The UK is divided, a prime minister is attempting to rule, but the ‘rabble’ is unruly. History tells us what a successful strategy divide and rule has been but are we seeing it ignominiously failing because Theresa May and the key people in her cabinet neither have popular leadership qualities nor the ability to consolidate their power as a body of authority? They have inherited the division created by predecessors but they are failing to rule by drawing the divided back together as a coherent population who will accept their rule.
Divide and rule, sometimes expressed as divide and conquer’, is a concept we took (apparently) and I long ago learned about in classical studies from Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, διαίρει καὶ βασίλευε, that was handed down to us via the Latin dīvide et īmpera. The Romans used it often, it was the strategy for conquering Macedonia and other once powerful kingdoms, however the real coup was that during the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar used a divide and rule strategy to defeat the militarily much stronger Gauls. When they united for the first time ever under the leadership of Vercingetorix it was already too late for them to defeat the Romans.
The Vercingetorix statue in Cermont-Ferrand, France
Niccolò Machiavelli recognised it as a military strategy, in his ‘Dell’arte della guerra’ when a commanding officer divides the forces of the enemy, typically by making him suspicious of his own men or bring him to the belief that he needs to separate his forces so that he can prevent rival groups destroying his strategy, in fact making his forces weaker, thus losing battles and the entire war. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his essay ‘Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf’ used three concepts in his first appendix: dīvide et īmpera is the third of three key political maxims. The others are ‘fac et excusa’, ‘act now and make your excuses later’ and ‘si fecisti, nega’, ‘if you commit a crime, deny it’. In the case of the present UK government the actions are not credible and all excuses seem futile; rather than deny the ‘crime’ of lies and misinformation up to the EU membership referendum and also its true status, rather than deny anything May’ entire government and, indeed, the supposed opposition are colluding with, they are ignoring. So, neither responsibility nor denial to satisfy those demanding explanations and perhaps amends is forthcoming.
The youth and nostalgia
Division has also occurred within the parties that have been at the root of divisiveness. The Conservative Party is divided by right wingers who appear to suffer from illusions of ‘British’ grandeur that are seemingly driven by nostalgia. They appear to have omitted to accept that the UK’s position in the world, its might and wealth are the creation of the once vast British Empire. It decline began in 4 July 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and proclaimed by the Continental Congress when thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire. The American Revolution of 1765 to 1783, seven years beyond the Declaration of Independence was a political uprising in which colonists in the American Colonies rejected British monarchy and aristocracy, beginning in 1765 when members of American colonial society rejected the authority of the British Parliament to tax them and create other laws that directly affected them without colonial representation in the government in England. Whilst it was a long time until other nations broke away or were given independence the Empire is littered with uprisings and independence movements until the 1960s. It was only a few years until the UK was to join the then European Economic Community, or Common Market, in 1973 that included the desire that ‘ever closer union’ expressed in the opening words of the 1957 Treaty of Rome. There were clearly opponents then, some now elderly sages among the right wing who have never relented in their opposition. They are in fact a very vocal minority who have a younger following who appear to have adopted the same nostalgia for what can never be recovered.
This small number of people has been aided and abetted by the growth of a new political movement and party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP. Somehow or other and intentionally or unwittingly the interplay between them has attracted a following that has fallen for messages that do not actually bear our scrutiny as a rule yet appeal for reasons targeted and exploited successfully. UKIP started out as the Anti-Federalist League which was a Eurosceptic party set up in 1991 by the by formerly Liberal historian Alan Sked that was renamed in 1993. After the 1997 general election and coming behind James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in most of the contests, Sked was forced to resign. He alleged infiltration by racist and far right groups including by the BNP, a connection that was highlighted in the press, especially because Nigel Farage was photographed meeting BNP activists. Michael Holmes took over as party leader.
