I cannot move into another week without recording my thoughts concerning the one which has just passed. Something astounding happened.
A man was democratically elected to the most powerful job on the planet who defied all the norms of what is considered to be acceptable behaviour. This man made no concessions whatsoever to the sensibilities of the electorate he was appealing to and came right out to lay before it his brazen take on the world. In view of the outrage caused in so many quarters, how did such a man persuade that electorate to set aside the shock of his message and, most of all, the way it was delivered? He has now not only been handed the keys to all our futures, but he will be given the nuclear codes as well.
The story goes back a long way, perhaps half a century. At that time a world existed of nation states and of families within those states. Most had functioned for a long time – Germany was the exception – and people had grown surprisingly fond of them. They saw them as an extension of their own, close family and it gave them a strong sense of belonging. Almost without exception they were immensely proud of them. When troubled times came, it turned out they were prepared to die for them, much as a mother would die for her child.
Then came those two terrible world wars which, with the help of perverted science, made war deadly to the point of being suicidal. Humanity recoiled in horror and said never again. Agencies were put in place, starting with the United Nations and followed up by a multitude of other such as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, various NGOs, NATO and many, many more, all designed to govern the conduct of man and his disputes in a peaceable manner.
The bogeyman identified as being behind past conflicts was the selfish, jingoistic nation state. That, along with its borders, had to be downgraded and erased, over time, into irrelevance. Europe began the charge with what morphed, with the utmost stealth, into the European Union.
Also a new, more humane way had to be found to deal with individual misfortune and the Welfare State was born. The old were to receive decent pensions and they, along with everybody else, were to be medically cared for. The four great plagues of want, idleness, poverty and disease identified in the Beveridge Report were to be tackled wholesale for the first time.
But this was not enough. The architects decided that they must complete the work with what became known as political correctness. They must criminalise beastliness towards minorities – all minorities – however obscure. Eventually this extended to the very utterances which people made. A revolution was in the making and, like all revolutions, it needed its cadre of zealots to force it through. Step forward to carry out this work the intellectuals, the academics, the lawyers, the industrialists, the politicos, the entertainment luvvies and eventually the bulk of the media itself. Oh, and don’t let’s ever forget, perhaps the most culpable of the lot, the bankers.
The EU proved the perfect vehicle for making this revolution possible. It also made it respectable even though, indeed, most of it was anyway. While noble in its concept, the EU began the process of subsuming its patchwork of nation states into a homogenised whole. Globalisation and multiculturalism became the new buzzwords and the developed world was urged to indulge in an orgy of consumerism. This had the effect of ratcheting up debt to unsustainable levels and soon the bubble burst with the financial crisis of 2008 – the worst in living memory. Luckily lessons had been learned from the last catastrophic crisis, the 1929 Wall Street crash, and a much more joined up world was able to climb out of it with a fraction of the misery of before.
But, like all things, it came at a price and that price is the one which propelled Trump to power and is propelling us out of the EU. The little man who had listened to his “betters” for fifty years had had enough. He had developed a deep and bitter antipathy for those whose greed had brought the misfortune upon him yet walked off smelling of roses and richer than ever. He had watched, with silent rage, the power brokers ship his jobs to sweatshops abroad and saw his warm and loving communities decimated and turned into wastelands. All the while the men who had done it grew richer by the billion while the poor bloody infantry saw their wages frozen and their living standards plummet. Adding salt to the wound, as the little man saw it, was the multiculturalism which the know-alls had forced on him.
What unites the two seismic events of Trump and Brexit is a deep disdain, felt by many ordinary people in the Western world, for a ruling class which, without consultation, sought to change forever the very nature of their societies. But it has not gone unnoticed that this privileged elite have never been an active or even visible part of the societies they are busily changing. Theirs is a cloistered world of high gates and security guards where the hoi polloi are well and truly kept at arm’s length.
Their insular world now trembles before the forces currently ranged against it. But watch this space: Trump and Brexit are only the beginning. Fresh earthquakes can be expected right across Europe in the months ahead.
The race for the US presidency is now coming into its final furlong and, against odds which would have seemed impossible even six months ago, Donald Trump is within a whisker of entering the Oval Office. It is therefore incumbent upon on us to ask what sort of presidency we would be looking at were this to happen.
