Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Brexit Britain "parallel universe": self-obsessed Westminster and the media bubble

It seems increasingly apparent that the outside world no longer seems to really exist beyond the cliffs of Dover, as far as the government, and large swathes of the media are concerned.
 Michel Barnier has reminded the UK government for what feels like the umpteenth time already what leaving the EU and the single market will mean to Britain. But time and again, the government, supported by like-minded media moguls, dismiss whatever the EU has to say as simply "Project Fear". Time and again, Barnier reminds the government that the EU is simply responding to what the UK government has said it does and doesn't want. It was May's decision to leave the single market and customs union. It was the UK's decision to leave the EU. Barnier just reminds Britain, time and again, that actions have consequences. If the British government in incapable of accepting that basic fact, then that is not the EU's fault. It is not the EU's fault that Britain's government chose to leave; it was Britain that chose to leave the EU. If "Brexit means Brexit" and "leave means leave", then the EU simply is acting according to the legal consequences of those British decisions.

But this is the unreality that passes for life in the British media and politics. As European politicians are now seeing, as Britain before wanted to be in the EU but with lots of "opt-outs", now Britain wants to be out of the EU but with lots of "opt-ins".
This is what the British government's position boils down to. European politicians can only scratch their head at this attitude. Don't the politicians in Britain understand how the EU works? As Barnier explains repeatedly (as to a small child) how can they not see that this is simply not possible? The answer is that, no, most British politicians do not understand how the organisation Britain has been a part of for forty years works. Most have just never bothered. Besides, the fact that Britain has repeatedly achieved "opt-outs" over the years while in the EU simply reinforces the "delusions of grandeur" that many in the British government now possess, Theresa May included. They cannot get their heads around the simple fact that now Britain is an exiting member of the EU, the (last-minute) compromises that worked in the favour when they were a member are legally impossible with Britain as a "third country". Again, these are facts that the British government chooses to ignore.

Theresa May makes speeches declaring her "red lines", which are largely aimed for domestic (political) consumption. But because the government makes no other effort to coach this in its true (internal) context, outside interests such as the EU or foreign multinationals can only assume she means what she says. What other evidence have they to go on?
As was once said, "idle talk costs lives"; in today's context, May's "idle talk" is costing the country its reputation. The belligerent talk at the EU from both the government and supportive areas of the media (seemingly working in concert) can only be interpreted by Brussels at face value. If Britain sees the EU as a "hostile power" that is trying to punish it for leaving, then the EU can only respond in kind, as a matter of self-interest. The damage being done to Britain's reputation and its future can only be laid at Britain's door. The EU is simply responding to what Britain is doing.

The sense that the British government and the media are ignoring reality is hard to miss. Some newspapers and some politicians are eager to explain to whoever is listening of the sheer madness of the government's "red lines" (and how, if implemented, they would likely wipe out segments of Britain's economy). The problem is that these facts are dismissed by the wider media and the government as "Project Fear", again and again, and are further discredited by seeing such talk as defeatist or worse, borderline treasonous. Thus the average person in Britain is faced with a mainstream media industry that is simply not telling them the truth, probably because many of them either support the government ideologically, or have ulterior motives.
In this sense, the "free" press is no longer interested in facts, but the dissemination of opinion and propaganda. Reports about the EU and Brexit are only reported if they can be "spun" to suit a certain agenda, such as the wider ideological bent of the editor. For many papers, talking of the dangers of "Hard Brexit" is tantamount to career suicide, due to the symbiotic relationship (from the commercial necessity of scoops and exclusives) that they have with the government. The BBC is as guilty of this as the more usual suspects; they need to keep in the government's "good books" for the licence fee, and to ensure that their reliable reputation with ministers allows a steady stream of Westminster gossip to fill the airways.
This facile and self-serving relationship large parts of the media have with Westminster therefore dumbs down the tone of debate to something puerile and self-serving, where political trivialities are seen are more interesting to report on than "boring" technicalities. In this way, even those media outlets naturally sceptical of the government's strategy are forced to repeat their nonsense to maintain a line of communication. Meanwhile, in the ideologically-supportive press, the reality as explained by the EU on the consequences of the government's "red lines" are explained as either scaremongering or a "negotiation tactic". The sad truth is that if someone in Britain wants to get reliable information about Brexit, they would be better to look outside the UK.

Aside from the inherent unreliability of the mainstream media for all the reasons mentioned, the government itself is the last person to go to for information on Brexit. Apart from the obvious self-serving agenda is the fact that information is so hard to come by in any case. While the EU's negotiation strategy is published regularly for public consumption, the British government's strategy is hidden from the public eye, with access to all relevant documentation to Brexit tightly-controlled. Even parliament struggles to obtain any useful information (such as the (in)famous "impact assessments"). Again, like with the media's treatment of information on Brexit, even the government's own reports that explain the likely effect the government's "red lines" will have on the economy are dismissed by the government as scaremongering. When you are up against such an attitude to government as this, what chance is there of technical experts getting a fair hearing?

In terms of the negotiations, the British government isn't even "negotiating" with the EU in any real sense. It is arguable that it never really was, in a true sense of the word, because it saw its negotiations in a zero-sum perspective and was thus not interested in working in mutual advantage. While the government declared that it was in both the UK's and the EU's interests to avoid cross-border friction for trade, the British government refused to accept any of the suggestions that the EU offered that were feasible, such as membership of EFTA. Instead, Theresa May created her "red lines" that meant the only legal option left for the EU was some form of future FTA with Britain. And still the government insists that what it wanted was something more "ambitious", that takes account of Britain's "unique" status as a former EU member. Thus, unable to see beyond the self-obsessed insularity of its own historical power, Britain demands that the EU break its own rules to satisfy the whims of a non-member.
The government and media's chronic insularity means that all the talk of the Brexit negotiations is about what the various British government ministers want to achieve post-Brexit, regardless of if this is even remotely acceptable to the EU. The story is repeated week after week, with the media obsessed with how the government argues with itself about what Brexit "vision" it has at that moment, with no thought at all to the most important player in the negotiations: the EU. If the "negotiations" are meant to mean anything, then Britain has the obligation to find a "deal" with the EU; the alternative is "no deal". But Britain's position is so self-obsessed that they either cannot see this, or refuse to believe it. Instead, they see the EU's position as secondary to the government's own interests, which it ties itself in knots over in any case. The British government can't even negotiate with itself, let alone the EU. Meanwhile, the government's interlocutors in Brussels become more and more baffled with the aims that Britain's ministers say the country wishes post-Brexit, as they are completely incompatible with reality. To outsiders, it looks as though London is ruled by either madmen or morons.

