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Janan Ganesh Is Wrong: Britain Can Still Make History – If We Leave The EU

Janan Ganesh - Financial Times - European Union - EU - Referendum - Brexit

A careless turn of phrase reveals a poisonous, negative attitude towards Britain held by prominent Remainers and EU apologists

What do passionate British europhiles and EU defenders really think about their own country?

This question is an eternal puzzle to Brexiteers, who have watched Remainers from the prime minister on down eagerly seize on every statement or piece of “proof” that Britain is too small and feeble to flourish without dissolving ourselves into the EU’s embryonic common European state.

And now, finally, we have something of an answer. In his latest FT column bemoaning the intra-party warfare currently consuming the Conservative Party, George Osborne biographer Janan Ganesh has the following to say about the United Kingdom:

Britain is not where history happens any more but our two flirtations with secession — Scotland’s from the UK, the UK’s from the EU — pique the curiosity of outsiders. They must look at the intra-Tory venom and assume its seepage into wider society. If Scots were lastingly politicised, and riven, by their referendum, Britons as a whole might be too. The stakes are as large, the facts as contested, the principals on each side as seethingly at odds as they were in Scotland in 2014.

And still we demur. The notable feature of this referendum is its lack of notoriety. With three weeks to go, pubs are not blazing with anticipation or rancour. Friends and relatives are not falling out. Campaign events are unmarred by anything darker than cheeky heckles. On the morning of May 30, only one referendum-related story made the 10 most-read on the BBC news website, and that was trumped by a crocodile attack in Queensland, Australia.

And there it is. Doesn’t that perfectly sum up the tone which pervades nearly all of the Remain campaign’s messaging during the referendum – the idea of Britain as a has-been nation, a place which was once consequential but no longer a place “where history happens”?

And of course this is exactly what Janan Ganesh, his colleagues at the Financial Times and many others in the Remain camp actually do believe. They (wrongly) think that we are a small island not only in geographical terms but also in geopolitical terms. They think that we don’t matter any more, that we will never again shape the world because we are not powerful enough and because we are not exceptional enough to do so.

To the mind of a Remainer, it is utterly perplexing why anybody would want a country as weak, fragile and inconsequential as Britain to leave the safe harbour of the European Union and head out into the storm. Sure, they grudgingly acknowledge, we made our mark on history in the past – and at this point they will often pause to apologise profusely for that very history – but we should never expect to do so again.

The future, they insist, belongs to those shining civilisations such as China and Russia, apparently – despite the fact that Britain remains the fifth largest economy, (by some measures) the second military power, and is home to some of the best universities, companies, popular and high culture in the world. And Britain should be grateful for any scraps we are fortunate enough to steal from a “top table” dominated by other, better countries.

But if the world really is now such a scary place that the only recourse for “fading glory” Britain is to shelter inside a remorselessly tightening political union, how come other countries, many of them much smaller than us, are not also busy dissolving themselves into regional political blocs?

The threat of terrorism affects Australia too, as we saw with the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis. Australia would also be threatened by any global conflagration involving Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And Australia is just as vulnerable to a world economic downturn as Britain – if not more so, given her remote geographic location.

So why isn’t Australia hastening to form a political union with New Zealand and other APAC countries? Why is there no Pacific Union headquarters being constructed in Malaysia, or elections being held to elect MPPs to the new Pacific Parliament? Why is there no Pacific Court of Justice being set up to adjudicate and enforce adherence to region-wide regulations and human rights laws?

Why, for that matter, is Canada not racing to form a political Union with the United States and Mexico, following the EU’s lead and turning NAFTA from a free trade group into an explicitly political union?

The answer, of course, is that political union does nothing – nothing whatsoever – to meet or tackle the most serious challenges facing our world. Australia and New Zealand are perfectly capable of intergovernmental co-operation without the need to create a new and unaccountable supranational body sitting above them and assuming their sovereignty. Canada and the United States are not only able to trade freely with each other, they also co-operate closely on military and intelligence affairs – again, without a Parliament of the Americas to pass laws binding on their respective citizens.

So the question goes back to EU apologists and British pessimists like Janan Ganesh: exactly what is it about Britain which means that we cannot follow the example of Canada and the United States, Australia and New Zealand? What deficiency afflicts Britain which means that we cannot co-operate closely with European allies on important issues without also dissolving ourselves into a political union with them?

The EU apologists won’t tell you, because they can’t. Because there is simply no good reason why Britain could not maintain exceptionally close links with the countries of Europe – remaining in the European Economic Area, retaining free movement of people, working together on common security challenges and those areas where our foreign policy interests align – while being a sovereign, self-governing country outside the European Union.

And those who persist in saying otherwise are either fearful and ignorant themselves, or they are cynically lying to promote a supranational or federalist agenda which they cannot openly embrace in public.

Why should Britain no longer be a place where history continues to be made? Why can Britain not be the first country to realise that a century-old dream of European political union being brought about by a 1950s model of centralised, supranational governance is hopelessly ill suited to the Europe of 2016? Why should Britain not be the first country to grasp this reality and strike out away from euro-parochialism, charting a better path toward global engagement which other countries may then follow?

Why, in short, do those who insist that we must remain in the European Union have such desperately stunted vision and ambition for the global future which Britain could build?

 

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Postcard From America: When Words Fail, A Musical Analogy

JFK LHR - Britain and America

I’m currently back in the United States to celebrate Christmas with family in Texas. These short “Postcards from America” will document a few of my thoughts as I escape the political whirlwind of Westminster and look back at Britain from the vantage point of our closest ally

A musical contrast between Britain and America

I have been trying to find a way to describe the feeling I always get when I arrive back in the United States of America, a land I consider to be my spiritual home even though I am not yet a citizen (though married to one).

It is very difficult to put into words the emotion that wells up even before exiting the airport, whether it be New York JFK, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Seattle or any of the other gateways I have used on my well over fifty arrivals here. The feeling of having arrived in a land of promise and possibility, an electricity in the air and a repose for the spirit which I feel even while waiting to collect the suitcases from the carousel.

But when words fail, music sometimes speaks. And the best way I can find to describe the difference experienced when travelling from the United Kingdom to the United States is with this musical analogy.

Two performances of the same piece of music, recorded by two legendary artists. Prelude no. 3 in C Sharp Major, BWV 872 from The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed first by Sviatoslav Richter and then by Glenn Gould, my favourite pianist.

Imagine that this first recording represents life in Britain:

This is the Richter version of the Bach prelude. Languid and undeniably beautiful, yes, with the edges softened by extensive use of the pedal. You can almost sense the nearly three centuries spanning the prelude’s composition and the present day in this warm but muffled recording.

Now imagine moving from this setting to the utterly different world of the Glenn Gould version, representing America:

The two recordings could hardly be more different.

The musical notes are the same, just as Britain and America share a common language and very similar cultures by virtue of our shared history. But the two interpretations are worlds apart, just as everything from local culture to local government is different on either side of the Atlantic.

Nobody had ever played the music this way until Glenn Gould came along. Prior to Gould, playing Bach on the piano was a dry and dusty affair, characterised by performances and recordings which shrouded the intellectual beauty and emotional resonance with thick layers of stultifying sameness. And then Glenn Gould turned things upside down and showed that Bach’s keyboard music did not have to be a revered but inherently boring exercise; that by engaging with the music with a creative mind, it was possible to bring dead music to life.

The Gould version is bright and clear. The first half of the prelude is strutting and unselfconscious, while the second part takes off like a rocket – joyful, vibrant and carefree. The individual lines of both the prelude and fugue are more clearly articulated and easier to distinguish, while still contributing to a powerful and musically convincing whole. E pluribus unum. That’s America, right there in this recording.

Britain America 1

To my mind, this is the experience of moving from Britain to the United States. From an ancient land of history and heritage – the mother country – to the bright promise of the newer, bold and assertive superpower. The place where even in these difficult times, all things still seem possible.

A land where the sun shines infinitesimally brighter (my first action on arriving in Louisiana was to purchase new sunglasses. In December.) A land where the sky literally seems bigger, and the horizon wider. A land where the flavours are bolder, the entertainment glitzier, the music more vibrant and the people unfailingly friendly.

