Johnson’s Brexit Is Inspired by Blair, Eden and Chamberlain – Not Churchill

Yves here. Given that Brexit is currently in the oxymoron of a more acute state of faffing about than usual, a piece with a longer view seemed fitting. This one describes some of the prominent examples in modern British history of government mendacity leading to train wrecks.

Readers have pointed out other durable trends that played into how shambolic Brexit is turning out to be, such as the hollowing out of the civil service. Colonel Smithers and our other Brexit mavens may be able to identify other transmitters of the institutional rot that has come into full flower with Brexit.

Mind you, Brexit did not have to result in the diminution of the UK’s standing in the world, or even much in the way of lowering of standards of living. But, as we have stressed, it would have taken a war-level mobilization to prepare the economy and legal system to deal with the rest of the world on a free trade agreement basis. And not only was the shrunken government apparatus not capable of that, Tories are allergic to that sort of intervention.

By Gerry Hassan, a writer, commentator and academic on Scottish and UK politics, power, democracy and social change. He has written or edited over two dozen books including ‘The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party’ (Biteback) and the recent collections, ‘Scotland the Brave? Twenty Years of Change and the Future of the Nation’ (Luath) and ‘The Story of the Scottish Parliament: The First Two Decades Explained (Edinburgh University Press). His writing can be found at: www.gerryhassan.com. Originally published at openDemocracy

Surrounded by yes-men, cronies and dubious advisors, Johnson is trashing standards in public life and traditional statecraft – and Britain will be the worse for it.

Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and others from the New Labour era have of late been on our airwaves talking endlessly of the evils of Brexit and the need for a second referendum on Europe. But seldom if ever do they publicly reflect on their own disastrous role in fanning the flames which led to the current Brexit debacle.

Blair and Campbell advocated and led the case for the Iraq war – an illegal war based on a campaign of disinformation, deceit and lies that distorted the processes of government decision-making. In so doing, apart from contributing to untold deaths and misery as well as Middle East instability, in the UK they fed the corrosion of public trust and standards in public life.

We now know that the Iraq conflict was an illegal war – based on the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice of March 7th 2003 which he reversed ten days later. Without the Iraq war, public cynicism and distrust would not have reached the incendiary levels it did. Iraq did systematic harm to the progressive case for government, and the case for social democratic, interventionist government with the intention of aiding the public good.

This isn’t to argue that in recent times public discontent and dismay at party politicians was created by Iraq. Even after the war, we have had the banking crash of 2008 and the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, both of which also contributed to a culture of corrosiveness.

The Common Thread of Munich, Suez and Iraq

A pattern can be discerned from the Iraq war and the most calamitous decisions of UK Government in the past century – Munich, Suez and Iraq. All had a UK Prime Minister – Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, Tony Blair – who engaged in freelancing foreign policy as they thought they knew best about world affairs and by-passed ministers and civil servants, misused intelligence, and deliberately trashed the traditional ways of doing government statecraft.

Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in May 1937 in an environment of rising international tension and increasing aggressive actions by Hitler and Mussolini. Chamberlain’s response was to marginalise the Foreign Office, traditional diplomacy, and intelligence reports.

Instead, he engaged in his own private diplomacy, even involving his own family with his sister Ida acting as a go-between with Mussolini, and with trusted sources telling him what he wanted to hear such as Neville Henderson, UK ambassador to Berlin, who was close to Hermann Goring. This was the backdrop to Chamberlain’s colossal misreading of Hitler, when numerous intelligence sources and eyewitness accounts were warning him of the intentions of the Nazis, which led to Munich in 1938, appeasement and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, aided by the British and French.

Before Anthony Eden became Prime Minister in April 1955, he had been Foreign Secretary for ten years in three stints in three different decades, and felt he was well-equipped to judge foreign affairs. Yet, when the Suez crisis emerged and General Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egyptian leader, moved to nationalise the Suez Canal, Eden by-passed Foreign Office channels, undermined Cabinet policy, cherry-picked intelligence, and co-opted individual MI6 officers. This led to the Franco-British invasion of Egypt in collusion with Israel, with Eden lying to the Commons, leading to his subsequent resignation and humiliation.

