All of Europe is haunted by a specter — or, more accurately, a Blob.
The Blob gets its title from its namesake horror films, and was coined by perennial British cabinet minister Michael Gove, who used it to describe the vested interests in the field of education when he was the sector’s secretary of state.
It is a ravening collective, opposing reform in all its guises. It’s homogenizing and determined to kill any innovative idea. It replicates and, fungus-like, spreads across government.
In Britain in particular, civil servants are drawn from a certain social class, and by and large, they share similar views. They’re the views of Britain’s university-educated middle classes, associated with urban living, technocracy and a dislike of proletarian interests and politics.
The Blob loves regulations and lawyers. It includes trade unions, civil servants and regulators. It glories in obstruction, masquerading as the price we pay for being sensible. It listens delightedly to James O’Brien on LBC radio, verbally roughing up politically incorrect taxi drivers who ought to have gone to university. In Britain, the Blob likes high taxes, the EU and the memory of the 2012 London Olympics — in the Blob’s mind, the country’s finest moment in recent years.
The Blob is indifferent to economic growth and such vulgarities as commerce. It includes NGOs and charities that, through a combination of friendly tax law and government grants, are often paid by the state to lobby itself.
And when former Prime Minister Liz Truss — a bold, risk-taking reformer in her own mind and an opponent of the Blob-inclusive “antigrowth coalition” — announced her resignation, I’m informed, though cannot verify, a loud cheer went up among the civil servants in the Cabinet Office watching it live on television.
Her exit was preceded by the appointment of Blob-friendly Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who strongly believes in spending cuts, and she’s now succeeded by Blob-friendly Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who — throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and since — has followed the orthodoxy of Britain’s famously insular and stuffy Treasury.
In many ways, Sunak is a creature of the Treasury. His pandemic policies, cooked up in the heart of the building, fueled an inflation the Treasury insisted would never occur. He favors tax rises, opposes cuts to Britain’s generous state pension, and is wary of doing anything that might imperil the country’s housing bubble, which the Blob likes so very much.
With Sunak, the adults are now back in charge.
From the state-funded BBC to the establishment Times and the Blob-fathers at the Guardian — that’s what the press now insists. We’re back to centrist orthodoxy, and it’s like returning home after an unpleasant holiday.
Britain has been unsuccessfully flirting with ditching the Blob for the past six years. Its voters rejected the European Union in 2016 — something the Blob will never forgive, nor forget. It then elected an unruly Conservative majority, led by the rumpled Boris Johnson and the deranged Dominic Cummings in 2019, looking to shake things up, move fast and break things.
Britain responded to the pandemic differently too, hiring venture-capital vaccine czar Kate Bingham who — before achieving her triumph in vaccinating Britons at top speed — was almost defenestrated by the Blob and its human surrogates several times because of her innovative approaches.
And once Johnson was overthrown, the Conservative party elected its most anti-Blob leader yet in Truss, who so spooked the money and bond markets that they crashed, tipping her out after less than two months in office.
Now, the Blob has won. Orthodoxy has returned. And this isn’t only true in Britain — there are signs that its European counterparts are strengthening across the Continent as well.
Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister, won’t relish comparisons to Truss, but she did run a similarly anti-establishment, anti-elite campaign. She said the effete elites hate Christianity, family, Italy and so on, and that she was the champion of those things. And yet, upon arriving in office, Meloni has done nowhere near as much as Truss did to scare the horses, appointing five technocrats to her cabinet.
Italy is especially susceptible to the Blobification of those who attain power, however, as was the case with Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister in successive cabinets from 2019. The former parliamentary leader of the anti-elite 5Stars, he was a young, brash character who disdained the way things were done. Yet, he fell out with the 5Stars quite quickly when in government, and soon started pleasing the technocrats.
Eventually, he left the party he’d previously led to electoral triumph and started his own, much more moderate party, which was wiped out in this year’s elections. In just three years, Di Maio went from being the most visible critic of the mainstream to the mainstream’s cabinet-level avatar.
The Blob is back in the driving seat elsewhere too, as the central banks take back power. This is hardly a good thing. Every central bank across the developed world is run by Blob-like characters, and they all screwed up the current wave of inflation, reassuring all and sundry that they had everything under control. Instead, they kept base rates of interest at historic lows for far too long, and thought they could maintain monetary easing for years at no long-term cost.
Entire economies — and whole generations — will pay for that error for decades to come.
The European administrative state screwed up too. It complacently thought itself well-prepared for a respiratory epidemic, and then all hell broke loose during the pandemic. It also largely failed to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin over the course of 20 years, believing every imperialist venture was just a temper tantrum, after which normality could resume.
Even now, the European Blob is unable to compute the emergence of a new Cold War with China, Iranian imperialism across the Middle East, and the fact that Afghanistan will surely become a haven for terror groups capable of a new 9/11.
Yes, the Blob is back in power in Britain and Europe, but its victory is not ours. We have a lot to fear from the triumph of the Blob.
This essay was originally published in Politico Europe.