Milton Keynes lies half way between Oxford and Cambridge, and is known to historians driving between the two universities for its succession of roundabouts, its concrete cows grazing beside the road, and huge distribution warehouses. If they think of history, it is Bletchley Park – the home of the wartime code breakers – that is […]
A previous lecture delivered in Melbourne in May 2019 dealt with Brexit in the longer term – how relations with Europe changed since 1945, from ambivalence to membership and back to ambivalence. In this lecture, also in Melbourne, in November 2019 I turned to some major issues which have been opened up and need to […]
Black Lives Matter has focussed on the removal of visible markers that celebrate slaveowners in London and Bristol. But there is also another pressing need: to make visible what is currently hidden. The ways in which slavery and its ill-gotten gains permeated British society needs to be addressed and admitted. In the Cambridgeshire countryside, near […]
Although the policy response to the global financial crisis prevented a repeat of the great depression, it left the global economy in a fragile state. How would it cope with the next shock that was anticipated to arise from a renewed debt crisis in emerging markets, financial difficulties in China, or tensions within the eurozone? […]
1919 marks the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar by Walter Gropius. The story of his time in London in the 1930s – along with other members of the school – is well worth telling. It is a story about Jack Pritchard and Isokon, of Maxwell Fry and MARS, of the impact of Gropius’s design for Impington Village College on postwar schools. It is part of a wider story of modernist architecture through Berthold Lubetkin’s work for Finsbury – both housing and the health centre. It is a story of hostility but also of postwar influence through Leslie Martin and Eric Lyon’s Span housing. It is a wonderful theme for an exhibition at RIBA, drawing on its own archives and other collections. Sadly, the exhibition is a failure as a result of the design of Pezo von Ellrichshausen.
A shallow history of Brexit could start with the referendum in June 2016 when 33,577,342 electors voted, with 51.9 per cent opting to leave and 48.1 per cent to remain on a turnout of 72.2 per cent. It only needed 635,000 of those voting to change their mind for a different result which was what was widely expected even by Nigel Farage. Much of the subsequent debate turned on short-term contingent factors concerning the campaign – the articulation of the message ‘Take Back Control’, the focus on getting out people who never voted, the exploitation of the refugee crisis, and the use of data from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. These issues are all Important, and if the vote had gone slightly the other way, we could not be where we are in 2019. But focussing on the narrow victory for leave misses two wider points:Before the 1975 referendum, British engagement with European integration was distinctive and always differed from the founding members, never fully committed. Why? There was considerable change since the 1975 referendum when 67.2 per cent were for remain and 32.8 per cent to leave, on a lower turnout of 64.5 per cent. The only two areas with a leave majority were the Western Isles and Shetland. Why this shift since 1975? These two questions shape a longer or deeper history of the second referendum.
In April 2009, G20 leaders from the world’s major developed and emerging economies met in London under the chairmanship of the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. It was a critical time as demonstrators took to the streets of the City of London, and the world faced the prospect of the financial crisis turning into something akin to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Indeed, Brown explicitly made a link with the World Monetary and Economic Conference held in London in 1933 that failed with disastrous consequences for the global economy and ultimately for peace. He warned that the stakes were high and cooperation was needed to avoid a repeat of the downward spiral into trade and currency wars of the 1930s. History was called on to provide guidance – but the participants at the London summit in April 2009 had very different readings of history.
In his speech to the UN in September 2019, President Trump drew a stark contrast between globalists and patriots. Globalism, he claimed, ‘exerted a religious pall over past leaders causing them to ignore their own national interests’ and ‘wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first’. In his opinion, ‘The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors and honor the differences that make each country special and unique’. ‘Patriots’ became a group with special access to the national interest, able to ‘see a nation and its destiny in ways no one else can. Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secure, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realised by the will and devotion of patriots’. The obvious corollary is that criticism of narrow self-interest and support of the global common good becomes unpatriotic treachery. In her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2016, Teresa May made a similar, though less strident, claim that ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowehere. You don’t understand what citizenship means’. Both were setting the ‘somewheres’ against the ‘anywheres’, to use the terms of David Goodhart in The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics (Penguin 2017).
In July 1944, 45 nations met at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire to discuss plans for the post-war monetary order, and to create the International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Discussions on trade soon followed with the negotiation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva in 1947. This post-war multilateral order was largely an American creation to prevent ‘beggar my neighbour policies’ of currency depreciation and trade warfare, and to create a balance between economic nationalism and the pursuit of globalisation. Now, 75 years later, President Trump is challenging these multilateral institutions and threatening a return to economic nationalism. At the same time, Brexiteers appeal to article 24 of GATT which they (wrongly) claim will allow a transitional trade deal with Europe, and proclaim the virtues of ‘a bright future based on World Trade Organisation rules, the body that succeeded and incorporated the GATT.