Das Führerprinzip

For a party and a tendency in British politics that rates ‘leadership’ so highly – Rees-Mogg’s awful book The Victorians is full of it: leaders are his ‘Titans’, who made Britain ‘great’ – isn’t it remarkable that the Tories are so inept at choosing leaders of their own?

In the 20th and 21st centuries, that is. Before then they didn’t do so badly, with Peel, Disraeli and the Marquis of Salisbury (the 3rd of that title) probably the best of them. But then came Arthur Balfour, Bonar Law, Austen Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, Ian Duncan-Smith, Alec Douglas-Home, William Hague, Michael Howard, John Major, David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and the two current claimants for the role; neither of the last two of whom looks like a convincing ‘leader’ by most criteria, although we may of course be proved wrong in time. The only omissions from that list are Harold Macmillan, who at least looked the part and took his country ‘down’ gently; Edward Heath, who had a vision and managed to achieve it – but is scarcely appreciated for it now by most Conservatives; and Winston Churchill, whom the Tories claim for their own but was never their favourite originally, being elevated mainly by Opposition MPs who wanted someone who, despite his many failings, was more firmly anti-Nazi than many other Conservatives to lead them in the War.

And then of course there was Margaret Thatcher; who could be said to have introduced the Führerprinzip into a political society which had never much taken to it in the past, especially of course during Hitler’s war, but which was now beginning to forget those wartime associations. In Thatcher’s case (not Churchill’s) ‘leadership’ became identified with strong, uncompromising government – ‘I stand for leadership, not followership’, ‘the lady’s not for turning’, and so on – as though ‘resolution’ and single-mindedness were the only qualities required in a leader, whatever his or her policies were. And just look at the disastrous outcomes – right now – of that.

Labour I suppose haven’t done much better, although I still rate Attlee and Wilson as the most effective peacetime political leaders of the past century. But that’s because we’re talking about different things here. ‘Leadership’ was not a crucial part of Labour’s political philosophy. Indeed, Wilson bridled at Conservative accusations that he wasn’t enough of a ‘leader’ in the Führer sense. Both Attlee and Wilson were consensual leaders – ‘followers’ also, therefore – who took ‘the people’ where most of them wanted to go. That can’t be said of Truss and Sunak, who aspire to be leaders more in the Thatcher mould, petty and prejudiced, representing minority and indeed ‘extreme’ opinions and interests, with Thatcher’s social, cultural and economic prejudices driving them, her propaganda techniques honed to a new perfection, and riding on a powerful undertow of history which has often been referred to in this blog. How successful or even convincing either of them will turn out to be as ‘Thatchers pour nos jours’ remains to be seen. Neither presently seems to have the ‘character’ for it. And ‘character’ counts, more than policies or competence, or even basic honesty, if you want to win the support of the Tory party, and so come out on top. In Labour’s case it may be different. Attlee after all wasn’t much of a ‘character’ in the Tories’ sense, and Wilson’s efforts to build a ‘character’ – the pipe, for example, when actually he preferred cigarettes – most people saw through at the time.

Johnson, however, exemplified ‘character’ in spades; at least in the sense of ‘Ah, but he’s a character, isn’t he?!’  Indeed, he had barely anything more to recommend him: no vision (except for himself), no thought-through policies, no significant governmental experience, no gravitas, no judgement, no morals (notoriously), and no interest in or empathy for others. Which served him well so long as he offered electoral success to the Tory party, and ‘human interest’ stories to the appalling tabloid press; but that could only last for a while – three years in all. By all other tests of ‘leadership’ he failed abysmally: in uniting his fissiparous party, as Wilson had succeeded in doing; dealing with the major crises of his time (except symbolically, with regard to Ukraine); even in maintaining order in his own official residence, which is probably what ‘did for him’ in the end. And his likely successor – chosen from among those nondescripts whom he chose to serve in his cabinets, and the likeliest of whom is campaigning as the ‘continuity Boris’ candidate, and is as facile if not so funny as him (see my last post) – is unlikely to help.

