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What Brexiteers get wrong about empire It is better to be woke than dead

This struggle must be played out to the end (Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This struggle must be played out to the end (Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


December 16, 2021   6 mins

Why on earth now? It seems so very late in the day. It is nearly 75 years since the British Empire started to unravel, famously at midnight on August 14, 1947, when India became free. Yet over the past 18 months the arguments about the Empire have raged afresh, as septic and painful as ever.

Does Britain deserve obloquy for profiting so hugely from the Transatlantic slave trade, or credit for having abolished it? Statues of imperialists and slavers have been toppled and daubed and tossed into rivers. The Right, more rampant and paranoid than at any time since the war, denounces the ‘woke’ movement as a new and noxious threat to Western civilisation. Yet as far back as 1938, the great Lead Belly was already warning travellers to Alabama, “I advise everybody. Be a little careful when they go along through there — best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” But Belly’s warning was a long time ago.

Why has it all come alive again, and with such unappeased ferocity on both sides? The book that caught the zeitgeist in the midriff this year was Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland. It is never simplistic, always thoughtful, wry, and rueful as well as angry.

Sanghera comes from a family of Punjabi Sikhs and was brought up in Wolverhampton. He describes that upbringing in in his touching memoir The Boy with the Topknot. When he first went to school, he was unable to speak English, but he finished up at the great Wolverhampton Grammar School and then got a first in English at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He thus has the most intense imperial legacy, from Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech all the way back to the massacre of hundreds of Sikhs at Amritsar by the psychopathic temporary Brigadier Dyer.

In Empireland, he patiently explores that legacy: the loot in British museums (‘Loot’ is the Hindi word for the spoils of war, jocularly adopted by the British — a Pekingese dog found during the looting of the Summer Palace in Peking was christened Looty and sent home as a gift to Queen Victoria); the millions of post-war immigrants from the Commonwealth who have transformed England’s inner cities; above all, the abiding sense of the superiority and exceptionalism of the British race; and always in the background, the dark shadow of slavery, as abiding an embarrassment as it was profitable, best not spoken of in company — witness the silence of the Bertrams in Mansfield Park when their estates in Antigua come up in conversation.

Personally, Sanghera is grateful for everything that Britain has given him, and he acknowledges the formidable achievements of the British in India, up to and including the famous railways, one of the only vestiges of empire that ever make it on to TV, usually omitting the reality that the prime purpose in building them was to ferry troops quicker to suppress native disturbances and to carry British goods to the furthest corners of India at the cruel expense of native producers.

Sanghera refuses to tolerate the vainglorious, barely qualified praise of Empire from Right-wing historians and politicians, or their deliberate bleaching of our Island Story. Take David Starkey’s assertion, made in 2011, that “Britain is a white monoculture and schools should focus on our own history”. Sanghera’s deep-lying target is what he calls “imperial amnesia”, the pretence that the experience of the greatest empire ever known left no serious mark on the British psyche; a fifth of the world painted Peppa Pig pink, the English language the globe’s lingua franca — all this was a passing episode in our long history, which we shrugged off with a gracious smile.

Outside the specialist literature, in the public sphere the whole experience has been muffled in a tactful silence as profound as the silence of the Bertrams. Now the argument has resurfaced with a vengeance — all the more toxic and unsettling for having been so long suppressed. At the many previous hauling downs of the Union Jack, would any royal personage have spoken as bluntly about the horrors of slavery as Prince Charles has just done on declaring Barbados a republic?

Nowhere can the extraordinary fluctuations in the British view of Empire be traced more vividly than in the rhetoric of Enoch Powell, Sanghera’s fellow-Wulfrunian whose shadow loomed so grimly over his childhood. Powell was devastated by the loss of India, but nevertheless wrote in his 1951 election address to the voters of Wolverhampton: “I BELIEVE IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE. Without the empire, Britain would be like a head without a body.” But by the mid-1960s, he was claiming that the British Empire had been “a myth”, “a deception” and “an invention, all along”. That people had ever believed in it was “one of the most extraordinary paradoxes in political history”. He insisted that “England underwent no organic change as the mistress of a world empire”.

His response to Dean Acheson’s wounding taunt that “Great Britain has lost an empire but has not yet found a role” was to sign up wholeheartedly to Macmillan’s application to join the EEC: “It is as a European power
 that we shall work out a Britain in the 1970s which does not need make-believe to bolster its self-respect
 This is Britain’s world-wide role, no less than that of France or Germany.”

Powell’s recoil from this new enthusiasm was even more violent. By the time of the first referendum in 1975, he had become apocalyptic about the dangers of staying in the EU: “Belonging to the Common Market
 spells living death, the abandonment of all prospect of national rebirth.”

You might think that such an erratic record would disqualify Powell from being taken seriously as a sage. Far from it. It is because he publicly charted his zigzags with such melodramatic passion that he attracted and still retains such undiminished veneration; witness the volume published in 2012 to celebrate what would have been his hundredth birthday with contributions from Roger Scruton, Simon Heffer, Andrew Roberts, Iain Duncan Smith et al. For his wanderings were their wanderings too, his disillusion their disillusion. He taught them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For Brexiteers, the suppression of imperial memory becomes almost as important for the future of the nation as the promotion of the project was in its heyday. Imperialist hankerings have to be explicitly denied. In This Sovereign Isle, one of the few attempts by a serious historian to justify Brexit, Robert Tombs, who in 1975 voted to stay in, argues that the Empire never did us much good: “Having an Empire had not been the source of Britain’s power and wealth
 Empire had been in many ways a political, strategic and economic liability.” He insists that Brexit is in no sense a furtive effort to recreate it.

On the contrary, it is in fact a crucial trope in the Brexiteers argument that it was the European Union that was underpinned by “imperial nostalgia”. For historians like Toombs, and his fellow Cambridge historian Richard Tuck, the EU is indistinguishable — or very soon will be — from the great empires of the past. The idea of voluntarily sharing a range of powers with other nations is unimaginable to them. The simplest shared code of practice is seen as a vile infringement of sovereignty.

For Brexit Minister, David Frost, who is fast becoming the last hero of the cause, divergence is king. If as Lord Frost and Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, have both admitted, the results so far seem less than satisfactory, that is because Brexit has not been properly tried, an argument familiar from old Communists disillusioned with an earlier god that failed.

This view of the nation sees Britain’s borders as an impermeable, indispensable protection of our national integrity. Up until the Fifties, Powell believed that “we must reduce or remove the barriers to free movement within the Empire of goods, of money, and above all, of human beings”. Now of course the free movement of human beings must be resisted without remorse: send them back, dump them on hulks in the Thames Estuary, send them to Albania, let them drown. Anything rather accept any obligation of humanity, let alone of empire.

This was not how the dream of disentanglement was presented. Once ‘out of Europe’, we would be free, nimble, our bounds would be boundless. What was not said, perhaps not even thought, was that the Brexit dream brought with it harsher implications, of wilful exclusion of others, of hostile vigilance.

Only Nigel Farage and the ultras were prepared to deploy that harsher language, which was why they had to be kept out of sight not to frighten decent folk. With all their faults, the old empires — the Roman, the Ottoman, the British — had a certain openness, a sloppiness about ground rules. Which is partly why half the ministers in the present government are the descendants of recent immigrants, many of them fleeing persecution as well as poverty. Palmerston defended to the hilt the somewhat sleazy character of Don Pacifico, a Portuguese Jew, who happened to be a British citizen by virtue of being born in Gibraltar. These days Pacifico would be lucky to get past immigration control.

It is because Brexiteer rhetoric depends on peddling a sanitised version of the national past that we must redouble our efforts to recover every scrap of that past — the years of Empire, yes, but the years in the EEC/EU too — and not brush over any of the peculiar institutions that have adorned or polluted those pasts, including the most peculiar institution of all, the mass transportation and enslavement of millions of our fellow human beings. With all its attendant sillinesses and petty intolerance, this is a struggle that needs to be played out to the end, until we understand better exactly where we have come from and who we are. Better woke than dead to the world.


Ferdinand Mount is a writer, novelist, and political commentator. His latest novel is Making Nice. 


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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

The EU imposed upon Britain an economic model entirely unsuitable for a island nation. Post Brexit, Britain is gravitating towards a growing alliance of the Eurasian peripheral nations and America and Oceania, who share an interest in maritime trade and opposition to the growing danger of the central power of China. This is not some yearning for a return to the past but a rational geopolitical realignment in the face of a changing world. It is the supporters of the EU who cling to an already obsolete dream of a single Europe based on myth.

As for the Empire. I am immensely proud of its legacy whilst having no wish to see it resurrected. Just as in the same way I can recognise a medieval monarch as being a great leader without wishing to live in a hereditary based dictatorship. Judged by the standards of its day, and there can be no other way to judge the past, the British Empire was far more progressive than both its European rivals and was positively utopian compared to the Asiatic empires and African kingdoms it supplanted.

With regards to the contemporary debate, the Empire is synonymous with the history of the British nation state. Destroying its legacy is key to undermining the primacy of democratic decision making at a national level. It is hardly a great secret that who have a vested interest in the exploitation of migrant labour and suppression democratic power are those who hate the Empire the most, because a democratic nation state, acts as a bulwark against worst excesses of globalisation, or at least, it did in the past and hopefully, will again in the future.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Great comment.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And a far better response than the article deserved,
Sir William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet, Old Etonian, Tory “wet” and Islington resident.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

And at 82 rather super-annuated for blogging.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

No need for ageism, even his article is undoubtedly foolish

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

The fact that we have been able to make our own decisions during the Covid era, is a clear benefit of not being tied to this conglomerate of nations.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

We never seem to escape the ruling elite

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

And I’m sure, being a Pakenham, there will be a place in the country to accommodate those whom he accuses the rest of us of turning our backs on. The loss of cheap immigrant labour clearly still hasn’t been forgiven

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Spot on…I thought the article was just bizarre.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Apart from one or two typos, your comment is a substantial improvement on an article evidencing a very serious case of Brexit Derangement Syndrome.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Well said Richard Craven

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

Thank you, B Ttam!

