THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

When the 70th anniversary of the atom bomb falling on Hiroshima came around in 2015, I recall writing about the subject for my previous place of cyber employment, as seemed only right. However, I took a slightly different approach to what remains an emotive moment in history by highlighting my connection to the pilot of the Enola Gay, Col. Paul Tibbets. I’m related to him via the American branch of my mother’s family, though it would take a dedicated genealogist to establish the precise bloodline linking us, for all those who could have provided the details are dead and gone. Suffice to say, being a relative of the man who pressed the button that changed the world in the worst possible way is something I’m never quite sure if I should say out loud or not, particularly when the crimes of one’s ancestors now apparently have to be answered for by their living descendants. Where does Col. Tibbets rank on the Woke scale of irredeemably unspeakable skeletons in the family closet, I wonder? And what kind of penance must I pay when it comes to my trial for crimes against humanity, even if I didn’t personally commit any?

Yes, this North Korean-style retrospective punishment is all the rage now that the keys of the asylum have been placed in the hands of the lunatics. The British Library, repository of the nation’s greatest literary legacies, is just one more institution to have surrendered guardianship of the family silver to those who would just as happily toss it into a furnace as flog it. Even the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes has been added to the blacklist catalogue compiled in the wake of the Library’s self-flagellating surrender to the Church of BLM. Why? Well, as if enduring endless vitriolic assaults during his lifetime by unhinged radical feminists holding him responsible for the suicide of his first wife Sylvia Plath wasn’t bad enough, we now learn of another blot on the reputation of a man who died in 1998. Yes, Ted Hughes apparently had a distant ancestor who lived over 200 years before his own birth, one with some involvement in ‘colonialism’ back in the days of the British American colonies – and that is enough to condemn him. Funnily enough, Ted Hughes wasn’t born into wealth built on the profits of slavery and probably had no idea he was infected with the Original Sin of white supremacy, which we now thankfully know to be something all inherently evil non-BAME bastards carry. This is how insane it’s become.

The defacing of a Queen Victoria statue in Leeds at the height of the first wave of insanity back in the summer not only exposed the misogyny of the ‘artist’ but also highlighted his/her lack of education, linking Victoria to the slave trade when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 – one that outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire bar a few outposts administered by the East India Company – was passed four years before Victoria came to the throne. But, hey, let’s not let any facts get in the way of the narrative, eh? And let’s not mention William Wilberforce or that this country led the way on abolitionism for the best part of half-a-century before finally achieving its aim. It’s probably worth mentioning that Britain didn’t invent slavery either and maybe make the point that it was still a highly profitable industry when Britain ended it. What always gets overlooked – one might almost say deliberately – is that before the advent of the more ruthless archetypal imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes, the British Empire was being shaped by the kind of middle-class, paternalistic do-gooders which the contemporary Woke crowd have more in common with than the British Library and its SJW affiliates would ever dare admit.

They would have regarded themselves as liberal, and they had a champion in the imposing figure of William Ewart Gladstone, Liberal with a capital L. The man who served four different terms as British Prime Minister was a passionate advocate of civilising savages with the Bible, a Victorian missionary in all-but name. He believed he was doing God’s work in converting heathen natives both home and abroad to a proper, Christian way of living, and his disciples set off for far-flung corners of the Empire to spread the Gospel. The colonies that had evolved from trading posts rather than claimed by invading armies were well-versed in the mantra of Free Trade, and those who governed the Empire during its middle period were fuelled by well-meaning, evangelical good intentions. As long as the natives were willing to be converted, they could be ruled by benign overlords with their best interests at heart. Secure in their righteous conviction that they were placed on earth to educate the less fortunate and that their selfless benevolence was sanctioned by the Almighty, they genuinely believed their way was the right way; and compared to, say, the Belgian approach to imperial governance, mid-Victorian imperialists were undoubtedly liberal.

