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By Jason Michael
IT IS A PECULIAR THING that in times of deep crisis the general mood of the public remains inexplicably calm, even in places quietly optimistic. In trying to understand why, following the release of the British government’s Operation Yellowhammer document, people in the United Kingdom aren’t breathing hard into brown paper bags my mind is drawn to parallels between this and events in Europe almost a century ago. Before its ‘liquidation’ by the Nazis, life in the Warsaw Ghetto had settled into a strange kind of normal, regardless of Jewish people’s lives being anything but normal during the German occupation of Poland. Everywhere around them were signs of the Germans’ ultimate intentions. People were dying on the streets of malnutrition and disease, the Gestapo and the Jewish ghetto police were engaged in murderous round-ups, and punishments were brutal. There was no mistaking the fact that the future looked bleak for the Jews of Poland.
Yet, in spite of the vast amount of evidence of something much darker on the horizon, life in the ghetto went on. Synagogues were set up for prayer and the study of Torah, children were taught in schools, weddings were celebrated, people sang songs. The shadow of annihilation passed over Israel in the ghettos of occupied Eastern Europe, while people remained calm – some even optimistic – and planned for a future after the war. Reports of deportations to ‘the east,’ of mass killings in forests in eastern Poland, Belarus, and the Ukraine, and of extermination camps were dismissed as fear-mongering rumours – even by the Jewish ghetto authorities in Warsaw and Lvov. Jews were being treated like animals, and still the thought of systematic murder was unthinkable to them.
The power of human hope – tending to wishful thinking and outright delusion – is a force to be reckoned with. ‘Hope over fear’ is a truly wonderful tool at our disposal. Our ability to hope for a good outcome, for a better future, when it is the active ingredient of concrete action, has brought us – as a species – through some pretty dark times in our history. This is precisely what the Little Englanders are hitting on when they summon the spirit of the Blitz to get us through the ‘rough patch’ that is Brexit. But any kind of hope without a proper appreciation of the facts, without a nuanced understanding of the reality of the situation, and with the blinkers of wilful ignorance on, is a dangerous, dangerous thing. This hopeless hope is what leads us like lambs to the slaughter. Right now, I put it to you, that we are like lambs to the slaughter. Our heads are already on the block.
No, it is not an overstatement to see a parallel between what we have learned from Yellowhammer and the Warsaw Ghetto. Both are indeed very different. The motivations and plans of the Nazis were very different from those of the present British government. The evil and destructiveness of the Shoah – the Holocaust – were infinitely greater than the haphazard, incompetent bumbling of Eton educated senior Conservatives and the bureaucracy of the British state. But both are similar in the respect that they threaten death – and that this threat and its intended results have been planned. They are intentional. They are similar in the fact that it has become a matter of state policy to kill vulnerable people – an outcast group – to serve the ends of state and ideological ambition.
In Britain, the architects of ‘Global Britain’ – the hardline Brexiteers – have envisioned a new future and new direction for the British state post-EU. ‘Empire 2.0’ is a neoliberal project built on a sinister neo-imperialist nostalgia which seeks to restore the former greatness of the United Kingdom. They want to construct an anarcho-capitalist wonderland for the powerful, wealthy, and privileged ruling class – the English Übermensch, veiled by the trappings of classical Britishness; the signs of soft nationalism – the London bus, the red letterbox, and the now ubiquitous Union Jack. This is what the ‘branding’ of this new Britain is really all about: The use of the familiar and comforting as the shell-casing for a new and awful payload – the ultimate capitalist dream of a pleasure garden for the rich and a gulag for the poor and powerless. Brexit is about giving the whole of Britain – the ordinary working people of England, Scotland, Wales, and the north of Ireland – a suppository of hard medicine. Creating this will be painful, and they are prepared to break a few eggs.
Building this Global Britain, under normal conditions, simply is not possible. Historically, the people of Britain have fought tooth-and-nail to protect their health service, their welfare state, their conditions of pay and employment. The bargaining power of organised labour has always been strong enough to resist the plans of the dominant class in a Britain in which imperialism and totalitarianism have always been latent. Margaret Thatcher, try as she did, to reshape her Britain in the image and likeness of Milton Friedman’s utopia was never able to realise her dream. But the witch is dead. Things have changed since she left politics. Thanks to the work of the Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the working class of the UK has been utterly destroyed. What is left in its place is an atomised workforce preoccupied with game shows and talent contests – working for less money on inferior contracts (where they even still exist), and a mushrooming criminalised underclass of the unemployed and the unemployable – a zombie nation.
