The death of Queen Elizabeth II signals the tolling bell of the United Kingdom, from empire to island. Amongst the nation is both a yearning sadness for a monarch representative of the remaining vestiges of duty, stewardship and historical connection, while at the same time a deep ambivalence as the cultural and economic destruction of Britain happened under her rule. As a figurehead, much of this cannot laid at her feet but at the same time there was never any indication of revulsion at the “evolution” of Britain. They needn’t dissolve Parliament or become actively political to criticise the direction of the country. But it never happened, with each speech proclaiming the remaining greatness of Britain and the strength of its national character. What this evoked was a similar feeling to American exceptionalism: a proclamation of being the greatest nation on earth while a vast underclass is starved, drugged and ignored and wealth seeps out into tax havens and coastal gated communities. Such greatness is a mask for national decline and widespread anomie.
This so-called greatness raises a more fundamental question though: is the UK even a country anymore? Increasingly it is a patchwork of autonomous governing institutions with abstract remits, whether they be universities, regulatory agencies, charities or think tanks. Vast policy-making and legislative organisations that have limited accountability and selective memberships/employment. There is no significant manufacturing or industrial base beyond a few industrial conglomerations that are foreign owned and/or sold off on the cheap either by government or via their approval. We are significantly behind in industrial capacity for things like electricity generation, battery production and domestic energy. Our economy is reliant on retail and services (primarily financial services) which limits productivity and produces a labour market quagmire as individuals must remain mobile automatons on precarious contracts, moving from city to city to procure short-term work to pay for cramped living space at extortionate rental rates. No one can progress and stay fixed to a domesticity, instead following a jagged line of property prices and wage squeezes. There is now almost no hope of the millennial generation ever owning its own property. Both governmentally and privately the only thing the UK produces is debt.
Culturally Britain is nothing. There is no culture to speak of. Instead a vast fragmentation of national identity linked to cosmopolitan tastes and a denuded sense of “Britishness” persist in frivolities like food, mannerisms and sports. There is no connection to the land either ethnically or religiously, as a majority of Brits now identify as atheist and with various community pockets proclaiming Britishness while originating from foreign religions and cultures. This isn’t multiculturalism or pluralism so much as barely concealed chaos, as British identity becomes an anachronism codified in tourist centres and airport lounges. Educationally we are stagnant, with the job of education to connect children to their place within a nation and citizenry now subsiding in favour of the teaching of gender perversions and a hodgepodge of history completely separated from British contexts, whether it be the Holocaust or the American Civil Rights Movement. We now produce increasing levels of violent crime and anti-social behaviour packaged in musical exports and true crime video reels.
While my description may appear parochially English, I don’t see much hope for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland either. Their desires for independence so as to remove themselves from the grotesque tumour of Westminster will only metastasise the cancer they seek to escape. An independent Scotland or Wales will simply become another outcrop for financial capital, energy companies (who will rape their natural resources) and either America or the European Union (or both). Their nationalities are as patchwork and denigrated as the English, with the beauty of their landscapes sliced open by larger A roads to facilitate more tourism, the only meaningful industry outside large cities. They will becomes nodes in what Paul Kingsnorth calls the grid, “a physical manifestation of the values of the Machine on the landscape itself. It is, I think, replacing the nation, just as it is replacing culture and antiquated notions of ‘tradition’ and the like”.
The country described by me and my wife’s elders, of which I felt the faintest traces growing up and which can still be seen in the few remaining prosperous towns and the remaining natural landscapes, is dying. The religion I was christened and confirmed in, the national church, is practically dead, its commitment to the gospels replaced in favour of a liberal piety. We are now just a place, a financial and logistical hub that facilitates movements of goods and people between megalopolises. We are a nation of concrete and rust, crumbling and disintegrating due to years of short-term thinking and malinvestment. We are a nation of inner-city ferality and deep mistrust, as different languages and worlds sidle past each other in shopping centres and workplaces. The death of Queen Elizabeth II was not the final nail in the coffin. The coffin was long buried and has rotted since. Her death signalled the true frailty of a practically non-existent national character, a dilapidated economic and cultural infrastructure.
There is no future for Britain. Brexit showed how impotent a true independent nation is when governed by a managerial and consultant class that believes solidarity can be constructed through sloganeering and an economy can be run entirely through a McKinsey-esque sinecure. While my description of what Britishness has become may betray a romanticism of the past, I would say romanticism is necessary. A nation without the romantic is a house with no foundation. But there is no returning to that past. There can be only a reckoning (or series of) that shake the foundations of a dead country, removing the last vestiges of life that our elite can still prop up as examples of vitality. What the future holds is unclear, but removing the tumour of our existing nation will involve deep pain and malaise as our debt-ridden, inflationary and decrepit society is torn open. We will need more than just God to save us now.