Bristling Brock speaks out...
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It seems that the very construct of the British state is under attack these days, launched from within but much endorsed by a number of outsiders, some representatives of nation states or pundits from those states.
Historically, the British state and the United Kingdom it represents is a unique construct in itself - you haven't seen its like nor are you likely to see anything similar in the future in any other place on this planet. It is often said that Britain's democracy is 1,000 years old, but in reality it goes back even further to the days when Alfred dreamt the dream of a unified England that would eventually encompass the whole of the British Isles. Much in that history we would revile from if we applied our squeamish 21st century mores and standards to it - as many are prone to doing these days - but history happens in real time under circumstances driven by beliefs and values held dear at those times, events occur, actions are taken and as a result new chapters of history are written. It is unchangeable and cannot be truly eradicated - despite the misguided efforts of those who think that erasing the past and apologising for everything is the fashionable trend.
Our monarchic system dates from the 9th century, our parliamentary system dates officially from the 13th century although it functioned under a different name throughout the turbulent Dark Age era, our peerless legal system was born in those same, strident times past. We have no written constitution, even Magna Carta could not be described as that, so we have an evolving and amorphously defined unwritten constitution that adapts and flexes to the needs of the nation state, making it interpretable and, therefore, a grand arena for lawyers and advocates to joust around in. It is unique. It is as democratic as democratic gets in this challenged world. Nobody else comes within a whisker of matching the whole sum of this for durability, practicality, fairness and authority. It is also the very substance of the British Nation State. Destroy these historically relevant institutions and you destroy the state. William of Normandy understood this, Philip of Spain understood this, Napoleon Bonaparte understood this and so did Adolf Hitler. Yet history and Britain's core institutions prevailed - none of these invaders or would be invaders had a mind to destroy the state rather than control it - for they recognised the unique value and character of this Nation State. The institutions were and remain the State irrespective of such individuals who periodically inhabit the Offices of State - and we have had and continue to have a mixture of good and bad occupants. That's in the nature of humanity. But the institutions are sacrosanct, to be respected and upheld - and every Briton should recognise that.
Whether we are attacked by woke thinking hordes, nationalist factions from the wider Union, terrorist groups, political blocs, pandemics or embittered individuals with a privileged voice, we must never allow the foundation stones of our democracy and statehood to be undermined. There will always be storms and challenges to those foundations - but realise this, the alternatives are in truth false aspirations to those who would choose to wreck. You need only look around the world today to judge this - rather easily - as to which society type you prefer. Bristling Brock is a proud Briton and already knows where the grass is greener. So to those who wish to destroy us, let us just say, 'Try it, but remember that whatever this nation has faced in past and present, it has survived and prospered - it's foundations are far stronger than you !'
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Maybe it is the impact of the pandemic, maybe it is to do with politics, social mores, expectations and shifting values - or maybe it's just to do with a way of life that is under stress from a number of different directions.
The likelihood is that it is to do with all of these - and a few more - that are positioning the Western way of life into some jeopardy. There was some sense of superiority in the European West when Trump became President of the US four years ago, about the number of 'rednecks' and generally poorly informed citizens in the States who must have decided to vote for him - quite a few as it turned out. We never really looked at ourselves, we just tried to suppress the urge to laugh and feelings of '..only in America'. Unfortunately not. Had we had a good look at ourselves - as well as the US - we might have seen the signs of a corrosion of standards, of behaviours and that bizarre rivalry that has grown up between so-called celebrities and respected commentators on politics, social affairs and economics (BB would detach the BBC from this last group description). At face value, the Botox augmented pseudo-celebrity class seem to be winning. What is truly mortifying to a chap of BB's generation is that the desire for the population to nurture this sort of trivial and valueless presence in and around all our lives is gaining ground; it additionally gains ground in its fawning desire to reintroduce political correctness or woke'ism in some sort of egregious display of their social awareness, their modernity and re-assessed thoughts. Break down and erase the old and on with the new, liberal and hugely disagreeable trend for 'taking the knee' - and not just about BLM issues.
