The people have just voted to leave the EU, and now the Chilcot Report (Iraq War inquiry) will be released. It’s set to be damning for Blair, New Labour, and the establishment. For a long time now, many great issues have been going unchecked, while a corrupted state has waged destructive illegal wars overseas. Britain is historically an Empire that has been lead until very recently by people who were brought up with reverence for Empire, even while it was collapsing around them.
After the Second World War, a proud generation built the welfare state, because the population of the country was so crushed by the effects of war that they deemed it necessary to rebuild the country. They also wanted to rebuild it in a more equal and caring way. With monetary aid from the booming United States who were worried about rising Communism in Europe, this was achieved. A generation grew up with opportunities. The economy recovered.
Then came the Vietnam War, the Middle East Crisis, and the oil shocks. World events were changing during these times. Britain was fading from the world scene while trying so desperately to remain a player. The Suez Crisis, historians mostly agree, was the moment Britain lost its status. Publically humiliated by President Eisenhower on television: telling Britain to get out of Egypt. We stayed out of Vietnam, wisely, but no wisdom could protect us from the economic shifts in the 1970s. The optimism of the new generation ended.
As Yanis Varoufakis argues: the 1970s was the moment that the United States “ran out of its surpluses”. What does that mean? After the Second World War, Europe was flattened and America was booming. That meant America had enormous trade surpluses, and money flowed into their country as stuff flowed out. Great in the short term, but like everything, what goes up must come down. After Europe was reconstructed, Germany and Japan were booming, America no longer had a trade surplus. So it could no longer dominate the world on this basis. Something had to change, and Britain was swept along with this change.
The oil rich Arab countries supplying capitalism decided to assert themselves. They jacked up the price. A new deal was done. Arab money flowed into America and Britain, while weapons flowed the other way. Britain is now Saudi Arabia’s number 1 ally on the world stage. At the same time Israel were armed to defend themselves against their Soviet-backed Arab neighbors. Two wars were fought, no peace gained, and who knows how much more violence will flow from this.
All the while, American culture was spreading: American banks & American movies. In Muslim countries this was having a very negative feedback effect. Fanatical Islamists blamed their own leaders for being “infected” with this American disease. They saw America as a fundamentally selfish place. An alien culture as a threat to their own. A revolutionary movement began, that murdered the corrupted President Sadat of Egypt, gained power in Iran, fought with America against Russia in Afghanistan, killed countless ordinary Muslims, and ultimately became a global terrorist campaign against America itself. This culminated with the attacks of September 11th 2001 when former CIA backed insurgent Osama Bin Laden flew planes into the Twin Towers.
Britain has a “special relationship” with America. How special? They did bail us out during and after WW2, while moving in on old British Empire territories. Churchill was as sad about the fall of the British Empire as he was happy about the fall of Germany. After the war he admitted that this was America’s time now. Britain did not support the horrendous war in Vietnam where America was defeated, and America did not support the British plucky “defense” of The Falklands. But the “special relationship” was brought back in the ugly TV relationship of Bush & Blair.
After 9/11 the dream that America & Britain has a special destiny in the world became the rhetoric. “We’re going to get the evil-doers,” said Bush. “I do believe this is a battle for good,” endorsed Blair. Britain was back, as the trusty sidekick, riding into battle against evil! The only problem was the world was now a place where you struggle to tell the difference between who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Such was the violence. The Iraq War, by any standards has be a human calamity of epic proportions.
The Arab Spring was a moment of hope, brutally put down, and now the Syrian Civil War looks to become an ongoing regional war drawing in the surrounding nations. It is really an escalation of the “insurgency” in Iraq after the failure to put in place a credible Iraqi government. There wasn’t really much effort to do this. This insurgency murdered millions of people in Iraq and then moved into Syria during the Arab Spring and took advantage of that situation to create a new “Islamic State”. The western reaction to this has been utterly confused: more bombing raids. More war, with no strategy or moral authority left.
Libya is a similar story, and Cameron is as guilty as Blair.
Britain’s involvement in these wars is the greatest national scandal right now.
Who voted for this? Did anyone give their consent for war? Successive governments in Britain have been elected to power promising to do something about “Housing, Education, and Health” which are all in crisis. None have. Thatcher did not “Save Britain” and New Labour failed to halt the increasing gap between rich and poor. The Coalition government imposed an austerity which targeted the poorest in society. The country has been getting more and more divided for years. The issues have not been dealt with, and resentments have built up.
Immigration, which is a net positive for the economy, became THE issue for many voters. It became the rallying call for Brexit. Not all people who voted for Brexit are racist. Many people simply did not see the “net positives” of immigration. They are mostly living in poor communities, where all they have seen is decline for generations. Immigration, in their eyes, is part of the problem. The EU was the cause. Brexit was their first chance to voice this resentment. They took it.
The deeper trend is the rise of “anti-establishment” politics from both left and right. Parliament is hated. The media is not trusted. Is it any wonder the unwritten British constitution is in tatters? Scotland looks set to leave. The two major political parties are totally split down the middle. A stable government looks like it’s a long way off. More likely is a turbulent period of snap elections, while street protests get bigger.
Negotiations with the EU will be tough. They will seek to make sure Britain does not get a good deal, to warn off other states from believing they can waltz off into the sunset. Look at how they negotiate with Greece, who doesn’t even want to leave! As for our “special relationship” with America, the rise of Trump is making that look like an extremely undesirable alliance. Unlike after WW2 they are not threatened by Communism, so they have no motive to bail us out again.
Britain’s decline from Empire is complete. We already have one of the most centralized and corrupted democracies at Westminster. Brexit voters will be quickly disappointed to find that politics in London is the same as politics in Brussels. Our democracy, which we tried to export to Iraq, is very fragile. It has failed to deal with any big issues since the 1970s. Given how unpopular all our politicians are, it’s difficult to see anyone galvanizing support for it. The only question is what comes next.