Brexit: a very British Omnishambles

The backstop is England’s colonial past coming back to bite its behind

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May Day!, May Day! “Brexit” no longer (necessarily) “means Brexit.”

THERESA MAY, THE BELEAGUERED PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, embarked on a frantic round of European diplomacy in another final attempt to salvage her government’s Brexit deal. She left for the continent after bottling out of the scheduled and much lambasted “meaningful vote” on the deal. Lest it be forgotten, this deal is more of a UK-EU memorandum agreeing to the indefinite deferral of the actual Brexit agreement which is the fruit of two year’s worth of negotiations and millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. It was still nevertheless widely derided and at least 150 of her own MPs were implacably opposed to it (there are a total of 315 Conservative MPs, 257 Labour MPs and, 78 more who are either independent of represent other parties).

Mrs May had instructed Cabinet Ministers to make clear to the media that there would be no chance whatsoever of this critical—accept it or face Armageddon—vote being delayed. So, on the morning of the 10th, Ministers were saying the vote would proceed come what may, but, by lunchtime, the script has suddenly changed. Mrs May formally postponed it, telling MPs it was clear that their concern about the Irish backstop proposals would have resulted in it being rejected “by a significant margin.” Incandescent MPs from all parties pointed out that the significant margin of dissent was there from the outset.

As a consequence, the pound (GBP £) fell sharply, as did the London Stock Market (The FTSE 250, which mostly trades businesses operating in the UK, lost almost 2% of its value). City analysts doubt either will recover much over the Christmas period as Mrs May now refuses to say when the meaningful vote is to be rescheduled for. What is crystal clear however was Europe’s response. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, immediately Tweeted that as far as his side was concerned, there would be no more negotiation. As one radio show host pointed out, “the UK, despite being in the EU, is able to keep its cherished pound coin and not sign up to the Schengen agreement so, already has considerable sovereignty.” And so it was, May returned from Germany where Angela Merkel made emphatically clear that the deal was the best the British would be getting and that cherry-picking and politicking remained firmly off of the menu.

On the 11th, the day Westminster should have been voting, the mood was, as the BBC repeatedly told its viewers, “febrile.” On the 12th, around 50 Conservative MPs called for a vote of no confidence in their PM. Not to be deterred by such seismic happenings, TV anchors and pundits were vigorously speculating over “No Brexit” (retract the divorce papers and work on the marriage) versus “No Deal Brexit” (forget the formal divorce and just run away from the marriage). The debate became most confused and heated when the backstop issue was raised; the public were now demanding to know what exactly the backstop proposal entailed.

Fathoming the Irish Backstop
It is evident from the campaign footage and media coverage that those who wanted Brexit—by hook or by crook—did not spend much time concerning themselves about the Irish border. According to the author, Ishaan Tharoor, this highlights a colonial mentality that still pervades parts of the British establishment (i.e., taking Ireland and the Irish for granted). Far more emotive and easy to articulate was for the Brexiteers to campaign for the right to overfish British waters unfettered and to put a stop to the largely non-existent ‘hoards’ of Middle Eastern migrants seeking to enter the UK.

In essence, the backstop proposal offers both Ireland and the EU an assurance that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will remain tied to EU customs union and common market rules and regulations until the UK and the EU can jointly agree a final Brexit deal.

Unionists in Northern Ireland do not want London to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK thus, Brexit would possibly require a hard boarder between the north and the south of the island. This constituent are supported by hard Brexiteers who are implacably opposed to the backstop as they see it as a way for the UK to say in the EU indefinitely (recall that Theresa May did vote to remain).

Nationalists in Northern Ireland demand that London retains the open border with the rest of Ireland. Thus, leaving the common market is not a realistic option at any future point in time. (recall that the citizens of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain: 55.8% wanted to stay as in the EU).

Its 2018, not 1820
Northern Ireland is categorically a legacy of England’s former imperial control over the island of Ireland. But Brexit shows also how British former glory fuels contemporary notions of exceptionalism. There is a clear nostalgia for the past, a past which when popularly portrayed glosses over the bad and the ugly of the Empire and cherry picks the good bits. This rose-tinted perspective of the past, according to the scholar Nadine El-Enany, “has long fed the UK’s discontent at being an equal alongside other EU countries, rather than it being the first among equals.”

In fairness and to give historical perspective, it was Britain that instigated capitalism, industrialisation and travel by rail. Indeed, according to the historian Tom Leyland, the UK also bestowed English as the global lingua franca alongside the blueprints for the institutions that facilitate modernity, which the vast majority of countries have adopted lock, stock and barrel.

