Week in Review: Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold

A bad week in British politics
A bad week in British politics
Ian Dunt By

Really monstrous week, this one. Even by the usual standards, which are very poor indeed, it was acutely bad.

There came a point, around Thursday morning, when whichever way you looked you found behaviour which was so abysmal, so lacking in anything like basic moral or patriotic decency, that your instinct was to try and switch the country off-and-on again, in some desperate hope that we might reset to a better place. But there is no switch. There's no escape. We're stuck here. And only really serious drinking or political activism is going to change it.

It began, of course, with that diplomatic leak, detailing the entirely reasonable assessments from British ambassador Kim Darroch of Trump's White House. It went straight to Brexit-campaigning journalist Isabel Oakeshott, was then used to as a self-promotion campaign by Nigel Farage, and led to an outburst of the usual emotional inadequacy from the US president. So far, so normal. Everyone acting as they usually do. Britain, which offered Trump the full state honours a few weeks back, now blocked from high-level diplomatic contact with its supposed ally.

And then the story reached Boris Johnson. He was the new element. After all, he'll likely be prime minister before the end of the month. He was repeatedly asked if he would stand by the ambassador. And after a bit of babble praising Trump it was quite clear he would not. Darroch watched that performance and then handed in his resignation. He couldn't do the job without political support from Downing Street.


The American president had as good as fired the British ambassador. Johnson's campaign chair in Scotland, Ross Thompson, basically admitted it. "The game was up when the president of the United States himself, rightly or wrongly, said he could no longer work with the British ambassador," he said. "That's when that then undermines the national interest of having a relationship with the US."

If you watch the video closely, you can see his face stretch and strain as he says the words, as if some inner part of his personality, some last bastion of personal conscience, is fighting against the obscenities coming out of his mouth. But the resistance falters. Out the words come.

The executive summary is that Britain is no longer independently appointing its own ambassadorial staff. Will this apply to all countries? No, of course not. It will apply to the United States, a country we have been in a subservient position to since the end of the war and who we are now to be utterly controlled by. It is a grim foreshadowing of what will come if Brexit succeeds.

The natural human instinct is to ask: what can be done? Who can stop Johnson from turning the country into a vassal state? What can the opposition do to try and protect the core constitutional functions of Britain against the deranged form of Tory Trotskyism which has overtaken the governing party?

But things are, if anything, even worse over there. To observe Labour this week was to feel as if you had somehow dirtied yourself, like you'd stained your clothes just by reading about them. After you'd finished an article you'd stare down and be amazed by the fact you were still actually physically clean.

On Wednesday evening, Panorama broadcast an account of the party's anti-semitism problem. It showed several young party officials to be distressed, haunted, traumatised, driven to depression and even suicidal thoughts, by what they'd gone through. It showed a party high command which auto-defined anyone questioning their behaviour as a factional enemy - "Blairites", obviously, because that apparently is the worst thing in the world. It showed a party where anti-semitism had begun to run rampant.

The leadership singularly failed to put in place an effective disciplinary system for these issues, either because it did not understand them, or because it didn't care enough, or because some of the stain of those sentiments exists there as well. Pick one of those options. It has to be one of them.

The response of Labour, with grim inevitability, was to attack the programme before it had even aired, then paint the people speaking out as figures with axes to grind. It wouldn't put up anyone from the party to actually answer the charges, so instead the airwaves were full of its so-called 'media outriders' - journalists whose views happen to coincide with whatever is most useful for the party high command. The most godawful sight.

It is like gazing into a black hole. There's no point looking for light in it. It's just straight-up darkness and a sense of collapse so strong that even gravity can't escape.

The leadership claimed it was doing something about it, but you could see the lie even as it was uttered. Every effort it made was to cover it up, hide the stories, conceal the evidence and impune the reputations of those who dared to talk about it. This is why the problem exists and why it grows. Because Corbyn's Labour considers everyone who criticises it - whether a voter, a journalist, a member, or an official - to be an enemy by definition. There can be no legitimate criticism, so none of the criticism is ever treated as legitimate.

Even when you're used to bad weeks in politics, this really was a new kind of low. It's an arms race in reverse. Neither government nor opposition functions, so both parties have felt free to get completely lost in their own terrible derangement. If Labour was even vaguely competent, a Tory leadership would be wary of becoming fully-owned by a foreign power. If the Tories weren't dismantling the country, Labour might feel more compelled to sort itself out.

It's like the British constitution turned in on itself: a system of checks and balances obliterated in a mutual suicide pact.

Get a drink. Get several. If you've read even one news story this week, you thoroughly deserve it.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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