England has lost its way in the world Show us how small is Man! Show us how easily this Universe can make matchwood of our dreams! From murmurings emanating from Buckingham Palace over the years, the gradual but almost complete loss of English authority and influence within the Commonwealth is The Queen's singlemost regret of her reign. In the fifty plus years she has been on the throne she has seen her English Prime Ministers variously ignore, alienate and antagonise the rest of the Commonwealth But it was Blair's tin-eared response that mystified me most ... Blair's Egyptian holiday, and Gordon Brown's seizure of the reins to say and do the things that Blair should have, may well be seen as a prominent marker on the road to Blair's departure from officeRead more online [here] or below On Blair standing down [here] Boilermaker Bill on civil imperial England 09 January 2005 Packed into your correspondent's beach bag to read over summer is George Dangerfield's 1935 work, The Strange Death of Liberal England. Long regarded as a masterpiece in its field, it posits an (ultimately persuasive) argument that English Liberalism disintegrated immediately prior to World War One as a direct consequence of the progressive forces it unleashed at its apogee. Liberalism had to this point withstood a challenge from the House of Lords, and emerged triumphant, having established many of the checks on the Lords that still exist today. However, it was then undone by the divide over Home Rule for Ireland, the campaign for woman's suffrage and a series of strikes brought on by the nascent militancy of the labour movement, so that by the end of the war, Liberalism had all but expired as an effective political force in England. From this decline and fall of Liberalism can be traced the successive weakening and dissolution of England's empire, and the power and authority that flowed from it. The price for saving England in World War II was the loss of much of its empire - as much as that outcome would be disavowed and bemoaned by the Conservatives. Yet despite the England's retreat from its empire, for many years, it still held a strong cultural and philosophical hold over the former dominions and newly decolonised nation states in the Commonwealth. From murmurings emanating from Buckingham Palace over the years, the gradual but almost complete loss of English authority and influence within the Commonwealth is The Queen's singlemost regret of her reign. In the fifty plus years she has been on the throne she has seen her English Prime Ministers variously ignore, alienate and antagonise the rest of the Commonwealth - Thatcher's near total isolation in the Commonwealth over the issue of apartheid being only the most visible instance of the growing distance between England and its former Empire. Why this history lesson? It occurred to me while observing the international responses to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that we can now offer the last rites to whatever remained of Civil Imperial England. Remember that much of the region that has suffered these past two weeks were once outposts of Empire: India, Sri Lanka, Burma, the Maldives were all once part of the Empire on which the sun never set. Yet England's response is seen as comaparatively lacking when viewed against the contributions of the United States and Australia. To be fair, the response of the English public has been as magnificent as that observed here and elsewhere, but the response of the Government has, at the very least, been dilatory. I'll return to Blair's response in a moment. However, what convinced me that England has lost its way in the world was the blatherings of two columnists in the "quality" press - one from the left, one from the right. First, from The Guardian, a piece by George Monbiot (here http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1382932,00.html ). The tsunami and its tragic consequences were just grist for his grinding mills set against the belligerent behemoth - the United States. A connection had to be made between Iraq and the tsunami - and by God, Monbiot was going to make it: But our leaders appear to have lost the ability to distinguish between helping people and killing them ... While they spend the money we gave them to relieve suffering on slaughtering the poor, the world must rely for disaster relief on the homeless man emptying his pockets. Whatever your view of the war, no-one should deny that the prompt and massive efforts of, among others, the United States and Australia in responding to this humanitarian crisis. A powerful debunking of this was carried in The Age by its international editor, Tony Parkinson. Of course, expressions of this poisoned view were always inevitable - they were the staple of letters to the editor earlier in the week. It was, however, outdone for sheer tastelessness, insensitivity and boorishness by this piece for The Times by Matthew Parris, former Conservative MP and now Parliamentary sketchwriter for The Thunderer and among other publications, The Spectator: I watched the TV pictures of the surge of ocean coming ashore, saw the buildings in its path, and had to stifle an inward "Yes! Sweep them away! Show us how small is Man! Show us how easily this Universe can make matchwood of our dreams!" And no, you do not need to remind me that they were somebody else's dreams, not mine. "Show us," I thought, "how lives and livelihoods can be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye." And then Conservative MP and editor of The Spectator, Boris Johnson, former editor of the Daily Torygraph, Max Hastings and the vice Chairman of the Conservative Party each decried the three minutes silence held across Europe for the tsunami victims, describing it respectively as "coercive", "prostituting" public emotions and the "worst kind of gesture politics". (It just hasn't been Boris' or The Spectator's year. As if the bout of musical beds at The Spectator wasn't enough controversy, Johnson also demonstrated a fine deft touch for dealing with emotions earlier this year by saying that the city of Liverpool was "hooked on grief" when observing the remembrances for slain hostage, Ken Begley. On that occasion, Tory leader Michael Howard compelled Boris to make a visit and an apology to Liverpool.) But it was Blair's tin-eared response that mystified me most, and confirmed my view of England having squandered what little sway it holds over the remnants of Empire. Look at the figures for aid promised by governments reported in Parkinson's piece in Saturday's Age: As of Thursday, the aid pledges of Australia, Japan and the US (totalling more than $US1.6 billion) constituted almost half the entire commitment by governments across the world. Australia ($US765 million) topped the list, followed by Germany ( $US680 million), Japan ($US500 million), the United States ($US350 million), Norway ($US180 million), and Britain ($US96 million). Read it and weep - less than 20 percent of the donations made by each of Germany and Japan. And even that sum had to be offered when intial offers of just £1 million and then £15 million probably justified the metier of "stingy", Even Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi anticipated what was needed by calling on Blair, as this year's convenor of the G8 nations, to host a meeting to canvas aid options. Blair refused, saying it was a matter best left to the UN, and returned to his Egyptian holiday. Where was the Blair of 1997, cauterising a nation's grief with the encomium of "the people's Princess" to describe Diana? One suspects the answer is obtained by asking where was Alastair Campbell, Blair's former right and left hand, who coined the earlier phrase? The Strange Death of Liberal England opens with Prime Minister Asquith returning from a Mediterranean holiday on an Admiralty yacht to be greeted with the news that King Edward VII had died: it presages the eventual decline and demise of English Liberalism. Blair's Egyptian holiday, and Gordon Brown's seizure of the reins to say and do the things that Blair should have, may well be seen as a prominent marker on the road to Blair's departure from office. Certainly, these events and the lack of basic civility in English opinion on this tragedy surely marks the end of the long, slow strange death of Civil Imperial England. We knew long ago that England had averted its gaze so that it no longer saw what happened east of the Suez: we just didn't know the depths to which it had sunk. Boilermaker Bill Mckell will now return to his pile of summer reading but can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org - suggestions for additions to his reading list are naturally welcomed.
After all the snubbing and sniping, and the absence of a handover to Brown, will it be snap election time? With iridescent blue cheerleading pom poms or not the Conservatives must be firm in their resolve. Interesting and hard-hitting views from down under at Crickey.com - Australia's leading independent online news service, claiming that Blair is set to depart and lamenting the UK's response to the tsunami disaster: