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The empire strikes back

On the eve of an eagerly awaited Ashes series, Peter Wilby reveals how the forces of globalisation a

Whoever designed this summer’s cricket programme must have had a sly sense of humour. Immediately after the newest, brashest form of the game, the World Twenty20, comes the oldest, most traditional contest of all: an Ashes series between England and Australia comprising five five-day Test matches, starting in Cardiff on Wednesday. White clothes, red balls and ancient rituals of lunch and tea replace the coloured costumes, white balls and dancing girls that greet each Twenty20 boundary. It is as though a performance of the St Matthew Passion had been preceded by a karaoke session.

It is one of cricket’s strengths that it is infinitely adaptable, and that a short game can be as demanding of players’ skills as the longer versions. For cricket connoisseurs, however, there can be no doubt about which form of the game is superior. There are rarely empty seats for the first three days of a midsummer Test in England, and never for the Ashes. For a few weeks between Wimbledon and the start of the football season, cricket will hold public and media attention, with Kevin Pietersen’s Achilles attracting the coverage normally reserved for Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal. Yet the survival of the traditional game hangs by a thread. Earlier this year, when England visited the Caribbean, where cricket once brought normal life to a standstill, most support came from England’s travelling “Barmy Army” – and even they couldn’t half-fill the region’s modest stadiums. Tests during England’s most recent tour of Pakistan, in 2005-2006, attracted roughly 10,000 a day only by giving away 70 per cent of the tickets. The first Test between South Africa and Australia in Johannesburg this year, for the unofficial world championship, attracted average crowds of fewer than 15,000 spectators a day in a ground that holds 34,000.

The rulers of English cricket would never admit it (they have spent more than a century denying the need for change, until desperation forces it upon them) but, in most countries, Test matches might not survive another decade. The Ashes may go on for longer – much depends on whether England remain competitive, as they have managed only spasmodically for the past 20 years. But, as the former Somerset captain and writer Peter Roebuck observed, “the remarkable thing is not that shorter matches have been introduced, but that the longer version endures”.

The rise of India has changed everything. The subcontinent now generates 70 per cent of world cricket’s revenues and doesn’t hesitate to exercise the power and influence that brings. Cricket has always been a vehicle for national self-assertion. The ruling elite of Victorian England saw it as part of the empire’s civilising mission, binding its far-flung subjects into loyalty to the mother country and its values. “To play it . . . honourably,” said Lord Harris, the governor general of colonial Bombay in the 1890s and a former captain of Kent, “is a moral lesson in itself and the classroom is God’s air and sunshine.”

Later, the game would unite the scattered populations of Australia, becoming an expression of Australianness: aggressive, unsentimental, egalitarian, unadorned by frills and refinements. In the West Indies, cricket began as a proclamation of white settler supremacy – no black player was allowed to become the regular captain until 1960 – then turned into an assertion of black autonomy and self-respect. Now India, an emerging world power in politics and economics, finds in cricket an arena where it may dominate.

It offers by far the largest and most lucrative market for the game. As the academics Nalin Mehta, Jon Gemmell and Dominic Malcolm put it in the current issue of the Sport in Society journal, “cricketers are the biggest brand names in the [Indian] consumer economy”. The Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 competition between city-based teams that is modelled on the English football Premiership, offers players previously unimaginable sums for a couple of months’ cricket. For 2008, the league’s first year, global media rights and team franchises were sold for $1.7bn and some players commanded contracts worth more than $1m. This year, security fears during a general election forced the league into exile in South Africa, but that seems likely to be a temporary setback. Across the world, many of the best professional players no longer aspire to a Test place but want an IPL contract.

Leading England players are still bound by contracts that supposedly limit their freedom to play elsewhere. But the IPL offered Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, the two star players, £450,000 over three weeks. The ECB dared not stop them from joining the league, even though they risked injury ahead of the Ashes. Flintoff’s agent has already suggested that leading players will in future refuse contracts from their national boards, offering themselves, like golf players, to the highest bidders from tournaments around the world. Now that England’s attempt to enlist Allen Stanford as saviour has ended in disaster – the Texan was arrested on fraud charges in the US – most such bidders are likely to be Indian.

