So now Keir Starmer is Prime Minister, what will change? There are two apparently contradictory responses to this.

The first: nothing. The truly shattering revelation from the era since Brexit has been that you can experience a so-called “political earthquake”, followed by years of ululation and hand-wringing, and after it all dies down, the same spreadsheets-and-chinos people will go on pushing more or less the same policies as before, and ignoring more or less the same structural issues and popular preferences. It is the post-democratic and transnational new normal. We might call it “actually existing post-liberalism”. The election of Starmer will simply entrench it further.

But just because a political consensus exists across nominally opposing parties, it doesn’t follow that politics as such is over. This wasn’t true even before the mass franchise, and it isn’t true now, when growing numbers perceive the franchise to be all but worthless. But the terrain on which politics happens has changed, from the ballot box to an increasingly politicised lobbying ecosystem — even as the terms of our polarisation have changed too, from “Left” and “Right” to new and increasingly existential forms of identity politics. More ominously, the still larger question concerns the suitability of post-liberal governance in a 21st-century world of interlocking, and ever-escalating crises.

Back when Boris Johnson won his landslide on the promise to “get Brexit done”, it did seem for a moment or two that a political worldview that became known as “post-liberalism” was about to enjoy its moment in the sun. Leaders just had to set aside the liberal fiction that government need not have a substantive moral vision. If they could do this, so the hope went, perhaps they might be able somehow to restore little platoons and small farms and shops, and make people want to live with their ageing parents in thriving small towns, instead of pumping them with useless degrees and debt, then trapping them into childless, hand-to-mouth existences doomscrolling over industrially farmed GMO slop in overpriced urban shoeboxes.

“The election of Starmer will simply entrench the actually existing post-liberal order still further.”

It was not to be. Boris won, and in the blink of an eye, Covid happened. Suddenly everyone was stuck at home, doomscrolling while eating GMO slop. No more little platooning, even for the dwindling cohort that actually wanted to. Instead, we now enjoy the other post-liberalism. Not the one envisioned by writers who were mostly just social conservatives, but with extra Tolkien. The one in which state power is, yes, aligned with an explicit vision of the good — but one that has very little to do with the Bilbo Baggins Nationalism that bloomed for a moment in 2019.

Actually existing post-liberalism takes as its baseline what came next: the moment the populist uprising was crushed under a fusion of state and commerce, with the population under curfew and everything mediated by the internet. In other words: our nadir of maximum individual isolation, underwritten (aspirationally at least) by total penetration of the state, big business, and Big Data.

Under liberalism, the unacknowledged backdrop to politics was a Christian-inflected moral outlook centred on human dignity and individual freedom. The political unit was usually the nation state, and the franchise was a load-bearing element in political decision-making. This order corralled dissent via moral censure or physical imprisonment, while much of the political dialectic concerned which unintended side-effects of “liberation” should be prioritised for political remedy. Should politicians try to mitigate the negative side-effects of social liberalism, such as broken families, or of the economic sort such as poverty?

That world has gone. Never mind Tolkien Nationalism; under the post-liberalism we actually have, governing elites enjoy more in common with one another transnationally than with their nominal citizens, whose nation states are in any case heading for obsolescence (except when there’s a threat of war). In this post-post-Westphalia geopolitics, governance is internationalised and technocratic, and policy is shaped a long way upstream of elections. Humans, meanwhile, are believed not to possess any distinctive cultural, genetic, or affective bonds, but are seen instead as radically interchangeable, fungible work units that may be deployed anywhere according to economic imperative.

And the shared backdrop to all this isn’t a moral one, but a common relationship to the technologies that mediate citizenship, from participation in the digital public square to politics as entertainment. In accordance with this, dissent is no longer managed so much via social sanction or even incarceration; witness the now-common policy of releasing even serious criminals halfway through their sentences. Instead, it happens via the digital direction of public attention, while the most serious dissent results in revocation of access to the technologies that mediate public life, from posting privileges to banking services.

Having “got Brexit done”, the Tories in theory had a one-off opportunity to change the frame. They could have used the time to pack Britain’s NGOcracy with their people, or even tackle the plethora of New Labour constitutional innovations that paved the way for the post-liberal order. But they didn’t take it, which suggests that either they had so poor a grasp of the political machine they supposedly operated as to make an inadvertent case for the technocratic “experts” they affected to deplore. Or else, perhaps, they understood how that technocracy worked, and liked it just fine.

The latter position is understandable, if not commendable. When you can leave the machinery of state largely on autopilot and focus instead on lining your own and your friends’ pockets, who in their right mind would want actual responsibility? There are honourable exceptions to this: Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates have both stuck their necks out, while for voicing mainstream British views on migration control and the inadequacy of multiculturalism, Suella Braverman was smeared as the reincarnation of Oswald Mosley.

