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Why England hates incompetent tyrants The Rwanda debate has exposed our political system

An anti-immigration protester in Dover (SUSANNAH IRELAND/AFP via Getty Images)

An anti-immigration protester in Dover (SUSANNAH IRELAND/AFP via Getty Images)


December 13, 2023   5 mins

The English hatred for incompetent tyrants runs deep. In 1215, King John of England was forced to sign a treaty limiting royal power, after his most powerful barons rebelled against his military incompetence, arbitrary decision-making, and swingeing tax regime. Yet even among the Anglo-Saxon kings of the so-called Dark Ages, it was understood that before kingship comes popular consent.

Who gets to rule, and on what terms? This question underpins some of the most turbulent episodes in English domestic history. After a few centuries of relative quiet, it’s recently bubbled to the surface: first in the chaos that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, and afterwards in the issue of immigration. Most recently, it’s the deep story behind the drama over Sunak’s “Rwanda policy”.

England is, once again, revisiting a question we’ve asked at intervals since Bad King John: what political arrangement best guarantees our way of life? The Savoyard aristocrat and counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre, a keen observer of English political history, might have replied that this has the question backwards. In Studies on Sovereignty (1796), he argued that there’s no point trying to start with an ideal form of government, for “the government of a nation is no more its own work than is its language”. Nor is there any universally best form of government: rather, “all peoples have the government that suits them, and none has chosen it”.

De Maistre made these arguments against then-contemporary revolutionary efforts to rewrite France’s political settlement from the ground up. He argued that this attempt wasn’t just hubristic but impossible: that one cannot simply devise a constitution from first principles, “like a watchmaker makes a watch”. Rather, governments that actually suit a people emerge, over time, in conjunction with the specific geographic, cultural, economic and religious traits of that people. And if the people themselves are not predisposed to value what the constitution grants, then it doesn’t matter what the document says; you still won’t get the desired result. For as he argues, the settlement appropriate to a people reflects that people’s unwritten, core assumptions — what he calls “political dogmas” — that precede and give shape to the space of political possibility and command maximum power not once codified as a constitution, but before anyone writes them down.

If de Maistre had lived to see the 20th century, he might have illustrated this with the Russian political settlement since the 1917 revolution, which sought to depose a remote, ultra-wealthy aristocratic class that lived by extracting rents from an immiserated peasantry, while leading gilded international lives. He might have noted that the resulting, nominally Communist government also produced a remote, wealthy nomenklatura which extracted rents from a peasant class, while themselves living in luxury. And that since the 1991 upheavals that deposed this class, Russia is still somehow governed by a remote, ultra-wealthy aristocratic class that extracts rents from a ground-under peasantry, while leading gilded international lives. From this we might infer further that, had the international coalition that tried to democratise Iraq and Afghanistan at the turn of the millennium read Studies on Sovereignty, we might have saved many military lives and a great deal of money.

While I can’t speculate on Afghans’ or Russians’ political dogmas, over a millennium of English political history suggests that, for the English, a central one is that rule by absolutists is Just Not On — especially when they’re not even much good at ruling. During the 10th century, for instance, Anglo-Saxon kings weren’t crowned unless they received the imprimatur of the Witenagemot, a council of high-ranking lords on whose loyalty and military mustering-power that king would subsequently rely on to defend his realm. And though a great deal had changed in England by the 17th century, this turned out to be still more or less true. Charles I was beheaded in 1649 for, among other things, making too strong a claim to absolute rule: repeatedly dissolving Parliament when it didn’t go along with his demands, and only reconstituting it to ask for more money.

Importantly, though, this wasn’t a revolution. The majority of Englishmen did not want to abolish the monarchy, and just thought Charles was doing it wrong. After his death, Cromwell governed under the Protectorate, to all intents and purposes as a monarch; then, in 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne. But even then, the balance between Crown and Parliament was still off. In the late 17th century, James II found himself forced into absolutism to achieve his ends, and was again put in his place by the Witenagemot of his era: booted from the throne, and replaced with the more ductile (and Protestant) William and Mary.

The resulting consensus — formalised via the 1701 Act of Settlement — represents the constitution of which Joseph de Maistre wrote approvingly, when he described how “the civil and religious liberties of England are there newly consecrated”. That constitution held, by and large, until the dissolution of the British Empire in the Sixties, and Britain’s 1973 accession to the EU: a curious political phenomenon in which the ruling elites of several post-imperial European states collaborated to colonise one another, as a kind of retirement project. As was exhaustively debated in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, in the course of doing so, many powers previously wielded by the Crown in Parliament were ceded to the impersonal hands of international treaties: an abstract order created from first principles, more like the “watchmaker” approach deplored by Joseph de Maistre.

And the Brexit vote was, at its heart, a popular revolt against this state of affairs: one deeply rooted in England’s unwritten political dogmas. For some Brexiteers, the main complaint was constitutional: that EU membership subordinated Britain’s sovereign Parliament to an unaccountable supranational government. For others, the grievance was more concrete: the fact that the powers ceded included control of immigration policy.

In turn, the Leave vote prompted several years of political psychodrama so painful I doubt anyone wants to revisit the detail. Importantly, though, the climax turned on the relation between parliamentary sovereignty and the supposedly pre-political, impersonal domain of law. Four years ago this week, Boris Johnson was elected in a landslide, after a white-hot constitutional battle. In it, Johnson threatened to prorogue Parliament to force Brexit through. After Remainer MPs got this ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, Johnson called a snap election on a promise to “Get Brexit Done” and the rest, as they say, is history.

The dispute clarified a fact long submerged in the detail of Brexit: that it was partly a dispute over the competing political settlements now claiming the rightful government of England. On one side, the “rule of law”: an abstract system, comprising post-war international treaties, naturalised EU laws, and a series of “reforms” instituted by Tony Blair and his inheritors. This is the project de Maistre warned against: an effort to escape history for the impersonal systems, and where the final arbiter is not political but juridical — in Britain’s case, the 2009 Blair-era innovation of the “Supreme Court”. On the other, we have the emergent, gradually accumulated settlement whose core assumptions persist, as unwritten as ever, in a spirit largely unaltered since Bad King John.

Johnson won his landslide by standing up for the older political settlement, against the new technocratic one. But his victory has not resolved matters, any more than the instructive example of Charles I settled matters four centuries ago. Far from it: in terms of the grievances Brexit was intended to remedy, it has been a signal failure.

So far, immigration is not only not reduced, but significantly higher than pre-Brexit. Parliamentary supremacy, meanwhile, seems as hog-tied as ever by international obligations, agreements, and regulations — all enforced by the Supreme Court. If the Rwanda drama that engulfed Parliament this week tells us anything, it’s that we are a long way from having resolved the current imbalance in England’s political settlement to the satisfaction of the English people.

It’s clear that, for many voters today, the supposedly superior “neutral” system of laws is taking on the same hated characteristics of incompetence and despotism as a Bad King John.

It remains to be seen whether, having scraped a victory in Tuesday’s vote by 313 to 269, Rishi Sunak will succeed in reclaiming Parliamentary sovereignty — or whether this merely means the dispute will shift to some other disputed system of rules, agreements and obligations.

In any case, it’s clear that this fight will be ongoing — and also that it’s only secondarily about migrants. At its heart, it is the latest round of an ongoing dispute over how best to adjust the English political settlement for today’s conditions, while ensuring it still suits England and its people. And if history is any guide, this will continue until some compromise is reached that the English people finds acceptable. Or, alternatively, until the utopians manage to follow through on Bertolt Brecht’s ironic advice, and dissolve the people so another can be elected.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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nigel roberts
nigel roberts
4 months ago

Pace MH’s last paragraph tongue in cheek citation of Brecht, I would argue that the British electorate is indeed being dissolved and another instituted in its place.

Look at the electoral rolls of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire, the midlands and much of London in 1960 vs 2020 and you will see that the British electorate has been diluted at a minimum if not totally dissolved.

Another couple of decades and the process of dissolution will be substantially complete.

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Perhaps Enoch Powell had a point?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago
Reply to  Chipoko

Enoch was right

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

And ‘Grocer’ was WRONG!

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
4 months ago

Why did they call Heath that, as a matter of interest?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

His appalling accent! He didn’t pay enough for decent elocution lessons!

Simon
S
Simon
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Joy

His father was a grocer. Snobbish nonsense.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

Enoch was wrong. His numbers were massively below what they ended up being.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

I don’t recall him quoting any specific numbers.
However he did allude to the fact that it would ‘end in tears’ unless something was done.
We should soon know if he was correct.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
4 months ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

This is not new – people have been talking about it for at least 10 years. This is why it is so dangerous when relatively rich middle class women are saying that they don’t want children. Their careers and enjoyment may well be important but it will all lose its sheen if, as they get older they can only go out of the house fully covered.

Mrs R
Mrs R
4 months ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

And all because the English didn’t like tyrants in any shape or form. I love the English character and spirit and I mourn its coming annihilation for the situation appears hopeless
to me.

Last edited 4 months ago by Mrs R
Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Mrs R

It absolutely is not.

Mrs R
Mrs R
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I hope you’re right Steve, I really do. I certainly don’t want to be.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
4 months ago

I don’t know whether this is a good piece or a bad piece, but at least it puts its finger upon the wound, whether that is to poke or to soothe. And it is not only England’s or Britain’s wound; it exists in much of the West. We are losing our connection not only to democracy but to the simple populist needs that underpin democratic assent.

Last edited 4 months ago by Gerry Quinn
J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

Agreed. I don’t know enough English history to comment on that aspect of the article, but I believe the author correctly identifies the tension between a political settlement acceptable to most citizens versus rule by technocratic bodies enforcing supranational treaties.

Andy JS
Andy JS
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

Until about 15 or 20 years ago, it was possible for everyone to believe what they wanted to believe on the subject of migration, without it doing too much damage. In other words, people who theoretically believed in open borders on the one hand, and people who believed in very strict migration policies on the other, could just about put up with each other, because until then the actual situation on the ground was somewhere between those two positions: there was a certain amount of migration, but not too much. The problem now is that with the real situation being mass migration for 15 or 20 years, it’s no longer possible for both groups to pretend that everything’s pretty much going “their way”, so to speak. That was only possible when the real situation was roughly mid-way between the two positions. It’s a bit like in a sporting situation, where as long as one side is only winning slightly, both teams can “believe” that everything’s going to be okay for their side in the end. But when one team is winning by a wide margin, it’s no longer possible for both teams to continue believing that things will turn out alright for them. It’s too blatant. A fudge is no longer possible. And that’s when tolerance between people with different opinions starts to break down, which is a very serious development in a liberal democracy.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andy JS
Chris Mackay
Chris Mackay
3 months ago
Reply to  Andy JS

Good comment. Isn’t the real situation one of tolerance for immigrants as long as the host can absorb new arrivals? One determinant that was observable in Australia’s case (where I live) post WWII was immigrant acceptance of the existing culture, whilst retaining, privately, elements of the cultures from whence they came.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

One simple reform is needed to resolve this problem (that politicians, once elected, do not carry out their mandate): Right of Recall.

A R
A R
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The only people who would gain from that are the civil servants who remain in power no matter what happens. Why do what the politicians say when you know they will be gone pretty soon? All you just drag your feet and make them look bad, media get on their case, voters recall them. Replaced with another useful idiot, rinse and repeat.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  A R

It’s a fair point. But I do think we’d do better with a right of recall. The Anna Soubry gang would likely have been much less inclined to sabotage had they been threatened with removal by their constituents.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It would apply to “both” sides! Actually in a polarised society, you can just imagine the endless challenges and attempts to rerun elections you didn’t like the result of!

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The problem will never be resolved. That’s the problem.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

I’m worried that the ‘Covid Episode’, through which life may be divided into ‘BEFORE JOHNSON’ and ‘AFTER JOHNSON’, does not form part of the analysis of tyranny, and the response of the English (and Welsh & Scots) to it, does not appear to be included. Arguably, our BREXIT vote inaugurated all of the lies told: especially the biggest of them all – “GET BREXIT DONE”, in order to achieve power, to ensure JOHNSON was correctly placed for when the alleged, dangerously lethal virus (against which only a new form of injected product would suffice) was released.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

Hence the rising populist tide everywhere in the west. Oligarchs have used money to control government, media, and much of the private sector into huge impersonal organizations. They have used their control to push forward a set of utopian ideals that it just so happens also keeps them rich and powerful, but the people are never quite as stupid or helpless as the sheltered mind of aristocrats imagines them. Everywhere an idea is spreading, and there is no virus so contagious as an idea, the idea that our system is failing and we need change. Immigration is one issue but not the only one. So far, the oligarchs have managed to thwart this change through the institutions they control, but the people are not ignorant, and their anger is building. Like so many aristocracies of history, our modern technocrat overlords fear the people but also fundamentally misunderstand and underestimate them. Having rigged the game in their favor, they assume that they can handle any crisis. Like so many other aristocracies and incompetent tyrants throughout history, they neglect the real possibility that the people will simply flip over the table and destroy the game in order to get at those currently moving the pieces.

S Smith
S Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The power that these said Oligarchs wield is immense. Look no further than the Covid debacle, where unelected, corrupt technologists like Bill Gates were calling the shots along with the liar, thief and Eichmann-flavored bureaucrat Fauci. I would even go so far as to argue that the unrest in much of the world right now is not at all unrelated to the disastrous lockdowns and other measure.

ryan simpson
ryan simpson
4 months ago
Reply to  Gerry Quinn

Not a great piece but it does look at the wound, one which is grievous me thinks.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
4 months ago

“…a curious political phenomenon in which the ruling elites of several post-imperial European states collaborated to colonise one another, as a kind of retirement project.”
Never heard the EU described like that before, haha!
“And the Brexit vote was, at its heart, a popular revolt against this state of affairs: one deeply rooted in England’s unwritten political dogmas.”
Yes, I quite agree, although trying to explain that and verbalise those slippery political dogmas to an ardent remainer, I can attest, is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. This inexplicability of the underlying popular sentiment and dogma is also why politicians struggled to interpret and implement the result of the Brexit vote, as that process requires strong, specific arguments and principles which can be talked about, debated and then poured into policy in a relatively short period of time. No wonder they struggled.
The process was impossible to complete “to the satisfaction of the people” – and that’s even before you get to the sheer anger, bitterness and obstructiveness of the remainers and having to deal with the angry, paranoid, intransigent EU.

Last edited 4 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

That all rather makes sense. I am a remainer, but I do understand, and indeed share, the dislike of government by judges and foreign rule inherent in the EU. The hard bit is what you actually do that will in practice give the British people more influence in the modern world. Only the ‘anger and obstructiveness’ part is overdone. The EU was never going to put its interests aside to help Britain make a success out of leaving – any more than the no-longer-United-Kingdom would go out of its way to make a success out of independent Scotland.