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Well put Matthew!

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Beautifully put. I wanted to say pretty much the exact same thing, but you expressed it so much more elequently.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Unherd – please commission longer pieces from Mr. Powell.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Maybe the author doesn’t know what ‘woke’ actually is.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

Or what it has become.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Certainly a possibility, seeing as he’s in his 80’s.

Jamie Smith
Jamie Smith
2 years ago

It’s certainly nothing to do with anything Leadbelly ever said.

Clara B
Clara B
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Superb response.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

An excellent reply to a bizarre article filled with absurdities.

Bob Pugh
Bob Pugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I wholeheartedly agree. This article says more about remainers angst and longing to belong to the EU’s empire than it does about “What Brexiteers get wrong about empire”.

James Watson
James Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“and there can be no other way to judge the past” . Right on. Great response to a tripe article

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

As a descendent of British oppression in Ireland I find this argument a pink wash of peppa pig proportions: deluded, twisted and hopelessly improbable to boot.
If EC structures are so unsuitable to an island nation how is it the same doesn’t apply to Ireland another island nation even further removed geographically from mainland EU?
Our prosperity certainly had nothing to do with (nonexistent) British reparation for the plunder of Ireland nor for the transportation of 50,000 Irish slaves after your hero Oliver Cromwell was finished slaughtering the Irish population: nor for the wanton starvation to death of a million Irishmen women and children in the 1840s (while cattle, sheep and grain etc were exported to England).
I suggest you remove your pink rose coloured glasses and study a little history!
And no I’m not anti English, not in the slighest: I married an Englishwoman a daughter of a capt in the British army..

Last edited 2 years ago by Liam O'Mahony
Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“If EC structures are so unsuitable to an island nation how is it the same doesn’t apply to Ireland another island nation even further removed geographically from mainland EU?”

I believe the same does apply to Ireland. It does 20% of its trade with US, even though it has no trade agreement, whilst the EU is about to remove the most lucrative sector of its economy, avoiding taxes, whilst strangling its tech sector in red tape. It is arguable it would be more prosperous outside the EU but this will not happen due the nature of Irish politics.

As an Anglo-Irish Catholic, Cromwell is not my hero but I do accept that the 17th century was an incredibly brutal and bloody period of European history and his actions should be viewed in the context of those times. You seem furious that the English behaved in the same manner as their contemporaries? That does not indicate a great understanding of history.

I think one of great shames of contemporary historical debate has been the abandonment of analysis for moralising. Seen in this light, everything outside our current period of unprecedented prosperity is a crime against humanity. I am interested in why the past was the way it was and how material progression has been achieved, not if they shared my values, though that does admittedly elicit sympathy.

As Nietzsche said, “There is blood at the base of all good things”. This does not stop them from being good. I still contend that, on balance, the world British Empire left was a better one than it was founded in. That, in no small part, was due to its existence.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

India’s wealth reduced from 22% of global wealth to 4% of global wealth: again a million died in a botched evacuation deal (like you botched withdrawal from Afghanistan).. that’s yiur idea of leaving a country better off is it?
I do appreciate that times were brutal under Cromwell AND his contemporaries but to make that argument for 1840s Ireland and 1940s India? I don’t think so… and btw Christian values weee introduced in the year 30 AD so I’m not so sure you can just ditch them for convenience in the 1600s even?
Not sure I’d be relying Nietzche either to back up ANY argument unless you have NS sympathies??

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

India’s proportion of wealth fell due to the industrialisation of the west not due to the shrinkage of the Indian economy.

The consequences of the withdrawal from India were tragic but were not an intended consequence and were not perpetrated by the British, who had successfully suppressed large scale inter-communal violence during their rule.

The idea that you expect the 17th century to adhere to an idealised version of Christian morality, (they had been told it was bad so should have stopped. Why did no one else think of that?); and that you believe Nietzsche to be a Nazi, shows that you understand neither History or Philosophy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matthew Powell
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Game set and match to you in my opinion.

Bulent Acar
Bulent Acar
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Thank you for countering the ignorant accusation of Nietzsche being a Nazi.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

What’s your excuse for your hero* chums the IRA in the 70s, 80s and 90s?
Nobody I know or am related to has ever murdered anyone. Can you say the same? Are you sure?
We don’t need lectures from a rabble of savages who were murdering children 20-odd years ago, thanks. If we do, Ireland will be our first port of call. You’re welcome.
* I say “you” and “your hero” etc throughout in exactly the same sense you do.

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Are you really saying, or implying, that the people of Ireland are savages?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

I’m generalising ignorantly and insultingly about the Irish in exactly the same way Liam does about the British. If I’m wrong so is he.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Specifically what exactly was it that I said that was ignorant (inaccurate?), or insultingabout the British. I was commenting on History: none of those I commented on are alive.. have I insulted the dead?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

He obviously is unaware of Ireland’s long history of spreading Christianity, educating middle ages Europe and being the UN’s foremost peacekeeping nations. We also count 4 Nobel prizes for literature and have the oldest written language in Europe so “savages” is probably a bit unfair! Of course we di have a few like any other country but not us all surely?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Oh dear: you sound like a guy who’s in need of s little TLC. FYI I condemned every IRA atrocity as it happened, as well as the Loyalist and Paratroop Regiment atrocities (just as the ECJ condemned the internment, torture and shoot to kill policy perpetrated at the time: unacceptable apparently, in any other part of the UK).
I am utterly opposed to violence of any kind except in the very limited circumstances of self defence/ defence of one’s family and family home: and I guess I would intervene if I witnessed an attack of someone unable to defend him/herself.
All else I consider utterly reprehensible from whatever quarter. I have no chums in the IRA nor would I ever have Jon. You jump to conclusions.
I think it should be permitted for me to make a comment without suffereing the vitriol of someone who is as prejudiced and narrow minded as you.. but I still tolerate you because it’s probably not entirely your fault?
I also blame your parents, education (or lack of both?) and the unfortunate subculture you clearly had to endure as you grew up.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“ I still contend that, on balance, the world British Empire left was a better one than it was founded in. That, in no small part, was due to its existence.”

Great line. Sums it up beautifully. I hope I’ll remember it the next time the subject comes up in conversation.

David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Why is It always the people that suggest you study a little history that really should have done the same prior to making such a ludicrous statement as ‘the wanton starvation to death of a million Irish…’
The Famine of 1845 was not exclusive to Ireland. There were 50,000 deaths in Belgium and Prussia, As well as the plant disease that came from America that destroyed the potatoes. wheat and rye failed in Russia and Spain. The difficulty with Ireland was not only that it was hugely over-populated at the time-8 million to todays 5 million(and 15 million in England at the time) but also their total reliance on potatoes for every meal-breakfast,lunch and diner. There had been considerable efforts to change the Irish diet prior to the Potato Famine and they came to no avail. The English PM Peel imported maize from America to feed 500,000, suspended the corn Laws, gave ÂŁ9.5 million(equivalent of 1/6th of total state spending) to support Ireland, a further ÂŁ435,000 was raised by collections in England, to which the Irish Nationalists wanted to reject because they saw it was begging appeals to England. In todays money this combined ÂŁ10 million is equivalent of ÂŁ2 billion. Further the Public Works(Irish) Bill was introduced to provide employment for 700,000(more than the total employed in agriculture). Food exports to England were dwarfed by the maize purchases by the British Govt. from America.
Just because you are married to an English Woman clearly does not mean you are not anti-English or perhaps I will say generously, as it is coming upto Christmas, and the birth of the anniversary of the birth of the only non-sinner to have ever walked this planet, the Lord Jesus Christ, that others have told you half truths and you believed there was no need for further research!
I wish you a very happy Christmas

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

Thank you for some real context to the famine. My vague knowledge, as an Englishman, was that we didn’t cover ourselves in glory. No doubt still true, but this is welcome balance. Nothing is ever black and white.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Sadly, it’s not accurate either: the timing is a little off! Read my detailed response above…

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

There were deaths in Britain, particularly Norfolk, I recall reading somewhere.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

A few points: if Ireland, approx half the size of England was “grossly overpopulated” with 8m why was England not the same with its 15m? Do the maths!
As with the Scots the English landlords wanted sheep and cattle, not people in the country so the had the Highland clearances. In Ireland they were presented with a stroke of gook luck. Famine!
The job was completed by the landlord class paying for the passage to the US et al – very decent of them but the conditions on board were similar to the slave ships used just before: (maybe the same ships?) – they were called “coffin ships”. Another million left Ireland but a great many of thise also died on those dreadful, desperate voyages. If you want an incling of more recent atrocities I suggest you see the film “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”.
And as its the season of goodwill I will wish you, in the name of Jesus my hero, a happy and better informed New Year.
The relief did come but it was too little and too late: it occurred after some decent English (and Anglo-Irish) Clergy and others were FINALLY listened to by the govt. Our govt by the way! Had it come on time and had Irish cattle, pigs an corn not been exported then a million deaths would not have occurred, obviously!
The reason for the failure to aid the starving Irish was that it was “God’s will” to have them starve! The relief works asked weak, starving men to traipse several miles and do hard work when they couldn’t stand!
The reason the Irish relied on potatoes so much was that thanks to the Penal laws** (repealed only a generation before) family holdings had, by law, to be divided among all the male children: so that holdings were so small only potatoes would be viable!
**The penal also laws banned education, the Irish language and the RC faith under pain of harsh punishment: even death..
I believe it was you, sadly that was sold the half truths. I’m surprised logic didn’t inform you? How do a million people starve to death with all that relief flowing?
But yes, in this seasin of gooodwill I will repeat that I hold no living Englishman responsibile for any atrocities committed by their forefathers: we shall not visit the sins of the father upon the sons!
The were decent Englishmen in Ireland during the period: several of them: in all probability you’re decended from one of those eh?
It’s just that if you guys insist of looking for all the good done during the Colonial days (I’m sure there was some, Ireland included) you need to be a bit more balanced. When your inadequate schooling on Irish history needs to be corrected we Irish reserve the right to do so.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liam O'Mahony
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Are you saying there was no fighting in Ireland before the British arrived; it was an island famed for it’s peace and tranquility ?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

No: there qere skirmishes. In 1014 we expelled the Vikings: that was a bit of a skirmish and all!: we did however have a unified ser of laws unlike you guys.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

So cattle raids did not take place then?