Once, the English would have enlisted their Australian allies to keep the uppity natives in their place. In 1996, after a series of wrangles over, for example, who should host the next World Cup, England, Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand drew up a secret plan to split world cricket by playing each other and nobody else. Anything on those lines is now inconceivable, because leading players would opt to follow the money to India. Talk of “mercenaries”, lacking commitment to their national team, rings hollow when Pietersen is a South African (and by no means the first one) who opted for England to maximise his income. Moreover, the Twenty20 game, enthusiastically embraced in India, was invented in England to shore up the budgets of penurious county clubs.

India’s new power represents an astonishing reversal of history. For a century, from the first Test match against Australia in 1877, England was the undisputed ruler of world cricket. The Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC), formed in 1909 by England, Australia and South Africa, administered the international game, but was in reality a front for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), based at Lord’s in north London. This was a private club of the English elite that had governed the domestic game and laid down the rules (or “Laws”, as they are pompously called) since 1787. The ICC (renamed the International Cricket Council in 1989) became an independent body only in 1993. Until then, England and Australia retained a veto over any decision taken by other cricketing nations. When a World Cup was first created (involving matches of 50 overs each side), the first three tournaments, in 1975, 1979 and 1983, were all held in England.

But by then, the English elite’s control was already threatened. In 1977, the Australian TV mogul Kerry Packer bought up most of the best players and established his own cricket circuit, with white balls, coloured clothing and floodlit matches, all now familiar but then thought revolutionary. The authorities tried to ban the “mercenaries” from playing again in England, only to be overruled by the courts. The matter was settled when Packer, who set up his circus because he was denied Australia’s cricket broadcasting rights, got what he considered his fair share of the official action. But the lesson for Lord’s – repeated during the 1980s as South Africa, isolated by apartheid, tempted leading players into “rebel tours” – was that, to repel further raiders, it must allow the best cricketers an income that reflected their commercial value.

The English reluctance to take professionalism seriously lies at the heart of cricket’s crisis in this country. Cricket, as the historian Ross McKibbin has pointed out, was until the 1950s the most “national” of all sports. Unlike football and rugby league (working class) or tennis and rugby union (middle class), it was played and watched by people across the social spectrum. Its strongholds were not just in the shires and suburban villages, as its literary and artistic representations might suggest, but in the mill-towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Between the wars, the 14 clubs of the Lancashire League – all within 20 miles of Blackburn – got 200,000 spectators a season and sometimes more than 300,000, totals that few county championship clubs could match. The northern leagues attracted overseas professionals, such as the West Indian Learie Constantine, who was paid £750 a season when the maximum football wage was £500.

But cricket never quite escaped the control achieved by the English ruling classes in the early 19th century. The game came to embody patrician values and political attitudes. Style – keeping a straight bat, for example – counted for more than technique and success. The earliest organised games involved dukes and earls raising teams that included grooms, gardeners, butlers, gamekeepers and labourers. The plebs did the bowling, fielded energetically and scored runs inelegantly to leg while aristocrats captained the teams, fielded languidly and batted stylishly, if often briefly and ineffectually. (Rugby had a similar divide between squat, determined working-class forwards who won the ball so that long-striding, socially superior three-quarters could run with it.)

So it remained for generations. Until very recently, English cricket was feudal in its structure. Most players were vassals, poorly paid during their careers and dependent for security beyond retirement on a “benefit” (a tax-free lump sum derived from gate receipts, raffles and collections), awarded by the good grace of their social betters on county committees. Like the passive Russian serfs who so infuriated Lenin, all but a few professionals humbly accepted their lot. The late cricket commentator John Arlott, himself a Liberal Party supporter, doubted there were more than half a dozen Labour voters in the whole county game. If cricket has faced upheavals over the past 30 years, they represent not a workers’ uprising, but a bourgeois revolution which, to borrow from Marx and Engels, “has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’”.

A distinction between amateurs and professionals continued until the 1960s: most county captains and, with one exception (Len Hutton), all England captains were amateurs. Because amateurs were often paid more than professionals, the distinction was a social one, and the fault-line survives to this day. The old-style, straight-talking professional, lacking in social graces, often leaves the England captaincy under a cloud: Brian Close (1967, time-wasting in a county match), Mike Gatting (1988, consorting with a barmaid during a Test), Kevin Pietersen (2009, insubordination) are examples. Players such as the current captain, Andrew Strauss (Radley College and Durham University) – euphemistically described by cricket writers as “thoughtful” – fit the English idea of a natural leader.