It is this "parallel universe" that outsiders experience when they encounter the British media or political establishment. Much of the media have lost all objectivity; those who are not supportive of the government are dismissed as doing down the country, while even facts presented that are somewhat accurate fail to provide anywhere near the right level of detail. Meanwhile, the government pursues its own internal squabble over Brexit, completely detached from reality.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Are "Brexiteers" the real "enemies of the people"? Libertarians, the role of media barons and interest groups

If you feel that Britain has perceptively changed since the referendum, you might not be alone. There is plenty of evidence that the "change" is deliberate.

What does it mean to be "British"? This is one of the cultural questions that the referendum campaign inevitably raised. Also inevitably, your answer depends very much on your background and worldview.
According to research, the thing that Britons are most proud of is the NHS. What's telling about this is that, compared to other values and older institutions (e.g. the monarchy), this is a relatively recent addition to British life; even though it is clearly taken as an integral part of British life, the NHS was only created thanks to a "socialist" government after the Second World War.
What this also tells us, and what the EU referendum told us, is that there are two distinct forms of British identity: one might be called the "communitarian" world-view (i.e. seeing the world as a community), and the other the "individualistic", which sees it through the lens of individual actions and individual moral responsibility. This mirrors the "open" and "closed" views reflected in the "remain" versus "leave" camps, also referred to as the "Anywhere" versus "Somewhere" culture wars.

In understanding where people's value for the NHS comes from, it's also important to remember that "charity" was something almost unheard of until Victorian times. In fact, it was government "moral aversion" to help the starving that led to the Irish Potato Famine; the government didn't want to encourage the idea of "something for nothing", and was largely indifferent to the fate of the starving millions across the Irish Sea. This government culture of indifference to the suffering it has created (and a scepticism towards "need" in general) is one that the current Conservative government has restored in all its inhumane glory, when you look at the wider effects of austerity and the "hostile environment".
Thus, the idea of good-natured "British values" is not something that was innate, but was created over time, relatively recently. Before the Victorian sea-change in the moral attitude towards charity, those in need were left to fend for themselves in a "sink or swim" society that Ayn Rand and her Libertarian fans in the current UK government would recognise. This is, in large part, the society that still exists in the modern-day USA, in spite of their high levels of taxation (which do not pay towards people's health and well-being!). The modern idea of British values of compassion towards the worse-off and vulnerable in society is exactly that: a modern construct, largely non-existent before the 20th century, and only made large progress forward thanks to the "socialist" Attlee government after the Second World War. The Conservative Party's embrace of those same postwar values was what allowed them to return to government.

It was only the complex challenges of the 1970s that allowed the Libertarians like Margaret Thatcher a chance to get into power. This enabled them to gradually reverse many of the "socialist" strategies that had been used up till that point since the war. The author has explained elsewhere how this small group of ideological extremists were able to take control of the Conservative Party, taking it in a direction that many of the traditionalists were initially highly-uncomfortable with. In short, it was about turning Britain, step-by-step, into a small-scale clone of the USA, parked next to the European continent. 
This is where we see how Libertarians are, in many ways, trying to turn Britain into a foreign country. The progress that had been made in making Britain more egalitarian, more compassionate towards the needy and vulnerable, was quickly undone by Thatcher and her successors (even, to an extent, during the Labour years in office). While the Labour government did make some modest progress in reversing some of Thatcher's inequality, it followed other areas of her economic strategy almost without a second thought, leaving some parts of the country with chronic levels of deprivation, while London grew ever wealthier.
The financial crisis was a direct product of that short-sighted economic strategy, with a new generation of Libertarians, thirty years on from Thatcher, reaping the electoral benefits of Labour's misguided desire to ingratiate themselves with "The City". The austerity strategy was the Conservatives new method to strip back the role of government in people's lives, to a form of "small government" that even Thatcher was too wary to attempt.

Manipulating reality

Throughout this period - the thirty-year era from Thatcher's rise to power to the effects of the financial crisis - the print media played an integral role. Newspapers like the Sun, Daily Mail and Express account for the bulk of Britain's readership, and they claim to "speak for Britain". The reality is, not surprisingly, very different. There is plentiful evidence that they speak to Britain, and are able to manipulate their readers' perception of reality. This will explained about more a little later.

There was a time when the Sun was a Labour-supporting newspaper, but by the time the Libertarian Margaret Thatcher had succeeded Ted Heath as Conservative Party leader, that was no longer really true. Newspaper editors could see ways that they could get rich from a Thatcher government, and so did their best to create an impression of a country that was falling apart under Labour. At times this wasn't difficult, given the challenges that government all across the world were facing then. Her intent to radically reduce the influence of the unions was manna from heaven as far as they were concerned as, from their own point of view, it meant newspapers could then more easily lay off staff and reduce their overheads. Meanwhile, loosening other regulations meant they could more easily expand their profits and buy out smaller competitors.
When Thatcher did get into office, this also meant that inconvenient truths could be ignored. In her first few years in office, unemployment tripled to levels far higher than they had ever been under the previous Labour government. However, it was more common to see stories about crime, race riots and union unrest in the news; these stories fit into a "moral narrative" that fit the agenda. Rather than rising crime and unrest being down to social and economic factors brought on by government policy (i.e. the millions of unemployed), it was explained (and implied) that it was down to individual choices. Whereas before Thatcher crime and unrest was the result of the Labour government's weaknesses, under the the Thatcher government crime and unrest was now the result of weaknesses in society that were being manipulated by immoral individuals.

This common theme ties back to what was said about individualism and British values. Media barons were more equating British values with "individual responsibility" than compassion for the worse-off. This also explains how news stories can easily manipulate their readers' perceptions of reality.
If a newspaper editor decides that the paper needs a "campaign" on an issue, the newspaper then becomes disproportionately saturated with stories related to the campaign. Usually, this is over some form of "moral panic". Thus the newspaper creates an artificial environment for the reader where they think that this issue has become one of national importance, rather than (in reality) an agenda of the editor.
By the 1980s, stories in the three newspapers mentioned that related to the then EEC projected almost universal negativity towards Brussels, and this has remained unchanged ever since. Thus the reader got the consistent impression that Brussels is bad, for one reason or another. Again, this links back to the editors' Libertarian "agenda": they are against any form of regulation that impinges on their lives, and as the EU (the EEC's successor) wanted to increase regulation, they were against Brussels.
Meanwhile, the Libertarian agenda saw London (the home of Fleet Street) boom. After the financial crisis, the austerity agenda resulted in a reduction in state spending unprecedented in modern Britain. As the editors had done with the difficult early years of Thatcher, they did the same with Cameron. They instead attacked the Labour Party's record, while making stories like the 2010 student protests, the 2011 riots and the crippling social effects of government policy all a matter of the failings of individual moral responsibility. The plethora of stories about benefit "scroungers", disability fraud and so on are all supplied to provide moral ammunition for the government's austerity agenda and the destruction of Britain's social cohesion.
Thus "British values" had become further skewed towards the "individual" and away from the wider community. When it came to immigration, the agenda set by the editors was to entrench the fear that economic migrants were taking other people's jobs and destroying Britain's sense of identity, regardless of the reality. In this way, while the reader was informed that their "community" was being eradicated, they were also being instigated into animosity towards other ("foreign") parts of their community. Thus communities were being culturally divided by the anti-immigration agenda; society was becoming further and further atomized, split between socially-open and socially-closed communities.