In the 1999 European Parliament elections they gained enough of the vote under the new proportional representation system to take three seats. In South East England, Nigel Farage, South West England, Michael Holmes and the East of England, Jeffrey Titford became MEPs. There was an internal power struggle between Holmes and the National Executive Committee (NEC) led by Farage which removed Holmes from office, Titford was elected leader but then they lost a lot of support to the Conservatives in the 2001 general election. In 2002, former Conservative MP Roger Knapman was elected leader, which lasted until chat show host Robert Kilroy-Silk who had become heavily involved in UKIP criticised his leadership. Farage and another member backed Knapman, so Kilroy-Silk defected from the party in 2005 to form Veritas, taking some supporters including London Assembly members with him. In 2006, Farage was elected leader, broadened their image so that they were no longer a single issue party by introducing a number of socially conservative policies including reducing immigration, cutting taxes, restoring grammar schools and denying climate change. In September 2009, Farage resigned as leader. The subsequent election was won by Malcolm Pearson who targeted high immigration rates and the ‘Islamisation’ of the UK but he was unpopular with the grassroots, who viewed him as an establishment figure too favourable to the Conservatives.
Are you in or out?
After the 2010 general election he stood down and Farage was re-elected. At the 2014 local elections they won 163 seats, it gained its first MP when Conservative defector Douglas Carswell won Clacton at a by-election after he resigned his Tory membership and thus the seat. In the 2015 general election Farage stated that he would resign as party leader if he did not win South Thanet, thus failing to do so he resigned, although was reinstated three days later when the NEC rejected the resignation. After the EU referendum, Farage resigned again. Diane James was elected as successor, but resigned after 18 days. He was again interim leader until November, when his former deputy, Paul Nuttall, was elected and pledged to win votes from Labour. They have divided the Labour movement by winning over large parts of the people they should be representing. They have also divided the Tories who were at one stage running scared of them. Now the anti-EU factions have been emboldened by their message and also see that as a vindication of their position. However, UKIP itself has divided several times, especially at the top. Most of those who have been elected to the leadership have left after losing or resigning that position. Feuds between factions and intolerance of ‘moderates’ has seen the party hierarchy at odds with itself; there too seeing defections and resignations.
So, it is a party divided within its own ranks that thrives on attracting media attention, even when another leader resigns and Farage returns. They use recurrent populist rhetoric which is dressed up by describing policies as ‘common sense’ and ‘straight talk’ in order to present itself as a straightforward alternative to mainstream parties. Farage, despite being the son of a City stockbroker, educated at an independent school, worked in the City as a commodity trader at the London Metal Exchange, then Drexel Burnham Lambert, Crédit Lyonnais Rouse, Refco and Natexis Metals presents himself as an ordinary man of the people, who goes to the pub for a pint, who smokes and would allow that back in pubs and thus wins the support of those who feel they have nobody to speak for them. He has himself targeted predominantly working class areas yet despite his apparent popularity has failed to be elected to parliament five times. His fellow party members have been unsuccessful with Carswell the exception having stayed in the constituency he had already represented in parliament as a Tory. In general Farage has nurtured the ordinary bloke image and worked on topics that were already or easy to make popular thus win support among the economically and socially depressed ‘lower classes’. The movement of Labour away from representing the working classes to a safe, middle of the road and even to an extent right leaning party has given UKIP their support on a plate. Thus, divide and rule is their strategy, but history has prepared us. Famously the banking magnate J.P. Morgan commented after the Great Depression:
‘When through a process of law the common people have lost their homes, they will be more tractable and more easily governed by the strong arm of the law applied by the central power of leading financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principle men now engaged in forming an imperialism of [crony] capitalism to govern the world. By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us.’
