Saturday, 15 July 2017

Britain: An alternative history.

Twenty five years ago a new force emerged in British politics. Its central thesis was that giving up the Empire had been a terrible mistake. What today we know as neo-imperialism.

Once, these people argued, we had presided over the greatest Empire the world had ever known. Upon which indeed the sun had never set. An Empire which had  defeated Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and then most meretriciously of all, Hitler. An Empire that had brought, in-between all this fighting, the Pax Britannica, providing unparalleled opportunity for worldwide trade, employment and fortune making. At least for those with the immense good luck to have been born in these small islands. Thanks however to defeatist thinking in the forties, fifties and sixties this had all been gratuitously been given away and, lets be honest, argued the neo-imperialists, everything had gone downhill since then.

So, they had a simple solution. Let's get the Empire back.

Obviously this couldn't all be done at once. The thirteen colonies might prove particularly difficult. But most of these colonials realised the Empire had brought mutual benefits (so the neo-imperialists claimed) and  you had to start somewhere. So the neo-imperialists, having looked around, settled upon the former Jewel in the Crown, India, as a useful starting point. It had immense popular and natural resources and if successfully re-annexed would set a precedent for other former colonies to follow. Indeed enthusiastically (so they claimed).

Now, initially received establishment opinion was that these people were lunatics. The Empire was past and, never mind that, India would hardly consent to its re-colonisation. Anyway, the loss of the Empire was not actually the cause of any current British malaise, indeed standards of living here had never been higher. The whole idea was misconceived in its diagnosis and deluded in its supposed solution. And that was the end of the matter.

Only it wasn't, for the neo-imperialists set up their own political Party, the British Empire Party, quickly shortened to the BEP, and, strangely, began to have some electoral success. This support came largely from people brought up on too many war movies but also included those who, lingering on the dole in post industrial England, quite fancied the chance to become the Maharajah of somewhere. A position the BEP suggested would be just the sort of opportunity open to the likes of them. More worryingly still, for the Tories, much of this electoral support was coming at their expense, so much so that an increasing number of Tory backwoodsmen began to suggest that the neo-imperialists might have a point. Indeed a few Tories even defected to the BEP, hinting darkly that they were but the tip of the iceberg.

"This is madness!" informed opinion continued to protest. But to no avail. The BEP simply wouldn't go away and the Tories internal Party management problems were going from bad to worse.

So, eventually, the Tory Prime Minister decided that the only solution was a Referendum at which, with more or less the entire establishment on his side, he presumed he would easily crush those he had once described as "Fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".

Only things didn't quite work out to plan. The anti-imperialists were divided from the start, not least as the Labour leader refused a joint campaign, protesting that he'd always been an anti-imperialist and would not share a platform with Johnny come latelies to that cause. The anti-imperialists also couldn't agree whether there had ever been anything good to say about the Empire and spent much of their time arguing amongst themselves about that.

Meanwhile, the neo-imperialists had a number of simple messages. Firstly, that there were 1.4 Billion people in India. If they were all taxed at just one Pound a month that would bring an extra £350 million to the NHS every week. And who would miss a Pound a month? Secondly, that although the Indians were protesting they had no intention of being re-colonised, that was only bluff. Their tone would change after the British people had shown their resolve. Thirdly, although they were careful in their framing, if we annexed India, all the "Indians" currently living here would have to go home and no more would come here. Ever.  Albeit for reasons never entirely satisfactorily explained.

And so, on 24th June 2016, the British people woke up to discover that, against the advice of every living Prime Minister, against the advice of Business, large and small, against the advice of the entire organised left, against the advice (and worse) of the rest of the world, never mind India itself,  we had voted by 52/48, to re-colonise India.

But what was interesting was what happened next, The Prime Minister resigned and his successor, previously an anti-imperialist, returned from the Palace to announce that "Empire means Empire" and that her responsibility was to get on with it. She would be calling in the Indian High-Commissioner the very next morning to tell him that and meanwhile had appointed three leading neo-imperialists to her Cabinet in the posts of Foreign Secretary, Governor-General Designate and, slightly worryingly, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. A latter position the necessity of which had been strangely unmentioned during the referendum campaign.

Anyway, that was all a year ago. What has happened since? India has remained un-annexed. Although the High Commissioner, having stopped only briefly to tell the Prime Minister to fuck off (in Hindi) has taken himself off back home. Together with every other High Commisioner. The Daily Mail thinks this is a panic move on their part.