First, let us be clear about one thing: this admittedly bizarre man is a man gifted with huge abilities. Yes, he is a showman of the most extraordinary kind; a loudmouth, many would argue, yet also thin skinned. He is capable of cruel invective and even crueller put-downs. He also espouses policies – his great wall and ban on Muslims – which would be sudden death to any conventional politician. But then again he isn’t a conventional politician. He is a businessman and a very successful one at that. He says things that are thought by many but are unsayable by the Washington elite. And it is that Washington elite that most fears his arrival in the White House.
“I’m going to drain the swamp,” is Trump’s colourful yet terrifying promise. In classical terms, that’s a vow to ‘clean the Augean Stables’, the definition of which is to ‘clear away corruption’ or to ‘perform a large and unpleasant task that has long called for attention’. Hercules is the one said to have carried it out so perhaps that’s where we get the term ‘the labours of Hercules’.
Anyway, Trump says that the little man is trodden underfoot and his interests are completely subordinated to those of the ruling classes. By these he means the politicians, the bankers, the captains of industry and, indeed, all the country’s decision makers – be they in the law, the military, the town or county halls, academia or even the church. There is, he says, a vast gang-up by all those he considers view themselves as superior, a cut above the common herd. We may have arrived, he argues, after centuries of struggle at a one person, one vote system of government in a system where the movers and shakers have contrived to make it seem otherwise.
Once upon a time, the people who put themselves forward for public office were high minded – or at least seemed so – and were driven by factors other than those of enriching themselves. More often than not they were worldly people, middle-aged and sometimes old who had already proved themselves in their chosen field and were esteemed by their peers. Among their successors, however, venality reigns supreme and you have the spectacle of presidents and prime ministers – Tony Blair is a case in point – using the prestige of their former office to tout for business among the world’s most unedifying rulers and all to join the ranks of the mega-rich themselves.
It is a moment of high irony that the dragon which threatens to slay this cabal of self-servers is as rich as Croesus himself. Yet he has never viewed himself as part of the mega-rich’s charmed circle and they, despite his riches, would never have admitted him to it. His brash vulgarity, no-holds-barred rhetoric and giant ego did not lend itself to their view of the world. That view might be one that tolerated all manner of low-life activities – business or otherwise – but they had to be masked in a veneer of respectability and kept from the public view. It was many of Trump’s sentiments which drove our own recent Brexit campaign.
So what are we to make of a looming Trump presidency? Should we fear this devil-may-care outsider, who threatens to hit the establishment like a tsunami? I think not. There are so many checks and balances in the world’s greatest democracy that, were he to run amok – which he has not done in business – he could be contained. And there is just a chance that he could succeed and ‘make America great again’. (Actually, in my view it has never ceased to be great.) In spectacular fashion with this latest Hillary FBI expose, a 10-point Clinton lead has narrowed in two days to one point.
This crazy election of two incredibly flawed candidates is now Trump’s to lose. If he stays on message for one week, avoids scandals of his own and puts a zip on his mouth he might just do it.
Trump has called Hillary many things in times past. He maintains she is ‘crooked’ and can never be straight with the American people, either in her business dealings or her period as Secretary of State. He believes, as we Brits like to say, that she is not a ‘fit and proper person’ to have charge of the destiny not just of her own nation, but that of the entire free world. He also holds that she represents the dark heart of the politico-economic system that he believes so oppresses the American nation. Now The Donald has found his ace in the hole: her very fitness to govern in the literal sense.
When called to the colours long ago as a humble National Serviceman, my countrymen proposed putting a gun in my hand with a license to use it against our country’s enemies – of which at that time there were many. But first they were going to ensure my competence, both mentally as well as physically. To that end I had to undergo a rigorous medical. They needed to know that I would be up to supporting my comrades, whose lives might depend on my actions. Any suspicion that I could fail at the crucial moment would have disqualified me.
The President of the United States operates on an altogether different plane. He or she, as Head of State as well as Commander-in-chief, has the lives and well-beings of countless millions as a responsibility. Physical as well as mental health is a crucial job requirement. The finger that hovers over the nuclear button must be up to it.
After this weekend, Hillary Clinton would be foolish to think that she can wave it all away with an unfunny joke, as she has done in the past over health issues. She is asking, on the strength of her say-so, that the American people trust her in the matter.
