Neon Fascism and the Cult of Heroic Failure

After Brexit, and the weird fissures of Empire Loyalism it has laid open, not only is the sense of a unified coherent ‘Britain’ now just laughable, but the idea of a unified coherent British ‘people’ is implausible. So the constant evocation of “the people” as a force is an immeasurably stupid one.

But increasingly “the People” are held aloft as a talisman, a mythical force which must be obeyed. It’s an idea that’s evoked by some of the most deceitful elite forces that have been working in a clandestine fashion for several years now, and all in the name of democracy. And whilst Cambridge Analytica, Aaron Banks and Richard Cook & Co smoothed the deal with cash and data, another element emerged in the zeitgeist of populism and protest. From “Crush the Saboteurs” to “Enemies of the People” a darker undercurrent of threat has bubbled away.

Most recently witnessed in the harassing of Owen Jones and Anna Soubry, the threat of violence has been a constant presence since 2016. From Thomas Mair to Thomas Robinson the threat of a new English fascism, with violence at its core has become visible for the first time. It veers from the genuinely threatening far-right of the EDL and its cultivated Islamophobia to the bores of aging UKIP pub-racists. But both are sanctioned and emboldened by the mainstreaming of views that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

A month before the referendum, Nigel Farage told the BBC that “it’s legitimate to say that if people feel they have lost control completely — and we have lost control… then violence is the next step.” The former UKIP leader boasted to a cheering audience at Southampton’s Concorde Club, he would personally “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines.”

Whilst the image of Nigel on the front lines is fun, the forces he has unleashed are less humorous. A new element are the Brit versions of the Gilets Jaunes — badly translated across the Channel — Neon Fascists you could say. But given the flag emblazoned on the North West EDL’s back, I think its safe to say that the country he wants back is confusingly Britain, not England.

If Brexit looks like Trumpism it’s because Make America Great Again has an echo in Make England Great Again.

If England mirrors America it is because both have re-imagined themselves as countries threatened with (imminent) invasion.

At the beginning of the year the Home Secretary deemed it a national crisis after five small boats carrying just 40 desperate people attempted to cross the Channel on Christmas Day.

Trump imagines hordes of rapists and terrorists massing at his southern border and implores his followers with a celebration of medieval practices.

Now Take Back Control has gone the same way as Drain the Swamp, with the Tory Desmond Swayne mirroring Trumps Govt Shutdown with a call to suspend parliament.

Brexiteer Conservative MP Desmond Swayne calls on Theresa May to suspend parliament until April in order to “guarantee Brexit.”

— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) January 14, 2019

How is any of this possible?

What’s happened?

One theory is that Brexit has just surfaced complex issues of cultural insecurity that have lain below the surface for many years.

It’s fitting that the only person to make any sense of the unfolding crisis is Irish.

Fintan O’Toole has written that:

“In its Brexit iteration, England audaciously dreams itself into the colony status it once so triumphantly imposed on others. In reality, Britain went from being an imperial power to being a reasonably ordinary but still privileged western European country. But in the apparition conjured by Brexit, the history of the last 45 years of EU membership is not so much to be awoken from as to be transformed into a masochistic fantasy of an oppression that must be thrown off.”

So there’s a strange logic lurking deep down somewhere here. Brexiteer’s contempt for both Scotland and Ireland — what Adam Boulton called famously ‘England’s fringe nations’ makes sense, if you consider England to be an oppressed nation, held down by a combination of EU bureaucrats, hapless immigrants and recalcitrant Jocks / Paddies (delete as applicable).

As O’Toole suggests England is NOT engaged in endless triumphalism, the cult of heroic failure was, in many ways, he argues the ultimate colonial appropriation:

“Most of the modern English heroes, after all, are complete screw-ups. Retreats or disasters have loomed large in England’s story since at least the 19th century: John Moore’s evacuation of Corunna in the Peninsular Wars, the Charge of the Light Brigade, “Scott of the Antarctic,” the “last stand” against the Zulus at Isandlwana, Gordon of Khartoum, the Somme, the flight from Dunkirk. The cult of heroic failure was, in many ways, the ultimate colonial appropriation. Britain took to itself, not just the resources of the conquered people, but their suffering and endurance.”

As we face Theresa May’s moment of crisis the cultural insanity of this may hit home. But as England mirrors America, Scotland should do well not to mirror England. Grievance culture and paranoia should be replaced with the confidence of a normal European democracy with natural resources and talented people.

Originally published at bellacaledonia.org.uk on January 14, 2019.

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