by Ed West
Monday, 16
September 2019
14:09

Why’s Verhofstadt bigging up empire?

by Ed West

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (pictured) brought a big cheer at the Liberal Democrat conference this weekend with a speech in praise of empire. He said:

The world of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It is a world order that is based on empires. China is not a nation, it’s a civilisation. India is not a nation. The US is also an empire, more than a nation. And then finally the Russian federation. The world of tomorrow is a world of empires in which we Europeans, and you British, can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together, in a European framework and in the European Union.
- Guy Verhofstadt

In fairness he wasn’t quite calling for Europe to become an empire, but he was certainly implying it. The word has unfortunate and almost entirely negative connotations but historically many empires have been more cosmopolitan, progressive and outward-looking than small nation-states.

The idea of the EU as a liberal empire has been suggested before, while Piers Paul Read compared it with the Holy Roman Empire, a Catholic vision which many of the Union’s founding fathers would have agreed with. The EU does, after all, give out the Charlemagne Prize, for individuals who have helped promote European integration, in commemoration of the first “Emperor of the West”.

But while historically China was an empire, centralised from a very early stage, Europe has since the fifth century been divided into dozens or hundreds of sovereign states; and that, more than anything else, helped the West to catch up and overtake the East.

If one state declined into cultural stasis, tyranny or religious fanaticism, another would profit. When France turned to absolutism under Louis XIV it didn’t drag the whole continent down with it, because England took advantage to race ahead. The British system of government was better and, by 1815, had finally won out. Competition and political diversity are the key to Europe’s historic success, even if – tragically – this competition often ended in violence, horrifically so in the 20th century.

Europe was spiritually united, or at least for much of its history, which allowed for cross-cultural fertilisation and economic development (international banking was often run by religious institutions like the Templars). But this cultural unity was different to political unity.

And large empires don’t tend to be hugely pleasant places to live for their actual subjects. Of the rival empires Mr Verhoftstadt listed as dominating the 21stcentury China is a horrific Black Mirror-like dystopia and Russia is back in its traditional role as authoritarian neighbourhood bully; India still suffers terrible poverty while the United States is in many ways dysfunctional, beset by political polarisation and intractable social problems. Forgive me if this little European does not look forward to this exciting new world of empire.

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Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

I am very sorry if Wajid Nawaz has encountered racism from SNP supporters. Tangential to the main point of his article, is it really accurate to describe the UK as a a federation? It seems to be more like a hybrid between a federation and a unitary state, since the English, with most of the population, don’t have their own Parliaments or Assemblies. It’s really not for me to say whether England should have one Parliament, two or more in a UK federation, but if the UK were a federation every English citizen would have some regional Parliament or Assembly to represent their interests. The boundaries of the UK are strange too, with things that entities that would seem to any outside observer as obviously being part of the UK, i.e. the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, not having representation in the House of Commons. The least populous of these, Guernsey, has about twice as many people as the Yukon Territory in Canada, which has its own MP in the Canadian House of Commons. An Englishman like Wajid may be stung by charges of colonialism, but surely the best way to counter them would be to make the UK a true federation, with somewhat broader boundaries.

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

It is now only a matter of time before England gets its own Legislative Body. It has been hastened by what has happened by the differing ways each part of the UK has reacted to CV19. Each ‘corner’ has done its own thing – probably more to assert their ‘authority’ in a similar way to the States in the US.
As an aside, after the Federation of the UK arrives, the time will close when the Republic of Ireland would be in a position to rejoin.

Robyn Lagrange
Robyn Lagrange
2 years ago

Independence for Scotland would mean independence for England, no longer dominated by an over represented minority. I would welcome Scottish independence. They deserve it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Robyn Lagrange

Churchill once said he had to bear the “Cross of Lorraine” ie: De Gaulle!
Now ‘we’ have to bear the “Cross of St Andrew “. ie: Nicola Sturgeon!

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
2 years ago

Maajid Nawaz is trying to rewrite history. Scotland was colonised by England. Their sovereignty was usurped by Edward the Long Shanks. Installing his English nobles, of the worst sort, to disrupt and oppress the Scottish people. That is history. Maajid doesn’t get to revise that history. This was essentially colonisation by corporation.

The house of Stuart assuming the throne of England and firstly ruling Scotland and England independently but choosing to merge them during a time of prosperity. But when the control of Scottish affairs and subsequently Scottish prosperity massively declined post WWII the Scottish people have raised the valid notion to once again take back their right to self rule. Rightly so.

That model of “Colonisation” by corporation was duplicated and spread as a model throughout the British Empire. East India company, Hudson Bay company and North West trading company were the largest of these. They waged war and operated with impunity. Much like the Labour Party of the UK they had an exclusive club of Elites that ruled at whim to the detriment of the people. All of the authors dog whistles about “secret unidentified racist hiding in the crowd of nationalists” is a distraction from the issue of sovereignty.