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Its a fair comment, however, likely I think you are mistaken. Irelands current economy is based on low taxes, which the globalists are keen to close that loophole. What happens then?

Last edited 2 years ago by Bret Larson
Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I am for some reason unable to add a “like” but I certainly do. Wonderful riposte to a very poor article.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Don’t worry too much , I added a like and it did four.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

I thought it was my phone. I tap like an epileptic morse operator, and deliver: nothing, a down vote, or a bushel of likes.

David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Great comment and no doubt Matthew you would be an enthusiastic supporter of https://historyreclaimed.co.uk/

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

Thanks. Your comment on the Irish famine was very educational for me. I’ll be sure to check out the link you posted.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Thank you. Saved me the effort of trying to express the same sentiments so clearly.

Alan Hawley
Alan Hawley
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

This post starts with the myth that Brexit enabled “global Britain”. The UK was always able to trade with the rest of the world while a member of the EU, included the Asian and other growing markets. Germany and France do rather well in those markets! EU membership does not appear to have hindered German car exports, for example.  The UK has not opened up these and other markets by leaving the EU. Most of the “new” trade agreements are “rolled over” from the EU trade agreements.  
The EU never imposed an economic model on the UK of any significance, because UK and EU thinking on most economic issues were similar, not surprising since the UK had input to EU economic decisions from the moment it joined the EU. Brussels did not write the annual UK budget, for example. Tax, apart from VAT (a key element in the Single Market) remained outside the competence of the EU. The UK competition laws and those of the EU were and are very similar. Brexiteers never dared to talk about the limited nature of the EU competences, as to which, see https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/faq-eu-competences-and-commission-powers_en.
 Most EU legislation continues in force in the UK post-Brexit as “retained EU legislation”, and the plans to change some laws have been described by one law firm as of little significance. Many of the proposed changes could have been made anyway. 
 The UK still has to comply with Single Market quality standards in order to export to EU member states, which remain the UK’s biggest market, but it no longer has the legal ability to influence those standards.
The UK was better able to assert its influence against China by remaining a member of the EU. See for example the EU steel anti-dumping measures.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Hawley
Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Hawley

Yes, nations in the EU can trade with anyone in the world but not on the most favourable terms. They remain captive to the vested interests of their neighbours, rather than what is optimal for their economy.

The UK has to meet EU standards only when exporting to the EU, where as before we had to meet EU standards regardless of the destination of the product. This rule is the same when exporting to anywhere in the world.

The EU has virtually no ability to project power in a geopolitical stage. They couldn’t even stand up to the Russian economy, which is a tiny fraction of its size, because it has free loaded off American defence and has no coherent unified interests.

Alan Hawley
Alan Hawley
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

So how come the UK has simply rolled over so many EU trade agreements? Any why would the UK with a small consumer population compared to that of the EU get better deals than those achieved by the EU, apart from niche products? And give me the names of those companies that are introducing two lines of products, those conforming to high EU standards and those confirming to (presumably lower) UK standards, assuming that in future UK standards differ markedly from EU standards? And to say that the EU member states, with some of the biggest economies in the world, is unable to project geopolitical power is obviously unrealistic. Certainly it has greater power that the UK, standing alone.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Grand words but sadly utterly lacking in truth, devoid of even a scintilla of fact (or detail). Pie in the sky: delusions of grandeur: vain hopes. In short a total fiction. Saying it doesn’t make it so. This contribution is so lacking in substance it’s impossible to even begin to address it. The democratic nation state you say? Surely you’re not referring to the Eton PPU chums laughing with scorn as they flush poor old Blighty down the jolly ol’ plug hole are you?
OMG.. The big squeeze: 4% reduction in GDP: €1,200 less in the average family income: trade screwed: business f..ked (to use the PMs own language): shortages everywhere. Wow.. you’re bringing on the Meraverse a bit early I think?

Last edited 2 years ago by Liam O'Mahony
Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Any great empire involving millions of human beings, will have examples of crime, sin, excess, corruption and so on. (See Genghis, Rome, Persia etc).

The wonder of the British empire does not lie in its failings. Mankind always falls. No, the wonder is in the extraordinary decency and courage of so many of its people, the genuine desire to build and improve the world – in the image of Britain, usually. The wonder is not the years of slavery, but stopping it with sea power. Or abolishing widows dying in fire, or imprisoning criminals in India instead of crushing them by elephant.

My feeling is that, in general, British presence was usually an improvement over the constant tribal war that was stopped by British regiments. The empire dragged a lot of places like Sarawak in Borneo from continuous slaughter and savagery into the modern era. Places like Hong Kong, Calcutta and Canada were created whole, pretty much. (Or saved fron the French, which is just as good.)

The love of that empire is shown in all those who came to save her in WW2 – from India, Nepal, Australia, Africa, Canada, America etc. Millions. That is the only proof that matters. Bless em all.
The French of course, formed the Vichy government and we had to sink their fleet.

All lights fade, even the brightest. Still, on balance
 I think we can be pretty proud of our particular bonfire on the hill.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I agree, except for the francophobic comments. They had their Empire too of course, although their abandonment of it was generally much more bitterly contested and bloody.

Something like Vichy would very likely have happened here had it not been for the Channel and then the very close run thing of Churchill’s selection as Tory leader and Prime Minister.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I think resistance in 1940 wasn’t down solely to the Channel and Churchill. We suffered less than France in WWI, we knew we had the support of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose contribution even on the Western Front was much greater than their populations would imply, we had a navy powerful enough to protect the sea lanes, including to the USA, with whom we shared a language and much else. I could go on.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Great comment

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I am reading The Last Imperialist recommended on these pages by Prof Tombs a couple of weeks ago. Fascinating look at how the British Empire was run in its final stages and the care that its administrators took in trying to build up self-governing institutions in the colonies to make them ready for independence.
It contains a particularly compelling comparison between Haiti’s bloody history and the benign post-independence years in The Bahamas, hinting that it was the deliberately slow introduction and development of democratic government in Nassau (under the protection of London) that meant its political parties were seen as legitimate after independence. Haiti on the other hand went from revolution to chaos that continues to this day.
Well worth a read.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I agree,well said

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I, too can agree with what you say, but believe it would have been better without the comment about the French.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Well said Dan. That certainly needs to be said.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Apart from the absurd non-sequitur of a title, for which perhaps the author is not responsible, this article really is utter elitist claptrap!

First of all, no nation is obliged, by some law of nature, to undertake endless masochistic and divisive navel gazing, one by the way that most ordinary people are completely uninterested in, having more important things to worry about, which will soon include a major inflation problem.

Then there is the disingenuous attitude to the ‘woke’ phenomenon – you see it goes back to the 1930s and black people needing to be wary of assaults and lynching in the American South! There is in fact very little connection to the modern Identitarian Left, which uniquely condemns Western culture and history, while exonerating any other. In fact despite saying how much they support ‘diversity’, the Left know little and care less about any the history of other the civilisation.

It should be obvious that a society which its intellectuals teach its own citizens to loathe cannot be expected to defend itself, whether in the battle of ideas or any other. The US may be already lost. Its military, for example, is focused on (1) buying a lot of expensive kit (much of it now abandoned in Afghanistan), and (2) making sure the armed forces are as diverse as possible, with identity promoted over ability or even patriotism. This is NOT a mistake the Chinese, or even the Russians are making.

In his condemnation of the Right, which may have some political but almost no cultural power in much of the West, Mount seems completely unconcerned in the stoking up the relative power of authoritarian adversaries, just as do the ‘woke’ brigade he defends.

And there is the usual condescension and tin ear for what most ordinary people rather than political activists in this country actually WANT, which includes proper robust controls on immigration and, yes, avoiding a complete demographic and cultural transformation of the society they live in. Mount seems to make a plea for a ‘liberal’ immigration policy (or perhaps ‘virtue signals’ towards it), apparently so that modern day Britons can ‘atone’ for the supposed sins of the political leaders hundreds of years ago, who had the same colour skin.

Neither the UK nor any other serious country can solve the world’s many problems by allowing in an unlimited number of people of completely different, and by the way often very illiberal cultures, into its territory. By the way a very small proportion of modern migrants have anything to do with the Empire, which
in any case, was dissolved 60 years ago.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Your first paragraph is absolutely spot on. Why this moron thinks anybody should spend time away from worrying about the mortgage, keeping the kids out of trouble etc., to ponder the colonial legacy of the elites of yesteryear is a mystery.

