Change Concepts

Continuity of our Nationhood

The continuity of our nationhood is a thing unique in human affairs – a fact recognised by observers outside our country, if forgotton by most inside.  Thus André Maurois opens the concluding chapter of his “Histoire de l’Angleterre” by saying:

“The history of England is one of Mankind’s outstanding successes.  It is instructive to probe the secret of a destiny as fortunate and impressive as that of ancient Rome.”

The contrast of our nationhood with the situation on the Continent could hardly be greater.  There, most states are of recent creation – Germany 1990, Italy 1870, Belgium 1831, Greece 1830 and so on.  Whole countries have been chopped up and put back again.  Parliamentary government is of even more recent creation and unstable, with Continental countries given to frequent lapses into tyranny and upheaval (France 1789, 1871, 1940, 1946, 1958; Germany 1918, 1933, 1945; Spain 1814, 1833-39, 1872-6, 1923, 1931-36, 1976; Italy 1922, 1946).  In the last 200 years in fact every EEC Continental country has been freed from its own or its neighbour’s tyranny at least once, and in the case of France three times, by British soldiers, either on their own or with their comrades from the rest of the English-speaking world.

It is not my present purpose to catalogue our achievements as a nation, but to remind ourselves that what is at stake is the future – not just of any old nation – not just of our own nation, but the nation which has shaped the modern world more than any other.  We are talking about a nation with the oldest vernacular literature in Europe – by several hundred years – with two works, the epic poem Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written at the very outset of our national journey, which stand today as giant works in our poetic and historical literature.  We are talking about St Boniface, born in Devon, who in the eighth century converted the Germans to Christianity, whose ministry is commemorated everyyear at Fulda, the centre of the German church – possibly the single most profound influence we have ever had on the Continent.

We are talking about the country from whose expansion overseas around one-third of the members of the United Nations Organisation derive their national existence, and of course we are talking of the nation which wrought the single most profound change in human existence since agriculture and towns in the New Stone Age – the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution fuelled Britain’s advance to supreme power in the world and it was the loss of industrial dominance which – at a lag of some fifty years or so – lost that power.  Since the militarily triumphant end of the Second World War, Britain has fallen rapidly from number three to perhaps fifth or sixth in industrial size, but perhaps only tenth in competitivity.

The Basic Reason for Industrial Weakness

Of course nothing could have prevented a displacement from the number one industrial position as other talented peoples acquired the essential techniques.  But it is abundantly clear that our fall has gone further and faster than the purely numerical proportions would have suggested.  Thus we have a whole literature of Britain’s national decline: e.g. “Whatever Hapened to Britain” John Eatwell, “English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit” Michael Wiener, “Britain in Decline” Andrew Gamble and the two most comprehensive and brilliant historical works of analysis: Corelli Barnett’s “Collapse of British Power” and “Industry and Empire” by Professor E J Hobsbawm.

From these, and other works, one can perhaps distil two facts: the first is that the nadir of Britain’s industrial performance, in farming as in manufacturing, occurred as long ago as just prior to the First World War, and secondly our weak industrial performance over the last 100 years or so depended (and depends) wholly on ourselves.

To take the second fact first, we have not been revaged by foreign conquest; we have not been denied access to vital raw materials.  The basic reason for our industrial weakness is that our leaders, our Establishment as we would now say, have never in that 100 year period given our industry, above all our manufacturing industry, the primacy it must have if we are to survive as a modern nation.  We have lost industrial battle after industrial battle – in machine tools, in computers, in consumer goods, cars and so on, because we have not really fought them.  With the boards of our major companies staffed chiefly by accountants and lawyers, we have been like an army led, not by generals from the infantry or artillery, but by the Pay Corps and the Army Legal Branch, with offstage exhortation by Parliament.  Can anyone seriously suggest that more of the same, this time from Europe – in the shape of commissions, parliaments and Mr Michael Heseltine’s Euro-senate pantomime, can do anything to help Britain pull itself up into the rank of a fully competitive power?  Does anyone seriously suggest that Germany, after the initial help it received from the USA and Britain after the war, owes its position to the EEC – any more than Japan does?  All that politicians and their parliaments can contribute to industrial regeneration is what they know about industry, which is usually very little.

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