Today’s equivalents have no Empire in terms of physical landmass; but they’ve conquered our public institutions and services – the schools, the universities, the medical profession, the police force, the Law – as well as tech companies, the corporate world, the arts, the mainstream media and politics; so, they basically control the majority of information reaching the masses as well as dictating social discourse and mores. I think that’s the nearest thing to an Empire this century can command without a shot being fired in anger. They’re as possessed by the same absolute, unshakable belief in their own moral righteousness as their Victorian forefathers and they also share their crusading mission to convert non-believers. They may have rejected God in Heaven, but they have their joint earthly religions of Identity Politics and Climate Change; they promote Globalisation with the same zealous fervour as the Imperial Victorians promoted Free Trade; and they place great emphasis on racial categorisation, believing one race is superior to the other; indeed, their belief in keeping the skin colours separate is as strong as that practiced and preached by the distant colonials they profess to detest. What a delicious irony.

The artist Grayson Perry once opined ordinary contemporary Brits bear more of a passing resemblance in spirit to the raucous Georgians than the virtuous Victorians; and the parallels between the way in which the Victorians were ashamed of their uncouth historical predecessors and the way in which the Woke cheerleaders look down on the ‘lower orders’ (i.e. Brexit bigots) are glaring. The Victorian lower orders were just as fun-loving and eager to have a good time as both their Georgian ancestors and their present day descendants, but the growing middle classes were controlling the narrative, just as they do today – as well as controlling the soul-destroying industries those beneath them toiled in, just as they do today. The pious propriety of this group and the pressures placed upon people to fall in line with their way of thinking are no different in 2020; and these Victorians had their own ‘cancel culture’ should one of their young women have a child out of wedlock or one of their young men be caught in the arms of another young man; their narrow moral code could destroy an individual with the same callous efficiency as any outraged Twitter troll today.

A key difference is that the Victorian liberals were at least able to channel their fanatical vigour for self-improvement into invention, innovation, and technological progress that did indeed improve millions of lives. The Woke crowd are more interested in destroying than creating; they have the same narcissistic nihilism as the extreme wings of the Reformation, their destructive actions echoing the whitewashing of Saints from church interiors and the tearing down of Catholic icons. They lack both the vision and the compassion of the Victorians at their best, and if that generation of Brits couldn’t keep their Empire together, there’s hope yet that the sun will set on this anti-cultural Woke Empire before long.

© The Editor

THE ELEVENTH HOUR

The diminishing post-war role of Britain on the world stage must have been evident to anyone who was a regular cinema-goer in the 50s and 60s, though the manner in which this message was received would have been unintentional. A fixture of the Pathé News bulletins for a good 20 years after 1947 was the independence ceremony; the sight of euphoric natives celebrating a colony finally standing on its own two feet was presented in characteristically jolly fashion by these optimistic interludes between the support picture and the main feature. The Queen’s presence implied a gracious acceptance of independence, even if the apparent benevolence of the mother country disguised relief at the breaking-up of an Empire it could no longer afford to run. Yet, for all the dressing-up of such events in a positive style, there’s no doubt the increasingly regular sight of the Union Jack descending down one more flagpole on a foreign field must have had a subconscious psychological impact on national morale – and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Bar the 1997 Hong Kong Handover, the last time an occasion of this nature took place was in Rhodesia in 1980. By then, the cinema news bulletin had long been superseded by TV reports reaching the nation’s living rooms via satellite; moreover, there were few people left in the country who clung to the image of Britain that had been inherited from the imperial forefathers. Even before Zimbabwe was dragged kicking and screaming from the Commonwealth womb, Britain had already reduced its global ambition and had settled for a future much closer to home – Europe. The continent had welcomed belated British membership of the Common Market, but the economic woes that plagued the nation throughout the first decade of so of Britain’s seat at the EEC table were something that seemed to give our neighbours a sense of superiority over the ‘sick man’; and the condescending perception of an incurably ill member state lingered.