A country whose best features and deepest flaws are both so much more exaggerated than is the case in Britain – whether it be the remarkable philanthropic and community spirit on one hand, or the endemic tragedy of gun violence on the other.

But more than that, a country which still feels consequential in terms of shaping human events. A country whose politics and politicians – however glib and anti-intellectual they can sometimes be – still possess the aspiration and self-confidence to deal with weighty matters, to forge ahead in search of the best pathway to freedom and prosperity. And whose people still believe in their country as a force for good in the world, when they stay true to their values.

You can see the difference by comparing the raucous presidential primary debates currently underway here in America with the spirit-crushing televised encounters in Britain ahead of the May general election. In America, issues like healthcare, immigration, government surveillance and foreign intervention are debated fiercely in public – with both sides making reference to that most wonderful of things, a written constitution which makes the people sovereign and grants government strictly limited powers, rather than the other way around.

In Britain, by contrast, our leading politicians and political parties competed to be judged the safest custodian of our creaking public services. We went to the ballot box to decide who we trusted most to reduce the budget deficit, make the trains run on time and the bin collections more reliable. In granting David Cameron a second term as prime minister, we didn’t so much elect a world leader as appoint a lowly Comptroller of Public Services, someone to kick when we feel short-changed as passive consumers of state-provided rations.

On existential matters like Britain’s place in the world, the best way to promote economic growth or to ensure future national security, the British political debate during the election campaign could not have cared less – and there was virtually no difference in the statist paternalism of the two main parties, other than in rhetoric. No political party had the courage to suggest that our outdated, 1940s model of state healthcare delivery might need serious reimagining in the twenty-first century, and only a handful of us cared enough to call them out for their craven refusal to acknowledge this difficult truth, and many others besides.

Fewer than four million of us believed strongly enough in the principle of national democracy and sovereignty that we cast a vote for the one party which explicitly objected to the gradual absorption of Britain into the supranational state known as the European Union.

And through it all, this blog has felt like something of a voice in the wilderness, with no politician or party to champion the causes of personal liberty, free markets and national sovereignty upon which everything else rests – but which too many other people seem happy to forsake in exchange for a chimerical, temporary measure of security and prosperity.

Britain America 2

Here in the United States, for the precious couple of weeks until we go home, I don’t have to think about any of that. Of course America has issues of its own – big, intractable problems and burning injustices which befit a country of her size and consequence to address and overcome. But at least Americans still (just about) know who they are. At least they have not yet fractured into a messy coalition of competing special interest groups, to the extent which Britain has now splintered.

Patriotism and love of country still mean something in America. Yes, sometimes the sentiment expresses itself badly, through an ignorance of the rest of the world and the lazy assumption that America is always the best at any given thing. But perhaps unnoticed by many in Britain, there is also here an abundance of that quiet patriotism – the celebration of Independence Day and Thanksgiving, the flags flown in school classrooms without the ludicrous fear that it might “offend” someone of minority ethnic heritage, or the way that veterans are honoured and soldiers in uniform routinely invited to fill empty first class seats on airplanes – symbols and gestures which are the bedrock of a strong and cohesive society.

Of course debates rage fiercely in America – over Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Koch brothers, the Tea Party, the Iraq war, the ISIS threat, birtherism, abortion, LGBT rights, church and state, the mainstream media and much more. The many are not always one. But when it really counts, they are one people. They bleed red, white and blue together.

America the beautiful: this is where I come to recharge my spiritual batteries. And as I prepare to throw myself into the battle for Brexit – defending the country of my birth and the concept of the nation state itself from an insidious form of supranational governance whose advocates have repeatedly failed to explain how democracy will be preserved in their brave new world – I will need all the power I can muster.

God bless Texas.

God bless America.

God save the Queen.

Britain America 3

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Happy And Glorious

“You are part of the fabric of my life. The mother of our country. At age five I remember watching your wedding procession driving past with my family all eagerly leaning out of the window of a family friend’s flat. Of course our big celebration was our street party in West Drayton. I am the same age as Prince Charles and I remember from early on pictures and newsreels of Charles and Anne being shown to me as they grew. Through these I followed your travels around the world. As a 1960’s fashion model I modeled hats outside Buckingham Palace the newspapers imagined Princess Anne would wear. Your travels, events and duties have been threads that have run throughout my life” – Sandra Vigon

This tribute, offered by a Telegraph reader on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch, is poignant and undeniably true.

