Chris Grey, Professor of Social Organisation at Royal Holloway University, writes a blog about Brexit. In his most recent post he finds a formulation that captures some of the baffling features of the Tory approach to Brexit:
Observing Brexiters’ behaviour now, the thing that strikes me most forcibly is that almost all the time they act and talk not as if Britain had chosen to leave the EU but exactly as if Britain was being expelled by the EU…
Brexiters bemoan the failure of remainers to ‘get behind’ Brexit but they themselves seem singularly lacking in any big, coherent, optimistic, strategic or even enjoyable vision of Brexit. Given that (as they constantly say) they won the vote and are now enacting their dream policy you might expect such a vision, and if it existed many of the current problems would fall away. They would happily be saying ‘sure, we will meet our pre-existing financial commitments, these are of little importance given the exciting new opportunities Brexit brings’.
The post is well worth reading in its entirety, and it is spot on, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t explain why the Tories — and, by proxy, the nation — would put itself in such a position.
As near as I can come to an explanation that makes sense is to think of it — since everyone is talking divorce — in terms of the psychology of an abusive relationship, the relationship in this case being colonialism. Britain has the habit of dominance, acquired over many centuries. It is very common in such a relationship for the abuser to push off the blame onto the partner. “I don’t want to hurt you, but you’ve forced me into it.” The thing is, that is usually the action of the one who feels himself powerful and in control, not the one who is going to be hurt. Britain has overestimated its power, the inferior Continentals — and even the Irish — are asserting themselves, and the British government is reduced to wheedling and whining that Europe is mean and spiteful.
The next step after self pity is frequently violence. I suggested back when the referendum result was announced that the British would be shocked to discover how much the rest of Europe resents them, and how little leverage Britain actually has, and that there was a reasonable chance that they would then turn their fury against the enemy within, the resident foreigners. Nothing that has happened since then has made me more sanguine.
So, after Labour made it a point of triple-underlined principle to vote unanimously in favour of Brexit, and to deprive Parliament of any vote on the final deal, and that it wasn’t worth tying the government’s hands about possibly depriving 3 million Europeans in the UK of the rights they had been promised, it turns out the party of social democracy and the working class has found a principle that they feel strongly enough about to want to constrain the government’s freebooting negotiations. This tweet came today from the Shadow Secretary of State for E
xiting the European Union:
The language is appalling: “bargaining chip” is the language of defenders of EU citizen rights. Labour abandoned them, but believes that protecting Britain’s 18th century colonies is a noble cause worth fighting for. Much more important, too, than the right of young Britons to develop their talents and careers across the continent.
I pointed out a few days ago that we need to take seriously the idea that Trump’s British mother* indoctrinated him with radical colonialist ideologies. Now Trump has installed a bust of an arch British colonialist in a prominent place of honour in the Oval Office.
Imagine if Barack Obama had, as one of his first acts as president, installed a bust of Jomo Kenyatta in the Oval Office.
* An English colleague to whom I mentioned this theory said, “No, she was Scottish.”
The role of chancellor is a difficult one: He’s the symbolic aristocratic authority figure, of modest intelligence but sterling character, set to superintend the carryings-on of the overly clever boffins.
Anyway, there’s been a bit of to and fro at Oxford over the position of Cecil Rhodes. Following the successful “Rhodes Must Fall” protests at the University of Cape Town, Oxford students have been demanding that Oriel College remove the statue of Rhodes prominently displayed in the college’s facade. Oxford’s chancellor, the failed Conservative politician and last colonial governor of Hong Kong Christopher Patten, has decided to stoke the flames by using his ceremonial platform, where he was supposed to be welcoming the university’s first woman vice chancellor, to attack those who wish to “rewrite history”:
We have to listen to those who presume that they can rewrite history within the confines of their own notion of what is politically, culturally and morally correct. We do have to listen, yes – but speaking for myself, I believe it would be intellectually pusillanimous to listen for too long without saying what we think…
Yes. “We” must say what “we” think. Since history has been written once and for all, correctly, it is inappropriate to rewrite it. And heaven forfend that the rewriters should rely on their own notion of what is correct, morally or otherwise! It’s about time we got rid of all those people who try to rewrite history, you know, what are they called? Historians.
It’s pretty bizarre. It’s not as though protestors are breaking into the Bodleian and excising the name of Rhodes with a razor blade. The existence of the Rhodes statue is clear testimony to his outsized influence and to the honour accorded to him in his day, and it would continue to serve this function if it were placed in a museum. To continue to display the statue on the façade of a college is a declaration of current respect for him. Which is a matter of public debate. In 1945 all the Adolf-Hitler-Strassen in Germany were renamed, and I don’t recall whether Patten protested the felling of the Lenin statues in Berlin in 1989, or the Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq.
(A friend of a friend of mine, when I was an undergraduate at Yale, made the unfortunate choice to issue the bootlicking pledge in her application essay for the Rhodes scholarship, that she would aspire to fulfil the spirit of Cecil Rhodes. At interview she was asked, “Were you thinking of Rhodes’s spirit as a racist, as a colonialist, or as a paedophile?” Her answer was not transmitted, but she was not awarded a scholarship.)
(Personally, I would have attended the ceremony, to have been present at the historic investiture of Oxford’s first woman vice chancellor, if only I’d been able to rewrite the historical dress code, since at the last moment I couldn’t locate the academic hood required for attendance.)