In Britain, we are living through a Caesarean spectacle, as premature as Caesars birth. The "New Millennium" is being energetically celebrated, with larger than life buildings centred on a big circus tent on the shabby side of the Thames, called "The Millennium Dome". The fact that the millennium is being celebrated a year early, there was no year zero when Christs birth was chronicled, meaning that the year 2000 is the 1999th year of Our Lord, and not the 2000th. These Blairite crimes are minor (in this respect at least) but symptomatic. Misrepresenting history to stir up popular passions and trying to steer this popular enthusiasm into grand projects are scams redolent of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler. Purely as an act of research I went into London to view these premature celebrations of the new millennium, the spotlights and pagan fasces (or beacons) did not re-assure me. It would be funny, if I lived in a different country. Nevertheless, my thoughts naturally turn on what the next years may hold, and so I will share my thoughts and fears.
The British Right has been to many a severe disappointment. Socially illiberal and economically collaborationist, it seemed rather wet and insipid. However, twenty-five years ago Thatcherism slowly emerged. The thrill of Thatcher was not that she believed in a more liberally economic Britain, but that she tried to explain why. It was not a swing of the pendulum, but an attempt to move the clock to a different room. The point of this was that if self-reliance was good for your wallet, and your less-fortunate neighbours wallet, what about your lifestyle? A new generation rose on this belief in principled liberty, and it is this generation that will decide the shape of the Right, and may even shape the debate on Britain. The Conservatives in London have even chosen two candidates who would give the average family-values pundit a heart attack, one is openly gay and the other is a serial adulterer. These sorts of high profile candidates are unthinkable in the aggressively normal New Labour Party (why do we not see any mention of Tony Blairs homosexual youth in the press?). It is now clear that a social Thatcherism is developing, but will this idea of principled liberty go into the realms of foreign affairs?
The British Conservative Party has been the party of empire for far longer than it has been the party of free enterprise. Consequently, there is understandable resistance to the idea of non-interventionism. Although the British Empire is dead, it is remembered with fondness in the Conservative Party. Many often see it is a fine moment in Britains history, when we civilised a large portion of the globe. This is not an entirely false memory either, as the Common Law system, Grammar school education and cricket were established around the globe. Whether we had any business doing this is a different matter, but for all its rose tinted perspective, it is a more accurate view than the left wing one that the empire economically benefited the motherland. The British Empire may have had its fair share of massacres and lording over cultures, but compared to our European rivals (sorry, neighbours) it was a fairly tolerant, charitable and prosperous arrangement. This is not to praise imperialism, but to explain it.
There is now a challenge to this view, a small but potentially influential voice. The challenge is a Little Englander nationalism, which denies that we need to be a global player, "punching above our weight". Not quite on a par with Bucchaninism (the English are congenitally disposed towards Free Trade) it still looks like the start of something uncontrollable. The idea that is starting to be heard is that Britain (or even England) should act in its own narrow interest and not that of the oil companies or the Broadsheet leader writers. The source of this soul searching is Europe and the threat of greater union. When one of the arguments of the pro-Europeans is that Europe will be more powerful, then many who are uneasy with European Union start to see the virtues of small states avoiding imperialist grandeur. This is true whether they oppose European Union because they favour democratic decision-making, links with the non-European world or they oppose the corrupt corporate system so prevalent on Europe. Europe is acting as a catharsis for the empire obsessed British.
Do not take my word for it. In many small ways, the Conservatives are showing healthy scepticism to overseas engagement. The Conservatives opposed British involvement in East Timor, and are suddenly realising that our armed forces are dangerously over-stretched. The calls to stop international aid are on a piecemeal basis, and on often internationalist grounds, but the potential for foreign aid to alienate voters has been spotted. Although careful to back the general thrust of Kosovo, the Conservatives have (rather ineffectually in the media, but effectively in the commons) been picking at various government inconsistencies. Some conservatives have started to oppose eastern expansion of the EU (once a Holy Grail for Euro-sceptics who regarded a wider EU as a weaker EU). Even the foreign aid spokesman, a rather ineffectual internationalist by the name of Gary Streeter, has been opposing some of the more absurd items of foreign aid those connected with one-child policies or propping up the Russian Kleptocracy. Another interesting development has been the re-discovery of Free Trade; a largely left wing legacy dropped by the Pro European parties, and the Tory use of free trade as a battering ram against the EU. A welcome aversion to needless foreign entanglements seems to be infecting the once Imperialist Tories, if only at the margins.
To see where the debate now lies look at the current argument over Russia. The Tory foreign affairs spokesman, John Maples, gave an interview in which he said that Chechnya was none of our business, that a quick Russian victory would help stability in the area and that the use of poison gas (by the Chechens) was not surprising when there was total war. All fairly sensible, except for the hysterical reaction of Gerald Kaufman, a man who despite alleged paedophile proclivities (alleged in open court, and never convincingly denied by Kaufman) occupies a senior position in the New Labour pecking order. Mr. Kaufman says that the act of disagreeing with the government would do "serious damage to the international efforts to bring the fighting to an end". He also deplores Maples statement of the obvious on chemical weapons as "I cannot believe that Mr Maples condones the use of non-conventional weapons, but it certainly sounds as though he does". Now I think that the Russians could be lying about the Chemical weapons (much as they seem to have been lying about the Moscow Apartment buildings) but it is the Russians may be telling the truth. To say that this sort of battle may produce home made chemical weapons is a statement of fact, not condoning the use of these weapons. Similarly saying that we should stay out of areas where it is not our business is a statement of common sense, likely to help peace, and not a threat to peace. If people like Mr. Kaufman acted their age rather than that of his sexual prey, perhaps the world would be a safer place.
One of the most encouraging signs is the sudden talk of joining NAFTA among the Conservative leadership. Obviously, this is not a foregone conclusion as it relies on the existing members of NAFTA consenting to have the British in, but this is not the main issue for the British. Wishing to join NAFTA is a code for leaving the EU. To Americans NAFTA may appear a monstrous intrusion on their sovereignty. But to the English it appears as if there is an unthinkable amount of sovereignty on offer, and two of the countries speak the same language and share the same legal system. The most important point, though, is that NAFTA membership is incompatible with membership of closed-trade EU. Of course we can not remain in NAFTA forever but it is a half way house to full independence, the methadone after the heroin of the EU. In this most free trading of nations, confidence has been so sapped as to believe that we are not able to survive with unilateral free trade. For the moment, Britain needs a prop, and it looks like NAFTA membership is that prop.
I normally end my columns in despair, with the view that all is lost. However, there are some faint glimmers of hope, even in the normally hopeless right wing. In the end basic human nature will win out over the idiocies of the elite, just possibly.
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