Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Blair Witch: The History and The Horror

Blair Witch 2016 - Nearly 17 years after the cult original, the story of the Blair Witch continues in a direct sequel.

The oncoming premier of the movie once titled as "The Woods" has proven something of a remarkable point of interest and debate as the true nature of this sometimes enigmatic, misleading work became clear - in truth, "Blair Witch", a direct sequel to the genre defining cult classic that debuted in 1999 with "The Blair Witch Project". Something of a millennial phenomena - along with the likes of The Matrix franchise, MTV's DariaWWE wrestling, Harry Potter, Pokemon and the growing advent of online, popular culture, it was in this confluence of technology, cinematic heritage and the evolution of horror culture that TBWP would emerge as more that just a unique sensation, but a singular institution which would come to color and texture many different cultural streams for years to come. And now, near the premier of a long await "true" sequel to the original - some 17 years after it first captivated and perplexed audiences - it stands that some much of how we appraise popular horror narratives derives from what was once a small, obscure and rough-hewn project, beginning as an experimental idea in the early 1990's. Despite these humble, exploratory beginnings, it stands that those initial musings on narrative, folklore and media would conflate into what would become known as "The Blair Witch Project" of popular legend.

The 1999 original movie which kick started a pop culture 

In 1999 a small, indie horror film began to stir mainstream attention as its reputation grew, and indeed, the urban legend that seemed to grow in tandem with it. Titled "The Blair Witch Project", the film chronicled the self-documented work of three Maryland college students - Michael, Joshua and the determined Heather - to produce a documentary on the persistence of a local legend of Montgomery county, particularly the Blair Witch and the ostensible legacy of her curse upon the adjacent woods of the Black Hills. Beginning with the deathly banishment of one Elly Kedward from the township of Blair in 1785, as punishment for witchcraft, the surrounding region had been colored by strange, mysterious and sometimes gruesome events of seeming supernatural inspiration. It was upon this tradition that the three resolved to research the essence of the strange legends of the locality - a seemingly innocent and at first care free adventure which, as the group chronicles on their camera, begins to be marred by strange occurrences, and more so as they become lost in the Black Hills of legend. Apparently harassed and demented by unseen, malign forces which attack both body and mind, the group begins to fragment as they inadvertently begin to encounter terrifyingly real evidence to the existence of Elly Kedward - the Blair Witch of legend. Losing one of their number, and drawn within the decayed rooms of a mysterious woodland house, the now alone Heather offers her last testament to the camera before the device falls away - her fate and that of the others unknown.

The movie a growing success, it's reputation was compounded by mingling fact with fiction as sources intentionally sought to depict what was seen on screen as fact: suggesting that the three students were truly missing after the events so recorded by their mysteriously unearthed camera, and more with the release of a number of fictitious "mockumentaries" in which local people, academic and other authorities were consulted on the credibility of the haunting and the ostensible curse laid upon the region by the banished witch of legend. It was within these - particularly the central work of "Curse of the Blair Witch" - which sought to furnish and texture the historical context and the resultant legacy of strange happenings, tragedies and blood letting which had marred the more obscure corners of local history in western Maryland.

As the haunting reputation and strange nature of the film spread, it fell to many to actively query if such things were real - the once pop culture phenomena translating to numerous remarkable incidents in which Burkittsville - the latter day Maryland township where the fictitious Blair sat - was sporadically overrun with tourists, the curious and others increasingly invested in the latter day urban legend of the Blair Witch. More so, it came to be the mother of the lead actress was even sent condolences regarding her daughter's "disappearance" and others actively pursuing the idea if there was any truth, even tangentially, in what they had come to know of, or had seen.

In all, this phenomena was the product of a well considered, and even audacious, campaign by the creator's of the movie to compel a unique, singular vision of a horror narrative: this attempt cresting in the mediated reality of the "found footage" movie, the unreality of what was known or conjectured and the myriad questions that arose afterwards. These elements all realized with a frighteningly vivid energy in TBWP, the separate methods which were invested in this experience were pioneering for their time, and realized a new plateau of media narrative for a 21st century viewer.

Though it was not the first of its kind in the genre, the cinematic concept of the "found footage" movie was popularized - and some say even perfected - in this singular project: the fragmented, sometimes haggard footage which bounces between the increasingly fraught characters building both an intimate experience and a tangled opinion of an outer world that is dark and eminently dangerous for the trio. More so, the pathos which is cultivated through the medium is crucial in delivering both a seemingly authentic experience, but also an ambiguity in what is seen, being seen and believed with the camera.

Concordantly, the movie's innovations - so lasting and singular as it came to be - worked to prefigure norms of online sub-culture, before even the popular vocabulary existed to conceptualize this organic behavior online. The movie's cinematic contribution indelible, it would remain more so that the movie and its associated artifacts had diffused into pop culture with a remarkable energy; cultivating not simply a sensibility but an institution that was particularly strong in voice in those early years following the movies release in 1999. It's here that we find a rise of new and often interesting media which sought - sometimes in part or directly - to explore and further texture the urban lore of the movie's story

The Blair Witch Files novel series (2000-2001)

The popularity of the narrative growing quickly, a number of notable divergences produced several interesting insights into the cultural universe - though not always dealing directly with the events of TBWP - but to further color and contour an already compellingly dark narrative. In terms of popular literature, a series of short novels were commissioned between 2000 and 2001 set to localize the Blair Witch haunting in a series of tangential encounters. Known as "The Blair Witch Files", the stories focused upon a particular cousin of the vanished Heather Donahue - Cade Merill - who's attempts to unravel the mystery of her relative's disappearance propels a number of encounters with the witch's ghostly, often frightening legacy. The book's tapping the then growing potential of young adult literature to cultivate franchises - as with the Harry Potter books successful transition to the big screen - it followed that other, more singular attempts would be made to narrate the strange, dark and often more gruesome elements of the lore, as with the 2004 novel "BW: Graveyard Shift" and 2000's "The Secret Confession of Rustin Parr".

The Novel "BW: The Secret Confession
of Rustin Parr" by D.A. Stern, 2000

A late and somewhat more contemporary figure in the dark, often gruesome mythos of the haunted Black Hills, Parr is the figure central to the massacre of the "Burkittsville Seven" - the group of youngsters he abducted from the town in 1940, while making an eighth bare witness to his murders. Though ultimately surrendering to authorities, tried and then hanged for his appalling crimes, it remained to the condemned that he believed himself influenced by the power of a dark, ghostly presence in the form of a black clad old woman, and her voice, which instructed him in the specifics of his crimes. Of course, Parr's assertions are not greeted warmly, though it remains that the subject of what truly transpired over the last year of the hermit's life - when he came under the witch's influence - is the subject of some curiosity, and it is within the pages of this book that this theme is further explored. Given to a priest on the eve of his execution, and in secret, Parr relates to one Dominick Cazale the strange story of how and why he came to kill, and what may have impelled him to do so - perhaps the true culprit of the killings, while Parr was but a puppet of other worldly forces about his forest home in the Black Hills.

The continuity a particularly fecund subject for the resurgence and increasing mainstream appeal of comic book culture, the franchise found attention in a number of short, but interesting, projects concurrent with the times. At first specific to a small anthology baring three stories, tapping the myth of the Blair Witch, a somewhat longer running series was produced titled "The Blair Witch Chronicles" 

The Blair Witch Chronicles (1-4) series (2000-2001)
An anthology series exploring and illustrating varying chapters of the Blair Witch mythos.

