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Britain needs a Napoleon Our local democracy is absurdly complicated

Vive L’Empereur! (DeAgostini/Getty Images)


May 4, 2023   5 mins

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is weird. Just look at how it plays sport. It competes in the Olympics as Great Britain, while in football it plays as separate entities called England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In rugby, meanwhile, Northern Ireland doesn’t get a team, and in cricket, the Welsh play for England. Don’t ask. 

But this sporting oddity is only a pale reflection of the UK’s political and constitutional complexity. While it is one sovereign state with one King, it has two established churches, three judicial systems, four home nations, and a whole host of crown dependencies and overseas territories which form part of its single, royal realm. (Are you following at the back?) And that’s before you consider the fact that the King of the United Kingdom (not England) is also king of lots of other countries with lots of other titles, which were once also part of the UK’s single royal realm but are no longer. 

To some, the impenetrable complexity of the UK and its royal family is part of its strength. Nations aren’t “rational” constructs but the products of history and human imagination; old trees which suit the soil in which they grow, not brutalist modern buildings rising from concrete. In fact, often the more arcane a country’s political order, the better. The Holy Roman Empire was impenetrably messy but gloriously superior to many of the Germanies which followed its violent destruction. 

This is the Burkean conception of constitutions, anyway: organic orders which contain much that cannot be justified in simple rational terms but nevertheless provide the shelter under which nations live freely and in harmony — often more freely than those constantly forced to cut down and rebuild their societies based on some abstract principle. As T.S. Eliot wrote, art does not “improve” with time but simply changes to reflect the new material. So, too, with constitutions.

While I agree with much of this Burkean analysis, it also seems clear to me that the British constitution today is not some glorious old oak left to grow naturally, but the product of half-arsed topiary. The UK has been robbed of much of the organic strength of a traditional constitutional order without gaining the simplicity of a revolutionary constitution; we have the constitution of Ted Heath, not Edmund Burke or Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Nothing better illustrates this reality than our impenetrable local democracy. Occasionally, someone or other tries to call Britain’s local elections our “midterms”, but they are nothing of the kind. In the United States, every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs every two years — as well as a third of the Senate. The midterms are a chance for the American public as a whole to grant or deny the President legislative control. They are an important moment in the life of the nation, part of its ever evolving story. In Britain, meanwhile, local elections happen every year in some form or another and are so arcanely complicated that almost nobody understands what is going on. Today, for example, around 8,000 councillors will be elected from around two thirds of our 300-plus local authorities in England. Why some councils vote in this four-year pattern and not another is largely just chance. Scotland and Wales will not be voting; Northern Ireland will vote in a couple of weeks.

The map of British local democracy makes the principalities in the Holy Roman Empire look positively geometric. In some parts of England there are “county councils” and “district councils”; in others “unitary” authorities; and in others metropolitan boroughs. Some of these hold elections for a third of their councillors each time, some for half. Some parts of the country also have “metro mayors”, some of whom double up as local police and crime commissioners. There are fire and rescue authorities, sui generis councils such as the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly as well as the Greater London Authority and, of course, the devolved parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each body has different powers and responsibilities, each funded according to different formulas described by the House of Commons library as “extremely complex”. Meanwhile, voting systems differ across the nations.

The problem is not so much the complexity of Britain’s political order, but the fact that it just doesn’t hold together: partly the product of tradition and partly of supposedly modernising reforms which have just been bolted on here and there. The result is a whole array of competing bodies with criss-crossing lines of responsibility and legitimacy, a mishmash of incohesion that robs the country of shared national moments, customs and stories. A country needs more than an army and king to hang together. 

Roger Scruton wrote that most beliefs necessary for the functioning of society are both “unjustified and unjustifiable” in purely rational terms; try to rationalise them, and you’ll end up losing them. National customs are justified not through reason but rather “as an anthropologist might justify the customs and rituals of an alien tribe”.

The House of Lords, rationalised to the point of illegitimacy, illustrates this perfectly. It once represented the landed interests of Britain, a national class stretching from Orkney to the Scillies, bound in a physical connection to the parts of the country that they owned and ran. In 1999, Tony Blair’s reform seemed necessary because much of this class’s old power and authority had gone. But what replaced it has made the Lords even more absurd: a House of inherited privilege has been replaced with an instrument of political corruption shorn of all power, responsibility and justification. The body which fused the powers of state more than any other — king, church, law, legislature and executive — is now a dead and rotting organ at the heart of Britain’s constitution. 

