So: will the policy nastiness soon stop?

11th July 2021

Politics is often cyclical.

One goes through a period of illiberalism – and the temptation is to project that into a dismal future of ever-increasing illiberalism.

And then: just as things seem to be inevitably getting worse, there is a swing back to liberalism.

There is a vice versa, of course: periods of self-congratulation and liberal complacency collapse into illiberalism.

Every 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony is not long followed by a Brexit vote.

The difficult – if not impossible – thing is to know the difference.

Are things getting better, or are they going to get worse?

The inclusive solidarity as signified by the current England football team, as complemented by the defeat of the governing party in recent by-elections, could mean that the illiberal tide has stopped advancing.


Ot it could be a cause for false hopes.


One day, historians will posit that whatever does happen next as having been inevitable all along – even though those of us here at the time can only see a range of possibilities.

But as the government keeps pushing forward with illiberal bills – policing, immigration, whatever – and infantile ministers play with the fires of culture war, there are still hopeful signs that the nastiness has not yet fully prevailed.

And, although politics may be cyclical, a great deal is still down to human agency.

The illiberals can be defeated again – and whether they are defeated or not may come down to political actions by liberals now.

There is a tendency sometimes for people to wrongly think things are all over, when there are still goals to be scored.


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12 thoughts on “So: will the policy nastiness soon stop?”

  1. There is great inertia in the British public and consequently, it takes a lot to move people. I think that the sleaze, the incompetence, the cronyism, the sheer nastiness of the current government will impel the public to vote them out. Simply, I can’t believe that the present illiberalism is what most Brits wish to see: in a way, this creeping agenda is identical to Brexit: had the public known what a “leave vote” would produce and been able to see through the lies, we’d still be an EU member state.

    For most, politics is a colour check: Blue or Red (sometimes Orange or Green). The public imagines that it knows what these colours represent and a shift in that meaning takes time to be peceived. I doubt that many of the constituents of Patel, Duncan-Smith, Rees-Mogg or Leadsome actually like them and would back them if they jumped ship to another party (erm, UKIP, say…), yet they are regularly returned to parliament – just like the good citizens of Islington with Corbyn.

    The electorate eventually “wises up” and so the tide will turn, but the damage it has wrought in societal and economic terms will take a long time to repair.

    For those of us interested in politics and constitutional matters, we follow every turn in the story and find the glacial pace of public opinion hard to comprehend when the evidence of wrong is so clear.

  2. Thank you, Mr Green, for offering little rays of hope through the thick, murky, political gloom, however evanescent they might be. But what political actions could or should liberals take against this surging tide of illiberalism? Any solidarity created by current football hysteria will soon wither on the vine, and we will return to the grim realities of an 80-seat majority and a political narrative shaped by the baying hounds of the right-wing media. I hear no clarion calls to turn the tide, but if there are stirrings in the liberal undergrowth, I should be very glad to hear about them.

  3. The Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Title has come home to Great Britain for the first time since … checks notes … 2017.

    The final later today is a mere formality.

    An all British pairing will play a GB/USA team.

    Things can only get better …

  4. It would be a lousy historian who forgets about the range of possibilities perceived by those living in the moment in the past.

    Nothing is inevitable and there are no laws in history. The future is always uncertain because people can change it in the present.

    Having said that it is hard to see what would make Johnson’s Conservatives drop the culture war strategy that is a major part of what keeps them in power.

  5. A thoughtful post . And telling parallel between London 2012 and mood created by England Euro 2020 squad .

    But did the fundamentals of open inclusivity of 2012 really wane to the extent reflected in a public discourse dominated by a political clique supported by press cheerleaders and thinktankers who grabbed the levers of government ? Or were they always there , subordinated by a cabal skilled at setting a campaigning narrative, but incompetent at governing and unbridled in its willingness to ride roughshod over propriety, legality and accountability. Compounded by the inability or unwillingness of the institutions that should have been holding them to account to rise to the challenge .

    I suspect the fundamentals of open inclusivity weren’t eroded but drowned out in the bedlam of Brexit and Culture Wars . The latter are hopefully now being exposed as a divisive and diversionary confection which will have a lingering appeal for the Faragists and viewers of GB News but not a widespread one .