As for the remainers, the root cause of it all was that Leave chose to campaign on the manifestly false promise that leaving would be all benefit and no cost. Had they campaigned and won on ‘This may be costly but we will be FREE!’, no one, like it or not, could have objected to the result. As it is, Leave obtained a mandate to deliver a unicorn, and remainers were perfectly entitled to refuse to accept a result that did not conform to that mandate.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

On the other hand, it was incumbent upon remainers to offer a proper, convincing argument as to why Britain should remain in the EU. They never managed to do that – not in the run up to the referendum and not at any time afterwards. They simply gave empty threats, called voters stupid, went on and on about the economy – and it was never about the economy. Or the empire, for that matter.
The EU simply never won the majority of people’s hearts and minds in the UK – and hearts and minds is perhaps another way of saying “unwritten political dogma” **
The Leave campaign did spout a lot of rubbish which was why I voted remain in the end, but even as a person who has benefited massively from the UK’s EU membership, I still felt that pull towards leave in a way which I couldn’t entirely explain. But it has helped me enormously in the aftermath, as I’ve been well able to talk to other leavers about their motivations honestly and without recrimination. (Which is what all remainers should have been doing, tbh – widespread fail on that front.)
It had nothing whatever to do with what Boris or Farage were wittering on about – it was just a deep feeling that, no, this was not Britain’s fate, it somehow didn’t work. So, focusing on what so-and-so promised feels a bit beside the point – whatever was said tapped into something much larger and much more instinctive and powerful which then produced the huge popular dynamic we saw in June 2016.
** As an aside, I’d even say the EU has failed to win hearts and minds in many other member states, or has managed to lose them in the past few years.I think this would be as good a time as any in Europe to discuss why the EU HAS to win hearts and minds rather than just shrinking back to a single market which functions and produces wealth as opposed to a wannabe geopolitical power with the accoutrements of state, but that’s another building site…

Last edited 4 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I cannot see why remainers had any duty to offer a brilliant vision of why Britain should remain in the EU. Sure, it would have been great, politically, but I am not sure there is one (and I would very much not like the EU to invent one and try to ram it down our throats). The EU is a compromise machine – an unlovely beast. It just happens to be the best (if not only) way for small and middling countries in Europe to work together and maximise their influence on a difficult world. (That is the only place where Empire comes in, btw: I think that deep down people in the UK cannot bring themselves to accept that they really need to make irksome compromises with their neighbours in order to prosper and influence the world. Not when their natural place is as Britannia who ruled the waves.).

I’d say the remainers had a perfectly consistent case: What will it cost us to leave? What will Britain, in practice, actually be able to do outside that it could not do inside? Is that price worth the feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency you would get – regardless of how much it expanded your actual freedom of maneuver? That was the choice before us. If people thought the game was worth the candle Britain would leave. Which is perfectly fine.

Unfortunately the Brexiteers preferred to dodge the question. Fearing (probably rightly) that not enough people might vote to leave once they understood the risks, they chose to pretend that there were no risks, and that Britain would get everything it wanted: Full independence without having to consider its neighbours, full membership of the single market, better Christmas gifts for all, and the wind in the back on all the bike paths. And to run the debate they brought in Johnson to tell attractive lies – which is after all his core skill. And he succeeded to make the people vote for his unicorn.

That leaves little to reconcile with leavers about, since they still refuse to face up to the actual question that the referendum was about. Nor can I bring myself to regret that the Remain campaign did not bring up a better liar than Johnson and better manipulators than Cummings or Lynton Crosby. The one thing that I can regret is that the Labour party did not get its act together and push for a soft Brexit. helping Theresa May to keep the crazies out of influence. But then, with a ‘leader’ like Corbyn who was a Brexiteer at heart and had never got further than 1970’s student politics, with a fractured membership and a faction-ridden party, and with Britain’s usual ‘never mind what it does to the country as long as it helps us win the next election’, that was apparently too much to ask.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
George Venning
GV
George Venning
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“The one thing that I can regret is that the Labour party did not get its act together and push for a soft Brexit. helping Theresa May to keep the crazies out of influence”
Yes… and no. The problem with soft Brexit is that it was at once the “sensible compromise” and also the worst of all possible worlds. Soft Brexit, saved us from the worst harm but conceded all our influence on the rules which we would continue to have to accept. It was obviously worse than membership but also precluded the possibility of gaining any advantage by leaving. It made no sense.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
4 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

There was no chance of compromise and a shared outcome with May. The Labour Party was led and populated with MP’s who have and had a visceral hatred of ‘The Tories’. The idea that Corbyn would consider constructive negotiations is totally pie in the sky.
We live in the age of silo groupthink with no compromise.

George Venning
George Venning
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

Partisanship is a slightly different issue form the question I was trying to raise, which was, that soft Brexit offers many disadvantages whilst precluding even theoretical benefits.
However, even as to partisanship, I think you’re wrong. Corbyn himself immediately recognised the validity of the result and agreed (mistakenly in my view) to triggering article 50 immediately. He was routinely excoriated inside the party for being a closet leaver. The intransigence within Labour (which, again, was totally legitimate) came from the right of the party.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Pocket or principles? Put pocket first and you’ll end up with neither.

Rohan Achnay
Rohan Achnay
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The problem with the EU Treaties is that they are not flexible enough to navigate the balance between national resilience and EU efficiency.

Brexit did and is resolving that structural problem.

Remainers obfuscated and misdirected from this need whereas Leavers did not.

The rest is history and now in the UK we do have a functional system by which to democratically determine that balance and slowly but surely EU member states are following in our footsteps.

Our Bill of Rights 1689 constitutionally mandates that this balance is ensured which is why technocratic elites detest it so much and would happily throw it in the bin with despotic Supreme Court rulings.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Remaining only benefits the south east of England. More jobs in that area, more opportunities for careers. Britain will only ever work when the whole of the country is pulling together but politicians don’t see that because they have flats in London and are overtaken by the excitement and their own self-importance.
Ideally, but not possible, Westminster would move around Britain so that the MPs could see life in the other areas. In a strange sort of way, the importance and nature of London is dragging us down.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

This is a sincere question, Mr. Fogh: What advantages did you imagine would be obtained by ceding your country’s sovereignty to a foreign body? As an Englishman, as I presume you are, how would submitting to another state help you and your fellows in any way?
I ask this as an American. My country is vast, but our federalist system allows each state to make decisions for itself. Maine cannot dictate to Florida, for example, and the criminals in Washington can be thwarted by state legislatures. Even mayors in small cities and towns can tell its governors to pound sand.
So, as a Remainer, what did you expect to get out of the EU? I can’t for the life of me see any advantages in membership, but would truly like to know why some believe it was not the costly unicorn.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

Some countries do not need to cooperate much. The US and China because they are so big they can dominate anybody else; Saudi Arabia and the UAE because everybody want their oil; North Korea because it is willing to be treated as a pariah. Most other countries need to cooperate to get anywhere.

For a small country like Norway or Denmark it is a no-brainer. You need to trade, you need common product standards, rules on tax, police cooperation, recognition of qualifications and documents, protection from being undercut by others with laxer standards, etc. If you stand up for yourself proud and alone you will simply be steamrollered and forced to conform to the decisions of bigger countries: Germany, Russia, the US. Good luck for any small country to get a decent deal from the US or China if you make your deals nation-to-nation. So for a lot of decisions the realities of the world will control what you can and cannot do no matter how much sovereignty you may in theory have. The EU gives you leverage, both internally and externally. Internally the bigger countries have to at least pretend to listen to you, and you can team up with allies and/or gather goodwill you can use to protect your most important interests. At a minimum you get more influence having your administrators part of the meetings where new documents are drafted. Externally you are part of a bigger gang that can get more for its members than they could get alone. The EU can set terms on international mergers or internet regulations in a way no individual member could. And Ireland would have been in dire straits discussing Brexit with the UK if it had not had the EU to back it.