Something similar has happened with local democracy, which lost much of its autonomy and connection to the traditional boundaries of Britain with the local government reform act of 1974. This did away with many of the old county boundaries, replacing them with new more “rational” ones which might have looked good on a map, but did not plot onto the real-life loyalties of the people actually living on the land. The old counties of Britain could easily have formed the basis of a new class of elected peers for the House of Lords — or for a layer of English local democracy to match the parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Instead, new ones were created and crowbarred into the old system, neither rational nor traditional. 

There is something of the ancien regime to Britain’s local democracy. In pre-revolutionary France, there were more than 300 different legal codes. By the time Napoleon began reforming the system there were still over 40. And by the time he’d finished reforming the system there was one. “Napoleon instinctively understood that if France was to function efficiently in the modern world, she needed a standardised system of law and justice,” wrote Andrew Roberts. “Uniform weights and measures, a fully functioning internal market and a centralised education system, one that would allow talented adolescents from all backgrounds to enter careers according to merit rather than birth.”

Like post-revolutionary France, paradoxically, we are also in need of someone who can make sense of it all over again — a Napoleon to reinvigorate the British political order, to prune it back to give it life. Napoleon created a strong, unified nation state from a place even more diverse than the UK today. From a population of 28 million, some six million could not speak a word of French and another six million could only just understand it. After the chaos of the revolution, the population wanted conservatism, and Napoleon gave it to them. 

Today, Britain also needs a reforming state to once again bind the country together, to protect the things we have — nation, state, constitutional freedom and prosperity. We need more shared rituals, irrational or otherwise; more shared institutions; and more shared endeavours in order for us to keep telling a national story and not multiple little sub-national novellas that are unintelligible to the other. The old oak needs cutting back to be able to grow again. Vive L’Empereur! 


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Simply repeal all constitional and electoral changes made by Heath and Blair.

Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Two utter disasters

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Walsh

Voted by the people.
TB won 3 elections – he won even after the Iraq Debacle (no WMDs).

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The greed of the Patrician class and the primitive instinct of the masses saved Blair.

Last edited 1 year ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The greed of the Patrician class and the primitive instinct of the masses saved Blair.

Last edited 1 year ago by Charles Stanhope
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Walsh

Voted by the people.
TB won 3 elections – he won even after the Iraq Debacle (no WMDs).

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

And bring back the old regiments

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Which ones?
Rather a lot to choose from!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Which ones?
Rather a lot to choose from!

Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Two utter disasters

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

And bring back the old regiments

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago

Simply repeal all constitional and electoral changes made by Heath and Blair.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Let’s have parish councils, borough/district councils, city councils and county councils.
No metropolitan councils, no regional bodies, no devolved assemblies, no mayors (other than ceremonial ones like the Lord Mayor of London).
One parliament in Westminster, representing the whole country, with no more than 250 MPs. 250 London properties to be acquired, varying in size and allocated according to family need. MPs should not be able to make a killing on the property market at the taxpayer’s expense.
A second (revising) chamber, again of no more than 250 and probably a lot less, composed of representatives of parishes, boroughs, counties etc, plus appointed experts in their fields, possibly chosen by lottery.
I await the call.
N Bonaparte, St Helena.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew D
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Shouldn’t that be ‘Les Invalides’ Paris?

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

No, I’m still alive, awaiting the nation’s call in its hour of need (the inhabitant of the tomb at Les Invalides is an imposter, as any fule kno)

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

No, I’m still alive, awaiting the nation’s call in its hour of need (the inhabitant of the tomb at Les Invalides is an imposter, as any fule kno)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Shouldn’t that be ‘Les Invalides’ Paris?

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Let’s have parish councils, borough/district councils, city councils and county councils.
No metropolitan councils, no regional bodies, no devolved assemblies, no mayors (other than ceremonial ones like the Lord Mayor of London).
One parliament in Westminster, representing the whole country, with no more than 250 MPs. 250 London properties to be acquired, varying in size and allocated according to family need. MPs should not be able to make a killing on the property market at the taxpayer’s expense.
A second (revising) chamber, again of no more than 250 and probably a lot less, composed of representatives of parishes, boroughs, counties etc, plus appointed experts in their fields, possibly chosen by lottery.
I await the call.
N Bonaparte, St Helena.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew D
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

It is ‘Mr Plod’ who really needs serious reform .
With something like 41 Constabularies and thus 41c Chief Constables this really is a case of ‘jobs for the boys’(and girls).

