The environmental debate organised by the British TV station Channel Four last night will serve as a concrete marker for something that has been apparent for some time. That the English Nationalism of politicians like Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage is a toxic fantasy that depends on climate crisis denial, despite that fact that the reality of the situation is that we have already reached a dangerous tipping point. The no-show of Johnson and Farage at the debate was inevitable, since publicly acknowledging the crisis would mean thinking about other, closely related, issues like climate justice. And that’s not going to sit well with leading Conservative politicians like Rees-Mogg – a billionaire, climate change denier, staunch believer in his own exceptionalism, and one of the principle architects of this round of English Nationalism. By failing to attend the debate with leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Scottish Nationalist parties, Johnson and Farage confirmed that the politics they represent is based on exactly the kind of unreal fantasy that Bruno Latour has so accurately identified in his argument for a new Terrestrial politics.
However, what compounds last night’s insult (and indeed threat) to the British nation, and particularly to its young people, is that the Conservative party is now treating its leader’s refusal to attend the debate as an occasion to threaten Channel Four’s independence as a broadcast institution. Echoes, once again, of the bullying used by toxic Nationalists like Trump, who the English nationalists so slavishly admire. These are people who claim to be deeply concerned about ‘regaining British sovereignty’. Yet what became only too clear during the debate is that, ironically, it is the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist parties in British politics who best understand the practicalities of the need for a new Green politics. (To be fair, as with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, often building on ideas the Green party has assiduously promoted). Little wonder that the representatives of Scotland and Wales at the debate want to put as much distance between the people they represent and a group of politicians whose real constituency is the City of London’s financial district and those whose interests it represents.
While it was a real milestone that the debate took place at all, all the signs are that we are heading into increasingly difficult and dangerous times. But then anyone with an ounce of understanding of the climate crisis already knows that.