The Labour Party has decided that after all it might not be an anti-imperialist Party. Or at least its leader has. It turns out we were not against all imperialism, just right wing imperialism. It might yet, apparently, be possible for there to be a left wing imperialism. Or at least a jobs focused imperialism.

Meanwhile, many point to the advantages of imperialism. We are building dreadnoughts again. Who would have predicted that? And there is also, ........well that's at least a start.

Obviously the return of conscription thing is a bit of an issue but as Regimental Sergeant Majors remind each new intake "That'll teach you not to vote". As it undoubtedly has.

Everything otherwise points to failure ahead. The inevitable sinking of our fleet somewhere near Madagascar, the alternative route of the Suez Canal having already been ruled out by....experience. The possible Indian invasion of England to follow.

But for the moment the neo-imperialists hold the ace card.   "This is what the British people voted for in a democratic referendum and anybody otherwise minded is........... no better than Hitler". So it must be attempted. No matter how lunatic. No matter how doomed to disaster. That's democracy, apparently.

Meanwhile the Government is getting on with the job. The Great Repeal Bill having been denied them as a title they have introduced the India (Re-annexation) Bill instead. They are particularly pleased with section 1. "The Indian Independence Act 1947 is hereby repealed". For with that they have honoured the referendum result. Apparently.

Everything is going just fine. Defeatists will not be tolerated. Their stance is an insult to the British people. Who have spoken. In a referendum. And the British people are never wrong. Apparently.

Meanwhile, a new movement has started to emerge, calling for a referendum on leaving the European Union. At least we, neo-imperialist and ant-imperialist alike, can unite in dismissing that as a completely mad idea.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

A (temporary) farewell to arms.

I've been away. Four days in Vienna and now four days in Budapest. From where I write this. Tomorrow at this time I will be in.........Kilsyth. The day after that, back at my work.

Time passes quickly.

But it still needs to pass.

I've now seen a lot of General Elections. Enough to appreciate their importance.

Less than a month ago there was such an event. And my team lost.

For all the hysteria of Jeremy at Glastonbury, and the "close" vote on the Queen's speech, and now today's anti austerity march, when the dust settles, the Tories will still have won the election. 56 seats more than us. Even piling (improbably) Ian Blackford's Nats (35), the Libs (12) Plaid (4) and the Green (1) into the "progressive" column. still 4 seats more than us all put together. Only with the DUP also on board (10) do "we" take the lead. And of course no reasonable person would ever do a deal with the DUP. At least I think that's right.

But the point is, that's it. For five years on the main stage and probably even four in the Scottish side tent.

Elections get (some) people very excited about politics. So much so that they are reluctant to let go. I have been there myself. In 1979 as a mere boy and, in a different context, 1992. When I should have been old enough to know better.

But  eventually you come down to earth. The demonstrations get smaller and the realisation, and resignation, larger. It is over until the next time.

And the next time is now a relatively long time away.

For there is not now going to be a nationwide election (or indeed anything except the occasional by-election) in Scotland until at least 2020. Almost three years away. By which time children not yet even conceived will be potty trained. Spotty kids without a Standard Grade to their name will be at university. Some people will be married to others they haven't yet even met, while others will be divorced from those from whom today they regard themselves as inseparable.

I personally will have made and banked money from the latter. And from those prosecuted for crimes not yet committed together with the victims of accidents not yet to have happened.

And indeed, if the election hiatus stretches to 2021, I might not even be here myself. Having carried through my (theoretical at least) plan to retire in September 2020 and thereafter to retire to Italy.

And last, but by no means least, some of you reading this will almost certainly have shuffled off your mortal coil and joined the choir eternal. Sorry. Well sorry unless you are a Catholic. Or a Prebyterian for whom the spinning coin of predestination has landed the right side up.

I'll probably keep blogging from time to time. About what Nicola will tell the 2018 SNP October Conference. About when the volunteer will go, who will replace her, and how long she'll then allow before rejoinining the SNP. About whether Ruth will ever raise her standard for a march on London and if so who might then rally to it.

But big politics, real politics, is about elections. Who the armies will then comprise, and who their generals then might be, is not unimportant. But it is not the stuff of which a weekly blog is made.

So, I'll see you soon. But perhaps not too soon.