What would help, of course, is an entirely new left-of-centre government. We can now see clearly that Jeremy Corbyn, for example, was right about almost everything, and that a Labour government continuing his policies would have avoided most of the appalling mistakes that Johnson’s, May’s and Cameron’s governments have made. It might even have gone further – if allowed to by the aforesaid appalling tabloid press – and reformed Britain’s whole governmental and economic systems, unpicking the Thatcher counter-revolution, and so restoring Britain’s proud post-war tradition of social democracy, in order to ensure that nothing like our recent absurdities could happen again. What prevented that in the last few years, of course, was the fact that Corbyn was not seen as a ‘leader’ in the mould that Thatcher had established twenty years before, even by his supporters – like me – whose support was conditional on his restoring Labour to its socialist past, and then passing the baton on to someone whom the Press would find more difficult to rubbish as an old bearded allotment-digging Lefty whom no-one would respect. Unfortunately it turned out that a very large number of – mainly – young people did respect him, boosting party membership by tens of thousands; which made it difficult to replace him in time for the crucial general election that his enemies in the Press (and in his own Party), homing in on the whole ‘leadership’ thing, would ensure he lost. And so we find ourselves (in Britain) where we are today.

This could be seen as another posthumous legacy of Thatcher’s Führerprinzip: both the failure of Labour to furnish a convincing alternative, and of the Conservatives to provide a competent successor to their old Führerin. Let’s hope that neither party – or of course the Lib-Dems – finds a way to solve this problem. We don’t want another Oswald Mosley – Conservative or Labour; he of course was both before he became a Fascist – strutting around the British political scene.

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Trussed

Boris’s lies were pretty outrageous; but Liz seems determined to trump him.  (Ah yes – ‘trump’. What an apt word for it!) In order to appeal to her prospective voters in a general election, and to her immediate electors in the present unedifying contest for Leader of the Conservative Party, and hence for Prime Minister (for the time being), she’s been coming out with some quite enormous fibs recently: not only about the economy, her ludicrously simplistic plans for it (‘lower taxes’), and the supposed achievements of her disgraced predecessor (still beloved by the Tory faithful), but also about her own early life.

In Yorkshire she claims to be a ‘plain-speaking Yorkshire lass’ despite having been born in Oxford and now living in Norfolk; to have been brought up in a Leeds slum and sent to a terrible Comprehensive school there, which is obviously intended to endear her both to the fabled ‘red wall’ in the North and to the public school-educated ‘blue wall’ in the south (a Northerner lifting the lid on State education!), but which obscures the facts that the part of Leeds she lived in was the poshest (average house prices half a million); that her father was a university professor (he’s subsequently disowned her politically); and that her school was ranked ‘excellent’ by Ofsted. (It got her into Oxford, after all – if that means anything.) Now an enthusiastic Brexiter, she also glosses over the fact that she was a leading Remainer until Remain became the losing side, career-wise. All this, and her overwhelming air, at least, of stupidity – or is this simply intended to appeal to the ‘red wall’ too? – and we begin to understand what a first-class charlatan she is. (Does Oxford offer degrees in charlatanry?)

More to the point: does any of this matter, electorally? Boris seemed to show that it doesn’t, for a while at least – just three years in his case. Old Tory members – the present electorate that Liz is appealing to – tend to go not for veracity or honesty, but for (1) what the candidates promise, in the way of tax cuts especially: that’s what most of the discussion and even the headlines in the Tory press have been about; and (2) where they stand on what are called ‘culture war’ issues, like gender and statues, but also including trade unions (boo!), lazy workers (boo!), Lefty lawyers (boo!), academics (boo!), civil servants (boo!), ‘experts’ (boo!), Churchill (hurrah!), Her Maj (hurrah!), Britain’s glorious past (hurrah!), and ‘woke’ – whatever that is; but (boo!) in any case.

It’s these waters that Truss is dipping into for support among the 160,000 Conservative Party members, 51% of whom are all she needs to win over now. Once upon a time her gender might have gone against her, among that misogynistic lot; but since then they’ve had Thatcher – ‘the only one in her cabinet with balls’ (who was it that said that? ) – to re-educate them. More important than that may be the fact that  Liz supported the hyper-masculinist Boris (‘just pat their bottoms’) loyally to the end. That may be her strongest card. That, and possibly the fact that the only alternative to her just now is a darkie (old Tory-speak), although I wouldn’t rely on that so much these days. The present government is pretty multi-ethnic, after all. Class clearly trumps race in British Tory politics; as it always has, I would say.

