A central feature of the cultural hegemony of our ‘new elite’ is that it is sustained by pharisaical levels of hypocrisy. We’re currently being treated to an example of this in the form of the Suella Braverman non-crisis that is dominating the airwaves, and which provides what it is nowadays fashionable to call a ‘teachable moment’.
To briefly explain for overseas readers: Suella Braverman was until today the Home Secretary here in the U.K. On Wednesday last week, she wrote a piece for the Times (available behind the paywall here) in which she expressed some fairly mild criticism of the way in which protests in London were being policed. Her accusation, which almost anybody will notice to be true, was that the Metropolitan Police simply don’t treat all protests on the streets of London in the same way. If it’s BLM it’s kid gloves. But when it’s anti-lockdown protestors, it’s truncheons and tear gas. Braverman then reminded the police that it was important to enforce the law properly when it comes to pro-Palestinian marches (a large one of which having been planned for, and since carried out, last Saturday).
The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed was truly extraordinary. Braverman, it seemed, was violating an ironclad principle of the English constitution, which is that it is never acceptable for a member of the Government to say anything whatsoever that might be interpreted as havig anything to do with police ‘operational matters’. Braverman’s article, it was hinted darkly, was setting us on the slippery slope towards a police state, in which the Government orders the police who to arrest and directs the force to silence political enemies. This was categorically something up with which we could not put. And today Braverman has duly been dismissed from the Cabinet.
Of course, there is no such ironclad principle of the English constitution – or, if there is, it is one which is routinely ignored by everybody. British readers will cast their minds back a mere nine years, and recall the then-Home Secretary Theresa May turning up at a police conference in Bournemouth to accuse them of having “contempt for the public” and to call them out for their racism – particularly in reference to ‘stop and search’ tactics – and sexism. Or they might cast their minds back a bit further to remind themselves of then-Home Secretary Jack Straw’s comments expressing concern about “wide variation” around the country in the way in which police were using “out of court” penalties. Fresher faced readers might recall Matt Hancock when he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Care “backing the police” who fined two innocent Derbyshire women for daring to go for a walk together around a lake during the winter lockdown of 2020-21 (one of many, many, many, many, many interventions by Government ministers in what would properly have been called ‘operational matters’ during the lockdown era, a large proportion of which seemed to concern whether somebody should be arrested for eating a scotch egg in a pub, or something). In none of these cases was the politician in question sacked from the Government, and in none of these cases did the columnists at the Guardian unite in mass fits of pearl-clutching. There was a bit of mild finger-wagging directed at Hancock regarding the Derbyshire incident, but he suffered absolutely no political consequences for his comments. I don’t recall there being anything said about Theresa May’s comments about stop-and-search in 2014 other than praise for her ”bravery“.
It is difficult to express in polite terms, then, what utter bollocks it is to claim that there is some supreme constitutional norm holding that it is illegitimate for an elected politician, or even a member of the Government, to remind the police that their job is to evenhandedly enforce the law. If anything, the truth is the opposite: this is among the job of elected politicians, and rightly so. The separation of powers is violated when a member of the executive directs the police to arrest an individual, or intervenes in a criminal prosecution. But Braverman’s article did nothing even approaching that. The people complaining about it are by implication either not thinking things through properly or being disingenuous – or both.
But then, enforcing constitutional principle, as anyone sensible can see, is the last thing on anyone’s minds here. This is plainly not about the rules: it is about Braverman. And Braverman is rapidly becoming the most interesting political figure in the country – one of those rare individuals, like Boris Johnson or Donald Trump, who so enrages members of the new elite as to give rise to a unique ‘derangement syndrome’ of their own. She has achieved this by daring to give voice to a significant chunk of the electorate, who are a bit socially conservative, and also by being a Right-wing woman who is a member of an ethnic minority. Being a bit socially conservative in itself enrages the new elite, and her being a conservative non-white woman dangerously discombobulates their asinine and simplistic view of the moral and political universe. They therefore necessarily visit their ire upon Braverman as the avatar of everything they hate and fear in public life.
So much I think is fairly obvious. There is, though, something deeper going on in this story. A while back, I wrote a piece for the Daily Sceptic in which I drew readers’ attention to the important concept of artificial negativity. The essence of this concept is that hegemony can only really secure its position through a plausible narrative of necessity. If the hegemon acknowledges that it is in fact the hegemon and that its victory is total, it will deflate like a sad hot air balloon. Instead, it must present the situation as being one in which the forces of truth and justice, which it embodies, are permanently engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a rotating cast of various powerful and dangerous baddies. This is how the members of a cultural elite motivate themselves and get themselves up in the morning, and how they strengthen their cultural dominance. “What the country needs is yet more of what we represent,” the message must go. “Because without us, dangerous fascists like Suella Braverman are poised to take charge.”
Ritualised episodes of confected crisis like this one are therefore entirely characteristic of a society that is in the grip of a cultural hegemony. And, when we look at the subject from this perspective, things begin to make a lot more sense. Our new elite hates Suella Braverman, but if she didn’t exist, it would have been necessary for them to invent her. To get the juices flowing, threats need to be imagined, and dangers manufactured. One of these dangers, absurdly, is a Tory Government sweeping to power and installing authoritarian rule. That the Tories have been in Government since 2010 and done absolutely nothing of the kind shows us just how absurd this fear actually is. But it is important to remember that it isn’t a genuine fear – it is a kind of cosplay which the new elite participates in to work itself up for yet more entrenchment of its own position. The shrillness and outrage is palpable, but it is really within the same category as a Violet Elizabeth tantrum – it is theatrics for a particular purpose, which is cementing power. Rishi Sunak, in giving in to this tendency, is therefore exhibiting nothing but the rubber spine of a weak parent unable to resist acceding to his child’s demands so as to secure an easy life; but then I suppose that’s hardly surprising in a conservative politician in the U.K. in 2023.
Dr. David McGrogan is an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School. He is the author of the News From Uncibal Substack.