With its back and spirit broken, the time is now ripe for the next phase of the neoliberal project – and the state architects well know it. All that is needed now is a Blitzkrieg-like punch, a coup de grâce so forceful it will leave anyone in a position to resist too dazed and bewildered to mount any serious counter operation until the damage has been done and it is far too late. Naomi Klein does a stunning job of explaining this ‘shock doctrine:’
…in moments of crisis, people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure—whether the crisis is a financial meltdown or, as the Bush administration would later show, a terrorist attack… The recent spate of disasters has translated into such spectacular profits that many people around the world have come to the same conclusion: the rich and powerful must be deliberately causing the catastrophes so that they can exploit them.
Yellowhammer – which, as a 5-page document, cannot be the totality of the government’s plan – spells out in some detail the shock Brexit will deliver. From ‘Day 1’ there will be significant disruption to food supplies, leading to shortages and price rises disproportionately affecting lower earners. In every part of the United Kingdom frontline hospital staff are being faced with the ravages of economic austerity already. Malnutrition and diseases related to hunger – not seen since World War II – have become a fact of life for the poorest people in this country. It is now not uncommon to read in the newspapers of people dying of starvation in their homes and out on the street. Despair at these worsening conditions has resulted, since 2008, in a steep rise in the suicide rate. Food shortages caused by a hard no-deal Brexit will kill people – and Yellowhammer informs us that the London government is prepared for this, that it sees this as necessary collateral damage.
Yellowhammer outlines how the resources of the police will be stretched to breaking point by the breakdown of public order, civil disorder, and widespread rioting. We already know the contingency plans that have been put in place to deal with this eventuality – the British Army. Less than a month after ‘Day 1’ of a hard no-deal Brexit the British public will be paralysed by shock and crippled by the trauma of what the government has done. This will change how people think and behave, and – as Klein rightly notes – they will be prepared to hand over power to a strong-man, be that Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage. Britain will be fatally wounded and in no condition to defend itself.
Yet, today – when we have time to organise and resist, there is an eerie calm. There is even, in some quarters, a sense of optimism; that things will all be worked out, that it will be alright. No doubt some of this calm comes from the well-documented phenomena of Brexit fatigue, from people being so tired and dispirited by the length and frustration and stress of the process they have simply disengaged. But the calm, whatever is causing it, is dangerous. All is not well. People are going to suffer and die because of Brexit, and the British government has planned for this and is fine with it. This is a calculated attack on ordinary people. It is a threat to their lives and well-beings. This is not a time for calm or for exhausted disengagement. This is a time for resistance.
Notwithstanding the calm and mood of dejected surrender in the ghetto, there was the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (the ŻOB) – the Jewish Fighting Organisation. In every orchestrated crisis there is a resistance, and – given what we know – it is time we gave ourselves a shake and joined it. This may not always be popular. Friends and neighbours will see it as quixotic, as an unnecessary and unhelpful panic. But it’s not. It is both urgent and necessary. Austerity has shown us the dark depths of this government’s contempt for human life. Grenfell Tower – one of the ugliest symbols of British austerity – is where this thinking, this state policy leads – death. True, this may not be the organised and planned murder of the of the death camps, but the result is the same. This is not deliberate targeting of human life, but it is death as a consequence of calculated and considered policy. Yellowhammer leaves us with no illusions; the government knows the cost of the Brexit is wants. It has counted the cost and found it acceptable. It is time to resist.
UK government releases no-deal Brexit document
5 thoughts on “Yellowhammer: Panic Attack”
Yellowhammer- to anyone who has done risk assessment- is so poor it can not be the worst case document.
It is the truely shite standard of Yellowhammer that shows there probably really is a worst case document…information to date suggests it is called “Blackswan”. I will be beyond shocked if that ever sees the light of day.
I weep for the people of the UK…not just because they will suffer this horror. No one should have any schadenfreude because Governments learn methods from each other and this Brexit “Lord of the Flies” is now a risk to every liberal democracy. This will become a template for other countries to repeat this attack on their populations, dispossess them of their rights, and ransack the public wealth. .
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P.S. Yellowhammer looks more like a “dead cat” Designed to suck up all the political oxygen – allow them to say the public was warned…but leave everything so vague and unconnected it lulls the public into thinking they are planning for a camping trip.
I.e. it will be OK we’ll just be a little short of food for a couple of days….JUST LIKE CAMPING.
This is a join the dots picture. At present Westminster make sure the public only see isolated dots. The true horrors will only be revealed once they join the last dots….then it will be too late.
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The media are also responsible for understating the possible consequences. BBC devotees will not be aware of any real risk because as you say they’re too busy enjoying British Bake Off.
You seem sure this will happen Jason even with all the attempts to stop it. Why?
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some of your best writing – I’m delighted – it shows of your learning and experience. Wish I could be there, my good friend.
Thank you very much, but be careful what you wish for. If this happens, then here won’t be a very good place to be.