Britain is Self-Destructing— And It’s a Warning to the World

James Hawthorne - United Photo Press

What Happens When People Become Too Foolish, Mean, and Backwards for a Democracy to Function?

Something strange, funny, tragic, and grotesque is happening in — or to — Britain. It’s imploding as a modern, functioning society. And that’s a warning to the world. Let me tell you the story.

In Britain, the conservative party (the Tories), will have been in power for fifteen years by the end of their current term. That’s a veritable eternity in modern politics. Take America, for example, where concurrent Presidential terms are limited to eight years.

Around the turn of the century, Britain was the envy of the world — a textbook example of what it meant to be a modern society, with expansive public institutions, rising standards of living, and a prosperous middle and working class.

But fifteen years, it turns out, will be long enough to wreck a society. During that time, the conservative party has made three catastrophic decisions. It botched a bank bailout during the financial crisis of 2007, which launched it to power, which set the stage for the second catastrophic decision, austerity — because all those bad debts had been shifted onto the public. The government, telling people the country was now “poor,” began a vicious program of cuts to basic public institutions. That led to the third catastrophic decision — Brexit. Because as austerity bit, people really did grow massively, suddenly poor — and now a scapegoat had to be found for their woes, which turned out to be, funnily, weirdly, stupidly, Europeans.

Wait, aren’t Brits Europeans, too? I’ll come back to that.

These three catastrophic decisions led to the most disastrous decline of any developed society in modern history. One of the sharpest since the Weimar Republic, one more accurately described as a collapse. British living standards fell off a cliff. Incomes, savings, happiness, trust, mobility, life expectancy — take any socioeconomics indicator you like. All of them have imploded in the last fifteen years. Yes, all of them. British living standards have plummeted across the board, and they’re now approaching American levels.

So the conservative party in Britain has presided over the most ruinous decline in living standards of any developed society in modern history, save perhaps America’s Republicans.

And the plan is to keep going. Remember the NHS? It was the world’s best healthcare system around the turn of the decade. Now it’s been eviscerated — and it’s being sold off to American health insurers. Remember the BBC? It was one of Britain’s crown jewels. Now the BBC News is like a miniature version of Fox News, replete with uncredentialed American pundits, spewing nonsense and hate. The conservatives plan to make Britain a mini-America, a brutal, cruel, stupid place, with no functioning public institutions or social systems.

Now here’s the problem, and it’s a big one. Brits keep voting for the conservative party. Not a little bit. But in massive landslides. To the point that the Labour Party — Britain’s centre left party, it’s Democrats, to Americans — has been wiped out.

Who on earth wants to become America? Who wants to pay “healthcare” bills into the millions? Who wants an education to cost as much as a house? Who wants to live in a dog-eat-dog society where nothing matters, and anything goes? Who’s foolish enough to want all that? The answer to that question is, forebodingly enough: Brits do.

Just this week, Labour’s lost its few remaining strongholds among the working class, in industrial, Rust Belt towns. The only places left that it really has a base are urban centres like London and Brighton — places now openly despised by the rest of the country as “metropolitan elites.” Labour is finished as a party, it seems. And the conservatives, despite destroying Britain with austerity, Brexit, cronyism, corruption, and sleaze, enjoy a tide of support that seems unstoppable — at this point, they’ll easily be in power for the rest of this decade…despite presiding over the most ruinous collapse in living standards in modern history.

What the? What on earth? Even American politics isn’t this perverse. Americans came to their senses, and elected Biden, after four years of Trump. But in Britain, the extremist implosion has gone on for fifteen years — and it shows no signs of stopping, at all.

So what’s going on here? British political scientists — many of whom lean so far to the right they might as well fall off its cliff — explain all this away by saying their people have chosen “sovereignty” over common sense. But nobody took away Britain’s sovereignty. There aren’t invading armies billeted in houses. Britain is and always has been its own country. This is no explanation at all, just foolishness. What really happened is much, much darker.

What happened is that Brits have become dumber than Americans. I don’t mean that as an insult — I mean it in a precise, formal, technical way. Brits, on average, don’t vote for rises in their standards of living anymore. They vote for declines in them. They don’t vote for things that will benefit them. They vote for their own self-destruction. They don’t vote for healthcare, retirement, education, childcare, as public goods and social institutions anymore — they vote against them, and for, well, the bizarre buffoonery and open corruption of the conservatives, for austerity and poverty and ruin, over and over again, as if nothing matters.

Let me explain what I mean by “Brits have become dumber than Americans,” and why it matters, in a more precise way.

British pundits and political scientists blame the Labour Party for this state of affairs. But there is a darker truth to confront. Yes, it’s true the Labour Party is insipid and uninspiring. But Joe Biden is not exactly Barack Obama, either. Anyone — and I mean anyone — is better than the conservatives. At least to anyone with a modicum of thought and common sense. They’ve presided over the fastest, sharpest collapse in living standards of any developed society in modern history, remember?