Perhaps inevitably, there would come two of the more widely known - though now somewhat clouded - contributions to the institution of the Blair Witch in a computer game series and a first sequel movie. The games would go on to form a loose trilogy - exploring though also tempering the original narrative and cultivating sometimes wholly original or inspired interpretations of the historical episodes which make up the legend. Made in episodic installments, volume one dealt with the Rustin Parr murders as a case for a government agency, and focused upon the strange adventures of two such agents (not unlike the X-Files franchise, also very popular at the time) as they struggle against the haunting in Burkittsville, and around the young Kyle Brody too. The second volume would step further back in time in finding a wounded Union army officer shunted forward in time by twenty years to the Coffin Rock incident of 1886. 

Far removed from the civil war and bewildered, he becomes entangled in the strange goings on which culminate in the gruesome massacre atop Coffin Rock - touching upon the life of Robin Weaver and other specters which haunt the surrounding Black Hills. The third and last volume focuses upon - albeit with a very dilated style - the genesis of the Blair Witch legends and the banishment of Elly Kedward from the township of Blair in 1785. Taking the role of a haggard witch hunter, the player discerns that there is more at play in the strange rites and circumstances of the township and its woods; more so, leading them into conflict with the undead, demons and other spirits. The game's sought to cultivate an ambiance of their own and were fairly piquant in places, though a mixture of narrative dilation, technical issues and other contextual problems did little to endear them to the wider public, more interested in the essence of the legends than in spin offs or often radical departures from what had become the norm of the continuity.  

The "first" sequel to the indie original - the
more mainstream horror "Book of Shadows: Blair
Witch 2" in 2000.

Considering the full scope of the then growing franchise's popularity and culture purchase on the public imagination, it would be perhaps inevitable that mainstream Hollywood would seek to further capitalize on the course of events, and it was soon found that a more mainstream sequel was in the running to be made. Eventually emerging as "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2", the movie was a much more conventional run which sought to extend the story told in the indie original, but cultivating the remarkable phenomena of its popularity to create something singular.

What is found in the 2000 movie is a western Maryland very much in the grip of BW fever as all shapes and shades of person arrive in the locality - curious, intrigued and vaguely compelled by the growing urban legend of the movie seen. A cluster of strangers meeting with a tour guide to explore a portion of the wooded lands about the Black Hills - a seemingly profitable business since the surge in media attention - what becomes of the group at night is forgotten as daybreak finds them disheveled, their belongings in disarray and with only their video camera as evidence of what has transpired between them.

Retreating to the guide's apartment, close to the forest threshold, the night that follows is alight with haunting's, terrors and apparitions as the Blair Witch's power works to fracture the group before death follows later. The movie concludes with a dark, mysterious ending for the survivors, now in police custody: it implied that what finally transpired was the machinations of the witch, in the end. Though pressed with its own aesthetic and attempt to cultivate a new, more conventional approach to the mythos, the movie lacked in key areas which had so made the original unique; seeming to work the lore into a sometimes fragmented and soon too conventional horror film which lends itself to little of the Blair Witch narrative, in the end. Considered to be something of a formulaic cash in, at the time, the movie remains to evoke ambiguity and criticism in the fan base, and elsewhere, seen as perhaps the weakest in the franchise's segments.

With the institution of the franchise fairly static since the early-mid 2000's, this stasis has finally been broken with news in 2013 of a new Blair Witch installment and the final, surprising, revelation that a certain movie in production - called "The Woods" - was actually a truer, direct sequel to the 1999 original as "Blair Witch" in 2016.

With the cultural legacy and its numerous forms or iterations considered, as far as I know them, it would be perhaps of interest to a fan looking to catch up on the lore or another curious party to reflect the continuity of the legend so often evoked in the numerous stories and dramas above. In turn, it's to this end that I think it of interest to peruse a brief history of the Blair Witch - her person, events and legacy - from her beginnings to latest manifestation in the movie which will premier very soon. This can be found below, drawing from her origins to the misadventure of Heather Donahue's brother in the present day.

A History of the Blair Witch

Eilis "Elly" Kedward - "The Blair Witch" - 1739(?) to 1785(?)

From a sketch of the subject, possibly 18th century copy

The kernel of the legacy so remarkably and darkly wrought begins with the life, and death, of a woman named Eilis "Elly" Kedward. Living an unsung, but reputedly hard, life in Ireland, she gathered her few possessions and boarded a ship named "The Reliant", intent on a new life in the New World of the Americas in 1769. Arriving in the still colonial province of Maryland, Elly went west and settled in the rural township of Blair; the village far west of Baltimore and originally founded in the shadow of the nearby Black Hills forests to preserve the routes to the eastern seaboard. Despite being quite removed from her new neighbors in both manner and custom - being of Irish Catholic stock compared to her Protestant peers - Elly seems to have lived a peaceful, or at least unremarked, life in the proceeding years: living out the upheaval of the revolutionary war to find herself among the first Americans of the State of Maryland.

The Township of Blair (3,000 acres) founded 1771, and
the nearby creek - a map from the period. 
Unfortunately, the years that followed would find her less so, come the particularly severe winter of 1785. The seeds of the original cause finding a few variations, over the years, it seems that - for reasons ultimately unknown - several children openly accused Elly of persuading them into her home to draw blood from them. The affront growing into a wild sensation, drawing upon earlier ill regard and suspicion, the elderly woman was arrested and imprisoned. Subject to trial, she was brutalized in search of confession for Witchcraft, while others proffered their own incidental evidence of her guilt. Eventually found guilty by her peers, the sentence customary to the time and region was handed down and Elly was subject to a very particular kind of banishment from Blair.

Elly Kedward is bound to a tree in woods where she would
die - a contemporary sketch of her final days
Tied and blindfolded, she was loaded onto a cart which was drawn on a long path into the nearby woods of the Black Hills by the escorting party of townsfolk. Once suitably deep in the woods - all the more removed as a freezing, barren wilderness in such a winter - she was tied again to a tree while the party returned to the distant village: the tacit understanding being that the elderly woman would soon succumb to exposure. And yet, strangely, it proved not so simple a conclusion. Seemingly, over succeeding nights, parties of the town's children - principally boys - took to venturing out into the forest to see the brutalized, condemned woman. It was during these ventures that some in the party took to torturing her further - pressing their hands to her bloody, wounded body - and even setting their dogs to bite at her flesh. Succeeding nights of this, remarkably, found the woman still alive and, ultimately, it was decided to conclude the affair altogether. On this final occasion, Elly was released only to be hung from a branch of the same tree. 

Her life ended, the party would return to the town and life would continue as it could, until the winter of the following year in 1786. It was the advent of this season which would see the town and surrounding region touched by a strange and malign power - of which only fragmentary documentation remains - as those same children who accused Elly one year before disappeared, as did so many others too. Amid a surge of withering and dark encounters with supernatural forces, seemingly brought to bare by Elly's vengeful form, the township of Blair is finally abandoned. Removing themselves to nearby towns, the former residents speak little of their former home, and only do so sparingly some years later as the village of Blair, and the strange deeds surrounding it, fades into lore.

The infamous "The Blair Witch Cult" and paraphernalia - a mysterious, often dark account of
terror, haunting and other incidents surrounding the execution of Elly Kedward,
 apparently authored by an unknown party in 1785 and found in 1809.

Though the accounts and bedeviled history of the incident would fade, it would be seemingly preserved in a singular volume of the period, the obscure "The Blair Witch Cult", apparently discovered in 1809. A fragmented, obscure and often lurid account of the banishment and subsequent incidents that followed, the account's existence and nature has summoned divided opinion as to its credence: some believing it a fearsome testimony of the Blair Witch's vengeance, while others consider it a fanciful hoax, playing upon the older lore of region. Though the tales of the Blair Witch lingered, the township of name would not return to being until a chance discovery by businessmen intent on forging a railway through the region discovered a forgotten forest road, leading to the decayed, weathered remains of a small township - the land about unkempt while the empty homes had been boarded shut long before their discovery, now in 1822. 