The counter effect to this is, of course, the rise of new fascist and right wing nationalism, of terrorism in all its forms and an ambiguous response by governments of every hue across the collective West - always trying to find the middle ground between the liberal left and the less liberal right - votes rely on pandering to both camps simultaneously, do they not ? And whilst religion remains - as ever- one of the pillars and justifications of conflict around the world, its presence on the ground among the populations of the West is diminishing to a point of almost disappearing; such is the abrogation of responsibility by the majority of church leaders who vacantly stare around with prophetic thoughts but very little action. We are fast reaching the point of true faith being replaced by tinsel town demi-gods of very questionable value and agenda's that - even taking a mild view - are dodgy beyond belief.
Politically, we see Western Europe in some crisis. Notable leaders are edging towards the stage-doors, looking for a way out of the myriad complexities of balancing the societies they govern. Many of these notables will leave behind a very poor substitute in their stead as they pander to that heady mix of woke-appreciation and vested interest. We need only look at recent Western judgements and commentary on affairs in Saudi, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Yemen, China and Russia to see that our collective governance is so afraid of upsetting somebody. Yet again, votes rely on this squidgy commitment to any proper values.
So, it was not just a Trump phenomena when a horde of isolationist red-necks came out and put him in the White House. But it was that same horde, in their ignorant and trigger-happy way, that caused him to leave it in the messiest and most vulgar fashion. All the ingredients are in the melting pot for it to happen elsewhere in the Western Sphere - look around, and really tell yourself that you are not looking at a decay of values, behaviour and standards at every level of society that are burning underfoot. And there are not many guesses needed to see who might be stoking the fires.
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Over the last twelve months or so there has been a swathe of incidents or circumstances that have pitched the very substance of what we in the West perceive as democracy into that fine balancing act between serving the people or controlling the people.
If we start with the premise that possibly all forms of governance are somewhat delicately poised between, shall we say, success or failure then we can also see that the very processes of government have to be flexible enough to accommodate a particular political bias. A left bias perhaps pitches the processes toward social legislation and reform whilst a right bias errs toward more dramatic and strategic change. Politicians who believe themselves to be smart try to hedge their bets and become centreists so that they can swing either way as the popular mood dictates. Not really the smartest move in real terms. Yet we've seen with the cut and thrust of the arguments with Brexit and the EU, the ugly mood of American divisiveness, the totalitarianism of Russia, China and the Myanmar military to name but a few, that in some instances there is no centre ground to arbitrate from. You are either in or out of the game, no debate, no negotiation, no compromising - just hard-line positioning until one side or the other breaks.
In that, totalitarianism has the upper hand. Its politics are singular rather than inclusive and focus around either a central figure who has successfully grabbed the reins of power or alternatively an ideology that is so continuously pumped out at its population that there appears a complete besottedness and subservience to its creed. Democracy in its true sense is nowhere to be found in these places although it is a word frequently used to describe the munificence of the totalitarian state when it comes to the so-called aid of a minor state engaged in some sort of squabble with itself - "...we support the democratic aims of our comrades in their struggle.." blah, blah, blah. Rhetoric is cheap. Reality is strategic advantage.
Yet we have little room to crow in the West. Our notions of democracy are as frail as we might imagine are those reins of power in totalitarian states. If we look at popular democracy as an example, ask yourself whether you truly have representation, access to complete justice, a voice that is free to opinionate and do so without recrimination, opportunity to influence and lobby those with power and you will find that for most people these elements of democracy do not properly exist. The old Roman adage of 'governance of the people, by the people and for the people' is a grand posturing ambition - but no so called democracy has ever achieved it in practise. This isn't to say that the dilute version we generally accept as democracy isn't worth protecting. It is. Yet when the going gets tough in any situation, the gloves come off and nation states start sparring and employing tactics that ordinarily would be frowned upon in normal times - I'll use Josep Borell's ill judged kow-towing to Russia to try and obtain Covid vaccine supplies for the EU, only to be rebuffed by the Russians with some considerable smugness as they watched the farce being played out in Brussels. Diplomacy and good intent nowhere to be seen - just strategic advantage.
So where does this all leave Western democracy. Weakened, for sure but perhaps just showing the glimmerings of a wake-up following a few notable jolts. A new presidency in the US, a push-back against woke prejudice in the UK, a new chancellorship in Germany coming soon, and looking at a tough election for the French that may teach its incumbent government some sense. All are 'maybe's', but let us hope that at least some of them win through. For all our sakes.
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