Tony Blair corroded and trashed conventional decision-making processes in numerous ways but fatally so in relation to Iraq. He politically intervened in and misrepresented intelligence, using it for politically charged and dishonest public presentation, all of which contributed to the decision to support the illegal war in Iraq. Blair, aided by his chief spokesman, Alastair Campbell, humiliated proper government decision-making, ignored Cabinet, made key strategic decisions without any proper discussions or evidence, and presided over a dysfunctional Downing Street which ultimately cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Another factor in these cases was the supportive cheerleading role of the right-wing press and papers: ‘the Daily Mail’, ‘Daily Express’, ‘Daily Telegraph’ and from Rupert Murdoch’s purchase in 1969, ‘The Sun’. The right wing press supported appeasement, Suez, Iraq, and of course, Brexit. As Will Hutton commented this week: ‘On big issues there is a cardinal principle. The right wing media is always wrong.’ And it has cost British society and politics dear.

There is an another common thread running from Munich to Suez to Iraq which has relevance to current deliberations. This is the increasing power of a caricatured version of a mythical British past. Munich and appeasement was shaped by painful memories of the horrors of the mass carnage of the First World War. Eden’s decision-making over Suez was overshadowed by Munich and the disaster of appeasement of dictators: Eden having resigned as Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary pre-Munich over government policy towards Mussolini. This is an argument touched on in Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac’s brilliant critique of UK Prime Ministers and intelligence, ‘The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers’.

For Blair and his allies Iraq was motivated by a fear of appeasement and being seen as soft towards aggressive dictators; as the rationale of war became fraudulent the spectre of Suez and a disgraced Prime Minister came to prominence. When we come to Brexit, we see the rising tide of nostalgia and a selective retelling of World War Two and ‘our finest hour’. With Britain supposedly ‘standing alone’ in 1940-41, if we can survive such difficult times then why should we worry about Brexit?

Baghdad to Brexit and the Emergence of a Pro-European Movement

The road from Baghdad to Brexit is a dramatic and tragic one. It has been aided by the lack of closure on events sixteen years ago despite Hutton, Butler and Chilcot. This was underlined by the recent release of Gavin Hood’s new film ‘Official Secrets’ about the case of whistleblower Katharine Gun (played by Keira Knightley), the story of the US memo asking the UK to spy on UN Security Council members to attempt to persuade them to vote for the Iraq war which Gun put into the public domain in 2003.

Gun was charged under the Official Secrets Act, with the defence of public interest no longer available after the Thatcher Government tightened up the Act to make it even more draconian in light of the Clive Ponting case. Civil servant Ponting leaked information that showed that the government had misled the public on the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser Belgrano, was charged and acquitted, citing a public interest defence. Dramatically, all charges against Gun were dropped on the first day of her trial because the government knew that the Attorney General’s original advice ruling the Iraq war illegal without UN approval would become public, which of course it eventually did.

The story of how we ended up with Brexit and the debacle of the past three years has many influences, one of which also has to be the failure of pro-European politicians and public opinion to unapologetically make the case for EU membership and the UK as a fully fledged European state that was part of the European project.

Paradoxically, as the UK prepares to leave the EU the country now has a pro-European popular movement with significant reach and an ability to mobilise people. However, its public figureheads – namely Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson – alongside the Lib Dems, with the SNP and Greens playing a supportive role, have deleteriously affected its impact. Think what its potential could be if it had a different and less discredited leadership.

Brexit Is Repeating the Same Misinformation and Deceits as the Iraq War

Brexit is not an accident. It is not an isolated diversion from the road of sanity and proper statecraft. It has happened because our political and public life has failed millions of people to use the forces of government and the common good to transform and make lives better and enhance and liberate people: which is the purpose of progressive politics.

That cause was withering on the vine at the height of New Labour: the scene of the party’s greatest electoral triumphs being the point of its most questionable ideological anchoring. The Iraq war was the pinnacle of that and one which destroyed the credo of the Blair-Brown government, after which even though it unconvincingly won the 2005 UK general election, it existed in office shorn of the confidence to be radical and social democratic.