Whether the carefully-constructed persona that seems likely to take Truss to Number 10 next month will also win her Party the support of the House of Commons, and then of the national electorate in the General Election which will follow a few months afterwards, must be in doubt. Present polling suggests not. Conservative members are hardly a representative bunch of Brits. Their prejudices – even when broadcast widely by the tabloid press – may not mirror the country’s as a whole. And with the new cautious and ‘moderate’ Labour Party poised to snap up the ‘centre’ ground that Truss looks like abandoning, her present strategy may turn out to have been the worst possible for the Tory Party in the longer term. Even those of us on the Left who would prefer Starmer to be more radical (more ‘Corbynite’, if you like) must hope so. It will be a start. And an end to what I’m pretty well convinced will be seen by future historians as the worst ever government in British history, on many grounds; its choice of leaders – Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss – just one (or four) of them.

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Refugees

I didn’t realise how complicated adopting Ukrainian refugees would be. I have a large terrace house in Hull, which I only need to live in about a quarter of, and for part of the year – being in Sweden for the rest – which would ideally suit the family that has just been allotted to me, after several months waiting; and which – apart from the fact that they have no English, and I of course no Ukrainian (we correspond, awkwardly, via Google Translate) – seem a pleasant bunch. They’ve promised to learn English, and will need to, of course, if they’re to have any hope of landing jobs (if they’re allowed to), or the two teenage girls if they’re to cope with an English school. As well as the girls, there’s a mother and a father – aren’t fathers quite rare, being expected to stay behind to defend their motherland? – all from somewhere in the south of Ukraine, but living in the Czech Republic just now; which I assume was their first port of refuge. There are other complications, which I hope won’t injure their claims for refugee status in the UK; but I understand that having a sponsor arranged for them already in Britain (me) will go a long way in their favour. It’s now up to them, and to Priti. (Gulp!)

It’s also up to me to demonstrate that my house is suitable for them, and that I’m a fit and proper person to be taking care of the girls in particular; being as I am one of those most dangerous creatures: a single man. To that end they’re running a ‘DBS’ (standing for Disclosure and Barring Service) check on me: a procedure of which of course I thoroughly approve. To help allay any suspicions on that score, however, I’ve also told the authorities about Kajsa, who will be living in the house with me some of the time; I thought they might be reassured by my having a woman around. But that’s meant that they’ll apparently have to do a DBS check on her too – in Sweden? – which complicates things a little. The other complication is that I can’t show them around my house while I’m abroad; but I hope they’ll let a neighbour do it for me.

It’s odd that having once written a book about mid-19th-century political refugees in Britain and their reception, I should now be in the position of receiving some 21st-century refugees into my own home. The situation between then and now is very different, of course. It may surprise people to know that there was very little of today’s anti-alienism in the 1850s – some, but not much, and certainly not directed at refugees; a theme which is explored in my Britain Before Brexit, published a couple of years ago. (Readers may want to correct me on this: Dickens, and so on; but I have the answers for them.)

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Miriam

I’ve never posted on a ‘fan’ site before. But the other day I did. It was on Miriam Margolyes’ fan site. She’s been much in the public eye these days, especially through her outrageous TV interviews, and her recent autobiography.

I had a very early memory of her that I thought her fans would enjoy. As they did: to the tune of over 2,000 ‘likes’ and comments so far. Which she thoroughly deserves: I love her as much as any of her fans do, not only for her acting and humour, but also for her politics – Left, Corbynite, and more pro-Palestinian than many Jews. On the other hand I felt a bit miffed that a rude story about her should get all that appreciation, when my serious posts about the undermining of our liberties and the approachng end of the world get four or five responses, at best.

(Not really, of course. I know how these things work.)

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President Boris

Boris Johnson, as I understand it, was born in New York, which gave him automatic US citizenship. I think I read that he had abandoned that since. If not, however, and even if so, would his American birth entitle him – now he’s about to become jobless in Britain – to offer himself for election as US President; as a further giant step towards his well-known childhood ambition of becoming ‘world king’? Apparently the Americans find the British upper classes quite lovable. Johnson might be a more acceptable idiot there than Trump. And it would mean that we Brits would be properly rid of him. Just a thought.

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The Madness of Brexit

From an American sympathiser:

https://eand.co/britain-is-self-destructing-and-the-world-should-learn-from-its-lethal-mistakes-63d499c6973c.

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Rishi and Gradgrind

Rishi Sunak’s expressed intention to cut down on university courses that don’t lead to profitable employment (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/aug/07/rishi-sunak-vows-to-end-low-earning-degrees-in-post-16-education-shake-up) should be a wake-up call to anyone who values the arts, and anything that can’t be measured in terms of financial gain.