Yes Minister for real
The outcome is that we now have the Tories as Farage and UKIP has reshaped them, with Cameron as the apparently hapless victim, not that he wasn’t weak as a strategist let alone politician and leader to begin with. Now that Cameron is gone, although smaller and weaker, the right that has been loudest and given the impression it was far more powerful, with media exploiting that but in chain becoming the organ of the right, it has led us to where we are. The commanders, in a Machiavellian sense, not just Theresa May but including Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and other obvious names, have morally committed crimes by the level and extent of the lies they used and look like they will continue to get away with. Using media particularly, the opposition has been treated like the Gauls so that whilst they have their Vercingetorix in Corbyn, there are still too many factions who do not know how to or still do not want to fight alongside the ‘chieftain’, so are losing. More real Machiavellian tactics include how May is acting now and will make her excuses later, but it will not matter if it is too late and, thus, irreparable. She is clearly a temporary leader, despite all of the ambitions and predictions she would one day lead the Tories, she is proving to be a poor negotiator and constantly has her foot in her mouth. She is also gullible as the appointment of Johnson, Davis and Fox shows. A PM makes decisions on the basis of the advice she is given, ‘Yes Minister/Prime Minister’ is far closer to the truth than some people imagine. Her civil servant advisers were presumably guided toward her numerous poor choices by forces as yet unknown with the ultimately goal of divide and rule working to the advantage of their less powerful but highly influential faction.
The real enemy is not an ethnic, political, religious individual or group. Thus Islam, migrants and so on are almost pure political and media inventions, at least highly convenient scapegoats. They exist, but are blown up disproportionately to present as a real threat and at that one that threatens people at the bottom of the social order most of all. The real enemy is the message those who are attempting to divide in order to rule people by propagating an ‘us against them’ ideology that gives the impression it is turning it round to become ‘we the people’ against the ruling elite(s) and their tools such as dominating media. In fact, the ruling elite are using the rhetorical devise of calling liberals who are not in step with them some kind of hegemony and liberal media that is critical poses a threat. Hence The Guardian is branded anti-people whilst the Daily Express, Daily Mail and similarly right wing oriented news media are able to use every lie, exaggeration and overemphasis available as their distorted version of the truth that divides in order to enable rule.
In terms of the kind of propaganda that is used to divide the population, the right to have a passport that shows that you are a national of a member state of the EU will not end until the last one of the red passports is renewed for an England and Wales one only, Scots perhaps with EU and Northern Irish people are entitled to Irish nationality anyway. European citizenship per se does not exist; in fact it is a useful rhetorical device in the hands of propagandists. Yes, the Maastricht Treaty does introduce the concept, but as attempts to allow UK citizens to extend that after a Brexit show it is not an actual status to use in that way. Look at your passport and any other document and you will never find it. You are born a national of a state, become a (full) citizen when you have all rights including complete political franchise. The notion of actual EU citizenship would depend on the member countries forming a federation, something Brexiters fear more than anything else really.
What the media use is merely deliberate distraction. So, somehow discernment is necessary every step of the way to making people become active and taking back the power that is being stolen. Is that a revolutionary proposition? No, because revolutions depend on divide and rule as well as the French and Russian Revolutions, how allegiances were formed and betrayed for a minority to usurp power illustrate very well. May and her people need to be shown up as liars and failures. That takes a lot of effort and, of course, converting the popular media to that position with proprietors who are part of the hegemony who are leading people against the established order as it is, is an almost insurmountable problem. However, May is her best own weapon and there we all need to be vigilant and step in first when she makes one of her really big mistakes that can be immediately turned against her and drag the pro-Brexit shadowy forces down.
