|Acting Again as a Nation||John Tyndall looks at the idiocies and disasters of recent British policy|
When Tony Blair flew to Washington at the end of January to meet George W. Bush it was his fifth visit in the two years and a bit since Dubya attained office. This prompted Peter McKay in the Daily Mail (27.1.03) to ask: "why doesn't the President ever come here." He went on to say of Blair: "He's the messenger boy. He tries to sell other nations the President's message..."
But this more or less describes the role of British prime ministers ever since World War II - a role which they have been quite willing to play in the manner of employees summoned to the boss's office ready to receive their latest orders. Normally, if politicians are prepared to demean themselves in that way that is their business, but in this case it is their country that is demeaned. McKay, in asking the question about Blair and Bush, raised a matter which should have been the subject of far more media comment over the years than it actually has - which suggests that we British as a nation have become so well accustomed to accepting lackey status vis-à-vis the United States that scarcely an eyebrow is raised when our head of government hops across the Atlantic on one of his frequent courtesy calls. "Where's the PM today?" "He's in Washington, didn't you know?" "Of course, it just shows how quickly time comes round!"
Newspapers of late have been full of speculation on Blair's latest role. It is, many of them suggest, to act as mediator between the United States and Europe in the current Iraq confrontation. But some others prefer to place the emphasis on the Premier's efforts to act as a moderating influence on the American President - much the same thing in different language. Blair himself sought to clarify things a little while ago. Britain, he announced, is uniquely placed to act as a bridge between Europe and America - while being too modest, of course, to speak of his own position as the personification of that process. Mediator; moderating influence; bridges - it all sounds very noble and grand to those who confuse verbal sound-effects with political reality.
Harold Macmillan in his day had his own way of putting it. It is Britain's role, he opined, to act the part of Greece to America's Rome; to be the restraining influence of maturity and wisdom upon youthful power. This sounded most impressive to Tories of the 1950s, who desperately sought in fine words some compensation for their loss of will to maintain Britain's imperial and great-power status. It even titillated their tired and senile concept of patriotism.
Since the Macmillan era, of course, the parameters of allowable debate on British foreign policy have been fixed and unquestioned. Do we have an Atlantic destiny or a European one? Or should we, as Mr. Blair would maintain, have both? In other words, back to mediators, moderating influences and bridges again!
In this article I propose to make the revolutionary - and, to many, outrageous suggestion that Britain's proper destiny in the future, as in its better past, is to be a sovereign, independent and once again powerful nation in her own right - her relations with other states being not fixed, least of all based on perceived common ideology, but solely dictated by considerations of current national interest - considerations which are subject to constant change as the world around us changes. To put it another way, we should not see ourselves as having either an Atlantic destiny or a European destiny but solely a British destiny which we should pursue relentlessly and with single-minded determination, with all other alliances, associations, pacts and agreements consigned to their proper place: ephemeral arrangements subject to the criteria of passing national need. If there is one exception to this rule - a matter of principle and of permanence, rather than pure expediency - it is that we should pursue a close political, economic and cultural relationship with overseas communities of British inheritance and British (or at least mainly British) stock. These communities apart, we owe nothing to other nations, nor do they owe anything to us. We may regard them with friendship and affection; we may, on the other hand, look upon them with hostility and dislike; we may admire their societies and political systems or we may abhor those things. But none of this has the slightest bearing on whether we do business with them or not, whether we support their wars or not, whether we welcome their leaders to our shores or not, whether we send our leaders to their shores or not. All this diplomatic activity should have one overriding rule: it should be considered in accordance with the question of whether Britain's strength, independence, wealth and welfare are thereby strengthened or weakened. Nothing else is relevant.
These were the guiding principles of British foreign policy throughout the centuries of our expansion from small island to great empire, no matter how much it was sometimes thought necessary to dress them up in the finery of noble ideals and motives. As mass opinion began to count in political calculations, what with the development of modern communications media, cold and clinical considerations of realpolitik - however much they remained valid - were thought to need some moral reinforcement. Hence Britain would go and fight for what was right and against the forces of evil. She would be a crusader for freedom and against tyranny. This simple sloganising appealed to the feminine element in the public conscience, particularly important after the winning of women's suffrage; but as long as the underlying national objectives remained the same all was well. When, of course, politicians actually came to believe their own rhetoric and really paid credence to the idea that wars were fought for other aims beyond national advantage - that vast expenditures of British blood and money were justified in the service of pure ideological abstractions, quite regardless of any ruinous effects upon our wealth and power as a nation - we were on the slippery slope to national impotence.
