Commando Comics: The emerging Brexit mindset
As we are now moving into the business end of the negotiation (albeit a very long process), it strikes me that the framing of the discourse/ mindsets of the various parties will emerge more strongly.
Unsurprisingly, if depressing, will be the British reliance on WW2 and war analogies, imagery and myths. Already we see this with Mr Johnson invoking punishment by WW2 prison guards; Mr Davis referencing the Civil Service’s withstanding of Hitler; and Mr Simon Jenkins appealing as far back as Agincourt. Mr Gove has also joined forces to remind the British that making jokes about prison guards is of course a sign of a sense of humour and that we should see it in that light.
This is of course at one with UKIP who festoon their rallies with the images and appeals to the Battle of Britain, the RAF and other conflicts.
We may reflect on this, for what it says about the worldview of the protagonists. Mr Johnson’ s remarks don’t offend me and I don’t think Mr Hollande will be upset. What they reveal- and Mr Gove’s too– is how out of time they appear, how sad, how disconnected. It’s as if the mentalities behind the ‘jokes’ of Bernard Manning about pakis, of the ‘entertaining’ parade of the ‘Black and White Minstrels’ of the 1970’s, of the Victor war magazine- are being re-fitted and re-fired to guide Britain into its unknown, more isolated future.
For shorthand, let’s dub this the ‘Commando Comic‘ worldview. Now I have nothing against such a publication, nor the plethora of other films, mags and TV shows that might go along with it such Colditz, Secret Army, the Great Escape. They were entertaining when I was a child in the 1970’s. But as a source of insight? a source of moral or strategic thinking? – I doubt this will yield much value in terms of understanding our negotiating partners or the wider world in which Britain will now operate with fewer tools at her disposal. What is more interesting is how powerful this view will be in mobilising British opinion and maintaining the new UKIP-Conservative coalition elected in June 2016.
My sense is that having indulged in the worst political miscalculation for 50 years, current British leaders are thrown back to an earlier time, a time of their childhood, to find therein some sense of what to do and to re-kindle the comfort of their early lives. A time when Commando comics were read, Enoch Powell was in his pomp and Thatcher on the rise. And like a young child, a curious unresponsibility is emerging. When a child is refused a toy or reminded of boundaries, this seems like a ‘punishment’ to the child when in fact it is learning to be an adult. Britain may therefore be going through a new stage in her development.
So British leaders will approach the coming negotiation with a mindset totally at odds with the real world. It’s like the Aztecs welcoming Cortez as a God, because their religion and beliefs dictated it. That did not end so well for the Aztecs. When I hear women and men with real experience of our international world- like Mme Lararde, Mr Lamy or Mr Barnier- and I contrast them with the near zero international experience, economic knowledge and language of Mrs May, Mr Johnson and Mr Gove- well, I am yet to be convinced there are opportunities for Britain from leaving. And the mindset behind the leaving is a key driver of any outcome.