For of course universities are not just utilitarian institutions, but educational ones too; there to broaden minds, stimulate thoughts, encourage criticism (in the positive sense), and – hopefully – to give students an idea of what is really valuable in life. Sunak obviously sees training students in mediaeval history, for example, as a waste of money: both the State’s and – ever since student fees came in – the students’ own. (Thatcher I remember thought the same.) How much a course earns for the people taking it in their post-university careers is all that matters. Put in the investment, and see how it multiplies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at this. Rishi before he turned to politics was a banker – a very rich one; and this is very much a banker’s view: ultra-materialistic and sterile. It also of course fits in with Oscar Wilde’s famous definition of a cynic: someone who ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. Which could be seen as an apt motto for the now dominant wing of the Conservative Party, the ‘dry’ one, as opposed to Thatcher’s despised ‘wets’. Lastly, and writing as a historian, I see it as continuing a particularly English (perhaps Scottish too) tradition of philistinism, exemplified by the character of the school superintendent Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’s Hard Times (1854): dedicated to ‘facts’ and profit alone, and denigrating ‘fancy’. 

Of course, even in terms of his own priorities Sunak can’t be sure that ‘fanciful’ courses in universities won’t turn out ‘useful’ and even wealthy people in the end. The spark of originality that education, as opposed to training, encourages in people even without directly enriching them, can have unpredictably valuable material effects later on. If Sunak had studied some History at university, even Mediaeval History (he read PPE at Oxford and Business Studies at Stanford), it might have broadened his own mind to look more critically on the conventional capitalist economics he clearly imbibed at his universities, and which seems to be entrapping him now. I’m not sure that Truss would be much of an improvement. She read PPE too.

Is this – to hark back to my last post – to be the pattern our particular British form of ‘fascism’ might take in the future? Conventional capitalism, or what is misleadingly called the ‘free economy’, will be at the heart of it, protected by agencies of oppression; what Anthony Gamble characterised years ago – describing Thatcherism – as ‘the free economy in a strong state’. Limiting university syllabuses to ‘useful’ and earnful subjects, together with all the other tools of incipient authoritarianism – effective censorship, limiting public protest, privatisation of ‘free’ broadcast channels, oppressing immigrants, criminalising anti-Britishness, disregarding inconvenient kinds of expertise, propaganda, distorting history, manipulating voting (Cambridge Analytica), help from Russia, and of course the Daily Mail – could well give the clue to the sort of quasi-fascist society that Britain is about to become.

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‘It Couldn’t Happen Here’

I realise it reads like scaremongering; but I really do believe that Britain is in danger of falling into the hands of fascists – or neo-fascists, or quasi-fascists if you like, or at the very least proto-fascists – soon. Cassandra, remember, was right.

Of course it won’t be much like the fascist regimes we’ve seen in the past: Nazi Germany especially, which most people seem to take as their paradigm of fascism, despite its gross peculiarities which make it an extreme case. No, there’s little chance that a British dictator will impose a Holocaust on Jews or any other racial or political minority. Even deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda doesn’t quite measure up (or down) to that. ‘We’ – the British – ‘just don’t do that sort of thing’, as one of my readers commented on my blog a few days ago. That may be fair comment in the case of a ‘Holocaust’ – although there are episodes in British colonial and Irish history that must throw some slight doubt on it. But it’s a very unreliable and perhaps even dangerous assumption, if we come to depend on it as our bulwark against any kind of fascism in the future.

In the first place, the fact that something hasn’t occurred in the past doesn’t mean that it can’t occur in the future. Nazism was as unprecedented in Germany in the 1930s as fascism is in Britain today. That is, not entirely unprecedented. Both countries had proto-fascist tendencies earlier, as do most present-day countries; even America. (Especially America, perhaps?) In Britain, some imperialist ideologies came pretty close to it. In any case, the whole ‘we don’t do that’ approach relies on a very static view of history. In reality, countries change. Britain has done, quite a lot, over the past fifty years. (See my new book.) So ‘we don’t do that’ is a very unreliable defence, in any circumstances.

