Posts Tagged ‘British Empire’

Why England is screwed (part 2)

May 16, 2021

Warning: more politics ahead

England is a small country (the UK isn’t exactly huge); let’s briefly rewind the clock a few centuries: at the end of the fifteenth century, Spain and Portugal were the European superpowers, and the Pope divided up the unknown world between them. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Holland was a major economic and maritime power. Those three countries are now just ‘ordinary’ countries – no empires, no pretensions to global power status, just getting on with being Spain, Portugal or the Netherlands for their citizens, whether well or badly. And this is England’s trajectory now too, a couple of centuries later: no empire, no great power status (except that we delude ourselves that we are). We are another of those smallish countries of Europe. Our nuclear deterrent is rented from the USA, the weapons built and serviced by the USA, and apparently we may only use them with the consent of the USA. And yet we have a seat on the UN Security Council. The only nation that approaches us in presumptuousness is France, which still hasn’t managed to unpick its colonial past and is enmeshed in various quagmires on the African continent. But at least they own and manage their own nuclear armoury.

Global capitalism has rewritten the rules once again, and neither England, nor our political parties, seem to have fully understood. Power now seems to reside in nations with a very large landmass – the USA, Russia or China, or in the EU, with is a conglomerate equivalent; you don’t need to be reminded that we have just sawn off the branch on which we had been sitting quite comfortably for over forty years.

So where is the necessary realism to come from, where the acceptance that things are different and therefore we need to change, to adopt a constitution and move into the new century? The things which other countries admire us for – the BBC, our NHS, our enormous contribution to the arts – are all under threat from Tory philistines. And yet even as a relatively small country we have the potential to punch above our weight, in co-operation and collaboration with our fellow Europeans.

I am very pessimistic about the future, because I see that it takes much time for the broader sweep of history to become clear and to be taken into account, and therefore I fear that we have a good deal more pain to undergo and a good deal further to sink in status as a nation. I do not want to end my days in a one-party state, and I think our opposition parties have a sense of responsibility to the people, the voters of the nation, whether it’s just England or some version of the UK, to do something about it.

On world-beating…

June 24, 2020

Warning: politics ahead

We’ve had a lot of talk here lately of all the ‘world-beating’ things we’re allegedly doing as a nation, and although pretty much all of the talk is palpable nonsense (I eschew stronger language in my blog) it has set me thinking about why, as a nation, we are so blindly stuck in our glorious past. I do not claim to write as a historian…

We were once the mightiest empire of its time on the face of the globe, a power, it seems, largely based on our naval might, temporary technological superiority due to the country being the cradle of the industrial revolution, and our subjugation of nations into colonies which we could then pillage at will. There were other naval-based empires run from small-sized countries at the time – Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands once colonised and exploited sizeable areas of the globe, too. They gave up their empires and their pretensions, too, once the wheels of history moved on. We haven’t…

If we want to talk about empires today, then the picture is rather different. Three are based in large nation-states with enormous military might: the USA, Russia and China. There is a fourth pretender solely on the economic front: the EU. These modern-day empires have size and consequently economies of scale, plus a vast hinterland to consume production on their side; they do not possess colonies as did empires in the past, for this is economically inefficient; they certainly exploit client-states. And they do not enjoy the enormous technological advantages that the empires of the past had over the rest of the world, which is now far more inter-connected. And then there is Japan, an outlier, another small island-nation, and economic powerhouse of production – how unlike our own island…

So somewhere in all this is the inability of Britain’s people or its rulers fully to grasp how much the world has irreversibly moved on. We are a small island, a small nation, that is soon to be all on its own. We cannot easily emulate the successes of the two other ‘going-it-alone’ nations in Europe, Switzerland and Norway, because our population is so much larger than theirs. And yet, so many imagine that we can recapture those glory days of the past. Our military power is totally dependent on NATO, and so, indirectly, the USA. Our manufacturing base has been allowed to disappear, because not important. We can offer world-beating (perhaps) financial services, which are parasitical on other things and do not enrich the nation as a whole, but even that is uncertain.

I reach an understanding of where we are now, and I do not see why we cannot collectively accept it and act on it in a way that would benefit out 60 million people. We have glorious moments and shameful ones in our past; other nations have been rather better at acknowledging both strands of their histories. We didn’t defeat the Germans single-handedly in two world wars; we didn’t bring the benefits of civilisation and our way of life to millions in our colonies.

If we are to look forward, then we need to accept the limitations of being a Ruritanian monarchy with a system of government two centuries out of date and a system of class privileges far older than that. We need to realise that our future has been shaped by the USA, with whom – perhaps unfortunately – we share a similar language, and whose madhouse ideas therefore appear here rather too quickly for careful reflection and consideration. We need to give up our nuclear status, our world-power dreams and accept that we are a small and quite easily-ignored island off the coast of Europe, whose best prospects are likely to develop through close co-operation rather than rivalry with our neighbours. We need to give up on the idea of being ‘world-beating’ at anything, because it’s not very likely: co-operation is a much more likely guarantee of future success.

I’m not holding my breath…

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