I like reading contra points of view on Unherd, but this is really poor quality drivel.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

People like Mount do have time on their hands.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Good on you Andrew.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Great comment

Bob Pugh
Bob Pugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Fortunately it is only amongst the lefty leaners that this weired guilt need exists, the other 70% of the general public are just intent on getting on with their lives and couldn’t give a ………….

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
2 years ago

Mr Mount, why do you consider only two options: woke or dead? To them can be added “alive and not woke”.

On Empire, has there been a single one in history that has not had slavery or dominated other nations or peoples? Even smaller entities, like tribes have taken the people of other tribes and treated them badly, mostly very badly. Until the great awakening of the Enlightenment, was it not normal, de rigeur even, for progressive nations to create international empires with all the advantages to the home nation, irrespective of the disadvantages to others? In those times empire building was an overwhelmingly respected, perhaps even necessary, occupation for any nation with ambitions to do better in the world. It was normal and nearly everybody did it or they wanted to do it.

And as empires go, I’d venture the British Empire was the very best! Trade based, stable, long term, building joint British and local governmental structures wherever possible, fostering mutual respect and producing the world-class post-colonial collaborative, mutually supportive group: The Commonwealth.

Turning to the vast Transatlantic slave trade was it not made entirely possible, because of the pre-existing, traditional slave trade within Africa itself? The European colonialists turned out to be, essentially, new customers for the native slave traders. In this both (black) seller and (white) buyer were complicit and can there really be any rational argument that could convince that one is more complicit than the other? There was no one “colour” of a people to blame for Slavery. They were effectively all at it.

Until Britain decided to formally stop it’s own involvement in slavery. And once they did, then to make a fully serioustry to get other countries to stop it too, despite great, voluntary, costs in doing so. Britain had the moral courage to do so. This was no post-modern lust to “be on the right side of history”, no cheap vain calculation – just a general public view that came to a head because of some brave, inspired individuals who made it their collective mission to stop slavery for all in the world. And if the British Empire had not been as strong as it was, then the number and the suffering of slaves of other countries would have grown and suffered far longer without British intervention.

We can be proud of the British Empire (by the values of its time) and equally proud of its singular role in putting an end to world-wide slavery.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Kiat Huang

Well said

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Kiat Huang

And of course ‘reparation’ eas paid by Britain for the slave trade but sadly, not to the slaves! but rather to the slavers! Sure you couldn’t make it up!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Would you rather no reparations were paid, and the empire descended into a violent civil war as was seen in the States?
Whilst to modern society slavery is rightly immoral, unfortunately it was a legitimate business at the time, and had been since the earliest civilisations. If you owned a dairy farm, then the government decided that keeping cows was to be outlawed wouldn’t you expect to be compensated for the cattle you’d just purchased in the days before?

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I thought reparations were paid to the slave owners. Are you not comparing slaves to cattle?

Jamie Smith
Jamie Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

The ownership was like that of owning cattle. The slaves themselves were freed, so not like cattle.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

I can read this kind of disingenuous cRap from the privileged elite in the Guardian for free

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

I subscribe to Unherd precisely to get away from these people. Unfortunately they seem to have followed me, still spouting their disingenuous cRap, as you term it.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

The article was exceptionally well-argued, but it was nevertheless well-argued cRap.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

I disagree. It reads like the incoherent ravings of a writer getting his drunk on.

David B
David B
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Well-argued? That’s rather expanding the definition. This was very poorly argued, but maybe that’s only for those who have the slightest interest in the subject matter. I daresay it appears well-argued to the uninformed or uninterested.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

I usually try and avoid this rubbish. I don’t know why Unherd let it in? Probably they think we can take it and defend ourselves, but too much can have a dire affect if we don’t have our armour on.

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

I think the clue is in the word “UnHerd”

Jane McCarthy
Jane McCarthy
2 years ago

One of the reasons I stopped reading the Guardian was because I felt there was no balance. Every article is a self-indulgent progressive left whinge. Further, comments are just a complete echo-chamber. There is no space for a different take or viewpoint and such diversity seems to be anathema to the editors.
I’m glad this article was included in Unherd. It offers an opportunity for other voices. Unherd loses integrity and authority if it is just the Guardian’s mirror-image.
The fact that this article is a poorly reasoned ramble is even more of a plus because it exposes the lack of coherent thinking from the progressive left. I applaud the author for being brave enough to expose himself to Unherd comments (or perhaps he dares not read them…).

Lou Campbell
Lou Campbell
2 years ago

I forced myself to finish reading this article, but it was so poorly argued in relation to modern reality
which was surely the point I had to finish so I could comment.

Using examples from 1938 Alabama, Powell from 1950 and 1975
 Then suddenly launches into Brexiteers (30 years later) using what I can only describe as leaps of illogic posed as logic.

Apparently Brexiteers
– cannot imagine sharing a “simple code of practice”,
-are comparable to calling 100 years, many countries atrocities & murder of millions by Communists as “not properly tried”
– Heartless extremists who want no immigration and have no humanity and would rather see people drown
oh and all with “hostile vigilance”

– Then we go back to referencing someone from that died in 1869 (Palmerston)?!
– Compare the British Empire to the Romans and Ottomans rather than the vastly more appropriate French, Portuguese or Dutch.

He grabs random facts from history that suit his argument, then tries to shoehorn this into justifying Brexiteers = horrible stupid people.
In a word, Remoaner.

I’ve probably missed a lot but I’ve made my point I hope.
Unherd, disappointed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lou Campbell
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Lou Campbell

Spot on

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Bollis
Kit Read
Kit Read
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Powell was pro Common Market in the early 1960s until he realised it was more than a train bloc and wanted a united states of Europe with common currency. In the Heath government 197001974 he actively campaigned and voted agains membership of the Common Market

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Lou Campbell

….or Belgian or Spanish or Russian or Chinese or Mughal or …

Tamara Perez
Tamara Perez
2 years ago
Reply to  Lou Campbell

As if the Ottoman Empire was benign.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I am still trying to figure out which one of the guys in the picture above, rolling the statue, is the author.

“The Right, more rampant and paranoid than at any time since the war,”

sure….

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I live in Bristol and recognise the two on the right. In particular, I once had a run-in with the one on the furthest right during a previous Bristolian riot in, I think, 2011. I was sitting in a cafe/bar called the Canteen 100 yards down the road from the riot, and he was at the next door table holding forth to his mates. Exasperated by his continual swearing, I looked him in the face and said “f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g f_____g”. He looked very sheepish and, somewhat to his credit, moderated his language.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Indeed, although they seem to be a different lot from the ones in the photo at the top of this article.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Yes you’re right, it’s odd.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I guess the ones who put the rope around the statue and pulled it down are a different lot from the quartet who rolled it through St Augustines and dumped it in the harbour.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Example of the great British justice system ala the Birmingham 6 perhaps. Oh so much to celebrate with this British superiority thing!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

You really have a chip on your shoulder. am surprised you are still married, if indeed you are

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Are you saying vandalism shouldn’t be a crime?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Do one, you stupid d1ckhead.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Good on you!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The danger of the far right is regularly trundled out to make any number of sloppy arguments, yet the far right generally represents a sliver of a population and is not the reason that there is heightened discord between left and right.
What is happening is that there is a backlash against the radical left, to the extent that classical liberals and the centre left are moving to centre right.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

According to David Goodhart in his book The Road to Somewhere, the hard right, of whom the far right presumably constitute a subset, constitute approximately 7% of the population.
“a backlash against the radical left, to the extent that classical liberals and the centre left are moving to centre right.”
You may be right, and I really hope you are.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

There aren’t enough actual neo-Nazi types in Britain to fill a moderately sized parish hall. Whereas organised, dedicated communists, anarchists and other radical leftists are ten-a-penny on university campuses. And that is before you look at the numbers of Islamists, IRA supporters and so on. The actual threat to democracy from NF supporters is miniscule and constantly being exaggerated.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Well said. I completely agree. The threat from Marxist/communist/woke left dwarfs that of the fascist/Nazi left.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

For a moment I thought you said the threat was from Marxist/communist/woke left drawfs!
That’s no way to talk about Lord Adonis

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Haha! Yes, I did have the intimation that my comment was open to such a misinterpretation.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I am one of them!

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Yes. I’m one of them.
Love, an ex Labour and Remain voter

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago

Mr. Mount says “Nobody serious can deny that Empire made us who we are today”. I deny it. I might have my faults, but lack of seriousness is not one of them. Mr. Mount’s assertion is the one regularly trotted out by lazy leftists who just want to have a dig at “Britishness”, but can’t think of anything specific. Frequent regurgitation by the usual suspects does not make an assertion true.
Quoting Lead Belly out of time and context does not help the article’s central thesis. “Woke” in the 1930’s Southern States meant something totally different from the woke-think gripping the quango queens who are currently in charge of civic UK.

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter Francis
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

The term ‘woke’ then was a Christian religious trope: ‘Sleepers Awake’. Leadbelly will have been familiar with Church music.

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

I was not alive when the British Empire was great (or even really existed). My parents were not alive when the British Empire was great. My Grandparents would have seen the start of the end of the British Empire but as he was a Railway Clerk in the North East of England I’m not sure how much contact he had with it.
Not withstanding all that I’m still supposed to be affected in my outlook on everything by it, what utter …..

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Wylde

Much the same. Dirt poor ancestors on both sides who worked like dogs in field and factory, owned nothing and died young and worn out. And none of them appear to have given a monkey’s about the empire, they were too busy surviving

Joffre Woods
Joffre Woods
2 years ago

What I like about Unherd is right here, the article putting one side, the comments the other. Regarding the idea suggested by the article; again if you’re asking me to not love my country for what she is, her history, her people & her culture, then you’re wasting your ink. If you’re asking me to view it all critically- I do, but I still love her. As I’ve said numerous times of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur; I love her like a wayward child. I love her failings, though they pain me often. Wokery is a negative for those it disempowers. In this respect I do choose death. Begone.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Joffre Woods

Wonderful comment, really important. Tottenham Hotspur, wonderful!
Death… preferable to wokery, so true.