The Tappy Creek Incident - a sketch of Eileen Treacle
being pulled under by a ghostly hand.
The half forgotten village of Blair found anew, the site gave way to the new town of Burkittsville in 1824 as new residents and farmers settled in the neighborhood. It would be little later, in 1825, that the legacy of the region would stir anew as well, and with strange, tragic consequences for the new community - as yet unfamiliar with the lingering force about them. In the spring of that year, a party of local residents intended to mark the occasion of the first harvest with a picnic near the Tappy East Creek. It was during these innocent festivities that a young girl by the name of Eileen Treacle wandered away from the main party and, lingering by the water, was seen by eleven others to be suddenly seized by a ghostly white hand which then pulled her under the shallow waters. The shock that followed gave way to alarm and bewilderment as those searching from the girl found the water to be merely a few feet deep, and more so, no evidence of the presumably drowned body was ever recovered. 

Still, it would be that the waters would soon turn oily and flow with strange, roughly fashioned totems: the event lasting for almost two weeks and noted as rendering the creek seemingly toxic to use. The supernatural quality to the disappearance, and presumed death, would mark a particularly sinister junction in the history of the new town, and coloring its culture until an even greater, disturbing event in the Coffin Rock incident of 1886, in which the Blair Witch was believed to have acted again. In this particular year, another young girl named Robin Weaver was walking in the nearby forest when she encountered the strange, but not particularly fearsome, sight of an older woman floating above the ground. Taking the girl's hand, she led her to an old house deeper amid the trees and down to the basement where she instructed that the girl remain until she returned. Hours passing, Robin's fright shook her to action and she fled through a nearby window, and back to the town. Still, in the intervening hours, word of the girl's disappearance had spread and a search party has been hastily assembled to find her. Hours passing, Robin did indeed return, though the party who had gone in search of her did not. Time passing, another party was arranged and soon set out to locate their companions - a gruesome discovery near the waters of the creek.

The scene at Coffin Rock - the massacre so described
by the second search party upon discovery
On a small promontory overlooking the waters below - known portentously as "Coffin Rock" by local trappers - the second search party discovered a singular and horrifying spectacle. Their predecessors were found dead: bound together and arrayed with a seemingly ceremonial intent before their mutilation and death - each man baring evidence of living struggle during the incident which would see arcane symbols carved upon their limbs and faces, before final disembowelment. Stunned and exhausted, the search party would report this shocking scene to local authorities in detail, but it would amaze and frighten those same authorities to find the same place empty of bodies, when they arrived: vultures noticed nearby and lingering scents, though the remains had vanished - seemingly spirited away in just a matter of hours. The event casting a long shadow - albeit inexplicable, to some - it would remain that Robin Weaver would live the following years of her life in the township, before moving at the age of 50. She spoke little of the astonishing event since then, though would sparingly relate that she couldn't forget the face of the strange woman she encountered in the woods, so long before, or her smile.

As disturbing and horrible as the incident was, the relative mystery and staggered nature of events around Coffin Rock somewhat clouded overtime, though what would transpire later in the following century would bring the story of the search party into a horrid new relief - for those few cognizant of its details. In 1940, a local hermit by the name of Rustin Parr appeared in Burkittsville, declaring himself to be "finally finished" - a strange intonation, given his reclusive nature and the recent disappearance of eight children, in the locality. Surrendering himself to Police, his words were investigated and his woodland home searched. In the basement was a grisly testimony to his alluded labors: the remains of seven children who had disappeared in the local neighborhood, all of whom had been mutilated before disembowelment - arcane symbols carved into their faces and limbs as they struggled in his hands. This was further testified to by the sole survivor of the abductions and killings in the young Kyle Brody - the boy made to stand, facing one particular corner of the basement, while Rustin successively murdered the other seven, sometimes asking his captive if he heard "the voice" as keenly as he himself did.

Rustin Parr appears before a court - though
he apologizes for his crimes, he indicts the ghost of
an old woman as the driving force.
The voice - and indeed, the influence Rustin pressed - was that of what he described as an "old woman ghost" and the force which had impelled him to abduct and murder the seven children, while making Kyle stand in the position forced upon him. The nature and image unmistakable to local residents as the Blair Witch, Rustin would go on to elaborate that his encounters with her had been over a year before his actions: brief and mysterious, before she started to exact upon him her influence. Appearing as a cloaked and hooded figure in black about the forest, she would appear closer to his home; these appearances concurrent with horrific, chanting voices Rustin heard at night, along with other strange phenomena. Her voice heard to him at night, it was soon heard during the day and the identity of the voice ordered him, in November of 1940, to travel down to the town and abduct children he found there - after which they would be killed, as they were. After the final killing, the entity appeared as the singular apparition of the black clad old woman and, with the same voice, informed him his work was done and that she would leave him if he went down to town and confessed what he had done. 

The horrid account known aloud in the trial that followed, Rustin's assertions that he had been impelled to his actions by the ghost - implied to be the legendary witch - was met with cold disdain. Found guilty of his crimes, he was hanged thereafter in November of 1941. Kyle Brody would go on to live a very troubled life in the decades after his experience. A life punctuated by anti-social behavior and encounters with law enforcement, an aimless life come to more focus when he was committed at a psychiatric facility in his native Maryland, for the second time. Unfortunately, it is here, in 1971, that Kyle Brody commits suicide by gashing his wrists with a stolen utensil. 

Heather and Michael discover a blood soaked rag, bearing
human viscera, teeth and hair - from the vanished
Josuha - as they are harassed by malign forces
The legacy of recent encounters with the reputed Blair Witch lingering only in a few, the reach of the legend inspired a college student of the early 1990's to propose a documentary at Montgomery College - the intended film meant to provide a wider historical narrative regarding the dark history of the region, and the elements at play in the account. To this end, Heather and two fellow students, Joshua and Michael, agree to contribute to the project, providing technical assistance. 

Heather and her friends embark on their project in spring of 1994, making preparations for their final filming with some light supplies and collecting interviews from Burkittsville residents before driving further into the Black Hills and making progress into the nearby woods. The trio's project making a fairly ordinary start, strange and soon supernatural phenomena begin to build as they find themselves not only lost, but harassed by something malign. One of their number disappearing into the night, those remaining happen upon an old, derelict house - seemingly to be the home of Rustin Parr - though it's soon noted that would be impossible as that same place was burnt down after his conviction. It is here, finally alone, that Heather makes her last terrified and tearful words for the camera before the device falls to the ground and the screen cuts off.

Heather's last moments of footage before she vanishes
The disappearance of the college students growing into a wide concern, police and local authorities mount a search over ten days in the Black Hills - their exploration recovering only the group's car, found as it was on a road they had taken from their earlier visit to Burkittsville. The group seeming to have vanished, a strange and wholly unexpected lead arises when researchers from the University of Maryland are unearthing the remains of a colonial era house in the Black Hills when a remarkable discovery is made. Reaching far into the depths of the house's foundations, the group finds a duffel bag beneath many layers of ancient, undisturbed soil, enclosed by a corner of colonial era stonework. The paradox self evident as to how an object of modern manufacture came to be found in the soil beneath what had been an 18th century house and in such a specific place - seemingly undisturbed for centuries - bewildered the researchers, but yielded an array of portable media, as with the tapes specifically accrued from the doomed group's filming project. The contents of these tapes would go on to be analysed and then compiled into a feature presentation, ostensibly to help locate the missing students - though the trio were never found, as attested.