All these themes had a part to play in the "Brexit Agenda". Like the Thatcherites in the Conservative government and the Thatcherite media barons, these are people who are Libertarians at heart. They do not really believe in community or society, but in individual actions. They do not truly believe in "charity" in the traditional sense, and are callous towards the suffering of others. As their ideal is to convert Britain into a state like Singapore, can they even truly be said to be "British", from a cultural or social point of view? Are they, in fact, the real "enemies of the people"?
Along with the special interest groups like Legatum, the IEA, and the ERG group in parliament itself, we see an agenda that has very little of "British values" in the modern understanding of the term. The agenda is about socially turning back the clock well over a hundred years, to a time when Britain had few regulations, little in the way of a safety net, and far fewer human rights. The only countries in the modern world that are comparable with this state of affairs are third world countries or corrupt dictatorships.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Brexit, education and inequality: Britain's public self-humiliation?

It was said that after the referendum to leave the EU, one of the most asked questions on the internet in the UK was "What is the EU?".
One of the things that Britain has always been famous for across the world (and indeed prides itself on) is its education system. This is a system, epitomized by "Oxbridge" and the Russell Group of universities, that is among the best in the world, at least on paper. But the last part of that sentence is key: on paper, Britain has a great education system; but as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

One thing that socially separates Britain from the rest of Europe is the very high levels of social and economic inequality (and very low levels of "social mobility"); in fact, it is this inequality that makes Britain more akin to the USA than Europe, and not in a good way. "Inequality" permeates through almost every segment of life in the UK, especially in its provision of public services like health and education. This is something that Europeans find disorienting when they experience British society firsthand: that on the one hand British people appear so polite and civilized towards each other in many ways, but on the other hand this can hide a more unpleasant inner truth, which is only revealed afterwards.
The "unpleasant truth" is that Britain's high levels of inequality have a cascade effect on various other social problems that Britain has much more of than other parts of Europe: violent crime, alcohol and substance abuse, family breakdown and so on. There is also the highly-visible rise in homelessness that is something that is not seen in other European countries with supposedly high levels of GDP. The link between poverty, inequality and crime is also well-established.

On top of this is the low level of social mobility mentioned which has created an education system and society that is very highly stratified. While the social division might not seem obvious to the outsider (and explains the admiration foreigners have for British education), those who experience it first hand know it all too well. There is a reason why so few people from the North East of England (for example) go to "Oxbridge": being massively poorer than those London and the South East, they cannot pay for a private education that will help to get them the grades and social training (e.g. "interview technique") necessary to be accepted at these institutions. Thus those parts of the country already behind the dominant London-centric universe fall even further behind, with places like "Oxbridge" seeming like an alien civilization, incomprehensible and always out of reach. There is a good reason why people from those under-privileged backgrounds think "Oxbridge" and places like that are "not for the likes of us"; the barriers to entry are sometimes invisible, and sometimes cloaked in a garb of polite officialdom, but they are there to protect the interests of the elite. When people from outside of that privileged sphere enter into their orbit, they are innately made to feel as though they are aliens. Thus those lower down in the social pecking order get the message.

Apart from the education system, the political system is the offspring of that same, socially-exclusive mentality. With many of the governing party's MPs going to the same private schools and colleges in "Oxbridge", they have no incentive to change the system. The governing party's MPs often have little direct experience and understanding of the real problems that afflict people's lives, creating an emotional disconnect and lack of empathy. This also explains why they represent the wealthiest parts of the country; to this set of politicians, poverty is something they hear about in the news that happens "somewhere else", so why should they care about it?
The country's electoral system also entrenches those social divisions, with a FPTP system that means that vast portions of the electorates votes are "wasted" when living in "safe" constituencies controlled by the other party. The same system also skews the system heavily in favour of the established parties, of which the Tories are the oldest, historically representing the landed gentry (which in today's terms, means that most Tory MPs are landlords!). And that's before we even talk about the House Of Lords: Britain being one of the few countries in the world which still has an entirely un-elected upper chamber, paid for out of public taxation, and which the Prime Minister can add members to when the political necessity demands, provided it is masked in a veneer of impartiality. In these terms, Britain's legislative machinery is a democratic farce.

The high standing of Britain's education and parliamentary system is thus based on a willful distortion, happily preached to the outside world. As once said elsewhere, Britain has one of the best education systems for rich people in the world. Looked at more generally, the high levels of inequality in the country (and the government's utterly chaotic schooling strategy) create a system that provides many school-leavers with poor abilities to deal with the challenges of the modern world. It is no wonder that the workforce is so low-skilled, ill-informed and unproductive, when the government is only interested in training children how to pass exams that have little connection to the real world. They are being led to think that "education" is useless, boring, stressful and expensive...but somehow "essential".
On the one had employers vent their frustration at the lack of highly-skilled "natives" resulting in the need to employ foreigners. On the other hand the vast majority of the jobs created now are so low-skilled that the expensive degrees deemed necessary by employers are becoming completely redundant. What we are left with is a generation of degree-educated, debt-ridden shop assistants, office interns and bar staff (!). No wonder if young people feel as though they were being taken for fools.

Dirty laundry

Brexit and the referendum fits into all this because the referendum gave those at the rough end of that inequality a once-in-a-lifetime vote that made a real tangible difference, even if they didn't know what the "difference" was that they were voting for. And that explains the reason for the seemingly-unfathomable (and incredible) internet search after the referendum. When many of those people voted to "leave", they weren't necessarily voting to leave "the EU" as such, but everything that it represented. To them, "the EU" represented the London-centric bubble, that alien civilization that ruled over them but apparently gave tonnes of money to an even more distant potentate, Brussels, across the sea.
To them, Brussels meant immigration and a distant polity, invisible but seemingly all-powerful. If London supported it, and London clearly didn't care about them, then why should they care about what London wanted? A vote to "leave" was a vote for something else than the lives they had had to put up with so far; it didn't matter that no-one really knew what that "something else" was, as long as it was something else than what existed now.