Mickey Mouse would be better. At least he wouldn’t give sweetheart Covid supplies deals to…the guy that ran his pub, like the Health Secretary did. Wouldn’t make an enemy of his biggest trading partner and closest friend, Europe. And so on. Anyone would be better than the party that has destroyed your society, your chance at a better life, your trust, happiness, income, savings, mobility, possibility.

But Brits do not think that way anymore. They are not thinking at all.

I said something dark and strange has happened here, so now let me come to the point.

What happens when people fail a democracy? Fail at democracy? That is what is really happening in Britain. We’re used to thinking of democracy as infallible — as long as it “represents” people’s preferences accurately, then all will be well — because, by and large, people don’t tend to want their own self-destruction, to be plunged into poverty, despair, chaos, and ruin. But what if they do?

Then democracy fails.

Not in the way we tend to think of it — it’s been manipulated and corroded and so on. It fails in a much, more serious way. The political system is working just fine — but people themselves have become incapable of making sensible decisions.

Let me put that more formally. Democracy relies on some level of rationality. It’s not the strict rationality of homo economicus. Democracy is emphatically not just me voting for what’s best for me. But it is me voting for what’s best for everyone, in some broad, basic sense. Democracy relies on rationality in a cooperative, expansive, sophisticated way. And when that breaks down, democracy, too, can fail. Or more accurately, people can fail at democracy.

That is what is happening in Britain. Britain is a society that is failing at democracy in the most fundamental way. It’s not that the system has been captured by elites — like it is in America. Something even worse than that is happening. The average person appears incapable of thinking democratically — in terms of the basic public interest, in terms of what’s in the best interest of their class, social group, country, society, people — whatsoever. That’s very, very serious. It is the worst kind of democratic failure there is. It’s much more severe than, say, elites capturing a democracy — that can be undone easily enough. But what happens when people themselves vote for their own ruin and self-destruction?

Let me make that visceral. Why would anybody — and I mean anybody — want American style “healthcare?” By now the whole world knows the gruesome stories that come out of America. Think of the young man — just 26 years old — who was left to die because he couldn’t afford insulin. Think of million dollar medical bills. Why would anyone want that? And yet Brits do.

Brits appear have become people who are now incapable of thinking sensibly in the most basic or fundamental ways. They look at the privatisation of the world’s best healthcare system — selling it off to American health insurers — and cheer and vote for it. But when people cannot make sensible decisions about what’s best for all, beginning with themselves, then democracy will only be a lever of self-destruction — not a solution to the problem of managing a society for the common good — and that is what’s happening in Britain. British democracy has become a suicide pact.

How have the conservatives gotten not just Britain’s elites, but its average voters to sign onto this suicide pact? How have they produced the perverse magic trick of getting people to vote for their own self-destruction? Through the age old art of demagoguery. First, conservatives made people poor — through austerity, slashing budgets, shrinking public services, producing a wave of unemployment, that led to falling incomes. Then, they blamed all that on hated others.

And so, presented with scapegoats to demonise, the average Brit did what human beings — flawed and foolish creatures that we are — tend to do. Not admit their mistakes. Instead of saying: “Wow, we were pretty dumb to vote for the conservative party, our living standards have gone down the tubes!” The average Brit now says — parroting the conservative party — “our living standards have gone down the tubes! Why? Immigrants! Foreigners!! Interlopers! Anyone different or strange! Liberals! ‘Metropolitan elites’! Londoners!! Get them!!”

In other words, the conservative party in Britain has played a game of demagoguery, of identity politics, with perfection. It’s made the average Brit believe that xenophobia and hate and aggression and hostility are what will somehow rescue them from collapsing living standards and cratering lives — not the simple act of investing in themselves. And if you think I’m kidding, consider that Britain just sent massive naval gunboats to a protest by French fishermen.

(This culture war has been taken to such an absurd degree that the British government now wants to criminalise being “woke.” But in this case, “woke” just seems to mean any form of modern thinking, like, say care for the environment, or an admission that racism and bigotry still exist, or the idea that minorities matter, too. Say something like “slavery happened, and it was terrible,” as a teacher, journalist, or public figure, and the British government wants that to be illegal, a criminal act.)

What the? You cannot have a democracy if people aren’t capable of a basic level of common sense. If they are going to fall for anything, democracy will only lead a people down the abyss of their own self-inflicted ruin.

The average Brit, sadly, has been foolish enough to fall for exactly this charade, this masquerade. He or she really now believes that having no healthcare system is less dangerous than being “woke.” That hate and xenophobia are worth more than functioning social systems and public goods. That turning a blind eye to corruption and folly are just fine — because the conservatives are “really” British, macho, tough, aggressive, hostile, indifferent, while the Labour Party is effeminate, warm, open, modern, and kind, and those are all things which are weak, suspicious, and despised. That clinging to a fictionalized, romanticizing identity as Brits, rulers of the seas, masters of the world, buccanneering swashbucklers — is this 1750? 1850? — matters more than having a modern society in the 21st century. That hating Europeans and minorities and anyone remotely different is somehow going to solve the problem…of voting time and again for a government…which has driven Brits themselves into the most stunning collapse of living standards in modern history.