But that’s three MPs, out of what was (until the Tories’ roundly deserved electoral hammering) several hundred. As for the others, their behaviour in Parliament suggested that whatever the electorate may have hoped, they mostly accepted it is Tony’s world now, and we all just get to live in it. On Thursday, the electorate recoiled in disgust from this discovery, gifting Starmer a majority nearly twice the size of Boris Johnson’s on fewer votes than Jeremy Corbyn secured to lose against Theresa May in 2017. The public didn’t so much vote for Labour as for anything but the Conservatives. And having done so, we’re now in for a programme of constitutional changes that will entrench post-liberalism still further. Labour’s manifesto undertakes to drain what’s left of parliamentary supremacy away, with vetoes granted to regional representatives and courts. Meanwhile, the franchise may be diluted and trivialised still further, by extension to 16-year-olds whom the Left would in other contexts treat as barely having reached the age of criminal responsibility. We can be sure that no very serious decisions will be entrusted to an electorate that includes literal children.

But is wonkocracy even so bad? Maybe 21st-century civilisation really is too technical for government by elected non-specialists, voted into power by the masses. The tribulations of small UK businesses after Brexit arguably illustrates what happens, when you set about making major changes to the operations of a complex, high-tech state without a cadre of compliant nerds thinking through all the details for you. There’s always the chance you’ll end up with 10-mile lorry queues or a £25 billion slump in trade with your closest geographic partners, not to mention Cheeseageddon. So maybe His Toniness was right all along, and the plebs should be protected from meaningful political agency for everyone’s good.

“Maybe His Toniness was right all along.”

What Starmer chooses to focus on in his first few weeks will offer some indication of how committed he is to this view, as well as how in reliant he is on the more bonkers factions in his own party to deliver it. If he expends his post-election political capital imposing VAT on private school fees against the interests of his own middle-class voters, or perhaps institutionalising Islamic blasphemy laws or rolling back women’s rights, we can infer that he feels vulnerable to attack from his own factions. But if he prioritises gutting what remains of Britain’s unwritten constitution, we can assume that he has both the desire and political headroom to govern as a loyal Skywalker to Blair’s Obi-Wan.

But it doesn’t follow that politics will come to an end. On the contrary: if the old order had to wrestle with the unintended side-effects of freedom, the new must grapple with the externalities of trying to unite a polity through technocratic means. For even if the Davocracy likes to imagine that all peoples are interchangeable, some subsets of the population really do have more in common than others. Some cultures really are incompatible, and some really do seem more conducive to wealth and power than others. Humans really can’t change sex, no matter how clever your surgeon. And so on.

I expect much of the day-to-day noise in Starmer’s administration to come from his regime’s efforts to manage this reality. Which identities may be noticed and celebrated, and which must be treated as non-existent or even taboo? We got a glimpse of this negotiation during Covid, when churches and playgrounds were closed on pain of arrest, but racism was agreed to be a public health emergency justifying large and sometimes violent street gatherings. We can assume Starmer’s reflex incentive will be to push for egalitarianism by fiat; the predictable consequence of this will be identitarianism across the board.

Already, race-consciousness among British youth is not restricted to ethnic minorities or Left-wingers, but now includes an increasingly radical Right-wing white version. Starmer has already promised to entrench race consciousness in law and public policy, via a new Race Equality Act that promises guarantee equal pay across ethnicities, and to impose a public sector duty to collect data on staffing, pay, and outcomes by ethnicity. Anyone who imagines that this won’t intensify muttering among disaffected white British zoomers really hasn’t been paying attention.

Meanwhile, a question-mark hangs over the shattered remnants of the Conservative Party. Given that the scale of Tory losses were due not to an increased Labour vote share, but voters abandoning the Tories for a more Right-wing alternative, even the most wall-eyed of the surviving Tory “wets” will have trouble persuading the party membership that the future of conservatism is tacking to the centre. Not, of course, that this will stop them trying. But when the Tory “centre” in practice seems to have meant complaining about “wokeness” while ignoring the electorate’s preferences and governing for their friends, perhaps this coalition has in any case run out of road.


What will succeed it? My bet is more and more varied identity politics. Starmer’s post-liberal government will find itself harangued from one direction by the Muslim bloc vote that emerged in this election as a self-aware and increasingly well-organised political force, and from another by an also increasingly self-aware “Anglo-Saxon” one. Other blocs will likely emerge to join these. It is difficult to see much of a future for the surviving rump of Tory “wets” in that context, unless they do what they should have done long ago, and merge with that other clearing-house for obsolete political groupings: the Liberal Democrats.

As representative politics fractalises into interest-bloc lobbies, we can also expect pressure to increase on First Past the Post as well. As it stands, Reform secured 14% of the vote to the Liberal Democrats’ 12%, and yet won four seats to the Lib Dems’ 70; UK politics and the UK electoral system are now starkly mismatched. Labour was the greatest beneficiary of this disjunction on Thursday, meaning Starmer has little incentive to change it; this will doubtless fuel resentment against his regime from many quarters.

