Dr Liz Gordon: Is the UK primed for civil war?

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As my loyal readers know (kia ora korua), a recent encounter with a person with settled views of the opposite end of the spectrum to my own in the Rolleston Aquatic Centre left me shaken and disturbed.  My chief concern was this person’s racial politics. Plenty of wars have been fought on the politics of race, most recently, of course, World War Two. In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, it seemed to me particularly disturbing that a casual acquaintance should so vehemently state and defend such views.

The creeping ideology of the Third Reich, which worshipped Aryans and hated, in particular, Jews, but also women, gays, persons with disability and so on, was a guiding principle of Hitler. And don’t forget that the eugenic views that underpinned that ideology had been very active throughout the British Empire for a couple of decades prior to WW2, with New Zealand not exempt. Sir Truby King, that famous founder of the Plunket Society, acted purely out of concern to ensure that the white race reproduced itself.  He often bemoaned that educated white women suffered more pain in childbirth (or perhaps they merely had better means of expressing themselves).

But I digress. This week’s Supreme Court decision in the UK reached back much further than the second world war into British common law to find that Boris Johnson illegally prorogued parliament.  From a legal perspective, it was an elegant and comprehensive decision that invoked the shadows of much older law.

It was clarified that the decision to prorogue parliament was made by the Crown, on the advice of the Privy Council. The Supreme Court noted that any attempt to “alter the law of the land by use of the Crown’s prerogative powers was unlawful”, based on a range of earlier common law decisions dating back to 1611.  In short, it is illegal for the ‘executive’ or ‘Crown’ to remove parliament’s powers for any reason, and especially in times of need where Parliament’s decision-making powers are crucial. As the Court put it: “The government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons. It has no democratic legitimacy other than that.”

Invoking 17th century decisions reminds us it is only a few hundred years since England erupted into civil war, executing one King (the rather feckless Charles 1) before eventually restoring the monarchy with Charles 2. That struggle involved the King’s men, the Cavaliers, against Oliver Cromwell’s pro-Parliament forces, the so-called Roundheads.

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And just recently, considering the parallels between these groups and the total split between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ over Brexit, the similarities have made me wonder whether it is only by civil war that the current differences will be resolved.

There have already been victims, in particular the Labour MP Jo Cox, murdered in 2016 and numerous verbal attacks, death threats and the like towards Labour MPs, especially women.  Boris Johnson, echoing his mate Donald over the Atlantic ditch, has deliberately starting using incendiary language to deepen the cracks that already exist, in order to push through his reforms, or die trying.  And it may be the latter rather than the former, if the escalation he seeks comes to pass. 

No matter what happens, the sight of a Prime Minister deliberately using violent and incendiary language to whip up a storm to achieve his anti-democratic goals is a very scary one.  It was brought to the playing field by Donald Trump, but Boris Johnson has used the constitutional weaknesses of the UK to attempt to rip apart the structures of power, to support his goal.  There is little doubt that strong language by a leader incites action by the followers. Meanwhile, in turn he is being investigated for the improper use of funds. These are days of dirty politics indeed, with sex, power and money domination political decision-making.

The conditions for a larger conflagration, for indeed some form of civil war, already exist in the UK, with a decade of austerity for the poor (following on from 30 years or post-Thatcher neo-liberalism), the obscene gathering of wealth by the rich and plenty of talk of privatization of the pillars of society, in particular the bruised but not broken NHS. The situation barely differs from earlier causes of war. 

The rise of far right views in contemporary times is shocking; something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, being brought up in the post-war hiatus of internationalism and development.  

Several weeks ago, my personal encounter rudely reminded me (as if the Christchurch Mosque attacks did not) that the same contested views seen in the UK, much of Europe and the USA, are present in this peaceful and pleasant land of Aotearoa. We are not immune, even though the voice of reason and not contestation comes from the mouths of our leadership. I hope that we as a nation are protected from the scary and dangerous politics afflicting a bunch of other countries, because I do not see the current situation ending well.

 

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

15 COMMENTS

  1. “No matter what happens, the sight of a Prime Minister deliberately using violent and incendiary language to whip up a storm to achieve his anti-democratic goals is a very scary one.”
    The language under condemnation here seems to be most often exemplified by calling the Benn bill the “surrender bill”. Which of course it is.
    I think Liz’s language describing it wins hands down .
    There won’t be any civil war in the UK unless the result of the Brexit referendum is thwarted. There won’t be one then either but the death threats you will notice are all being made to politicians that are trying to prevent the result of the Brexit referendum being implemented . Indefensible in themselves but they show what is angering the electorate.
    D J S

    • David Stone: “The language under condemnation here seems to be most often exemplified by calling the Benn bill the “surrender bill”. Which of course it is.”

      Exactly. It’s an utterly extraordinary spectacle, watching the UK parliament pull a stunt like this.

      “….the death threats you will notice are all being made to politicians that are trying to prevent the result of the Brexit referendum being implemented . Indefensible in themselves but they show what is angering the electorate.”

