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After Brexit #2

The Resistance Volunteers for House Arrest

Philip Cunliffe

31 March 2020

Much of the British state and populace has adapted disturbingly well to being placed on lock-down. But the so-called left has actively cheered on the Tory police state.

Only one week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the country under lock-down on 23 March, British officialdom has already caricatured itself with its officiousness and absurd zeal in enforcing petty regulations – most recently, local authorities telling corner shops not to sell Easter eggs as they are a non-essential foodstuff. In announcing the lockdown Boris Johnson made limp jokes about the rights of freeborn Britons; one week later his subordinate Michael Gove is issuing instructions as to the precise amount of time (30 minutes apparently) that every individual in the country is allowed to jog outside per day. The problem is not restricted to officious officials: police authorities have complained of being inundated with citizens reporting their neighbours for the crime of exercising outside twice a day. How did the Tory police state establish itself so rapidly that only a week later it is the police complaining about ordinary citizens being too punctilious with the law?


To be sure, the state has been policing private life for some time – all sorts of absurd and petty regulations have become part of standard government fare about exercise regimens, fruit and vegetable consumption, time spent on mobile phones, etc. The difference is that now the state has the justification to enforce its ever-growing list of petty regulations with police power. Similarly with the prevalence of police informants among the citizenry. Anyone familiar with social media would see that “cancel culture“ has now gone IRL. The ugly instinct to publicly shame one’s peers and to snitch to higher authority has been transferred from demanding that Facebook and Twitter banish people from the virtual realm, to demanding that the state place under house arrest those who are breaking quarantine.


The third element that compounds these cultural and social trends, however, is the lack of political opposition to the police state itself. There were the pathetic histrionics of Tory MP Stephen Baker publicly weeping in parliament over the establishment of the police state. Yet not even a handful of MPs criticized the decision to close parliament in response to the outbreak, thereby depriving the nation of democratic oversight of the executive during a national emergency.


Most striking of all, however, has been the response of the Resistance to the police state. Remember them? The Resistance were the millennial socialists, Corbynistas, Guardianistas and intersectionalists bitterly opposed to Brexit and Boris Johnson, many of whom denounced the prorogation of parliament in October 2019 as a coup d’état. It was the Resistance who vowed to oppose Boris Johnson’s Tories in power, declaring that the Tories were racists, white supremacists, fascists, xenophobes, far-right nationalists, a direct threat to the life of Britain’s ethnic and sexual minorities. In taking the mantle of the Resistance, the millennial socialists were explicitly likening themselves to the anti-fascist partisans who fought Nazi occupation during the Second World War. In so doing, they were indicating how they viewed the threat posed by the Tory government, and signalling their own courage, determination and intransigence in facing this threat. When David Lammy MP was challenged for calling Tory Leavers Nazis, he went further, insisting that they were in fact “worse than Nazis”.

Since the COVID-19 crisis erupted, the Resistance has taken a different tack. Almost without exception, they have called for public houses to be shut down, for freedom of movement to be curtailed, for freedom of assembly to be banned. “Red Tory” was the label assumed by those Tory communitarians who wanted to rein in the free market; it should perhaps be better used to describe these new left-wing outriders of the Tory government, who were shrilly demanding the establishment of a police state far in advance of the government. Owen Jones demonstrated that we live in a post-ironic society when he said that he welcomed the establishment of the “Tory police state”. David Lammy urged the Tory government to enforce a “total lockdown in advance of 23 March announcement.  


It is worth pausing to reflect on this for a moment. If on the one hand, Lammy and the millennial socialists genuinely believe the Tories are worse than Nazis, what should we make of the fact that they have been actively urging such an extraordinarily vicious regime to expand its legal powers by setting up what is – by their own admission – a police state? After all, the Nazis notoriously established their dictatorship by exploiting the Weimar Republic’s existing emergency laws. If the Resistance are serious about the Tory government being Nazis and at the same time want to give them greater power, we have to wonder how they understand fascism. What could the Resistance possibly say to the vulnerable minority communities that they seek to champion, as they willingly hand over power to those very same people who are worse than Nazis? Are they genuinely willing to sacrifice their supporters and constituents to an ultra-fascist regime so readily, merely in the interests of public health and hygiene? Certainly, anti-fascist partisans never volunteered for house arrest by fascists. If, on the other hand, the millennial socialists were not in earnest when they called Johnson a Nazi, and they are willing to use such hyperbolic and extreme slanders so readily, this can only mean that they do not take their own rhetoric seriously, and were simply trying to whip up hysteria to manipulate the public and political and judicial processes.


Either way, the conclusion is clear – the millennial socialists cannot be trusted. If they are genuine in thinking the Tories are fascists, yet willingly concede a police state to them, they are nothing more than useless poseurs. If they are insincere when they condemn the Tories as far-right bigots, then they are cynical demagogues, whose rhetoric masks other purposes.

That the Resistance so readily sacrificed not only our but also their own liberty as they volunteered for house arrest reveals the true character of their political vision for the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. Paul Mason sees the crisis as the opportunity to introduce a new COVID corporatism, in which a reformed capitalism is actively directed by the state at the expense of the market, and ultimately has “people’s wellbeing and public health as its priority.” This has been the thrust of left criticism of the Tory government throughout the COVID-19 crisis – the need to extend state power and the state payroll to protect the especially vulnerable: the disabled, renters, precarious workers. That the Resistance was willing to sacrifice liberty so quickly to those they condemned as worse than Nazis tells us very clearly that they are themselves authoritarian, and that they will readily use any rhetoric – however patently false and opportunistic – as long as it strengthens them. What they offer to the vulnerable communities they claim to represent is protection, but the protection is that of an authoritarian racket – protection as opposed to democratic rights and political freedom.


Who will do the protecting? In addition to new police powers over public health, the boon of covid corporatism is that a new caste of technocrats and state managers will be needed to direct the newly reformed capitalism. Upgrading the state’s protection of the wellbeing and public health of the vulnerable has the convenient effect of creating demand for public sector experts and managers – doubtless most of whom would be ‘inessential’ enough to work remotely from home in event of any future lock-downs, a convenient benefit in dystopias that you create yourself. In the end, millennial socialist arguments for the reform of capitalism are arguments for more administrative jobs for over-educated and underpaid millennial socialists. Millennial socialists ultimately want control without authority – they want control of the people not control by the people. That is why they hide behind justifications based on ‘people’s health and wellbeing’ rather than arguing to give people more power.


The millennial socialists’ technocratic protection racket is a political dead-end that stands in the way of the new opportunities that the end of neoliberalism may bring.  For those of us who would revive the left as a popular political movement, the real problem is how the mass of the people can acquire political authority for themselves, and with it control over their own lives – in a word, democracy. The only way to do this is to reject the state as a protective bureaucracy and instead directly undertake state power as a form of collective responsibility and authority. That is the challenge confronting the left of the future.

About the author

Dr Philip Cunliffe is Senior Lecturer in International Conflict at the University of Kent and a co-founder of The Full Brexit.


This work represents the views of the author only. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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