Britain as a minor Brussels suburb was something the British public never truly embraced wholeheartedly, and it could be argued our mainland neighbours never really regarded us as ‘proper Europeans’ either. Middle-class Brits liked it because it fitted their image of themselves as sophisticated continentals a cut above the native yahoos; but for most in the UK, the Great European Project – especially when the organisation progressed from being a simple trading partnership to a reincarnation of the Holy Roman Empire – began to seem like an unnecessary encumbrance that made us feel like a naughty schoolboy permanently stationed outside the headmaster’s office. Yet, anyone observing the sudden rebranding by some Brits as instant Europeans in June 2016 may have thought otherwise. They reminded me a little of my cousin in 1977, whose bedroom wall became a shrine to Elvis Presley the minute he died, despite there being no sign of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll up there the day before.

England and Wales were the two constituent countries of the UK that sealed the deal in 2016, and will probably play host to the most celebratory reactions when the clocks strike eleven. Even here, however, I suspect celebrations will be muted mainly because the polarised fault-lines now run so deep. The recourse of Remoaners to lazy name-calling of the most basic nature – Nazi, Racist, Fascist etc. – evokes the way in which ‘Scab’ became the ubiquitous buzzword when one side verbally attacked the other during the similarly divisive Miners’ Strike of 1984/5; and just as there were ‘Quiet Tories’ not broadcasting their voting preference at the 2017 General Election, there’s no doubt there are ‘Quiet Leavers’ declining to be drawn into Remain-dominated discourse on the likes of Facebook today for fear of being cast out of the village.

North of the border, the EU has been adopted by the ruling party as a handy addition to the independence portfolio. Indeed, the most obstinate, head-in-the-sand English Remoaners took their cue from those Scots who never accepted the 2014 Referendum result when echoing their demands for a rerun because it didn’t turn out the way they wanted. The SNP promotional brochure that the rest of the UK receives glosses over the fact that during the 1975 EEC Referendum, the SNP was as virulently anti-Common Market as the Brexit Party is anti-EU today; the Salmond/Sturgeon incarnation of the SNP, on the other hand, makes the Lib Dems resemble UKIP. This curious juxtaposition of the desire to be an independent nation yet still chained to a Union that offers it far less leeway than the Union it has been part of for 300 years is not the only contradiction at the heart of Holyrood.

It’s no real surprise the EU is so appealing to Sturgeon’s tartan army. The SNP as a political force contains all the elitist ‘executive’ elements that so alienated 17.4 million voters when it came to the People’s Vote campaign – the same sense of sneering, superior entitlement embodied south of the border in the likes of Lord Adonis or Anna Soubry; it boasts all the worst aspects of Identity Politics that has cost Labour so much of its traditional support; and it has a finger-wagging tendency to persistently incur into people’s private lives by attempting to regulate what they eat and drink, how they chastise their children, and to punish them for smoking – to prioritise Nanny State interference over the far-from impressive condition of many of Scotland’s public services. Yet, like Labour in England, the SNP is keen to sell itself as a ‘party of the people’, picking up the Stop Brexit banner with far more success than any other political party in the UK.

Across the Irish Sea, the resumption of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont comes at an opportune moment; the peace process, along with the province as a whole, finds itself at something of a crossroads. Many of those who played a pivotal part in the Good Friday Agreement and the crucial early days of power-sharing are no longer around. Paisley and McGuinness are both dead, John Hume is now lost to the No Man’s Land of dementia, and Seamus Mallon passed away barely a week ago. Enough time has now elapsed since 1998 to place the future of Ulster in the hands of a generation who weren’t manning the barricades at the height of the Troubles; and just as significant is the fact that December’s General Election saw Northern Ireland elect more Nationalist MPs to Westminster than Unionists for the first time ever. For those seeking a united Ireland, the prospects have rarely looked brighter.

Along with Scotland, of course, Northern Ireland voted Remain; the DUP may have been the cheerleaders for Brexit during the period when they made up the numbers for Theresa May’s threadbare Tories, but they were hardly representative of the majority in Ulster. The loss of Nigel Dodds at Westminster was an additional blow for a party that punched way above its weight when the British Government needed it; but the British Government doesn’t need it anymore, and one wonders how much longer Unionism can survive as a potent political force when the momentum appears to be with Nationalism. Belated alignment with the more enlightened social policies of the Republic has recently come despite DUP opposition, and it’ll be interesting to see how events develop at Stormont during the next twelve months.