Alexander Morrison
Alexander Morrison
2 years ago

I’m not surprised to see that this has already generated so many comments by 7am! Definitely calculated to provoke many UnHerd readers, but they deserve credit for publishing it – a testament to their editorial credo of avoiding the echo chamber you see in most other outlets.
I disagree with quite a lot of what Mount says here – there is an interesting debate to be had about the relative levels of violence employed by the British state and its colonial satellites, its predecessors and successors in the regions it conquered, and the other European colonial empires – but I think it is too complex for a comment. I will focus on just two aspects – the economic illiteracy of most imperial critics, and their obsession with the idea that imperial nostalgia caused Brexit (and yes, I was a Remainer – but we have lost that battle).

usually omitting the reality that the prime purpose in building them was to ferry troops quicker to suppress native disturbances and to carry British goods to the furthest corners of India at the cruel expense of native producers.

Mount here is buying into the bogus ‘drain theory’ first put forward by Indian nationalists more than a century ago to explain India’s dramatic fall from a pre-eminent position as a manufacturing centre and its profound rural and urban poverty. He needs to read Tirthankar Roy on India’s economic history – suffice to say that whatever British motives for building them (and they certainly weren’t altruistic) the railways had a transformative and beneficial effect on India’s economy, integrating markets and ultimately eliminating famine (with the exception of 1943 in Bengal). Tombs is also not wrong to describe the empire as an economic burden – two thirds of Britain’s trade in the 19th century was outside the empire. Many non-imperial areas such as Latin America saw far higher returns on British investment and trade than India, let alone many African colonies, yet the British did not have to bear the cost of administering and defending them – this is Robinson & Gallagher’s famous ‘imperialism of free trade’. The motives for imperial conquest were mixed, and sometimes involved profit (at least to a well-connected minority) but just as often questions of prestige and power. Why does Mount think British domestic living standards and spending on social welfare shot up so dramatically only after the imperial retreat began?
Connected with this, I just don’t buy the idea that Brexit was a product of imperial nostalgia – maybe for some of its ideological proponents, but certainly not for those who voted for it in such large numbers. Hardly any of them were old enough to remember the empire, to which most Britons remained rather shamefully indifferent in any case. What they were nostalgic for – if nostalgia was part of it – was the period from the 1950s – 1970s when for the first time Britain developed a national rather than an imperial economy, and not coincidentally there was a great equalisation of wages and living standards across the board. David Edgerton (no fan of Brexit) has argued this in the pages of the New Statesman, no less – and I find it convincing.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

It’s nothing more than an insultingly facile and badly argued provocation.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

That is a very thoughtful comment. It seems as if Mount is at least partly motivated by the almost incoherent and irrational rage felt by many public ‘intellectuals’ at Brexit. It was simply a vote to leave an ‘ever closer’ political union. By the way no other groups of states anywhere in the world are following the EU model, despite many of THEIR people somehow having a view on Brexit! (Will Canada join the US?!).

I also voted Remain, but their antics and the reaction of the EU elites changed my mind.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

It’s my opinion that the only people obsessed with the empire are those on the “progressive” left. I went to school in the 60s and learned that Britain once had an empire, much as I learned that Rome had an empire, and I learned about the slave trade and the East India Company and Hasting etc, but here’s the important thing – it was history, I was neither proud nor ashamed about the empire because I was always taught in my history lessons that one should be objective and non-judgemental, looking at things from the perspective of the past as much as is possible. The up-shot of all this is that I have never been nostalgic about the empire, and when I was considering how I would vote in the referendum, the empire played absolutely no part in my final decision.

I do remember asking my father, who grew up with the empire, how he regarded it, and other than getting a day off school for Empire Day it was of no concern to him or his family, they were just trying to make ends meet in the inter-war years, the empire was something the elite of the day were concerned about. So, it would seem it’s really only the elites who are empire-conscious.

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
2 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. The empire was taught as history and people nostalgic about it were regarded as a bit of a joke.It was like being nostalgic for Imperial Rome. My parents grew up between the wars and my dad said it was obvious then that it was falling to bits and unsustainable – like most working class people at the time, he neither knew much about it nor cared

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

Quite my experience too.

David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago

Alexander, I agree with what you say and would like to add a little on Indian Famines and the Bengal Famine of 1943, which goes alongside my other comment in relation to the Irish Famine and what in fact the English tried to do to help the Irish. The British in India created the first Famine Codes in the World in 1880. Whilst irrigation in the Indus waters has provided the basis for successful agriculture since time immemorial, British Engineers around 1850 started to build the largest system of waterworks in history. 40,000 miles of canals and irrigated 20 million acres including the fantastic dam ay Tansa in Bombay. In the Indus Basin we cut a mesh of canals from the 5 great rivers of the Punjab and created settlements and food where none existed before saving millions from annual famine and over-crowding. India would continue to have famines in 1876-9,1889-91 amd 1896-1902 but so also did China,Brazil and East Africa. In 1943, we were fighting WW2 on 4 fronts-Bombing Germany, Fighting in North Africa, Holding the Mediterranean and Atlantic with our Royal Navy and fighting in the East-India and Burma. The Japanese controlled Burma and with it a huge amount of the rice that would normally find its way to India. As well as this and the terrible flooding caused by the El Nino effect, there was certainly inept management not in small part caused by having a lot of challenges Worldwide. We were however not indifferent to the plight of these Indians. We requested ships to carry food from the Americans but they refused and we spent ÂŁ700 million in todays money and saved 10s of milllions. The later arrival of Field Marshal Viscount Wavell as the new viceroy with drive and enthusiasm plus an improved harvest alleviated the crises.
As you read the comments written by the critics of the British Empire, one realises that in fact what they are all saying is that the British should have done and achieved more, if you want been almost super human. We were good, even very good but we were not super human!

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

I think this article deserves an expletive: tosh!
Suggestions for improving the title:
We love EU!
What did the British ever do for us?
How to quote selectively and influence people.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

I have previously enjoyed one of Mount’s books (a couple of decades old). It seems that ‘softening of the brain’ has since taken place.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

He’s in his 80’s. I guess we must make allowances.

Edward Jones
Edward Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

So is Joe Biden.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Edward Jones

In his case we can’t afford to make allowances, because there is a great deal more at stake.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I thought the main reason for Brexit was that a monetary union of budgetary sovereign states is doomed to fail. Of course it is also nice to be able actually have control of your own country.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

That’s certainly a very good reason indeed for voting for Brexit, although my own primary motivation for doing so was the impact of continuous mass immigration on housing, public services, and C2DE wages.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Decades ago I used to debate with my friend in London that the EU was going to fail because of the common currency – I didn’t particularly dwell on it until the vote came up and realized that there was far more at stake (I live in South Africa). She changed tack and voted OUT!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

My father was a fairly substantial UKIP donor and the treasurer of Business for Sterling, so I was well aware of the issues from a relatively early age.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I seem to remember during the referendum a figure of 3 million EU citizens was bandied around.
Apparently by 2020 nearly 6 million have already applied for Settled Status and another 2 million pre-settled, not to mention those who didn’t apply at all and the third of Britain’s homeless who are also EU citizens whom we are not allowed to deport, even though they have no legal right to be here and never did according to the EUs own rules (which we know very well mean almost nothing when the courts and lawyers can always prove they’re not a ‘clear and present threat’, something Remainers always neglect to mention when claiming we ‘always had control of our borders’). Basically over 10% of our population mostly added in the last 15 years is not something to be concerned about…….

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

A. How can you describe it as ‘mass’ immigration when most other EU countries were taking far more by % of population?
B. Surely you must pay for all your conolial plundering somehow? What do you propose?

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

There is so much opinion in this article as opposed to facts, I’m just going to pick out one piece of daftness. “the psychopathic temporary General Dyer.”
ï»ż Dyer was born in India 1864 and spent his early years there, he spoke fluent Hindustani. Europeans like him and their families lived with the 1857 Indian Rebellion massacres of European men, women and children, over 2000 casualties, fresh in their minds.
He was an experienced soldier, had rescued the fort at Chitral amongst other actions. The massacre at Amritsar was roundly and rightly condemned in Britain. The evidence against Dyer however, in the cold light of day, seems to show that fear and paranoia about the risk of another rebellion (there had been attacks on Europeans in the days just prior), caused him to over react and make a serious error of judgement and tragedy ensued.
There is no evidence of psychopathy in Dyer’s life either before the massacre or after. It is merely an insult to add force to an opinion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Thank you for this. I did wonder

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Is there anything more reactionary and regressive than UK Remainers looking back wistfully to an EU paradise that never was?

David B
David B
2 years ago

Nice!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  David B

I have explained my mixed feelings about the EU in more detail in this comment on another EU thread: https://unherd.com/2021/12/corruption-will-always-thrive-in-the-eu/#comment-267349

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

It is precisely because we owe the Empire so much that we are still an important power. None of these stupid protesters would want to live in a poorer country, but they hate the very reason for their quality of life.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

Mount is an aristocrat. There has been a persistent strain of aristocratic resentment at democratic bourgeois liberalism for centuries in British politics. Leftist politics have always been quasi-aristocratic in tone. Eton and Balliol is no barrier to communism, for instance.

Last edited 2 years ago by Arnold Grutt
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

They look like a crazy mob to me. I don’t know which one the author is.