National detection rates for what most regard as heinous crimes are at an all time low, whilst detection for ridiculous ‘hate/woke’ offences at an all time high!

Additionally the hard earned reputation of the nations premier Police Force, the ‘Met’,* lies in tatters.

Never in my lifetime has the image of the Police been so low. Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Met in 1829, decreed that ‘consensus’ policing was what was required.
How he would weep if he saw todays Blobies!

(* ‘Best Police money can buy’ as they used to say in the 1970’s.)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Metropolitanazi secret police and Gestaplod! Some of the thickest, most biased, moronic automatons I have ever had yhe displeasure to meet, too stupid even to see how much they are despised, and how bent they are!

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago

Policing needs to have a local/regional underpinning. ‘Police Scotland’, with one chief constable for the whole of Scotland, is a very bad idea.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

Agreed!
And as we have just discovered with that wonderful faux Police Unit somewhere near Glasgow!*

The present arrangement works out at about one Constabulary per 1.5 head of population. In Scotland one per 5 million.
So perhaps something in between may suffice?

(* The one that left a young couple dead in their car for 9 days was it?)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

Agreed!
And as we have just discovered with that wonderful faux Police Unit somewhere near Glasgow!*

The present arrangement works out at about one Constabulary per 1.5 head of population. In Scotland one per 5 million.
So perhaps something in between may suffice?

(* The one that left a young couple dead in their car for 9 days was it?)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Metropolitanazi secret police and Gestaplod! Some of the thickest, most biased, moronic automatons I have ever had yhe displeasure to meet, too stupid even to see how much they are despised, and how bent they are!

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago

Policing needs to have a local/regional underpinning. ‘Police Scotland’, with one chief constable for the whole of Scotland, is a very bad idea.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

It is ‘Mr Plod’ who really needs serious reform .
With something like 41 Constabularies and thus 41c Chief Constables this really is a case of ‘jobs for the boys’(and girls).

National detection rates for what most regard as heinous crimes are at an all time low, whilst detection for ridiculous ‘hate/woke’ offences at an all time high!

Additionally the hard earned reputation of the nations premier Police Force, the ‘Met’,* lies in tatters.

Never in my lifetime has the image of the Police been so low. Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Met in 1829, decreed that ‘consensus’ policing was what was required.
How he would weep if he saw todays Blobies!

(* ‘Best Police money can buy’ as they used to say in the 1970’s.)

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

I agree that we should return to the pre-1974 boundaries for English counties.

Make Lancashire Great Again!

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Bring Back Westmorland!
(Probably best not to google BBW)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

At least the splendid little town of Appleby has done its best in that respect.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
1 year ago

I’ll raise a glass to that!

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
1 year ago

I’ll raise a glass to that!

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

And Rutland.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

At least the splendid little town of Appleby has done its best in that respect.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

And Rutland.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Perhaps some historic counties deserve to be revived, but a lot of the old boundaries were changed because they didn’t match urban agglomerations.
I live in Oxford, and naturally identify with Oxfordshire, but Oxford once sat on the border with Berkshire.
Even city-centre locations like Grandpont and New Hinksey were apparently in Berkshire until 1889. Caversham went the other way in 1895.
See Wikipedia’s “List of Oxfordshire boundary changes” for details.
Rivers and streams make easily-identifiable borders, but not administratively sensible ones.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Until about 1540 ‘you’ were in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Then you got your own Diocese based on the magnificent Augustinian Church of Osney Abbey.

Sadly a few years later in 1546 ‘you’ binned that for the rather miserable, stunted nunnery church the former St Frideswide’s Priory, and so it remains today.

Thus the greatest medieval building ever to grace Oxford is gone forever.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

And Surrey went right up to the river (the county cricket club still plays at the Oval). As an erstwhile Kennington resident I’d have been more than happy to be returned to Surrey County Council and liberated from the Khan jackboot.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Hear, hear, Khan should be returned to Karachi, ‘Red Star’’, and recorded delivery as soon as is humanly possible.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Hear, hear, Khan should be returned to Karachi, ‘Red Star’’, and recorded delivery as soon as is humanly possible.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Until about 1540 ‘you’ were in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Then you got your own Diocese based on the magnificent Augustinian Church of Osney Abbey.

Sadly a few years later in 1546 ‘you’ binned that for the rather miserable, stunted nunnery church the former St Frideswide’s Priory, and so it remains today.

