Monday, 28 April 2008
“Britain* is divided into four parts; whereof one is inhabited by Englishmen, the other by Scots, the third by Welshmen, and the fourth by Cornish people, which all differ among themselves, either in tongue, either in manners, or else in laws and ordinances.”
– Polydore Vergil (Henry VIII’s geographer)
What is it with the London media? It seems if you email celebrity chefs like Rick Stein and the mockney Jamie Oliver calling yourself “CNLA” and promising a “rosy glow” in their pricey restaurants in Cornwall, you can get coverage in a dozen newspapers, whereas if you manage to collect 50,000 signatures for a Cornish Assembly in two years, you get none. Bear in mind that the Cornish population is only 400,000, and the petition was badly publicised, and you can see the scale of feeling. Cornwall, meantime, has the lowest GDP in the UK, at a mere 62% of the average. An article in the Western Morning News has pointed out “in places like Mousehole, Port Isaac & Cadgwith, it is possible to buy any number of £1000 paintings, but not a pint of milk” thanks to the vast number of second homes there. Rick Stein is part of the problem, and has led to Padstow being nicknamed Padstein, thanks to buying up half the town. Would Stein or Oliver agree with this?
“We, the people of Cornwall, must have a greater say in how we are governed. We need a Cornish Assembly that can set the right democratic priorities for Cornwall, and provide a stronger voice for our communities in Britain, in Europe, and throughout the wider world.”
Most Scots don’t know that Cornwall is not a proper part of England. For centuries, a significant number of its natives have always regarded themselves as non-English, and it is the only “English county” with its own language, laws and nationalist movement. For example, if you die without a will in England, your property goes to the Crown. In Cornwall it goes to the Duke of Cornwall (Prince Charles), and the Duchy has been used more or less as an expense account for the heir to the throne. The story of the decline of Cornish mining, farming and fishing is one with which Scots have first hand experience.
In the post-Roman period, the Cornish were known as “West Welsh” by the English. (“Welsh” being an old English word for “foreigner”). This was retained in Cornwall which means “Welsh Headland”. Cornwall only became joined, bit by bit, in the Norman period. Even so, during the Middle Ages, the phrase “England and Cornwall” turns up in dozens of medieval documents, including the Magna Carta. Henry VIII’s coronation lists his realms as including “ England, France…Cornwall, Wales & Ireland”. The Cornish would rise repeatedly, notably in 1497 under Michael An Gof who raised an army of 15,000.
The Reformation was particularly painful for the Cornish. When the English language Book of Common Prayer was forced on them, they rose in 1549, complaining partly that many of them spoke no English. The upper class converted to Anglicanism, or was dispossessed, but the vast majority of the Cornish peasantry and working class did not “conform”. Even today, Methodism is far bigger than Anglicanism in Cornwall. As in Wales, Cornish radicalism arose from Methodism, and joined the Liberal Party. However, unlike elsewhere, the Cornish radicals did not really take to the Labour party. The battle in Cornwall has been traditionally between Tories and Liberals. This changed however, in 1997, when Cornwall, Wales and Scotland all became Tory-free.
“The Cornish are fortunate in being able to paint their regional [sic] discontents in the attractive colours of the Celtic tradition. Merseyside cannot blow a national trumpet, Cornwall can.” – Eric Hobsbawm
Although much of modern Cornish nationalism originated in bourgeois Romanticism, by the present day, it has come to embrace the entire political spectrum, both republican and monarchist, liberal and conservative, socialist and social democrat. The Lib Dems continue to flirt with it, with the most “nationalist” Lib Dem being Andrew George MP, who took his oath in Cornish. The real voice, other than the defunct Cornish National Party, is Mebyon Kernow, which tends to left of centre. MK has some claims to fame – it participates fully in the local CND and Green campaigns, has engaged in industrial action, and prevented nuclear power stations from being built. It does very well in council elections, but not in Westminster elections. This is partly because it is not entitled to broadcasts, and receives little publicity in local press. While not achieving the levels of Plaid, or the SNP, MK has more councillors in Cornwall, than UKIP has anywhere, and got more council votes than Labour in Cornwall.