These are perilous times we are living through. The end of the imagined peace dividend that victory in the Cold War would bring us now seems a distant chimera. An ever more assertive Putin in the Kremlin is joined by an almost deranged Kim Jong-un in North Korea, who in quick succession last week loosed off three ballistic missiles, while Syria burns. Hillary has been gung-ho for years to impose a no-fly zone over that country. While that might have made sense three years ago, with Russian jets now crisscrossing its skies daily such an imposition at this time could unleash a big power conflagration. The stresses of such a build -up of tensions would almost certainly bring on one of Hillary’s fits.
The truth is that it is just not good enough that the Americans and all the rest of us should have such worries concerning one individual’s health and fitness for purpose. Hillary must be prevailed on to submit herself to an independent panel of health experts or, at the very least, make her very latest, up-to-date medical records available for inspection.
In my view it is an open question whether she can survive the next two incredibly gruelling months of presidential campaigning. I said as much back in May when I wrote about Hillary and her questionable health on my blog. Now it is out in the open. If she steps down, or is forced to do so, who will take her place? Would good ol’ Joe Biden, Obama’s Vice President, step up to the plate to save the nation and possibly all the rest of us? Although there was talk of him throwing his hat into the ring during the primaries, I wouldn’t bet on that one. Bernie Sander’s devoted and almost messianic followers would be incandescent with rage were that to happen. Quite rightly, they would argue that, democratically, their man is the heir apparent. So Ultra-Left Bernie – the US’s own Jeremy Corbyn – would end in the ring against The Donald.
In that event would anyone care to place a bet against the world waking up one November morning, just a few weeks from now, to a President Donald Trump?
Stunned, gobsmacked, incredulous, horrified. All of these adjectives have been expressed around the world at Britain’s decision to quit the European Union. If Britons doubted that theirs was still a nation of consequence, they need only consider the world’s reaction to the referendum result last Friday.
I have to say that I can think of no braver an act of the working man since 1940 when, faced with what seemed like the overwhelmingly successful Nazi juggernaut, he chose to stand and fight rather than accept what many of his leaders considered to be an honourable and generous peace.
This time it was not military might that he defied, but the massed ranks of the political, business, banking and academic classes who told him that he would be committing economic suicide to quit the EU. Though he did not put his person at risk, he certainly – if they were to be believed – put his job and his family’s finances on the line.
But he is a stubborn creature, the British working man, and he is not easily cowed. Over the years he has developed an increasing distrust and deep antipathy to those who consider themselves his better. And as the fanciful figures were daily trotted out to warn of the doom which awaited him, he did not harken to their warnings but instead dug in his heels even further and effectively defied them to do their worst. Magnificent, I call it, even though I voted to remain. It reminds me of Churchill’s snorted response when he was invited to deplore a well-known military man’s alleged act of buggery: “In this weather! Good God, man, it makes you proud to be British!”
Not in over a hundred years has British politics been in such a state of turmoil. Civil war rages in the Labour Party while the Conservatives are in disarray with their leader, the prime minister, forced to quit fourteen months after winning a stunning electoral victory. In the other party, the leader has had two thirds of his shadow cabinet walk out and 170 of his MPs back a ‘No Confidence’ motion with him retaining the loyalty of a mere 40. A hundred-plus-year-old party is, as a result, on the brink of oblivion.
All this is taking place at a time when, like in 1940, it is us now against the world as a result of Brexit casting us adrift into uncharted waters. As if this isn’t enough mighty England has been ignominiously put out of the UEFA European Championship by the minnow, Iceland, playing for the very first time in the tournament.
What are we to do? What has become of us? First, let us remind ourselves of those many centuries when we operated as an independent, sovereign nation. Did we make a decent fist of it? I’ll say we did! We became the richest nation on the planet. We pioneered free trade, set up the first factory systems, launched the Industrial Revolution, carried our products to the far corners of the earth and along the way saved Europe from tyranny in two world wars which we could have stayed out of. It ill behoves, therefore, those ingrates across the water to forget this.
So it can fairly be said, in answer to my question, that we did pretty well for ourselves as Britain plc and we can do so again. My own feeling is that what we have done will encourage others to champion their rights, which are in danger of being subsumed in a Brussels despotism. Meantime, the shadow of an ever more assertive Germany hangs over Europe. Nothing, it now seems, can be done without first clearing it with Berlin.