So, the logic behind any idea such as an ‘associate citizenship’ that has been floated is unlikely to be possible. However, Brexiters are now kicking up a fuss that if it was ever allowed it would be discriminatory because they would not have it. They want out of the EU but they do not want people who want out of the UK to choose to remain part of the EU. They are even critical, albeit cautious, about people taking the nationality of countries they live in but to propose remaining ‘British’ but also keeping an EU status somehow goes against their will. The largely English extremist factions are even telling the other parts of the UK what they will do because they say, so much for a union of separate countries. What they say about the SNP being nationalists and they are not is so absurd it defies logic. They are English nationalists in all but name who wish to stamp their authority on anybody who defies their word but woe on the Scots for using the word ‘nationalist’ in their national party that has nearly always been left of centre and had a mandate to seek independence since its founding in 1934. In the June 2016 referendum 62% of the population on a 67.2% turnout in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. In real terms it is almost two thirds of over two thirds of a notional 100% turn out which always shows that 60% plus range in any projection. Including voters aged 16 and 17 who were granted the right to vote in all Scottish elections on the same day they were refused the vote in the EU referendum, a large pro-EU demographic group, plus the voters outside the UK excluded by either the 15 year rule or other exclusions. In real terms the majority would have almost certainly grown in percentage terms. Northern Ireland had 55.8% of a 62.7% turnout; again any projection shows that retaining the results proportionately against a projected 100% turnout plus adding excluded groups that the majority would have almost certainly grown as in Scotland. The overall turnout across the UK was 72.2% with a 51.9% over 48.1% leave majority. In electoral terms it represents only 34.4% of turnout, however allowing for exclusions again the margin would be substantially reduced.
When David Cameron resigned despite saying he would stay on if the leave vote won, he allowed a far more reactionary right wing element in his party to claim absolute victory. When Theresa May was able to walk into the party leadership because all other candidates withdrew, she stepped out of the remain camp into the most fervent leave faction. Her appointments to senior cabinet posts appear to represent the leave side of her party more than remain. She has also divided the Tories in a succinct way in order to rule, which has worked to the extent that now the parliamentary majority who were pro-remain have been forced into being party loyal, thus supporting Brexit. The opposition, at least the largest party Labour, has ceased to oppose and has declared its support for May’s invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Liberal Democrats, Greens and SNP who are steadfastly remain are being branded traitors. The latter represents Scotland and thus the pro-remain majority in that country. May has gradually escalated what started as discussions with Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, into what is becoming an aggressive standoff whereby she is telling Scotland they will have no choice but to do as they are told as part of the UK. Whilst not as well publicised and not quite as aggressive Northern Ireland are being told more or less the same.
Banking on a lie
At the same time, since the referendum experts have been told their opinions count for nothing, foreign economists working in the UK were told they had no right to express views anyway. The majority of the economic and intellectual base of the UK opposes the government position. As the financial sector gradually prepares to move, the government pays little heed to the warning signs. The same with manufacturing although Nissan have been offered an ‘incentive’, which one might well call a bribe, to stay and develop their Sunderland manufacturing base. However, how far can such incentives be offered and will the government honour whatever it has promised Nissan anyway? Meanwhile the import and export sectors are already noticing negative changes, despite the drop in the value of the pound against the Euro trade is not picking up with EU countries. Then the academic sector that was always opposed to leaving is now up in arms as they are particularly threatened by research grants being lost, academic exchanges too and then on top of that what may happen to the all important foreign students who bring the universities massive incomes. Even agriculture and fisheries are beginning to notice that they will lose massive funding and support from Europe.
Trouble in the territories
Yet the incumbent government appears not to wish to hear. The principle of divide and rule that UKIP and the extremes of right and left set in chain are failing. Divisions are growing and whilst May believes her autocratic style will win over, it is in fact her almost dictatorial attitude that people are beginning to doubt. She very clearly appears to be failing. Her negotiating ‘team’ for leaving the EU is proving to only increase the rate of division. May is acting as though her autocratic way of approaching Brexit will win over and thus rule will be restored. In fact, Scotland is moving closer to a new and potentially successful referendum, Northern Ireland is not happy about how they have been treated and, not to be forgotten, Gibraltar wishes to remain a UK territory but under no circumstances leave the EU. Banks and other financial institutions are known to be examining new locations on the European mainland; some are expanding existing facilities whilst others are pitching for sizeable office buildings. Some manufacturing industries are moving in a similar direction. It would appear that the government is also oblivious to that fact that vast parts of both sectors are largely or entirely foreign owned and often by EU country companies. Also, several large concerns are more engaged in manufacturing for the large EU market than domestically. It would not be in their interest to stay.
