2020 was so awful that if we had found Godzilla tearing apart our local branch of Sainsbury’s our first thought would be to loot the ruins for toilet paper and pasta.
Brexit will be a shambles, starting with the failure to recruit customs officers or build them anywhere to work. The Government and the press will blame the EU for our self inflicted woes, and those people still emotionally invested in Brexit will believe them. The rest of us will suffer in silence.
The NHS will enter a massive and entirely predictable crisis brought on by the Governments failure to deal with Covid, endemic understaffing, and an incompetent neurotic Secretary of State. Less obviously the care home sector will also meltdown due to persistent financial problems and the inability to recruit staff post Brexit. People in the South East will discover by the summer that the nearest care home for their relatives is 2 hours drive away.
Brexit is not even over. The people who used Brexit to poison political debate in his country will continue to do so. The more poison they pour the more their careers prosper. It is a once in a life time opportunity to recreate the UK as an oligarchy – libertarianism for the rich, authoritarianism for the poor. Those who stand to benefit from this shift will not miss this opportunity.
The Public Accounts Committee will find evidence of nepotism on a grand scale over Covid contracts. Normally the Government just ignores these scandals, and pretends they didn’t happen, but in this case it will be hard to smirk it off. Some of it looks like corruption; at best it is unlawful, at worst illegal. Some small fry might be thrown to the wolves, but the rich and powerful will be immune from an increasingly enfeebled legal system.
Johnson will face plotting to over throw him, but it is no certainty that they will succeed. If he is forced to go as scapegoat for the pandemic and Brexit chaos Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak will challenge for the leadership, only to lose to Gove. Personally I think Johnson will stagger on forever, and then hand the job on to whichever of his kids has the least talent.
Starmer has by far and away the biggest problem in British politics. He has done incredibly well taking Labour from 25% to 40% in the polls, but hasn’t been able to build a decisive lead over Johnson. This is because 40% is Labour’s new ceiling. Labour historically was an alliance of the North and Midlands with the Celtic lands against the power of the Tory South of England. Middle class intellectuals had always gravitated to the party, adding a cranky fringe of ideological daftness to an otherwise pragmatic party rooted in working class communities.
“a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting……. In addition to this there is the horrible—the really disquieting—prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together” George Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier
The middle class cranks have been flexing their muscles in the Party since Benn in the 70s, but the last 10 years has been their triumph. Labour’s Scottish base has abandoned the left for the SNP’s right wing nationalism, and working class voters in the North and Midlands have embraced Johnsons similar authoritarian offering. Maybe some of the Northern English heartlands could be coaxed back in time, but the dynamics of the next few years of British politics is a bitter fight between Scottish and English varieties of aggressive nationalism. The nationalist right has triumphed, and those of us who don’t share their world view are unwelcome. Labour can’t get much above 40% in the polls because 60% of voters will never vote for them again.
In short – Labour are fucked. Hard as Starmer works he has already achieved all he can. The only way forward is to try and forge an alliance between the rump of Labour and the LibDems and Greens, 2 other parties which have their fair share of cranks. Chipping away at former red wall seats is a worthwhile long term project, but it won’t deliver victory in 2029 never mind 2024. Other than a full on progressive alliance nothing will shift the Tories soon, if ever. The oligarchs won, and the middle class left helped gift them victory.
Corbyn, the prime little man with a position in society which he has no intention of forfeiting, was not the sole architect of Labours destruction, but he needs to take a huge share of the blame, as do the people who relentlessly promoted him even when it was obvious he was leading the left into oblivion.
Corbyn will spend lots of 2021 in court. He has a legal action against the Labour party, he is the defendant in 2 libel actions, and potentially further legal action from the Labour leaks report. He will lose all of them, and his fans will foot the bill. The Labour Party proper faces a class action from Jewish members who reported racist abuse, plus the legal aftermath of Labour leaks, which will include another libel case, and a Data Protection breach. The former cases they can settle out of court, the Information Commissioners action they can’t.
Corbyn will leave the Labour Party as a self declared martyr, Peace and Justice Ltd will become a new political party, which will exist to fight battles that have already been lost, led by the people who lost them. Labour will breathe a sigh of relief and move on, glad that it saves them expelling people. McDonnell and Abbott will go with him out of a misguided sense of solidarity but no-one else. OK maybe Bell Ribiero Addy.