While London-based TV portrays Cornwall as a playground of the rich, surfing, pirates and yokels, based in “South West England”, the reality is a housing crisis, high unemployment, and a rapid brain drain. Coupled with a thousand years of cultural aggression and assimilation, it’s no wonder Cornwall, Cornish and the Cornish are in such a bad way. Some have started to become “Cornish and English”, in a similar fashion to Rangers fans who wear England shirts.
“Smaller minorities also have equally proud visions of themselves as irreducibly Welsh, Irish, Manx or Cornish. These identities are distinctly national in ways which proud people from Yorkshire, much less proud people from Berkshire will never know. Any new constitutional settlement which ignores these factors will be built on uneven ground.” (The Guardian, editorial, 8th May 1990)
Concessions are few, and have come slowly to Cornwall. For example, the Rose has been removed from Cornish road signs, and replaced with the Cornish flag after a direct action campaign. The Cornish language is reappearing, and the national flag is now everywhere. Cornish devolution and investment has not come, instead London links Cornwall into “Devonwall” and jobs are exported eastward to Plymouth and Exeter. Cornwall is also refused European aid, thanks to the government. In 1967, the Liberal MPs, John Pardoe and Peter Bessel complained, “the Cornish people have the same right to control their country, its economy and its political future as the other Celtic peoples of Scotland and Wales.”
Four decades later, Cornish Lib Dems make the same complaint, while the party in London says the exact opposite. When will Cornwall be heard?
by Ray Bell
* The original “British” are the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. However, there is little connection between the ancient term, and the modern one, which is co-opted and political.
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Nowhere in Europe can the issue of Europe have become so polarised as it has in Britain. Yet the issue of a Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has been confused (and I suspect deliberately so) with the question of whether Britain should remain or withdraw from the EU.
Whereas there is a strong outcry for a Referendum in certain quarters the prospect of withdrawal remains much less popular. Britain's anti-EU campaigners know this and seek to cloud the issue by using the call for a Referendum as proof of the unpopularity of the EU. It's no accident that anti-EU newspapers like the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph are all the most vociferous when it comes to demanding a Referendum. And David Cameron's Tory Party, not known for its love of things European, is no different.
During the recent House of Commons debate on the Lisbon Treaty it was significantly the Tories who felt threatened by the prospect of a European Defence Force which they see as a threat to the present Anglo-American 'special relationship' and alliance. Cameron claims that the 'special relationship' is in his and the Tory party's DNA. It shouldn't take much analysis to understand what he means.
And whereas it is perfectly understandable that writers like Susan George should denounce the Treaty as a blueprint for 'neo-liberal' exploitation and for the people of France and Holland to have rejected the proposed Constitution for similar reasons we should be much more cautious with the British Right as well as the caravan of anti-EU nationalists which follows on behind it.
A major reason the British Right is fighting the Lisbon Treaty is because it sees the creation of a European Defence Force as the first step towards a military bloc which would seriously challenge not only the present Anglo-Saxon Alliance but the imperialist military power behind it.
Now Eire is under threat from Nato
When reminded of the paradox in their 'independence' argument the anti-EU nationalists have no answer. For how can they really be serious about a British 'independence' which in the cruel light of day simply does not exist? And if the nationalists on the Left are, as they often profess to be, anti-Nato and against the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan how can they square this with their hostility to a EU which is feared by US analysts as a growing threat to US foreign policy?
Opposition to the EU in Britain tends to come from a deeper source of resentment than just concern for the threat of unemployment resulting from the Treaty's 'neoliberal' economic policies. It is something to be found in the well-springs of national identity or now rather a lack of one following a post-imperial hangover. It is probably no accident that there exists no serious interest here in a debate about the need for more democracy within the EU. Why bother when you can get your opinions ready-made from the Sun? And yet how many who read the Sun know that Rupert Murdoch, a naturalised US citizen, is a mortal enemy of the EU? And if they did would they trouble to join up the dots?