      Indeed. Scarcely surprising under the circumstances; the citizens pushed almost beyond endurance by the anti-democratic actions of the remainer MPs. So much for the will of the people.

  2. The real Civil War in Britain:
    What Future for the UK with One-Third of Children in Poverty? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6lcbq8TtP0
    TheMystery Gamer
    Cool Breeze The rich have seen their wealth surge under a decade of Tory austerity. And we’re still funding the rich. While school children are supposed to survive six hours on 6.8p worth of food
    catalinacurio
    Child poverty is at a record high, our teachers are feeding kids, they are asking parents to bring in essentials such as loo paper, kids are being fed from food banks and homeless cafes, more kids are becoming homeless, the education system is shattered. The UN warned the UK Gov about this, so they made it even worse, May’s Eugenics.
    C J Titan
    But they have a royal family of sponges to be proud of, so there’s that.
    Big G Haywood
    Margaret Thatcher destroyed Britain. We are seeing the effects of her policies today.
    Mark Edwards
    There is an answer, distasteful as it may be.
    France found it, and for a while, it solved the problem.
    The Guillotine.
    If the “elite” won’t redistribute their staggering wealth, the poverty stricken majority will remove it from them, along with their heads.
    The elite came up with a private army to counter any repeat of this revolution.
    Today, they are called the police.
    Never forget, the police are there to protect you. But only if you are privileged.
    The biggest irony of them all, is that they got you to pay for them.
    Law and Order MUST be maintained, at all costs
    Also the poor didn’t see much benefit from North Sea Oil either.

  3. “Is the UK primed for civil war?”
    Yes, in as much as a lawn mower is primed to start. But yet the bugger still won’t go.
    There’ll be no ‘civil war’ within the common understanding of the term in the UK because, like here, our Masters have us terminally brain washed. And how do they know they have us terminally brainwashed? By watching domestic spending, of course. While we shop? ‘They’ have nothing to worry about. All our fears and all our rage can be dispersed within the Hellish confines of any ‘Shopping Mall’. Instant gratification is a powerfully effective means of control.
    Just imagine, however, if we were less gratified instantly by buying pap and twinkle-sparkle and more gratified by quality of ‘Life’.
    After all? Birdsong costs nothing to enjoy listening to. A glass of clean water out of a creek should be so. I.e. Clean and free. How about ample time off to enjoy mingling with our friends and whanau or rambling about on our beautiful AO/NZ? All free and to drive home the value of such free things? Think of how much money would be required to return to such pastimes?
    When one’s young and healthy? We never think of how much it will cost to return to being so. We never think that by buying health insurances we’re in fact buying fascist imprisonment leading to misery and an early and likely preventable death for others less able to financially perform because the private insurers have sabotaged our public health infrastructure to ensure their profits remain profitable.
    There is every reason why the UK, and us by extension, should, right now, this minute be rioting and waring against our oppressors. And who are they, you more than likely won’t ask? Why, the banksters, insurers and our morally crippled politicians of course!
    But we’re not. We’re down at Herpie Nermals buying a preposterous Uber-Super-Mega hyper thin quantum-leaping TV to watch all-bought-and-paid-for Th-ugby on. ( A TV that delivered a result with less efficiency than a very, very old school CRT fat screen the picture of which would only improve by wiggling the ariel.
    We’re all being bull shitted by a select few who own the world and pay a pittance for our lives so as they can spend us on themselves.
    Just ponder this too will ya?
    It ain’t politics. It’s busine$$.
    Brexit? AO/NZ neoliberalism? The cluster fuck that is the U$A? Germany? France? China? Japan? Etc etc… They’re all about busine$$.
    Do you like metaphors by the way?
    Here’s one. So funny…
    “ The tiny West African nation is one of the continent’s top petroleum producers and has a population of just 1.2 million.”
    Luxury cars seized from vice president Teodorin Obiang Nguema are expected to fetch $18m at Geneva auction
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/29/swiss-to-auction-25-supercars-seized-from-son-of-equatorial-guinea-dictator

    How about this? :
    South pacific Island Nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand with the land area of the United Kingdom but with a minute population of 4.7 million known for exporting world class foods and organic clothing fibre is found to be broke and floundering after some years of alarming prosperity which built a world class infrastructure but now has homelessness and poverty alongside some of the most expensive domestic housing prices in the world!
    Now? Revolution anyone? A nice cup of tea then lets go rioting?

  4. Jay 11 is right. I’ve always thought that the main reason why we are so apathetic is that Britain (and then NZ) never had a Revolution. UK had a Civil War but that’s not the same as a Revolution. It may have been civil but not revolting. That’s because the conflict was between the aristocracy (and the monarchy uberalles) on one side and the politarians on the other. Revolution needs to originate with the workers,who may have taken sides in the Civil War but had little at stake in it.
    Its not as though they had no chances but it seems we lack the stomach for chopping off heads, something that the aristocracy have happily done to the working class. All the rallies and marches from the the Peasants Revolt to the Peterloo massacre ended in disaster. Oh! for a bloody good revolution.