Nationwide, the next twelve months will be just as interesting, if considerably less intense than the last three years. Wherever one stands, this was what the majority voted for and that should always have been reason enough for implementing it. It’s only taken us so long to get here because some just couldn’t accept it; and I don’t think they ever will. Some of us who voted Remain did. We might not have liked it, but hey, that’s democracy. Au revoir.

© The Editor

THE CHINESE WAY

Long after most gave up the ghost, my VCR finally collected its retirement clock a year or so ago. It probably won’t be replaced, yet I still have hundreds of tapes crammed with off-air recordings, many of which will never see the light of day as commercial releases. Probably due to this fact, I held onto most of them when the pre-recorded VHS movies were bagged and binned – ones I could always purchase again on DVD if need be. The majority of these tapes contain content reflecting my eclectic viewing habits at the time they were recorded; reluctant to waste tape, it’s a dead cert any videocassette from the early 90s, for example, will see its last ten or twelve minutes used-up with a TOTP performance, a promo video from ‘The Chart Show’, and a few clips from ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’.

One tape from 1997 I recall has a characteristically idiosyncratic mix – featuring Radiohead’s iconic ‘OK Computer’ Glastonbury set as broadcast on BBC2, the erotically-charged neo-Noir movie ‘The Last Seduction’, and highlights of the Hong Kong Handover Ceremony of June 30/July 1 that year. It’s only through writing this that I’ve looked-up the dates and rearranged my somewhat sketchy memory of summer ’97 – one in which several substances were consumed and have therefore buggered-up my memory’s timeline in the process. I’d thought the Handover Ceremony was closer to something else that happened that summer, something that happened on August 31.

Yes, of course, that summer crashed to its climax with the death of Diana and the month of mourning that plunged the nation into paroxysms of public grief on a scale I was able to view with detachment only because I had always been ambivalent about ‘The People’s Princess’. Was I alone in finding the final act of the British Empire more moving than the floral display outside Kensington Palace? It certainly felt like it at the time. Odd snippets come back to me now, like wondering how old ‘fatty’ Chris Patten could have sired two such gorgeous daughters; they were seen on the day China took back control due to the former Tory MP being the last colony’s last governor, the consolation prize awarded to him by John Major upon losing his seat at the 1992 General Election. I know it sounds positively 19th century – a man from Westminster dispatched to govern an imperial possession; yet, it was less than 30 years ago.

As a child, I became aware this country had numerous cultural and sentimental tentacles stretching across the globe and that we retained little pockets of British soil a long way from home. There was Gibraltar, and there still is Gibraltar; but there was also Hong Kong, which was the one remaining genuinely exotic leftover from Empire – one of the spoils of the Opium Wars that went on to become the Far East’s premier economic powerhouse. I remember that early 70s ‘mum hunk’, the suave Gerald Harper visiting Hong Kong in a couple of episodes of ‘Hadleigh’; there was also a BBC documentary series called ‘Hong Kong Beat’, focusing on the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, with its catchy theme tune even making the charts; and, lest we forget, Bruce Lee made most of his movies there, movies that went on to become staple diets of video rental shops. Yet, as we moved into the 1980s, anything to do with Hong Kong started to centre around Britain’s 99-year lease, as if the island was a holiday home owned by the UK that would be inherited by Hong Kong’s nearest neighbour once its owner died. Actually, maybe that’s how it really was.

For decades, Hong Kong had provided refuge for political dissidents fleeing China, and the prospect of the colony falling under Chinese jurisdiction was understandably worrying for them; their concerns naturally intensified following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Even though the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 laid out the ‘one country, two systems’ concept to allay fears Hong Kong would end up as a suburb of mainland China and be subject to the same repressive rules and regulations governing the People’s Republic, it was accompanied by gradual goalpost-moving on the part of the British Government to deliberately limit the potential numbers of Hong Kong natives claiming British citizenship and the right to settle in the mother country. After Tiananmen Square, with the Handover only eight years away, an estimated 10,000 rushed to apply for residency in the UK. Singapore, Canada, Australia and the US proved to be popular alternative destinations, and during its last decade as a Crown Colony, Hong Kong lost almost a million of its citizens who chose to emigrate rather than remain.