Unlike Eire with its Dublin Castle Forum debate the people of the UK are not being allowed any debate over the Lisbon Treaty. The British must rely on the paucity of --even then grossly distorted-- information it receives from the national mainstream media and a government whose attitude to the European Project is in a word ambivalent. While on the one hand successfully blackmailing the EU with threats to veto the Treaty if not allowed major opt-outs concerning industrial relations and civil rights Gordon Brown returns to our shores claiming these opt-outs to be an "achievement"! An achievement for whom, the people or a reactionary government going busily about turning Britain into a police-state?
There never was a time when Britain more needed an intelligent, informed national debate about where this country is headed for. But that need is not even on the agenda of an unelected Brown government whose deeply undemocratic nature makes even the Tories look like the champions of freedom. Of course, they are not. If Labour and the Tories have one thing in common it is that they share a deep belief in the Atlantic alliance between Britain and the USA.
That Alliance, while in the interests of Anglo-American capital, is certainly no friend of the people. Both Labour and the Tories would like to keep Britain in the EU to act as a trojan horse for US interests and interventionism. And that is why Tweedledum and Tweedledee do not want a national debate on Europe or, indeed, anything else.
While campaigning for a more democratic Europe the reality of the Anglo-American status quo should never be forgotten. What European democrats should be working towards is not only a decentralised and democratic European Federation --one that is truly people-friendly-- but for a Europe that has the economic, diplomatic and military teeth to present itself as a defensive counter-force in a new, multipolar world of powers.
Paul Carline from the Initiative & Referendum Institute, Marburg, comments:
An excellent analysis. There are very good reasons for believing that a federated Europe based on popular sovereignty and direct-democratic rights (citizen-initiated referendums and obligatory referendums on key issues - as is already the case in the Irish Republic) would be a safer and more prosperous place.
There's every reason to think that Britain would also be better off as a federal country, like Switzerland and Germany.
In fact, Switzerland, with its 26 sovereign cantons, each with its own constitution based on popular sovereignty, is a great model for an EU which now has 27 member states.
Academic studies in Switzerland show that the more direct democracy there is i.e. the more the people have real rights of political decision-making and initiative, the happier people are and the more efficient and prosperous the economy is.
When anti-EU people speak of 'national sovereignty', they are talking about an undemocratic claim to exclusive power by an unrepresentative parliament and government in which a tiny handful of people around the prime minister can take momentous decisions such as committing Britain to illegal wars (incidentally making those who promoted and supported those decisions war criminals in international and domestic law. cf. the Campaign to Make Wars History at www.makewarshistory.org).
Is that the kind of sovereignty we want?
Monday, 14 April 2008
A voice for a different Interview with Susan George
An Phoblacht (The Republic), 24 December 2007
The defeated EU Constitution has been repackaged as the Reform Treaty, which does not say a single word about social
EOIN Ó BROIN speaks to writer and social activist SUSAN GEORGE about how important the Irish referendum on the EU Treaty is for democrats and progressives across
“IT MAKES me feel as though I have been spat on. It makes me feel that they have nothing but contempt for the voters. It is as if we didn’t vote, our votes don’t count, our opinions don’t count and we are being told, ‘Just shut up and let the technocrats get on with it.’”
Susan George is not known to exaggerate. Her writing is careful and considered, well-researched and internationally respected. But the decision to repackage the defeated EU Constitution as the Reform Treaty has angered her. She feels “spat on”. That people in
Although maybe not a household name in
From 1990 to 1994, George sat on the board of Greenpeace International. From 1999 to 2006 she was-vice president of ATTAC France (Association for Taxation of Financial Transaction to Aid Citizens). ATTAC promotes the taxation of international financial transactions in order to curb stock market speculation and provide revenue for development projects in the developing world.
She is currently chair of the Transnational Institute in
Author of 14 books, translated into many languages, Susan George is best-known for her ground-breaking studies of global poverty, food insecurity and the impact of debt on the developing world. Since the publication of How The Other Half Dies (1976), she has been a trenchant critic of the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. More recently she has focused much of her attention on the World Trade Organisation and the impact of trade liberalisation on the world’s poor.