So many years removed from the original, fateful incident the legacy of those days carries on - borne about and further by the frightful history and supernatural aura of what brought Heather and her friends to investigate the Blair Witch, and what may have ultimately done away with them. To this end, it stands that James, the younger brother, of the long vanished Heather Donahue, discovers footage on YouTube, ostensibly uploaded by an individual who discovers a tape in the Black Hills - the footage a tumult of images culminating in a brief glimpse of what seems to be Heather. Hoping this may be her, and against other's reservations, he sets off with friends to discover the truth, amid the woods of the Black Hills...

This new installment in the reinvigorated franchise will make its American debut on the 16th of September, 2016. Considering what might become of it, I will consider a review and how what unfolds may resonate with the wider mythos, so touched upon above.

Clark Caledon.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Road to November: Democratic Party - Convention and Nomination

Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic Party's presidential nomination at the convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When approaching the American Presidential election of 2016 from the summer of the previous year, the election cycle to come seemed to be - perhaps even promised to be - an orderly and predictable event for the Democratic Party: that being the consolidation and then candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for highest office, come President Obama's end of term. But, amid the the sweep of speculation - in truth a formality given the wider nature of political history - over Hillary's candidacy after stepping down from her recent office as Secretary of State, the process by which her candidacy would be realized would be far, far removed from the orderly - perhaps even choreographed - transition that party leaders and establishment commentators may have been envisioning for years. And so, even until the final hour, it would remain a particularly singular note of contention and cool feelings as the blue party would gather for their own election year convention in Philadelphia - the event unfolding over several remarkable, colorful and compelling days between the 25th-28th of July.

The William Penn statue of Philadelphia's city hall

 watches over gathering crowds of party attendees

It could be said with both a trained and untrained eye, that the process of the Democratic succession to Barack Obama's presidency had its roots before his first term, between 2008 and 2012, and with more distinct allusions being formed during his second term between 2012 and the coming election of November, 2016. The Democratic contest for the presidential nomination a remarkable and unprecedented one, it would be that Hillary Clinton's once considered inevitable candidacy was first dimmed and then finally eclipsed by the surprising, powerful and singular campaign of Illinois senator Barack Obama; the future president attaining the position in 2005, and coming to national prominence the previous year when delivering a powerful address to the Democratic Party convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

An inspired orator and compelling personality, he was considered quite invested as a presidential hopeful for the party - though still second to Clinton come the end of Bush's second term. The 2008 nomination process charged, fractious and even bitter, according to some, the contest between Clinton and the nascent Obama came down to hard fought, but definitive victory for Obama. His candidacy and ultimate victory in the election of 2008 historic, Obama moved to unify his party and government by selecting Hillary to be his Secretary of State, and drawing upon the experience and rugged strength of the seasoned Joe Biden - Democratic senator for Delaware and former presidential hopeful himself, in the late 1980's - along with other compelling Democrats too. Hillary would serve as Secretary of State during both terms before leaving office in 2013

The Democratic National Convention,

July 25th - 28th, 2016,


 Her career successful - though sometimes overly  scrutinized and exaggerated by media elements -  Hillary's brief withdrawal from political life allowed  her to write and speak; a period which inevitably - and  ultimately - came to focus considerations of a future  presidential campaign, come the end of her once rival's  term in office. Concluding speculation, Hillary openly  stated her intentions and started her presidential  nominee campaign in April of 2015. Her desire for the  nomination inevitable, it would be that her campaign  would not go uncontested from within her own party.  As witnessed within the conservative movement of the  rival Republican party, the political institution of  America had been increasingly colored by the anti-  establishment and counter-mainstream politics seen in  Europe and elsewhere.

Inspired by the cultural, social and financial legacy of the neo-liberal narrative, myriad voices and causes sought a different representation than the one ostensibly offered by Hillary - the candidate's electoral popularity paling through her institutional history and status among financial and other select groups. The voice of protest found a formidable and compelling figure in the veteran democratic socialist senator for Vermont in Bernie Sanders. Addressing philosophical, institutional and other causes deemed to be at the very root of growing disparity and inequality in American society, Sander's cause in the Democratic Party grew exponentially until the movement was strong enough to contend - much in the manner of Obama in 2008 - Hillary's candidacy. Ultimately, though the contest would be close and tightly run, Hillary would emerge from favorite to nominee, as found in the events of the party convention in July.

Promising to be a tense, if not fraught, affair in its early hours and days, the convention would not disappoint in light of both the contentious process, and wider events. The convention witness to numerous protests by associated groups, the Democratic supporters of Bernie Sander's were indignant in their response to revelations from a chain of leaked emails that the Democratic Party establishment and its organs favored a Hillary candidacy and entertained - flippantly or not - means of precluding a Sanders candidacy if the contest was proving too contested or tight. Supporters of the candidate justly outraged, the convention saw protests and many speakers were openly booed or decried as they spoke towards a Hillary candidacy. In all, Hillary the presumptive nominee - through voter and establishment support - Bernie did concede, and though booed by the justly disappointed among his own support, praised those who had so risen in his favor, and commended their efforts to the future realization of their common ideals.

Though Sanders's candidacy for nomination was concluded, the elder Democrat remained to guide further proceedings in hopes of unifying and consolidating a common agenda in the party for the campaign to come. His campaign for nomination over, it will remain that the role and influence - be that direct or ambient - he has played in the coming Democratic and wider election campaign will motivate experts and commentators with a fine fascination. The polar inverse to the Republicanism of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders came to lead - even embody - an intellectual and social movement which served to not only motivate Post-Obama Democrats, but to also critique the normative narratives of American social politics - as said, the neo-liberalism and moderate, pro-corporate temperament of America's liberal party after its reformation in the 1990's. Though it can be said that the party did indeed enjoy a golden age during the 1990's under the success of Bill Clinton, the history of the institutions established have played out to a much cooler reception by later generations - particularly among millennial's who have been rocked by the drawn out consequences of the 2008 financial crisis and global recession.

Bernie Sander' speech commending the cause of social 

justice and solidarity with H. Clinton's nomination

More so, at the time of writing, it will remain to be seen how particular the influence of the demographics and causes which Bernie motivated before this election campaign will influence the ultimate outcome in November - the scope of the veteran democratic socialist's cause spanning the USA, the cause and aim of those he championed could prove a powerful factor in the success or failure of local democrats, and indeed if Hillary Clinton succeeds in winning the presidency. More so, in this direction, there has been a growing vein of debate as to the ultimate fate of former Sanders's supporters and where their vote - if they do vote - will find itself on election day; many finding the cause of the Green Party's Jill Stein and even - in protest - with Donald Trump as a pained retort to the Democratic establishment. As mentioned, the potential upset that could be nourished here is considerable, given the deeply held convictions and anger so fostered, and so it will be a carefully held thing in the coming months as to if this group find themselves in the Democratic camp or note.

Beyond these, it has also been much related that Bernie - known for both the dry candor of his politics and trenchant observations on social questions - nurtured a notable popularity with older, seasoned working class voters; many of whom are rarely engaged by the predictability of latter day political machines and within whom moderate, measured rhetoric excites little. This richer appeal - relative to the nominee's lack thereof - could prove problematic, and especially in an election that could be tighter than many would wish; and one in which anti-establishment sentiments have proven so powerful. An incidence of this was explored by online news network "The Young Turks" when Cenk Uygur - columnist and liberal activist - spoke with a working class voter in Philadelphia, dubbed "Al", who may grudgingly resign themselves to vote for Hillary, but would have voted enthusiastically for Sanders from the outset. If such an incidence of intention plays out more universally in the coming months, it could prove very detrimental for the chances of the Democratic campaign among their ostensibly core constituents, and potentially work to undermine the mandate of a Clinton presidency if Hillary's campaign does succeed.

