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Home | 2016 | January

Not like us

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2016-01-25 07:35. Updated on UTC 2016-05-07

We have come to expect that the Prime minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, tells whoever is listening to him at any particular time only that which he believes they want to hear. His early career was in the public relations industry, in which field this ability to mislead and dissemble is regarded as the defining skill for the successful operator.

Trying to find out what he truly believes is therefore a dispiriting and quite pointless task, one which I renounced a long time ago. Perhaps the only conclusion is that he believes what he is saying in the moment that he says it – otherwise he would be a psychiatric case, wouldn't he? – but that belief has very little validity once that moment has passed.

It is usually impossible to tell from what he says whether he is lying – no, let's be kind: fantasising – or just being ignorant or stupid or some combination of all three.

Great Prime Ministers, people such as Pitt the Younger, Salisbury, Gladstone, Churchill, Thatcher, are great not because the tide of history went their way at crucial moments but because they had a grasp of history which transcended most of their fellows.

Churchill had a broad sweep of history in his mind. It meant that he was able to see the danger of Hitler long before most of his fellows. Mein Kampf was first published in 1925-6 and every single word of Hitler's analysis within it was worked out unerringly in the years that followed. Churchill had seen with his own eyes what was happening and foresaw precisely what was coming.

All of these great Prime Ministers had their flaws and made mistakes, sometimes grave ones, but the perspective of all of them went far beyond the quotidian. Nor did anything they ever said depend on whoever happened to be listening to them at the time.

The current British Prime Minister tells a French interviewer at the WEF in Davos that

Of course [I feel deeply European from the bottom of my heart]. Britain is a European country, and I feel very much part of that.

The slippery PR man tells us that 'Britain is a European country'. Well, of course it is, in the geographical sense that the British Isles is defined to be part of a continent called Europe. But whether 'Britain is a European country' in the deeper sense of the question is another matter altogether.

From a historical perspective, Britain is definitely not a European country when compared with the countries of continental Europe. For the last seven centuries Britain has been on a different track to the other countries of Europe. Those other countries have always had much more in common among themselves than they have had with Britain. They were all essentially feudal countries, particularly the countries of what used to be the Holy Roman Empire. Most were intolerantly Catholic, some were Protestant, all had a deep democratic deficit.

For nearly all of the last seven centuries they have been at war with each other – and if they weren't fighting they were threatening each other with war or building their armies for the next war. Britain could stand aside from the crazed settlement of the Treaty of Westphalia at the end of the Thirty Years' War, a settlement that probably led to as much ethnic and religious cleansing as it was supposed to prevent, a treaty which fossilised Europe into a patchwork of untenable feudal mini-states.

Thomas Jefferson, another far-sighted man, one of the great statesmen in history, made a perceptive but world-weary remark in 1822: '…the Cannibals of Europe are going to eating one another again'. [1]

From time to time Britain became embroiled in the cannibalism, frequently because its empire was affected, but, generally speaking, the wise watchword was to avoid entanglement with the continental lunatics: visit them, see the ruins, admire the scenery, drink the wine – just don't fraternise with them and don't make treaties with them. Unlike them, Britain had a developing democracy, a strong and rising middle-class and an industrial revolution – not for nothing was it called 'the workshop of the world'.

It is not an accident that the doctrine of 'splendid isolation' (and the nascent USA's isolationism) that lasted nearly half a century coincided with the glory days of British power and dominance. In the last decades of the nineteenth century Salisbury studiously avoided entanglement in the shifting continental alliances of the time. Once he had gone in 1902 Britain started forging agreements, understandings and treaties with European states.

Unfortunately, the cannibals were still gnawing at each other. Germany was now a nation state with a Prussian mind, France had exhausted itself with revolutions and the Austrian Empire was falling to bits like an old rococo coach with the gilding peeling off and the cherubs falling down. The old historical rivalries were all still there: in their time Kaunitz, Metternich and Tallyrand had made alliances and marriages and treaties, they had danced the dance, but ultimately nothing changed: the French (Bourbons) hated everyone else, as did the Germans (Hohenzollerns), the Russians (Romanovs) and the Austrians (Habsburgs).