John Pilger described her 2003 book, The Lugano Report, as “an extraordinary, original book of exquisite irony, a kind of Catch-22 of capitalism”. Noam Chomsky said, “with acid wit and sombre truths, The Lugano Report brilliantly portrays, through the eyes of its imagined but all too realistic planners, a world that may be heading for deep trouble”. George Monbiot described the report as “a brilliant and innovative means of exposing a world order that serves only the strongest. A compelling satire, packed with information, this is the work of an author in complete control of her subject.”
The EU Constitution
In 2004, ATTAC France took a decision to oppose the EU Constitution. In their view, the treaty was promoting neo-liberalism, poverty, insecurity and mass-unemployment. On 29 May 2005, in the biggest ever turn-out for an EU-related poll, 55 per cent of French voters rejected the EU Constitution. The 70 per cent turn-out was in sharp contrast to the 45 per cent turn-out for the 2004 European parliamentary elections.
As vice-president of ATTAC France, Susan George played a central part in the campaign. Opinion polls had been indicating for some time that the ‘No’ side was gaining ground. There was widespread shock across
“It seemed to me to be in the long line of French movements on the left for human emancipation. Once people actually found out what was in the treaty it was quite natural to vote ‘No.’”
The French said ‘No’ because the treaty was “a blueprint for neo-liberal economics and privatisation, giving no protection to public services and very little protection for the environment”.
The Reform Treaty
Following the rejection of the treaty by the French and then the Dutch, the European Commission announced a “period of reflection”. Eighteen months later, the Council of Europe agreed the Reform Treaty, containing 96 per cent of the articles of the EU Constitution. George believes that, during the intervening period:
“The European Council and Commission were trying to figure out the best way to mask the fact that they were going to try and shove the same thing down our throats. You can’t just say that the French and the Dutch voted wrong so we’re going to hand them the same text again. They had to find a way to hide what they were doing.”
That the Reform Treaty is almost identical to the EU Constitution is not in doubt. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, speaking to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in July 2007, said:
“In terms of content, the proposals remain largely unchanged – they are simply presented in a different way.” Giscard d’Estaing, former President of France, was chair of the convention that drew up the Constitution.
As a life-long campaigner for trade justice, George is particularly concerned about the implications of the Reform Treaty for the developing world.
“The relationship between developed
“The EU will use these new powers in the Reform Treaty to do exactly what he pleases,” says George, “and people from Trócaire and other development organisations can complain all they like to the Irish Government but the Irish Government is not going to be able to do anything about it.”
George is also dismissive of those who argue that the Reform Treaty is
George contends that the motivations behind the drafters of the treaty are best summarised by liberal economist Adam Smith’s famous phrase: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.”
Despite strong opposition to the Reform Treaty, Susan George cannot be described as anti-European. In her 2004 book, Another World is Possible If... she argued the case for a strengthened Social Europe as a global counterweight to US-led corporate globalisation and militarisation.
Rejecting the Reform Treaty for George is a crucial aspect of her alternative.
“I want to open up some space. We have to keep saying no until they get the point and we can sit down and have a real discussion about the future of
“Europe ought to be an alternative model to the
With opinion polls indicating that 62 per cent of the Southern Irish electorate is undecided on the Reform Treaty, Susan George’s arguments are a reminder that opposition to the EU and opposition to the Reform Treaty are not the same thing.
• Susan George’s new books, We The Peoples of
Supporters of the European Referendum Campaign agree to the following appeal:
You cannot build Europe without the consent of the people, that is why we direct the following demands to
* Heads of states and governments
* National parliaments
* the European Parliament
1. The EU Reform Treaty must be submitted to the citizens in a referendum in each single EU member state.
2. If necessary the Parliaments of the EU member states must make the appropriate legal and constitutional provisions for a referendum.
3. A real and unbiased debate on the EU Constitution alias the Reform Treaty must be secured in the framework of a fair referendum.
Fair referendums allow both sides to present their points of view on the same conditions. We want a proper debate which deals with the real topic and brings Europe closer to the citizens.
It highlights in clear terms why the Lisbon Treaty is unacceptable to democrats and why it is now so important for all Europeans to involve themselves in an evolutionary political struggle.
Apathy or disdain are no alternatives. Indeed they are the very weaknesses the rulers invite and encourage in order to defeat democracy.