I have no doubt that other nations will, as a result of Brexit, be encouraged to call for their own referendums. This will be the point at which Brussels will take a long hard look at itself. What it fails to recognise is the incredible pride and patriotism which exists in each of its member states. You only have to look at the flag waving at Eurovision and other such gatherings to catch a glimpse of this. Being subsumed and having their national identities eroded is not what they want.
When a new Europe emerges we may be prepared to look again at re-joining. There is no objection to Europe punching its weight in this emerging world of giants, but it must do so in a less intrusive, respectful and democratic way.
On both sides of the Atlantic there is a dangerous disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. That is why, I suspect, such unlikely characters as Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump have confounded all expectations and caused us to believe that, in the current febrile atmosphere, virtually anything in politics can happen. The same disconnect can be said of the unelected and unaccountable gnomes of Brussels. At the moment we are cynically digesting the latest piece of hyperbole concerning the coming EU referendum and await with trepidation the next shocking apocalyptic revelation.
Genocide and war, they tell us, is a possible consequence if we make the wrong decision, as is a five-million rush to these crowded shores to swell our already ballooning numbers. The ten plagues of Egypt must surely be in the pipeline as the next possible item on the agenda. Which side will jump in with its own 21st century version of these horrors to scare the living daylights out of us is anybody’s guess. Is the public buying any of this nonsense? I suspect not.
Forecasts are notoriously unreliable. We spend billions worldwide trying to predict the weather and still we get it wrong. In the seventies, National Geographic featured scientists forecasting another ice age. In the 1920s, economists were convinced that a return to the gold standard would cure our economic woes. It made them worse. When Mrs Thatcher proposed her remedies, 364 leading economists signed a letter to say they would not work. They did. When the three party leaders, the entirety of the establishment and almost all the chattering classes said we should join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in the early 1990s, the ERM, they were wrong again. Many of the same group of know-alls also wanted us sign up to the euro and predicted doom if we did not. How lucky for us that we declined to listen to them. “We would be able to do our business in Afghanistan without loss of life,” said the defence minister. Nearly 500 died. 13,000 would come to us from Eastern Europe, said Labour. Over 1,000,000 did. When George Osborne proposed austerity, Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, rushed in saying he was “playing with fire.” We ended up with the highest growth rate in the western world and over 2 million new jobs created. The governor of the Bank of England said it would be necessary to put up interest rates when employment fell below 7%. It was not.
So much for the “experts” knowing what will happen. Why should we take any of their forecast seriously?
Referendums may seem like a good idea and, doubtless, they have their place in a working democracy, but they have a way of polarising society in a manner that general elections do not. Perhaps it is because they concern huge and generational issues, the results of which cannot be unpicked five years down the line when you realise you got it wrong. Whatever the reason, they seem to generate a level of bitterness unique to themselves. Remember the nastiness of some of the SNP zealots in 2014? Had I been a unionist at that time, I certainly would have thought it prudent to keep my head down and definitely not put a poster in my Glasgow flat window.
The truth is that whatever is decided on 23rd June, the show will go on and the good ship Great Britain Plc. will plough on much as it did throughout all those centuries before the European Union was even heard of.
At this moment in history it cannot be denied that the EU is going through a rough patch. The euro may yet implode; even moneybags Germany has not enough to save beleaguered Spain, never mind troubled Italy if the markets call time on them. The single currency was certainly ill-conceived and has massive problems which have yet to be addressed. As for the Schengen Zone – that great leap of idealism – it poses a huge security risk in this volatile, post-9/11 world and it could be dynamite, literally. The EU’s policies are driving extremism in Europe leading to the rise of neo-Fascist parties. In terms of job creation, the EU is currently a disaster area and its growth rates is abysmal (on both of these counts we are an exception). A good case, you might argue for the Brexit. Why cling to a loser?
At the same time, you might equally argue that to cut ourselves loose might be to put ourselves on the wrong side of history. As well as staying at peace, a continent united is obviously going to be able to make its voice heard loudly in the world and its trade deals carry enormous clout.
