Cameron, Pork and Penda’s Fen

I’ve tried to avoid bringing up what he did to that poor dead pig, but David Cameron’s comments today were so irritating that I couldn’t stop it from bleeding into my rant. I was genuinely surprised that he’d sunk to this level of political tub-thumping, but I suppose I really shouldn’t be:

 Never mind that Jeremy Corbyn did explicitly say he thinks “the World Trade Centre was a tragedy” – of course he fucking did, he’s a reasonable human being as well as an anti-war campaigner. Or the fact that his description of Bin Laden’s extrajudicial killing (on Pakistan’s sovereign territory) as simply “another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy” appeared in the middle of a point about cycles of violence and the fact he wasn’t arrested and tried in court instead. Never mind that he said  “The solution has got to be law, not war,” that deranged extremist. He’s a threat to national security and everything we hold dear.

 If you’re opposed to the escalation of violence in the world rather than just seeking a cathartic “hoo-ra!” chest-bump, surely you can at least question the decision to kill Bin Laden on the spot rather than arresting him and dragging him in front of the courts, publicly detailing his crimes, denying him martyrdom. Cameron presents himself as the realist to Corbyn’s ranting extremist, but Corbyn’s position reflects a lucid realpolitik perspective as well as an ideological one. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed global power with a vital role to play in the neo-con “war on terror”, and as Anatol Lieven compellingly spells out in ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’, the only thing realistically likely to decisively turn them against a western power like the US would be a military incursion on their territory.

 As far as I can see, the only subtantial justification for this incredibly rash manoeuvre is if we accept Seymour Hersh’s scoop/wild allegation that Bin Laden was actually being held by the Pakistani ISI for political leverage, and an ISI officer gave up his whereabouts in exchange for a portion of the $25,000,000 reward. If this is the case, it makes sense to suppose the ISI would only give him up on the condition that the SEALs make sure they kill him, to cover up (a) the fact that the ISI were detaining him in the first place, and (b) the fact they gave him up to the Americans.

 If we *don’t* accept what the political establishment are quite happy to call a baseless conspiracy theory, the decision to send US troops into Pakistan was reckless and could only stoke an already rampant anti-Western sentiment. It also martyred a man who could just as well have been tried in an international court. It’s pretty reasonable to believe that reducing him to the figure of a wizened man in a jumpsuit and chains would’ve done more to undermine his romantic status as a mysterious, elusive radical than assassinating him and dumping his body in the sea.

 Cameron’s papering-over of this context is, of course, cynical and self-serving, but it also serves to naturalise a trend in US foreign policy that you could basically call ‘unilateral’. The fact the US military can rely on UK military support in most of these endeavours doesn’t really contradict the view that it’s unilateral, since we’re effectively just flying in the eagle’s shadow. Corbyn’s uncomplicated position seems to be that the UK should stop sending its military to bomb and/or invade other countries, linked to the belief that doing so is the primary cause of the kind of hostilities that lead to attacks against the UK itself. But in Cameron’s world, Corbyn’s belief that the UK should adhe to international law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is, itself, “security-threatening”.

 Despite the attempt to portray it as nothing more than the opium dream of a strung-out, ageing hippy, there’s a sober argument for scrapping Trident coming from the heart of the military establishment too. The UK’s National Security Strategy (2010) stated that terrorism, cyber-warfare and natural disasters pose far more credible threats to the UK than nuclear attack in the modern world (re: the Cold War ending several decades ago), and a group of senior officers have argued against its renewal on the grounds that reallocating the funds spent on this redundant symbol would actually strengthen the UK military in real terms:

 Media Lens dissect the mainstream media treatment of Corbyn’s position on Trident nice and neatly:

 As Richard Norton-Taylor noted in a recent Guardian article, even war-happy Tony Blair has said that “The expense is huge and the utility…non-existent in terms of military use.” He said he could clearly see the force of the “common sense and practical argument” against Trident, but in the end he thought that giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”…”

 This is what it’s really about for Cameron: status, not security. And ‘status’ is not a value-neutral phenomenon. No person or nation ever just has ‘status’ – it’s always status *as* something or other. This relates to another of Cameron’s slurs, the childish allegation that Corbyn is “Britain-hating”.