The Vote for a Gentler and More Democratic Europe
Praful Bidwai, Khaleej Times, 5 June 2005
As the powerful impact of the emphatically negative French and Dutch verdicts in the referenda on the European Union's new Constitution sinks in, it becomes increasingly apparent that the vote may not have been driven largely by isolationism, national chauvinism or xenophobic fears about immigration, as many had expected.
These sentiments did form a significant (but minor) component of the reasons behind the ballot in the two countries. But the dominant consideration seems to have been just the opposite: the urge for a more democratic EU that respects, defends and extends its citizens' rights and strives for a humane common future for a Social Europe, which the conservative, pro-corporate Constitution would have negated.
It is equally apparent that the impact of the referenda, which render the Constitution null and void, will extend to the larger world beyond Europe. If a democratic debate now opens up, focused on the aims and purposes of the European project, it will pose major issues about whether and how the EU can contribute to a more balanced, equitable, non-hegemonic world order and provide a counterweight to the United States, or whether it would be content to be an emulator-competitor of the US on Washington's terms, and thus help further distort the global order. So all of us have a stake in the debate over Europe.
First, the 70 and 62 per cent turnouts respectively in France and the Netherlands mean that the EU seems important to its ordinary citizens and evokes strong emotions - not just of anger (at ruling governments and persistent unemployment), and fear (of a loss of identity), but also nobler ones like defence of humane values. These latter probably played a far more important role in the overall "no" vote. They certainly explain the success which the pro-integration Left and progressive social movements had in forming the core - and the coherent part - of the "no" coalition and in mobilising large numbers of people, including the youth, not to speak of fence-sitters at the last stage of the campaign.
The EU vote, especially in France, reflected a class divide. The upwardly mobile professionals voted "yes". But the working class, facing 10 per cent unemployment and grave economic uncertainty, rejected the "Europe of the Bosses".
The public debate generated by the Constitutional referenda has clearly reflected a conflict between two ideas: that of a kinder, gentler Europe, and a Europe that projects power and wants to dominate. There's a tussle here between two agendas: one of the people and social rights, and the other of "free markets" and corporate privilege.
The Constitution was basically dominated by the second agenda. The Convention which drafted it was established through nomination. It was mainly comprised of representatives of governments and national/European parliaments, and generally excluded civil society organisations. This was in keeping with the EU's evolution in recent years, especially after the elitist Maastricht treaty.
The Constitution is an unwieldy 400-page-plus document, with 448 articles. Very, very few people have read it. Nor has the media summed up its provisions accurately or fully. The Constitution is almost impossible to amend. Any change requires a consensus at three levels virtually impossible to achieve. It perpetuates top-heavy structures like the democratically unaccountable European Central Bank. It would also have created an individual EU president with a term of 30 months in place of the more democratic six-month rotating presidency.
Similarly, by amending the consensus rule, under which all EU decisions had to be unanimous in the 25 member-states, it gives excessive powers to the Big Four (Germany, France, Britain and Italy) and discriminates against smaller states by stipulating a majority of only 65 per cent of citizens and 55 per cent of states.
The statute erodes the democratic decision-making space on immigration and social policy and grants the veto to national parliaments only for defence, foreign policy and taxation. The emphasis, however, is on a common foreign and security policy. An especially egregious feature of the Constitution is that it contains policy prescriptions especially "free market" dogmas. Policy is a legitimate function of the government of the day, not the Constitution.
The Constitution subordinates hard-won social rights to so-called free competition, and treats corporate interests as sacrosanct. For instance, it whittles down the fundamental right to work, to the right to look for a job! It removes valuable social protections. And it mandates that public services like water supply, healthcare and education be thrown open to "competition" and thus be privatised. The Constitution would have completed and sealed the long under-way transition from social Europe to corporate Europe.
At a seminar in Amsterdam, which I attended, Susan George, the famed author of How the Other Half Dies noted that the word "competition" occurs 47 times in the text. While "market" occurs 78 times, "social progress" is completely missing!