Ian Lavery or Richard Burgon will launch a leadership challenge backed by the remaining Corbynites and will lose, but with enough support to continue to claim a mandate to poison Labour from within.
Claudia Webbe will be sacked from the Labour Party, and lose a recall petition. She will stand as a Peace and Justice candidate against an official, Asian, Labour candidate and lose her deposit. She may not be the last Corbynite to face this fate.
The only political party in bigger trouble than Labour are the Trump cinematic universe (formerly knows as the Republican Party). The US far right have been on an even longer march away from reality than the middle class British left. After the shock of Nixon, they picked Reagan as President, because he told them happy stories (Shining City on the Hill, It’s Morning in America), even though at times he couldn’t tell the difference between real life and the movies he was in. When Clinton came to power they vanished down a rabbit hole of Whitewater conspiracy theories only to declare themselves vindicated when they discovered that Monica Lewinsky had given him a blow job.
W was another massive step away from reality – a Harvard MBA with an alledged drink problem, who grew up in East Coast privilege. He disappeared into a drying out clinic and re-emerged wearing cowboy boots, talking with a Texas accent. He entered the White House he had grown up in telling everyone he was a down home boy, maybe not the sharpest tool in the box, but he made his money the hard way in Texas oil. W was the first great fictional character of the 21st century.
So strong was the fantasy wing of the Republican party that John McCain ended up with Sarah Palin as running mate, and was forced to listen as she made increasingly crazy claims such as being able to see Russians from where she lived in Alsaska.
The shock of a black man in the White House drove them from unreality into full on madness complete with crazy conspiracy theories about his birth certificate, his religion, or that Michelle was actually a man.
Trump was only the latest step. Someone who would lie continually, and who expected his fans to accept his lies without question. He took the US right’s dream world to social media, with an endless stream of unconsciousness.
As they have drifted further and further into a dream world they have become more and more authoritarian. This isn’t unusual – fantasy and authoritarianism have always gone hand in hand
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism
The only question is how crazy it gets for the US right. It is easier to imagine the Republicans selecting a cartoon character or an animated plush toy as Presidential candidate than it is to imagine them picking someone honest and sensible.
The future of US conservatism isn’t Trump or no Trump it is reality vs fantasy. Fantasy will win.
Trump himself will spend less time in court than Corbyn, but on more serious charges; felony fraud, corrupt real estate deals, perjury, and sexual assault. He will be banned from twitter, but will join Parler and continue his tweets from fantasy island.
Four seasons landscape gardening will become a major force in US politics and in time will grow to be a genuine challenger to the 2 party system.
Covid denial will continue to flourish even as the vaccine roles out, and the actions of stubborn fools will delay our return to normality. The sense of grievance and addiction to on-line fantasy that fed the rise of Trump and Brexit will continue to drive Covid conspiracies, and lead to more deaths.
Elsewhere UK Local Government will enter an unprecedented financial crisis, with widespread bankruptcies and cuts to services. The Government will shrug their shoulders and blame anyone but themselves for their own failures.
Finally 2021 will see the return of the balance of payments crisis. For most of the post war era the UK has imported more than we export, with consequent pressure on the value of the pound and GDP. Eventually this fed into speculative attacks on the currency, culminating in Black Wednesday.
The rise of intangible exports changed this – the City of London, education, and cultural industries balanced off German cars, Spanish holidays and French wine. Brown’s decision to shift our reserves from gold into foreign currency helped stabilise the situation, while enraging shouty right wingers with a fragile grasp on economics.
Boris’s EU deal allows goods to flow freely (where the EU has a surplus), but doesn’t do the same for services (where the UK has a surplus). The end point of this is an ever depreciating pound, and a massive balance of payments problem. The solutions to this are all incredibly painful – devaluation, deflationary contraction, capital controls.
The only question is how soon this financial crisis hits. I only hope we get a few months of normality between the end of Covid and the collapse of the pound.
I wish I had better predictions for you, but sadly the endemic problems of economics and politics that made 2020 such a shit show aren’t going to change any time soon.
Happy New Year!!