The light and the fading stars

Some while ago, about sixteen centuries ago in fact, a fisherman out of Gesoriacum, becalmed among the northern banks of an evening, looked out over a fogless sea and saw the dancing light of the great beacon at Rutupiae.  Then in a moment as he watched, it was gone.  It was not to shine again.

To those on the shores of Gaul who saw the light go out, the whole island had been plunged into darkness.  Seeing the single ember of Roman Britannia disappear, it was as if the whole island had gone.

After the voting finished seven years ago, I went along to the count. Our MP was there, and we chatted cheerfully enough, though he had campaigned on the other side.  I have respect for honest, reasoning Remainers who had the national interest at heart, though they were wrong, as it turns out, and their fears came to nothing.  The evening was pleasant – so I was stunned in the morning to see hysteria amongst some of defeated side. They had claimed to be the rational ones, something the BBC repeated without thinking.  The months went by and the fury remained, all through into the general elections that followed, and all up to the gleeful political assassination of the Big, Blond Brexiteer-in-Chief, all beyond reason.  There are political causes to be angry about: I hope I would have been as vehement in defence of British unity had the Scottish vote gone the other way all those years ago, but to spit bile in the name of a trading bloc suggests that there is something else behind it, in a different vision rejected, which need not be that of the disciples of Monet across the Channel.

No world-changing event has taken place:  we have merely adjusted our trading treaties, as any nation may.  Some feel deep in their hearts though that a light has gone out in Rutupiae.  There may be those who looked across from the Gallic shore too and watched the twelve stars go out in our land and thought of it as an end, but the lights are blazing across our islands, brighter indeed than those in Europe.

In the days of the bewildered fisherman, when there was no world beyond Empire, Britannia falling dark might as well have sunk in the sea.  This though was not a little island.  This was the one nation within their borders whom the Romans feared, amongst whom the Romans garrisoned more legions than the whole of Africa, whose wild-eyed people were never trusted with office, and the one which had refused to stop speaking its native tongue.  The Britons were raising their own kings in their own land and would not be gone so easily.  In later ages it was the Britons who would remake the world.

One half of my ancestors of course destroyed this happy vision, striding the sea, driving the native Britons off their land, displacing to the mountain wastes the tongue which had survived even the iron boot of Rome.  In time though, when the Church had calmed the heathen English a little, the name of Britain was heard again on the lips of these new farmers and kings and an ancient concept of unity within the band of the sea was sought out.  Irish monks taught the English to read and to pray.  Across the island scholarship and invention flourished, so that the Dark Ages were less dark in Britain than in most of Europe.

It was an English monk who taught Charlemagne to wear his crown, and English missionaries who sailed to Germany and later to Scandinavia to reform those nations.  We are still remaking the world.

Charles de Gaulle thought that “c’est l’Europe, depuis l’Atlantique jusqu’à l’Oural, c’est toute l’Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde”, but it has not.  The English-speaking nations have shaped the world while Europe has shrunk in on itself.

De Gaulle’s phrase, echoed unthinkingly by innumerable European leaders since, has caused this current war in the Ukraine. It sounds to Russian ears like a deadly threat: “to the Urals” says to their ears “we will come to cut your country in half”.  It would be wiser to say with modesty that the European vision is from Brest en Finistère to Brest-Litovsk.

However expressed, we lie off de Gaulle’s Atlantic boundary, the end of his vision.  While Europe may be content to lie between the two Brests, our roving hands have wider ambition.  For us, outside the Atlantic Wall, the sea is no boundary but the beginning of our endeavours.  We are born upon and borne upon the sea which laps the world.  Britons are in every port and a Briton by blood and culture outside these shores is as much a Briton as I am, though he be born in New York or Darkest Peru.

I pause before saying that we will “remake the world” but we will do so, not by force but perhaps in a fit of absence of mind.  We are far beyond the convulsive Georgian age of politicians negotiating shifting alliances to exchange provinces between covetous neighbours and to roll from war to war, nor thankfully the Victorian age presiding over the dissolution of decrepit empires while sparks leapt between the ever-filling powder kegs of Europe.  In contrast, ours is an age our nation built.  The greatest peacemaker of our time, indeed the most effective since that light guttered and died in Rutupiae, has not been a statesman in his pomp, but our own Adam Smith of Kirkcaldy.  Amongst commercial, democratic states, he made war both redundant and repugnant.