Equally disturbing is the obligation of each member state to "improve its military capabilities". The EU, which spends half as much as the US on the military (in GDP terms) is being asked to compete with America and match its spending on military research too.
A related EU defence strategy paper calls for military "intervention anywhere", which is "early, rapid, and when necessary, robust". It says: "We should be ready to act before a crisis occurs." This is similar to the obnoxious Bush doctrine of pre-emptive/preventive war!
The ultimate irrationality is that the EU's new militaristic orientation is unrelated to any external threat!
The Constitution's defeat precipitates a fresh crisis. This can be resolved only by deciding one central issue: what kind of Europe is desirable - an arrogant, powerful superpower unkind to its own citizens, or a federal entity that respects equality, caring-and-sharing and justice, and wants to reform the iniquitous world order?
We can only hope that such a debate gets going soon and that the EU emerges as a genuine alternative model to the hegemonic American one. Only thus can it live up to its original promise of creating an order where nations don't go to war, execute people or subject them to the market's brutalities.
Copyright 2005 Khaleej Times
Saturday, 12 April 2008
The British Campaign for a Democratic Europe - A View Out of Chaos
Though the UK has been part of what is today the European Union for over 35 years the people of this country --and in particularly in England-- have never been very enthusiastic about a united Europe or what is known on the Continent as the European Project.
As the European Project has developed and evolved, bringing into it more and more countries, there has, at the same time, grown an increasing feeling of concern amongst some Europeans that the increasing centralisation of power to Brussels is a threat to their respective national identities. The rejection in Holland and France of the proposed European Constitution reflected, at least in part, that concern.
It wasn't the whole story by any means. Those on the Left were equally if not more concerned about the effect of the neo-liberal economics adopted by the Commission over the last eight years which have superseded its old social-democratic policies. The Commission was not entirely to blame for this coup from the Right for it was merely reflecting the policies filtering down to it from its Council of Ministers and its unelected Round Table of Industry which plays such a major role in policy-making. The Council and the Round Table in their turn reflect the 'neo-liberal' policies being laid down by diktat via large financial organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
But by the time this sea-change in economic and social policy manifested itself at the grassroots of European society it was seen, understandably, as a threat to the national way of life associated with an ever-more centralised and distant Brussels eurocracy.
This has led to a resurgence of nationalist reaction in certain EU countries and never more so than in the traditionally insular island-nation that is the United Kingdom. A similar reaction appears to be taking place in Eire which from having been an enthusiastic partner in Europe during the days of industrial boom has, it appears, to have gone sour on the idea when boom turned into recession. Was the old Irish enthusiasm for the European Project never more than opportunistic? And in that sense was Britain's decision to join the EEC and to remain in it based more on popular feelings of anxiety and insecurity than on any real enthusiasm for European unity?
Faced with the collapse of 'neo-liberal' capitalism and something even more fundamentally serious pointing to the culmination of a Kondratieff Cycle, no less, Europe along with the rest of the Planet is facing a time of re-evolutionary change. During such a time everything goes up into the air and especially old, unresolved business. The current upsurge of a proto-fascist nationalism in countries like the UK are very much part of this phenomenon.
The emerging nationalism is characterised by being both of the Left and the Right and within it is to be found a chauvinist, if not quite racist, undercurrent that is fuelled by opportunist social fascists who whip-up paranoia among the more gullible of an attack on society by unseen or undefined forces. This idea is particularly a favourite of the middle-aged 'grey revolutionaries' who see their comfortable and relatively secure way of life under threat in a country like Britain which is undergoing a downward slide in its quality of living, entirely predictable as, at least in part, being the result of its post-imperial hangover.
The British people never came to terms with themselves as to their new sense of post-imperial identity. Alf Garnett-style chauvinism was portrayed to look rightly ridiculous. Al Murray's Happy Hour followed the tradition of self-parody but in a disturbingly ambivalent manner where you can never be quite sure whether he's really taking the piss out of British xenophobia or not.
Alf Garnett, the Quintessential Bigot
But it's true and there's no point in trying to side-step the issue. Despite or due to an influx of immigration, Britain remains an insular and xenophobic culture. Years ago this was explained to me by a Dutch-woman with whom I was discussing the peculiarly British sense of insularity and superiority. "It's quite natural," she said, "and only to be expected from an island nation. People who live on islands are more wary of outsiders."