Thus the greatest medieval building ever to grace Oxford is gone forever.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

And Surrey went right up to the river (the county cricket club still plays at the Oval). As an erstwhile Kennington resident I’d have been more than happy to be returned to Surrey County Council and liberated from the Khan jackboot.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Bring Back Westmorland!
(Probably best not to google BBW)

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Perhaps some historic counties deserve to be revived, but a lot of the old boundaries were changed because they didn’t match urban agglomerations.
I live in Oxford, and naturally identify with Oxfordshire, but Oxford once sat on the border with Berkshire.
Even city-centre locations like Grandpont and New Hinksey were apparently in Berkshire until 1889. Caversham went the other way in 1895.
See Wikipedia’s “List of Oxfordshire boundary changes” for details.
Rivers and streams make easily-identifiable borders, but not administratively sensible ones.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

I agree that we should return to the pre-1974 boundaries for English counties.

Make Lancashire Great Again!

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
1 year ago

I’ve never properly understood why the people who arrange my bin collection have to have a political philosophy.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

An 18 year old A-level student is standing in my ward today on that very platform. Good luck to him, I say.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
1 year ago

It seems to give them confidence that they aren’t alone. Unfortunately it doesn’t enable them to actually take any decisions which conflict with what their employees – the all-powerful council officers – have decided.
The end result (predicted by “Yes, Minister”) of the 1974 changes is that no elected representatives are allowed to decide anything at parish, town, district or county level. They are all told that they don’t understand the complexities and must therefore do what the ‘civil servants’ advise. The Party system (which is wholly irrelevant) then prevents them all agreeing to stand up for themselves, as one lot will always undermine any such move, purely to score “political” points.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

An 18 year old A-level student is standing in my ward today on that very platform. Good luck to him, I say.

Bob Downing
Bob Downing
1 year ago

It seems to give them confidence that they aren’t alone. Unfortunately it doesn’t enable them to actually take any decisions which conflict with what their employees – the all-powerful council officers – have decided.
The end result (predicted by “Yes, Minister”) of the 1974 changes is that no elected representatives are allowed to decide anything at parish, town, district or county level. They are all told that they don’t understand the complexities and must therefore do what the ‘civil servants’ advise. The Party system (which is wholly irrelevant) then prevents them all agreeing to stand up for themselves, as one lot will always undermine any such move, purely to score “political” points.

William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
1 year ago

I’ve never properly understood why the people who arrange my bin collection have to have a political philosophy.

John Greatorex
John Greatorex
1 year ago

The traditional county borders that existed before 1974 had a millennia of heritage to shape them, and often came to consist of a balance between urban areas, market towns and rural landscapes…all undone by a Conservative government unwilling to conserve anything. And then New Labour went beyond failing to conserve and into the realm of deliberate constitutional vandalism.

John Greatorex
John Greatorex
1 year ago

The traditional county borders that existed before 1974 had a millennia of heritage to shape them, and often came to consist of a balance between urban areas, market towns and rural landscapes…all undone by a Conservative government unwilling to conserve anything. And then New Labour went beyond failing to conserve and into the realm of deliberate constitutional vandalism.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

A rather odd argument. Societies flourish when allowed to grow organically. A top down rationalisation made a mess so what we need is … a top down rationalisation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yes, but there is not such thing as “organic”.
Was the English Reformation organic?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yes, but there is not such thing as “organic”.
Was the English Reformation organic?

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

A rather odd argument. Societies flourish when allowed to grow organically. A top down rationalisation made a mess so what we need is … a top down rationalisation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Richard Rolfe
Richard Rolfe
1 year ago

France has got a Napoleon. It’s not going well.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

It is going well – the fact that (few) people are rioting is the proof that Macron has done the right thing for the country – long term.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

It actually is.
Macron is doing the necessary reforms. French will protest – what did you expect?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

Perhaps a “whiff of grapeshot “ might help!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

It is going well – the fact that (few) people are rioting is the proof that Macron has done the right thing for the country – long term.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

It actually is.
Macron is doing the necessary reforms. French will protest – what did you expect?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Rolfe

Perhaps a “whiff of grapeshot “ might help!

Richard Rolfe
Richard Rolfe
1 year ago

France has got a Napoleon. It’s not going well.

