Monday, March 21, 2011
This is no Falklands posted by Richard Seymour
If Cameron was looking for a Kosovo effect - which I would categorise as another kind of caesarist moment in that it consolidated the intelligentsia and political establishment behind Blair - he doesn't have that either. I remember the hysterical build-up to war over Kosovo, and there is nothing like the moral fervour and shrill liberal baiting that was prevalent then. They can wheel out the old satrap Paddy Ashdown to wheeze out some faded Gladstonian rhetoric, but it doesn't have the same ring to it. This isn't "overthrowing a tyrant", after all. The British military elites have made it clear that they're not up for that. Neither are other components of the fragile alliance against Qadhafi. This is about achieving a stalemate, with the likely result of a de facto partition of the country. That somehow isn't inspiring the bunting-laden festivities that are supposed to follow from British wars. It also points up a tension within the ruling ideology - humanitarian imperialism in this context sits uneasily alongside Islamophobia, especially when the latter is a far more predominant public sentiment. Those who could once be relied on to ventriloquise the intolerant martial bigotry of the popular press are no longer available for such ventures, especially if the supposed beneficiaries are, well, Muslims.
This loss of "imperial ardour", as Michael Ignatieff once called it, is devastating for those who seek khaki solutions to domestic woes. This Saturday will see a massive trade union-led demonstration against the austerity agenda in Britain. The TUC is calling it very conservatively, saying they expect 100,000 to attend. All signs are that it will be much bigger. The elements of Britain's shattered political make-up are still unsettled, still not reconfigured and re-polarised effectively; the opportunity is there either for a reactionary realignment based on Muslim and immigrant bashing, or for a leftist realignment based on the defence of welfare, public services, and trade unionism.