In this sense, the vote should be understood within the role of the social fabric of Britain. The rural and run-down regions of England voted to leave in proportions far higher than in Scotland and Northern Ireland as they (justifiably) felt ignored by London. The reasons for their being ignored may have been subtly different (as their problems were different), but it was the disconnect from the centre and a sense of powerlessness, that was arguably less of an issue in devolved Scotland and Northern Ireland, that was key to understanding where the resentment came from.
It could also be argued that from a Scottish and (Northern) Irish point of view, historical animosity towards "imperial" London flipped into positive attitudes towards Brussels, where their sense of nationality was as happily as European as it was Scottish or Irish; they saw Brussels not as a distant overbearing potentate (as many of the English seemed to), but rather as a useful political counter-balance that had a moderating influence on what they perceived as the malign behaviour of London. English identity, by comparison, was emotionally a much more "exclusive" idea, bound up in the myths of history, where it saw Europe as something alien and instinctively untrustworthy.

Brexit was, metaphorically, Britain putting out its dirty laundry for all the world to see. It was Cameron''s strategic misjudgment not to see how the unique nature of the referendum would be used by those with an axe to grind to present Brexit as the answer to all of the country's economic and social ills, which made it necessary for all those ills to be publicly revealed. His complacency and arrogance made him blind to the dangers in pandering to the dark forces that would be unleashed.

In Britain since the referendum, it is as though all the "burning injustices" that (ironically) Theresa May pretended to care about have now been even further fuelled, with her government lurching from scandal to scandal, from one crisis to another, almost every month.
The complex and far-reaching nature of the Brexit negotiations have also revealed for all the world to see the superficial and facile nature of Britain's political class, itself a product of its elitist education system. The negotiations with the EU are the ultimate "litmus test" of the quality of Britain's governing regime, and at every level and at every juncture they have failed abysmally. The paucity of talent produced by Britain's supposedly "world class" education system is shown up by the "amateur hour" nature of the quality of the personalities in charge.

The real problem is not that Britain's education system doesn't produce many people of talent (that is does is self-evident), but that not enough of them are brought into government. The many bright people in the civil service, for example, are now simply ignored by ministers if they don't tell them what they want to hear. So where is the incentive to give good advice? Likewise, those in industry who are rightly horrified by the lack of any plan by the government are simply making their own contingencies where possible. Those that progress into government do so through their connections and knowledge of the incestuous inner workings of the Westminster "bubble"; those who do not have the knowledge and connections simply are ignored. This way, ignorance is intensified as self-delusion is amplified. Voices outside the narrow confines of the government's ideological circles are derided as doing down the country, while any of the EU's concerns are instantly considered as "blackmail".

Brexit then has simply shown to the world how badly-governed Britain really is. For a long time the country showed itself to the world as an example for others to follow. Now it is showing itself to the world as an example of "how to humiliate yourself publicly".

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Broken Britain: Brexit as a "Coup De Grace"?

The author has written before about how many of those in favour of "Hard Brexit" see it in more esoteric, transformative terms. Such thinking is inherently dangerous, and it is even more alarming that some in high office actually believe in this form of delusional grandiosity. The people who are in charge of the direction and strategy of the government's Brexit plan are literally off with the fairies. Having a "vision" is one thing; but these people seem to be having "visions" of Britain that make you question their rationalism. This is what is truly terrifying about where the country is heading: it seems to led by people who are in the grip of "mania".

There are those in government who see Brexit as an opportunity to transform the nation into a vision of an orgiastic, free market paradise. Then there are those who, more fatalistically, see Brexit as the inevitable culmination of Britain's intellectual and moral decline; this narrative, its advocates argue, has been going on since the end of the British Empire, brought on by the Second World War, with Britain's entry into the "European Project" simply a sign of the country's national demise. In this narrative, Brexit is the "death blow" to the long decline, leaving a clean slate to start afresh.
This second viewpoint, held in certain "Brexiteer"circles, is controversial as its thinking mirrors much of the fatalism that can be found in the "Alt-Right" and classic Fascist thought (such as by Julius Evola).

As is common with extremist thought, the grain of truth that is contained in their thinking is twisted out of shape into something monstrous. Is it true that there are things wrong with Britain? Of course. Has there been an intellectual and moral decline since decades ago? When you look at the evidence of how the government, economy and its infrastructure has been ran in recent years, it seems self-evident. The political class at the highest level seems morally-absent of responsibility for their own actions and towards the lives of others. This explains how things like Grenfell can happen, the child abuse scandal, food banks, rampant homelessness, the "hostile environment", the collapsing public sector, and so on. The managerial class that run the day-to-day affairs of the economy are only interested in making a quick buck, with no thought towards others or the long-term future. This explains the Carillion scandal, Zero-hours contracts, the country's appallingly-inefficient transport network, and so on.
Put in these terms, it's easy to see how some people can be hoodwinked by extremist thought. Britain seems to be a country in terminal decline, so the thinking goes, and Brexit as a "coup de grace" would be one method of achieving real change.

Except that there are plenty of other methods of effecting "real change" that don't involve leaving the EU.
Britain's terminal slow decline has been self-inflicted, by the actions of a short-sighted, self-serving elite. The political system has atrophied, with the sight of its MPs still doggedly at work in a parliament building unfit (and legally unsafe) for purpose epitomizing the problem. Apart from the 2015 election, the electoral system has delivered hung parliaments since the financial crisis, and looks set to do so for the foreseeable future. The outcome of this could only ever be deadlock in the political system, with nothing being decided, and nothing being done about Britain's worsening and lengthening list of problems. Theresa May and her government symbolize this perfectly.
If the referendum hadn't happened, or the vote had gone the other way, it's easy to see that Britain's problems would have remained unresolved and allowed to fester as they still are now. "Brexiteers" would still be a pressure group on the government, poisoning Britain's relations with the EU because it made good short-term political sense at home. The current high street malaise that is afflicting swathes of Britain's retail sector is not really a result of Brexit, but down to structural failings in the market. These would have happened regardless. Nobody in government has an answer to this innate weakness in the nation's economic model; all that is needed to knock down Britain's lethargic economy is a stiff breeze. "Brexit", however, is an oncoming hurricane.

In this sense, since the financial crisis, Britain has had a zombie economy and a zombie political system; alive, but not really living. The moral and intellectual decline mentioned earlier has come about through a system that creates a class of people who superficially have the skills to administer, but without the intellectual dexterity or moral centre to provide real leadership. Because the system we're talking about is "the establishment", being of the right background, supporting orthodoxy, displaying loyalty and defending the system from outsiders are the traits that accelerate advancement. This is a corrupt, insular culture incapable of seeing outside its own narrow interests. Anything that challenges its position, such as a different way of doing things, must be suppressed.
Returning to the British Empire, it could be argued that if "Brexit" is seen as the "coup de grace" of modern Britain, then the Second World War was the "coup de grace" of the British Empire. In a sense, the real spiritual end of the British Empire was marked by the First World War, with Britain and France the only imperial powers to have really made amoral colonial gains out of it. Those "gains" were mainly in the Middle East at the expense of the Ottomans, and proved to be fleeting; poisoned chalices that proved that imperial greed had superseded strategic sense. It quickly became clear they were not worth having, and by the time of the Second World War, it was clear to their American allies that those empires were morally bankrupt as well as financially broke.

