Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire

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A couple of Augusts ago, the same weekend that Burnley were playing Spurs away at Wembley Stadium would coincide with the Notting Hill Carnival. This was the perfect occasion to visit London with my newly acquired American wife for our first time together. After a deli-lunch on Primrose Hill, I thought we could plunge within the city’s sweatbox in the direction of Leicester Square, for I wanted to show her something cool. Unfortunately, the cool thing wasn’t there any more, or rather they weren’t there, those floor-embedded metal plates which showed you how far away & in which direction the capital of each of the British Empire’s former colonies & dependencies lay. For a moment my soul was pricked by sadness & regret for the end of the imperial adventure, a sentiment which is, according to a new book co-authored by Danny Dorling & Sally Tomlinson, one of the chief motivating forces behind Brexit.

University. A school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied, and where, in the view of some news-sheets and political hacks, there are seditious lectures against Brexit – Harry Eyres & George Myerson 

Before the book arrived at my desk, I thought I’d check out some other reviews. To my astonishment, they were rather over-vitriolic, which I find an instant red flag to the reviewer’s nerves being twanged. Investigating further, I discovered one reviewer was a tweeter in support of Tommy Robinson & another – Patrick Maguire of the New Statesman – had obtained a “First class dissertation on the political significance of Enoch Powell’s classical scholarship.” For those who do not know, Enoch Powell was a right nob-head racist politician from the 1960s. After reading the book myself, I found the essence of these heavily politicized reviews was to find one point out of a 1000 accurate & insightful statements, & waste half their review-ink attacking the research in order to diminish the other 999.

Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about “foreign judges” and the need to “take back control” when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled? – Joris Luyendijk

So to the book itself, the crowning erudite cherry on the Brexit Book cake. Rule Britannia: Brexit & the End of Empire was published in November 2018, & is a yardstick zeitgeistograph still relevant 6 months later, when nothing much has actually happened in a Brexit process suffering delay after delay, & also eroding the traditional parties’ powers as seen in the recent local elections. Its authors are both Oxbridge connected scholars, but coming from a non-Etonian angle. This enables a refreshing honesty to talk about what they have observed in the leadership factories of Britain, which create situations where the present Tory cabinet has no representative from the working, & even middle, classes.

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Danny Dorling

The chief seam of the authors’ investigations is that certain influential elements among the British were suffering a terrible hangover after losing the Empire. As the profits from imperial ‘tribute’ disappeared – i.e. those one-sided trade deals with the colonies – the country decided to bed down with the European Union for financial security. Roll on four decades, & with old colonial families hankering for the glory days, coupled with an imminent European Parliament cut-down on tax-avoidance by the super-rich, & bo-oom! you’ve got the self-interest dream-team that masterminded Brexit. Of course, the democratic rights of 17 million voters had to be fooled & manipulated, but luckily the old ‘blame the immigrants’ carpet was safely tucked in Enoch Powell’s cupboards, & was rolled out to great fanfare by the Leave-dominated press. In essence, all the crap the British are experiencing right now is to preserve a few family fortunes. Time will look back on this period & say what the Leave vote really meant was an abandoning of a sinking ship by intelligent & skilful immigrant workers, who chose to Leave a place of insults & scapegoating.

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The Brexitier’s bus outside parliament.

Eight years ago we were worried about the BNP. Four years ago we were worried about UKIP. Now it is the conservatives themselves who are the driving force behind division & fear – Concerned Parent

The British Empire had its nasty moments – its a century since Amritsar, two since Peterloo. It let the Irish starve & heavily compensated the slave-traders on the abolishment of that dreadful business. While plundering a quarter of the world for its own gain, the Empire also created a syllabus of eugenicized fictions for its children – the white race was superior, & among the white races the British was defiantly the best. This created natural condescensions in the British consciousness, when the domestic underclass & the imperial over-class united in a sense of patriotic superiority. ‘This rotten alliance,’ say the authors, ‘still exists in the twenty-first century and goes some way to explaining the xenophobia, racism and hostility that is such an obvious part of our British heritage.’

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With the inevitable maturing of the Human psyche, British education will actually focus on the waves of immigration which created its rich DNA, from the Belgic tribes of Ceasar’s day, to the Polish influx in recent years. Unfortunately, jingoism still jangles in school texts, especially in the old classrooms of the nation’s elderly voters, the majority of whom opted for Leave in 2016. Another majority vote was an eye-opener. Coming from Burnley (the Spurs game was 1-1, by the way), I’ve had absolute bell-ends remark that my townsfolk were responsible for Brexit, & I kind of went along with it. Danny & Sally’s research quash the myth, explaining that the Brexitiers were basically slightly less well-off Tories from a relatively immigrant-free Middle England, wondering why they weren’t doing as well as other Tories across the land. Brilliant!

The UK sits on its own as a rich economy that experienced a strong economic performance while the real wages of its workers dropped – Valentina Romei

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Sally Tomlinson

Rule Britannia is a real eye-opener of a book, a lucid text complemented by lots of lovely graphs, maps & diagrams. As I read it, I really enjoyed how many paragraphs finish with a punchline of divergent thought, like the final turn’d couplet in an Elizabethen sonnet. The tale we are told presents in a pretty unarguable fashion how the rich are getting richer via measures of draconian austerity, working the poor so hard – & into a state of weakness – that they will not be able to protest against acts of clear theft perpetrated by the increasingly wealthy. I mean, we’re never told this by the press, but how can a Britain of 2019 see a rise in death-rates, child poverty & infant mortality. We are also informed of British society’s being left behind by a more progressive mainland, leaving me with the conclusion ‘why on earth would we actually want to leave.‘ But the authors do retain optimism, explaining how Brexit might be the kick up the arse we all need, the great opening up of the British psyche when, ‘there is a great hope that we will learn from our mistakes & become better people.’ It is indeed high time we British discovered the scandalous truths behind the appropriation of wealth by the rich at the expense of the vast majority. The ‘Remainers’ – I personally believe we should be bringing down barriers not putting them up – should also take solace in the fact that 71 percent of under 25s – the country’s future – voted to remain in Europe.