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago

‘The Holy Roman Empire was impenetrably messy but gloriously superior to many of the Germanies which followed its violent destruction.’ All of them in fact. And of course it was Napoleon who dismantled it, resulting in three European wars under Bismarck, two racist, jingoistic and militaristic dictators (the Kaiser and Hitler), and two horrific global wars, followed by the inevitable reconstitution of the HRE in the form of the EU. 

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Was Kaiser any different than the British ruling class? Or French? or Russian?

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes, because unlike those rulers, he was strongly influenced by the racist and anti-Semitic writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Kaiser Wilhelm is recorded as having read Chamberlain’s ‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century‘ twice, ‘page by page.’ Chamberlain had himself been influenced by the French racist writer Arthur de Gobineau, who developed the theory of the Aryan master race. The Berliner Zeitung newspaper complained of the close friendship between Wilhelm II and such an outspoken racist and anti-Semite as Chamberlain, stating this was a real cause for concern for decent, caring people both inside and outside Germany. Regarding the First World War, Wilhelm wrote to Chamberlain in January 1917: ‘The war is a struggle between two Weltanschauugen [world views], the Teutonic-German for morality, right, loyalty and faith, genuine humanity, truth and real freedom, against … the worship of Mammon, the power of money, pleasure, land-hunger, lies, betrayal, deceit and—last but not least—treacherous assassination! These two Weltanschauugen cannot be reconciled or tolerate one another, one must be victorious, the other must go under!’

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes, because unlike those rulers, he was strongly influenced by the racist and anti-Semitic writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Kaiser Wilhelm is recorded as having read Chamberlain’s ‘The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century‘ twice, ‘page by page.’ Chamberlain had himself been influenced by the French racist writer Arthur de Gobineau, who developed the theory of the Aryan master race. The Berliner Zeitung newspaper complained of the close friendship between Wilhelm II and such an outspoken racist and anti-Semite as Chamberlain, stating this was a real cause for concern for decent, caring people both inside and outside Germany. Regarding the First World War, Wilhelm wrote to Chamberlain in January 1917: ‘The war is a struggle between two Weltanschauugen [world views], the Teutonic-German for morality, right, loyalty and faith, genuine humanity, truth and real freedom, against … the worship of Mammon, the power of money, pleasure, land-hunger, lies, betrayal, deceit and—last but not least—treacherous assassination! These two Weltanschauugen cannot be reconciled or tolerate one another, one must be victorious, the other must go under!’

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

“Neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire”*

(*V.)

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Was Kaiser any different than the British ruling class? Or French? or Russian?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

“Neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire”*

(*V.)

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago

‘The Holy Roman Empire was impenetrably messy but gloriously superior to many of the Germanies which followed its violent destruction.’ All of them in fact. And of course it was Napoleon who dismantled it, resulting in three European wars under Bismarck, two racist, jingoistic and militaristic dictators (the Kaiser and Hitler), and two horrific global wars, followed by the inevitable reconstitution of the HRE in the form of the EU. 

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

How do you reconcile this view with the near-constant decline of France since Napoleon? Before and during his rule it was the leading power in continental Europe. Subsequently it slipped not into second but third place with many seeing the future axis of Europe lying to Germany’s east rather than west. The riots in France are, in small part, due to this sense of national decline and the inability of the french government to stop the rot. That rot set in with the Sun King and only really accelerated after the Corsican ogre tried to give a fudge (so despised by the author) to the revolutionary government which really did try to rewrite the rules in a genuinely ground-zero way.

Barmy article but more please Unherd!

Last edited 1 year ago by Milton Gibbon
Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

The concept of ‘man the barricades’ entered the French political consciousness in 1789. They’re still at it in 2023, this time over a modest pension reform which was implemented peacefully in the UK over a decade ago.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

True, but look how Tory governments (ever since TM’s debacle) have run away from reforming the elderly care sector.
And British did try to do their own version of Yellow Vests…they were frankly embarrassing.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

True, but look how Tory governments (ever since TM’s debacle) have run away from reforming the elderly care sector.
And British did try to do their own version of Yellow Vests…they were frankly embarrassing.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

By 1914 France had the 2nd largest empire in the world, had industrialized and it was at the forefront of human achievement (literature, art, science). What more do you want?
The riots in France are the riots in France. The pension system needs to be reformed so Macron went ahead with it. There is no legal/legislative way to turn over the reforms. Long term a big plus for France.
What happens after Macron? No idea. But whoever comes to power will face the same financial and demographic situation.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

It depends how you define ‘decline’. If you think that success is the ability to invade non-French countries, kill and miserate millions of non-french people and then try to rule them, then indeed there was a decline. But if you think that learning to largely mind its own business (albeit badly and painfully) and live really rather well is success then…..