The UK might like to think they are so big and strong that they can deal with anyone else as equals. But they are not. They are still small compared to the EU, and will lose a contest of force on commercial or trade matters, if they insist on forcing one. Nor can they get the same attention or the same good deals from third countries as the EU could. I actually share the reluctance to let decisions for your country be taken by a larger entity (the EU is an unlovely beast) , but independence is worth little if you are too weak to exercise it anyway. As for the advantages of membership, surely European countries are no worse off than US states? Whatever your views, how happy are you that laws on gun control, abortion, relations between the races or gay marriage are forced on you by the Federal Government, or by the US Supreme Court? And yet, do you really think that Minnesota, Utah, or even Texas would be better off as sovereign states, dealing with China one by one?

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Thanks for an explanation that makes sense to me. As an American, I’ve read most often about what to me seems stupid stuff; for example, Bavarian barmaids prohibited from exposuring their shoulders to the sun. But then, without a EU, the US has ranks of berserk bureaucrats inserting themselves ever deeper into the minutiae of daily life. A woman cannot even urinate in peace here.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Yes, but the problem is overreach. The EU has gone far beyond the cooperation you describe.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Rachel Taylor

I would not disagree with you there. There are a lot of things to dislike about the EU (and the ECHR framework, which is technically different). Not least the centralising tendency, the mission creep, and the idea of unelected and unremovable judges using the ‘living document’ approach to make all kinds of changes no one ever approved. The trouble is that this is the only EU we have got – regrettably. Either you make the best of the EU you have, or you go it alone in a hostile world – and pay the price.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
4 months ago

He probably sees himself as a sophisticated cosmopolitan and despises the little people.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

My first post will surely come back soon. Meanwhile:

Actually, Norway is *not* part of the EU, but their situation is instructive. They voted no, since they could not accept EU policies on agriculture and fisheries. But since they absolutely needed a trade deal, they signed up to one that forces them to accept huge swathes of EU regulations sight unseen, without even having a vote on the content, and they respect that deal slavishly. In return the EU accepts the Norway deal even though it has a lot of holes, legally, because Norwegian exports (oil and fish, mainly) are not going to be a competition problem for the EU, and they know that Norway just cannot risk getting into a fight with the EU and so is sure to play nice. So Norway is more sovereign than Denmark, in some ways. But what does it help them?

RM Parker
RM Parker
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

So many downvotes: I wonder how many read past the first 4 words of the second sentence? I think you raised some fair points, not least that Brexit promised more than was delivered. That is manifestly true, though I would agree that the reasons for this are a matter for robust debate.
The Brexit served up to Britain was a half-baked disaster, with few of the potential benefits, and retaining most of the drawbacks of EU membership. Much of this can be traced back to the hapless Theresa May, but there’s no shortage of other candidates to help shoulder the responsibility for the no-deal fiasco that the UK taxpayers now have to stump up for.
For the record, at the time of the vote I was pro-Remain, whilst open to polite debate with Brexiteers (there are many amongst my friends). I have since changed my mind but am disgusted by the pig’s ear that’s been made of the process, which is, in the end, the result of politicians bulldozing over the manifest will of their electorate.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  RM Parker

The problems come in when the manifest will of the electorate comes up against the will of third parties who were not involved in the vote and who have their own interests. The EU countries for instance. Apparently it is the manifest will of the electorate of Barbados that the UK should pay them several trillion as reparations for slavery. However sad it may be for democratic norms, I doubt whether those Barbadans will get their wish. It that their politicians’ fault?

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
4 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Or ‘the first non-dynastic empire’. An empire based on a juridical system. A regulatory superpower. So when, for example, Macron sits in the European Council, he sits in an institution of the EU and is bound by its rules and objectives. A super empire, one which, like the Sun, exerts a gravity that pulls all the ‘planets’, both the member states and others, into orbit. It’s just a case of how close each is to the light and the warmth.
King John’s barons weren’t concerned with the villeins. The Levellers of the 17th century found nothing in Magna Carta that spoke to the needs of the common people or relieved their hardships. After the UK’s negotiations with Barnier, it was observed that the EU still had control.
A contemporary biographer, writing just after the Lord Protector’s death, said that by and large Cromwell was well meaning but that once he had eliminated all opponents he couldn’t resist the temptations of power. Another said of him that he was an example of how ‘policy and piety could lie in the same bed and not touch one another’.
Cromwell opposed the enclosures of common land but only from within the establishment. He was always an establishment man. As Lord Protector he and his family used Hampton Court Palace as a weekend residence. As for the Rump Parliament, for all that they resembled that of the present day with their ineffectiveness and self-concern, they might have been the @rse end of democracy.
Mary Harrington assumes that the pattern of history that she describes will continue. But what is this pattern? That the common folk are always outmanoeuvred by their barons? The commoners descale and defang the dragon, but as in C S Lewis’s story, the creature grows another hide and sharper teeth by the next morning? They will always be villeins dependent on their overlords? And if they get too uppity, why not replace them with a people either educated or trained into being more servile or ones who have known nothing else?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
4 months ago

A worthwhile piece that leads only to the conclusion that Brexit is an unfinished process. And necessarily so, it is by nature ongoing and the next stage should and will be Britain’s departure from the European Convention on Human Right’s. Without throwing off the shackles of more supranational control of Britain’s border, Brexit will continue to be still-born and the forces of liberalism will edge the UK closer to the single market and by extension, monetary unification in the euro.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Patrick O’Flynn has a piece in The Spectator today where he calls this the third Brexit battle.
The first was the campaign to stop Blair from joining the Euro (sovereignty of our currency), the second was leaving the EU (sovereignty of our parliament) and now we need to leave the ECHR and associated treaties (sovereignty of our courts).
The battle is not for the faint-hearted but it must be fought anyway.

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
4 months ago

” a curious political phenomenon in which the ruling elites of several post-imperial European states collaborated to colonise one another, as a kind of retirement project. ”

LOL

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago

MH wrote this in the space between the Commons vote on the Rwanda Bill and midnight? Astonishing! Even if she had the first part prepared ahead of the vote, it’s still a rare feat of historical perspective and insight.
The term Witanagemot is one i’d not come across before, but it describes the senior ranks of political king-makers, adapted down the ages but still existing, very well. As an entity, it might be considered responsible for bringing Sunak into No.10 after deposing Truss.
Even more relevant is her central premise: that nations produce the kind of governance that suits them by temperament and way of seeing the world. Even where a nation finds itself with governance that’s become out of kilter with its historic mindset, events tend to transpire to right the system back into balance. The specific examples of trying to impose democratic governance on Iraq and Afghanistan are easily understood, and yet wilful ignorance of this principle has cost the West a great deal of pain, on top of that experienced by the populations in question.
What does this mean for the future then? Does it necessarily entail that we’re stuck with adjusting our ways of governance back towards an historical norm? One might argue that the introduction of immigrants from areas of the world with very different norms might skew that. It didn’t appear to happen following the Norman conquest, but the systems were probably too similar to make any real difference and it now becomes a valid question.
One also wonders about the emphasis that MH places in the latter stages of her article on the specifically English temperament, after referencing the 1701 Act of Settlement which preceded the 1707 Act of Union in which all the home nations were meant to be conjoined in a way which satisfied them all. When devolution started to happen, perhaps the strands which held us together became inevitably loosened, and the varying temperaments between the English and those of a more Celtic disposition have since resurfaced. That’s before we even get to Brexit, and the undercurrents which have been responsible for the eventual (and rightful, if MH’s argument is valid) but still messy disentanglement from governance by our European cousins.