English cricket held the plebs at bay not only on the field but also at the turnstiles. It might have retained, even enhanced, its wide appeal, but attempts to make the game more competitive and popular were resisted until there was no alternative. A knockout cup (first proposed in 1873, introduced in 1963), Sunday cricket, a two-division championship, 20-overs-a-side games on summer evenings were introduced only when the county game faced bankruptcy. Until the 1960s, the counties played only three-day matches while the masses were at work; professionals played for a pittance because most revenue came from socially exclusive county memberships. Cricket still prefers small numbers of affluent supporters, many of them in corporate boxes, to a mass following. Black supporters, who keenly attended Tests involving the West Indies until the 1990s, have been largely priced out, along with many Indian and Pakistani fans.

This history leaves English cricket ill-equipped to cope with the game’s new world order. Globalisation, in sport as in economics, can be cruelly destructive of tradition. It favours mass production over craft skills, and international brands over long-established local names. Through TV and the internet, cricket, like football, can now reach a global audience, and the instant excitement and simplicity of Twenty20 – which, some think, might even catch on in America or China – make it a more sellable form of the game than the subtleties of Test matches.

Once, sporting loyalties were based on locality. Now, Manchester United – essentially a multinational business – matters almost as much in Shanghai as it does in Salford. A top football player’s first loyalty is no longer to an international team but, first, to his own brand and, second, to his club. Something similar is happening to cricket, the difference being that while England, with its Premiership, is a football superpower (as it is also a rugby union superpower), it must yield second place to India in cricket. The Delhi Daredevils or Royal Challengers Bangalore will compete for the services of a Flintoff or a Pietersen, as Manchester United and Real Madrid compete for Ronaldo.

To most of the cricketing world, the Ashes series will be a quaint sideshow. But the rivalry with Australia remains English cricket’s most precious asset, the only event that still holds the nation’s attention. Even that may not last much longer. Since the Second World War, England have only occasionally beaten Australia, usually by small margins and often at times of upheaval (as when Packer signed up nearly the entire Australian first team).

England narrowly won the 2005 series – hailed by the editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack as the greatest of all – and yet, give or take a couple of dropped catches, they could easily have lost. That would have made it nine consecutive series defeats since 1989, all by decisive margins. After another defeat in 2006-2007, would the nation then be awaiting this series so eagerly? Would Australia – who, before 2005, increasingly treated India as their more important rival – still be interested? And if England lose badly over the next two months, will 2005 come to be seen as a brief, happy revival of a dying contest?

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005. He is writing a socialist history of cricket

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, HOWZAT!

ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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The Great Huckster: Boris Johnson’s reckless distortions of history

As a scholar of Churchill, Boris Johnson could have articulated a constructive vision for Britain and Europe. Instead, he wilfully manipulates and distorts the historical record.

This month, 76 years ago, the defeated British Expeditionary Force was making for the Channel ports. Thanks to the ferocious resistance put up by the garrison at Calais, and Hitler’s hesitation, the bulk of the men were safely taken off the beaches at Dunkirk to fight another day. Whatever their private feelings during those terrible hours may have been, most of them knew even then that they would return to Europe to finish the job.

Their forefathers had been intervening in Europe for as long as anyone could remember. From Shakespeare’s Henry V through to Elizabeth’s support for the Dutch revolt, the Second Hundred Years War against Louis XIV, the French Revolution and Napoleon, and the First World War, London had always been profoundly invested in the continent. Defending the “liberties of Europe” and thus British freedoms was what Englishmen and Britons did. It was part of what they were.

In early June 1944 – on D-Day – the British, Americans and Canadians hurled themselves into northern France as their ancestors had done since the late Middle Ages. At least one British officer tried to inspire his men that morning as the landing craft approached the strongly defended beaches by reading out Henry V’s speech before Harfleur, in which Shakespeare has him exhort the men, “once more unto the breach”. The film version of the play was released that same year, dedicated to the “commando and airborne troops of Great Britain”. In the popular mind, these Englishmen and their North American descendants were part of the continuity of a European story that went back to the medieval English empire in France.

