Once settled in their places the public was to be treated to
another session of stage mesmerism, something like the one unforgettably
While [the magician] still practised some rhetorical circumlocutions, the tests themselves were one long series of attacks upon the will-power, the loss or compulsion of volition. Comic, exciting, amazing by turns, by midnight they were still in full swing; we ran the gamut of all the phenomena this natural–unnatural field has to show, from the unimpressive at one end of the scale to the monstrous at the other . . .footnote2
Mann noted that the Italian public knew, or half-knew, how the vile hypnotist was at once leading and humiliating them, and yet remained quite unable to do other than conform. Even at the mercy of the uncanny, they felt compelled to let ‘nature’ take its course.
In part the election’s unreality could of course be traced to the immediate prior collapse of so much of Britain’s fabric. The acrid smoke of Polling Day could not make voters forget all the shames of yesterday. The Passport Scandal, BSE, CJD, the grim farce of the Asylum-seekers, the tale of The Dome, the continuing slide of the Health Service, the state of H.M.’s Prison Service, British Railtrack’s collapse, the Fuel Crisis, the Hinduja brothers: Britannia Music Hall was in sensationally poor shape well before March 2001. But such unreality must derive from deeper causes. Last year the BBC’s Political Correspondent Andrew Marr brought out a book called The Day Britain Died, but his speculative conclusions remained rather mild—in effect adding a question mark to his title. There was no need for that. Rigor mortis was already advanced when the book appeared, and even at that time remedy was none. Now we are in 2001, and can sum up its state in a phrase: Britain has actually ceased to exist. Blair started operations four years ago with an impersonation of glad, self-confident morning; in 2001 we find him racing to outpace the shade of night. All that has really happened in the time between is that (so to speak) Britain has remorselessly turned into ‘Britain’, a realm of general impersonation and self-delusion. But while old Britain—the United Kingdom—was quite well understood, its successor is not. Yet ‘Britain’ has by now been long enough in existence (from the 1980s to the present) to evolve its own laws and customs, and assume the consistency of a distinct phase of UK affairs. These ‘laws’ are often wildly different from (or even contrary to) those of the erstwhile United Kingdom.footnote3
How does New Labour’s successor ‘Britain’ work? To avoid the inverted commas it may be simpler to use Ukania as a shorthand—provided the reader notes that the reference is not primarily to Royal or archaic features of the neo-British system. It is the structure of the beast we need to observe, rather than its pelt and uniforms. The best man to enlighten us here is certainly Blair himself. When he returned to report to the House of Commons on the Nice European Council last year, these were his words:
It is possible, in our judgement, to fight Britain’s corner, get the best out of Europe for Britain and exercise real authority and influence in Europe. That is as it should be. Britain is a world power. To stand aside from the key alliance—the European Union—right on our doorstep, is not advancing Britain’s interests; it is betraying British interests.footnote4