I have always been impressed that France shook off total, or near total, defeat in 1815, 1871, 1918 and 1945 to get back to that nice life. Maybe that was due to Napoleon’s reforms? BTW, my personal opinion is that Napoleon was a butcher and war criminal of the highest order, but as a leader he did rather well, before hubris and overreach toppled him.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I would look at it the other way round. The ability to invade other countries successfully (as we are seeing in Ukraine) depends on relative success at home. If you think the French largely mnd their own business you obviously need to look into their meddling in Francafrique – the level of immiseration designed to keep a french “sphere of influence” isn’t trivial.

Better to not suffer those humiliations in the first place I would say. They didn’t have to lay down their arms in WWII. By your final logic bringing your country to the point of total ruin is now the mark of a good leader. As I said before, this article is just a little bit over the top. The cult of Napoleon is hard to sustain in France, let alone anywhere else.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

I don’t think that you read my comment carefully enough!

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

I don’t think that you read my comment carefully enough!

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I would look at it the other way round. The ability to invade other countries successfully (as we are seeing in Ukraine) depends on relative success at home. If you think the French largely mnd their own business you obviously need to look into their meddling in Francafrique – the level of immiseration designed to keep a french “sphere of influence” isn’t trivial.

Better to not suffer those humiliations in the first place I would say. They didn’t have to lay down their arms in WWII. By your final logic bringing your country to the point of total ruin is now the mark of a good leader. As I said before, this article is just a little bit over the top. The cult of Napoleon is hard to sustain in France, let alone anywhere else.

Clive MacDonald
Clive MacDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

The concept of ‘man the barricades’ entered the French political consciousness in 1789. They’re still at it in 2023, this time over a modest pension reform which was implemented peacefully in the UK over a decade ago.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

By 1914 France had the 2nd largest empire in the world, had industrialized and it was at the forefront of human achievement (literature, art, science). What more do you want?
The riots in France are the riots in France. The pension system needs to be reformed so Macron went ahead with it. There is no legal/legislative way to turn over the reforms. Long term a big plus for France.
What happens after Macron? No idea. But whoever comes to power will face the same financial and demographic situation.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

It depends how you define ‘decline’. If you think that success is the ability to invade non-French countries, kill and miserate millions of non-french people and then try to rule them, then indeed there was a decline. But if you think that learning to largely mind its own business (albeit badly and painfully) and live really rather well is success then…..

I have always been impressed that France shook off total, or near total, defeat in 1815, 1871, 1918 and 1945 to get back to that nice life. Maybe that was due to Napoleon’s reforms? BTW, my personal opinion is that Napoleon was a butcher and war criminal of the highest order, but as a leader he did rather well, before hubris and overreach toppled him.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

How do you reconcile this view with the near-constant decline of France since Napoleon? Before and during his rule it was the leading power in continental Europe. Subsequently it slipped not into second but third place with many seeing the future axis of Europe lying to Germany’s east rather than west. The riots in France are, in small part, due to this sense of national decline and the inability of the french government to stop the rot. That rot set in with the Sun King and only really accelerated after the Corsican ogre tried to give a fudge (so despised by the author) to the revolutionary government which really did try to rewrite the rules in a genuinely ground-zero way.

Barmy article but more please Unherd!

Last edited 1 year ago by Milton Gibbon
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

This article is just plain terrible. This ‘clever’ person clearly doesn’t know anything about sport – his starting point not mine. Why are our council elections sometimes called midterms ? – because people like him steal words and slogans from the US. He does not understand the frequency of council elections. The whole article is just meaningless drivel.

Stephen Hunter
Stephen Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Why do you think he doesn’t know anything about sport? All the observations made in the first paragraph are perfectly true. Nor do you offer any reasons for your subsequent criticisms, in view of which they are simply pointless insults.