Some of those liberating Europe thought that they could not simply return to “business as usual” after the war. One of them was the later Conservative prime minister Ted Heath, the man who took Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973. He first defended Liverpool as an anti-aircraft gunner and then took the fight to Hitler as an artillery man during the campaign in north-west Europe. Over the course of the next 11 months, Heath and his comrades fought their way across the traditional battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries, including the Walcheren swamps in which their ancestors had been mired in Napoleonic times; and through western Germany into the centre of the Reich. They were to stay there, at the heart of Europe, for some 60 years. They created a stable European order, based on Nato and what was to become the European Union, which remains with us to this day.

Now the Brexit stalwart Boris Johnson, my fellow historian, claims that it was all in vain. “The European Union,” he says, “is an attempt to do what Hitler wanted by different methods.” Worse still, the EU is a German plot, whose currency, the euro, was “intended by the Germans” to “destroy” Italian manufacturing and generally grind the faces of its unfortunate members. Johnson has also invoked the spirit of Churchill in support of his arguments. He has since doubled down on his remarks and has received support from other members of the Brexit camp, such as Iain Duncan Smith, though not apparently from more informed figures such as Michael Gove. Unfortunately, Johnson’s claims are as historically wrong as it is possible to be, comparable in their crassness only to his predecessor as London mayor Ken Livingstone’s suggestion that Hitler supported Zionism.

Far from supporting European political unity, Hitler was violently and explicitly opposed to the idea. This was partly because it was proposed by his opponents on the “left” of the Nazi Party, such as the Strasser brothers. They belonged to the “anti-imperialist” wing of the Nazi Party, which wanted a pan-European front against the Jews and the British empire. Hitler’s hostility to the European project was also in part due to a racial antipathy to the half-Japanese Richard, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the author of the widely discussed book Pan-Europa (1923). One way or the other, Hitler condemned the Pan-Europa movement as “a fantastical, historically impossible childishness”, which would be no more than a “Jewish protectorate”.

Nor did he hold back with his alternative view of what the continent should look like. “The solution,” he wrote, “cannot be Pan-Europa, but rather a Europe of free and independent national states, whose spheres of interest are separate and clearly delineated.” Comparisons involving Hitler are usually odious but if one is going to draw parallels, his view of European integration then was much closer to that of the Brexiters today than that of the advocates of the European Union.

Moreover, the European project did not originate in the Nazis’ attempt to mobilise the continent on their behalf but rather in the resistance movement against Hitler. Take Sicco Mansholt, who hid Dutch resisters on his farm during the war, at great personal risk. He subsequently became the Dutch minister for agriculture and one of the fathers of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Take Altiero Spinelli, the Italian anti-fascist who spent ten years in Mussolini’s prisons. It was there, in June 1941, at the height of Hitler’s power, that he secretly wrote his draft manifesto For a Free and United Europe.

Take Paul-Henri Spaak, later prime minister of Belgium, first president of the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community – the forerunner of the EU – and secretary-general of Nato. He was forced to make a daring escape from wartime Europe in the false bottom of a lorry in order to carry on the struggle against Hitler in exile. Indeed, across Europe there were thousands of men and women who fought, died, were imprisoned or tortured because they believed in a free and united Europe. To suggest that they were trying to achieve the same thing as Hitler by different methods is an outrageous slur on their memory. If Johnson ever makes it to the top of the Conservative Party, and thence to No 10, he will have a lot of explaining and apologising to do in Europe.

***

As if all this were not bad enough, Boris Johnson’s invocation of Churchill flies in the face of everything we know of the great man’s attitude to the European project. To be sure, he began as a Eurosceptic. When army reforms were proposed in 1901 to support the creation of a substantial land force on the continent, the young Winston Churchill was one of the few MPs to oppose them on the grounds that the navy, rather than the army, was of crucial importance to British security. Writing in the Morning Post, Churchill argued that “history” and “geography” showed that the British empire was “essentially commercial and marine”, and had been defended by armies of foreigners.

