Friday, 22 May 2015

Is Britain resigning as a world power? No, but perhaps we should

From an article in today's Washington Post by Fareed Zakariaheadlined:

  • Britain resigns as a world power

On Monday, the Right Honorable David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, gave his first major speech after being reelected to his high office — once held by Pitt, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Churchill and Thatcher. Confronting a world of challenges — including Greece’s possible exit from the euro, a massive migration crisis on Europe’s shores, Ukraine’s perilous state, Russia’s continued intransigence, the advance of the Islamic State and the continuing chaos in the Middle East — Cameron chose to talk about . . . a plan to ensure that hospitals in the United Kingdom will be better staffed on weekends.

Okay, that’s a bit unfair. Leaders everywhere, including in the United States, understand that “all politics is local.” But spending a few days recently in Britain, I was struck by just how parochial it has become. After an extraordinary 300-year run, Britain has essentially resigned as a global power.
I'm not convinced we are resigning as a great power. Americans don't realise that
the NHS and health (and safety) in general are a quasi-religion in England.
 They fill the place formerly given to the sacred in English life. (Climate change is another quasi-religion.)

Plus David Cameron has little independence in foreign policy. The Pitts, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George and Churchill up until Pearl Harbor could decide their own foreign policy - now we are a US satellite and part of the EU. Over hospitals David Cameron has power.

What independence he has he has used disastrously - to topple Gaddafi, for example. Yet he wanted to repeat his error with Syria but, thanks to Ed Miliband, the moribund House of Commons roused itself to stop him.

Maybe we should resign as a great power, leave the EU and concentrate on the threats to our country, rather than protecting Europe or the Middle East. The threats to the U.K. seem to come from Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, from hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving each year and from British terrorists, not from ISIS nor Mr. Putin. But this would lead to an isolationist USA, sooner or later. Would that be good or bad? 

The Washington Post article is here. It argues that Britain should play a larger part in the world because we have the right values. Broadly we do have the right values, give or take some important things, and foreign policy should be about values, but first and foremost it should be about enlightened self-interest.

Fareed Zakaria was an advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Even now he evidently does not understand how that tragedy has changed Britain and the world. 

Last year he described as
"crucial elements of Putinism ... nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and government domination of the media. They are all, in some way or another, different from and hostile to, modern Western values of individual rights, tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism."
I do not like Vladimir Putin, but if religion and social conservatism are
different from and hostile to modern Western values
then I want fewer values and more minding our own business.


  1. A petty parochial speech for a petty parochial people on a petty, parochial, insular land. The recent election showed just how far we have fallen. No mention of foreign policy, just selfies and bacon sandwiches.

    1. " ... if India should go ... England, from having been the arbiter, would sink into the inglorious playground of the world. Wondering pilgrims would come to see us just as they climb the Acropolis or inspect the Nile... A congested population would lead a sordid existence with no outlet for its overflow, no markets for its manufactures ... swallowed up in a whirlpool of American cosmopolitanism ... our aspirations defined only by a narrow and selfish materialism ... England would become a sort of glorified Belgium."

      - Lord Curzon , Birmingham, December, 1907

  2. What remarkable foresight Lord Curzon possessed...

    A 'sort of glorified Beligum' - I'll be remembering that point!


    2. ...aspirations defined only by a narrow and selfish materialism ... England would become a sort of glorified Belgium... This is what had happened in the 1970s and is true now, EU or no EU. In fact Belgium is a frightening example of a post-nation state - affluent but sclerotic economy, two peoples living unhappily together, no common history, not very much religious faith or sense of tradition, plus large, growing Muslim immigrant community. Curzon would be horrified by a lot of things in both England and Belgium.