Looking further ahead, I expect whatever version of the Right emerges on the other side of One Nation Tory extinction to be sanguine about actually existing post-liberalism, and at ease with identity politics. One plausible hunting-ground for such a Right would be to accept managerialism as a done deal, and focus on promoting a less utopian relation to difference: that is, one fixated less on top-down imposition of “equity” by fiat, and more on policies that adapt pragmatically to normative variation between identity groups. Combine this with an optimistic view of tech innovation and a law and order policy robust enough to cope with a truly multicultural population, and you have something like the Right-wing progressive caucus already emerging elsewhere.

Despite a generous helping of Hitler-themed screeching in the run-up to the election, the presence in Parliament of Reform’s five new MPs will serve more as an impediment to this programme than an accelerant. I expect them to have minimal direct impact on lawmaking, while Farage is unlikely to become the nativist demagogue of his haters’ fantasies. His instincts are rooted in the liberal bygone England of tolerance and individual liberty, and he’s never to my knowledge expressed the kind of ethno-nationalist sentiment with which he’s routinely associated in the press. Indeed, he’s recently acted to rein in the more combative instincts of younger aides on this front. The one to watch will be whoever succeeds Farage as leader of an increasingly identitarian young British Right; as yet the UK has no Jordan Bardella, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

But if all Starmer has to worry about is race-conscious zoomers on TikTok, he will surely heave a sigh of relief. The portents are gloomy: he has no fiscal headroom, a restive population struggling with the cost of living, and a basket-case economy from which rich people are fleeing like rats leaving a sinking ship. The political fringes are aboil with Islamists and other mutinous groups. He’ll be told an ageing population and falling birth rate means confronting voters with the trade-off between unpopular mass immigration on the one hand, and stagnation on the other. He’ll be told by others that no, immigration doesn’t even deliver the promised economic upside, and by others again that he is obliged to open Britain to migrants displaced by climate change and global conflict.

Beyond Britain’s borders, popular backlash to the same fractious population dynamics have brought Giorgia Meloni to power in Italy, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and may soon do the same Marine le Pen in France. An increasingly Right-wing Europe will, in turn, have ramifications for a future Starmerite response to Channel migrants. This is further complicated by the fact that today Britain is both in self-perception and, increasingly, in beneficial ownership, an imperial province of America, meaning a great deal of what Starmer can do will depend on November’s Presidential election. With mounting concern over 81-year-old President Biden’s fitness for a second term, there remains no very popular alternative to an ebullient Trump. Should the latter be re-elected, and the Trumpist foreign policy faction succeed in its proposed policy of shifting US defence priorities away from Europe, pressure to remilitarise Western EU states will intensify existing divergent interests within the EU, with as yet unknown consequences.

Against this backdrop, David Lammy’s promised “progressive realism” may need to lean more heavily than he would prefer on the realism, rather than the progress. But realism requires subtlety and leadership; meanwhile, the post-liberal order is optimised for governance without leadership. It favours process, consensus, and institutional power over charisma, inspiration, and vitality. It values and elevates people like Rishi Sunak: intelligent, diligent, and wholly devoid of whatever the special sauce is that inspires mass affection and loyalty.

When faced with an extraordinary situation this headless, faceless, procedural regime produces something like an immune response: a whole-system reaction designed to expel or neutralise the irritant. The financial system’s collective response to the Truss premiership falls into this category, as did the collective chattering-class decision to bin existing pandemic plans, and demand mass lockdowns during Covid. But like an immune system, this kind of response to perceived attack is imprecise, prone to over-reaction, and incapable of strategic thought. If the international situation grows much more restive, this may prove a critical weakness.

So arise, Sir Keir, anointed avatar of actually existing post-liberalism. And good luck. If the worst you have to deal with is racist zoomers, you’ll be laughing. More likely, though, you’ll be battling to consolidate technocratic proceduralism for a population that blames crime, economic stagnation, the escalating cost of housing on (procedurally driven) immigration, the price of energy on (procedurally driven) Net Zero, and everything else on you personally. A leader who finds himself standing as the last island of Blairism, between a Trumpist United States and an increasingly hard-Right EU, at the head of a headless administration hopelessly ill-equipped to respond strategically to any of these challenges. It may be, in other words, that Saint Blair’s successor has taken the helm of a fully post-liberal Britain, at precisely the moment when that ceased to be a workable mode of government.

view 1 comments


Some of the posts we share are controversial and we do not necessarily agree with them in the whole extend. Sometimes we agree with the content or part of it but we do not agree with the narration or language. Nevertheless we find them somehow interesting, valuable and/or informative or we share them, because we strongly believe in freedom of speech, free press and journalism. We strongly encourage you to have a critical approach to all the content, do your own research and analysis to build your own opinion.

We would be glad to have your feedback.

Buy Me A Coffee

Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: