Britain’s dangerous moment
Protest, pandemic and recession are a reminder of the fine line between civility and chaos
The shocking killing of George Floyd has energised the UK Black Lives Matter movement. Drawing on academic “critical race theories”, it argues that any inequality of outcome is down to racism, with “whiteness” and white people collectively guilty. The UK and its history is castigated, and monuments have been attacked and destroyed. Police officers have gone from drone-shaming rural day trippers to genuflecting in front of the demonstrators.
These developments portend something very dangerous indeed. At the moment, world politics is undergoing a deep shift from one of interconnected globalisation to one of bifurcation between a declining US and a rising China. In the face of the global pandemic, trade wars and protectionism between these two giants will deepen, and, as the Huawei 5G furore shows, the UK does not have the luxury to remain neutral, especially as it seeks to chart a post-Brexit role in a changing world order.
Domestically, the huge victory of Boris Johnson’s Conservative party was delivered by the collapse of labour’s so-called ‘Red Wall’. Proud, patriotic and hard working, these now ‘Blue-Wall’ voters were sick of Labour’s anti-Brexit machinations and its metropolitan identity politics more suited to a student union than governing the world’s 5th largest economy.
As we emerge from the coronavirus lockdown, it is clear that the UK economy is going to suffer huge pain. In a speech last week, Michael Saunders of the Bank of England stated that early data indicates that unemployment in the UK is likely already at 9 per cent. This is prior to the ending of the government’s furlough scheme that will inevitably see this number climb, potentially as high as 15 per cent.
Of the advanced industrialised economies, the OECD has concluded that the UK will likely be the hardest hit given its reliance on services; a sector ravaged by the pandemic. This unprecedented economic shock is also taking place in the context of the BoE’s huge levels of quantitative easing, with hundreds of billions of pounds printed and poured into stock markets and bond purchases that many predict will lead to a surge of inflation. Meanwhile, Brexit trundles along, with as yet no clear resolution and a potential no-deal sending further shock waves through the UK and European political economies.
UK institutions, from corporations to universities to the police, have gone much further than condemning the brutal killing of George Floyd and the poison of racism. By adopting the language of collective racial guilt and privilege, they have in fact endorsed BLM’s political programme; an extreme-left ideology publicly committed to the destruction of the West. While the ideas of post-colonial theorists may well appeal to middle-class undergraduates burning the Union Flag on the Cenotaph, or the sons and daughters of global elites demanding that Rhodes must fall, it is very hard to see how theories of white privilege will play out in the industrial wastelands of places like Rotherham.
A nation is not just a place, but a collective story that binds and unifies and links the past with the present to map a future. We are living through a time when our institutions have not only sought to thwart Brexit, but have endorsed a collective attack on the UK’s very sense of self. As I write, the Cenotaph in London, a monument to those that have given their lives in war, most notably the defeat of Hitler’s racially genocidal regime, is encased in steel to protect it from vandalism and destruction. This is where we are now. A deep current of grievance and anger is growing in the UK and people are asking a simple question: we gave the Conservative party a huge majority. What exactly is it now conserving?
As protectionist global trade wars increase, unemployment soars and spikes of inflation and disease wash through UK politics, the historical parallels are clear. If the Conservatives cannot or will not step up, or the line between civility and chaos grows even thinner, the alternatives do not bear thinking about.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5Subscribe