The ignominy of the Iraq war leads directly to Brexit – and the leading figures in the former – Blair, Campbell, Mandelson and others – should at least have the small grace if they cannot apologise to remove themselves from the public stage and never be heard from again. Gordon Brown who sees himself as some kind of moral compass cannot escape the harshest of judgements in this as he chose office over principle and colluded in the disaster that was war.

The story to Brexit has consequences for the present and the future. Iraq led to the diminishing of Britain internationally and domestically, brought the role of governments and politicians into question, and fuelled the populist revolt of Brexit. It contributed to the very visible pulling apart of the union of the United Kingdom, tarnishing the idea of Britain while Brexit itself has accelerated these faultlines and tensions into overdrive, driven by an intolerant, reactionary English nationalism.

The parallels do not end there. Helen Lewis, in a persuasive essay in ‘The Atlantic’ on Brexit and the failure of journalism underlines how large parts of the mainstream media such as the BBC and SKY News – not just the right-wing newspaper cheerleaders – have diminished how we understand the seriousness of the situation. Brexit has been reduced again and again she writes to the dramas of ‘the fake countdown’ and politics as a ‘horse race’ and about who wins a particular parliamentary vote, with substance and detail left neglected.

Lewis charts the descent from the Iraq war to the present Brexit debacle and Johnson’s current antics: ‘That war was mounted in a needless hurry … Then, as now, the role of a “patriot” was to accept the government’s line; anyone who questioned it risked being branded a “traitor.”’

The approach of Boris Johnson draws directly from Tony Blair in his most disastrous period – and with earlier echoes of Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden. Johnson’s style of government is deliberately by-passing traditional centres of authority, diplomacy and expertise, with the biggest decision in post-war Britain being contemplated with no economic impact assessment and precious few facts.

It makes you wonder about the calibre of people Johnson is being advised by, Dominic Cummings apart, and how decisions are made, with this government already having a cavalier disregard for the truth, democracy and the rule of law. If that were not enough of a charge sheet, this notionally Conservative and Unionist government is seemingly intent on pushing the pressure points on the maintenance of the union, while showing no understanding or respect for Scotland and Northern Ireland – which goes well beyond the need to acknowledge their pro-EU majorities.

When the history books of Brexit are written pride of place in the pantheon of culprits will be obvious figures of Nigel Farage and David Cameron. But given equal place and culpability will be Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson along with others from the New Labour era, and given the human tragedy of Iraq, it is inarguable that their sins are much more heinous, deserving of condemnation and need to be held to account if not legally at least politically and in the court of public opinion.

This leaves the UK not in a good place, with how government is seen severely damaged, and its reputation for statecraft, honesty and honouring the rule of law now under question. This is a crisis which goes way beyond the rhetoric and mythology of ‘getting Brexit done’ and is one which could like Brexit have no foreseeable end, unless people collectively decide that they are not prepared to put up with such a contemptible, dishonest politics of the elites for the elites.

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29 comments

  1. Ignacio

    One has to fear about the elected egos that too frequently think they can do no wrong and believe the rules of procedure do not apply to them.

    Reply
  2. David

    This article is a good example of belief in the cliché that great events necessarily have to have great causes, whereas a little familiarity with history suggests that it’s often otherwise. History is often a lot more contingent and accidental than we like to believe, and Brexit is a good example. Brexit has been brought about by a mixture of panic, incompetence and miscalculation, by a generation of politicians who could not then cope with the consequences of what they had unleashed. Historically, apart from the pro-Brussels and anti-Brussels fringes in the major parties, Europe was not a major political issue, and, with sensible management, would never have become one. If Cameron had not panicked and offered a referendum, if Remain had fought a reasonably competent campaign, if May had not panicked and blundered unprepared into complex negotiations, we would not be where we are now.

    If you’re going to cite history as a precursor, though, it helps to get it right. Munich was a deliberate attempt to use British and French military superiority in 1938 to force Germany to accept a peaceful solution rather than the war Hitler wanted. The idea that the British and French were ignorant of Hitler’s designs is a myth put about by Churchill and De Gaulle: rearmament had begun well before Munich. As it was, Hitler misread the British and French resolve, and got Germany involved in a war before the country was ready. Suez was about the belief that Nasser was a new Hitler, about to embark on a war of conquest across Africa.