Every British person born over the past six decades has known no other monarch, seen no other figure represented on their currency, celebrated no Christmas without the Queen’s annual message to her people. In hundreds of small ways, the Queen is part of the fabric of both our individual lives and also our shared national life.

Presented with a blank sheet of paper, nobody would design a hereditary monarchy as the preferred mechanism for producing a ceremonial head of state. And yet it has worked tolerably well for Britain, particularly these past couple of centuries.

The head says that a federal system with an elected head of state would make far more sense – fairer, logical, more egalitarian and less of an anachronism than the curiosity which is the British monarchy. The head says that pledging allegiance to a person rather than a flag or a constitution is quaint at best, and downright dangerous at worst. The head clamours for a constitutional convention and the bold re-imagining of the twenty-first century state. But not so the heart.

The heart is glad for what we have, odd though it is by modern standards: the capsuled history of our country represented by a single person of flesh and blood. The heart looks with pride and gratitude on the lifetime of service dutifully performed by Queen Elizabeth II – a role never democratically bestowed, but fulfilled far more faithfully and proficiently than can be said of many an elected official. And the heart shudders to think what would become of Britain if our head of state was drawn from the same pool of glib, superficial careerists as many of our politicians.

The day will come – not, we pray, for some years yet – when we will have to face these issues and reshape our country for a new age, looking the future square in the eye. But not today. Today, we can be thankful for a duty faithfully discharged for 63 years and counting. An anachronism, yes, but still an example to us all.

Congratulations, your Majesty.

God save the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II coronation

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For The Left, St. George’s Day Was A Great Chance To Mock UKIP Supporters

St Georges Day - England Flag - Patriotism - Public Holiday - Bank Holiday - UKIP

 

What did you do today to celebrate St. George’s Day?

If you’re like most people, quite understandably, you probably did nothing at all – after juggling work and the stress of daily life, there simply isn’t much time left in the day to celebrate the overlooked and unexciting Feast of St. George.

But of those people who did mark the day, a small but vocal minority were determined to use St. George’s Day not as a day to celebrate Englishness, England and her patron saint, but rather as an opportunity to mock and belittle those people who do try to celebrate our national heritage, and those who are proud (and brave enough) to be openly patriotic in modern Britain.

UKIP, virtually the only British political party that doesn’t view patriotism as something embarrassing or gauche (sometimes, on a good day, some Tories can still make a decent effort), called for all Britons to mark St. George’s Day by wearing a red rose, and lobbied for the day to be made into a public holiday.

From the Daily Express:

Ukip deputy leader Paul Nuttall said the gesture was needed as a way of registering protest against attempts by local councils and quangos to ignore or obliterate English identity.

“It saddens and angers me that this day marking Englishness is so low key compared to how days for the other three countries of the union are publicly celebrated,” Mr Nuttall said.

“The situation has improved over recent years but it passes by unrecognised by many English people. I have long argued that it should be a declared a Bank Holiday and I have not lost my passion for that idea.”

Ukip yesterday released a dossier of examples of public authorities attempting to ban or denigrate the England flag in recent years. They included supermarket staff and taxi drivers being ordered not to display England flags and pennants on their vehicles.

The response from the establishment was predictably scornful, sometimes verging on outright hostility.

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After Another Hard Year, We Need A British Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving soup kitchen SPS

The time has come to institute an annual British Thanksgiving holiday

Take a trip to your friendly local Asda superstore in the next day or so and you will be treated to back-to-back in-store announcements about their upcoming Black Friday sale. “Get ready for Black Friday!” chirps the voiceover, as a cheerful, disembodied man tempts you with sweet promises about this magical event of a retail experience. Yes, Black Friday is coming to Britain.

This is as strong a contender for Tasteless Corporate Act of the Year (Large Retailer category) as we are likely to witness this side of Christmas. Asda, owned by Wal-Mart, has successfully imported the grubby, commercially lucrative, post-coital rump of a cherished American national holiday – Thanksgiving – while neatly skipping over all the pesky fundamentals that give it meaning in the first place: you know, those interminably dull things such as love, family, gratitude and patriotism, tiresome distractions that will never generate a good Return On Investment.