President Obama's commendation speech -

"Democracy is not a spectator sport"

Over the proceeding days, the convention welcomed and was lifted by the oratory of many liberal, progressive and party notables - among which President Obama stood tall in his appeal to the party and to the American public as a whole. Entering the final months of his - and indeed a historic - presidency reaching from 2008 to 2016, he was moved to reflect on the successes and the frustrations of his office since his first days, and the efforts to ensure a rich, sustainable legacy in both domestic, economic and foreign affairs - and in the face of sustained opposition, as well.

Of note, the successes and continuing work of the president's healthcare reforms - collectively known as "Obamacare" - with the economic recovery which he piloted since the grim days, late in the last decade, when America's economy was faltering and the latent weaknesses of both financial and socio-economic systems had violently risen. In social affairs, he pursued a moderately, but progressively liberal standing which would oversee many considerable accomplishments and have worked to empower and increase representation among particular groups. In foreign affairs, the inheritance of the Bush years - the ongoing "War on Terror" and its search for Osama Bin Laden - was successfully punctuated with America's withdrawal from Iraq and the eventual elimination of Bin Laden himself.

More so, the ongoing issue of Iran's influence was given a decisive, positive reformulation when long negotiations allowed Iranian nuclear power for peaceful ends, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and the conclusion of the country's desire for nuclear weapons capability. His address closing, it remained to the president to acknowledge the still potent and vital power of democracy to renew discussions and to forward positive, lasting change in both communities and societies as a whole. Though, he would carefully temper, this potential was contingent upon the enthusiasm and engagement of constituents, and so it would remain for those who desired positive change to endure, even in the face of stiffened opposition, and for a time until they saw themselves through to vindication.

VP Joe Biden gave a vivid speech, favoring even judgement
and aspiration: "the power of our example, not just the example
of our power"

Particularly notable among the succeeding speakers was found the address given by Vice President Joe Biden - and richly on the subjects of common destiny, mandate and Donald Trump. Though his term as VP has often been noted for verbal gaffs and slip ups, Biden's power as an orator of both reach and inspiration was given full focus on this occasion, and it would remain to both the party and the media to consider it one of his best, and perhaps the final, golden note to a long career of service to the party and public for the liberal cause. His support for Hillary's candidacy found a confluence in his particular, and sustained, criticism of Trump, as with Hillary's hard work, insight and accomplishment compared with the former's flippancy, disdain and seeming contempt for many of the cultural institutions which color and form the very fabric of American life - indeed, common values and aspirations which have traditionally found expression in progressive politics.

The Republican nominee's lack of empathy was also considered to anticipate a lack of wider insight on political and global affairs - as with the issue of terrorism, the necessity of multilateralism and the issue of renewed Russian influence in the world. Lack of knowledge, lack of experience and a dearth of social consciousness amounted to a singular incompetence which ultimately disqualified Trump from leadership, and especially a leadership which drew its mandate from inspired fear and division - qualities Biden saw as antithetical to America's ideal of aspiration and common heritage, particularly in the face of adversity. His speech one of the most warmly and widely received, as said; his direct and firm oratory reflecting well upon his stature and rank as an elder of the Democratic Party and American statesman too.

It will remain that perhaps his most elect commendation to the future of the party and the country found a singular, eloquent expression in a rebuke to the philosophy of Trump on the world stage, and a reaffirmation of America's evolving, democratic heritage.

"The 21st century is going to be the American century. Because we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example! That is the history of the journey of Americans."

Govenor Andrew Cuomo (NY) -

among many Democrats to speak against 

the candidacy of Trump

The proceeding days would see numerous speeches in which liberal and other luminaries would ruminate on the values at stake in the election, the history of the democratic and liberal movement, and the potential strength so invested in that singular movement if given to the right momentum and time. Also, many party officers and senior representatives would speak extensively on the complexion of Democratic aspirations, including a particular address given by Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. Though not one of the more widely related or pointed efforts given, it was a point of curiosity for some as to the governor's somewhat understated presence amid his peers. In all, it has been postulated that though Andrew's positions in the state have been, ultimately, progressive, these conclusions were the project of left wing supporters and are not his natural estate - his history demonstrating a more centrist and pro-corporate stance on social and economic issues. This tenuous relationship with now popular and well established progressive causes and difficulty with his election campaign, relative to those, are deemed to have dimmed the governor's wider profile: having once been considered a welcoming candidate for vice presidential choice and who's lack of success there demonstrates that establishment Democrats cannot be too conceited in their ostensible monopoly on progressive and left wing issues, more over.

Democratic Vice Presidential Nomination

As alluded before in my previous elaborations on the constitutional nature of the Vice President of the United States, and the now not uncommon, more organic nature of the office in later times, the selection and ultimate candidate for office can be a telling and often interesting reflection of the campaign - and indeed government - to come, when the inclinations of the presidential candidate are considered. As with their Republican rivals, the Democratic Party - once the nomination of Hillary Clinton was all but confirmed - set themselves to the selection of a potential vice president who could address some of the potential interests foreseen in the forthcoming campaign, but also in the potential presidency to emerge should Hillary win the November election. 

Tim Kaine, Junior Senator of Virginia,

was nominated for Vice President

The process of selection tinged by the charged and colorful contest for the presidential nomination, the issue of vice presidential pick was a matter of some debate for the Democratic Party and was widely seen as a potential field in which the lingering tensions and disappointments of the principal contest could be aired and relieved. Of note, many Democrat's stood for consideration, both overtly and within their respective circles, though it came to be that the broader imperatives of the Democratic leadership informed the final choice.

Though such vivid potential nominees as the overtly progressive Elizabeth Warren, along with more moderate but dynamic and successful personalities like the Hispanic Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio and Brian Schweitzer, former governor of robustly red Montana; credentials not so removed from Tom Vilsack, another potential, who was once governor of another reliant red state in Iowa. In all, Hillary's pick was the ostensibly conventional, but canny choice of Tim Kaine. Among the Democrat's seasoned and powerful cadre of high office potential's, Tim is a richly experienced nominee who brings two elements to Hillary's campaign and potential government. Having executive experience at many levels - Mayor of Richmond, Vice-Governor and then Governor of Virginia, before elected Junior Senator - Tim is a fully fledged administrator and law maker. Though, in the more immediate respect, Tim's selection consolidates an element of the wider American political geography that may prove vital to both present and future Democratic aspirations.

Virginia - Republican red heritage, then purple

but now an emerging Democratic blue after 2008

The state of Virginia was once one of the border states of the American eastern seaboard: marking the beginning of the Republican south from the Democratic north in neighboring Maryland. But, this convention of American politics - there and elsewhere - is passing. Changing demographics and consolidating sub-cultures has seen this once red bulwark become purple and then favorably blue during the term of President Obama. And with a now well established heritage of Democrats working, popular and effective, in the state, the alignment of Virginia - among others like Florida and North Carolina, is found among the Democratic blue.

Tim Kaine's selection not only desires to consolidate the nascent status of Virginia in the Democratic camp, but also proposes the more immediate probability of adding the state's electoral college value of 13 to the already powerful Democratic tally - a number which, in a potential contest - could prove decisive for Hillary, who is herself popular in many of the southern democratic enclaves. More so, this element to the wider Democratic strategy could allow for further resources, inspiration and focus to be directed to nearby Democratic potential states; political regions which either by trend or particular circumstance could align with the Democratic cause this November, as found in neighboring North Carolina - a Democrat voting state in 2008 and which Republican's have had to work to keep since. Concordantly, Kentucky could well be within reach, given the singular circumstance of this election cycle: ostensibly a safe Republican voter, but with a sympathy for Democratic personalities like Carter and Bill Clinton, it is also found that recent polling puts Hillary ahead of trump by at least a few points. Something which, if taken to its ultimate conclusion, could proffer the state's 8 votes to the Clinton campaign.