And Brits show no signs of waking up from their comas of stupidity anytime soon. The conservatives seem able to get away with anything, and I mean anything. To a level that makes America look functional. No level of corruption or sleaze or incompetence or malfeasance seems to matter to Brits at all anymore. None.

Here’s a simple example. Brexit was long predicted to be catastrophic by anyone with a working mind. It turned out to be even worse. In plenty of sectors, exports to Europe have simply died. The figures are unbelievable — cheese and dairy, down by 96%, fish and chips now have to be imported, manufacturing, off by 60%, and more. It’s unreal — figures like this have never been seen outside the Weimar Republic. And yet they don’t matter to anyone at all, more or less.

Of course, it was all those farmers and fishermen who voted for Brexit. But as a result of Brexit, they’re now becoming unemployed, going bankrupt, being driven into penury. And yet they still back the conservatives, more and more heavily each year.

Why? If you ask them, they’ll give you some nonsensical answer. The real one is that the Labour Party isn’t nearly nationalistic, xenophobic, ugly, and foolish enough to appeal to these ninnies. It is not giving them the brutality and aggression and rage and hate they want — but the conservatives are. And that is what the average Brit wants — a chest-beating ape as a leader, threatening to tear down the world, even if it means beginning with their own society — because they appear to have lost the ability to reason altogether.

That is why the ugly spectacle of an entire working class now voting for its own self-destruction is now gathering force and fury. If you’re working class, you need the following things: healthcare, retirement, affordable education, childcare, housing, and so on. The British working class began to flip conservative in 2007, and is now solidly ultra conservative. Why is that? Because the conservatives have convinced them that demonizing and scapegoating everyone else — foreigners, immigrants, all those hated “metropolitan elites,” Europeans — for the lack of a functioning society matters more than having a functioning society.

It’s important to call this what it is. Stupidity. Folly. Idiocy. There is no other word for it, and words shouldn’t be minced. Brits are failing at democracy — their democracy is not failing them. You see, I say that because the choices now are few and far between. What should the Labour Party do, to appeal to a country of idiots? Should it go out and demonise and scapegoat vulnerable and powerless groups? Should it become nationalistic and xenophobic? Should it back austerity and hate and poverty and aggression? That is what pundits tell it to do. But they’re wrong. Doing that is self-destruction, too. What’s the point of a centre-left party that isn’t one? Why should the Labour Party become a party of stupidity, ugliness, folly, and hate? Better for it to go down nobly than become everything it shouldn’t be.

The problem isn’t the Labour Party, and it’s not politics at all. It’s people. Brits have become violent, selfish, backwards idiots. You know how the American Idiot is a legendary figure around the world? Welcome to the British Buffoon. He’s a figure that doesn’t care about anything, will accept any level of indignity, any collapse in living standards — as long as he gets to wave the Union Jack, shake a fist at the world, and sing Brittannia Uber Alles.

Maybe he’s a fisherman, who voted for Brexit, now doesn’t have any fish to catch, and instead of understanding that he was lied to, that Europe was just a convenient scapegoat…he still votes ultra conservative. Maybe he’s a farmer, who’s now facing bankruptcy, since exports to Europe basically don’t exist anymore in many farming sectors — and yet he still votes ultra conservative because he’s been taught that xenophobia is worth more than having a living. Maybe she’s a working class single mom, raising a family in public housing — voting against public housing and income because she’s been taught that billionaires will fix everything. Or maybe she’s a middle class professional — who’s savings have been drained after more than a decade of austerity, now paying for college, healthcare, childcare — but still votes conservative because she’s been taught that being “woke” is a threat to her kind, culture, identity, place in the world.

What happens when people fail at democracy like this? Well, it’s pretty simple. Democracy fails. A society becomes a failed state. Not in the way we’re used to thinking of it — there’s a coup, there’s a revolution, the army rolls in, the government collapses. But in a softer, altogether more dangerous way. Consensually. A country commits suicide as a modern, functioning society not with a bang, but with a million whimpers, shrieks of rage, howls of xenophobia, guttural snarls of nationalism. And soon, there’s nothing left but poverty, despair, rage, and hate.

That is what former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned is happening. Britain’s becoming a failed state. He’s not wrong. He’s right. In the deadliest way of all. Brits are failing their democracy — their democracy isn’t failing them. They are willing their own society to self-destruction. Americans, coming to their senses, voted, finally, for Joe Biden. But Brits aren’t coming to their senses. They seem to have had the sense beaten out of them. The conservatives will be in power until the end of this decade — that’s a generation. And by then, what will Britain be? A little forgotten island, of fools, drunk on egotism, shouting at the world, shaking their fists in desperate, stupid, impotent rage. “We’re number one!! You fools!! Bow!!” And the world, being the world, will laugh pityingly, and move swiftly on.

Umair Haque
United Photo Press