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An almost unfathomable ignorance of history


The British Empire effectively ended with Indian independence in August 1947.

In his recently published book, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, Peter Clarke writes that after World War II Britain was involved in the occupation of a large section of northwest Germany and the responsibility of feeding Germany's starving population. As a result Britain could not adequately feed her own people, who faced more rationing and economic hardship in the late 1940s than during the war.

It is fairly unique for a victorious people to feed a conquered enemy who had deliberately and horrifically waged war on them, and to suffer low rations for years in order to do so. This is one of the positive facts about the British Empire. Usually the British people hear about its injustices.

Justice goes unmentioned unless a bicentenary occurs. For a long time it was hardly noted that while nearly everyone else in the world had slaves, the British people ended slavery in their empire. Historical amnesia means that few recall that the British people established free trade around the world and protected the open seas from pirates at considerable expense and cost in lives to the Royal Navy. And, of course, little is said about their eradication of cholera or the establishment of sanitation and schools.

In his book Empire, Niall Ferguson points out that the British brought interesting and valuable gifts to their empire, including -

The English language
Property rights
Scottish and English banking practices
Common law
Team sports
The limited or 'night watchman' state (and low rates of taxation)
Representative assemblies and
The idea of liberty.
Ferguson quickly adds -
I do not mean to claim that all British imperialists were liberals - far from it. But what is very striking about the history of the Empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically, there was almost always a liberal critique of that behaviour from within British society. Indeed, so powerful and consistent was this tendency to judge Britain's imperial conduct by the yardstick of liberty that it gave the British Empire something of a self-liquidating character . .[and that] sets it apart from its continental European rivals. . .

Quite a few people around the world continue to appreciate these British gifts.

Despite losing an empire and living on ration cards for years, the British people pulled themselves together and with hard work, global trade and the ideas of a limited state, common law and liberty created the fourth-largest economy in the world with safety nets for the poor and indisposed. They made London the financial capital of the world.

India, relying on those same gifts and the ingenuity of her people, is becoming an enormous economic success.

Today the British political class is scurrying to Brussels to give away our independence, common law, limited 'night watchman' state, representative assembly, a considerable fraction of our personal income and London's prosperity in order to trade with an empire that has high trade tariffs, and is dominated by countries whose previous empires were always despotic and which have today created an undemocratic suprastate. The political class expects us to believe that if we don't submit to the European empire we won't have anyone to trade with.

This political class destroys British fishermen so that Spanish and French fishermen may prosper; undermines Britain's trading position with the world in order to please Continentals; trashes habeas corpus and trial by jury to fit in with the Napoleonic Code; sabotages London's success to make Frankfurt and Paris successful; depresses small businesspeople with regulations and taxes to fit in with European sclerosis; and forces the British people to accept a tidal wave of immigrants.

These actions reveal an almost unfathomable ignorance of history and a nail-bitten lack of confidence.