Friday 29 July 2016

The Road to November: GOP - Convention and Nomination

Donald Trump accepts the Republican Party's Presidential nomination at the national convention in Cleveland, Ohio

More than a year since the presidential election cycle began amid the conventional stirrings, power plays, positioning and rhetoric, the Republican Party - fondly known as the GOP - finds itself convening in Ohio and the city of Cleveland, and very much removed from what it may have casually mused one year before, and indeed what it has amounted to in the intervening period. The color of discourse markedly different in July of 2015, it has been to the puzzlement of outsiders, the consternation of the orthodox and the ambition of others as we find Donald Trump accepting - amid controversy - the Republican Party presidential nomination of 2016. One year before, such a singular event was neigh on unthinkable: indeed, the process and turbulent shifts which would be necessary for such a nascence was not considered at best, and even preposterous at worst.

And yet, presently, it stands to reason that these unlikely and remarkable events have produced a Trump candidacy to contest the coming presidential race, on the eve of Barack Obama's final months in the White House. In a long year of upsets, upheavals, outrages, outcries and eruptions without precedent in modern times, it will remain that the candidacy of Donald Trump will stand as one of the most singular embodiment's of western democracy's uncertain age, and its ability to manifest in uncertain, extraordinary and even shocking ways.

It has been appreciated for millennia that defiance can be more than just a singular quality, but a powerful - even dangerous - political capital, and it can be attested that few in modern times have sought to define themselves in that image as Donald Trump has. Defiant in rhetoric, defiant in his politics, though it remains, ultimately, to what end will his defiance serve...

The GOP Pre-Election Convention, in Cleveland, Ohio

July 18th - 21st, 2016

It was a very different story, one year ago. The heat slowly beginning to enthuse presidential ambitions and political designs, the Republican Party was in a different place as the remarkable - and unprecedented - presidency of Barack Obama passed into its last year. The Democratic president's regime having been a broad success, leading Republicans began to assemble and promote their respective bids, within their own party, for the White House: a selection of leading personalities, nascent stars and other powerful careers drawing up as Obama's eight years closed. The stage ultimately crowded by sixteen potential candidates, the months from summer 2015 to spring 2016 would see hopefuls come and go as more persistent ambitions hardened behind closed doors and under media glare. The jostling of faction and personalities the subject of much debate and speculation, the spectacle that unfolded was chronicled by many, though it remained to the liberal news network, The Young Turks, to explore the potential candidates in their usual, inimitable style as "The Freak Sixteen".

It would remain to surprise - even shock - both liberals and conservatives alike as the distinguished of the GOP gradually fell away, some lingering until the very last in protest, as the most unlikely of their number made his way to the top - Donald Trump. An incongruous, blustering and peripheral figure in the environs of American politics for a time, his previous empty gestures towards the presidency in yesteryear seemed to preclude the magnate from a real attempt - and indeed, a real standing in the Republican Party. But, it would seem that the times were ostensibly with this unlikely - and seemingly unbecoming - figure as anti-establishment sentiment and philosophies had motivated millions to campaign, protest and to seek an antidote to the issues of the current political process: a phenomena seen in both Europe and the US to remarkable effect.

Amid the more reactionary of the disaffected, ethnically charged and vociferous in their ambition, the figure - the mold, rhetoric and ostensible power - of the clumsy, but charged and unwavering Donald Trump gave a champion against the seeming cultural, social and political retreats of years past: a solution to the sullen acquiesce and resignation felt in parts, or manufactured by others as social politics under Obama came into a new age. In this respect, the more than year long process would see traditional patricians, religious and social conservatives, and especially what few moderates remained to have their names whispered, be usurped by a new, and shockingly singular force in Trump. So it was as tempers cooled and designs hoisted upon the would be president that the party convened in Cleveland, Ohio.

Former rival, Ted Cruz refuses to endorse
 Trump in a controversial speech to delegates

The convention rumbling with charged but all too dilated grievance and ambition, the agenda came to be set by a party seemingly divided in itself against what was considered common and irreducible threats to themselves, their identity as Americans and America itself. The convention was notable for a number of particular distinctions seen and earned both on the convention floor and off it, as the GOP - its principal effort now led by Trump's campaign - sought to foster a sense of eminent purpose and drive as party politics - even at this late hour - swirled around.

Even as delegates began to reconcile and support the Trump nomination, it remained to one of Trump's former rivals - perhaps his most pronounced - in the Texan senator Ted Cruz: a former front runner of the party and Trump's most particular rival after such favorite's as Jeb Bush - regarded by many as something of a "crown prince" - and Chris Christie receded into obscurity. In a speech anticipated to consolidate his support of Trump's all but inevitable nomination, Cruz used this highly anticipated moment to instead urge delegates to "vote your conscience" - an overt rejection of Trump's seeming hegemony and a call to delegates to resist nominating him as their presidential contender. In the end, it would come to nothing - and by the end of his speech, his words were already mingled with the growing booing and chanting of the angry crowds below. Elsewhere, peers and fellow Republican's met his speech with disdain and contempt for his seemingly petulant defiance - indeed, the chair of the Alaskan wing dismissed it as a "petulant misfire".

Paul Ryan among congressional

republicans attending the convention

More over, varied figures of the right and numerous celebrities appeared to offer their commendation, if not outright support, of Trump's nomination and presumed campaign to come. Marco Rubio - once a presidential hopeful himself - allowed a video to be screened to delegates commending Trump's nomination, and Chris Christie - once a presidential favorite before controversy rocked his aspirations - gave a speech, as did party authority, and old Clinton adversary, Newt Gingrich. More so, other leading congressional republicans, as with former 2012 VP nominee Paul Ryan, spoke in support of Trump - if not in praise of his person, but certainly as a counter to the then presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Though, it remains to be said that much of what was asserted and circulated regarding the worth of Trump's candidacy was somewhat undermined by mistakes, blunders and associated problems which worked to not only counter the proposed competency of Trump's nomination in the party, but issues which did not bode well for the Republican's election ambitions or aspirations, after Trump's nomination. Two notable bruising's came with a patchy speech delivered by Donald's wife Melania, in which a considerable aspect was plagiarized from an earlier work by President Obama's wife, Michelle, in 2008. Also, celebrity Antonio Sabato Jr. speech in favor of the presumed nominee was overshadowed by a later interview in which he professed to believing in conspiracy theories about President Obama - particularly the lingering notion among right wing elements that the president's christian profile is a front for his presumed, secret Islamic faith. An assertion which - even when confronted with total refutation and facts - is still hotly contested nearly a decade after coming into office by right wing populists.

Former NYC Mayor Giuliani impassioned - even egregious -
speech at the convention focused upon values and terrorism

One of the most distinct - if only second to Trump's own nomination acceptance speech - was found in the fiery, animated rhetoric of Rudy Giuliani; his efforts both in favor of Trump, but also in aid of envisioning a world so filled with violent, unpredictable ferment that only someone of Trump's character and esteemed patriotism could be the one to ensure American security in it. Desiring to paint Democrat's as divisive, he turned his attention to ostensible right wing "one nation" politics in which he proclaimed that the America of time honored values was in danger of disappearing: overtaken by foreign threats and internal problems. More so, the former mayor of NYC even proclaimed that this election was so paramount that there could be "no elections after" - hyperbole, certainly, though delivered with a conviction - among his other statements - which seemed to betray a far more literal vision of near apocalyptic jeopardy in the present and future of America, should Trump not win the November election. His oratory inflamed, it is understood that he forms an integral part of Trump's policy platform on security and terrorism: a role in which he is known as the originator of more contentious policies, as well.