The recurring vice here is short-termism. Opportunistic greed was what saw Britain and France extend their colonial reach into the Middle East, and was a sign that Britain's leaders lacked the ability to see beyond the end of their nose. The same short-termism has been true of Britain's leaders since then, with the occasional exception (fighting against the tide). Churchill's imperialism was emotional and irrational. Britain's empire died because it was run badly, with little long-term strategy. Britain's economy has been run the same way ever since, with it becoming increasingly inefficient and unproductive. Forty years ago, factories were closing and shedding jobs because there was no strategic direction from the top; there an inability to think dynamically. The answer that came along was "neoliberalism", and the restructuring of the economy away from manufacturing and towards services. As we see now, that was only a short-term fix, shown up to be a charade by the financial crisis. And the economy was only held up after the financial crisis by creating a "zombie" economy, that was kept alive but incapable of real growth.

This is what is meant by "Broken Britain": a country that is structurally knackered, held together by a political class that is intellectually incapable of dealing with real challenges. Worse, in Theresa May, the sclerotic political establishment is led by someone who is literally only interested in holding power for herself and the interests of her party. It is a morally bankrupt government, presiding over a country that is slowly falling to bits.
This inherent weakness in both the economy and the political structure of Britain - where short-term fixes are seen as the only answer - is also a symptom of a failed democracy. There is the appearance of democracy, but the government of Theresa May shows less and less inclination to pretend even that veneer is worth maintaining. Since the referendum, all pretense at effective parliamentary democracy has disappeared, its views ignored, with May creating new peers for the House Of Lords at a whim. Since the referendum, parliament has become redundant in the government's eyes. Who cares what it thinks any more? The government don't, as they are now fulfilling the "will of the people"; and the electorate have even less respect for parliamentarians now than they did even before the referendum.
The argument that, due to its cumulative institutional failings over the years, Britain as we understand it has reached the end of its natural life is a persuasive one in many ways. Britain never really adapted to a role after the empire, with its industrial base shrunk to the point of no return, and its natural wealth depleted. While there are parts of the country that will always be wealthy, thanks to government policy the levels of inequality have become so self-evidently enormous and skewed in one direction that they cannot be sustainable. When Britain has regions that have both some of the highest and lowest levels of wealth within the EU, something is seriously rotten with the way the country is ran. As said earlier, it is this persuasive narrative the extremists are taking advantage of, in pushing for a form of Brexit that will completely sweep away the old order. It explains how both main parties in parliament have been consumed by more extreme elements, so that the only real choices on offer to the electorate are between "Hard Brexit" and some kind of "Hard Socialism".So the story goes, the pendulum can only swing so far before it swings back the other way. It is this persuasive narrative that is so dangerous, as it can only lead to a dark path, where chaos is used as a tool by those with few moral qualms.

The answer is not a Brexit "coup de grace", but a political class that is able to think dynamically, by seeking answers to problems from outside its own narrow, incestuous confines. The answer lies not in a "neoliberal" dystopia outside the EU, but in seeking strategic answers from within the EU.
Alas, this seems just a pipedream: the tragedy is that far more people want to believe that the Brexit "coup de grace" is the only way to bring about real change; in reality, it is far more likely to bring about a change for something even worse.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The psychology of Theresa May: a microcosm of British neuroses?

The phrases and words used to describe Theresa May's psychology and vision are not ones that evoke confidence or optimism: dull-witted, closed-minded, controlling, parochial, and insular are just a few examples that have been used in the past - and some of these were when she was at the height of her powers, before the botched 2017 election.
Since then, other even less complimentary phrases and words have been used, with anecdotes to match. Before she was known for her Sphinx-like inscrutability (which she willingly allowed others to use to project onto her their own fantasy of a modern "Iron Lady"); this mask has now been revealed as hiding an absent intellect, whose deficiencies have been shown up in the unyielding spotlight of the highest office.

It is now clear that the progress of her political career has come about through being of the right background, in the right place at the right time, being able to use connections to rise unchallenged, then use the art of low politics and opportunism to become Britain's un-elected Prime Minister. The superficiality of the modern British political system allowed her to become its worst leader in modern times. At a time when it needed a political and intellectual giant to navigate the Brexit miasma, the system instead produced a woman who seemed to symbolize the middling banality of "Middle England". In this way, if Britain wanted a leader who distilled the neurotic psychology of the Brexit-voting Home Counties, she was it. When she was called "Madame Brexit" in Poland, the speaker unwittingly nailed the psychology of Britain's leader.

The key to this rise to power lies in her narrow world-view, being able to advance in the small circles of the establishment she was part of. This narrow, unchallenged world-view also explains why she appears such an incompetent and uncaring leader. She spectacularly flunked the 2017 election campaign, and the article in the link explains why: never having been challenged throughout her career, and actively resisting challenges at every turn, in the cold light of day, her personality and fragile self-esteem crumbled.
And yet, since that psychological defeat, she has been unwilling to change with reality; instead, she has doubled down. From her delusional version of reality in her address outside Downing Street justifying her alliance with the DUP, to her insistence on Britain taking the obdurate course of a "Hard Brexit", this is a woman incapable of reason. On other issues, like the "hostile environment", her implacability can no longer be seen as a sign of psychological strength, but of inner fragility. Somehow, it seems almost like a neurotic (possibly even "sociopathic") matter of duty: to fulfill a government target, regardless of the human cost. It seems the same is true of Brexit: her irrational focus on immigration (and thus leaving the single market) seems like an obsession to "respect" the "will of the people", regardless of the cost to Britain as a whole.
That being said, her focus on immigration - as being the personal epitome of "Middle England" - may also be seen as reflective of parochial prejudices typical to her peer group. In her role as Home Secretary, her personality seemed especially-suited to the role's unforgiving nature: as the midwife of the "hostile environment", and its application now to the logistics of Brexit. Being the only child of a vicar, raised in an environment where the "naughtiest" thing she had ever done was run through a wheat field (!), it tells us that she would instinctively have difficulty seeing things from another's perspective. Immigrants are naturally seen as a "problem" because they are untrustworthy outsiders; crime is naturally seen as the result of "bad people"; poverty is the result of bad choices; change is naturally seen as something to be avoided. These are prejudices that seem innate to her and many others who live in Brexit-voting "Middle England".