Europe’s whole history since Rome fell apart has been to find a way of getting back together again. Various of its more powerful states have sought to do it under their own hegemony, but that has been unacceptable to the rest. Europe’s glory, and you have to say achievement, today is that it has found a way of doing so largely by consent rather than by coercion. Yet unfortunately in many important areas it has messed up and its democratic credentials are seriously flawed.
Perhaps a vote to leave might provide the system with the jolt it needs to make it acceptable, not just to us but to others who do not wish to see their identity subsumed in a monolithic super state which wishes to homogenise them all into a blandness and make all Europe seem the same. If Europe is to succeed a way must be found to preserve its charming idiosyncrasies as well as a meaningful level of sovereignty for its nation states.
Amidst all the who-ha over Ken Livingstone’s assertions about Hitler being a Zionist, one thing seems to have escaped the commentariat: he appears to be absolving Hitler from responsibility for the crimes committed after his election success in 1932. He does so by claiming that “Hitler supported Zionism” in 1932 “before going mad” following his entirely legal and success pursuit of power. The clear implication here is that we must accept that Hitler didn’t know what he was doing when he launched World War II or secretly ordered the lethal eradication of European Jews.
Across the entire world it is accepted that an insane person cannot be held responsible for his or her actions, however heinous. To be culpable, humanity has long held the view that a person must know the distinction between right and wrong – goodness and evil. That is why, also, there is a limit in a child’s case of criminal responsibility (in our case 10 years of age). If Livingstone is to be believed, even if we had captured Hitler we could not have put him on trial because he was a victim of a diseased mind. He was crazy. Perhaps Livingstone has convinced himself that the enormity of what Hitler did is in itself proof positive that he was mad. If that yardstick were to be applied more generally, then we were wrong to put Serbia’s tyrant, Slobodan Milosevic, on trial. Such a yardstick would also have excused Pol Pot of Cambodia and just about any other tyrant who ever lived.
The fact is that Hitler was the leader of a criminal gang of misfits who knew perfectly well what they were doing. Look no further than their efforts to conceal their murder of the Jews. This tells you that they knew what they were doing was wrong. Indeed, not one single paper relating to the Holocaust bares Hitler’s signature. All was communicated to his underlings verbally. This great and meticulous nation of record keepers kept no record of the biggest crime in human history. Livingstone’s own crime is to act as an apologist for such a man as Hitler.
The Europe which we put our signature to almost two generations ago is not the Europe we are being asked to vote on in a few weeks’ time. Then it was all about trade, except that is wasn’t.
The European Common Market began its life as something of a confidence trick. The political classes knew from the very beginning that it was a political project designed to relegate the nation states of Europe to a subservient role. They had concluded that they were nothing but trouble and were the biggest single cause of its terrible wars.
Just the same they knew that the peoples of Europe were, almost without exception, lovers of the lands which bore them and felt a deep attachment to the cultures which had developed within their borders. Talk at that stage of a European Union might have frightened the horses and run the risk of it being still-born. So they had to tread carefully. A mighty trading bloc though? Well, who could object to that? We all want to improve our standard of living.
Thus was born the Common Market. Europe had always been strong on markets and the use of that word was perfectly designed to allay suspicions. They were content to play the long game. Stage one was to lock the lot in lucrative trade arrangements, recognising that nations doing the bulk of their business with each other could not, thereafter, easily break free.
Actually, the whole business had begun even before the Treaty of Rome with the creation of the Iron and Steel Community of France, Germany and the Benelux countries. The idea there was that you couldn’t go charging off with a secret re-armament programme, as Hitlerite Germany had done, if all your iron and steel came from a common source.
Europe had had enough of war and a system, so they reasoned, had to be created whereby future outbreaks would be next to impossible. Although there was nothing wrong about that, hadn’t the setting up of NATO nine years earlier achieved that? As Europe grew richer – helped in no small part by the generosity of Uncle Sam with his Marshall Aid programme – it became safe to move on to stage two of the project and chuck overboard that boring old, and grudgingly conceded title, Common Market. Now it became the European Community.
Still no feathers were ruffled, but the more discerning of us could see where the project was headed. Not long afterwards came the great European Union and all was plain to see. With that came the burgundy coloured passports that let us all know – in case naively, a few of us nursed any continuing illusions of national independence – that we were now part of a burgeoning superstate. The Euro was meant to be the final brick in the wall.