Secondly, there are undoubtedly tendencies now in British politics and society which look likely to augur a kind of fascism. Priti Patel’s monstrous refugee policy is one. Her proposed restrictions on the right of public protest are another. Rishi Sunak’s intention to categorise ‘hatred of Britain’ – present-day Britain, one presumes – as an ‘extreme’ view, to be placed on the same level as ‘terrorism’, is a third. Censorship of critical comedy programmes on TV (‘Mock the Week’) can be added to this list. As can right-wing over-reaction to ‘wokeism’; and Michael Gove’s anti-expertise. All of them betoken a certain degree of authoritarianism, at the very least. As of course does the take-over of the Conservative party by UKIP and the ERG. Most popular (or ‘populist’) newspapers’ descent into sheer right-wing propaganda sheets, abandoning all pretence of objectivity – especially of course the Daily Mail, with its history of openly supporting the original Nazism behind it, and its various hatreds and lies – fuels these Fascist tendencies in British society; to an extent that they could be regarded – as I’ve suggested before – as the epicentre of proto-fascism in Britain, taking on the role that the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei did in pre-war Germany. Who needs a Fascist party when you’ve got the Daily Mail?

Working on an electorate that has been impoverished by government policies over the past 11 years, deceived by neo-liberal propaganda to think that ‘austerity’ will bring it all right again, disappointed by an admittedly grossly slandered (the Daily Mail again) Opposition Labour Party, and unable to express its real democratic preferences by a skewed electoral system: with all this a small minority of right-wing ideologues, a few crazies and more sheer amoralists, armed with millions of money, some of it from Russia, and with some clever new propagandistic tools (‘Cambridge Analytica’), and of course with the billionaire-owned press on their side – have succeeded in subverting what used to be a more (if not perfectly) democratic country to their ends; which – in my view – are the ends demanded by a society in which the inevitable internal contradictions of late capitalism are working themselves out.

Whether these ends are identical with or even closely similar to the ones we have seen in previous manifestations of ‘fascism’ we can’t presently tell. They’re unlikely to produce massacres of whole peoples, or slave labour, or new Oswald Mosleys strutting up and down in imitation of Mussolini or Adolf Hitler – those, I agree, we probably don’t do. But ‘fascism’ can take various forms. One seems to be taking place in Putin’s Russia just now. Eastern European states could go the same way. In Britain it looked to be taking a more ‘cuddly’ form while Boris was still de facto PM. Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak might introduce us to different varieties: less sexist in the former’s case, less racist in the latter’s, and much less reliant on the ‘Führerprincip’, perhaps, in either case. But look at the policies, and some of the rhetoric, and you might get a sniff of what we used to call ‘fascism’ in the past. We’ve been warned against it: by Hilary Clinton, for example, and by hundreds more in the USA. They and I can’t all be scaremongers. I’m on Cassandra’s side, here.

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Patriotism and Protest

If Rishi Sunak wins the Tory leadership election next month, he has resolved to categorise as ‘extremists’ people who ‘vilify Britain’, and hence render them subject (one presumes) to existing counter-terrorist laws and procedures. (See https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/britain-extremists-prevent-radicalisation-rishi-sunak-tory-leadership-conservative-b1016364.html.) ‘Putin: hang on, we’re catching up’.

But might this not be a little tricky? For a start it would depend on how low the bar of ‘vilification’ is set. Another Tory, Lia Rici, MP for Grimsby, suggests that ‘pride’ in the Flag and the Queen should be the determining factors. If people don’t share these, she writes, they should ‘move to a country they prefer’. (See  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/robert-jenrick-union-flag-lia-nici-tweet-b1819586.html.)

Well, that could cover me, living as I do in a country I currently prefer. I feel no particular ‘pride’ either in Her Maj (though I quite like her), or in the somewhat garish ‘Union Flag’. I also pretty much hate the present British government, and the condition to which it has brought my country of birth, leading me to ‘vilify’ it frequently – in this blog, for example. Does that count? Am I under surveillance by MI5 and GCHQ already? (It would be almost flattering to think so.)

All this so-called ‘patriotism’ is of course directed to the old Tory soaks who comprise the majority of the constituency that both the contenders in this extraordinary election are having to appeal to; as are their summoning up of the ghost of the sainted Margaret, and of the not-yet buried corpse of Boris, who remains their darling despite his cruel betrayal a month ago. It’s all of a part too with the highly illiberal policies of Priti Patel at the Home Office, bent on abolishing the European Human Rights Convention as it presently applies to Britain, especially with regard to refugees seeking asylum in Britain (the Rwanda wheeze), and the right of effective popular protest against governments. That may seem ironic, in view of what many – especially historians – would see as the centrality of human rights, and indeed of protest, in most Britons’ view of themselves and of their national identity (at least at home) in the quite recent past; which makes Patel, Sunak and Rici less essentially ‘patriotic’ than they may think, and the ‘vilifiers’ more so.