Tony Blair had been PM less than two months when he joined his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Governor Patten and Prince Charles on the podium to officially cede ownership of the island to China. Brian’s unflattering account of the occasion surfaced in the Mail on Sunday a few years later, wherein he compared the Handover Ceremony to a cynically choreographed Soviet-style performance and referred to the event as ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway’; the Prince of Wales was of course representing Brenda, as he had 17 years earlier when the Union Jack was lowered in Rhodesia. With Africa long gone by 1997, it was time for the Far East to finally follow suit, and I have to say my memory of watching the Ceremony live on TV isn’t one that evokes the heir’s cynicism. I was conscious this was something of genuine historical significance, like Churchill’s funeral – the belated end of one kind of Britain and (with Blair fittingly present) the beginning of another.

For the people of Hong Kong, there was no sailing off into the sunset on the Royal Yacht Britannia, however; they were left to deal with the realities of the new regime. Their predicament couldn’t be compared to the difficulties facing the UK’s other ex-colonies following the cutting of imperial apron springs, i.e. being at the mercy of hard-line religious despots or military coups; Hong Kong had not achieved independence, but had merely changed hands. Having a totalitarian super-state on the doorstep is no more a pacifier of anxiety for Hong Kong’s citizens than it is for those residing in the former Soviet satellites; the perennial fear that Beijing will slowly implement its own authoritarian agenda on the island by stealth is something that has continued to creep up on the people; and cracking down on public demonstrations of dissatisfaction such as the ‘umbrella protests’ of five years ago with tough sentencing appeared to suggest their fears were well-founded.

Attempts to introduce a new extradition law, whereby anyone from Hong Kong who invokes the ire of Beijing can be removed to mainland China for trial, has now provoked a fresh outburst of protest. This time, however, it hasn’t emanated wholly from the Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, whose view of themselves as international citizens has supplanted the traditional affinity with Britain of previous generations; it has spawned an unlikely alliance of different demographics ordinarily divided by faith, politics and age – united in their opposition at Beijing reneging on aspects of the Sino-British Joint Declaration; this week it has crossed the line from peaceful protest to civil disorder. The island’s former colonial overlord, however, can do nothing but issue meek condemnations of China’s actions; we absolved ourselves of all responsibility in 1997 – and, besides, China today equates with trade and money. We wouldn’t want to upset our friends in Beijing – making one wonder if it was just Hong Kong that was handed over 22 years ago.

© The Editor

MADE IN INDIA

William Makepeace Thackeray, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Vivien Leigh, Spike Milligan, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richard, Joanna Lumley, my mate Vicky’s dad – all made in India. Considering the British presence in India spanned the best part of 200 years, it’s no wonder some of those born in the Subcontinent left their mark on the artistic and pop cultural landscape; though it’s ironic that when The Beatles visited India to sit at the feet of the Maharishi in 1968, the one member of the band who had been born there was no longer present – Pete Best. However, by the time the last batch of these household names arrived, the days of British India were numbered, anyway; there were only 500 Brits left in the Indian civil service by 1935 and the posting was no longer viewed as the job for life it had been for generations.

For an exit that was, in the end, perceived by many as ridiculously hasty, there had been warnings for decades that the Raj was unsustainable; but it took the draining impact of the Second World War on the Mother Country for the jewel in the crown to finally slip from the imperial grasp. Some Indian nationalists had expected independence – or at the very least the dominion status afforded Australia and Canada – as a reward for the manpower India supplied in the First World War, where a million Indian troops had served King, Country and Empire; but the failure of the British to concede either fuelled the nationalist movement anew, and saw a fresh figure emerge who recognised the power of enigma.