The reason all the member states, with the exception of Britain, had been so accepting of the project was that they believed that the nation state, through its inability to protect them from the ravages of war, had been discredited. Only Britain’s island status had saved it from occupation. It therefore had no reason to lose faith in the nation. It stood proud of its institutions and the fact that its Industrial Revolution had changed the face of humanity. Also its exalted former position as the world’s greatest empire made it harder for it to become just another brick in the wall.
But now we must decide: do we cut loose and regain that independence which has been lost, or do we stick with it and with the confidence of a major player work within the system to bring it to the democratic accountability which we Anglo Saxons insist on? We are far from being alone in wishing this.
The world is increasingly moving in favour of what may be called the Anglosphere with our language and business models reigning supreme. I do not doubt that Britain PLC could cut a swathe in the world, but do we want a mighty power on our doorstep which we are unable to influence?
Nevertheless, worries abound concerning immigration, which apart from putting all our public services under strain, has the power to change the character of our country forever. Much of the fury and distrust of the political class which drives the Trump presidential campaign in America is at work here in Britain. They never asked us, say the doubters, about immigration and they never asked us if we were willing to cede sovereignty. They seem only interested in looking after themselves. And as to what Europe was really all about that, well that too, was founded on a lie.
Although the EU was a work of the utmost deceit, we are where we are and we should not necessarily quit because of that. Perhaps the best reason to stay is a geopolitical one. Out of the EU, however brilliantly we handle our affairs, with a population of 64 million ours might end up being a forlorn voice crying in the wilderness.
It is not an easy choice to make. But then who ever said life was easy?
At a time when the world is wrestling with perhaps it’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War Two a scenario is developing in the Far East which has the potential to eclipse even the worst that Russian air strikes and President Assad are capable of. It concerns North Korea.
Just when we had managed to convince ourselves that we had reigned in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the ‘Hermit State’ with its mad boy-wonder brags to the world that he has exploded a hydrogen bomb. He then follows this up a short time later by firing a rocket into space demonstrating that he can deliver his terrible toy virtually anywhere in the world.
Quite how his bankrupt state ever got the wherewithal to finance so horrendously an expensive operation as a nuclear bomb programme is something of a mystery (although I suppose starving its people helps) as indeed it is a mystery where he got the techno/scientific expertise to pull it off. Pakistan, in this regard, has a lot to answer for as one of its scientists is said to have sold the essential start up information. If this is so, what a crime against humanity this was. Pakistan itself is highly unstable and many consider that it is only a matter of time before it falls to the Taliban who may then gain access to its own illicit nuclear arsenal.
The bald fact that now confronts the world is that a pitiless, paranoiac delinquent has been allowed to assemble the ultimate weapon of mass destruction as well as the means of delivery. In truth we should have been much less worried about the mad mullahs of Iran acquiring it than Kim Jong-un.
What sort of message does it send out to the world that we have allowed this to happen? There are other states far bigger and more significant than North Korea with its 25 million people who may judge that their status in the world, as well as their ability to intimidate their neighbours, will be mightily enhanced by their possession of the bomb too.
Only the long-established democracies – which have the necessary checks and balances – can properly be trusted to hold such weapons and even then it would be better if none of them held such awesome power. Short of a ground invasion of North Korea, there are only two options available to the world. One is for the United Nations to consider expelling North Korea as a member and applying comprehensive sanctions backed up by a naval blockade, if necessary, to ensure that its strictures are not breached. The other is to call on China to do its duty by the rest of humanity.
North Korea is impervious to the protests of the entire world so long as it has the support of its northern neighbour. The umbilical cord of China is what keeps it going. Without it, it must bend. China, for its part, is fearful that if it cuts this cord it will have a Syria-style rush across its border. It is also fearful that a collapsing North Korea will fall into the arms of its prosperous and powerful neighbour, South Korea, whose armies, alongside its long-standing ally America, will advance to the Yalu river, the boundary between it and North Korea. China must be assured that the latter will not happen.
As it happens, China is furious at Kim Jong-un’s brinkmanship as is North Korea’s other neighbour in the region, Russia. There is now talk of America providing a shield for its allies in the region called THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) – a new Star Wars – and this absolutely terrifies both China and Russia as they cannot match America in this technology and it threatens to render obsolete their own nuclear arsenals.