In the years before World War I Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, did his best to play these Byzantine games of treaties and alliances, but it all unwound as it always would do – the Continental states just hated each other too much. Pitt the Younger, about a century before him, in despair at trying to deal with these cannibals is supposed to have said: 'Roll up that map [of Europe]: it will not be wanted these ten years.' Grey, in equal despair after the entry of Britain into the First World War, famously predicted: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.' There was nothing sensible, practical or utilitarian to be done with these maniacs.

British Imperial outposts were threatened and slowly but surely the whole shambles of World War I arose out of German megalomania, paranoia and intransigence, Austrian decrepitude and opportunism, Russian stupidity and wounded French pride. In the war the British found themselves playing that old game of the European states: moving large land armies (that most un-British of things) around flat countryside.

At the close of World War I Britain had won, but had lost almost everything. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war was yet another cannibals' treaty: scores were settled, particularly by France on the old enemy Germany, some old grudges were ignored, some old grudges such as those of the eastern European states were turned into new grudges that would re-emerge with new ferocity twenty years later. The British were dragged into this cat's cradle of treatification, whereas the USA wisely stayed out of it completely and thought of the business it could do as the new workshop of the world with the decrepit Europeans.

Waxing to his theme before his French listeners our Nestor tells us that:

Britain and France together, twice in the last century, have suffered enormous casualties and loss to prevent the domination of our continent, and in the Second World War to stop fascism and Nazism.

World War II was not fought to 'stop fascism and Nazism'. In the cat's cradle of treaties, Britain had somehow ended up guaranteeing (via the French) the security of Czechoslovakia and Poland, countries to the east of Germany. The idea that any nation to the west of Germany could protect nations to the east of Germany is baffling. There was no possible military resolution of these guarantees; appeasement was the only way forward, though Churchill and a few others saw that the process would not end well.

No one at the time considered 'Fascism' or 'Nazism' – they were certainly not going to war against it and there were plenty of people outside Germany and Italy, after the political and economic chaos of the years following World War I, who would not have been unamenable to the smack of firm government. That said, neither Fascism nor Nazism were British inventions, so yet another triumph for the Continental mind.

Nor was Communism a British invention. After the temporary breakdown of order on the Continent that took place after 1848 only Communism was left as the ideology that could take on the feudal despotisms that still ruled Europe. Is it any surprise that the 'modern' states on the Continent – France, Germany, Italy, Spain – that avoided the grisly experience of full Soviet rule, still yearn for socialist control? It's in their DNA.

The states of continental Europe, only ever having known autocracy until after the Second World War, were also deeply infested with concepts of Roman law; concepts that were quite foreign to the sensible, practical British system, a system which had proved itself for centuries and which Britain casually tossed away when it subjugated itself to the European Union.

Whilst we are at it, let's also dispose of that old saw that World War II was about what came to be called later the Holocaust. Hardly anyone outside Germany cared about the Jews on the Continent until very late, when the terrible scale of Nazi atrocities became visible in the newly liberated concentration camps. It was all in Mein Kampf, but nobody bothered.

At the end of World War II Britain had won, but had lost almost everything again, just as in 1918.

And then there is Cameron's 'prevent the domination of our continent'. The good PR man did not mention who the dominator was, but his French auditors would know exactly who he meant. I'd like to see him repeat that statement to a German audience. Since Germany is now the economic powerhouse of the European Union, that domination seems to have not been prevented at all. And in constitutional terms, the entire extended European Union also dominates the continent and us too, come to think of it.

And finally, the 'British Identity' red-herring. [2] It is a practical impossibility to define a cultural identity for a country, region or even a town. Any characteristic – warm beer, fair play, queuing – has so many exceptions, is so fuzzy that it is worthless. I haven't lived in Britain for many years, yet I still regard myself as British. I am a Brit currently surrounded by foreigners – I am not the alien here. The idea of 'British Identity' is not really necessary, either, because, as we have seen above the country of the British is not by any standard a continental European country. History speaks clearly, we don't need concepts of race, nationality or blood.

Historically, we should never have joined this European Union shambles and we should disentangle ourselves from it at the earliest possible opportunity. On any historical measure – social, political, religious or economic – Britain was never part of the Continent. Pygmies with no sense of history signed Britain up for it.

Oh, and by the way, a different Prime Minister might be a nice idea, too. Perhaps one who read history or classics, not that intellectual excrescence, PPE. Even one who just reads books would be an improvement.

References

  1. ^ Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Letters, 1 June, 1822]
  2. ^ For some discussion of these themes see David Abulafia, 'Britain: apart from or a part of Europe?', History Today, 11 May 2015, online and more generally Historians for Britain campaign website.