As the writer Gary Younge points out, Britain’s colonial past still gives many the impression that, “the reason we are at the centre of most world maps is because the Earth revolves around us, not because it was us who drew the maps.” Yet, post the Brexit referendum, the UK government is finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in todays globalised neoliberal world.

The idea that the UK will find it easy is to forge free-trade agreements with its former colonies or, any other country for that matter, is fanciful according to Indian author, Bhanuj Kappal. “Commonwealth countries may have forgiven, but they certainly have not forgotten past atrocities and economic exploitation.” Few, if any, of the 50 plus so-called Commonwealth countries will voluntarily sign up to the imbalanced trade deals with the UK that there were once force to adhere to.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that these countries will seek to strengthen their ties with the world’s second-largest economy, the European Union ($17.2tn) rather than chance tact and focus primarily with that of the UK (5th at $2.6tn). As the Financial Times recently made clear, 32 of these countries (mainly in Africa and the Caribbean) are already covered by free-trade agreements with the EU. Thus, they already enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, including the UK, “for nearly all of their goods.”

The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for 13.5% of India’s global trade. By contrast, the UK accounts for only 3.4% of exports and less that 2% of imports. It’s true that Indian companies “invest more in the UK than anywhere else in Europe,” but the objective reality that underlines this relationship is, according to tycoon Lord Bilimoria, that “they see it as being a bridge to the EU.” Thus the UK’s continued EU membership is key to this relationship.

Imagine for a moment Britain as a Bulldog chasing after the postman’s bike. The dog gets hold of the bike—bully for him—but soon realised that he’s unable to ride it and even if he could, he’d have no idea were to ride it to. Brexiteers assumed they could dictate the terms, the omnishambles being played out since the summer of 2016, demonstrates that they cannot.

Lust and Lambast

A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

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Writing concisely is not my style yet, as column inches for anything other than celebrity gossip, consumer reviews and self-help are now such a precious commodity, I must be succinct. Even if I were allowed to go wild with the word count, it would probably demonstrate only the validity of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Nowadays smartphone shortened attention spans need to be taken into account. In order to gain wide readership on matters of current affairs, being parsimonious with prose is a necessity. Gone are the days when waxing lyrical in verbose flowery language on issues of international political economy was considered a mark of distinction.

Partisanship must also be accounted for more before. Both liberals and conservatives now read mostly within their own communal and gated echo chambers. Each is served with bespoke newsfeeds that are informed (and manipulated) by ‘big data’ analytics and, essentially only serve to reinforce extant prejudices.

Adding further weight to the Editor’s demand that this article be no more than 900 words, is the fact that its contemporary flag—the courageous testimony of Dr Christine Ford—is yesterday’s news; it is all but academic now.

Nevertheless, the selection of Judge Brett “the gyrating groper” Kavanaugh to the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States, once more, the mother of all misnomers: the ‘Pro-Life’ constituent. It also makes clear the extent to which a female’s right to decide upon her own reproductive decisions is now under threat. This event, this very partisan confirmation, places the march of progress toward gender equality (‘and’ autonomy from man) that’s been taking place since at least 1913—when Emily Davison was trampled and killed by a racing horse—is now, once more, in serious jeopardy.

This isn’t really news, I hear you say. I concede, women have indeed been controlled and told what to do since the day that the mythical Eve took a—no doubt ‘dainty’—bite of the apple. I agree with you, I’ve recently read Eric Berkowitz’s, Sex and Punishment. From the savage impalement of Mesopotamian women several millennia ago to the Yazidi sex slaves of modern day Babylonia, the female form has long been lusted by men and lambasted by men.

There are mitigating circumstances, I hear you say. I concede here too. These are uncertain times, infotech and biotech are disrupting everything. It is evident that the discontents resulting from the maturing of globalisation have rekindled Huntington-style ‘us’ versus ‘them’ populism. But what is only know becoming apparent is just how gendered the undertones of this regression are. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, dreams aloud of raping Miss Universe. The macho misogynist Brazilian President, Jair “Trump of the Tropics” Bolsonaro, makes clear he’d only rape attractive women. And of course, (the once progressive) ‘Free World’ has Donald “Pussy Grabber” Trump. President Trump is categorically and publicly sexist. Recently, for instance, he described Stephanie Clifford as being “horse faced.”