    There’s a bit more logic in the Blair examples, but the wrong conclusions are drawn. Iraq in 2003 was about liberal interventionism mixed with an obsession with being close to the US. It’s not clear that the lack of WMDs had much of a long-term effect: liberal interventionists shrugged their shoulders and said, well, Saddam’s gone anyway, and most other people, if they ever knew, didn’t care. Likewise, the Gun episode interested very few people and had no lasting effect on public, or even elite, opinion.

    In other words, there are no real historical parallels or precedents , and attempts to conjure them up usually involve special pleading of some kind, depending on the political position you start from. (There’s nothing « mythical » about the death and suffering in the First World War, for example.) But there are some good points for a much shorter article here, and, if you take them out and group them together in a logical order, and add some missing bits, you get something like the following.

    Brussels has always been an elite cause, based on financial and trade advantage. Forty years of neoliberalism, unemployment, the hollowing out of public services and falling living standards created a population resentful of the comfortable neoliberal establishment, which was itself largely pro-European, and looking for an excuse to land a blow of any kind on their well-fed faces. When the referendum came round, Remainers, who drank Italian wine, took their holidays in the Dordogne, and employed Romanian maids and Polish plumbers paid in cash, told the population to vote in such a way that they could continue to enjoy these advantages, and were stunned when a majority of them did not. Unable to articulate a case for Europe that ordinary people could understand, they are still in a state of shock. The situation could have been recoverable with the traditional strengths of the British political and administrative system. But they had long been in decline. The use of amateur, non-elected « advisers », begun under Thatcher, but perfected under Blair, has devastated the government system. The « professional » political class is in-grown and ignorant. The Civil Service, eaten up by managerialism, and promoting people because they « knew what Ministers wanted » was a shadow of its former self. The media, downsized and degraded, unable to grapple with the detail, resorted to horserace-style coverage of a complex and horribly difficult issue. So it’s not difficult to account for where we are without invoking the shadows of the past. Indeed it’s precisely because things are different from the past that this mess has come about.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Yves and David.

      Further to David’s final paragraph, on hopes UK based readers, especially Clive, chime in.

      Last week, Clive commented on Paul Mason’s article in the Grauniad. That Mason nonsense, not untypical from a shill with an accent that further endears him to his neo con and neo liberal paymasters, is typical of some of the remainers, vide Polly Toynbee slagging off “working class men with northern accents” in the Grauniad last summer (perhaps from her Tuscan hideaway), which must have made her father spin in his grave, Channel 4 News and BBC Newsnight mocking Corbyn for having an allotment when he was elected party leader, and, one of an increasing number of ethnic minority shills, Ayesha Hazarika promoting her identity politics everywhere. One gets the impression that a wider culture war has been imported from the US and is poisoning the Brexit debate.

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      1. Clive

        I could not really ever better David’s comments so decided not to devalue them with my half-arsed attempting to say what he said. But not as well.

        I might only add that commentators like Gerry Hassan (a “professional Scot”, that is to say, someone who trades on their identity in a tame media friendly way — the current equivalent of a professional Welshman, the sort you got in the 1970’s who played up their Welshness (or Scottishness for Hassan) to court an audience, like some odd apparition of a Celtic-infused Elizabeth Warren and her Cherokee Nation faux pas, which my mother when she was alive could and did remonstrate against in both English and Welsh!) and outlets like openDemocracy are, not that they would ever know it, responsible for Remain’s ongoing malaise.

        Few of the people which Remain needs to convince would ever read Hassan, which is a good thing otherwise Remain’s plight would be even worse then it already is. But it is attitudes like his and miscalculations like the sorts he makes that reenforce the Ivory Tower journalism which make up a fair bit of the Guardian’s and the BBC’s output.

        The kind of tyrannical liberalism which is now, not that it has the foggiest idea about it, at the same inflection point that Thatcherite conservatism hit in 1992. So hectoring, so belittling of the voter, so self regarding and so self absorbed that a great chunk of the population simply cannot stand the sight of it for one single solitary second longer and will turn to anything vaguely credible and capable of governing at a level slightly above that of a Carry On film rather than have to listen to another word from the likes of Hassan (and the irony that he disassociated himself from the following names while being cut from the same cloth himself is stunning!), Blair, Toynbee, Mason, Campbell and their seemingly infinite ilk of mini-me’s.