So, where is it all going? It is becoming a confused mess. May has recently failed in her mission when she went to India, other potential trade partners are watching. She has set her mark on that and will achieve nothing worth calling a success. So, many people with key skills who are uncertain about their position will seek employment elsewhere as the UK declines and their residency becomes less certain. The divide and rule principle May has spoken of which is to use EU people in the UK and UK people throughout the EU as ‘bargaining chips’ has backfired. The UK has also expressed a view that the EU is failing, something not borne out recently on the continent, another divide strategy that is failing. Public opinion appears to be steadily turning against the outcome of the referendum yet the govern refuses to either contemplate dropping leaving plans or holding a new referendum. The UK has lost friends among the other 27 nations in the EU as many of them have realised, the UK does not just want bread but butter and jam on it without letting anybody sit at the same table and, above all else, expecting somebody to get and serve it for them. A recent EU meeting that saw Theresa May apparently ignored and left alone when the meeting ended and her absence from the dinner that followed casts her as a poor representative of the UK, dragging the reputation of the country down with her. The government does not wish to see or hear changes in opinion on Europe, will not accept the demands being made by countries within the UK who are not being ruled but seeing divisions only growing. Thus moving away from the divide and rule principle to a ‘unite and concede’ one should be on the table. At its own peril Theresa May is leading the UK into an even deeper mess. The UK lacks an opposition that would pull the political brakes and now failing even to attempt what Vercingetorix did unsuccessfully. Looking back now, what UKIP set in chain has divided not only the electorate but has worried the political establishment so much that they now emulate that party rather than follow the lead of their party heroes such as Churchill and Thatcher who were pro-Europe and saw the best future of the UK united with continental neighbours. All in all, with exception of three minority parties in parliament, the UK is no longer governed but is in the hands of people who are attempting to shepherd the population. As with all large flocks, sheep are beginning to escape and form small flocks that go back to where the grass is greener. 2017 is going to be very interesting, divisions almost inevitably growing and any possibility of rule lost to confusion and disorder.
Niccolò Machiavelli must be producing something akin to an earthquake as he laughs raucously in his grave. Despite all attempts to be Machiavellian in her attempts to make Brexit mean Brexit by the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct. Of Immanuel Kant’s three political maxims ‘si fecisti, nega’, ‘if you commit a crime, deny it’ appears to be the only one that applies as yet, although ‘fac et excusa’, ‘act now and make your excuses later’ may be pertinent given that sooner or later she will have a lot of explaining to do and it is unlikely they will be for positive reasons. Dīvide et īmpera is a fast dwindling aspiration as īmpera becomes increasing unlikely whilst the idiom ‘divident et non stabit’, roughly speaking ‘divide and fail’, seems to work far better. Likewise the prime mister’s forays in Brussels seem to be quite appropriately, to misuse a well known maxim, a case of ‘veni, vidi, perii’, ‘I came, I saw, I perished’, since the divisions between the UK and the EU are mounting and simultaneously those within the UK itself growing.
As I was finishing writing this I saw a news item saying Theresa May has made clear in parliament that MPs will not be given a vote on the final Brexit deal negotiated during two years of talks with representatives of the other 27 countries in the EU. Therewith she announced the divisions she is upholding are about to be prised even further apart. Another news item said that after promising workers’ rights would not be affected by leaving the EU, there is now Tory pressure on May to introduce hard line anti-strike legislation, the first step on a slippery slope toward further division. The referendum was about the EU, what has happened since that can be attributed back to what began on 24 June 2016, the day the UK began to fall apart when 51.9% of 72.2% of the electorate, give or take a few thousands unjustly excluded who may well have voted, advised parliament that they preferred division to union.