 Fundamentally, you can only accept that Corbyn hates Britain if you accept that what he opposes is synonymous with British identity. Foreign wars? They’re woven into the roots of our mighty oaks. Financial deregulation? It’s breathlessly urged in the song of every merry, red-breasted robin. The forces slowly eroding our affordable housing stock? The very same forces that hold up and polish the proud white cliffs of Dover.

 Obviously, clearly, this is total and utter bollocks, and predicated on a view that Britain is (and must be) internally defined by its ruling elite and the choices they make. Britain might be defined that way in the eyes of the outside world, but this is a matter of *appearance* rather than *essence*.

 Cameron would have been about 8 years old when the BBC broadcast ‘Penda’s Fen’, David Rudkin’s ground-breaking Play for Today, so he probably missed it. You can watch it here:

 The protagonist, Stephen, is a snooty right-wing moralist who’s obsessed with Edward Elgar and a vision of England calcified in the rural middle-class mores of the early 1970s. He wonders around his village with an adolescent certainty, lecturing all and sundry about “our Aryan national family” and its “Christian path”. He argues with his father, an enlightened and compassionate vicar, and sits fuming as a local farmer defends the miners’ strikes in a parish meeting: “Is it strikers who play monopoly for real with our countryside and cities? Is it strikers who smash the fabric of our communities for greed? Is it strikers who throw up in the air million after million of your taxes and mine on bungled delirium and fantasy? Is it strikers who pillage our earth, ransack it, drain it dry for quick gain, to hand on nothing but dust to the children of tomorrow?”

 Slowly realising that his own sexuality and heritage aren’t as fixed and ‘pure’ as he previously thought, Stephen has a series of supernatural visions, and his understanding of both his nation and himself begins to crack. Sitting on top of the Malvern hills, he’s approached by a creepy old couple who proclaim him a saviour, destined to lead the nation on a purifying mission. Finally seeing himself as he really is, he shouts at them, “No, no! I am nothing pure! Nothing pure. My race is mixed. My sex is mixed. I am woman and man, light with darkness, mixed, mixed. I am nothing special, nothing pure! I am mud and flame!” Angered at his betrayal of their vision for the nation, they set him on fire. Rolling down the hillside in pain, he impulsively cries out to Penda, the last pagan king of England, to rescue him. Penda duly appears in a pillar of fire and smoke. Dispatching the ‘purists’ who tried to freeze and define the nation, he addresses Stephen:

 “Stephen, be secret. Child be strange, dark, true, impure and dissonant. Cherish our flame.”

 For every attempt to essentialise British identity, the repressed fact of plurality will always resurface and resist it. Corbyn’s ideology is “Britain-hating” only in the same way Cameron’s is, in that it’s opposed to certain aspects of our society and how it’s organised. The difference is that Cameron sees what he hates as an extreme and threatening deviation from a Britishness that he alone gets to define.

 Wrapping his clammy fingers round the cold and slippery ears of a decapitated sow, shivering slightly as he eased Little David between its dead lips and found to his disquiet that something was stirring and heating up in its mouth, it’s entirely possible (and, you could reasonably go as far as saying, likely) that David Cameron shut his eyes and thought, “Ooh… This is classically British.”

 But he doesn’t get to nationalise himself and his own decisions in this way. It’s obviously in his interest to make it seem like he’s acting in accord with some essential part of the national spirit, as if the decision to cut tax credits, bomb Syria, sell arms to Saudi Arabia, and scrap the requirement for new developments to include affordable flats were scratched in the Magna Carta itself. But these decisions were as contingent and dependent on his place in a certain ideological milieu as his decision to approach that dead pig’s head and have his way with it, clenching his teeth while his cronies clapped and showered him with port.

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