For Matt Sparke, neoliberalism “has been variegated and experimental, both in the original moments of implementation as well as in subsequent episodes of failure, correction and adaptation.” Real world examples of a contested ideological concept include the brutal agenda pursued in post-coup Chile and the bland class compromises associated with Third Way democrats. However, what remains of neoliberalism after the Great Recession and the election of President Trump is highly controversial. Whilst Philip Mirowski contended that true believers managed to negotiate the financial meltdown, the erratic nationalism associated with the current moment has led thinkers such as Wendy Brown to make more nuanced statements about the complex nature of contemporary conservatism.
Neoliberalism has long been a mutant belief system. Its ability to evolve has been coupled with its capacity to fuse with other ideologies. Nevertheless, there comes a point when neoliberalism becomes a redundant term. This is where the concept obscures more of reality than it illuminates. With the continuation of the Trump circus and the nonsense unleashed by Boris Johnson, the term is losing its relevance in the geographical area where it was once most dominant.
The colossal violence that has been done to neoliberalism in Britain can be shown by two recent events. Firstly, the removal of the Conservative whip from individuals committed to neoliberalism exemplified the arrogance of the new conservatism. Secondly, the futile BBC interviews conducted by Andrew Neil showcased collusion between members of the right. Asking politicians questions after neoliberalism is pointless. The actors do not feel obligated to make reference to facts or truth. An interrogation cannot embarrass a contemporary politician because a lack of attention to detail is not an issue when democratic accountability has been suspended. Even the reinstatement of democracy would not make politicians focus. Pugnacious performance is everything in the new era.
It would seem that the British coup implies that conventional political campaigning is obsolete. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell might want to discuss the idea of a shorter working week. But who is going to listen to him when fear and anger are drowning out rational debate? And what use is voting when the leader of Conservative Party can suspend Parliament on a whim? Even paying tax seems foolish if it is going to feed an undemocratic state.
When one thinks about the negative achievements of neoliberalism, the neutering of the trade unions was critical. The British trade union movement was a reservoir of power and collective wisdom. It may have been imperfect, but the truth is that it was a barrier to dictatorship. The labour movement cannot campaign as it once did, because the Conservative Party has exploited its media hegemony. The notion has been spread that the suspension of Parliament was not illicit because it was followed by the offer of a general election.
While one court has judged that the prorogation of Parliament was not the right thing to do, because the Prime Minister did not make the move in order to clear the decks for his policy platform, this legal objection may be overridden. Activist Paul Mason has correctly identified that the deliberate implementation of chaos is central to the appeal of Johnson. However, his analysis has not highlighted how postmodernism has influenced governance structures. Postmodernism has coloured the populism of the left and the right, undermining the truth structures central to rational debate. The possibility of evidence-based policy has vanished. In these circumstances, careful thought is required as much as action.
Another referendum on the European question offers no escape from post-truth politics. Even if the people make a better decision than they did last time, this is not necessarily the best way forward because alienation and anger shall remain. In these acrimonious circumstances, the revocation of Article 50 without a referendum could be an incendiary act. A general election may seem like the optimum exit from the impasse, but this could also boost dangerous non-class antagonisms. The truth is that we should begin to think about building a Popular Front. The aim of this move would be to unite diverse people who would like a return to conventional politics. Members of the Labour Party must make their own decisions, but blind loyalty to any abstract principle is unlikely to be helpful. There are no easy answers, when the democratic rights of the people have been curtailed.