Well, I think that she had a good point but her explanation could not account for the totally unfounded sense of superiority/inferiority that, despite all the changes, lies at the heart of the British make-up together with a stubborn monolingual outlook which when challenged invariably is met with the retort, "Everyone else speaks English so why should we bother to speak their language?" Which entirely misses the point: the reason why we might bother to learn another's language is really more from a curiosity to learn about other people, their cultures and way of thinking and living. As a nation, we in Britain don't much care for that.
Until recently, that singular and self-congratulatory attitude could be attributable to a natural sense of superiority inculcated in the British mind by centuries of imperialist, Kiplingesque values. Britannia could do no wrong in the manner in which she ruled. But that sense of innate superiority took a thorough bashing some decades ago, leaving the average Brit confused and without any sense of national identity with which to replace the old myth.
The present attempt by British politicians to make new citizens swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and Country and the like comes not so much from a sense of innate superiority of the old kind but of a terrible feeling of insecurity and panic that the traditional tapestry of British culture, whatever that was, has become so moth-eaten that it's coming apart at the seams. The last straw, it was perceived, was the fake threat of Islamisation --deliberately created as an ideological weapon by Washington's neocons-- which has given vent to a deep vein of racism and national insecurity that runs through the British psyche.
Islamophobia, however, is not something peculiar to the social fascist attitudes of the British middle-classes and what used to be thought of as the lower or working-classes. It runs right across the nominally Christian cultures of Europe, North America and Australia and has something to do with the collision between a White and predominantly non-White culture and worldview. The danger, though, is that it stokes up all the old anti-semitic traditions of western Christianity which we are seeing now re-presented in a different form under the pretence of an entirely spurious 'War on Terror'. This so-called clash of cultures was deliberately stoked-up in order to justify the new imperialism of the United States and its ever-willing sidekick, the UK government.
Combined with the insecurity and confusion caused by a changing world all this coagulates in the British mind to look as if it really is under a terrible attack from outside. Rather than any attempt at self-analysis, the fear is then projected outwards to be seen as a threat from beyond our borders. It's immigrants, it's coloureds, it's Islamic terrorists, it's the Eurocrats who are determined to subvert and change our lives. They're going to take away our freedoms and turn us into "a socialist state" as one of the more notable scare-mongers of the Right presently doing the circuit, Mr Brian Gerrish, would have it. And not only that says Mr Gerrish, who is in a habit of terrifying young people with the story, but "they're out to kill you!"
Gerrish reminds me of a bitter old man who picks on children to terrify them with his horror stories. It's a kind of power trip which today would normally be met with ridicule or reported to the police as harassment or worse. But Gerrish is talking about the EU, not nasty serial-killers. And kids will believe that stuff because it sounds like a juicy conspiracy theory. Not only kids but perfectly grown-up adults who like nothing else but a conspiracy to get off on and wet their libido. In a blame culture such as ours conspiracies abound. It's easy to blame others for the state of denial in which we stubbornly remain.
And there's the rub. For it was precisely out of a similar blame culture in the German Weimar Republic that Adolf Hitler rose to power, not through a coup but the ballot-box. If ever there was an example of the imperfections of democracy that had to be it. It was easy to blame all the problems of Weimar Germany on the treachery of the Allies in the Hall of Versailles. Just as it is easy to blame the miseries of contemporary Britain on immigrants, Muslims and the EU. What is not so easy is to look at ourselves honestly and to ask ourselves what it was we did as a nation that got ourselves into the state we are today. For to do so means coming out of denial. It means facing up to some unpleasant truths about ourselves and our past and accepting responsibility for it all.
It means an accepting of our own accountability for events. No more passing the buck, no more blame-culture, no more nationalist chauvinism. It means growing-up as a culture, a society and a nation. It's nothing less than our part in an evolutionary challenge that the entire human race now faces. And in Britain it's the challenge we face within the character of things as we find them. And part of our challenge is to decide whether we choose an inward-looking separation from the rest of the world or an acceptance that the world has moved on and it's time we moved with it.
