Leading article Australia

The Spectator Australia

The Spectator Australia

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The Spectator Australia

11 February 2023

9:00 AM

Britain has become an irresistible target in recent times for sneering condemnation of its historical period of Empire, even in comments made by our own Foreign Minister, Labor’s Penny Wong. But she’s not alone. Another bizarre example of Empire-bashing was the decision last month of the Scottish actor, Alan Cumming, to return the Order of the British Empire that he had been awarded in 2009, saying that since then his eyes had been opened to the ‘toxicity’ of the Empire. Putting aside the question of whether any country, including Australia, needs a system of honours for politically correct celebrities and former public servants and politicians, it says something about Cumming’s education that he didn’t seem to know anything about the Empire until he was in his fifties but then all its horrors were revealed.

It is easy – and no doubt often right – to complain about the conduct of colonial regimes. But no one seems to be raising the role of the French in North Africa and Indo-China or the administration of the Belgians in the Congo, this latter being a rule of such rapacity and brutality that it can still scarcely be described. Or what about the war conducted by the Americans for twenty years in Vietnam – a slightly different form of imperialism – that resulted in the deaths of millions.

As it happens, the legacy of British rule in many of its colonies stands up pretty well. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are parliamentary democracies with a Westminster system of government and, although it now seems to be largely forgotten, the founding fathers in the US were all immigrants or close descendants of them from the British Isles. Even India, despite its stormy departure from British rule in 1947, acknowledges that its modern history would have been much less attractive under, for example, French or German rule.

But the hostility to Britain is not confined to history. Recent articles in the New York Times have described it as a ‘hollowed-out country’, ‘deeply provincial’ and ‘economically stagnant, socially fragmented and politically adrift’. It is true that Britain has some significant economic and social problems. So, however, do almost all the members of the European Community, not to mention every country in Africa and Asia. Yet there was wide-spread delight, including at the International Monetary Fund, when Liz Truss’s economic proposals last year were effectively rejected by the markets and resulted in a sudden decline in the British pound and her rapid departure from the prime ministership.

Much of the European satisfaction at these events was the product of a continuing reaction to Brexit. The EU bureaucrats in Brussels, largely the agents of the French and Germans, have never forgiven the British for the Brexit vote in 2016 and they steadfastly obstructed its implementation for some years. In 2021 President Macron was still complaining that, ‘The Brexit campaign was made up of lies, exaggerations and simplifications. We must remember at every moment what lies can lead to in our democracies.’

It is, of course, something of an irony that, at a time when Britain is said to be in terminal decline, it is besieged by illegal immigrants who prefer to risk crossing the English Channel in small boats rather than remain in one of the EU countries, including Macron’s France. They obviously think that life would be better for them in Britain than all the EU countries that they have moved through since leaving home.

As for the US, although it has been a long-time ally of Britain, there has always been some ambivalence in the relationship, in part because of the large proportion of Americans descended from Irish and German stock. It is worth remembering that the cost to Britain of standing – initially alone – against Germany in the second world war was an indebtedness to the Americans that blighted its immediate post-war years.

As if all this international enmity were not enough, Britain is the subject of continual undermining from two parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s chief minister, Nichola Sturgeon continues to demand a second referendum on Scottish independence, the earlier vote having been lost in 2014. This might be thought economic madness, given the fact that Scotland is currently heavily subsidised by the rest of the UK, but its advocates of independence suggest that it could join the EU – so presumably being subsidised by France and Germany instead is an eccentric solution to its financial problems.

The other source of internal instability is Northern Ireland. It has less than 3 per cent of the UK population but its majority party electorally is Sinn Fein, which is committed to taking Northern Ireland out of the UK and into the Republic of Ireland.  Sinn Fein is also a major electoral force in Now that Sinn Fein has seemingly given up its traditional activities of shootings and bombings for the parliamentary process, it can be assumed that its role in Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue to push for the breakup of the UK at the political level.

Like all countries, Britain’s history has its unattractive periods and, like almost all Western nations, it faces a situation where the financial demands of community members significantly exceed the taxes that they are willing to pay to meet those demands. But its legacies of the common law and the Westminster system of government can be rivalled by few, if any, nations over the last three hundred years.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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