It’s going to be a year of disillusionment. That won’t be stopped except by the advent of new vaccinations and the likely end of the pandemic. When we realize that we are still talking about Brexit and still negotiating our future relationship with the EU, especially in the services sector, the first moment of disillusionment will come.
The disillusionment would be greater for those who believed in the more utopian of the many false claims of the initial Brexit prospectus – while few would be able to accept it – because behind the Brexit coat-tails lies a new age of difficult choices and harsh facts, not a “Empire 2.0” Narnia of “enhanced sovereignty.” What will happen now that it is no longer possible to point the finger of blame at Brussels bureaucrats? What’s going to fill the newspapers now that “crooked bananas” stories are no longer on the agenda? If immigration is not reduced to a trickle, lost industries do not return, and Britain is not “outspoken” and “unleashed” on the world stage again, who can be vilified? Although many of the devastating consequences of Brexit will be slow to surface and the pandemic will be blamed on others, the day will finally come when it is generally understood that in Westminster, not Brussels, the bolt will be locked. A policy to fill the post-Brexit debt void was sought, checked and implemented in the second half of 2020 with a degree of constructive forward thinking and strategic preparation that the government did not assemble while coping with the pandemic. There are working-class black and brown individuals squarely in the crosshairs who are to be deprived of their class identity in order to unfairly depict their values and background as a dangerous threat to those of the white working class. Hence the Black Lives Matter movement’s demonization and intentional mischaracterization.
But the new adversaries also include scholars and, in particular, historians whose dissertation focuses on the history of slavery and empire. A new order of animosity faces them and the organizations that have requested studies from them. However, the great myth regarding the culture of nullification is that it only occurs on the left. Such tactics are a tactic by which some of the rage and frustration carefully cultivated over decades and targeted at Brussels can now be diverted to enemies inside, it is hoped. For those disillusioned with the reality of Brexit UK, the name of the game is diversion and warmth, but there is more to it than that. The government and its backers still want to cast themselves as advocates of British institutions and defenders of British heritage, and they are willing to kill all of these names. To get a sense of 2021, take a look back at the second half of 2020.
In August, in an attempt to contextualize a prolific collector who derived much of his riches from slavery, instead of simply memorializing him, the British Museum was condemned for collecting new details and objects around the bust of Hans Sloane. The National Trust was criticized weeks later when it disclosed that many of the items under its possession had previous connections to slavery or imperialism.
Research projects and results that just a few years earlier would have drawn little media attention were presented as an existential threat to the country and a version of national identity, and the scientists involved in them were criticized as rivals in the newspapers for merely doing their work. The tone of the attacks becomes even more personal and hysterical when the historians in question turn out to be females, as was the case with the Colonial Countryside project of the National Trust.
But what is being targeted here is not just people, but intellectual curiosity itself, the lifeblood of scholarship, which is now presented as a form of cultural betrayal or misinterpreted as political posturing. Unlike others on the left, I have never questioned that there is a “dropout culture,” marked by political intolerance and gift.