  5. Dave, you are spot on.

    Liz, step back from your partisan viewpoint and consider what is undemocratic; stifling a majority decision to leave? Stifling the opportunity to put the decision to an election? Using the courts to over rule parliamentary executive powers because your side doesn’t have any democratic way forward?

    It’s all so reminiscent of the liberal Lefts war on Trump. Standards lowered, lies told, misinformation against their “evil” foe. This rush to unprincipled action is rather akin to Tolkeins ring of power.
    To me the liberal left looks very like Saruman. They crave power far more than principle.

    • Nick J: “It’s all so reminiscent of the liberal Lefts war on Trump. Standards lowered, lies told, misinformation against their “evil” foe. This rush to unprincipled action is rather akin to Tolkeins ring of power.
      To me the liberal left looks very like Saruman. They crave power far more than principle.”

      Nicely put. Yeah, it looks that way to me, too. The liberal left hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory over ithis situation.

  6. Living in poverty while politicians bicker over Brexit
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2eAeBFq6fY
    terry phidaheights
    RICHEST COUNTRY IN EUROPE AND YOU TREAT YOUR NEEDY PEOPLE LIKE DOGS TIME FOR REVOLUTION
    leo friel
    Knife crime, gang violence, substance misuse, poor mental health, domestic violence, obesity etcetc all have their roots in poverty. The government blames social media whilst cutting all public services and everyone seems to think this is Instagram’s fault LOL.
    hat norwegianguy
    As a non British person traveling through England while I was visiting a friend was an eye opener the class based society never went away in Britain and when you get out of London the amount of young people I encountered living on the streets was insane all the way down to 13 years old.

    And now the situation might get even worse for them if that is even possible meanwhile you remainers yelling at Brexiters and one side blaming all their problems on the EU while the other side is blaming it were it rightly belongs the Conservatives and austerity policies.

    The EU did not create this situation your own politicians did and looking at the clusterfuck going on in Westminster right now that is not the EU’s fault either that’s all on your elected representatives.
    DirtyJokesFan
    This is one of many top down problems whereby the unscrupulous elites have gorged themselves and left the neediest mired in poverty via loss of opportunities. Yet the richest are legally allowed to pursue aggressive tax avoidance compounding the lowest earners to fill the gaps in funding, thus more financial hardship. Pathetic.

    • I saw the same a year ago going through London, Manchester and Liverpool, very depressing. The same was evident in Paris, austerity is not unique to UK, hence the Yellow Jackets.

      Brexit was always in a large part a rejection of the wealth divide and impoverishment of the old heartlands. It was also their rejection of the liberal left agenda that agreed to massive immigration and multiculturalism. Nobody from the status quo of both Labour and Conservative party seems to have accepted that both their worldviews have been rejected by the people. Which leaves a vacuum of ideas.

      • NicK J: “It was also their rejection of the liberal left agenda that agreed to massive immigration and multiculturalism.”

        Massive immigration and multiculturalism are both planks of the neoliberal agenda. Likewise the reductio ad absurdum of “racism”, to the point that it seems to mean: “stuff you say that I don’t like”.

        It’s a puzzle to me that the liberal left is so imprisoned by its own perception of virtue that it fails to see this. Many other people see it all too clearly.

    • Jay11: “Knife crime, gang violence, substance misuse, poor mental health, domestic violence, obesity etcetc all have their roots in poverty.”

      Heh! Sounds exactly like NZ. The bitter harvest of neoliberalism in both countries. Small wonder so many citizens want out of that great centre of neoliberalism, the EU.

  7. Overshadowed by Brexit, the poor and homeless ignored in Britain l Al Jazeera English
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1GdpdZrHRE
    Interdimentional Wizard Wiz
    Now that Brexit has been resolved…. we leave without a deal as the deal the EU offered was rejected. Time to build 500,000 PREFAB homes for the homeless…. £10k each is fine! rent £20 per week… and can we have verandahs on them please.
    Fuel poverty in the UK
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zkghXnfpFw
    No escape from poverty? | DW English
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swOzypMH-dM
    More and more children in the UK now live in households with incomes below the poverty level. Since 2014, numbers have grown dramatically. Many families are getting into debt trying to pay their rent and have to visit food banks to get by.

  8. The Historical Civil War:
    Cromwell and the Roundheads executed Charles 1st because:
    ” His religious policies, and his marriage to a Roman Catholic, made him mistrusted by Reformed groups such as the English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters, who thought his views were too Catholic. He supported “high church” Anglican ecclesiastics, and failed to help Protestant forces enough in the Thirty Years’ War. “

  9. Civil wars are typically a middle class phenomenon. They were in 1789. Its only when then middle feels sufficiently unhappy that they rise up. Lets keep in mind too the Ancien Regime lasted from the middle ages so these types of events are not that common. In England the whole thing was reversed with the return of Charles II.

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