As the German threat loomed large, however, he changed his mind. Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, told the Australians and New Zealanders in April 1913 that Europe was “where the weather came from”. It was the terrible storm of the First World War that caused Churchill not only to believe in the centrality of Europe but in the need for European – or at least continental European – unity.

In May 1930, the president of the Pan-Europa Union, the former French prime minister Aristide Briand, made a formal proposal for a “European federal union” based on a “European conference” with an executive to co-ordinate economic and military co-operation. The British government of the time rejected the surrender of sovereignty involved but many were sympathetic to the idea of continental European union under liberal auspices. The arch-imperialist Leo Amery, secretary of state for the colonies and later a powerful critic of appeasement, was a strong admirer of Coudenhove and his projects, which he regarded as the extension of Anglo-Saxon principles to the continent.

Likewise, Churchill, then chancellor of the Exchequer, told parliament in June 1925 that he hoped that one could “weave Gaul and Teuton so closely together economically, socially and morally as to prevent the occasion of new quarrels and make old antagonisms die in the realisation of mutual prosperity and interdependence”. Then, he continued, “Europe could rise again”. Churchill did not believe, however, that Britain should be part of any continental political union. “We are with Europe, but not of it,” he wrote in 1930. “We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.”

In mid-June 1940, however, as western Europe buckled under the Nazi onslaught, Churchill went a step further. He made an unsuccessful offer of union with France – involving joint citizenship and a common government – designed to lock the French into the war effort against Germany or, failing that, to secure their fleet. The Nazi threat was so existential, in other words, that it justified the surrender, or at least the pooling, of British sovereignty.

When the threat of invasion passed, Churchill returned to the theme of continental European integration. In October 1942, he “look[ed] forward to a United States of Europe in which barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised. He “hope[d] to see the economy of Europe studied as a whole”, and the establishment of a council of “ten units, including the former Great Powers [and thus presumably Britain], with several confederations – Scandinavian, Danubian, Balkan, etc, which would possess an international police and be charged with keeping Prussia disarmed”.

Churchill returned to the subject immediately after the war, as the Soviet threat menaced Europe. In a speech at Zurich University in September 1946, he urged the continent to “unite”, with Britain supporting the project from the outside. Once again, including the Germans was central to his conception. Churchill urged no less than the full political union of the continent in a “kind of United States of Europe” under the “principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter”. He again praised the work of Hitler’s bugbear, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi’s “Pan-European Union”.

Churchill demanded an “act of faith”, beginning with “a partnership between France and Germany”, assembling around them the states of Europe “who will and . . . can” join such a union. Its purpose was clear, namely “to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.”

Moreover, Churchill argued, “The ancient states and principalities of Germany, freely joined together for mutual convenience in a federal system, might each take their individual place among the United States of Europe.” In short, the new polity was designed to solve not merely the European question but the German problem, the two being one and the same. Once again, Churchill conceived of this United States of Europe alongside but not including the United Kingdom and the British “Commonwealth of Nations”, that is, the empire. Instead, he believed that Britain should be one of the “sponsors of the new Europe”.

Churchill’s attitude to continental European union was, unlike Hitler’s, highly positive. For Johnson to suggest, therefore, that he is donning the mantle of Churchill to prevent the current European Union from achieving Hitler’s aims through other means is a complete travesty of the historical truth.

Far from being intended to promote German power, the European Union was designed to contain it, or at least to channel it in the right direction. Contrary to what Johnson suggests, the euro was not planned by Germany to subjugate Italian industry or any other European economy. It was insisted on by the French to decommission the deutschmark, which they described as Germany’s “nuclear weapon”. Likewise, the Germans are not incarcerating the Greeks in their European prison: Greeks are desperate not to be released back into the “freedom” of the drachma and the corrupt national politics that they joined “Europe” to escape. If there is one thing worse than being dominated by Germany in the European Union, evidently, it is not being in the EU at all.

Boris Johnson may not have known the details of Hitler’s attitude to European integration, or the European sympathies of many resisters, but he is very well informed about Churchill and Europe. His ignorance is thus not just a matter of making mistakes; we all make those as historians. Nor is it simply a matter of these mistakes being, like bank errors, in favour of one’s own argument. To say that Johnson knows better is not a figure of speech: he has shown in print that he does. His recent book, The Churchill Factor, contains a very balanced account of Churchill’s position on Europe, including most of the statements listed above.

