May’s plan is for a fu­neral not a fes­ti­val

The New European - - Agenda - An­drew Ado­nis

I have rarely been so dis­mayed as at the Con­ser­va­tive party con­fer­ence when a so-called main­stream Tory MP – the prime min­is­ter’s ‘en­voy to In­done­sia’ no less – re­fused to crit­i­cise Vik­tor Or­ban on the grounds that he had been “elected” and the “in­struc­tion of the Bri­tish peo­ple” is for us to “keep out of the in­ter­nal af­fairs of other coun­tries”.

“But surely we can’t stand by while fas­cism takes over in Hun­gary, a fel­low Euro­pean democ­racy?” I sug­gested to Richard Gra­ham, MP for Glouces­ter.

“You don’t get it. We are leaving the Euro­pean Union,” he replied.

The full hor­ror dawned on me. We re­ally are leaving Europe, not just the EU. Ring­ing in my ears was the fa­mous– ut­terly rel­e­vant – dis­pute be­tween Cham­ber­lain and Churchill in 1938/9 on whether Cze­choslo­vakia was “a far-away coun­try of whom we know noth­ing” – or the bul­wark of our de­fence and civil­i­sa­tion. That’s the bit on the map next to Hun­gary.

If Theresa May’s jam­boree takes place in 2022, it will be a fu­neral not a fes­ti­val. I was aged mi­nus 12 at the 1951 Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain, though I think of it ev­ery time I visit the mag­nif­i­cent Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. The his­to­rian Ken­neth Mor­gan writes that peo­ple “flocked to the South Bank to wan­der around the Dome of Dis­cov­ery, gaze at the Sky­lon, and gen­er­ally en­joy a fes­ti­val of na­tional cel­e­bra­tion. Up and down the land, lesser fes­ti­vals en­listed much civic and vol­un­tary en­thu­si­asm... A peo­ple curbed by years of to­tal war and half-crushed by aus­ter­ity and gloom, showed that it had not lost the ca­pac­ity for en­joy­ing it­self. The Fes­ti­val made a spec­tac­u­lar set­ting as a show­piece for the in­ven­tive­ness and ge­nius of Bri­tish sci­en­tists and tech­nol­o­gists”. I can’t con­ceive any part of this hap­pen­ing in 2022. By then, if Brexit goes ahead, sci­en­tists and tech­nol­o­gists will be fear­ful of even re­turn­ing to Bri­tain lest their visas aren’t re­newed and they can’t get back to San Fran­cisco, Paris and Mu­nich.

The 1951 fes­ti­val cel­e­brated the cen­te­nary of the 1851 Great Ex­hi­bi­tion, which show­cased Vic­to­rian Bri­tain in all its pomp and glory. It cel­e­brated na­tional unity, sur­vival and hon­our in de­feat­ing the worst Euro­pean tyranny in his­tory. To at least half the na­tion, a 2022 fes­ti­val would cel­e­brate na­tional self-im­mo­la­tion. Worse still, and not fully ap­pre­ci­ated in main­land Bri­tain, is the cen­te­nary which this fes­ti­val is in­tended to cel­e­brate in 2022 – the cen­tury since the par­ti­tion of Ire­land and the cre­ation of North­ern Ire­land.

This is why it is de­lib­er­ately named the ‘Fes­ti­val of Great Bri­tain and North­ern Ire­land’ and sched­uled for 2022, by agree­ment with Theresa May’s coali­tion part­ner Ar­lene Fos­ter, leader of the DUP. 1922 is when the ‘Ir­ish Free State’ broke away from the UK af­ter a ter­ri­ble civil war (think Easter Ris­ing, mass ex­e­cu­tions, Black-and-tans), while the six most ‘protes­tant’ coun­ties of Ul­ster re­mained within the UK un­der a de­volved govern­ment and par­lia­ment sit­ting in Stor­mont in Belfast.

The his­tory of North­ern Ire­land is a bat­tle­ground al­most as bloody as the events it dis­putes. And the one thing we should not be do­ing is cel­e­brat­ing it. Maybe the right thing was done by Bri­tain in 1922, maybe not. David Lloyd Ge­orge, who did the par­ti­tion deal in a coali­tion with the Tories, de­fended it as the best of a very bad job dat­ing back to the re­jec­tion by the Con­ser­va­tive party of Glad­stone’s 1886 bill which would have given home rule to Ire­land as a whole. This was fol­lowed by a re­volt against any fu­ture home rule set­tle­ment by Ul­ster’s ‘or­ange’ move­ment, cyn­i­cally and treach­er­ously ma­nip­u­lated by Tory lead­ers from Lord Sal­is­bury to An­drew Bonar Law.

Ul­ster’s Stor­mont regime was a one-party union­ist state whose rai­son d’etre was to dis­crim­i­nate against Catholics and keep them down. This led ul­ti­mately to the civil rights protests of the 1960s and a col­lapse into vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ism, which only ended in the 1990s, af­ter a night­mar­ish 30 years of qua­si­civil war and ap­palling blood­shed, thanks to en­light­ened state­craft by John Ma­jor, Tony Blair and post-de Valera gov­ern­ments in Dublin. I sus­pect May isn’t fa­mil­iar with the sweep of Ir­ish his­tory. She has de­voted less at­ten­tion to Ire­land than any mod­ern prime min­is­ter. She hasn’t even done what I and oth­ers re­gard as her bounden duty – which was to camp out in Belfast un­til a pow­er­shar­ing govern­ment was formed af­ter the last North­ern Ire­land elec­tion. In­stead, there has been no govern­ment or assem­bly in Belfast for nearly two years, and civil lib­er­ties and un­rest are once again in an alarm­ing state. But one thing May should do: can­cel her ‘Fes­ti­val of Par­ti­tion’.

If in any doubt, she should read the speeches of Ed­ward Car­son, who led the in­sur­rec­tion against the Lib­eral govern­ment which paved the way for North­ern Ire­land. “Ul­ster will fight, Ul­ster will be right,” was the slogan. Never again. Brexit or no Brexit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.