Essay: A stupid rock adrift in torrents of its own shit

Scottish author A. L. Kennedy explains Great Britain’s long downfall in an ingenious rant.

Former prime minister Liz Truss, Labour leader Keir Starmer, former prime minister Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and former prime minister Theresa May during the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in London.
Four prime ministers in less than seven years: How is that for a meritocracy? Photo: Aaron Chown, Getty

How might I explain how we got here to a country with a strong financial sector, successfully outside the EU, a country that plays host to all manner of spies and yet has not been destroyed by money, lies, lawlessness and treason … There was a time when we looked almost like you, Switzerland. Looks are deceiving.

It’s hard even to explain what here involves, never mind how. The story of our downward journey is long, filled with hatred of all things British and a more generalised loathing of humanity and life. Our downfall was created by mobsters, feral financiers, foreign assets and the kind of twisted adults you make if you traumatise children of privilege for long enough. Give them Tradition and Country instead of love, schools and nannies instead of parents, transactional skirmishes instead of friendships and, given power, they’ll burn it all. Add in a sprinkling of born sociopaths and a country’s downfall is – as it turns out – easily contrived, deep in the subterranean strata where Capital and governance meet espionage and insider trading meets sabotage.

Inconvenient foreign Thingy

In the months leading up to 23rd June 2016, online warfare perfected by outfits like Cambridge Analytica had used data from psychopathic platforms like Facebook to target whole populations. There were boasts of ‘Third World’ nations shattered. Now it was time to break a ‘developed’ nation using tailored attacks to supercharge KGB and Nazi propaganda tricks. Online pressure changed the loudest British opinion of the EU from inconvenient foreign thingy to burning issue. Prioritizing the stability of his party over his country, PM David Cameron, allowed an EU-exit referendum. A third of us didn’t bother to vote. But Brexiteers did. It was dry run of Trump’s rise to the presidency, involving many of the same faces and philosophies.

Thirty-seven percent of our electorate was rebranded as ‘The Will of the People’ as the familiar 48/52 split was aggressively promoted – with of those who voted in small print. Brexit was never the majority choice and loses popularity daily, but it’s too late now. Fascists, corporations eager to obliterate every restraint, Christofascists, disaster capitalists and oligarchs in love with Londongrad’s money launderette have united with all of Putin’s little helpers to tick one more box on Stalin’s wish list – the one labelled Уничтожить Британию – destroy Britain. Brexit is backed by the dirtiest of dirty money. If Ukraine shows that Russia struggles with conventional wars, Britain shows how online victories can kill whole nations.

A. L. Kennedy
A. L. Kennedy

So … Here Westminster lies unstoppably to prevent itself being identified as the principle source of our woes and has those lies writ large by a complicit legacy press, addicted to government handouts, losing readers by the week and – if we’re talking about the apparently deathless hobgoblin Rupert Murdoch – hooked on roubles. There is no one left with any power who isn’t hip-deep in kompromat and sweating in a daisy chain of mutual blackmail. Crimes spawn more crimes like toads on crack.

Here our post may never show up and we buy things from companies that fold before our goods can be dispatched. Our sick die at home, in the streets, in queueing ambulances, on trolleys in hospital corridors. Public transport, when untroubled by strikes, is hampered by suicides. Feeling cold? Our housing is ludicrously poorly insulated and our politicised police are expert at arresting protestors who dare point this out. Meanwhile, our utility tariffs are the highest in the world. Once an effective opiate for our masses, our royal family is now more divisive and openly toxic than ever before. Meanwhile our vastly wealthy and vastly greedy elected representatives ape the Borgias - if the Borgias had all suffered head injuries and lacked any interest in art.

Here is where we increasingly become not just poor but destitute. Our social security net punishes us for seeking help. Children go to school hungry and stay that way. Rishi Sunak, latest PM in our whirl of Hypercapitalist morons, is wealthier than the king and married to a yet-wealthier tax-avoider. Sausage-fingered adulterer, King Charles insists on us paying for his coronation – that’s £100 million to put a special hat (encrusted looted jewels) on his unspecial head. MP’s and their mates avoid paying millions in tax and skim billions in public funds.

It’s complicated

Much of the country is being carved into ‘Freeports’. Huge areas, within which there will be zero oversight, they will be pirate fiefdoms where corporate diktats rule. The first freeport financial scandal is already unfurling, accompanied by environmental catastrophe. Google Teesside and dead crabs.

Citizens are besieged by misinformation, disinformation and terrifying myths from a Steve Bannon / Alexander Poskrebychev / Joseph Goebbels fire hose of unreality. We can’t get a train, a passport, taxation papers, house deeds, import papers, export papers, can’t even get carrots without erectile disfunction and rot … What isn’t failing, has failed. Powerful eugenicists enable repeated C-19 infections, because eventually those not dead will be somehow Fit. Excess deaths surround us with the heartbroken, while Long Covid blights millions. We are a vast memento mori.

No. Really we are a memento stultitiae – a stupid rock adrift in torrents of its own shit, excelling only in human trafficking, performative cruelty and money laundering for the worst people on earth. Behold! This is where stupidity will take you – no further forward than before, but everything will be broken and stink. Marinaded in Nazi talking points and techniques of control we replay the world war we won, but this time as the enemy, invading and occupying ourselves. We destroy our own infrastructure and patrimoine. We poison our air and water, keep our masses from education and basic rights and do we resist ..?