And it is in this state of impotence that Britain today pathetically postures on the world stage, desperately seeking a role that enables her to feel important - and, more essentially still, for her pygmies of political leaders to feel important. Hence Blair's gigantic self-deception that he is a big player in the current war games focused on the Middle East. Hence his craving for a regular pat on the head from the occupant of the White House. Hence the totally ersatz flag-waving as media propagandists play upon a natural and justified pride in the quality of our servicemen and women while they are dispatched to the battle zone with rifles that won't fire properly, tanks that break down in desert conditions, aircraft that are woefully under-maintained and even boots that have to be purchased privately - or otherwise scrounged from the Americans.
And all of this is in pursuit of a conflict that has absolutely nothing to do with any tangible British interest. It is all a massive distraction. It is pure international play-acting as a substitute for grappling with problems at home: hospitals; transport; schools; crime; immigration; social breakdown; the erosion of manufacturing industry; the ruin of the countryside; and so much else. We have a system of government totally incapable of getting to grips with these problems, and we have rulers of a human calibre simply not up to solving them even given the finest political system ever devised.
So all that is left to the politicians is pretence: the quixotic creation of windmills with which to do battle, and the conjuring up of causes - peace, freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, the international community, anti-racism, the celebration of diversity - see if you can think of a few more!
It isn't as if all these causes are wrong. Some of them may be perfectly alright, depending on context. We would all rather have peace than have war. We would all rather have freedom than have slavery. But these things are mere slogans as used in the present debate. They bear little relation to success or failure in the real world. They are irrelevant to our current British need, which essentially is one of national capability: of health, strength, efficiency and power as a nation - without which nothing meaningful can be done in the world, in pursuit of whatever ideals.
I quoted the historian Correlli Barnett last month and I will quote him again. In the preface to his latest major work The Verdict of Peace he summed up almost perfectly what should be the purpose of all national politics:-
Lest it be argued that Barnett has omitted here the numerous humanitarian considerations that so exercise liberal thinkers and theorists, the immediate answer is that these things fall naturally within the sphere of "cohesiveness and efficiency in social and political structures." A nation which neglects to care for the needy among its people - the genuinely needy, that is - will not enjoy social cohesion, and thus will not be efficient or strong. Conversely, a strong and efficient nation is the essential precondition for the effective carrying out of humanitarian good works. In the present state of Britain's public services, particularly health, we see ample enough demonstration of this truth.
So what we should really be concerning ourselves about is whether we have the resources - political, economic, military and above all human - to survive as a nation, to do what is right for ourselves, to protect our interests and, when and where possible, to advance them. This - and this beyond anything else - should be the focus of politicians. But for that to happen we need a new breed and type of politician, as remote from the present ones as creatures from another planet: a politician utterly dedicated to national aims, focused on national requirements, and schooled in the arts and sciences of government necessary for the building of strong and successful nations; a politician immune to the baying of the mob; a politician fired by the spirit of public service, above ambition and placemanship; a politician of a type completely absent from the present Tory/Lib/Lab parliamentary harlequinade.
Former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson once famously said of Britain that she had "lost an empire and not yet found a role." Britain, in its turn, has ever since been hypnotised by those not very profound words. In fact, the words are as misleading a guide to how we should be thinking and acting as a nation as it is possible to get. The fact that Britain no longer rules India, a large slice of Africa and myriad other colonies and dependencies across the oceans of the world is completely irrelevant to her actual power and capability as a nation; it was irrelevant when we did rule these territories and it is irrelevant now. To have shed the illusion that we are somehow responsible for governing, financing and defending these scattered possessions, at a vast expenditure of national resources for no comparable national gain, ought to be a saving - and thus an augmentation - of strength rather than a cause of weakness.
Always essential in the old Empire - and the sole justification for its upkeep - were our relations with what we used to call the White Dominions, which together constituted a treasure house of national resources, living space and, above all, sturdy and vigorous people which, co-ordinated properly with the Motherland, would have placed Britain in a uniquely favourable position to retain her great-power status in the modern world.
And it was never inevitable that these countries should have drifted away from Britain as has tended to happen over the past half-century. By the onset of World War II they possessed all the institutions of self government necessary to make their relations with the United Kingdom a purely voluntary matter, embraced willingly by their peoples as a natural consequence of kinship and, not least, community of interest. A common Australian aphorism goes: "We didn't leave Britain; Britain left us." That assertion is largely true: if anything, much more of the impetus for a breaking up of the former British World came from politicians in Westminster than from separatist sentiment overseas. If the latter is now strong and growing it is because the treason of the former was tolerated by the British electorate, led blindly by politicians and media into the cul de sac of Commonwealth in a huge confidence trick in which, again, the contemptible Macmillan figured conspicuously.