While Theresa May didn't actively support the Brexit campaign, in its aftermath she wholeheartedly embraced its meaning. Her first ten months or so as Prime Minister were when her inner personality was able to most easily manifest itself in government: this was the era of "Theresa May's Team".
With her two long-standing advisors - Nick "Rasputin" Timothy and Fiona Hill - she was able to run government from this small inner circle. Wary of outsiders, authoritarian and bullying in nature, it was not a pleasant experience for those who encountered it. In a wider sense, this can be seen as a microcosm of some of the worst aspects of human nature. May's intellectual limitations are hidden over this psychological mask; a false, imposing, persona, "Wizard Of Oz" style.
This "Wizard Of Oz" performance was shattered in the 2017 election campaign, and yet her overall public image is still in surprisingly robust shape. How is this possible?

One reason for this may well come back to her middling, banal personality mentioned at the start. Simply, because many people in "Middle England" can so easily identify with her mindset (and human frailties) in themselves, this somehow makes her - paradoxically - more "relatable". In other words, the fact that she is incompetent, prejudiced, bullying, dull-witted and insular means she is just like them!

Theresa May thus represents the (metaphorical) "everyman" that encapsulates many British neuroses. Her embrace of the Brexit side after the referendum has remained undimmed after the 2017 election. Her instinct seems to be to represent that half of the nation whose instincts are her own. She simply doesn't give the other half of the population a moment's thought; and her behaviour  - from her reaction to the Grenfell fire scandal, to the "Windrush" scandal, to the "hostile environment" - supports that analysis. Those who are from outside her narrow social subset she struggles to identify with. This kind of attitude is typical of those who  - for various reasons  - rarely interact with those very different from themselves. From a psychological point of view, it creates the "parallel lives" that seem to be becoming more and more common in modern Britain, thanks to a combination of inequality and government strategy.
This kind of divide in Britain is the one that Theresa May is presiding over, and entrenching through her government as well as her own application of power. Through her own innate resistance to change, everything that is wrong in Britain gets worse. Through her irrational, delusional pursuit of "Hard Brexit", Britain's path is to one of self-destruction. This is the neurotic mentality of a person who is willing to let the nation suffer than let her world-view be challenged.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Brexit and the parallels of WW1: a study in complacency

For all the many commemorations of the events of the First World War that have happened in recent years, what the media have spent little time looking at are the lessons learned from the events leading up the the outbreak of war, and how the war itself was conducted.
This blogger's own study of Kaiser Wilhelm (and his connection with Turkey's Enver Pasha) tells us how important the psychology of those in power can have such a great effect on outcomes; literally, making the difference between life and death, war and peace. The contemporary parallels with Donald Trump - and any potential comparisons with "Kaiser Bill" - are interesting in themselves, as they tell us how easy it is for dysfunctional personalities in positions of power to attract other like-minded misfits. Thus they create a dangerously-combustible administration, both for each other as well as everyone else.

Christopher Clark's "The Sleepwalkers" is one of the best studies of the run-up to the First World War, in terms of his analysis of the personalities and interpersonal interactions involved, as well as the wider context.
Related to this, "The Ottoman Endgame" (by Sean McMeekin, published in 2015) tells us the tale of the Ottoman Empire's last thirty or so years of life. British hostilities during the war are explained in excellent detail, and one passage of the book describes the misguided thinking behind the British government's decision to attack the Dardanelles straights and the Gallipoli peninsula. A hundred years on, in the current shambolic context of Brexit, it's hard not to be struck by the author's choice of words:

"The doctrinal conception of the Dardanelles campaign was still in flux when the naval bombardment began. At some level, there was an element of wishful, almost magical thinking involved. Churchill may or may not have really told Kitchener that the campaign would be won with the super-dreadnought (Queen Elizabeth) with her "astounding effectiveness" and "marvelous potentialities". But he did insist that the fleet could get through on its own. As for Kitchener, he changed his mind more often than anyone else. On the day of the bombardment, Kitchener insisted that an amphibious operation at Alexandretta (on the Mediterranean coast) was preferable"

The use of the McMeekin's phrase "magical thinking" cannot have been one purloined from the current Brexit mess, as this book was written long before the referendum campaign even started. But what this passage tells us is how complacency is the hallmark of all policy disasters. Not only that, but the strategic indecision that the British government were in over their campaign against the Ottomans a hundred years ago is mirrored by that of the current government over Brexit.
In this blogger's previous post, we looked some of at the Second World War myths that surround British identity, and marked out Churchill's elevation to that of historical icon as being particularly misguided. In effect, his role as Prime Minister during WW2 rehabilitated his discredited image from that known during WW1 and afterwards (as well as the morally-questionable actions taken when Prime Minister). But what everyone remembers today is that the man on the current Five Pound Note was a national hero.

The Sleepwalkers

This brings me to the personalities of the current government, and how they compare to the personalities in government a hundred years ago, sleepwalking as they are into a national crisis.
The fact that Boris Johnson has written a biography on Churchill, and the fact that he fancies himself as an articulate writer and orator in the same mould, tells us all we need to know. Interestingly, Boris' rise to the highest levels of government (The FCO) in his early fifties mirrors that of Churchill's at the same period in his life (when he was Chancellor in the Baldwin government in the 1920s). Boris seems to dominate political life in government in the same manner that Churchill did back in the 1920s, when, like Boris, he was an often exasperating figure.
Apart from the opportunistic Foreign Secretary, other prominent self-serving cads include the recently-elevated Gavin Williamson (now Defence Secretary). Meanwhile, there are Liam Fox and David Davis, whose attitude to Brexit and its intricacies is the complacent belief that somehow everything will work out fine, using solutions to problems that have never been tried before, and blithely expecting the EU to accept all this on trust. Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary, seems to see Brexit through the same distorted free-market lens as Fox and Davis, where the potential opportunities that Brexit presents are given much greater weight than the far more real difficulties that leaving the single market brings to the economy. As with Gallipoli a hundred years ago, "magical thinking" is the norm.
It might be fair to summarize the rest of the personalities in government as being either a) clueless and complacent, or b) horrified but silent. The silence comes from the necessity to maintain the illusion of unity in government, by repeatedly delaying the required debate. And at the head of all this is Theresa May.

