Britain: A beleagured Regime
Erik Empson and Arianna Bove
Now that the cameras point at Iraq the government can finally breathe. Having engineered this ‘crisis’ they have a brief respite to assess how their machines perform. Diplomacy turns to war talk. Up a gear, information is controlled, heavier filters on the lenses; more selective reporting, speculation, the uncritical adoption of the vocabulary of established power and the indiscriminate throwing of mud in the hope some will stick. But the more they concentrate on Iraq the more it begins to appear that neither the country nor its leader, neither its weapons nor its civilians, position highly in Western interests. This war is in place, it takes place, it operates in a space, but that space is much more than Iraq. Its precedent lies in the generalised domestic crises of advanced democracies that generate an intensification of control and re-territorialisation of command. Long on the boil the natural fluids of the neural networks of bio-power need to let off steam. And so, like the mad steed Bucephalus, the vanguard nation of America chomps at the bit and crazily stomps and kicks at its own shadow. Iraq is one such place where the bloated cadaver of Western Imperial command continues to block out the light. Who needs Saddam Hussein to persecute, starve and demoralise his people when we have the UN sanctions regime? Who needs their mandate when the no-fly zone has for the last 10 years effectively disabled Iraq’s capacity to defend itself from the blitzkrieg of aerial assault?
Many people have rightly seen through the hypocritical drivel that is seeping out of our moribund state. The more this is the case, the more desperate does the rhetoric become. Grappling for consensus the spin-doctors of the Blair regime attempted the old trick of making the issue a question of the Prime Minister’s leadership. They attempt to twist the political issue back to the manageable surface of mediatised politics. We are familiar now with this pious yet bashful, priestly yet humble persona of a blue eyed peoples’ princess who is, albeit naively, desperate but genuinely trying to please all of the people all of the time. For a long time people have bought this image, but this cannot continue. A little political background: the ‘modernised’ Labour Party’s defeat of the Tories in 1997 was a negative victory and yet the inner vacuity of this new on-message stylisation of politics remained largely concealed. In reality its ‘modernisation’ was the restructuring of its traditional mediating role appropriate to the technocratic centralisation and disassembly of the conventional apparatus of power. Having had little experience of government and little of real political struggles other than internal ones the Labour Party have struggled with this fear of their own incompetence at administering the affairs of state, alongside the more terminal problems of Britain’s declining stature on the world stage. In this impasse the false impression of having a project cracks up - the administration desperately need a triumph against an external threat to retain any coherence. For Blair this problem is acute his visionary blue eyed approach does not square with the grandeur and authority of the state built upon imperial history, it actually undermines it. The more Blair plays on being a man of the people the less capable he is to perform when his actions go strongly against the wishes of the people. Commentators talk of this war as a test of his leadership. The mistake we all make is to reduce the issue of his political impasse to the question of his personality. In truth the British people on the whole no longer take Blair seriously, and he now can not even please some of the people all of the time. Beleaguered and beset by crisis after crisis where pain from one area abates only to make room for more severe pain from another quarter, the Labour regime is stricken by a permanent crisis of legitimacy and authority. The domestic failure of democracy forces the government to find the cause of its instability elsewhere, and Iraq is the best approximation to the nemesis that is in reality its own cancer. In the midst of this chaos, as the military operation unfolds through friendly and unfriendly fire, the PR labour of the management of expectations is handed over to the embedded media. But this is a media embedded in the psychological dispositions of crisis state, a media that feeds off the spurious disputes of Party politics and is ill disposed to offer the necessary reassurance that all is under control. Recently Blair has conspicuously been taken off our screens – his false words, constipated speech and embarrassing inarticulation in a non- valedictory context have simply begun to nauseate a public that aspired to believe an alternative was possible. Blair’s fumbled return to the old regime of disciplinary power is a major blow to one of his most powerful constituencies, those that desire the passage to Empire.
Yet we have been caught up in the spectacular manufacture of war and we continue to look to Iraq for the answers; the whole shoal of red herrings like weapons of mass destruction, combatants dressed as civilians and the ludicrous speculation that effects the mind like a dripping tap in a hollow room. It has always been the strategy of the coalition to convince us that the dynamic of this war arose somewhere in Baghdad rather than London, Washington, Paris and Berlin. We protested ‘stop the war’ when somehow we knew it was inevitable. ‘Hands off Iraq’ is to protest for the impossible. We protested so much because since the beginning of the war on terrorism we have been paying a higher price for our complacent surrender of power to an administration that has descended into a Machiavellian spectacle set in a zoo. The common sense monopoly over the definition of the enemy, the nature of the threat and the appropriate response has likewise shattered any misconception that our antiquated belief in the ‘public’ would renaissance under the Blair regime. We seek to reclaim a voice but find that we speak in words that have been sold, genetically modified or safely recuperated. Pushed to its extreme this tells us something that we don’t want to hear: in so far as we support the export of the damaged democratic goods of our control society, so long as we continue to value them, we are silencing ourselves. To see this as a war waged just against Iraq is an inadequate response. It is equally a war waged against us. Confrontation is currently taking the form of an attempt to narrow the democratic deficit, the very ground the government needs to recapture. Tied to the language of representation and to an imaginary and spectacular space this cannot be the only response. It continues to reinforce the misconception that the cause of war is due to extraneous forces rather than the very contradictory internal impulse of the control paradigm, where power is continually an exception to its own formal postures of justice and legality. Where this exception has become the normality, it shows that the separation of the social from the political becomes itself a mechanism of control. Acceptance of this tacit conferrence of power ultimately shows itself amidst the Schrecklichkeit of military bombardment of Iraq and media bombardment at home. Where might is equal to right, the ‘political’ dissolves into farce. Consensus in the ‘political’ is always underwritten with this threat of force. This is beyond democracy and dialogic reason, the continuation of politics by other means. Rather than trying to make it accountable to itself we must hurry the demise of this paradigm, its institutions and its false appropriation of the will of a ‘people’ – Iraqi, British, American alike. This imperialist backlash from our redundant western regimes is a dire and ineffective response to multitudes already disposed to think and act beyond the obsolescent units of nation-states and towards global social being. For many reasons Britain is suffering this crisis acutely, and whilst negative campaigning might assuage our dismay at what is done in ‘our name’, it is more than ever important to show that this ‘we’ as a simple identity is precisely that fork tongued mythical artefact that carries the trident of legitimacy, representation and war.
Erik Empson and Arianna Bove - April 3, 2003