If we can suspend our amazement for a moment, at the decline and fall of the United Kingdom, we can perhaps take one piece of wisdom from it: we can see that there’s a thing called recreational nationalism which can destroy any country, at any time.
We can call it recreational nationalism, because the Brexit which was the fundamental cause of this current omnishambles was entirely a matter of choice — they did it, in some cases, literally for a laugh.
Nobody was invading the UK, requiring some kind of patriotic rebellion of the kind that is sometimes called nationalism. The oppression they felt from the EU was largely a delusion sold by well-known chancers and cynics and full-blown nutters — who, wherever they are to be found, are always up for a bit of the old recreational nationalism.
Brexit did not just wreck Britain’s reputation as a serious country, it introduced into the body politic a kind of fetish for avoiding the basic truths of life.
This is how it is with recreational nationalism, it has nothing to offer but falsified visions
And it elevated those who could thrive in that swamp of delusion, while also eliminating the few reasonable types who might make it better. They were specifically thrown out of the Tory party by a Johnson regime desperate to evade accountability. To keep the madness rolling.
That attitude was still prevailing last week, as the UK was being viewed by most intelligent people in roughly the same manner that they would view an “emerging” country.
And if there is any defence for the leadership of Liz Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, it’s that they’re not exactly the first of their kind in recent years to be flogging something that cannot survive much contact with reality.
Indeed some of the “ultras” urging Truss to “stay strong” last week, were calling this the ultimate expression of freedom from the interference of Brussels — which, in a way, it was. Freedom in the sense that some drunkard roaming the streets singing is free.
But it couldn’t be otherwise. This is how it is with recreational nationalism, it has nothing to offer but falsified visions. Thus it always has the tendency to go from bad to worse — to reveal itself more clearly, so that in the end the Tory chancellor threw a measure into a mini-budget which gave tax cuts to the rich at a time when the poor in their millions are struggling horribly.
Brexit was always about that. It was a project of the far right which would emancipate the rich from social responsibilities. It was a war — not between Britain and Brussels, but between the Tories and the multitudes in their own country — using racism as the lubricant to get it done.
Yes, one of the defining features of nationalism, recreational or otherwise, is that some foreigner is always to blame.
But still… until the other week they had been able to disguise the overall architecture from many of its victims.
Lowering the tax on the rich was the moment the essential nature of the Brexit scam was officially put in writing
They had been just about smart enough not to actually put it into a mini-budget that they were going to transfer money from the poor to the rich — for reasons that only the looniest of the swivel-eyed loons could understand.
We used to lament that in the days of our tribunals of inquiry, the authorities seemed to require an impossible standard of evidence, something like an actual piece of paper on which the politician had written to the businessman: IOU: one big favour.
Kwarteng’s lowering of tax on the rich was the moment that the essential nature of the Brexit scam was officially put in writing.
Our old friends “the markets” went ballistic, but for most people in the UK, it was already too late. People have no idea how to make ends meet, as they are quietly told Britain will now have to bring back thousands of foreign workers after all because... well, because that’s the truth. And by the way, that Brexit-loving Wetherspoons guy is selling 32 pubs because… well, that’s the truth too.
Recreational nationalism can’t stand much of that truth stuff, or even the stuff that is only half-true. But it can create a state of fear for those who challenge its fraudulence.
A friend of mine who mingles with rich English businessmen from time to time, tells me they think Truss is a joke, and that Brexit was always a diabolical idea. But even these relatively powerful individuals did not say this out loud at the time, because they were afraid.
This nationalism also needs a profoundly crooked media to keep it going. So your “sensible” business leaders would see one of their own being monstered in the Daily Mail if they dared raise a reasoned objection. So they kept quiet about it.
The great thing for Ireland, of course, is that we have now seen what this recreational nationalism can do to a country in no time at all.
And we will know not to touch that stuff ourselves with a 40-foot pole.
Denmark’s football kit manufacturer Hummel has announced it does not want its branding to be visible during the World Cup in Qatar, “a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives”. It has toned down its “iconic chevrons”, leaving the Danes with a plain red shirt.
One thinks of Queen Elizabeth’s hat at the opening of parliament which incorporated the design of the EU flag — a passive-aggressive move made by someone still doing their duty while “sending a signal”.
Tokenistic though it may seem, with the tournament starting in November, many of us are now approaching our own Hummel moment — we will be facing a question about what to do with our own proverbial “iconic chevrons”. Or even if we will be togging out at all.
In addition to all those who died during the construction phase, last week a story emerged about Marc Bennett, a British travel industry executive who worked for Qatar on the World Cup project until late 2019. He died in mysterious circumstances in a hotel room after telling people he had been detained and tortured by the country’s police.
You sense this will not be the last such horror story we’ll see emerging within the next 50 days. And it gives us a fuller understanding of why his compatriot David Beckham is being paid roughly £10m by Qatar for his “ambassadorial” work.
Russia has darkened the picture further, with our heightened awareness that Vladimir Putin sitting in the best seat at the last World Cup, having the banter with MbS, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was not a good look at the time — and one of the worst looks of all time.
Terrible regimes hosting major sporting events is probably more the rule than the exception. But in these times of rampant “sportswashing”, there’s something about this one which will challenge even the kind of football person who regards watching the tournament as a sacred duty — like the Queen attending the opening of parliament, but every day for an entire month.
For millions of football men and women, a constitutional crisis is looming.
My colleague Hugh O’Connell tweeted that in its ard fheis clár, Fianna Fáil encourages members to text supportive comments to radio stations when its TDs, senators and councillors are on air.
There was a time when party members would generate a buzz, not by manipulating the media through their smartphones, but mainly through the medium of alcohol — especially around the RDS during an ard fheis.
There was a “drinking culture”, which acted as a kind of natural accelerant to the dreary task of policy-making. Natural, at least, at a time when drinking 15 pints in the Horse Show House was considered natural.
In those days FF could dream of overall majorities — a statement of fact which I leave without comment.