Republican Party Vice Presidential Nomination

As codified in the constitution of the United States of America, the role of Vice President mingles a number of roles, though it has been seen - with a few notable exceptions - as a largely symbolic role in latter times; distinctions afforded either by circumstance - as with the Lyndon Baines Johnson - or by expertise - Dick Cheney - and through conviction of identity, as seen in both Al Gore and Joe Biden. Though the functionality of the role is never to be underestimated, as previously alluded, the relatively organic profile of the vice presidency, when compared to the more mechanistic president's office, has garnered considerable interest in recent times. In this respect, the prospective presidential candidate's choice of vice president is an essential, and sometimes quite telling, necessity of the former's prospective government to come.

Mike Spence, Governor of Indiana, was selected

as Trump's Vice Presidential candidate

Trump's selection of Mike Pence found a seasoned, if controversial and invested, VP pick in the Governor of Indiana. The selection seen as a declaration of intent to ease and, indeed supplicate, the support of social and moral conservatives, Pence was found to be more than ideologically motivated, reliable and suitably charged not only in his opposition to liberal politics, but also to the current Obama administration. An invested advocate of fiscal, moral and social conservatism throughout his career, his support of the Tea Party faction during Obama's presidency has found him ranked among the most particular of the president's legislative critics, as with Obama care, education and the legalization of homosexual marriage.

In his capacity as a Republican policy and lawmaker and governor of Indiana from 2013 onward, Pence seems to have comported himself as a seemingly natural choice for the aforementioned state as its principal executive.

The northern state of Indiana - a historic

conservative bastion amid the democratic north east

As governor, Pence presides over one of the linger curiosities of American politics in the mid-western state of Indiana. Though numbered among the northern states of the north and east, Indiana proposes something of a puncture amid the fault line between the Democratic states of the north, and the Republican states of the south; that being a steadfastly Republican red, as with southern Kentucky, as opposed to its other neighbors. Home to a bastion of working class conservative culture, the state's conservatism has not always worked well for its constituents and its positioning in the wider debate over the legalization of homosexual marriage saw it become the platform of local, counter legislation which permitted denial of business or service to customers - if gay - on grounds of religious conviction: a law stoutly defended by Pence himself and which prompted a number of controversial incidents as the consequences of the law played out in the wider national media. In response to the growing political and social controversy over the issue, Pence grudgingly prompted a revision of the law - ostensibly to tighten definitions and preclude LGBTQ discrimination - in April, 2015.

Indiana's current allocation of votes in the electoral college is eleven and current polling indicates - perhaps predictably - a very strong support for the Republican candidate.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Dismay, Disappointment and No Direction? - Brexit

The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in the referendum of the 23rd, June, 2016

The 23rd of June, 2016, witnessed the long promised EU referendum - the grand review of British-European relations which many in the country, and particularly England, have desired since the UK's entry into the ever evolving coalition of states in 1973. It was in the early hours of the following morning that Britain, Europe and the world awoke to the shocking and pained realization of a reality in which the Brexit campaign had succeeded in its attempt to engineer a leave vote: the ultimate result of the night being 51% to leave to the remain campaign's 48% to stay. The gravity of the event having not yet matured over the people and polity, the consequences of this historic decision are already in motion and will inform events, near and far, for many, many years to come. Given the impact of the referendum and its consequences, the discussion - amid the upheaval and discord - has turned to what had so moved an ostensibly mature and measured electorate as the UK to press for such a grand, but foolhardy, leap into the unknown. 

The Four Nations of the UK:
England, Wales,
Northern Ireland & Scotland
More so, the acrimony of which has colored this sharply tempered debate isn't without justification: the consequences playing out at a pace and drama which has left many leave leave supporters bewildered and apprehensive about their ill measured decision just a handful of days before. In these days - the first hours of Britain's emerging, torn relationship with Europe - it remains for those who anticipated this to reflect, and I will take this particular opportunity to muse on the long road to this dismal end - and what, if anything, may emerge from the remains of a once vibrant 43 year long relationship, now in ashes.

A Brief History

The history of euroscpeticism in the UK - principally England - finds its roots far removed from the Europe and wider world of today, but the motivating factors and cultural draw of this tradition - perhaps, indeed, institution - have long endured. It could be given that the 16th century found a popular voice for the entanglement of ethnic identity, religion and nationalism in an England intent on defining itself on the world stage, and heedless of the cost to its neighbors who it intended to either rival or supplant in eminence. Of course, this being said for many of the great nations of Europe at the time, it remained that the English experience would be particularly prickly - and succeeding centuries of reversals, suspicion, resentment and acrimony would do little to warm the now English led United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to their European peers. In fact, of a particularly apt note, a very famous immigrant in Catherine of Aragon - Henry VIII first wife - was a keenly educated woman and was one to describe - in trenchant detail - what she understood of England's self image: a canny insight written in 1516, though which is seemingly all too descriptive of the excesses, fears and problems seen so recently now, some five centuries later.Triumphant forays against ostensibly malign threats to British sovereignty - the defeat of Jacobitism and of Napoleon - would only compound this particular tradition, and the violence and wild remaking of the world in the 20th century would entangle this thread of British culture with other concerns over the post-war settlement and industrial decline too.

The entry of the UK into the rapidly evolving socio-economic bloc of the EU (formerly the EEC) would would serve to seed much of the country's future with often bitter debates over the true extent of Brussels' (capital of the EU) control over British affairs; and following the paradigm shift after 9/11, infused this with an increasingly ethnic nationalism as the role and influence of other cultures was scrutinized - often with a bold and sometimes reckless zeal by populist media and politicians. The financial crisis and subsequent global recession following 2008 and the consequential pressure on national budgets manifested the latent potential of decades past: the increasingly neo-liberal degradation of the state and its welfare organs - including the cultural and economic consensus which upheld them - worked to produce a fall in living standards, pressure on stretched public services and compound popular disillusionment with the political status quo. Come the crisis in the Middle East following the rise of Isis,  the ruinous Syrian civil war and the nascent refugee crisis as so many fled to Europe sparked a reactionary concern which found the British - again, principally English - polity wanting of an effective solution, congruent with both international and other obligations.

Into this toxic, unstable mix we find the British Conservative Party of 2015 - emerging from a period of coalition with their junior partners, the Liberal Democrats, and intent on winning a decisive majority to vindicate their agenda of economic austerity. Fearing the rise of anti-establishment parties, as embodied in the reactionary UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and the upset they could work to bring, David Cameron promised the powerful, though scattered euroscpetic branch of his party that a Conservative government would afford an in/out referendum.

Though UKIP failed to make a parliamentary breakthrough that year, the pledge was realized when the government prepared to host the historic vote in the summer of 2016.Though prepared for a win with the arguments to remain in the EU - measured, sensible and just - the leave campaign afforded one of the greatest - and disastrous - results in modern political history: the consequences beyond the immediate far from promising and very much unknown as Britain's place in the world faces dire questions.

An Answer, but not a Real Question?