Earlier this year, I took part in a TV debate on London Live, arguing that we should absolutely not make the festivals of Eid and Diwali UK public holidays, for fear of muddying the cloudy waters between religion and state yet further:

 

I was outnumbered, but I made the case as strongly as I could that what Britain desperately needs is a public holiday that can bring us all together as one people – not another cynical, politically correct nod to multiculturalism.

The possibilities for such a unifying British public holiday are endless – after all, what other country has as rich a history on which to draw when trying to choose a new national holiday? I suggested a few potential examples at the time of the debate, but my list is by no means exhaustive. Britain has achieved so many military, scientific, cultural and social victories that continue set us apart as a truly exceptional, indispensable nation, the only difficulty would be narrowing the crowded field to a single expression of who we are and what we have accomplished.

But this year, perhaps more than ever, we need a British Thanksgiving holiday. Despite Britain’s economic recovery, many of us continue to live in the long, cold shadow of the great recession, with squeezed, stagnant or non-existent wages spread too thinly to pay for the basics and comforts of life. As our mainstream political parties scrap over the elusive centre ground and ideologically merge with one another, the British people themselves are becoming increasingly polarised and less able to empathise with or respect those with differing political views. There is a steady trickle of young, disaffected British Muslims who feel so little allegiance to their mother country that they are stealing away to Syria to pose with guns, play soldier and fight for ISIS. And it was less than three months ago that our United Kingdom nearly tore itself apart for good, as Scotland came unnervingly close to voting to secede from the union.

Whatever the improving economic indicators say, all is not well in today’s Britain. Whether you are indignant about ongoing austerity or mad as hell about uncontrolled immigration and its effect on the labour market, chances are that you believe Britain is on the wrong path, and are probably also sceptical that things will significantly improve in the near future. Now, of course giving Britain’s hard workers another statutory day off every year won’t make all of these problems go away. But if we picked the right day, selected the right cause or event to commemorate our shared British civic heritage, it might just shore up the foundations a little bit and help us to ride out the storm together.

Americans continue to faithfully observe their national Thanksgiving holiday in good times and bad, showing the world that it doesn’t necessarily require a fat wallet to get together with loved ones and be grateful for what we have. But perhaps we British need an extra reminder of this fact – we tend to obsess a lot more than our American cousins about what we should be getting from the government, be it benefits or public services, and are consequently more likely to feel continually aggrieved and bitter at the inevitable shortfall. Maybe it would do us all good if we had imposed on us a day where we were strongly encouraged to think about our blessings, and the difference that we – not government – can make in the lives of our fellow citizens.

For the sceptics out there, there is ample precedent for starting a new holiday – Canada has also long observed a day of thanksgiving, though its present position in the calendar was not fixed until 1957. American expressions of thanksgiving were also sporadic and uncoordinated until President Abraham Lincoln fixed the date as the final Thursday in November, while the Civil War still raged. These timings proved wise – contemporary Thanksgiving in North America acts as a bulwark against the encroachment of Christmas, and stores only get into the swing of Christmas once the Black Friday sales are over, a state of affairs which would be very welcome here.

Wouldn’t a British Thanksgiving be the perfect antidote to the incessant commercialisation and forward creep of Christmas, the decorations raised in late September, supermarket mince pies that expire in November, discordant Christmas songs blasting out from every shopfront and the inevitable, vapid re-release of “Feed The World”?

After a long, hard recession, a bruising recovery and a year in which the idea of what it means to be British has become increasingly muddled and uncertain, let’s humble ourselves and dare to take a lesson from our former colony. Let us find inspiration in our storied history, our unsurpassably rich culture and also from within our own hearts. Let us find that elusive common thread of Britishness that should unite us all, transcending race and religion and politics, and cling to that thread in these difficult times.

And even though gratitude does not always come easily and the words may sometimes stick in our throats, let us remember to give thanks for one another, and for our United Kingdom, the guarantor and protector of all that we have.

 

Thanksgiving Proclamation - Abraham Lincoln

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