Bob Bobbington
Bob Bobbington
2 years ago

I’ve wasted enough time reading the article, so I’ll limit my comment here to: “selective, misinterpreted drivel.”

Lou Campbell
Lou Campbell
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

I wish I done the same, for once I started picking things out I got more I rate than appropriate for this time of morning!

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
2 years ago

This is a very one-sided article. All nations need to ‘struggle with the past’ (I think there is a wonderful German portmanteau word for this) but it needs to be balanced and honest: the woke teleological view of British history, ‘from unequal trade to slavery to industrialisation to capitalism and imperialism (Marx’s ‘Imperialism, the highest form of Capitalism’) to post-colonial exploitation and modern-day racism’ has a caricature truth about it but doesn’t bear much scrutiny.

I would have loved to study the history of empire at school and university but even my reading since suggests nuance is required not bold, and inaccurate strokes. We should also distinguish carefully between Ă©lite history, for which the caricature may hold more water, and the lot of ordinary people, who mostly lived poor, ill lives, and died young: there were no ‘splendid far pavilions’ for them and I still believe one could write a respectable, if certainly not complete, history of these Isles in which the concerns of empire, trade, slavery and its abolition, and colonialism, were bit parts.

I look forward to reading ‘Empireland’ but I really don’t accept the central premise, that all can be explained by our imperial history. For me, the things that distinguish us: the rule of law (and equality before the law), representative government (though it was a long time before we became a representative democracy), and a sceptical, slightly detached mode of thinking, long precede the imperial moment.

It seems to me that ‘better woke than dead’ is completely wrong; woke is being dead to the rich patterns of our history and instead seeks to simplify complexity, not to clarify, but to achieve very particular and modern political ends.

Red Reynard
Red Reynard
2 years ago

 He [Sathnam Sanghera] describes that upbringing in in his touching memoir The Boy with the Topknot. When he first went to school, he was unable to speak English, but he finished up at the great Wolverhampton Grammar School and then got a first in English at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He thus has the most intense imperial legacy, from Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech all the way back to the massacre of hundreds of Sikhs at Amritsar by the psychopathic temporary Brigadier Dyer.”
Yes he does. In fact his Imperial legacy is far greater than that. There is the country that took his forebears to it’s bosom; The NHS that lifted him squalling from his mother’s birthing bed; The NHS that nurtured him through post-natal support; The NHS that kept him alive through immunisation against deadly diseases; The primary schools that took the non-English speaking boy and gave him a voice; The Grammar school that nurtured his inquisitive mind; The largely peaceful easygoing society that helped him flourish in safety;
Finally the University system that gave him the opportunity to forget the Imperial legacy’s largess – and the Common Law which gives him the freedom to express such without fear of reprisal.
How dare you suggest that the only Imperial legacy is negative. None of the above would have been possible if not for the Empire’s success in bringing half of the world to trade in the marketplace; thereby providing wealth for itself and it’s denizens.
As for Brexit – when an MEP is allowed to table a motion for consideration into EU law, then it may just be worthy of the title ‘Parliament’.
You, sir, are a simplistic cretin. 

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Red Reynard

That last sentence is worthy of David Starkey, who used the same insult in reply to someone I know of who asked him a ridiculous question at a book signing. Uptick for that alone.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Did he write that when he signed the book? What a cracking dedication!

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Red Reynard

On the whole we can be proud of the British Empire’s achievments but we still have to make our way in the worldas it is and not rest on the achievements of the past as good as they were.

gavin.thomas
gavin.thomas
2 years ago

What a ridiculous article – written by someone with little knowledge of ‘the colonies’.
I’m not aware of ANY connection between ‘Brexiteers’ and the ‘Empire’ other than wanting to reconnect with the Commonwealth.
As someone who was born in Pakistan and lived most of my early life in Africa and the West Indies, there is no doubt that Britain was a force for good in the world.
Roads, schools, harbours, power stations, water works, government buildings, sanitation, justice, the list of British achievements is very long – and unlike France, Spain, Holland and other European ‘Imperialists’, Britain did not force its culture onto its colonies. Tribes and religions were left to their own devices.
Only when the British left, did some of these former colonies go downhill – but that has nothing to do with Britain. Many reverted to tribalism and some simply deserted the principles of Western husbandry to create their own version of deprivation.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

“… By the time of the first referendum in 1975, he had become apocalyptic about the dangers of staying in the EU …”

A pedantic point, but there was no EU at the time, nor do I recall any references to such, in the 70s or the 80s by any politician. That came later. The ‘blob’ was referred to as either the EEC or the Common Market.

“… For Brexiteers, the suppression of imperial memory becomes almost as important for the future of the nation as the promotion of the project was in its heyday …”

A comical sentence, given that the *entire European integration project was a willed act of collective amnesia by a whole continent* – to push into the background the horrors of their own acts through the 20th century. I don’t ever recall any European bring up fascism voluntarily as a casual topic of discussion. If ever discussed, there is a mood and tone adopted, almost liturgical, and consciously ‘neutral’, no casual comments volunteered, a silence almost, as though actively conscious to avoid treading on eggshells.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

We have had a thousand years of the rule of law and yet were drifting into laws made by Europe who have had nothing like our democracy. Think of Hitler, Mussolini, Napolean, Gen Franco etc. etc.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
2 years ago

What planet is Mount on? When will he and his ilk get it into their skulls that Brexit had nothing to do with Empire and that Brexiteers did not get anything ‘wrong’ about it because they never even considered it. And it’s not the Right that is ‘rampant’ at the moment but Mount and his friends on the left. Their paranoia is evident in articles like this, which is just a lot of nonsense. Please Mr Mount, move on; Brexit is a fact, get used to it!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

The disgusting vice of wokeness is to be expected on the left. There is something especially nauseating about a Tory going woke #EdVaizeySyndrome.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I am afraid it is now also in the Tory party. Our own MP shows all the signs of it but mascarades as establishment.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

In addition to my earlier diatribe against this poor article, there is the infuriating dishonesty of claiming that the history of the Empire has somehow been ‘suppressed’ (until the brave BLM activists changed this in 2020). I have for example read about Warren Hastings in India from a child.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Precisely. Why the sudden ‘surprise’ about the Empire, as if some malign force had been suppressing knowledge of its existence for decades, and the Wokerati had only recently carried out some courageous feat of investigative journalism in bringing it to light?

The Empire, warts and all, has been in the history books and in popular consciousness all along.

And have you ever heard anyone – even the wildest enthusiast – maintain that it was an unalloyed good?

Mark Vivian
Mark Vivian
2 years ago

He almost hid his sneering condescension…almost.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

The phrase “For Brexiteers, the suppression of imperial memory becomes almost as important for the future of the nation as the promotion of the project was in its heyday” may hold for some who promoted it. And for sure there are lessons in history for those that would deny it – up to the point of this being used as a form of straw-man narrative warfare against those who voted Leave for unrelated reasons. It is a wilfully myopic and monochromatic view of voters to do this.

As someone only tangentially connected to Wolverhampton through near death (last rites) my own vote was nothing to do with the place or its history. It was based post-Greece on three governance criteria: Legitimacy, Accountability and Responsiveness – and an EU failure on three counts (coupled with corruption) in common with all monolithic attempts to rule through one homogenizing lens over 500,000 people.

As for anyone having grown up in or around mixed B’ham it may be fair to say that Muslims for one will be safer in Britain than in most of Europe – let alone China, and the progress made notably by England to date is likely to be accentuated rather than decreased as necessary immigration is sourced on a needs basis from a wider pool than just Europe (where political discourse on racial issues and tolerance is hardly encouraging). Birmingham vs Marseille or Warsaw? Brum, any day.

Attempts to shoe-horn Brexit votes into negative stereotypes and Empire narratives per Fintan O’Toole, based on some Brexit promoters’ views but ignoring voters and Brexit critics’ own agendas, is misleading – and to date such efforts have failed to show much more than the authors’ own frustrations.

Many (wealthy grouping) Brexit critics ignore the yawning pockets of inequality writ ever larger across the EU, separating haves and have nots by Audi autobahn by-passes to second-home comfort zones and oligarch enclave resorts, while ignoring EU failures in terms of the euro, defence, borders and foreign policy that serve to entrench decline and keep Africans and others from competing in blatantly-protected trade.

Quite simply it is a monolithic Fortress Europe and as such prone to extremist capture – having used a Gramsci strategy itself. Michel Barnier’s own volte face from Brexit positions to stand in French elections speaks volumes about EU integrity – and gloomy France.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

[Deleted because the comment on which I was commenting has been edited into something new.]

Last edited 2 years ago by Wilfred Davis
Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

You were commenting during the writing/correcting. Too quick a bloke for me.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

Now that your comment is settled (I hope!), I find it excellent.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

As Nigel Farage’s famous words echoing in the EU so called paliament that cannot make any laws. Who are you? Ruled by a faceless unelected priveleged secret commitee that doesn’t seem to understand democracy.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 years ago

“The Right, more rampant and paranoid than at any time since the war,” Really? Who is he talking about? Someone who objects to being called a Terf? Someone who doesn’t like having their life destroyed by Cancel Culture? Members of the Conservative Party? Anyone who objects to identity politics?

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

The Barbary states of North Africa -modern Algeria, Tunisia, Libya- took thousands of white Christian european slaves.
The men were worked to death in the galleys; the women were for domestic slavery or the harem.
This didn’t end with Decatur’s raid on Tripoli in 1815, nor with Pellew’s attack on Algiers in 1816. It ended in 1830 when France colonised Algeria.
That’s only four years before the freeing of the last slaves in the West Indies. Are the societies of modern Algeria or Tunisia wracked with guilt over their past mistreatment of their slaves?