The outcome of the referendum now beginning to unfold at a prolific pace, it would be that the result of this process has been - at least to more reasonable and temperate voters - been framed by the cluttered, but provocative and increasingly intemperate narratives of the right wing: the particular constellation that assembled to achieve this being a mix of the neo-conservative, ethnic nationalist and social reactionary, compounded by radical populism. The economic argument sound, it remained for the brexit campaign to focus upon a favorite bugbear of the right in immigration - the issue tempered by populist and often wild narratives which sought to direct working class resentment, better suited for the failure of successive Conservative and Labour governments, towards the subject of Britain's migrant communities - and those considered to be more ethnically removed from the whole than is popularly acceptable. 

A popular strength of right wingers for years, the advent of the refugee crisis and of fears regarding national security afforded this argument a popular edge, and it soon transformed the referendum - ideally a critique on the transparency and accountability of the EU - into a specious, often odious and even deadly platform for ethnic nationalists, reactionaries and even those with fascist sympathies. And no incidents more so than the terrible assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox: shot and stabbed before dying hospital - her murderer one Thomas Mair, an unassuming local man revealed to have Neo-Nazi and white nationalist connections before the incident; the same man proclaiming "Death to Traitors" at his first court hearing.

Jo Cox MP - Assassinated by Thomas Mair on 16th June, 2016

Even in the shock and cooling of rhetoric that followed, the ethno-centric and populist narrative continued; the incident seeming to work the edge off the leave campaign up until the referendum on the 23rd. After an initial boost to remain, the night gradually went to leave: working and middle class regions of England voting to leave while only London and a few scattered, cosmopolitan bastions remained. But, outwith the cultural and ethnic economy of England and Wales, it seemed that the more northern nations of Northern Ireland and Scotland described a vastly different ambition in their voting habits. N. Ireland voted 18 to 7 to remain, while Scotland - the entire country - voted to remain. The ultimate result come the weary and resigned morning that followed found about a million votes in difference between the respective camps, but a jagged victory for leave. The results of this were immediate in their controversy and the effect remains to wholly unfold: the value of the pound plummeted to a 30 year low (last seen in 1985), economic uncertainty pulverized markets world wide and immediate ambiguity over the next step in the abysmal process of tearing Britain from the wider fabric of the EU brought the resignation of PM Cameron; Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader of Labour, also faces calls to resign.
Example of an Anti-Polish pamphlet posted in
 Polish migrant communities 
More so - and in a stinging reverse for the compelling, ebullient reputation for English culture - the incidence of racially aggravated and outright motivated crimes has increased sharply after the brexit vote: Poles, Muslims and other groups of ethnic description having been subject to remarkably overt abuse and discrimination. In the case of ordinary citizens, to medical professionals, media officials and others discriminated against, brexit seems to have spurred a rampant new consensus among those suspicious and outright hostile to other groups as the vote's outcome seems to have vindicated their reservations openly, and without regret. In all, as of the 30th, the Metropolitan Police have witnessed a 57% increase in the number of post-brexit related incidents involving ethnic groups of one description or another; a disturbing and remarkable trend which punctuates the emerging dimension of a post-EU Britain, and the cultural discourse which informs it.

A State of Disrepair?

The singular consequences of brexit manifesting to the affront and pain of so many - to to mention the future depredations promised and the social legacy engendered by this act of self-mutilating jingoism. The unfolding story of brexit as unsavory as the campaign for it, the myriad of new challenges and trials facing the UK - still marred by failed austerity and neo-liberal consensus - finds many actively puzzling over the future of a country so seemingly divided upon itself: the cleavage of ethnic nationalism, disparity, inequality, representation, social justice, economic pressures and the increasingly removed, populist English narrative in British public life. The economics of the situation baring out the fears of experts, some of those supportive of brexit have been known to express doubts, regrets and reservations - citing a lack of understanding or appreciation for what the referendum was. In this sense, much can be said, though this is a painfully singular measure of systemic issues made one. 

The long standing issue of English ethnocentrism, and more so, the casual conceits such a sub-culture engenders, has been fed by an education system sorely lacking -in fact failing - to impress successive generations - of their European identity, and their place in the European experience because of and not despite the European Union. More so, it remains that a legacy of a country ravaged by neo-liberal political and socio-economics is often dire and painful, in the very least. The erosion of the welfare state, insensate and disingenuous discussions over the role of government and the influence of the much disparaged "Brussels" in British life has reinforced the populist - and ethnic - narrative of blaming the interference of foreigners, while private interests, corporate entities and other bodies increasingly bastardize the public sector and other vital organs of the state. Indeed, the neo-liberal consensus - compounded latterly by the conservatism of Cameron's governments - have instilled an increasingly reactionary, angry response from many working and lower middle class communities while what remains of the British Labour and Liberal Democratic parties has been loathe to address, explore or actively champion much of what constituted left wing politics: universalism being one of the greatest - perhaps the paramount - victim of this caustic paradigm in British politics. 

The advent of the war on terror after 9/11, the successive wars in the middle east and the ongoing Syrian civil war in which hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere have flocked to Europe was the final, major catalyst for the outrageous, dismal and dangerous situation that has overtaken the UK as populist, reactionary and right wing interests rallied in the singular pursuit of what they perceived to be a unique opportunity. The consequences - more broadly - afterwards may not have been intended in manner, but the tone of the what is evolving, even now, has brought to bare so much of what has troubled England for centuries - and so little of what was once promising about that culture.

England & Wales vote to Leave,
 but N. Ireland & Scotland vote to Remain
More so, the constitutional dimension - for indeed, there is one - suggests a far more fractious and disordered future for the UK than governments of the past could have dreamed. Whereas much of England and Wales did vote to leave, the majority of Northern Ireland and all of Scotland voted to remain: incidents which promoted debates over democratic deficits and potential solutions to the seeming inequity of both nations being pulled from the European Union against the mandate of their respective peoples. The case of N. Ireland finding calls for a referendum on Irish unity as the economic and social issues posed by brexit amount to serious challenges to a post-good Friday society in the country; the question of border crossing a sensitive one as though the Republic of Ireland remains a EU member, it may be required to harden its border with the north - adversely effecting trade, travel and the social situation of the respective Protestant and Catholic communities there. 

In Scotland, the issue is one not without a certain irony. The original Independence referendum of 2014 defeated over doubts concerning the economy - especially links to the EU - have effectively defeated themselves; as have those who once championed them. The ruling SNP's statement that another referendum would not be considered without a drastic change in material circumstance has been indubitably met and the nation's whole hearted support of EU membership - the entire country voting to remain with no exceptions - poses questions about Scottish sovereignty, and that future prosperity may very well lie with that nation becoming an independent country to remain within the EU. In these respects, we find that - far from preserving and harnessing British sovereignty - brexit may very well have been a historically unique and ironically effective catalyst for serious debates over a future where the UK is far from united.

In these hectic days after the historic vote so much has been said, so much done and yet so little thought between them. The declining financial situation and the forbidding prognosis regarding Britain's economic prospect not seeming to - as yet - deflate many brexit supporters, the troubling social situation has been one of alarm and astonishment while British politics lurches.The Conservative Party spotted by a not unusual usurpation from within as a leadership race begins, with Boris Johnson - whose ambition was a prime element of brexit's internal politics - emerges as favorite to succeed Cameron. As regards Labour, the party's shocking and mortifying disconnect from political reality continues as MP's resign from the shadow cabinet in hopes of unseating the left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn: their actions a sad testament to their bastardized politics and an imperious desire to emulate the social and philosophical values of the supposed adversaries in the Conservative Party. As the situation is not yet wholly played out - quite literally a new story or page turned everyday - it remains where and in what sorry, sad state brexit will leave Britain in - and that is before what remains of the country tries to fashion some future beyond the climes of Europe, and with no direction to speak of beforehand either.

Clark Caledon.