Update 07.05.2016

The Europeanisation of British institutions

From Peter Hitchen's blog, 05 May 2016: London is a Republic with a President. Why aren't we more interested? An accurate observation of the way that 'not-like-us' is being transformed into 'more-like-us'.

Why aren’t people more interested in the Republic of London, which tonight (5th May 2016) chooses its next President? Far more attention is paid to Scottish independence from the UK (an inevitability) than to the fact that the national capital has more or less seceded already, and has a republican form of government.

It is all part of an enormous constitutional revolution launched by the Blairite Eurocommunists but unimpeded by the ‘Conservative’ Party at the time, and unreversed by it later.

Let us sum this up:

The expulsion of most of the independent and uncontrollable hereditary peers from the House of Lords, and their replacement by nonentities appointed by party leaders, and so easily biddable by the executive. This did not merely weaken the Lords and strengthen the elective tyranny of Downing Street. It directly threatened the monarchy. If inherited office was improper for members of Parliament, how could it be defended in the case of the head of state. The rapid collapse of Tory opposition to this reform left the monarchy exposed to a future attack on the same lines (which I confidently predict not long after the next Coronation). It also produced a House of Lords whose size and character is now almost entirely indefensible, and which likewise cannot last. No prizes for guessing that it will in time be replaced by an elected senate which will be controlled, like the Commons, by the political parties and their whips and apparatchiks, and so by the executive.

The creation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland of legislative chambers which use continental systems of election, designed to abolish the adversarial system which had until recently been such a strong safeguard of liberty in this country.

The creation of a special semi-detached status for Northern Ireland which can at any time be transferred to Dublin sovereignty by a single referendum.

These are big changes, and reflect the struggle for mastery over these islands between the declining and weakening federation known as the United Kingdom and the increasingly powerful rival federation known as the European Union. Two rival federations (as Yugoslavia found) cannot contend indefinitely for the same territory, and the creation of devolved governments in the outlying nations made and makes it easier for them to form direct relationships with the true capital in Brussels, bypassing London more and more.

Devolution, so called, is actually part of the Europeanisation of these islands, and cannot be properly understood unless this point is grasped. The EU superstate finds it can digest former nation states much more easily if they are first broken down into smaller sections. Hence its near-obsession with ‘regions’ which are gradually being created in England by a salami-slicing process in which the ancient system of counties is emptied of all real power and becomes purely ceremonial. Functions such as planning, ambulance and fire services and (probably soon) police, have been or will be transferred in fact if not in name to regional authorities.

But back to London, whose form of government draws its legitimacy not from a Royal charter or anything so foolishly English, but to a referendum, a thing which can only happen if the government wants it to and whose result is usually fore-ordained.

The Greater London Authority is not elected like any other city or county council, but through a Continental Additional Member system, in which some members are picked from a list rather than sitting for actual wards or constituencies. I think it true to say that every new elected body created since the Blair revolution has spurned the traditional British system of simple first-past-the-post election. I suspect this is so that, by the time they get round to doing this to the House of Commons, nobody will think it odd or strange, or wonder why.

But this is as nothing to the election of its head of state, the Mayor. Even this (though it is bound to be a two-horse race in reality) is done on a supplementary vote system rather than on first past the post.

And that is as nothing to the real unexamined point. The head of state of this very large and strategically important part of a supposed Kingdom is elected. Mayors until this time have been constitutional monarchs, neutral, powerless figures usually chosen as a reward for long service and affability. The Mayor of London is a President, a thing repugnant to our style of government. The post is American. The method of election is European. He is not picked by the majority in the Assembly, as Prime Ministers are (more or less) picked by the majority in the Commons. He is directly elected and his own personal authority derived from direct election. The Assembly may question him, but lacks the power to remove him by a simple vote of no confidence.

You may like this or not (I do not) but it seems to me that it is quite revolutionary. I note that George Osborne is trying (as Labour once did) to spread the idea of elected mayors. I suspect this will probably end up by taking a ‘regional’ form, which will of course please the EU. But it also spreads the idea of an elected head of state, who is obviously not a hereditary monarch. I have always said the Tories would guillotine the Queen in Trafalgar Square if it thought this would help them gain or retain office. But obviously a softer, kinder, gentler sunshinier way to a republic would suit them better. This may be it.