Tuesday, 20 December 2011

History Books of the Year for 2011

For those of your struggling to find the last few Christmas gifts - here is a short list of my favourite History Books of 2011...

Anna Reid - Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-44.

Max Hastings - All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945

Ian Kershaw - The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945

Rodric Braithwaite - Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89

Robert Gerwarth - Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich

Norman Davies - Vanished Kingdoms

All good - all very much worth reading, and giving..

Happy Christmas

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

"Very Well - Semi-detached"

Big news of this week has been the European summit and PM David Cameron's use of a veto to scupper a proposed treaty aiming for greater fiscal union to save the Euro. All sides on this are posturing and playing politics - Milliband is especially shameless - yet, it strikes me that we should perhaps all save our breath for the moment. We will only know if the plans are successful - in that they save the Euro - in six months, or a year. So all we have at the moment, it seems to me, is political knockabout.

Yet, there are important practical and ideological aspects to what has been done here. The practical aspect is to ease the economic crisis in the Eurozone - solve the sovereign debt problems of the Greeks and others - and breathe life back into the Euro. This is all well and good - and a goal in which Britian can heartily collaborate - not least because 50% of British exports go to the EU. So, an economically healthy EU is good for Britain.

But, it is the ideological aspect that causes Britain its problems. This ideological aspect is the idea of an ever-closer union, encompassing not only a free trade area (which Britain originally signed up to), but monetary and now fiscal union - and by implication an ever-closer de-facto political union, under German hegemony. This is something to which Britain cannot - and should not - ever agree.

Taking the long view - historically speaking - Britain's political position regarding Europe has always mirrored her geographical position - semi-detached. A position summarised by Churchill when he said "We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not compromised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed."

Broadly, Britain's historical position regarding Europe can be summed up in geo-political terms, as one of preserving balance. Britain's interests and ambitions were well-served by simply seeking to preserve a balance of powers on the European continent, not allowing any one power to achieve a dominant position, whilst preserving opportunities for trade. As soon as any one power becomes too dominant - Napoleon and Hitler are the best examples - then Britain acts to restore balance. Aside from this over-riding concern, however, Britain has traditionally stood apart from European squabbles, seeing her natural constituency beyond Europe's shores - in the colonies, the Empire, the Commonwealth or the Anglophone sphere...

This is why last week's summit veto was so important - for it marked the point at which the pragmatic business of economic union gave way to the more ideological one of political union. It may well be that the French and Germans did not want Britain in the club - mindful perhaps of Britain's more pragmatic instincts - and so deliberately forced Cameron into using his veto. It may be that Cameron did not negotiate as deftly as he might have done. Whatever the case, however, the moves that Europe signalled last week are not most certainly not in Britain's national interest.

Only time will tell is the economic aspect of the plan - that of saving the Euro - will succeed. Germany's unwillingness to allow devaluation rather handicaps the chances of recovery and has contributed to the mess that is now to be solved. Yet that recovery is important to Britain.

The political aspect meanwhile, whilst most certainly of profound significance, is not in Britain's interests. Mr Cameron did the right thing by remaining outside it.