    The self evidently ludicrous claim that England were in effect a Team of Marxists is now being trampled underfoot in the headlong rush of the politicians who made it donning the England shirt and rushing to embrace the man who has emerged as a true leader : Southgate

    The public mood has reasserted itself as being at one with the team . Not the Government. Long may it last

    1. I know it’s easy to mock feelgood community stories, but the amount of reporting of “coming together” over the England team’s performance, overcoming any cultural or racial comunity boundaries, is a definite sign of grassroots

      Ultimately, we have a government of yobs with flares up their bums, while the population at large are on the pitch, taking the knee with the team. The current illiberal administration, like the thugs, command a disproportionate level of attention, but are fundamentally out of tune with the song of the country at large.

      This is the England team, not the In-gur-lund team.

      And the country is still England, not In-gur-lund, at least for now.

  6. I fear, David, that it will take a very long time.

    An article on the FT website this morning sums it up very well: “Hancock affair highlights opaque world of Whitehall non-execs” at For those who do not have an FT subscription, the leading BTL comment puts it very neatly:

    “The previously respected unwritten government culture of decency, politeness and understatement is being exploited by the corrupt ideological Tories.  British politics got by via gentleman’s agreement that one would not be a monster. The Tories have gleefully torn that up, appointing Brexiteer zealots and stooges whose only qualification is loyalty to the party.”

  7. Great swathes of the British public are psychologically dependent on the “greatness” of the UK to compensate for the generally dreary and disenfranchised nature of their day-to-day lives. They also have firm belief that the establishment is crucial to maintaining that greatness.

    The loss of that greatness will need to be as plain as a pikestaff (© DAG) to them before they turn on the establishment and bring about the necessary change.

  8. Footballers, tennis players, slebs of any sort are there to be milked of any warm glow publicity. A politician would be a fool not to. But drop when used up. Tonight’s footy may or may not deliver – we shall see. Two speeches at the ready.

    The political cycle I have seen over the last decade or three seems to have followed a pattern of emboldenment, hope, failure, scandal and sleaze and then boredom both by government and voters and more importantly media. Events, minor wars, financial crises pop up and die away and often kept a half dead government going for another term. This historic pattern means we alternated between Labour and Tory on a 30/70 basis. Incumbents lost through boredom and lack of energy.

    Things seem different now. What to me stands out at present is how in thrall our government is to the mass media – Mail, Telegraph, Sun. How the government (or its owners) seems determined to do down any competition from the BBC. How lost all political parties seem, nothing to say and nowhere to go. I have the feeling our government is in the pocket of the media rich list and has no stomach for anything that looks like ‘government’.

    This different world is not bothered by sleaze and scandal. There seems no hope nor any risk of failure, just a background drone of Covid and Brexit – hard to tell them apart really. We seem stuck. Going nowhere. So, what will suit the media rich? compulsory subscriptions? selling off The Archers and David Attenborough? – we shall see.

  9. I hope David is right, but it’s hard to see a route back from the current nightmare right now. I’m old enough to remember the bloody awful Thatcher years, but even that didnt feel like the whole system had been captured by illiberal fanatics, and there was genuine grass roots opposition to Tory ideology.

    This feels more like the process of death by a thousand cuts, described by Ece Temelkuram in her book “How To Lose A Country”. I think Brits need to face up to the reality of the situation, instead of perhaps indulging in a degree of complacent exceptionalism by hoping the tide will simply turn again.

    A good place to start might be with last week’s excellent article on “The Politics Of Lies” by Annette Dittert (London correspondent for German ARD). I think history has taught the Germans to be a little less inclined to complacency in these matters.


    English version:

    Incidentally, her piece was published before the latest revelations about Robbie Gibb’s role as Tory commissar in BBC recruitment. We’re still falling down the populist rabbit hole.

  10. I found myself becoming quite tribal during the Scottish and Brexit referendums.

    One of the tests is to ask: what are the pros and cons? If you ever find yourself unable to think of both then there’s something badly wrong.

    Speaking to one of my friends over lunch today, he said they we are both people who are used to be wrong. That’s something that is important to hold onto.

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