So now is the time to get tough, not just with North Korea but with its indulgent backer, China. Either it wishes to curtail nuclear proliferation, which will surely happen if North Korea gets away with it, or it does not. Failure to come on side will spark an arms race in East Asia. With tensions already high in the South China seas over the huge oil deposits contested by six nations, this is the last thing that China must want. It risks a Balkan-style powder keg situation such as led up to the First World War igniting.
Remember Blaire’s apology for the Irish potato famine? Or Brown’s apology for our treatment of the Bletchley Park codebreaker, Alan Turing? How about his apology to the families of the 306 executed ‘cowards’ of WWI? This furore over Cecil Rhode’s Oxford University statue is another prime example of our breast-beating tendencies today. What nonsense it is to maintain that because ethnic minority students walk past a high-up – and out of the way – statue of the arch empire builder they are suffering a form of violence. Let’s grow up a little; this surely is over-egging it.
I am not saying that we should not be aware of what was done by us long ago around the world and, indeed, that much of it was wrong. It was even sometimes brutal. But that is to see it through today’s prism. George Washington was a slave owner and Elizabeth II tortured Catholics. Churchill excoriated Gandhi and the whole notion of Indian independence. He positively gloried in the British Empire. Are all his statues, worldwide, to be taken down, including the one in Parliament Square?
I can list many examples of terrible things done by our nation. I can also quote you many more carried out by other nations. Of course, that doesn’t make any of them right. It is simply to contextualise them.
The retreat from empire in the British case was orderly and largely peaceable. In France’s it was bitter and bloody. The First World War brought about an upsurge of nationalism. The genie was partially put back in the bottle after that war, but it burst out with a vengeance following the Second World War and there was no putting it back. Bankruptcy and the need to rebuild Europe convinced us that the imperial game was up. Others were slower to realise it.
Those undergraduate agitators should pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that their privileged Oxford education came courtesy of one of the undoubtedly good things that Rhodes did with his life: he donated an immense sum to the university. I know his detractors will leap in and say that it was wealth accumulated on the backs of poor, benighted Africans, and to an extent, this is true. But we are where we are and numbers of them are at least seeing some of it coming back to them. The fact is we cannot undo the past.
Nowadays we are much taken to apologising for our forefathers’ misdeeds and though I see no great harm coming from that I have to ask myself where it ends. Should Rome apologise to us for its soldiers flogging our Queen Boudicca and raping her daughters? It may, for all I know, be that it makes a few of our ‘victims’ feel better for our having owned up and taken sack-clothe. Perhaps the idea is not that at all, but to make us feel better about ourselves. The question then is whether we are actually achieving anything meaningful at all. Does it help to rake over old coals and give ourselves an unhelpful guilt complex?
If we were such a shower of cruel oppressors, why are our former colonies so anxious to maintain their links with us? Why do they play an active part in the Commonwealth club and travel from the far corners of the earth for its bi-annual jamboree? It is telling that the French have not been able to form such a club.
It can be argued that while we took much – especially from India in the early years – we also gave much. We irrigated huge swathes of the country which hitherto had never been brought under the plough by constructing 40,000 miles of canals. We gave it, too, the largest railway system in all Asia (another 40,000 miles.) We also built and surfaced roads and constructed the 2,000-mile Grand Trunk Road east-west with trees either side to shield its travellers from the Indian sun. We gave our former subjects throughout the Empire the rule of law. We gave the Indian subcontinent parliamentary government. We also saved myriad constructs and temples, including the Taj Mahal, and its ancient language, Sanskrit, by setting up the School of Oriental Studies. We gave them an education system, which they maintain with all its rigours to this day, and we gave them a free press. Oh, and we also gave them the greatest love of their lives, cricket. It has become the poor boy’s hoped-for route out of poverty; their equivalent of our premier league.
In the last century of our rule there we developed a strong conscience so that, when we stood in mortal peril in the two World Wars, they martialled the largest volunteer armies the world has even known to help us win them.
As well as the profiteers and exploiters of the early years, we later sent the brightest and best that our country has ever produced to govern it. The special public school, Haileybury – set up to train those administrators in the languages and culture of the sub-continent – was second to none with, created in its wake, the Indian Civil Service, the most dedicated ‘sea-green incorruptible’ system ever devised. Its entry examination had no equal on earth.