Last edited 4 months ago by Steve Murray
Jon Barrow
JB
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To pick up on a relatively small point, the Normans were far more autocratic than the English kings and aristocrats. I remember an estimate that a third of northern England’s population was killed in the imposition of Norman order, it took a couple of centuries for a few thousand Normans to ‘integrate’. Of course mass immigration has mucked up national consensus, even the long-term viability of democracy (prob only sustainable in high-trust, monocultural societies ie those places it formed in the first place).

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Another point of interest was that about 4,000 Anglo Saxon landowning Thegns were immediately replaced by about 180 Norman thugs. In the Church likewise where only one Anglo Saxon Bishop* out of a total of about fifteen survived in post.

(* Worcester.)

Brian Hunt
Brian Hunt
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

The Normans, a.k.a. the Northern Vikings, were brutal and their “harrowing of the North” was an act of genocide (https://www.historyextra.com/period/anglo-saxon/william-conqueror-war-criminal-story-harrying-north)

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Hunt

The only advantage seems to have been the building of the great Cathedral at Durham, if nothing else.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Hunt

The Normans were French – from Normandy.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

Viking thugs who settled the lower Seine valley from about AD 900 to be precise!

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

As someone of French/Scandinavian heritage, I object to your anti-Normandic prejudices. If you go back far enough everyone’s ancestors are appalling.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Ha! Some within fewer generations than others, and perhaps our children’s children will consider us appalling too.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

As I would jolly well hope!

Jon Barrow
JB
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Hunt

Yes. ‘Northmen’ though by the mid 11th century they spoke (Norman) French and had French blood, primarily through the female side (the Viking settlers being skewed to males).

Geoff W
Geoff W
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Well, what else would you expect of illegal immigrants who came from France in small boats?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

I have never had much enthusiasm for political philosophy. If de Maistre was like Burke and wrote volumes of political philosophy to demonstrate that it was either a waste of time or positively dangerous then he has my support – if not to the point of actually reading him (though Mary writes so well that I did persevere through her précis ).

Surely the issue is more specific and does not need to be surrounded by some grand theory. Most British voters feel that, while immigration is a good thing, at present we are enjoying too much of this particular good thing. Individuals vary as to at what they think would be the optimal level but very few believe in unregulated immigration or even in current levels – outside the Treasury.

Reasons vary. Some focus on the stagnation of wages, others on housing shortages or on a feeling of disconcerting cultural change in their locality. A few are straightforward racists. (There is also regional variation. I live in the Scottish Highlands and we desperately need more immigrants because of labour shortages; Poles, Indians, Jamaicans and even the English are welcome.)

Despite being told that they live in a democracy, this widespread and growing sentiment amongst the British electors has consistently failed to be reflected in policy. This is causing anger. 

One away or another this anger – fused perhaps with other populist issues – will almost certainly sweep aside all obstacles. The greater the delay the more damage to the power of traditional British institutions such as the Treasury, the Judiciary and the Tory party. Even if, like me, you are a traditional liberal living in an area which needs more immigrants, you do not need to read de Maistre to get the point: if one does not want a British Trump then the situation needs to be defused.

Note on ONS data

Since 1971 successive censuses have charted an unprecedented increase in immigration after a century of emigration then broad net balance. The ONS data on what percentage of the population sees itself as native or “White: British” is:

% White: British / Other groups
1971: 91 / 9 (adj using 1981 census data)
2001: 80 / 20
2021: 74 / 26

The effect is most noticeable in London (and other major cities) which highlights the direction of travel.

% White: British / Other groups
1971: 87 / 13
2001: 60 / 40
2021: 37 / 63

These numbers are obviously top level and crude. The “Other” category includes Australians as well as Poles, Indians and Ghanaians. The immigrant group which is always emphasised by the media is “Black: Caribbean” is only 1% of the population and objectively does not deserve its prominence in the discussion. The ONS provides far more detail if interested.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

As your figures clearly so clearly suggest “traditional British institutions such as the Treasury, the Judiciary and the Tory party” have abjectly failed us, and catastrophic consequences must follow.
The only discernible benefit of the great Scamdemic it that it has undoubtedly exacerbated this situation.

On another happier note, things must be very bad in the ‘ever ungrateful Highlands’ if even Englishmen are now welcome! Or have the ‘chippy’ SNP vanished, thanks to the farcical machinations currently going on in Edinburgh?

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
4 months ago

The only machinations going on in Edinburgh are those of The Dark Forces of The UK
Who know full well that Without the vast great untapped resources of Scotland that what is left of The UK after Scottish Independence shall be a Bankrupt England completely Ill equipped to deal with the complexity
Of a Rapidly changing World
The Permanent seat upon the UN security council will be one of the first consequences of such and those consequences shall can but only amplify for England
And even to the possibility of a 2nd
English Civil War
Little do the completey delusional English realise just how far your economic and Military power has fallen and continues in a fast accelerating downward spiral, even to the Point now that as a Protecterate of The American Empire
You are beginning to be seen Not as a ” Special Relation ” but more of a liability to America

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

What pray are the “vast great untapped resources of Scotland”?
And how did we English fail to find and PLUNDER them as was/is our divine right may I ask.

Alex Carnegie
RC
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

Be careful of what you pray for. The innocent as well as the guilty get consumed in conflagrations. I do not know if you have read Turchin with his forecast of a systemic societal crisis in the mid 2020s. When I first read him twenty years ago I thought he was absurdly pessimistic but it is extremely disconcerting how accurate he has been so far.

The SNP have not disappeared but are in retreat. To misquote Voltaire on Russia, Scotland appears to be a natural one party state moderated only by periodic replacement of the old party with a new – or in this case by an even older one since we look likely to be getting a Labour government in Edinburgh next. It will probably act much the same as the current one.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

No I haven’t read any of Turchin but I shall have to remedy that! It sounds just like my favourite bedtime reading accompanied by a mug of Ovaltine!

Keep in the same genre has you read the late John Christopher’s ‘The Death of Grass’? It’s an apocalyptic novel about one family’s flight from North London to Loch Awe under rather trying conditions. You may find it fun.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

Turchin is a number crunching social scientist with a thick Russian accent so you might want to avoid his own writings and appearances on YouTube. A more classicist friendly version of his theory is an article written jointly with a historian called Jack Goldstone. Search for “Welcome to the turbulent Twenties” on Google.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I read “The Death of Grass” a long time ago.i will dig it out for a reread.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
4 months ago

Charles, I’m sure the desperate party end up in Westmoreland not Bonnie Scotland.

Great novel which I was lucky enough to stumble across in the library.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

My apologies, I stand corrected!

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

What a great post. And nice to know that even I, an Englishman, would be a welcome gastarbeiter in the highlands.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

Make sure “you go quietly and carry a big stick”!