Up to now, the controversy about Europe has been polarised deliberately between the centralists of the Eurocracy and the nationalists who loathe the idea of European union to be somehow a threat to their imaginary, domestic Utopias. Whilst the current reality within the countries of Europe is really about whether or not to accept a Constitution masquerading as a Treaty this is being presented to the British public in a characteristically dishonest manner by the Europhobic nationalists as a call for withdrawal.
Nothing could be further from the truth! No one, other than the minority of nationalists who are out to destroy and impose their own tyrannies, is talking about leaving the European Union. What is being hotly debated, and rightly so, is the kind of Europe that we its people would wish to see created. That, for example, is what the admirable Dublin Castle Forum and the national debate surrounding it in Eire is all about.
And clearly, as the video below shows, the Europarliament is very far from being the toothless, mishappen creature it is so often made to seem by those who have no real love of European democracy. We should be supporting, not sneering at it:
The Europarliament in Revolt
But tell that to the nationalists --by nationalists I mean that motley group of Left and Right we find in Britain today-- and you are met with a vacant silence. They have no reply and for good reason. The nationalist view is, as always, one that is founded on untruths and convenient fictions. The Little-British nationalists of both the Left and the Right are really not interested in debate. They don't want to know the truth about the Dublin Castle Forum debate. They just want out. And anyone who dares to question their intolerance is straightaway denounced as some form of traitor or saboteur!
This unhappy band of nationalists are no more than spoilt grown-ups who insist on having everything their own way. While accusing others of intolerance and fascism they are quite unable to see that all they are doing is to project their own inner demons on the rest of us. God help us if these people were ever to gain any real position of power!
It is often said that Britain today is a place of angry people. Given the form of misgovernment and abuse we have to suffer from our collectively corrupt and opportunist politicians who, in all fairness, can do nothing more than to rearrange the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic of capitalism, it's hardly surprising that we should be angry. We are treated in the most disgraceful manner by a secretive and feudal-minded clique of rulers who are determined that the very last thing we should have, and even then God forbid, is anything vaguely resembling a true, representative and accountable democracy.
But it is not just anger, which channelled properly can become a most effective tool for creative change. It is something far worse. It is intolerance all dressed-up in disguise like the wolf after Little-Red-Riding-Hood. And the nationalists, always quick to smell the toxins that anger and intolerance give off, have been very quick to jump in and stir the poisoned cesspit to their advantage. The Gerrish's, the Freedom Associations and their ilk don't fool me. I've been in this game too long. But they are fooling a lot of good but gullible folk --and now particularly among the younger generations. And that is when I say, Basta! Enough!
What has happened to the tolerant, liberal-minded society we Brits so prided ourselves on? What exactly is it in our own mental make-up --never mind others, just leave them out for now please-- that has made us angry and intolerant? Just what has replaced our famed liberal-mindedness with a form of insidious social fascism? For it is this malaise upon which the Little-British nationalists feed upon like vultures.
So, enough! It is time for those of the middle-path to regain the high ground. It is time that good democrats in this country understand the need for and partake in a Campaign for a Democratic Europe. For it is in such a campaign that our collective future lies as a European people, not in some retrogressive return to a past that never was of the kind that our nationalists peddle. The battle between democracy and tyranny is once more astride the stage and we are all actors in this drama whether we admit it or not.
We are truly at a critical moment, not just in Europe but everywhere across this Planet. You could look at it almost as a battle between the forces of Progress and Retrogression. In every sphere, whether it be in our personal, subjective world or in our outward, collective experience we are faced with this evolutionary challenge. In the political world, it is very much another step along the road of democracy versus tyranny.
And in the theatre we find ourselves in on this Planet, the place we know as Europe, the struggle is on. It is but a natural part of the political evolution of a united Europe. I appeal to all fellow-Europeans and Britons, do not allow yourselves to return to the darker days of national revanchism and chaos. To paraphrase Hermann Hesse's, Blick ins Chaos, there exists for us today a window of opportunity, a view through chaos, which we have no real choice but to set our sights on and fly courageously through!