        Just as it took conservatism 10 years to erase the memory of how far it had fallen in the public’s esteem at that early 1990’s low point, so, I suspect, will liberalism need to tread political water for a similar time in the wilderness. For a start, it will need to politely and respectfully set about convincing people of its arguments (and it would, of course, help if it had some reasonably palatable stances to try to foist on the public in the first place) rather than its current arrogant and authoritarian lashing out against any dissenters. But so out of practice are the espousers of liberalism in U.K. right now at appealing to people, not screeching at them, I would say that the entire current generation of so-called progressives will need to shuffle off stage before a new cohort can have any chance of grabbing the mic. Look at Lord Hesletine, for example, for how long in the tooth you can be and still command attention.

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        1. paul

          I am always surprised when I see a Hassan piece here as he has,in my opinion, never knowingly produced anything of interest or insight. He’s the type of house jock who is always welcome on BBC Scotland’s unwoefully unwatched current affairs output.
          This piece is typical in offering, as David has ably pointed out, a spurious rationale for brexit’s appeal. Diminishing standards in public life, whether grift or war, do not hold a candle to lowered standards of living.

          He does not see fit to mention margaret thatcher, whose government institutionalised high unemployment and a taste for military adventure, or that those who most ardently claim to be her children (the ‘Brittannia unchained’ mob) have,by chance and design, fashioned a stick for the weakened to beat themselves into the desired shape.

          No mention of the financial ‘crisis’ which has ushered in an era of greater precarity, asset inflation and low long term wage growth. Big downers for a large section of the population,far more so than the invasion of iraq or the destruction of libya.

          The EU was offered up as a cat to kick and a lot of people took the opportunity, as that was all that was ever going to be offered.

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    2. Bill Bedford

      David
      But there are some good points for a much shorter article here, and, if you take them out and group them together in a logical order, and add some missing bits, you get something like the following.

      That seems a reasonable explanation, except that it leaves out one more point. Almost all the sitting MPs are career politicians without deep connections outside the legal/media/political bubble. Which has meant that those people who are not in the ‘comfortable neoliberal establishment’ have no effective representation in Parliament.

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    3. MisterMr

      “Brussels has always been an elite cause”

      In the referendum, 48% of the people voted to “remain”.

      48% is a minority but certainly is not the “elite”: the EU had still (and still has) support from a large part of the population.
      A variety of populist parties and movements use the concept of the “elite”, but this concept is fuzzy and mostly is smoke and mirrors from the populists themselves.

      What happened and is happening with brexit is a culture war between one half of the UK population against the other half, but half A calls half B the “elite” so that half A pretends to speak for unity and to represent everyone.

      IMHO the reason for this is that right wing free market policies lost a lot of credibility since 2008 so right wing parties had to rebrand themselves as culture warriors, and move the political battle on the “culture war” side, where they represent “tradition” and so they project on the local cultural stereotype and pretend they represent everyone.
      Another reason is that conservative parties have a U shaped voter appeal (they have the mayority of the top 5-10% income and of the bottom 5-10% income, but the minority on the rest of voters) so they have to fight on the “culture war” plan because on the economic side they would have a very mixed message (see Piketty’s study on merchant right and brahmin left).

      But please don’t accept at face value the idea that everyone who doesn’t abide to the stereotype of the populist right is an “elite”.
      That stereotype is just that, a stereotype useful as a marketing strategy for them.

      Reply
      1. David

        Obviously the 48% who voted to remain were not “the elite” and nobody, I think, has ever suggested they were. But the Remain campaign was firmly in the hands of the British establishment elite, who not only tried to push a vision of Europe that most people could not identify with, they also failed to capitalize on widespread pro-European (not necessary pro-Brussels) feeling in the country. They lost, and have been having tantrums ever since. There’s a surprisingly good article by Owen Jones in the Guardian today about just this.