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

I may have been exaggerating slightly for effect. The welcome is – to be honest – a bit patchy for Sassenachs. But the overall shortage of employees and, as a result, relatively high wages for low skilled labour are realities.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Does SASSENACHS actually translate as Saxons?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

I think you are right. Probably originally a Gaelic expression to describe the Saxon inhabitants of Lothian but now applied to all English.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Interesting because ‘technically’ those invaders of Lothian were ANGLES!
.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

Odder still is why is England so named after the Angles when it was established by Athelstan? given that it was an expansion of Wessex i.e. the West Saxons? One would have thought you ought to be living in Saxony or Saxland not England – but then the renaming of the Pictish Kingdom as Scotland is just as mysterious.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Ironically, in certain Celtic traditions, England is indeed known as Saxonland.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Well the Picts seem to have been ‘rolled over’ by the Irish ‘Scotti’ by the 9th century. I seem to recall they arrived in the Lochgilphead area in the fifth century.
As to the English I agree that is rather odd and I have no idea who was responsible for it.

D Glover
DG
D Glover
4 months ago

I think it’s called Angle-land because of Bede. He was Northumbrian. The Angles settled everything up to the Firth of Forth. The Saxons were in the south.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Yes, that’s a good point.I had forgotten the Venerable Bede! Thank you.

Last edited 4 months ago by Charles Stanhope
R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

This is one of the great mysteries of the sub Roman period. In another timeline we could be living in Jutland.

AC Harper
AC Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Reasons vary. Some focus on the stagnation of wages, others on housing shortages or on a feeling of disconcerting cultural change in their locality.

A few years ago (pre-COVID) I was very surprised at how bitter a checkout operator was about immigration as it ‘took away all the jobs’ from the existing workers. Not something that would worry, or even be visible, to the chattering classes I guess.
Goodness knows what she would think now.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

One of the few virtues of the old paternalistic system was that the privileged were very aware of the feelings of the poor since they had regular dealings with them as either farm labourers or industrial workers. One of the problems of our post-industrial world is that the privileged tend to work in investment banks, architectural practices, university departments and other bourgeois bubbles and thus rarely need to come into contact with the more desperate portions of society. This may be one of the main reasons why both British and US governments have pursued policies since the 1990s that have hurt the bottom half of the population without seeming to realise what they were doing. It was perhaps less ruthlessness than just a lack of human contact. It was not, of course, all roses in the past as Mrs Gaskell and Disraeli made clear in their nineteenth century novels.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alex Carnegie
William Amos
William Amos
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

The old system, for all it’s shortcomings was based on reciprocal duties ultimately stemming from and regulated by the Christian polity described in Ephesians 6.
Long and hard as it may be, the only path up from Gehenna consists in the resurrection of the idea of public duty and a mutual obligation that begins right at home, first, and expands outward from there.
What George Eliot called
“choosing, with that partiality which is man’s best strength, the closer fellowship that makes sympathy practical… the generous reasonableness of drawing shoulder to shoulder with men of like inheritance.’”
Or in the words of Scripture:
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
1 Timothy 5:8 KJV

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“One of the problems of our post-industrial world is that the privileged tend to work in investment banks, architectural practices, university departments and other bourgeois bubbles”
They mostly do their “work” in hipster cafes.

Andy Iddon
AI
Andy Iddon
4 months ago

They should have been repealing the laws that caused the issue, not creating an improbable, unworkable and ineffective at best pantomime. The HRA needed to go back in 2010. Judge them by their actions and omissions.

William Amos
William Amos
4 months ago

While I thoroughly enjoy Ms Harrington’s articles I am beginning to dislike the way she uses history instrumentally to bolster her abstract reasoning.
‘Before kingship comes popular consent’ in the British context is just as silly historically as ‘Britain has always been a nation of immigrants’. Interestingly (to me) both ideas were also put about at the turn of the 17th Century by the Williamite pen-for-hire Daniel Defoe.
In truth though, the Anglo Saxon Witengamot and similarly the Feudal system which King John had attempted to abrogate, was based on a system of reciprocal duty, not popular consent. The idea that Anglo Saxon Kingship was elective is based on 17th Century polemic, and it is a polemic which Ms Harrington then pursues and sustains in her article through the Stuart period all the way to the Act of Settlement and beyond.
The ‘abdication’ of James II was constitutionally grounded in his abandonment of his duties to the the nation as a Sovereign, not his ‘unpopularity’. The disinheritance of his son (at least in the literature of the time) was based not on abstract constitutional reasoning but because James Francis Edward Stuart was widely believed to be and impostor introduced by a Catholic conspiracy into his natal bed in a ‘warming pan’. The subsequent Act of Settlement emphatically based the legitimacy of the monarch in the Protestant Religion, not the Popular Will.
The constitution of this Kingdom is based on a system of mutual rights and obligations in more or less harmonius tension. Our Kings and Great Offices of State are no more elective than our Judges are. This sort of misrepresentation of our constitution leads to much mutual and profitless angst about ‘unelected prime ministers’ and Judges as ‘enemies of the people’.
If the constitution isn’t functioning it’s because it is out of proper balance, or someone in the machinery isn’t effectively using the powers granted to their office. In the instance of the Rwanda farce it’s because the establishment of the Supreme Court has stripped HM Goverment of its controlling hand in the creation of law. Hence the resort to treaty making which is still, just, under it’s prerogative. All this is solved, in Parliament, by the exercise of a large majority vote to reinstate the Law Lords and depart the ECHR.
But the Tories under Mr Sunak won’t do this, so we get the Rwanda pantomime and fulminations about the ‘will of the people’.

Last edited 4 months ago by William Amos
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Line 13: Should be JAMES II?

William Amos
William Amos
4 months ago

Yes, thank you.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Precisely it’s a great pity that the Boris Beast during his brief reign did not immediately do that. Scrap the Supreme Court, jettison the ECHR and reinstate the centuries old Law Lords.
We shall pay a very heavy price for this dereliction of duty.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
4 months ago

Let’s get rid of the Supreme Court, then? We seemed to do fine without it before Blair did his tinkering. I wonder how many Euro-suits whispered in his ear in the machinations leading to its creation?

D Glover
DG
D Glover
4 months ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

Did Blair name it after the US Supreme court? There, the judges are each nominated by the President. Then, they are publicly interrogated by a confirmation hearing. The public knows everything about their stance on controversial issues.
In the misbegotten UK system there is no transparency at all. We don’t know how they get appointed, or anything about them.
In the row over prorogation of Parliament we found out that they leaned to the Remainer side. Who knew?

Rob N
Rob N
4 months ago

I voted for Brexit mainly because membership of the EU was clearly a ‘bad thing’ constitutionally. Nowadays I would vote for any party that I could trust to stop (and preferably reverse) recent immigration and stop the trans lunacy. Incredibly we don’t seem to have any major party that can be trusted to do either, quite the opposite in fact. Consequently I will have to vote for a minor party and hope all the major ones (or at least one) burn and are completely destroyed to make space for a new one. My worry is that even that will be too little and too late.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
4 months ago

I thought this very interesting though I can’t claim to know much of the history. I think MH says that the British and their governments for centuries have bumbled along without any great system and it’s worked okay. We have lived together reasonably well and the British people generally can meet their needs and many of their wants.
In the short term, however, we seem to have governments that think they can fix stuff; expected with a Labour Government but not so attractive for Tories to have been doing so for over a decade.
I keep think of Ptolemy’s epicycles. The way he explained inconsistencies in his model of a solar system with Earth at its centre was to put little loops on the circles and when that didn’t work he’d put loops on the loops.
I hope we don’t have to wait quite so long as our ancestors did for Copernicus to come up with something simpler. Mind, I can’t feel optimistic, not many people’s jobs depended on the Earth being at the centre of the universe.