It is May, and her personality, that is perpetuating the absurdity of government inertia. Everything about her personality seems fatally unsuited for the deadly-serious task at hand: what has been called her "dull-witted rigidity" in refusing to reverse her decision to leave the single market and customs union; her reactionary instinct to close down debate; her small-minded parochialism that prevents her from seeing an outsiders' perspective; her naturally-conservative aversion to embrace a challenge or take a real risk.
All these factors come together to create a perpetual lethargy in government, where her administration is now a hostage to events. Instead, it somehow hopes that the EU itself will provide the answers to Britain's problems, from the unresolved (unsolvable?) Irish border, to a relationship with the EU that will be both outside the customs union but provides easy access to the single market. It is no wonder that Brussels is losing patience with such arrogance. Meanwhile, the arrogance is magnified as the British government treats the Irish position on the intractable border issue as though simply because Britain is bigger than Ireland, Britain must get its way. According to Britain, Ireland and the EU should help Britain to solve the problems it created for itself. Meanwhile, EU support for the Irish position is based on the simple fact that Ireland is in the EU and Britain isn't (or soon won't be), which is completely lost to the British government. They still see things through the lens of the Imperial power-plays of yesteryear, and yet wonder why outsiders don't trust them.

It is this arrogance that breeds complacency. The same kind of arrogance was found in the European capitals in 1914, when everyone expected that the war would be over by Christmas. Churchill's belief (arrogance?) that the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 would be an easy victory found fruit in the earlier victories that Britain had against the Ottomans in the first few months of the war (in Mesopotamia and Suez). Thus Britain created for itself the belief that Turkey was a pushover.
Britain's government today seems to have the same complacent belief about the EU. Because Britain usually got what it wanted from Brussels when it was in the EU, when it came to Brexit, the belief that "they need us more than we need them" infected the minds of the British government. It is clear that many of them still believe that, even after being repeatedly told by Brussels of the fundamental error of their thinking. Many of them still believe that, when push comes to shove, Brussels will cave in at the last moment. There is no rational basis for this assumption.

So what we are left to assume is that the current British government is dangerously deluded, almost as dangerously deluded as many European governments were in 1914. The difference now is that the only ones that will really suffer from the British government's "delusions of grandeur" will be the British people themselves.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

British psychology, WW2 nostalgia, and Brexit

This blogger recently was reminded of how commonplace events like "WW2 nostalgia" days are in Britain. This got me thinking about how this kind of thing compares with other countries that took part in WW2, and what motivation and psychology is behind these kinds of events in Britain.

"Remembering the past" is important for any country; but equally important, is why and how you're remembering it.

When France remembers its time during WW2, it might not be with a great deal of pride. Of course there are the actions of the "Free French" forces that should never be forgotten, and the unquestioned bravery of the French Resistance during the years of occupation. But for the civilian population itself, much of its memory would be tied up with being under the thumb of Nazi rule, or, in the case of the "Vichy" government, the moral stain of that administration's collaboration. In this sense, WW2 was a national humiliation that was only ended through the actions of their allied American and British "liberators". That memory stuck in the craw for a long time in post-war France.

Conversely, there is the experience of the USA during WW2. Fighting a war on two fronts (like the British Empire), against Japan and Nazi Germany, American involvement nonetheless was, with the significant exception of Pearl Harbor, a typically distant affair. Characterized by the wartime song "Over there", the continental USA was largely unaffected by the war on a day-to-day level. The USA paid dearly in military terms, but the country itself was barely touched by the war.
For this reason, the nostalgia that the USA might have for WW2 may be "justified" from a strict psychological standpoint, as it does not create an overly-misleading perception of that point in the country's history. From a prestige point of view, the Second War was glorious for the USA, as it was one of the leading victors, and it heralded the beginning of the country's role as a superpower. In this sense, the nostalgia makes a great deal of sense, as they are celebrating the birth of modern idea of the USA.

Then there is the experience of the Soviet Union. Its "nostalgia" for WW2 comes through the context of what they called the Great Patriotic War. Like the USA, their war against Germany starts in 1941, albeit six months earlier than Washington. But the price the Soviet Union paid was enormous, both in manpower, resources and land. Much of European Russia was occupied by the Nazis for at least two years, while its cities, and Leningrad and Stalingrad in particular, suffered appalling civilian casualties, on a scale not seen in Western Europe. While the country did receive allied aid from the Arctic convoys, the country essentially had to fight for itself, and it was only through sheer determination, resourcefulness and strategic errors on the Nazis' side, that allowed them to turn the tide. The Soviet Union paid by far the highest price on the allied side, and its "nostalgia" is about remembering the heroic fight against an existential threat, which they then drove back all the way to Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin.
This blogger makes no comment on the nature of the Soviet Union itself, or its conduct after the war; more on that has been said here.

Britain's role in WW2 and its nostalgia come from a somewhat different angle. On the one hand, the nostalgia for celebrating its heroes is genuine and universal. On the other, there is another side to the nostalgia that seems to function as a psychological crutch to support the nation's post-war insecurity. The fact that the post-war situation also saw Britain lose its empire may not be a coincidence.

"British Empire" nostalgia?

It could be argued that in Britain, WW2 nostalgia is for many, in fact, "British Empire" nostalgia.

The manner of Britain's WW2 nostalgia has sometimes seemed vaguely troubling from a psychological point of view, as it is based on historical revisionism. Unlike as is often assumed, Britain did not "win the war"; it was on the winning side as allies of the Soviet Union and the USA. As mentioned earlier, the largest cost in manpower and resources was taken by the Soviet Union, with American resources and manpower proving pivotal to the invasion of France. The Soviet Union and the USA "won" the war; the British Empire, by the end, was unfortunately a worn-out and bankrupt also-ran on the same side (and soon to be shafted by both after the war's end - or even, arguably, during its closing stages). These are facts that have also been conveniently "forgotten".