Like Benjamin Franklin two-hundred years earlier, Gandhi had undergone a transformation from loyal colonial subject to unlikely revolutionary; he had written of his younger self, ‘Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution.’ The man who eventually took charge of India upon independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge and had been admitted to the English bar. But both he and the Mahatma were one-time Anglophiles whose previous participation in the traditional cultural exchange between Britain and India didn’t affect their desire and demand for independence.

The Raj may have been mythologized in the British imagination since 1947, but it was mythologized during its lifetime. Unlike many of its overseas colonies, India was viewed by Britain in the same way Algeria was viewed by the French, as an extension of home soil; Indian sportsmen from the world of cricket and polo were as familiar a sight in the UK as Maharajas were in London society, and we all shared the same King/Emperor. Even if the beneficiaries of the Raj on both sides tended to be small in relation to those for whom it was either an irrelevance or an encumbrance, the idea of another England thousands of miles away baking beneath a sun that never set was one that embodied all of the vaguely comical grandeur of romantic British pomp and circumstance. Even when the British sensed the sun was setting after all, they still anticipated it would take decades after the end of WWII before it happened.

As with the majority of Britain’s colonial possessions, the British presence in India had arisen from maritime trading rather than a military invasion. The trailblazers had embraced the nation’s religions, taken Indian wives and enjoyed the kind of cross-cultural immersion that was frowned upon following the 1857 Indian Mutiny, when direct rule by the British Crown replaced the corporate rule of the East India Company. From then on, there was a strict divide between colonists and natives; the playing fields of Eton trained the governors, administrators and Viceroys, whereas the civil service was open to any ambitious young Englishman, and many ambitious young Englishmen went for it.

For the generations of Brits who lived, worked and died in India, the standard of living for someone working in the civil service was considerably higher than they could expect back in the UK, and the job was an attractive proposition. Army postings on the Subcontinent were also envied; even the future Duke of Wellington had served his dues in India as a young ensign. In retrospect, it was remarkable that so few Brits were able to govern so many Indians for so many decades and for so long. But the system was stretched on several grim occasions, such as the 1919 Amritsar Massacre or the devastating series of famines in 1876-78, 1896-97, 1899-1900, and 1943-44; the total death toll of the first is estimated to have been in the region of 6.1 to 10.3 million.

The cult of Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violent protest in the 1930s contrasted with the increase in Sectarian violence that the British authorities struggled to keep a lid on. The PR sold back to Britain glossed over the realities of the situation as best it could, but it became harder to attract recruits to the Indian civil service in the years leading up to the Second World War. When British barrister Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India in 1947 to deliver the geographical partition he’d drawn up once India’s independence as two nations had been decided, he found the country in a far worse state than he’d been led to believe. Civil war seemed all-but inevitable. In June 1947, the last Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten, announced the date for the end of British India; the remaining Brits had barely two months to get out as the unsatisfactory new map provoked the natives into migration, panic and unprecedented bloodshed.

The shock for the wave of Brits departing the only home they’d ever known upon arriving in Blighty was the jarring comparison with the place they’d left behind. A cold monochrome country, battered by wartime bombing and recovering from a crippling winter was compounded by the sudden diminishing of their social status; from comfortable surroundings complemented by servant staff, most found themselves reduced to living in small, grey homes on small, grey streets and having to accept jobs several notches down from the ones they’d enjoyed back home. It must have been a humbling comedown, and a story rarely told when the end of British India understandably concentrates on the bloody division of the nation the Brits left behind.

A language, an educational system and a legal system are the most visible and valuable legacies of the Raj in India today, surviving and thriving while the statues and monuments to forgotten British figures crumble away with the same slow drift from living memory as those Brits born and raised in the Raj. Not many of those voices have been heard during the media coverage of the 70th anniversary, but this anniversary marks a moment as crucial to the story of Britain as it is to the story of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In its own way, 1947 ranks alongside 1066, 1815, 1918 and 1945 as a pivotal turning point in our fortunes.

© The Editor