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

And then there was Tipu Tip. Always forgotten.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

I attended a small ceremony to put a blue plaque on a house in Brighton a couple of years ago. The plaque marked the home of Edward Bransfield a naval officer who took a ship into the Antarctic circle in 1820. A Vice Admiral gave a short address detailing his life which was extraordinary. He was press ganged out of his father’s boat while fishing off Cork in 1803. Took part in the wars against Napoleon and rose to be a sailing master. By 1816 at the age of thirty one he was the master of a ship which took part in an anti slavery campaign against the slavers based in Algiers. About 3,000 European slaves who had been captured from British, Dutch and American ships were released after a bombardment of the town and harbour in which 50,000 rounds were fired and the entire slaving fleet was sunk. There is a bit of irony which illustrates the anomalies of the British empire. The fleet which rescued those captured sailors continued many men who like Edward Bransfield had themselves been shanghaied.

Rod McLaughlin
Rod McLaughlin
2 years ago

“The Right, more rampant and paranoid than at any time since the war, denounces the ‘woke’ movement as a new and noxious threat to Western civilisation.”

I think that, and I am neither rampant, nor paranoid, nor Right.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rod McLaughlin
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Most of this article is bullshit. I cannot speak to whether the summary of Sathnam Sanghera’s work is accurate or not having not read it, but I have read Robert Tombs’ book This Sceptred Isle as well as having paid close attention to the arguments of people like Fraser Nelson, Lord Frost and others such as Patrick Minford etc. These views are quite profoundly misrepresented above by the author, through the adoption of selective use of facts and oversimplification of nuanced viewpoints, which does typify the sillier political arguments over Brexit (on both sides, admittedly).

But that is no excuse: you either represent in good faith the views of those you criticise, or leave yourself open to charges of intellectual dishonesty. This a test that is failed by the author of this rather silly article here today.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The author has deployed some of the tactics described by Peter Pomerantsev?

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I’d add ‘How the British invented freedom and why it matters’ by Daniel Hannan which was a really interesting look at why the British were different from our neighbours and why our culture exported so successfully. It explains the current leave/remain schism too

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago

Ferdinand Mount, or to give him his full name, Sir William Robert Ferdinand Mount, 3rd Baronet, FRSL, achieves little here other than to prove George Orwell correct when the latter said that the British elites would rather be caught stealing from the church poor box than standing for the national anthem.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

What a confused, messed up individual. I hope I don’t see his byline too often in Unherd.

Richard Goodall
Richard Goodall
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

I’m not so sure. The writer has brought a lot of commenters together here.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

Maybe that is the intention of Unherd to test the strength of democracy on here.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Once is enough.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Consider it one of your 5-a-day Diversity fruits.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

Mental cod liver oil, more like!

David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago

Fact check. We spent more money getting rid of slavery than we ever did from it!
You wonder why people like Mr.Mount, who hate our country so much, don’t leave and find a better one!

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  David Shaw

Please could you supply a link or reference to the information you give above about the relative cost of abolition to earnings from slavery. It’s hard for me to imagine how these would be calculated!. Many thanks.

David Shaw
David Shaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Hilary , I hope this helps.
The calculation is made by adding up the overseas earnings in the Caribbean and America(up to Independence in 1776) made out of the slave trade since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 to the time it was made illegal for any British Citizen in 1843(but more pertently 1808, when the royal Navy placed a permanent squadron to intercept slavers) and then subtracting the money spent and the lives lost by the British Navy in Policing the Africa coast, chasing down slave ships, one example of which was  400 Portugese Slave ships were chased down, some as far as Brazil and burnt in Rio Harbour) paying African Leaders(the British signed 45 treaties with African Tribes and induced them to stop slave trading. An example of this was helping them  turn their attentions to the sale of Palm Oil with the help of Liverpool traders in 1830)  not only to give up the slave trade but also paying not to kill those Africans that they held, waiting to be slaves. Payments and Inducements toSpain, France and  the Ottoman Empire, Egypt , Persians and Arabs(Zanzibar in 1873 being the most famous). This we took on ourselves with little or no support from any Country in the World. The French belatedly came on board after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. They had signed up in 1814 under the Treaty of Vienna to get rid of slavery within 5 years , however Napoleon, after his escape from Elba, promised to bring slavery back. At some points during the 100 years it took to close down the slave trade, Britain had 1/6th of it’s navy ussed solely for the pupose of stopping sthe slave trade. They freed some 160,000 captives and prevented several 100,000 more being shipped. Many sailors lost their lives not only for this task but to tropical diseases such as yellow fever.
Not a simple calculation but one that can be made with time and patience and without a propensity to blame all the ills of the World on the British Empire.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

I keep hearing that those who voted Leave are nostalgic for the British Empire, and I’m sure it goes down well in the EU, alongside the other well-worn reason, which was that Leave-voters believed ‘lies’ during the campaign (the ones told by Leave advocates, I mean).
To speak for myself; I used to support British membership, but steadily lost faith for several reasons, including; the stupidity of introducing a single currency without united fiscal authority and doing so for political reasons, for our exploitation by an opaque cartel on EU contributions, fishing and other matters, for the gravy train in Brussels (and let’s not forget Strasburg), for the opportunity of lobbying and corruption in such a large region, and for the ineffectiveness of MEPs (can you name yours?).
The British Empire, apart from some vestiges, was long ago, and played no part in my decision, and how could it be relevant? However, I think people like Mount have been infuriated by the unexpected resolve of just enough British voters, and have redoubled their efforts in making us doubt ourselves by portraying our past as uniquely evil by selecting a handful of ‘facts’ from the past.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

Britain was basically a benign empire unlike the Soviets, Nazis and even the Roman and Greeks. Yes we need to draw attention to wrong practices which happened but to only focus on them, which is the present day fashion overlooks the good things which happened. Many in Africa and other places give thanks to God for the many missionaries, more than any other country, that were sent during the Empire days who gave their lives for the betterment of people. Not to mention the rule of fair law which many countries took up modeled on our system of government. Alas we are seeng chinks in this great inheritance, Both pictures are wrong. That which concentrates only on the bad things and vice versa. One of the big troubles of the British is a sense of guilt which has them giving into things which should never happen in this country. As for believing in Woke to save our lives. Never. Life is worth more than that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tony Conrad
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

I’ve long wondered why, if the empire was as cruel as described, countries have joined the Commonwealth.

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

The EU has all of the liberal elite, most of the British media and half of British politicians on their side
 reporting always from the EU’s point of view and eagerly attempting to undermine British sovereignty. And for what? Why do they want to be under the EU boot? Talk of Empire by writers such as this is delusional nonsense. Supporters of Brexit are not living in the past they are looking to the future unencumbered by an increasingly bureaucratic and undemocratic EU. It is the Remainers who are now living in the past.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 years ago

Hard to know where to start with this. Many, perhaps most Brexiteers have no nostalgia for Empire, just a sense that we are best ruled from a Parliament whose Members we can speak to directly with some effect. The article is a monstrous distortion, painting absurd caricatures of those who have the temerity to take a different view. The problem here is that Ferdinand Mount is incapable of seeing more than one side. Everything about Britain – its history and Empire is unmitigated evil. Everything about the EU is unmitigated good. In an increasingly polarised world we need sanity and balance, and this isn’t it.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

Most British people cannot remember Britain having an Empire and have no sense of Empire. They see it as irrelevant to the discussion of Britain’s future. Brexit voters voted to keep political power in the British Parliament. What they were opposed to was the transfer of power to an unelected technocracy.
These sentiments are shared by many whose families came from the Empire. They did not see why people with no historical ties to Britain should be given priority over people from the former colonies when it came to the right to live and work in the UK..

Bulent Acar
Bulent Acar
2 years ago

This (the quality of responses) to a serious article is what imho makes Unherd particularly invigorating.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Bulent Acar

Yeah but they can overdo putting people like this on. We need encouraging stuff as well.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

This, predictably, soon becomes a list denouncing nearly every prominent public figure or journalist who is patriotic or holds right of centre political opinions. No surprises that old Enoch is wheeled out as their mentor either. If I want this sort of tripe (which I don’t), I’ll read the ruddy Grauniad (which I don’t).

Scott S
Scott S
2 years ago

This article should be re titled ‘What educated people who are fully aware of Britain’s history and empire get right’. Most educated people appreciate all the good that came out of the empire, while counter balancing what was going on worldwide at the time and what was then seen as the norm, then and before. Its always striking that no one ever mentions what Africa was like before the Europeans stepped in, Its so obviously an attack on what was more of an advanced culture, it really stinks of jealousy, and is the outcome of years and years of the west culturally ‘dumbing down’. …. Obviously we are talking about Britain here, but why are all the war-like empires who indulged in brutality and slavery (and worse) always glossed over? Zulu Empire, Aztec Empire, Egyptian empire, Mongol empire, Persian Empire…All were brutal. And before anyone says the Aztec’s were victims. The only difference between the Spanish and the Aztecs, was that the Spanish were more advanced….God help us, I bet the Italians were so glad these trustafarians were nowhere near the Colosseum last year.
PS I voted remain, and I WOULD rather be dead than woke.

Last edited 2 years ago by Scott S
David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott S

The reason 80 conquistadors (and their horses and guns) beat the Aztecs is that most other indigenous Mexicans hated the Aztecs and were only too happy to ally with the Spanish.

Scott S
Scott S
2 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

I take your point David. However, I was referring more to the fake narrative of the ‘brutality of the Spanish, compared with the peace loving Aztecs’, rather than who was the victor…..but yes, noted.