If we sit back, content in a Fukuyama daze of peace and liberality, we forget that these are not universal nor inevitable: they are British, values, and American values by inheritance from Britain. A British-made world with our values is not inevitable. Rival visions, cruel visions, are rising. Nor even is civic peace inevitable: a sharp blow can shatter  even a civilisation three thousand years old: Syria is still at war several years after the cameras left. Such torn nations are not comprehensible within our cultural assumptions and so we must step back, outside our culture to our raw humanity. British values are needed more than ever.

Malicious naïvity is displayed by political voices which assert that evil must be an aberration explicable in Freudian terms within the narrow Western preconceptions of behaviour.  Rage, cruelty, oppression and lust for power are the base material from which man is made:  the suppression of our animal nature is the achievement and the object of culture and society.  To smash a society is to unleash the animal.  If a commentator implies that those who slaughter villages are not responsible for their actions, that they are good men at heart reacting to the actions of the civilised West; that scribbler should be drawn from his comfy salons to face the widows and the orphans, and let them speak.  They may tell what Thomas Hobbes knew over three hundred years ago, that men live without other security than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal:  there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

The idea of universal human values is a comfort blanket, but it has no root in reality as it is certainly not universal in place nor time.  Those values of peace, respect, fair dealing and democracy are values developed over centuries by the English-speaking nations and our gift to the world.

Even more today, we must express our values and not be subsumed in a bureaucrat’s barren conception. Evil is never further from us than space between the heart and the head, and the evil in the heart of man is to be cooled as it was in our nation centuries ago, by the building of society in prosperity that is prized by all.  It is not to come from the babbling idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone every century but this and every country but his own; criticism is helpful and constructive but one must be critical of one own criticism as one must be cynical of ones own cynicism.

Whatever faults may creep into individual actions over the ages, honesty can never disparage the great good that our nation has done in the world, and which we will continue to do.  Freed from gazing inwardly, we have new found lands to reach for again, to do good in spite of ourselves.

As the twelve stars go out in our land there should be no tears for the old familiarity with such idle idols.  When the stars begin to fade, it is because the dawn is coming.

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Boris Bounced

What’s that Skippy? A judgment from the House of Commons Privileges Committee?

Outback in Westminster a strange court assembles, attended by hopping marsupials. Stern they are on the bench, carefully chosen impartially from across a spectrum of political opinion – Tories who hate Boris, Socialists who hate Boris and a Snoopy, who hate everyone but themselves.

‘Bonzer turn-out, guys. Now, let’s get on with what we’re fer – to chuck Boris out o’ the House. Now, before we get on with sentencing the politically deceased, I mean the accused, how to do we this?  Eh, Bernard, didn’t your mate write a trial scene for the telly we could copy for all due and proper procedure?  If it’s good enough for General Melchett, it’ll do for me.

I tweeted the result a month ago, so we just have to fill in the bumph to make it look as if we thought about it.

I must remind you of the seriousness of our proceedings: that this is not a court of law – that would require boring evidence. No, this is a court of politics, and we know our duty, to whack a smug bastard the way the public demands for what they imagine he’s done.

Let’s face it the facts wouldn’t convict Boris of so much as farting in a bar.

So, first up, who here on the blue team expects to get re-elected next year? Carter, Costa, Walker – you’re all out, so you  you’ve no need to worry about being deselected, and need something to your names to make a mark on an otherwise pointless career. What’s that in your hand, Walker?  A note from Boris by the look – καὶ σύ, τέκνον: dunno what it means, but stick another month on the ban as a result.

Here comes Skippy with the Report in her pouch. I took the lib’ of writing it for you, so just add your names.

Strewth Jenkin – put yer didgeridoo away, mate! We know yer career’s over so knife the boss good ‘n proper will yer? While yer here though, tell us what would have happened in Number 10, from your experience of lockdown parties. That wild, eh?