It is true that Britain was the first of those "allies" to declare war on Germany in 1939, but it quickly found out that it had bitten off more than it could chew. And it was more than pure luck that allowed Britain's armed forces to escape from being captured in 1940. The evidence actually points to the uncomfortable truth that the success of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 was in large part down to Hitler's desire to reach a peaceful understanding with Britain, as he didn't wish to "humiliate" Britain, with whom he had a lot of personal respect. In fact, his perception of the grit of British forces was so high that he was shocked that they decided to flee from the continent rather than fight. The delay at Durkirk (the "halt order") that allowed British forces may not have been to "allow" them to flee with their honour intact, but more through a misunderstanding of Britain's intentions; it seems he was expecting the Brits to dig in for a fightback from the beach-head of Dunkirk. In this way, more generally he saw the British Empire's existence as a bulwark against what he saw as other "barbarian" races. Defeating the British Empire's military capacity around the globe would have run against this motivation. The uncomfortable truth was that Hitler saw Britain and Germany as kin, with Britain's declaration of war against it judged as a kind of personal affront.
The idea that Hitler would have considered himself and the British Empire to have some kind of "common cause" would have been morally outrageous to Britain's sense of ethical superiority. Hitler's "unrequited love" of the country sits awkwardly with the self-perception that Britain has of its own moral certitude - how could an empire feel good about itself if it was secretly admired by the Nazis?  The answer, from a psychological point of view, was to destroy any hope Hitler had in thinking Britain would tolerate the existence of Germany under his rule. In this sense, Hitler's war on Britain could be seen as "revenge" for that rejection, with his visceral hatred of Churchill taking on the mantle of a personal vendetta.
Churchill's long animosity towards Hitler and Nazism in general could, it might be argued, have come from even an implicit sense of old English elitist snobbishness; as a member of the Victorian aristocracy, this isn't difficult to imagine. Apart from Nazism's raw hatred of the Jews, it's not hard to see Churchill viewing Hitler as a little more than a "jumped-up corporal", and Fascism in general as an uncouth, mob-culture ideology, anathema to his own sense of "British Empire" values.
And yet, Churchill himself had a career peppered with controversy. His views on the empire were shamelessly racist; more than many of his contemporaries, to the extent that some of his proposals to maintain discipline in the colonies would have been termed war crimes today had they been carried out as he intended.
It was the decision to bomb German cities and civilians during the summer of 1940 by the RAF that caused Hitler to end the "Battle Of Britain" and retaliate with the "Blitz". In these terms, Churchill's decision to bomb German civilians led to Hitler doing the same to Britons, while sparing Britain's air force from destruction. With the distance of time, such decisions now look morally dubious, with common Londoners becoming the targets instead of Britain's pilots (though whether Churchill could have predicted this is debatable). It then became a battle to destroy each other's homeland, and a metaphor for the destruction of each other's values. Churchill later sanctioned the senseless bombing of Dresden in the final weeks of the war, while in 1943 was complicit in causing the Bengal Famine, which led to the death of two million Indians. And yet this is a man that is idolized in British culture. This is the dangerous "false narrative" that uncritical nostalgia can create.
The wider point about Hitler was that - like Kaiser Wilhelm a generation earlier - fundamentally misunderstood Britain and its sense of prestige. Britain could not psychologically tolerate the thought of another nation challenging its own moral world view, and so had to be made out to be an existential threat to Britain's status. Hitler certainly justified the label as the "monster" of popular imagination, but the scale of that monstrosity was unknown in Britain until the end of the war; war against this "monster" was instead considered a kind of moral requirement for Britain's own self-respect, as well as to maintain its reputation and high standing around the world. The fact that some of the colonies began to rebel after the war was "won" supports this viewpoint.

While Britain had "bitten off more than it could chew" in declaring war on Germany, the threat of actual invasion by Hitler was always a very remote prospect; for practical reasons as well as the "ideological" reasons already stated. It suited Hitler more for Britain to believe there to be a threat of invasion, as this would cause it to divert attention from his real aims ("Lebensraum") in the East. He wanted to bring Britain to the peace table by means of gradual deprivation and collateral attrition rather than by wiping out its armed forces, but was fundamentally mistaken in its effects on British psychology. The strategy could never have worked.
And so Britain during WW2 developed into the wartime saga we all recognize: the bombing, the rationing, the "making do". Britain was reliant on the USA for its survival after 1940, but its moral certitude was still intact. And Britain's WW2 nostalgia is more for a moral world-view than anything else: the idea that Britain, besieged from sea and air, was still able to maintain its independence and moral authority. The fact that it was reliant on the USA to preserve its "independence", and its "moral authority" was once admired by Hitler, is quietly forgotten. The nostalgia preserves the illusion.

Using a cultural reference, "Dad's Army" syndrome and Britain's WW2 nostalgia is all about "winning against the odds" while sticking to your principles. In that sense, from an ideological point of view it shares some ground with Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism; the idea that Britain is achieving things without the help of others (self-reliance) while also refusing to compromise (moral purity). These are values also common in the Protestant faith on both sides of the Atlantic. These are values also found, not coincidentally, in the minds of many Brexiteers.
Nothing is ever that simple, of course, and as already stated, this is factually inaccurate in Britain's case anyway. Britain's homeland was effectively an American protectorate after 1940 until the end of the war (and even, arguably, well into the Cold War), while its moral standing must always be put in the context of its imperial status.

WW2 nostalgia also coincides with the point at which the British Empire's reach was arguably at its height. While its influence was waning in the light of the rise of the USA, that country's isolationism left the British Empire as the world's great global potentate at the start of WW2. In this sense, Britain's status as an island meant the British Empire was an "empire of the sea", with its power projected through the Royal Navy. Its land forces were always fairly modest in size by comparison, especially in places like India, where its authority was held more through reputation and skulduggery than brute force. The nature of the empire's scope always meant that keeping it together was a matter of wits over brawn, with the fabled British education system playing a large role. This was one reason why Britain's rivals never considered her to be a power to be trusted; she always seemed to have a trick up her sleeve, as often proved to be the case. You don't get to be a global empire by always "doing things by the book".
Comparisons with the medieval maritime empire of the Venetian Republic come to mind. This was another potentate reliant on sea power, commerce and occasional dirty tricks to maintain and expand its influence, until its possessions sprawled across large tracts of the Mediterranean. Like the British Empire, its reputation preceded itself; from small beginnings, its authority gradually extended further and further afield, quickly taking advantage of opportunities that arose, while allowing a commercial system at home that encouraged adventurism.
When Brexiteers talk of the opportunities in the world outside of the EU they are instilling that same spirit of adventurism that saw Venice expand across the Mediterranean, reaching its zenith around the turn of the 16th century. This was the same time that Spain and Portugal were using seafaring as a route to riches around the world, with the likes of England and France to follow a hundred years later.
While Britain's military role in the Second World War soon became that of "sidekick" to American power, it did use its military intelligence to great effect for the allies. It is this perception of British intelligence overcoming foreign might that feeds into the historical narrative of "plucky" Britain; a narrative that adds to the nostalgia, and feeds the desire to reprise the same story in the modern era of Brexit.
As WW2 was when Britain's empire displayed its last flourish, WW2 nostalgia can also be seen as implicit nostalgia for the British Empire. With modern niceties, such things can never be stated so openly, and it is also true that many people's nostalgia for empire is also something subconscious rather than overt. But that longing for the past, when Britain was truly "great", cannot be understood without its imperial associations. And this raises some very obvious questions about the real psychology at work in WW2 nostalgia, apart from the ideas of independence and moral certitude mentioned before. It speaks of insecurity instead.

Meanwhile, with Brexiteers seeming to use the same "dirty tricks" that were once so familiar to the British Empire's rivals, the dye seems to be cast as to the direction they want to take Britain. Brexit is about "Empire 2.0", while the country's apparent WW2 nostalgia is a rose-tinted backdrop that acts as the "drug of choice" against the future stark reality of Britain outside the EU, as much as the wistful delusions that many have had about wartime Britain.
The WW2 nostalgia serves a purpose for the Brexiteers. If people can be so willfully delusional about what life was like during the Second World War, then why not about life outside the EU?