalty, and 84% believe that schools should teach obedience to state authority. The remnants of that shrinkage demonstrate stark preferences on Brexit, as revealed by a recent YouGov poll of party members. The June 18th poll revealed that Brexit is so important to party members, they are prepared to initiate the destruction of the party and the fragmentation of the United Kingdom itself, to achieve Brexit. To achieve Brexit, 63% would accept Scotland declaring independence, 61% would accept significant damage to the British economy, 59% would accept Northern Ireland declaring independence or joining the Republic of Ireland, and 54% would accept the destruction of the Conservative Party itself. The only scenario that would cause a razor-thin majority of party members (51%) to abandon Brexit is the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.

The party membership, significantly, is much wealthier than the average Briton. Hence Boris Johnson’s promise to give the super-rich a major tax cut, paid for by raising everyone else’s taxes. Economically, Jeremy Hunt’s plan to slash corporation tax from 19% to 12.5% would be less undesirable, partly because it would likely attract money into the country as opposed to Boris Johnson’s pledge to simply shuffle existing money upwards. In a general election, the Conservatives might have chosen Hunt as party leader over Johnson. But with the future of Britain in the hands of 160,000 party members rather than 45,000,000 eligible voters, Hunt’s policies are irrelevant. And policies of economic loyalties are not the only trump cards which Boris holds. For better or for worse, Boris Johnson is a far more charismatic politician and performs well as a quintessentially English character, combining a Churchillian bulldog pantomime act with just the right level of fake bumbling and self-deprecating modesty. To an ageing, wealthy, shrinking party membership who are already prepared to break up the UK and destroy the party in order to deliver what Fintan O’Toole termed “the paranoid fantasy of Brexit”, the delusional imagination that England single-handedly defeated Nazism and that the EU represents a new continental evil, Johnson is all but guaranteed to win. The implications for this are significant.

The Bow Group’s own research indicates that the Conservative Party is in terminal decline, attracting next to no new members while losing existing members to resignations, lapsed memberships, and death. Significantly, new research on changing political preferences shows that in the age of austerity, Britons are not turning to conservatism in middle age as they used to Research in 2013, which predicted the Conservatives slipping to third or fourth place in the UK by 2023 due to membership attrition alone, has been proven to be right for the wrong reason. The Conservative Party’s disastrous performance in the May 2019 European Parliament elections, and the June 2019 Peterborough by-election, revealed a party that has already slipped into somewhere between third and fifth place; a defeat rendered worse by the six-week-old Brexit party mauling the UK’s oldest party. This leaves Parliament in checkmate, incapable of moving in any direction. The Conservatives are still fighting their civil war, but so are Labour. With Labour still licking its wounds from a decisive defeat in the European elections and a Pyrrhic victory in Peterborough, with Jeremy Corbyn still incapable of formulating anything that vaguely resembles a policy on Brexit, and with Labour likely to spend yet another summer dealing with anti-Semitism accusations (this time, in the form of a government enquiry) there is very little chance that support for a second referendum will receive a Parliamentary majority. Neither will support for a No-Deal Brexit. Neither will support for a revived version of Theresa May’s thrice-defeated Withdrawal Agreement. This leaves the possibility of Boris Johnson calling a general election, but with the Conservatives fighting a war on four fronts against Labour, the Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats, and each other, this would be a suicidal option. Meanwhile a stronger EU is in no mood to extend the Brexit negotiations any further. The net result of this is that unless something unforeseen and highly unlikely happens, October 31st will quickly arrive with a No-Deal Brexit as the default option, no matter what Parliament wants.

There are other possibilities, as unlikely as they are. Boris Johnson could promise No Deal just long enough to win the support of 160,000 Conservative leavers, then betray them as soon as he gets the keys to Downing Street (unlikely). Boris could end up relying heavily on Conservative ministers who might try to steer him away from Hard Brexit (quite unlikely). Jeremy Corbyn could resign his leadership and make way for a Remainer to lead Labour (very unlikely). Or perhaps a general election could actually produce a majority for a party – any party – which has a clear Leave or Remain stance, and at least break the deadlock in Parliament (most unlikely). Or, something unexpected and unpredictable could happen, such as Boris Johnson becoming the third Conservative Prime Minister to be toppled by Brexit, triggering yet another leadership race or an election in the last days before Brexit. Yet even if a general election in the autumn returns some sort of majority, either for the Tories or Labour (or even the Liberal Democrats, however unlikely that may be), the new Prime Minister will still be faced with a polarised country whose faith in politicians, and in British politics itself, has never been lower. With the October 31st deadline looming, no Prime Minister will be able to satisfactorily navigate an angry Parliament and a furious electorate. Hard Brexit is the likeliest outcome not only because of a lack of time and appetite for a second referendum, and not only because Parliament is too deadlocked and the EU too fed up with the British to offer another extension, but because it is the desire of the Conservative Party’s membership. Even if it means the destruction of their party and the breakup of their country, splendid isolation at any price is the final act of Brexit.

The videogame We Happy Few paints a bleak picture of Britain after disaster. In the crumbling wasteland of Wellington Wells the government’s and population’s desperation to quarantine their town from the outside world, and from their own despair at losing the Empire and losing a war, has resulted in a starving, economically devastated realm teetering on the brink of complete societal collapse. In this defeated dystopia, the grim realities of past, present, and future are glossed over by a shrinking group of citizens who shun reality in favour of manufactured memories, delusions of grandeur, and empty affirmations of quintessentially English (but not British) exceptionalism. With Britain’s actual future in the hands of a similarly shrinking group, life will soon imitate this art.





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