Before Covid, Britain saw its largest mass demonstrations ever. Millions took to the streets, protesting against Brexit, against Climate Change enablers, and for human rights, for women’s rights, for everyone’s rights … A handful of ingenious millennials could lock down central London, a demagogue like the 45th president couldn’t visit without being confronted by vociferous dissent, and a soft-spoken new Labour leader had a vastly popular program for genuine progressive change, with new members flocking to the party and bringing millions in funds.

Are we even the same people? Why aren’t we in the midst of a full General Strike, even riots? Revolt? What happened?

It’s complicated.

Or … Really, it’s not complicated. Racism unlocked and weaponised all our other hates and unleashed propaganda wars powerful enough to destroy that Labour leader and shatter progressive advances throughout the UK. We’re racist.

Wit God’s blessing

In the 1500’s we were an averagely belligerent European nation: on the smaller side, ruled by the corrupt and greedy with Queen Elizabeth very much in charge and already fond of Brits who took whatever they wanted while being as violent as they wanted. We were nominally Christian – mainly in the sense that we were antisemitic, opposed to all other religions in a less-focussed way and violently opposed to whichever Christian sect was not our own. We had a national church founded on the principle that royalty should do and steal whatever it liked with God’s blessing. And from that already-ancient sense of blood and entitlement there flowed a certainty that some bloodlines were Good and ordained to own everything and rule, while most bloodlines were Bad and predestined for servitude, penury and early death.

Slowly, our people with Good blood began to create a complex web of colonial commercial entities, privateering maniacs, royal kickbacks, brigands and people traffickers. The British Empire was being born. Wales had already been subsumed into England, Scotland and Ireland would follow and then the world. An island tends to have ships, tends to become a place of safety for refugees who bring with them trade secrets, craft skills and hardihood. With island luck – and industrial espionage – on our side we industrialised early and were able to conquer, pillage and enslave with increasing efficiency. It’s easy to win when you have bullets and the other side has spears – or, indeed, collections of helpless civilians in range of your gunboats. The more we stole, the more we expanded until our flag nauseated inhabitants of almost every country on Earth. And surely this proved other people were lesser, that White was right and an English Jesus would sanctify any sin if a few natives were taught hymns and forced to abandon every trace of their former cultures.

Our empire poisoned our national consciousness, excusing barbarism at home and abroad. Brits who couldn’t take it either fled, or were destroyed. Those with insufficient deference were co-opted into the armed forces, killed, or transported with no right of return.

From Nazi-curious to Hitler-positive

Although WW1 raised the spectre of meritocracy in the UK – mainly by spilling Good, but stupid blood, nothing really changed until WW2. The empire was still the empire and we were still the finest race on Earth. It’s unsurprising that many aristocrats, and, briefly, our king were not just Nazi-curious, but Hitler-positive. It wasn’t foolish of von Ribbentrop to assume that our established Empire and his nascent Reich could share the world between them. We had already committed so many of the crimes to which Nazism aspired. But our elite thought the German Ambassador was a jumped up little foreigner. And we don’t share.

Britain won WW2 by sharing a whole new set of aspirations it usually suppressed. We gradually, systematically became the opposite of Nazism: embraced human rights, weakened corporate holdings, strengthened communal assets, cared about people rather than money, cared about all of the people, rather than only a few. Social mobility and a Darwinian maelstrom left post-war Britain battered and shorn of her Empire, but more democratic, healthier, better educated, more diverse, more creative and more practically optimistic than ever before. (We still blocked talk of genocide at the Nuremberg trials – it would have been awkward.) But we entered the 1970’s as a country with the lowest disparity between rich and poor we had ever known, with Capital and Labour in balance. We’d destabilised former colonies, tortured in Aden, built concentration camps in Kenya, we were brutalising Northern Ireland. We still had Public Schools, the old boy network, unelected lords. Homosexuality was still illegal, we still discriminated against women, the Irish, anyone not Caucasian ... But we were still changing for the better. Weren’t we?

The racism, it never really went away. Tony Blair continued Thatcher’s legacy, set financial time bombs in the Welfare State and unleashed our media to become the debased Morning Hate it always longed to be. And he blew up the Middle East. His messianic and Islamophobic brand of ‘Christianity’ – and his Russia-adjacent advisors – meant he could radicalise and traumatise generations of Muslims in a succession of wars and gift Putin the lever he needed to pull the West apart: waves of refugees and migrants to be released at will.

A racist self-loathing army

Racists hold a range of self-destructive, irrational beliefs. Racism defies reality. Without reality you’re vulnerable to every manipulation, whether it’s selling flags, or ideologies to melt your democracy into soap. Britain’s racists were encouraged, enabled and then enflamed. Once isolated, they were consoled, threatened and sold additional hatreds. In the UK, the US, Brazil, New Zealand – anywhere – it only takes months to groom your own wildly self-loathing army.

Online attacks now target Scotland’s scarily female progressive leader, Nicola Sturgeon, with hatred of transgender people weaponised to block Scottish independence. For mobster Capital to thrive, inclusive, progressive nationalism must not and the EU must not curb fascism or supra-national, corporate power. And any hate will do to win the war.

Careful, Switzerland. You could be next.

A.L. Kennedy was born in Dundee in 1965. She lived for almost 30 years in Glasgow and now stays in North Essex. She has won a variety of UK and international book awards and is the author of 9 novels, 6 short story collections, 3 books of non-fiction and 3 books for children. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Akademie der Kunst. Occasionally she performs in one person shows and as a stand up comic. In March two new books by Kennedy will come out in German: the novel “Als lebten wir in einem barmherzigen Land” (Hanser Verlag) and her essay “Der Kern der Dinge” (Geparden Verlag),

Deutsche Übersetzung des Essay (Ein blöder Felsen im Strudel der eigenen Scheisse)