Commentary

Even the U.K. is falling prey to culture wars over abortion, immigration and history

November 4, 2022 7:00 am

(Getty Images)

LONDON — If you’re wondering what the U.S. might be like after the midterms, take a look at the U.K. under the disinformation-purveying, dyspeptic, dysfunctional Conservative Party.

It’s not an exact parallel, but it may seem familiar. The British Tories are not under the control of evangelical fruitcakes or quite as close as we are to falling off into the abyss of fascism.

But they are ginning up familiar culture wars over history, abortion, and immigration.

They accuse the National Trust, the charity that preserves castles and beautiful landscapes, of being “woke.” Apparently “woke” means mentioning that some of these stately homes were built with money made in the slave trade.

A conservative M.P. named Maria Caulfield, who voted against legalizing abortion in Northern Ireland, wants to cut back the time limit on when you can terminate a pregnancy, and sees nothing wrong with anti-choice protesters getting in the faces of anyone walking into a clinic, has just been given a top job in the new government: Minister for Women.

In the House of Commons the other day, Home Secretary Suella Braverman whipped right-wingers into a froth over foreigners crossing the English Channel in rickety boats. It’s an “invasion of the south coast,” she barked.

The woman sounded as if she’d been possessed by Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who has taken to hollering about “Mexican rapists” pouring over the border.

Braverman is a remnant of the risible Liz Truss premiership — the one that collapsed after 45 days — forced on Oct. 19 to resign her cabinet post over a security breach. Six days later, new prime minister Rishi Sunak restored her to her former job.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Conservative party leader Rishi Sunak arrives at CCHQ on October 24, 2022 in London, England. Rishi Sunak was appointed as Conservative leader and the UK's next Prime Minister after he was the only candidate to garner 100-plus votes from Conservative MPs in the contest for the top job. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak was appointed as Conservative leader and the U.K.’s next prime minister after he was the only candidate to garner 100-plus votes from Conservative M.P.s in the contest for the top job. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Sunak’s government is surely not as gob-smackingly incompetent as Truss’ — she nearly sank the British economy, remember — and he hasn’t spent every waking hour lying (not that we can tell, at least) like Boris Johnson.

Still, he’s planning to address what he calls “a profound economic challenge,” (and everyone else refers to as that “£40 billion black hole’’) by raising taxes on everyone (even the poor), cutting health care, education, sustainable energy, and other fripperies, as well as pensions for the elderly.

Worth keeping?

It’s reminiscent of a promise from Florida’s own Rick Scott — the richest man in the U.S. Senate. The Republican has called for “re-evaluating” Social Security and Medicare every five years to see if they’re, as he says, “worth keeping.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said these “government entitlement programs” should be abolished, although he’s dialed that back some as election day draws closer.

Here in Britain, the Conservative Brain Trust has been busy insulting people who work for the National Health Service, possibly the only national institution more beloved than the late Queen Elizabeth.

However, the World Health Organization warns that the U.K. has a dangerous shortage of nurses. They’re down about 40,000. The ones that are left are overworked and underpaid.

Yet cabinet member Therese Coffey tells nurses they should stop whining. They’re probably getting a whopping 3 percent pay raise, and if they don’t like it, they can leave.

A lot of nurses have left, that’s the problem. And Brexit rules (thanks, Tories!) make it hard to bring in nurses from other countries.

By the way, 3 percent is less than one-third of the rate of inflation.

Republicans across the pond don’t like medical professionals, either. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared war on vaccines and said he wished that “someone would grab that little elf” ( Dr. Anthony Fauci) and “chuck him across the Potomac.”

Kneecapping

Nice, huh? Threatening an octogenarian. Of course, in America, the MAGA-mad Right also beats up octogenarians like Paul Pelosi, 82-year-old husband of the speaker of the House. A conspiracy theorist and election denier came looking for Nancy Pelosi, planning to “knee-cap” her and got him instead.

Some Republicans responded with jokes as this man lay in a hospital with a fractured skull.

Despite that time in 2016 when Labor M.P. Jo Cox was murdered by a white supremacist, the U.S. still beats the Brits on political violence. They haven’t had a decent assault on government since 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his gang tried to blow up Parliament.

But the U.K.’s filthy rivers may offer a foretaste of what’s in store for us if Republicans are successful in the midterms and try to hamstring the EPA. Many beaches in England are pretty much bio-hazard sites, too. If it rains, water companies are allowed to discharge raw sewage almost wherever they like.

It rains a lot here.

Not that Florida’s slacking on the pollution front, what with us dumping poop (human and animal) into our waterways, killing fish and decimating the seagrasses manatees need to survive.

Our state now grows more toxic algae than oranges.

And the Trumpist Supreme Court is already considering narrowing the Clean Water Act.

‘Other commitments’

As for the climate crisis, the U.K. is pulling back on its sustainable energy goals. The prime minister said at first that he would not attend the COP27 conference in Egypt, citing the usual “other commitments,” then changed his mind when he heard that his predecessor Boris Johnson was going.

King Charles III, a life-long environmentalist, wanted to be there but, since he might shame them, his government won’t allow it.

It’s pretty bad when a hereditary monarch is more progressive than an elected leader.

Here in the good old U.S. of A., Republicans want to reverse Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act with all its green goals. So what if hurricanes are getting stronger, seas are rising, and Alaska becoming more tropical by the day?

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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