Stephen Hunter
Stephen Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Why do you think he doesn’t know anything about sport? All the observations made in the first paragraph are perfectly true. Nor do you offer any reasons for your subsequent criticisms, in view of which they are simply pointless insults.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

This article is just plain terrible. This ‘clever’ person clearly doesn’t know anything about sport – his starting point not mine. Why are our council elections sometimes called midterms ? – because people like him steal words and slogans from the US. He does not understand the frequency of council elections. The whole article is just meaningless drivel.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Please get your research right, author- The House of Lords was not merely hereditary landowners, but was complemented with new peerages from a variety of sources, not least in the 19th century, from post industrial revolution self made wealth from industry, finance, manufacturing, and commerce of all sorts: previously senior legal and administrative figures and others were added.
Pre- judice and bias should not create innacurate ignorance by an author.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Indeed so, but I did rather like his line: “a House of inherited privilege has been replaced with an instrument of political corruption”

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago

Indeed so, but I did rather like his line: “a House of inherited privilege has been replaced with an instrument of political corruption”

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Please get your research right, author- The House of Lords was not merely hereditary landowners, but was complemented with new peerages from a variety of sources, not least in the 19th century, from post industrial revolution self made wealth from industry, finance, manufacturing, and commerce of all sorts: previously senior legal and administrative figures and others were added.
Pre- judice and bias should not create innacurate ignorance by an author.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

We do need a benign dictator. Preferably a bloke down the pub with 3 pints inside him but not 6. (We have those already) An advisory cabinet of barbers and taxi drivers to keep him in touch with the road situation, general morale, grumbles etc. But wait, all the barbers are Turkish and the taxi firms run by Bangladeshis. OK, those who service gas boilers go into the homes of the public and must hear all…No women need apply, they’re quietly running enough as it is.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

We do need a benign dictator. Preferably a bloke down the pub with 3 pints inside him but not 6. (We have those already) An advisory cabinet of barbers and taxi drivers to keep him in touch with the road situation, general morale, grumbles etc. But wait, all the barbers are Turkish and the taxi firms run by Bangladeshis. OK, those who service gas boilers go into the homes of the public and must hear all…No women need apply, they’re quietly running enough as it is.

james elliott
james elliott
1 year ago

Britain needs a dictator?

Uhm, no thanks.

We are already experimenting with being ruled by WEF diktat – and it is a disaster.

What we *need* is democratic policies, with it least two parties driven by *different* ideologies and offering *different* directions, so we can choose between them and mold both.

Currently, we have two parties who both agree to do whatever the WEF ‘recommends’. It is, I repeat, a disaster.

99% of voters in the UK do not want net zero. So why are we as a country hotly pursuing it?

james elliott
james elliott
1 year ago

Britain needs a dictator?

Uhm, no thanks.

We are already experimenting with being ruled by WEF diktat – and it is a disaster.

What we *need* is democratic policies, with it least two parties driven by *different* ideologies and offering *different* directions, so we can choose between them and mold both.

Currently, we have two parties who both agree to do whatever the WEF ‘recommends’. It is, I repeat, a disaster.

99% of voters in the UK do not want net zero. So why are we as a country hotly pursuing it?

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
1 year ago

Even more confusingly, one of the home nations, Northern Ireland, isn’t a nation in any sense of the word

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

And it isn’t even northern Ireland; there are parts of Donegal that are even further north!

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

And it isn’t even northern Ireland; there are parts of Donegal that are even further north!

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
1 year ago

Even more confusingly, one of the home nations, Northern Ireland, isn’t a nation in any sense of the word

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

And bring back tge old regiments.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

The .

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

The .

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

And bring back tge old regiments.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

Free Australia!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Are the ‘Warders’ still in control then?

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

No. The inmates.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

‘The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts but that so many are descended from prison officers’. The late Clive James.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

No. The inmates.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

‘The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts but that so many are descended from prison officers’. The late Clive James.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

With purchase of Australia of equal or greater value.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Are the ‘Warders’ still in control then?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

With purchase of Australia of equal or greater value.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

Free Australia!

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

Oh boy. How can I vote for you. And either you possess a memory or have done real research, or both.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

What?

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

What?

Bruce V
Bruce V
1 year ago

~

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruce V
Bruce V
Bruce V
1 year ago

~

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruce V
Neil Ross
Neil Ross
1 year ago

“After the chaos of the revolution, the population wanted conservatism, and Napoleon gave it to them.”
Nope – Napoleon gave France continuous warfare and dictatorship. There was nothing conservative about Napoleon!

Neil Ross
Neil Ross
1 year ago

“After the chaos of the revolution, the population wanted conservatism, and Napoleon gave it to them.”
Nope – Napoleon gave France continuous warfare and dictatorship. There was nothing conservative about Napoleon!