Merely lamenting this avails us nothing, though a study of it is useful as a guide to past foolishness and future needs. As things stand now, the entire weight of Britain's national energy and will as applied to overseas affairs should be concentrated on mending the broken ties with these our kin across the oceans. If we applied to such a task one tenth of the missionary zeal presently wasted on the Third World and on military adventures in the service of American oil billionaires and Zionists, we might be surprised at what we could achieve.
This, of course, has nothing to do with that much misused word empire. We are talking here about natural partnerships. If it is natural - as some suppose it is - to work to preserve a partnership with a nation which left the Empire 237 years ago, and which moreover has interests which conflict with ours in numerous fields, how much more natural is it to rebuild partnership with others with whom severance is much more recent and whose interests and ours are wholly complementary?
As for Acheson's assertion that Britain has not yet "found a role," the simple reply comes in the form of a question: why should it? By what yardstick of political wisdom is it necessary for nations to seek roles in the world? Indeed, one can think of historical examples enough - right up to the present day - of the truth that nations in pursuit of roles cause much more trouble than they do good. The only role in which a nation should be interested is the simple one of looking after itself and its own, of minding its business and working to ensure that that business is as successful and prosperous as possible. Any role beyond this is pure national vanity and conceit, which deeply irritates other nations because of its implicit assumption that their affairs are in some way our legitimate preserve and concern.
Folly of internationalism
The internationalists of this planet are forever looking for roles for their nations usually to the exhaustion of those nations' strength when it comes to safeguarding their own rightful spheres of interest. No better example of this exists today than in the case of America; while she mobilises massive military force in pursuit of a role in the Middle East, her own southern border seems defenceless against teeming hordes of alien immigrants, which grow in number to become a veritable fifth column in her midst.
The nationalist view is that national spheres of interest must always be paramount. And there is a further consideration: the internationalist case, which rests so heavily on the presumption that nationalism causes wars and internationalism prevents them, is in this regard by no means vindicated by history, nor by the situation in the world today. Right now the war drums are growing louder - and fighting may indeed break out before our next monthly issue comes off the presses - precisely because today's global super-power, the United States, has abandoned the isolation that was the original foundation stone of its waxing strength, and is trying to play world policeman, invoking a completely phoney pretext for attacking Iraq when that nation could never in a thousand years ever threaten its own prosperity or security. In other words, it is global meddling - America playing a role and Britain feebly trying thus to imitate her - that promises to cause death and destruction in the Middle East.
We cannot influence what America does contrary to Blair's ludicrous supposition that this is within his mystical powers. But we can, as a nation, decide what we do. We can indeed begin, for the first time in more than half a century, to act like a nation ourselves: to concentrate on our own legitimate affairs, and to tolerate no outside interference in those affairs; to focus our energies on the rebuilding of our own strength and power; to harness our own resources - and they are not inconsiderable - to the defence and consolidation of our own interests.
Britain is not a Holland or a Denmark. It is a nation of sixty million (knock off a few million ethnic future emigrants to get, perhaps, 50-55 million). It has a heritage of unrivalled technical inventiveness and native industrial skills, albeit presently allowed to fall into disuse. It has considerable domestic reserves of coal and oil. It has a magnificent fighting tradition should that be needed. And it has many more millions of ethnic kinfolk in the lands of the former Empire who could still be rallied, if not to a recovered imperium, then at least to a close alliance. That alliance would rest neither on the favours of America nor Europe, although there is no reason for us to be enemies of either. It could be an alliance which, through a pooling of resources of research and development, could enable us to become world leaders in many new branches of technology in which we are now laggards. Through this combination, and with singular dedication to national self-interest and the building up of our own strength, we could again become a great power, if not on the scale of the USA, then at least equal in rank to, say, Germany or Japan, and fully able to forge her own destiny with her own hands.
Britain, which over past decades has been paralysed by a false sense of her weakness, is in fact potentially immensely strong once she sheds current liberal illusions and fallacies about her global obligations and becomes firmly focused on her own national development to the subordination of all else.
That is how other nations - the USA, Russia, Japan, Germany - became great powers. It is what we have to do to ensure we have a future alongside them.