54321
54321
4 months ago

in terms of the grievances Brexit was intended to remedy, it has been a signal failure.

It occurs to me that much of this article, in particular this line, could be written about the introduction of VAR to professional football.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  54321

No greater killer of passion and enthusiasm has ever been invented, and that includes the chastity belt.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

If you are going to quote de Maistre you should also perhaps mention Voltaire and his twenty four letters ‘on the English’ published 1734.

Bromley Man
Bromley Man
4 months ago

I suppose rule of law is abstract if you can’t get access to it as a citizen. We’ll be petitioning the king next.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
4 months ago

Mary H is a real treasure. This is superb stuff.

Gregory Toews
Gregory Toews
4 months ago

Not sure whether Mary is making an observation, or stating a preference (probably both), but de Maistre sounds like one of the inspirations for Sowell’s work on “constrained vision”, and “unconstrained vision”. The unconstrained vision seems to be gaining the upper hand in the west. Woe is us.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
MB
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
4 months ago

“ After his death, Cromwell governed under the Protectorate, to all intents and purposes as a monarch”

And Britain would have stayed a dictatorship if his son wasn’t so feckless. Anyway despite being a dictator there he is outside the parliament he disbanded.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
4 months ago

I think at this stage its all about the migrants.

Chris Gordon
Chris Gordon
4 months ago

Excellent. Thank you.

Peter Stephenson
Peter Stephenson
4 months ago

WOW, MH is brains & good writing from head to toe.

Steven Farrall
Steven Farrall
4 months ago

Succinct and bang on the money.

David Harris
David Harris
4 months ago

An excellent description of how our political system is or isn’t working. I’ll get the popcorn…

laurence scaduto
LS
laurence scaduto
4 months ago

The EU as …”a kind of retirement project” for the political class! Wonderful!
And this guy de Maistre, who I never heard of before, is really saying something.
My thanks, as so often before, to Mary for enlightening me. Her hypothesis is an eye-opener.

Micheal MacGabhann
Micheal MacGabhann
4 months ago

Are the UH writers using the brains or just catering to the comfortable audience.

George Venning
George Venning
4 months ago

What a lot of tosh.
Of course, there’s always a tension between laws (and especially constitutional law) and democracy because that is the whole point of having a constitution – to limit absolute sovereignty.
But, to depict Brexit as some titanic struggle between the two is… Well it isn’t untrue exactly but it’s silly.
Far from Brexit being stifled in it’s crib by a ponderous blanket of foreign laws and conventions, Brexit itself is the direct result of Britain’s unusually loose constitutional framework. Because constitutions are explicitly a constraint on the power of democracy, most constitutions require a supermajority of some sort in order to enact changes (a safeguard, which would have seen the whole thing rejected – although we can be confident that a campaign for a second referendum would have commenced the day after).
Also, it’s worth remembering what an unusual referendum this was – mostly, we hold referendums in order to justify a move from the status quo to some specific alternative. Brexit was not that, it was a vote to move from the current political arrangement to another one – to be descibed at a later date. This is because The Brexit referendum wasn’t really structured as a referendum at all, it was much closer to a vote of confidence in David Cameron and the wider political class.
Once again, very few modern states would allow a political leader who got less than 40% of the votes in the last GE to hold a referendum on an important aspect of the country’s constitution on a simple majority with no clearly defined outcome if the vote went the other way.
We’re in this mess precisely because we don’t have more formal constitutional arrangments that would prevent this kind of gambling.
Can you imagine the Americans voting to “revise” any article of their constitutiuon on a simple majority without agreeing on the revised wording?
No, you can’t. It would be insane.
Because of the uniquely reckless structure of the Brexit referendum, the winning leave campaign was not, itself, unified in its aims and it was therefore unable to agree on what the benefits of Brexit were supposed to be – let alone where the disbenefits should fall.
Every scintilla of that, is David Cameron’s unique, personal fault.
But even then, it wasn’t necessarily the case that it would be quite such a debacle. If the leaders of the leave campaign had had even a shred of integrity, they might have recognised that there needed to be some sort of consultative process about what type of Brexit Britain might want. Instead, they all went off pretending that they could brazen it out, switching seamlessly from claiming that the German car makers would want to keep us in the common market no matter what, to claiming that WTO terms were a price worth paying for the freedom to stop prisoners voting or some other triviality. But the most depressing aspect of it all was that they couldn’t even describe what the benefits were supposed to be. It was all some stupid pose that they’d imbibed as undergraduates and never shaken off.
We’ve now settled on the notion that it was supposed to be about limiting immigration (not in a racist way, obviously) but those of us who still have our faculties will remember that this was strenuously denied at the time. But, even if that was, the (dishonestly denied) plan all along, they didn’t even deliver it.
Any Brexiter who still believes their beautiful dream was undone by the mere existence of Britain’s bantam-weight constitution is delusional.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

Great analysis!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

Yet another Remainer comment that fails to make a positive case for staying in – while desperately shortlisting fanciful reasons that must have been why people voted to Leave.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Barton
Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
4 months ago

You have singularly reinforced my belief’s and fight for Scottish Independence expodentially
And for all who read your excellent English views , shall have no problem
Understanding as to why Not if but when
Scotland regains it’s rightful Sovereignty

England has no rights or say whatsoever
In this matter when such is resolved for once and all

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

You had your chance at CULLODEN and lost!
Stop whinging and get on with it.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
4 months ago

As long as one hundred of us still draw a breath ,then we shall fight
And not for Glory, Riches, Wealth or Honours But for Freedom and Freedom alone
For there can never be no greater prize

Demographics ensure our Freedom
16 to 32 yr old Scots of whom 68 % favour Independence

Just the same forces at work in NI.

You can NOT turn the tide back
And while we at it please explain this
When you take GDP and factor in PPP those being Cost of living, Inflation and productivity
Then The Independent Republic of Ireland is the richest in the World with a figure of $ 138,383 per head of population

Whilst The UK is 57 th in this economic table

Big big big clue
Ireland is Independent
England is going bankrupt, hideously expensive to live in and forever becoming poorer and poorer

Do not engage as such would be unwise because there not one sensible reason as to why Scotland
Should remain within this broken ,corrupt morarly/ economic bankrupt Union
We are not your subservient natives
To Plunder as you did with India to the tune of $ 64 Trillion ( yes Trillion )
India recently submitted to the UK a list of stolen artefacts for repatriation
Giving you 10 yrs to arrange there return ,empty your Stately homes and museums of such Valued at £ 36 Billion

If not then you shall find it most difficult to successfully trade with India
China is now beginning to demand return of 5 th & 6 th Century Emporers Imperial documents
Of which China states that they are Priceless and of great historical importance and all this taken up a few notches due to the fact that The British Museum is utterly incapable and obviously inept and incompetent in looking after any of the misappropriated loot from days of Empire
Why Did Charles at his coronation not wear the true Crown ?

