JOHN CARLIN. England is a Country in Decline

Dec 18, 2019

H.L. Mencken said that democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. The English are going to get it good and hard by electing Boris Johnson.

I like that quote in which Churchill says that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried,” but there are days when I am more attracted to what the delightfully caustic American journalist, H.L. Mencken, said: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” That day arrived on Friday the 13th, when we learned the results of the general elections in the United Kingdom. The votes that decided the outcome in favour of Brexit and Boris Johnson came from the inhabitants of the most nationalistic and disadvantaged regions of England, the centre and the northeast. Given the inevitable economic erosion caused by leaving the free trade agreement with the gigantic and rich market of the European Union, history will remember them as martyrs for their country. Their gesture would be admirable if it were not so absurd.

England is a country in decline. Not Scotland. England is. The spectacle that has been offered throughout the electoral campaign, the mediocrity of the options offered to the public, are far from the example of wisdom, sobriety and pragmatism that England has tried to offer the world during most of the twentieth century and until the 2016 Brexit referendum. It was a benchmark. Today we have a fourth rate vaudeville.

Let us first look at the prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Let’s see what Max Hastings says, a venerable English historian who was director of the right-wing Daily Telegraph and Johnson’s boss for ten years when he was a journalist. In an article in June, Hastings spoke of Johnson’s “moral bankruptcy,” of his “disdain for the truth,” of a character “not worthy of being prime minister because he seems to be not interested in anything except his own fame and gratification.”

Brexit aside, people voted for Johnson because he is a showman, because he is a clown who makes people laugh, and because Jeremy Corbyn, the most bland, most mediocre political leader on the islands in memory, was the main rival. Faithful as hell to Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and tied like a mule to ideas that went out of style with the fall of the Berlin Wall, he is not a bad person, like Johnson, but he has not been up to the image he intends to project of a morally unpolluted political priest. He accuses Johnson of being a liar, and with good reason, but he himself has been shamefully economical with the truth, and not over idiocies but the most important issue his country has faced since World War II: whether to leave the European Union. Almost four years have passed since the campaign for the referendum on Brexit began, and Corbyn has not yet said where he stands. The public does not know if the opposition leader is for or against it. Maybe he doesn’t even know himself. Extraordinary.

What a pair. The only thing that saves the United Kingdom is the party that doesn’t want to have anything more to do with it, the Scottish Nationalist Party. Its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has more integrity than Johnson, more lucidity than Corbyn and more charisma than Swinson in her toenail. Her Party swept through Scotland. If the general elections were a second de facto referendum on Brexit they were also a second undeclared referendum on Scottish independence. Now Sturgeon asks for a real one. The English are forcing the Scots, very much against the wishes of the vast majority of them, to leave the European Union. Arguments in favour of another referendum and independence have never been so powerful.

I declared myself against independence when Scotland held its referendum in 2014. And I hailed the result in favour of staying, as my father, who was born in Glasgow, would have done. Everything has changed. If in the parliament in London they respond to the Scottish demand and vote again, this time I will do an about face. I will be in favour of exorcism, in favour of independence. Scotland is essentially a very different place to England. Apart from the fact that its people are more friendly (they are the Andalusians from the north), they do not carry the same imperial garbage on their heads as their neighbours in the south. They are more open to the world. They feel a political and sentimental affinity with the rest of Europe that has its origin in a history of alliances against the southern traitors. I hope they end up leaving the United Kingdom. And hopefully also in that case the Spanish government will be able to overcome its territorial fixations and have the generosity of not blocking the rapid entry of what would be the small and tough Scottish state into the European Union.

Johnson promises that he will now conclude the pitiful Brexit process once and for all. Another lie. There will be long and arduous negotiations on trade relations, customs, the free movement of people and much more. It is perfectly possible that Johnson ends up taking his country out of the union without any agreement, causing economic chaos. What is clear is that the Europeans will not be interested in mucking around. They will want to make an example of the English. They will not grant them the easy divorce that Johnson has looked for. They will learn that it is cold outside the shelter of Brussels. They will suffer the consequences. They deserve it, the poor fools.

Well, not all. The old people voted for Brexit in 2016 and for Johnson this week. Young English people of all ages think like the Scots. They are not mean, arrogant or so fearful. They were born Europeans and have lived feeling like sons and daughters of the old continent. My prediction: that in about ten years the English population, aware that their country is rotting, that it is losing quality of life and global influence, will ask to return to the European Union. Meanwhile, and to accelerate the arrival of that happy day, give them what they deserve. Good and hard.

John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 14 December 2019, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell,

Politics, International Relations

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