Last edited 2 years ago by Scott S
Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Seems so. The Conquest of New Spain by Herman Cortez is a fascinating and jaw-dropping read paying tribute to rhe sophistication of what they encountered vs Europe, but even his perhaps partial military interpretations of divisions between Mexico and its vassals, who were supplying sacrificial victims amid hard times, apparently holds water. The outcome speaks to it too, all other things equal.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Geoffrey Wilson
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

I tried hard to find some substance in this article apparently intended to prove Brexiteers have a seriously wrong idea about the British empire. However every single paragraph exhibited “sillinesses and petty intolerance” by Mr Mount, so I read his final paragraph with incredulity. Is he really that silly?

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

… as a sausage, no wait, three sausages!

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

What do present day Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria have in common ? Slavery. Add to that the 27 million odd shared between India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and North Korea. Not to mention the underground slavery right here in UK. and you see the the British Empire can hardly be defined by slavery. During which time what does the author think was happening in UK – in the mines, factories, great houses and estates? Yes, something virtually akin to slavery. What is under discussion here is not Empires, but abuse of power.

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

The British free trade movement of the 19th century favoured national sovereignty and so opposed both the British empire and international alliances. I welcomed the end of the British empire and voted to leave the EU. I see no contradiction there.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael James

The British Empire ended within two years of 1947. This was in line with forsaking the mandate to give Jews a home country in accordance with scripture. After starting well and honouring the Balfour declaration, kicking the Ottomon Empire out of Israel and freeing Jerusalem they forsook them to the Arab hoards. During the war they were forbidding Jews into Israel and sent them back to the death camps. In 1948 Israel was attacked by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, some of those armed and trained by Britain. With only a 600,000 population and practically no fighting equipment they withstood much more heavily armed foes. Divine justice and judgment on Britain?

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Britain helped too. Orde Wingate.

Rod McLaughlin
Rod McLaughlin
2 years ago

‘Loot’ is the Hindi word for the spoils of war

Enoch Powell wouldn’t have made that mistake. He spoke Hindustani.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rod McLaughlin
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Rod McLaughlin

I thought it was Urdu but he may have been conversant at both.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

“Does Britain deserve obloquy for profiting so hugely from the Transatlantic slave trade, or credit for having abolished it?”
I reached the above sentence and thought ‘uh-oh’. The generalisation that it is a ‘Britain’ that deserves censure, or not. But where is the nuance of locating actions and beliefs to individuals in such a claim?
And the reliance of a postmodern geneological approach to viewing the past in which it is the historical immoral actions and events – interpreted fallaciously from a modern moral perspective – that are raked over and highlighted. And has been noted already, the modern perspective being employed is a moral cynicism – actioned via a moral presentism to interpreting the past, by judging the past using todays ethical norms.
… “imperial amnesia”, the pretence that the experience of the greatest empire ever known left no serious mark on the British psyche;
‘British psyche’? Does such a thing exist to be influenced? To me this is taking an abstract concept, assuming it applies to a general population, and reifying into existence to show it has manifestations in the real world to which the author’s interpretations apply. Such an assertion regarding a population sharing a particular ‘psyche’ is, as far as I am aware, an undemonstrated category.

Gillian Pink
Gillian Pink
2 years ago

Now of course the free movement of human beings must be resisted without remorse: send them back, dump them on hulks in the Thames Estuary, send them to Albania, let them drown. Anything rather accept any obligation of humanity, let alone of empire.

Hardly the approach recently adopted by the UK when faced with the plight of the people of Hong Kong, now at the mercy of a different empire, and to whom we felt an obligation for historic and human reasons.

Zak S
Zak S
2 years ago

Glad that UnHerd continues to publish a wide range of views. The author’s contempt for people with perfectly reasonable views is clearest in this sentence:
Only Nigel Farage and the ultras were prepared to deploy that harsher language, which was why they had to be kept out of sight not to frighten decent folk.”

tom j
tom j
2 years ago

This is a poor excuse for an argument. I’ve just had to read this “For Brexit Minister, David Frost, who is fast becoming the last hero of the cause, divergence is king. If as Lord Frost and Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, have both admitted, the results so far seem less than satisfactory, that is because Brexit has not been properly tried, an argument familiar from old Communists disillusioned with an earlier god that failed.”
Sorry? Let’s give it 70 years before we make our judgements on whether Brexit, like Communism hasn’t worked. At that time we can also argue about whether it was indeed ‘really Brexit’.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

You can take the boy out of Islington but …
What is Unherd about the article? We can read this sort of biased rubbish in the guardian or ft any day of the week. Admittedly not as well crafted, but essentially the same metropolitan, globalist, nonsense.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I honestly don’t get all this moaning and whining about the Empire. Why shouldn’t we be proud of what it did achieve and the staggering influence it has had on the whole world? Mostly NOT by force incidentally. India was never in danger of becoming majority non white and there were plenty of other empires on the rampage including Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and Belgium to name but a few (seems to me that Britain is the whipping boy of empires like MacDonalds is the whipping boy of fast food). I don’t hear South Americans whining about being ‘Hispanic’, or crying about the history of the Conquistadors. How many Italians lament the slavery and conquest of the Romans? Or that crucifixion was a common punishment? How many Egyptians beat themselves up that the Great Pyramids were built by slaves for the glory of a few pharaohs? I really couldn’t give a stuff about it frankly. It is what it is, it had some good things about it and some bad things. None of which can be undone and no-one alive is responsible for it. If any lesson is to be learned it is that if you don’t want your nation or culture destroyed or conquered MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BIGGER STICK. If Indians want to go on about the atrocities of the British they want to look a bit more closely at their own history before pointing the finger. If they think India was, or would have been, some global technological superpower if it weren’t for ‘the Britishers’ they are delusional. And if they had been would they be self flagellating over it? I doubt it.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
2 years ago

Mount is obviously a Remainer with an axe to grind. he also fails entirely to understand why the vote of June 23 2016 fell the way it did. First of all, it had little to do with Empire- a very large minority of recent ex-Empire immigrants voted Leave. Secondly, it had a lot to do with the fact that the UK was a net contributor to a Franco-German bargain: the EU has free trade in manufacturing and in agriculture, not in services. Third, France and Germany continue to be riddled with what are called “non-tariff barriers”- ie various forms of subsidies, much related to the role of banks in both economies-which have been lethal to British manufacturing. Then there has been the 40% undervaluation of the German currency since the introduction of the Euro, and the Himalayan current account surplus which resulted from it-not to speak of the breath-taking arrogance with which Greece was treated.
Most important of all, Britain became ever less self-governing, its Whitehall Ă©lites ever more absorbed in the EU project, ever less in touch with the British electorate-hence, Scottish and Welsh nationalism, or Welsh and Cornish votes to Leave despite being in receipt of EU funds. The vote of June 23 2016 was first and foremost a vote for self-government, for the right to say No. The project is to put “nationalism” to sleep: the heart of the matter was to kill democracy, and to unravel the UK. The vote of June 23 2016 was the last chance saloon.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
2 years ago

Well at least he didn’t go as far as calling us all ‘gammons’ or oiks.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

I feel sorry for Ferdinand Mount because he clearly lives in some kind of delusional world where Brexit supporters in his imagination care about empire.
The vast majority have no clue about empire, and even amongst those that do have a clue, they don’t care about empire. But Remainers still cling on to this last scrap of reason to justify their position. It’s sad and I pity them.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Yes. In all the scores and scores of conversations over these past years, how often has anyone heard any Brexit supporter even mention the Empire (let alone speak of it longingly)?

I can answer for myself: not once.

So who makes up Mount’s group of friends and acquaintances? Or is it just in his imagination? (‘Brexit supporters are that kind of person, so surely they must be saying things like that’?)

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Spot on.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 years ago

Brexiteeers raise the ‘Empire’ issue with regard to ‘Europe’ because it was precisely the actual aim of the founders of the EEC (they were quite explicit about it). Giscard-D’Estaing said it would be ‘in the spirit of Charlemagne’ i.e. a Roman Catholic Empire.The UK is constitutionally Protestant. However, judging by contributions to various magazines (both by writers and commenters) these days, the word ‘conservative’ is rapidly coming to mean ‘Catholic revivalist’. In which case I am definitely not a ‘conservative’.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

The twelve stars on their flag reminds me of the woman in Revelation who had twelve stars around her whom they always depict as Mary. Will there now be a new era of popery?

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Do you use the Book of Revelation as a guide to anything?
Seriously?

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

1.TC’s comment does not say or suggest that the Book of Revelation is to be commended as a guide to anything.

2.There is plenty of evidence – although not undisputed – that the design of the EU flag was indeed expressly inspired by Marian symbolism.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

Enoch Powell was not an Old Wulfrunian but an Old Nortonian.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago

It has come true what he said anyway.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago

I’m proud of the comments below that soundly refute the absurd premise of this article. I hope Ferdinand Mount reads and learns something.

Last edited 2 years ago by Glyn Reed
Bob Pugh
Bob Pugh
2 years ago

“History Debunked” is a good antidote to claptrap like this. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=history+debunked

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

“The Right, more rampant and paranoid than at any time since the war,…”
No, they are under attack from brainwashed young things too naive to realise they are the tools of an insidious agenda. This bloke probably drinks with Lammy and Abbott and thinks the IRA and Hamas are freedom fighters. A remainer too, ugh! Paranoid? No, I really am being picked on.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Codswallop and a load of sweeping generalisations.
Some Brexiteers might be defending the British Empire, some might be anti woke. I am willing to bet neither of those reasons were foremost in the minds of those who voted for Brexit.

tom j
tom j
2 years ago

Sathnam Sanghera is the guy who said that the kids these days are learning history from Instagram and the Black Panther film, rather than from historians, and that that is a good thing.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I’ve never seen so many white people.

David Shaw