        Reply
        1. Bill Bedford

          David
          But the Remain campaign was firmly in the hands of the British establishment elite,

          Yes, but Johnson, Gove, Cummings and the rest of the ERG are all part of the same elite, so any analysis that pitches us v. ‘the elite’ won’t wash.

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      2. boz

        Plenty of reasons to vote both ways.

        – Leave because Copyright Act
        – Remain because GDPR
        – Leave because political unaccountability
        – Remain because economic strength in numbers
        – Leave because cultural / values straitjacket
        – Remain because generous economic funding / cultural schemes
        – Leave because bendy bananas
        – Remain because anti trust enforcement

        On and on it goes. People don’t like complex/contradictory voting behaviour because it’s hard to understand, let alone explain.

        Be wary of those touting easy explanations or fixes.

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    4. Bert Schtliz

      You need to stop using the word “elite” and maybe you will get the drift. The neoliberals that want “Brexit” are elitists as well. Everybody everywhere is a elitist who run with capital markets. Their little squabbles mean little.

      The real problem is capitalism pure and simple. Its debt can’t expand forever. Con man like Bernie Sanders and its “bourgeois socialism” continue to malrepresent anti-capitalism with the same materialistic junk……..but even better. Guess what? You can’t how ponzi scheme a ponzi scheme. There must be a large liquidation and then the end of debt expansion. With no debt to expand, capitalism is done. Then when most of the globe has starved off, the education of the rest will be a teaching moment of serving the commons and being whole with ones tribe.

      Reply
      1. Aubrey

        ‘Capitalism’ is the wrong word as I see it, ‘Corporatism’ seems more accurate.

        No economic system functions well without incentive for all. What has been happening overtly since Friedman/Reagan/Thatcher is a transfer of authority to private interests with an unconscious collusion from politicians and their economists.

        Unconscious because the politicians became enamoured with business and seemingly have forgotten the purpose of government and what it means to be a nation or country. The interests of people with something, at some level, in common. To me this abrogation by western nations at least is what fuels the right wing reactions we see across many issues and countries.

        We in the west have been moving to a mild form of fascism, a partnership for business and government first, with expected results. As people get squeezed too much the pendulum swings back, hopefully it can be slowed in the middle area of the arc where fairness for people and business exists.

        One of my first economic profs lectured a long time ago about how if a government let things become too hard on the normal family they would create the raising of a generation of ‘storm troopers’. It was the 80’s so it was a Starwars analogy. He nailed it as I see.

        Reply
  3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    100% with you there David & as for warmongering the Guardian & for me very disappointingly the Green Party have not been in any way substantially different than the Right.

    Reply
      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Accepting the sarin false flags at face value & perhaps I have missed it as I no longer support them, but as far as I could tell, a deafening silence in regard to Assange. Also silent on Venezuela, while going along with the Russia did it regarding the Skripal case.

        I used to follow their FB page but got fed up with the Identity politics & lack of any serious economic stance or analysis, with the same approach being applied to Green issues. Perhaps they are just concentrating on a certain demographic & playing safe & IMO they have never been the same since Bartlett turned up who I believe has a very Centrist air about him.

        I actually posted a question about their stance on Assange on their FB page, but as they say around here ” Crickets “… no comments whatsoever & have just scrolled down their page again which is full of Brexit, a peoples vote, latching onto the direct action of Extinction Rebellion with links provided as before only from the Guardian & other mainstream outlets – I think they are irrelevant.

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  4. Caloba

    I remember that three days before the referendum Polly Toynbee was looking forward to the inevitable pro-EU outcome, which would then “give her her country back.”

    As per David’s analysis, it’s been very difficult for the haute bourgeoisie to understand that the vote was more about intentionally upsetting them (the HB) than about any fantasies of a glorious colonial past or a wondrous economic future.

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    1. Clive

      As a tangential tie-in to today’s other post about protest, and to further your very valid point, another example of the HB being put in their place by those they may be seeking to have corralled we can also see what happened when Extinction Rebellion asked the Canning Town focus group how it felt about their leadership and messaging skills so far.