Boris wants to put in a defence?  It’s a bit late, mate. It’s all irrelevant anyway:  we are not interested in what happened – just in what the news headlines said had happened.

So, while he’s talking, let’s vote on the ban.  I’ll start the bidding at 10 days – do I hear 20? I have 20, do I hear 40?…

Where did it all go wrong for Boris?

And then he was gone. The memory fading like that of a glorious dream in the dawn; that is modern politics. He has withdrawn to the meadows from which he may look up at the Chiltern Hundreds, his last public office. This was a pre-emptive departure, thumbing a nose at pursuing persecutors, with a passing shot along the lines ‘Now see if you can do without me.’  (‘Without whom?’ came the reply, for within the bubble, memory is shorter than that of a goldfish.)

I have a good idea of what the voters of Uxbridge think, and ultimately our electoral system works constituency-by-constituency.  Boris though is a national figure, not just a brilliant comic turn with a long-term residency in western Middlesex. Rumours there are aplenty and temptations, and unsought-for advice from all quarters. Yet the evening comes as he looks out from his moated grange –

And day and night I am left alone
To live forgotten, and love forlorn.

How did he get here? He on whose word the nation hung?

There is no question that he has had enemies throughout his political career, who hate him with every fibre they can summon. There are plenty who believe he has no place at the top as he is no gentleman, but that is not enough. When Brexit became not an economic balancing exercise but a class-based chasm, he became a sworn enemy to all the wrongheaded biens-pensants of the land. That was not enough, but it produced a large group of influencers ready to turn any story into a flood to wash him away.  It was still not enough though.

The process of Brexit was an immense success, due largely to Boris Johnson and the team he put together.  There would have been no chance of the Civil Service machine obtaining the exit deal and the trade deal which Boris achieved – it was as good as we could ever have dreamed, because of his determination, his solid majority, and apparent refusal to walk away up to the last minute. The panicked reactions of the commentariat every day was defied and the result is there to see. Eventually, on 31 January 2020, we left, with an almost complete, tariff-free trade and co-operation treaty. However even at that moment the fatal reckoning was approaching from the East.

Fear of the plague from China began at the end of the year from which it is named, 2019. I remember it during the Christmas General  Election that year, but it was only a whisper from the East. On the day that Brexit was consummated, the disease was found in Italy. Two months later, Boris shut the economy down.

He appeared statesmanlike, and can do a good impression of that. The voters loved it, for a time. They liked being able to sit at the kitchen table all day with a mouse in one hand and a slice of cake in the other, and did not miss the daily commute.  The results though – those they do not like. When the world economy shuts down by government fiat, we become poorer.

The lockdown was nominally supported by most voters according to polls, but restrictions are resented at first, then hated.  The big blow to Boris in the polls was ‘Partygate’. Why, logically, should this have bothered anyone? If someone else evades the restrictions should not affect the rest of us, but there was no doubt from the voices on the street: this burst the Boris bubble. Partying while the rest of us were locked away?  (Never mind that the restrictions were never so harsh anyway – I was able largely to ignore them and still be within the law.) No, whatever happened in Downing Street did not affect us, but there was resentment that we had been made to suffer. Those opinion polls saying the lockdown was popular did not tell a true story:  the lockdown was hated with a passion.

Added to the headwater of Remainiac opponents, were Conservatives who opposed the lockdowns, and who were frustrated that with a stonking majority, nothing had been achieved since Brexit. (I would challenge you to read the Conservative Manifesto of 2019 and find a thing thing else which has been done that was promised.) Eventually the dam had to burst.

The woes of the party go beyond feelings about Boris. The economy has tumbled and real-terms wage have shrunk in a way they have not since the last Labour government.  The Ukrainian War is one major cause – the lockdowns are the other; and the man making most hay with it is one who wanted to make the lockdowns harder and more destructive.

Boris will welcome the quiet of his withdrawal to Brightwell, to his own Colombey-aux-Champs with a keyboard and a book contract and a column in the paper. He may ponder that in politics it is all right to make many enemies, as long as you are with the voters. The moment you shut the pubs and emptying their pockets, you should start writing your memoirs.

See also