I think the Scottish people have dreamed of self rule for some time and now is the time for it. Smaller government closer to the people is best.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott Allan

I am sorry, but your grasp of history here, is seriously at fault.
Your view seems to be distorted by a miasma of half truths and nationalistic nonsense.
Emotionally some in Scotland may hanker after Independence, but the pragmatic majority realise it would be an epic financial disaster, on the scale of Darien in 1698-9.

philgloveruk
philgloveruk
2 years ago

An interesting read (thanks to the author). Unfortunate to see, from a perusal of the majority of the comments in a forum purporting to push against the herd mentality, that commentary barely addresses the issue of racism within SNP or its support, or indeed in Scotland more broadly. The reference to racism being limited to Rangers supporters belies the truth and does the author no credit. Racism is well-documented as being present across all British churches and political/cultural creeds. Indeed racism is not getting the publicity it deserves because of sectarianism.
The author’s comparison of the SNP support with Momentum is interesting. The SNP movement, perhaps more so than the parliamentary party, appears to me to have much more in common with Ireland’s Sinn Fein than Momentum. I state this, not because the SNP movement supported, supports or continues to attempt justify ‘armed struggle’ against the Westminster government the way PSF did/do, but because politically, they have successfully morphed from a fringe political movement into a significant political force as a consequence of the following: (i) construction of a narrative of English/UK ‘oppression’ on the back of the pain of the Thatcher era or even older wrongs as far back as Darien; (ii) brilliantly effective use of all popular media channels assisted by a largely enchanted/fascinated sycophantic politically aligned sympathetic liberal media, meaning their ’cause’ is subtly yet constantly promoted without balanced analysis or critique at the expense of opposing political views (consider airtime/screentime for NS as compared to Labour leader (who?) or Ruth Davidson’s successor; (iii) a complete absence of effective, articulate opposition (iv) a claim to represent all of the polity despite representing significantly less than half of the polity (v) a disingenuous stated aspiration for equality and inclusiveness across the polity, masking their underlying fundamental intolerance and disdain for non-aligned views in that polity (vi) a significant underbelly of (at best) trolls and (at worst) thugs prepared to intimidate and denigrate anyone perceived as non-aligned (vii) a leadership that has done NOTHING to reign such conduct in (because it serves a purpose) and (viii) whether we want to admit it or not, charismatic, clever and manipulative political leadership. The implicit sectarianism in the comments is disappointing. It is this issue that pervades the Scotland I recently left. Racism in Scotland and Ireland transcends traditional sectarian boundaries. Ironically,even in the Republic of Ireland, hostility towards England/UK has now waned, with the Good Friday agreement, royal visits and public goodwill consigning bitterness over centuries-past British injustice to only the staunchest Republican families. Even in NI, the grievances that led citizens to take up arms and subversive activity have paled in importance as blinkers came off and society moved on. History is useful but is also HISTORY. The only place in Europe where politics remains or has become led/driven by dogma, reference to centuries-old grievances and constant blaming of England/Westminster for every little ill amid a carefully promoted narrative of economic and cultural oppression is in Scotland. The SNP approach mirrors that of Sinn Fein in the late 20th century and more recently.It is very sad to see that a country once viewed as Ireland’s kith and kin (no matter your church) with a wee football problem in Glasgow now and again, has become a sort of new ‘Irish struggle’ wherein Nicola, and only Nicola and the SInnFeinNP (ourselves alone) can (a) govern the people of Scotland and (b) lead the people of Scotland out from under the jackboot of imperialWestminster and perfidious Albion. Twitter – and even the comments in this column, are evidence of how the SNP’s narrative has created REAL division in Scotland and on a much bigger scale than traditional sectarian differences. The only way to arrest this trend is to have an effective, articulate, UNITED opposition. Ruth got out for that reason as the idea of Scots Labour and Scots Tory seeing the wood for the trees is risible. Where an effective articulate unionist opposition will come from in modern Scotland is difficult to envisage. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a charismatic, clever and manipulative leader who can build a movement that morph and grow into a unionist propaganda machine that can match or defeat the SNP at the ballot box. Unionism is the status quo, the Republic of Scotland is the vision, the aspiration, the fulfilment of the dream of self-determination etc. etc. The only thing that can undo this Scottish Nationalist juggernaut is a United Scottish Unionist Party. It is only a UNIFIED UK that can effectively address racism, sectarianism, thug nationalism and other cultural issues effectively. The SNP’s strategy since devolution has fomented real division and fostered ancient enmities in Scotland. The movement’s rhetoric and its leader’s self-importance and bombast present a real risk of that division mutating into civil disorder. If the Twittersphere and wider social media are uaed as a barometer, grr scenario is not as unlikely as it seems

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
2 years ago

The UK definitely needs to rebalance power between the four nations. I’m not instinctively English, but British like you, and for much the same reasons having experienced first hand the racism of Welsh nationalism. However, interestingly, I am beginning to feel a deep stirring of my English identity, which unbeknownst to me has always been there but had long since been hidden.

In this respect, I can understand and appreciate your deeper concerns around Scottish nationalism and the possibility of the UK breaking up into separate nations and the heightened possibility of English national racism.

However, I can assure you from the bottom of my English heart that all are welcome in England as long as our ecological capacity is respected. In this respect, I am a conduit between the far right and the BAME communities in which I permanently live and have been negotiating a settlement which includes ecological rights and responsibilities.

Both parties are in a relatively stable agreement whereby emigre communities respect the fact that needs become before rights. So for example, in terms of allocating a limited provision of social housing, the need for social housing comes before the rights of social housing. So if an emigre household has the affluence to move into the private sector, then they should. Therefore, it is acknowledged that emigre communities understandably want long term security and as long as they don’t align with the abhorrent value systems of the Liberal Establishment, then they are safe as far as the far right are concerned.

So again, by way of example, the same applies to the allocation of public sector jobs. Needs should come before rights. So rather than positive discrimination for BAMEs, we have no discrimination with public sector jobs allocated on the basis of needs not minority rights.

So back to Scottish nationalism (with a much deeper context), I except their concerns and feel they are justified. They need more powers of self determination and they should be granted them in order to allow their self preservation instinct run free. Albeit within a new UK compact which for me ideally includes Ireland too.

Hence ‘UK’ needs to be changed via #PaxBrittania, a new devolved post-UK settlement with serious thought going into the politico-cultural impacts of a four nation British settlement.