      Reply
  5. Susan the Other

    hard to think through this trend. It looks like disintegration everywhere. There’s a big stumbling block to it (decentralization) however – in the EU disintegration means re-nationalization and nationalization was thought to be the enemy of globalization and therefore trading blocks like the EU were one way to solve that problem. No? Previously it was a murderous battle of the empires. Free trade aka neoliberalism won, but turned out to be a disaster because oil, the insane race for technology, overpopulation and the environment and a race-to-the-bottom. That was all papered over for all of last century by currencies and credit – which seems to have lost all meaning because sovereign money was so misspent on hubris. Not to do a half-baked lecture, but we need to do a priorities list. The process needs to be faithfully protected from special interests. From the grassroots straight to the congresses. Here in the US the democrats, panicked at the mess they made, are doing just this. They are having a pretty serious debate. But they are still contaminated by special and deeply vested interests. Beyond lone voices, I don’t hear any debate like this happening in the UK – maybe it is just drowned out by Brexit. I sometimes wonder if that isn’t the sole purpose of Brexit.

    Reply
  6. Synoia

    Perhaps Mr Hassan can educate us an produce examples different from Chamberlain, Eden, and Blair. I suspect what was done was common behavior by Prime Ministers.

    It is a common human vice to ignore advice that one does not conform to one’s own prejudices.

    Churchill’s Dardanelles action in WW I? The first part of the Boer War? Giving the East India Company a pass on Tariff collection in the 1770’s?

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    1. vlade

      Indeed – but we’d look at the other side too, cause, you know, winners aren’t judged. CF Thatcher and Falklands (mind you, to a large extent this was a miscalculation by the Argentinians as much as Thatcher not willing to give in).

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      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Vlade.

        That miscalculation included the Argentine military jumping the gun and invading a fortnight or so earlier than planned. That “window” allowed the task force more time to prepare, sail and fight before the south Atlantic winter set in. If the fighting had not ended when it did, the task force would have had to withdraw to Ascension and wait. This could have led to a stalemate and Thatcher’s demise. My father and other veterans of that conflict say that it was more closely fought than reported / imagined and British forces were somewhat lucky, which is not to diminish their bravery.

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        1. David

          I knew a number of people who were there (as in dodged bullets) and they were clear that the British were extremely lucky. Without Ascension Island (which the Argentinians forgot about) the operation would have been impossible. If they had got the fusing on their bombs right far more ships would have been lost. But to return to the main point, Thatcher launched the operation out of blind panic, as the only way of keeping her job. It wasn’t that she had more information or better analysis.

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  7. Matthew G. Saroff

    I agree that Brexit is a complete dog’s breakfast, but Churchill is not to be admired.

    As Richard Burton noted when he studied to play him in a TV production, the more he knew, the more he hated Churchill.

    He was a man who was right perhaps once in his life.

    He became PM because of a backlash over the incompetently run Norway campaign that HE directed, he supported gassing restive Iraqis, he did everything he could to make the Bengal famine worse, hastening the loss of india, and (of course) Gallipoli.

    Churchill was not a great statesman, he never was. He was a complete prat who had one good day in his entire career, much like Rudy Giuliani.

    This does not dimish your criticisms of Johnson and Brexit, it;s just that I am sick to death of the lionization of Churchill.

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    1. dearieme

      he supported gassing restive Iraqis

      You could try being accurate about that episode. Churchill wanted to bomb some Iraqi villages to punish the occupants. But he didn’t want to kill them so he proposed bombing the villages with tear gas first so that the occupants would flee and then their buildings would be bombed. He didn’t “support” the scheme – it was his idea. Not that it mattered: the RAF never did it.

      Be that as it may, it seems a more civilised notion than the modern treatment of Iraq where people were killed in huge numbers first by blockade, then by bombing and shelling, then by brigandage and civil war. But as Clinton’s Secretary of State said about the dead children, “It was worth it”.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous 2

      And of course he was a leading light of the war party which pushed the UK to war in 1914, from which decision the rest of the next 75 years flowed with all the horrors we know about.

      It is easy to write with hindsight being 100% accurate but if the UK had told the French and Russians soon after the Sarajevo assassinations that the UK would not go to war over a row in the Balkans the outcome for the whole world would probably have been very different.

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