Without exonerating Rhodes for his excesses, he, like many others of his time, believed fervently that they had a duty to mankind to spread British values across the world. It may seem presumptuous, even arrogant to us today, but because the Industrial Revolution had so changed the face of humanity they believed, with their strong Christian faith, that they were the elect of God, chosen to lead the world to a better future. It was an understandable enough trap to fall into and any country finding itself in that position might well have believed similarly. In truth they did mean well.
So let the callow hot-heads who will take away that priceless Oxford degree show a little humility themselves. They are young and, for the moment, know little of the world. For our part we are content to stand on the record and let history be the judge.
What disordered times we are living though now. What a total mess surrounds us on all sides. You have Islamic terrorism stalking our cities; the European Union buckling under the weight of a tide of ‘refugees’ while at the same time grappling with bankrupt states on its periphery; our own referendum to decide whether we’re going to cut and run; an Opposition in total disarray; an America which refuses anymore to act as the world’s policeman; and failed states lapping Europe’s boundaries which have collapsed into anarchy. As if this all wasn’t enough, the world is still not through the consequences of the biggest financial crash in living memory. What are we to make of it all?
Not so long ago, we faced a foe on the other side of the Iron Curtain. He was an implacable one who had the means to destroy us all. But he didn’t. There were ground rules which we both observed, since he knew that we had the power to destroy him, too. He wore a uniform and he had client states – a great many of them – which he kept in check, as we did ours. There would be stand-offs from time to time and localised bushfire wars, but they were handled within well understood rules which worked. All that is now history and no one knows any longer where they are.
I cannot help but think that a great mistake was made when Communism collapsed. The former enemy was prostrate and needed help, but he didn’t get it. He went through ten years of hell with robber barons (oligarchs) stripping the state of assets and operating a mafia-style regime. To curb it all, but without success, authoritarianism returned to Russia in the form of Vladimir Putin. But he did not see himself to be at odds with the European Union. Indeed, he sought to reach out to it and gain acceptance as a valued partner. He even wanted an accommodation with NATO on joint exercises.
But all these overtures fell on deaf ears and now you have a troublesome bear rampaging through the undergrowth, which has had to be put into the school-equivalent of ‘special measures’ with sanctions applied.
A new opportunity, however, presents itself in the Syrian quagmire to put right some of this damage. Russia is as anxious as we are to bring that murderous conflict to an end. It is equally understanding of the need to play its part in destroying Isis, the most malignant evil since the days of Pol Pot.
Just as important, it accepts that the Syrian dictator, Assad, cannot be part of any long-term solution and that, as long as a face-saving interim arrangement can be made, Putin will go along with it. Assad has, hitherto, always enjoyed their backing; this is because Assad, and before him his father, had allowed Russia to maintain a naval base on the Syrian coast and pretend to a Mediterranean presence.
Provided its interests are protected in any eventual settlement, Russia can be expected to cooperate and play its part in ending the civil war. In so doing and acting in concert with the West, the West can begin the process of undoing the damage which its former cold-shouldering of Russia brought about. The European Union, for its part, can begin to lock Russia into its embrace and give Putin the respectability and acceptance which he originally craved.
Turning to Uncle Sam, we are going to have to accept that he will never again be prepared to shoulder the burden of world peace alone. He made a terrible mistake in withdrawing the last ten thousand troops from Iraq. Had they stayed as an emergency, fire-fighting backup, Isis would never have been able to establish itself.
What is needed now is for the European Union to step up to the plate, militarily, for the purpose of burden-sharing. Were it to do so, Uncle Sam would happily abandon any thoughts of retreating back into isolationism which was a major contributor to World War Two.
It is morally and dangerously wrong for Europe to expect any longer a free ride where security is concerned. It has the wealth and it must use it, along with others, to bolster America. I am sure the United Nations, in the interests of world peace, would welcome such a development. Of course, the European powers would have to make it clear that they seek no territorial advantage and that this is not a fresh round of empire building by the back door. Even Iran must be allowed to play its part, along with neighbouring powers.
I doubt that even if peace, by such a combination of power, can be restored to Syria that in the short term a viable government can be made to work when there is such bitterness on all sides. In that event, a United Nations mandate should be imposed on the country for It has to be accepted that, just occasionally, only the application of overwhelming force can settle the argument. This, I believe, is just such a case