For it is arguable that the true ‘patriot’ is the person who wants to make his country better, rather than to glorify it as it is or as it has been in the past. This is one of the themes of my new book, Britain’s Contested History: Lessons for Patriots, which seems to have got under the skin of the Spectator’s reviewer in its current issue. (See https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/these-polemics-against-brexit-both-fall-into-the-same-trap.) I wouldn’t mind; but he entirely misunderstands its central thesis; which is not that Britons generally are more obsessed with history than other peoples, but that those few who are – usually on the Brexit side – should have a more sophisticated understanding of their history than they appear to do presently.

OK, so this may seem to be purely ‘academic’. But it could have serious practical repercussions in the not-very-distant future, when inflation, energy prices, food shortages, and the true effects of Brexit lead to a degree of civil unrest that Britain hasn’t seen since the final days of Margaret Thatcher, the security services are given the green light to come down hard on protesters and ‘vilifiers’, and those of us who live abroad will find Priti, Rishi and Lia lying in wait for us if we ever dare to return.

(Let’s not make too much of the fact that those three – and Farage, remember –  all have foreign names. It’s unlikely to be for that reason that they don’t really understand the more liberal forms of ‘Britishness’. ‘Identity’ is not something in the blood. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, sounding foreign, and therefore anathema to Tory racists, they feel they need to express these more extreme forms of ‘patriotism’, in order to win over the old soaks.)

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Not with a Bang but a Whimper

The British Empire had no obvious beginning, and – up to now – no clear-cut end. In my books on the subject I’ve suggested a few possible dates for the effective end of the enterprise – moments when it became clear that it could not carry on as it was. They included 1947 (Indian independence), 1956 (Suez), 1967 (withdrawal from ‘East of Suez’), 1973 (accession to the European Common Market); plus several earlier ones, like 1857 (the Indian Mutiny), 1902 (the Boer War), and 1918 (the end of WW1, its effect on the Empire disguised by her new ‘mandates’ and her main rivals’ retreat into isolation). I’ve also considered the idea that the Empire has not, even now, really come to an ‘end’ at all, in view of the traces it has left behind it: the Commonwealth, language, cricket, Jacob Rees-Mogg. To a tidy-minded historian, wanting to wrap his subject up finally, this must seem a little unsatisfactory. But then the same could be said of its predecessor, the great Roman Empire; which similarly simply faded out to almost nothing, even after Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’.

There’s a reason for this; which is that the British Empire was never the conscious ‘enterprise’ or ‘project’ it is often painted as, but on the contrary was the product of a loose combination of extraneous factors – primarily burgeoning capitalism, but with religion, proto-fascism, science, liberalism, the public schools and many others added to the mix – creating a number of political, social and economic phenomena that were easier to grasp and interpret as a single big one, with a big name – the ‘e’ or ‘i’-words – than to try to untangle and explain in their true complexity. Hence my failure in my books – including the latest one, Britain’s Contested History: Lessons for Patriots – to give straightforward answers to straightforward questions – chiefly ‘was the Empire a good or a bad thing? but also ‘when did it end? – and instead to take refuge in what appears as obfuscation.

The Lion’s Share: a History of British Imperialism went into its sixth edition last year. That didn’t reach any conclusion about when the ‘end’ of the Empire was, either. The last couple of years of politics in Britain, however, have made me wonder whether we haven’t reached that end right now. For the British Empire consisted not only of the large swathe of territories Britain owned or ruled (supposedly) overseas, but of a complex of values and ideals– not always mutually consistent – that were felt to define it. Brexit, although it was supposed to return the country to its ‘global’ (i.e. ‘imperial’) days, together with the economic collapse and incipient authoritarianism that are coming in its wake, seem to me to be doing far more harm to those values and ideas than simply getting out of India and Africa did. And the manner in which they are being implemented – ‘farcical’ may be the best word to describe them: Johnson, Farage, Rees-Mogg, Truss, Conservative party members – gives a very special flavour to this particular ‘decline and fall’; and will make a fitting ending to any seventh edition of The Lion’s Share, if I’m ever asked – and survive – to produce it.

(The heading, of course, is TS Eliot: ‘This is the way the world ends…’)

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