Just because we can point out causal factors, does not mean we should demurely accept their consequences. We should not allow ourselves to become one of the ‘them’s for such men of power to rile against. This then brings us to one area, one appellation worth agitating against: a constituent of American voters know as ‘Pro-Lifers.’

On the face of it they sound rather caring and progressive. However, they are far from harmless. Indeed, they are both anti-life and very much against gender equality. It is this group who sought a Supreme Judge of Kavanaugh’s ilk. Pro-lifers are pro guns. Correct me if I am wrong, but guns are designed to extinguish life. Whilst delusionally obsessed with unborn foetuses (grounded, you see, on biblical myth) they are vociferously pro capital punishment and are totally okay with tucking into meat feast pizzas and Surf ‘n’ Turf slaughter house offerings.

Moreover, Pro-lifers are church going folk, ipso facto, they believe the battle of Armageddon to be sacrosanct. To be clear, they pray for a Third World War, it is prophesised so it must be true. There is little that is endearing about pro-lifers. Their morality (e.g., not coveting each other’s wives) is based only on their fear of the lord’s damnation to an eternally burning hell. They are not morally decent because it is morally decent to be morally decent. They are, according to their own narrative and logic, morally decent because god commands it.

As a result of their ‘morality’, when Dr Ford—who, unlike Judge Kavanaugh, took a polygraph test and passed—raised her hand and spoke the truth, many pro-lifers petitioned their Republican representatives to turn a blind (uncaring) eye and allow her words to fall upon deaf (unprogressive) ears. Kavanaugh’s being anti-abortion and pro gun trumped his sexual abuse of nonconsenting women. Trump, I imagine, isn’t that concerned about the issue of abortion; neither really are Fox & Friends (the latter are essentially friends of the mega-rich who care only about Trump’s tax cuts). Yet, by facilitating the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (i.e., the decriminalisation of abortion) Trump will, by way of the Court’s newest appointee, deliver unto himself the pro-life vote in 2020 and thus, for ‘us’, another four years of megalomania.

Branded Identities

Brand and Identity

An imagined community is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson to analyse nationalism.

Anderson depicts a nation as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.

Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities, in which he explains the concept in depth, was first published in 1983.

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Going, going gone!

[A mode of thinking is being lost*]

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A baby held, read to and talked to, undergoes an initiation into a useful life; they may also undergo an initiation into happiness.

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A child held in happy attention to books and stories has a good chance of loving reading as an adult. What about the [ipod, ipad, iphone] others?

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* Reading a paper book [I recently read, I rergret to say, online and thus via a digital LED screen…] frustrates one’s smartphone sense of being everywhere at once. The author said that suddenly, one is stuck on that page, anchored, moored, and thus, I myself now add, left out of the loop — disenfranchised from the perpetually breaking news and contemporary viral tweets.

Miming My Meme

The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale.

Meme
/miːm/ [noun]

1.

an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.

2.

an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

This word originated in the 1970s and derives from the Greek word mimēma ‘that which is imitated.’ The word was coined by Richard Dawkins and can be found in the following books:

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A meme then is an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. (Think of genes, think of viruses.) Memes aim to convey (spread) a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning. (The meme may do this intentionally or unintentiinaly…)

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another mind. This transmission process may occur e.g.,  through writing, speech, gestures, or rituals.

Those that support this notion see memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. This video may help better explain memes and/or the concept of cultural evolution:

We are what we are because of genes; we are who we are because of memes. Philosopher Daniel Dennett muses on an idea put forward by Richard Dawkins in 1976.


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p.s. “Cultural evolution” is a theory that states that human cultural change (changes in socially transmitted beliefs, knowledge, customs, skills, attitudes, languages, etc.) can be described as a Darwinian evolutionary process that is similar (but not identical) to biological and/or genetic evolution.

Biological Evolution Cultural Evolution
Traits can be transmitted to a person only from parents. Culture traits can be transmitted to a person by many unrelated people.
Transmission can only occur from one generation to the next. Transmission can be within or between generations and can be widely separated in time and space.
Occurs at a slow pace, with many generation needed to spread a trait widely through a population. Occurs at a fast pace, may involve immediate learning and does not require inheritance.
Traits acquired in a lifetime cannot be transmitted via genetic inheritance. Culture trails can be transmitted within a lifetime via teaching or imitation.
People cannot choose which genetic traits they will inherit. People can choose to accept or reject some cultural traits.
Data transmitted is encoded by genetic material (DNA). Data transmitted can assume the form of written or spoken language.

 

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