When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment & health services fort its people, it is depriving a whole generation of the right to prosperity & happiness Oscar Arias Sanchez

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The gates of Trinty college cambridge (the richest in all of England). Again people sleeping in tents outside. This college is about to do a “mini-Brexit” and attempt to privatise its pension scheme to be the first to leave the all university wide scheme (which could then lead to it leaving for the UK higher education system…)

The only drawback of this book is that although the authors rightly paint Britain as a place of drudgery & misery for the masses, the evidence they present is only cool comment & cold statistic. There is no experiences of wandering around the estates of Hull, North Peckham, Paisley & Burnley Wood. A little more research into who these ‘kind’ of leave-voters were would have complemented their theory & presented a more kaleidoscopic & believable solution. But what they have focused on, one cannot deny is perfectly sound, informative & page-turningly entertaining, a brief sample of which I shall present in aphorismic fashion.


QUOTES FROM THE BOOK

  • Delusions of grandeur are essential to rule over an empire. A people have to fool themselves, & to be fooled, into believing that they are special enough to rule over huge multitudes of others
  • When you destroy the textile industry in one continent, after enslaving people from a second continent and forcing them to pick cotton in a third continent to be woven in Manchester, all to make a profit, you are receiving tribute
  • When its people fail to adapt, an empire mentality remains a long time. Especially when it is it not clear to many people in the UK by whom or what the empire was defeated
  • Many of the British elite came to believe that the British were personally the pinnacle of humanity, & particular families in Britain were at the very top of that pinnacle
  • The last time pay fell as much as it has fallen recently was during the 1860s & 1870s… life expectancy in the UK has stalled in a way that, like pay falls, has not been seen since the 1860s. It is projected that an extra million years of life will be lost by 2058 if these trends are not altered.
  • Some of those who consider themselves elite can often be rather dim. They talk of themselves as ‘privileged,’ to have been selectively educated, whereas the real privilege is to be educated among all your peers. How can you understand other people if you have never properly mixed with them?
  • It is actually a privilege not to have been sent to a boarding school or taught old-fashioned arrogant ideas. It is a privilege to get to know your mum & dad as you grow up rather than seeing the nanny and house master as your substitute parents
  • Just one of the many problems the British have is the amount of money they spend attempting to retain the advantage of a small elite whose children are seen to deserve their privilege. That requires their parents to prevent too many lower-class children joining their group, going to their schools, their universities, taking their jobs & buying similarly impressive homes
  • What is the point in sending your children to a grammar or private school if later they have to compete with children from good comprehensives who know more about life than your children do? No wonder so many Conservatives hate comprehensives
  • When India, & then most of the colonies in Africa, won their freedom, The British race found themselves suddenly becoming much poorer. They blamed the trade unions & socialists in the 1970s. To try to maintain their position, from 1979 onwards they cut the pay of the poorest in a myriad of ways & vilified immigrants in the newspapers they owned or influenced
  • The British had been distracted from the rise in equality & the consequent poverty that grew with it by decades of innuendo & then outright propaganda suggesting that immigration was the main source of most of their woes.
  • In Britain, as soon as economic recovery began, the rich pocketed all the proceeds – at the expense of the large majority. Such a scenario is only achievable with uncontrolled greed at the very top & a prevailing spirit of meanness
  • The whole idea of being just one of 28 European states, & having to cooperate & compromise, rather than lording it over them, had never gone down well with the manufactured British psyche.
  • Part of the reason Britain has been so happy to welcome in the super-rich from other countries is that extremely rich people currently bankroll political parties, especially when that is in their direct financial interest – if they can successfully lobby for lowered taxation & regulation, that’s money well spent
  • The Leave campaign also had the uncosted support of Rupert Murdoch & most of British tabloid newspapers, as well as the Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph
  • The key vote for leave came from the English home counties and the narrow band of counties that surround them
  • In short, then, Tory England voted Britain out. These were areas that had often loyally voted Conservative for decades, but economically were not doing anything like as well as other Tory areas, which cannot have seemed right to many people living there
  • Older, less well-off, less well-educated Tory Britain was where the most votes for Brexit were. It cannot be said often enough. It was not Sunderland or Stoke that swung it.
  • They desperately wanted Britain to leave. But even they were shocked that Leave won on the first attempt. In a way it was a little too early for them. They were not prepared for their victory, & did not know what to do with it.
  • Whatever kind of Brexit occurs – hard, soft, or even cancellation and staying in the European Union – Britain will be much diminished by the Brexit process
  • Dublin is currently experiencing a building boom as firms quietly relocate to Europe’s only other English-speaking state
  • The future of farming in Britain has been cast into great uncertainty, as the UK may well not be able to replicate the EU farming subsidies in future, & at the same time fund its National Health Service & keep its taxes low for the rich & its efficient industrial & service sectors as they currently are. Something is going to have to give
  • Today we are all the detritus, the debris of empire, & we have to build a new raft from that
  • As the immigrants are no longer arriving in enough numbers to be blamed, the attention will increasingly be focused on the rich & the greedy
  • Partly as a result of Brexit, the next generation will soon have a far better idea of the sins, misconceptions & ignorance of their fathers, & hence will be relieved when the UK cease to be a significant military power. It is for the next generation to make Britain decent, to make Britain human & to consign the empire’s triumphant song to history.

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