A Story of Decline

Goodbye United Kingdom: Publisher’s Foreword

Josh White came of age under New Labour, when Britain was cool and things could only get better.

They were hoping for trainers. London Riots, August 2011.

 A working-class kid from the North, he moved south to London, to study and find work in the ensuing decade of austerity. 

It shows in the remarkable range of White’s journalism. 

Josh White has a unique ability to pinpoint the dividing lines of UK politics, and analyse them objectively from all sides — left/right, Labour/Conservative, working/ruling class, Remain/Leave. 

He experienced close-up a tumultuous period of political and societal upheaval, especially for his generation. And yet, the journalist has an ability to explain events with objective, clear-eyed precision, and a prescience that belies his years. 

That’s not to say that White is dispassionate. He doesn’t hide his socialist politics. On the contrary, he uses it to help his readers understand the Labour Party, why the Corbyn project failed and what is needed to revive the country’s fortunes.

If the Labour Party wants to go further to resolving this crisis, the leadership will have to embark on an ambitious project of democratic reform.

Equally, Josh White charts with aplomb the fall and rise of consecutive Conservative Party leaders over the last decade. 

He leaves no doubt that nationalism has taken over the party under the premierships of David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson. He also lays bare the motivation of the Vote Leave architects behind Britain’s departure from the EU.

After decades on the margins, the Eurosceptic rebels finally have control. They can run a live experiment on British society. The good news is that Brexit is the first right-wing project doomed to fail in decades. The bad news is it will take the rest of us with it.

Of course, no analysis of the Brexit years would be complete without the phenomenon that is Nigel Farage. 

White tracks down the founder of the UK Independence Party, Alan Sked, a European history and politics professor who seems somewhat surprised by the Frankenstein he created. 

Understanding why and how UKIP was founded helps to show that Farage only ever used it as a vehicle to further his nationalist ambition, as his jettisoning of UKIP and the successor Brexit Party would show. 

Where Josh White is perhaps most compelling, is in his portrayal of so-called Red Wall or left-behind communities, using his personal experience to explain the disaffection of traditional Labour voters. 

What allows the right to dominate working-class politics is this decline in popular participation. It’s time to make a sharp turn and head back for the left behind.

He also captures the shortcomings of his own profession, exposing the right-wing press for shoring up the ruling classes and protecting their mutual interests.

In one of the final essays in Goodbye United Kingdom, Josh White reviews Tony Blair’s legacy twenty-five years on, with a scathing account of the political fallout over Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol, the final effects of which are still to play out. 

It makes for sobering reading. The feel-good years of New Labour heralded much hope for a better, fairer society, now all but undone by subsequent years of libertarian ideology. 

So where does that leave post-Brexit UK? 

White predicts a united Ireland and independent Scotland are inevitable outcomes of Westminster politics dominated by English exceptionalism and Eton schoolboys. 

The UK is not long for this world. Scotland and Northern Ireland could both secede in the future. Wales is reinventing itself. And England is lost in a search for its own national story.

In the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, the United Kingdom looks out of date and in need of renewal. Could a change of monarch herald a new era of modern, even republican politics? 

It seems unlikely, though not impossible. 

Unfortunately, the UK is halfway between the realm of pixies on the one hand and a modern capitalist democracy on the other. In other words, we’re stuck with the House of Windsor and the family values of Henry VIII.

What is certain is that Josh White will be on hand to chronicle events, and expose them for what they are. 

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.