In making his arguments, Johnson is not appealing to the baser instincts of the electorate; it is far worse than that. The deeply ingrained British instinct to fight European tyranny is not base but fine. What Johnson and those who defend his rhetoric have done is to take something virtuous and pervert it. The European Union is not, as we have seen, the continuation of Hitlerism by other means and to suggest so is blatant manipulation.

The shame of it is that there is a perfectly plausible Eurosceptic argument on its own merits. It was well stated by Michael Gove at the start of the campaign. It insists on the historical distinctiveness of the United Kingdom, whose history does indeed set it apart from the rest of the continent. It makes the case for a reform of the EU. It rejects the scaremongering of “Project Fear”, on the cogent grounds that the United Kingdom has the political, economic and military weight to prevail even without the stabilisers of the EU. It scorns President Obama’s impertinent warning that Britain would have to “get to the back of the queue” for a trade deal after Brexit, with a reminder that Britain and her empire defied Nazi Germany for two years before the Americans joined the fray, when Hitler declared war on them (not vice versa). One does not have to accept every detail of this discourse to feel its force. Uniquely among the democratic European powers, the United Kingdom can “stand alone” if it must or wants to.

The Achilles heel of the Brexit campaign, however, is that it has no viable vision for continental Europe. Even Gove falls down here, as his idea of a British departure unleashing a “democratic liberation” of the continent is pure fantasy. It seems odd to have to explain this to Brexiters but Britain really is special. Casting off the bonds of Brussels will not emancipate mainland Europe but let loose the nationalist and xenophobic demons tamed by the integration project. This is clear when we look at the rise of radical anti-European parties in France, Hungary, Austria, Germany and many other parts of Europe as the European project fragments. These developments should not surprise anyone who knows the history of mainland Europe before the mid-20th century and to a considerable sense beyond.

***

 

Most of continental Europe had failed before 1945 and even now the European Union is only failing better. Unlike virtually every other European state, which has at some point or other been occupied and dismembered, often repeatedly, England and the United Kingdom have largely – with very brief exceptions – been subjects of European politics, never merely objects. In this sense, too, she is exceptional. Yet this should not be an occasion for British triumphalism. Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 23 June, the European Union is not an enemy of the United Kingdom. It should best be understood as a modern version of the old Holy Roman Empire; hapless and officious, perhaps, but not malign. It needs help. The failure of the European project and the collapse of the current continental order would be not only a catastrophic blow to the populations on the far side of the Channel but also to the United Kingdom, which would be
directly exposed to the resulting disorder, as it always has been.

In short, the Brexit camp in general and Boris Johnson in particular are missing a great opportunity in Europe. A student and partisan of Winston Churchill, the former mayor of London was qualified to articulate a constructive vision for Britain and the continent. He has failed to understand that the only safe way that Britain can exit from the European Union is not through Brexit – whose consequences for mainland Europe would be dire – but through Euroexit; that is, a Churchillian political union of the continent in close co-operation with the UK.

Instead, in addition to their distortion of the historical record, Johnson and the Brexit camp are committing the cardinal sin of making a decision before they need to. The European Union is not, sadly, a United States of Europe, even though it needs to become one to survive, and is becoming less like one every day. If and when it musters the strength for full political union, there will be plenty of time to leave. Meanwhile, the EU needs all the support that Britain can give it from within.

In 1940, the British forces had been defeated and retreat was the only option. The situation could not be more different today. This is no time to head for the beaches in what will be a legislative Dunkirk of epic proportions, with incalculable consequences not so much for Britain as for the rest of the continent. Unlike in 1940, the United Kingdom is not being forced out of Europe. It has hardly begun to fight there, unless shooting oneself in the foot through Brexit counts as combat. The battle in Britain today is a distraction from the great struggle on the mainland. There is much work to be done in Europe. It is time the British stop tearing themselves apart and return unto the breach once more.

Brendan Simms is a NS contributing writer. His latest book is “Britain’s Europe: a Thousand Years of Conflict and Co-operation” (Allen Lane). He is president of the Project for Democratic Union

This article first appeared in the 19 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Huckster