Also how’s HS 2 going too embarrassing for you to reply I assume
China in November opened a 5Th generation HS line in Indonesia completed in 19 months despite being redisgned to accom the latest advanced locos and carriages,186 Km long , Top speed 384 Km/ HR
Journey time from old rail link cut from
4 hrs 32 mins to 42 mins
Running at 98 % capacity in 1 st month and now being equipped with 36 Locos a increase of 12 No. All to increase from 24 runs / day to 38 No / Day

I do believe in bygone days Little Englanders referred to The Chinese as Coolies
With regards HS rail construction tis
The Little Englanders who now find that it is they are the real and actual ‘ Coolie ‘
Oh how the mighty fall and make the most noise with wagging forked tounges as they thud into the
Ground they stand upon
Close your mouth because such is proving to be your enemy
Whilst you ears if open could be a friend indeed

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Have you been watching too much “BRAVEHEART” by any chance?

stephen archer
stephen archer
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

That’s one hell of a rant! I was going to ask if you were descended from W Wallace but your name suggests otherwise. There’s a large portion of delusion in your text. As an expat Scot still spending a lot of time in Scotland, observing its gradual decay and total lack of economic or social development over the last 20-30 years, I have a bit of perspective comparing to other countries I’ve lived in or visited. A lot of this has coincided with the period of devolution, leading me to lose all hope for the future of my home country. Your opinions are indicative of the plight Scotland is facing.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
4 months ago
Reply to  stephen archer

I also extensively travelled and spent long times in Norway which opened my eyes wide
However you appear to be presenting a case for No Independence and possibly withdrawal of Devolution
No evidence offered to support your case
Therefore I afford you the opportunity to present the case for preservation of The Union
Be very carefull with regards any reply

can't buy my vote
can't buy my vote
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Decolonize Scotland! Or something like that.

D Glover
D Glover
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Do not engage as such would be unwise because there not one sensible reason as to why Scotland

Should remain within this broken ,corrupt morarly/ economic bankrupt Union

You lost it there. There’s no point debating with someone who forbids you to engage in debate.

Ken Bowman
KB
Ken Bowman
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

I agree that HS2 is embarrassing but surely the Scottish ferries saga presents an altogether higher level of embarrassment. Would confidence in any future Scottish administration be well placed?

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

“Demographics ensure our Freedom
16 to 32 yr old Scots of whom 68 % favour Independence”.
Well at least they’ve got time to grow out of foolish delusions.

Mary Dunstan
Mary Dunstan
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Simply could not understand what this person is trying to say.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

My finances and I pray every day for the Scots to leave, but alas.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

I look forward to watching Scotland “achieving its rightful sovereignty” within the Brussels Reich.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Barton
David McKee
David McKee
4 months ago

Golly. This is a terrible piece.

Bad King John is a complete red herring. Is she seriously suggesting Sunak is an incompetent absolutist?

A much more revealing metaphor is to see him as the no. 11 batsman, when you’re 50 runs behind, the light is failing and there are just three overs to go. He’s swinging wildly at every ball, because he has no other option. He knows he’ll be blamed for defeat – no one else.

Andy JS
Andy JS
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Labour winning the next election will not signify that British voters no longer care about the various migration crises. In fact, it’s likely Labour will end up bringing in tougher laws on both legal and illegal migration, for the simple reason that it would be almost impossible to do less on these topics than the Conservatives have.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andy JS
Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

No, she’s inferring a connection between King John and rule by supranational legal code.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Pedant alert: she is implying; you are inferring.

Jon Barrow
JB
Jon Barrow
4 months ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

Yes, yours are better word choices.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Then she would have done much better to bring Simon de Montfort & Co would she not?

William Amos
William Amos
4 months ago

Except that would have, tellngly, shown against her argument.
The idea that Legitimacy has ever rested in the will of the people in this Kingdom is mouldering at Hastings, Evesham, Burford Church and Sedgemoor.
When Charles I asked the High Court of Justice in Westminster “ by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful… Remember I am your King.” Bradshaw responded, “In the name of the people of England, of which you are elected king.”
The response of Charles I is supported by all legal precedent and historical record: “England was never an elective Kingdom, but a hereditary Kingdom for near these thousand years.” 

Last edited 4 months ago by William Amos
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Agreed, and I for one have always been astonished by how easily the ‘Restoration’ was accomplished!
As to the subsequent destruction of Vane and the subsequent brutal extermination of the so called regicides, that rivalled what was going on in the Dutch Republic.
Even after the oddly named Glorious Revolution of 1689 that classic English obsequiousness seems to have remained, much to my disgust.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

“There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

(Vitaï Lampada. Sir Henry Newbolt 1862-1938.)

Alex Carnegie
RC
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

How does Newbolt’s poem about a skirmish between the British and the Sudanese fit in? or are you just indulging in “free association” for psychotherapy purposes? Anyway, cricket is a most tedious game and the only I thing I ever learnt from it was how to endure boredom.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

It’s the next verse, and I was trying to expand slightly on DMc’s post above.

Well cricket maybe dull for some but at least it beats Curling or even worse ……Golf.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago

The “Brit on Brit in-fighting” that sometimes breaks out here, pretty mild in this case, is an entertaining feature of this website, at no extra charge.
Please tolerate this unsolicited bit of Burns, from someone with ancestral roots in the Outer Hebrides:

O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!

For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent!

Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil

Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!

And, oh! may Heaven their simple lives prevent

From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile!

Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,

A virtuous populace may rise the while,

And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov’d isle.

O Thou! who pour’d the patriotic tide

That stream’d thro’ Wallace’s undaunted heart,

Who dar’d to nobly stem tyrannic pride,

Or nobly die, the second glorious part

(The patriot’s God peculiarly thou art,

His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)

O never, never Scotia’s realm desert,

But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard

In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!

As you likely know, those are the concluding stanzas of “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”. I think anyone with a strain of real patriotism, or fondness for home, could appreciate them.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

And I’ll raise you with:-

Farewell to all our Scottish fame
Farewell our ancient glory
Farewell even to our Scottish name
Sae fam’d in martial story
Now Sark runs over the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England’s province stands:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Also by the great man as I know you know!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago

Cheers.
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thanks. UnHerd needs more Burns.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Friction?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
4 months ago

Not tried curling but you are right about golf.

Alphonse Pfarti
AP
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Not that I have played a full round in some years, but all the swearing, frustration and digging around in the rough is somehow worth it for those few occasions when you hit the sweet spot and watch the ball sail off on a perfect arcing trajectory. There is a lot of swearing and frustration though.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago

Oh dear, you do seem to dislike our ‘Scotch’ sporting pastimes. What are your thoughts on lawn bowls?

Alphonse Pfarti
AP
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago

For some reason, this is in moderation, so I’ll try again.

Oh dear, you do seem to dislike our ‘Scotch’ sporting pastimes. What are your thoughts on lawn bowling?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

Some of my Waiting for Death Cohort (WFDC) are quite keen, but is a short season! Plus a little less violent that Croquet!

Last edited 4 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Alphonse Pfarti
AP
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago

All too short indeed. It does have the advantage of not drinking during a club match being very bad etiquette and the additional benefit of very reasonable bar prices.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
4 months ago

You didn’t accidentally write b*lls did you?
That always enrages the Censor!

Alphonse Pfarti
AP
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago

No, definitely not b**ls. Maybe it was being over zealous.

Leonel SIlva Rocha
Leonel SIlva Rocha
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Agreed on the boredom of Cricket…

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
4 months ago

The great thing about spectating at test or ODI cricket is that you have all day to sink eight to ten pints of bitter. What’s not to like?

Douglas Hainline
Douglas Hainline
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

You, and Stephen Maturin — see Chapter Six of Patrick O’Brian’s The Reverse of the Medal. (If there is any Unherd communicant who has not read the marvelous novels of Mr O’Brian … you have a treat coming.)

Rocky Martiano
RM
Rocky Martiano
4 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

What you can infer from the title of the piece is that the British people will put up with a certain level of authoritarian rule as long as the rulers are considered to be doing a reasonable job of governing the country.
Competence is a word that could under no circumstances be applied to the current political class.