Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | November 11, 2010

Precarious Albion

Americans have seen the reports of British students violently protesting the hike in college tuition planned by London’s governing coalition.  Fewer may have seen today’s report of a protest by Muslims against the national moment of silence observed on Armistice – or, in Britain, Remembrance – Day, 11 November.

According to the UK Daily Mail, the protesters burned a model of a red poppy – the symbol of remembrance for World War I – and chanted “British soldiers burn in hell!”  Says the Mail: “They held banners which read ‘Islam will dominate’ and ‘Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell’.” The Muslim protest was countered by an English Defence League protest, with London police keeping the two groups separated.

Britain today still has a productive demographic that sees value in things like restoring fiscal responsibility to government, commemorating Britain’s national identity and history, and maintaining public order.  But that demographic is increasingly under siege.

Among Europe’s members of the G-8, Britain is also increasingly isolated in the rush of the others – Germany, France, Italy – to secure agreements with Russia.  The Cameron government is seeking to improve Britain’s long-frosty relations with Russia. But there’s a sense of restricted latitude in this move:  a lurking idea that Britain might be late to the table, and might need Russia’s goodwill more than vice versa.  Indeed, before the October visit of Foreign Secretary William Hague to Moscow, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, averred that Moscow expected Britain to “make the first move” to improve relations.

Britain is by no means out of options. But she’s just about out of margin.  One reason for that, of course, is the all-but-explicit repudiation by Barack Obama of the “special relationship” between the US and UK.  Britain is no longer a true global empire or the sheriff of the seas, but she’s still an island kingdom a few short miles across the Channel from Europe.  To maintain political independence, she must either cultivate her own power or obtain the backing of a country that does.  The close connection with America has been Britain’s high card for the last half century.

But there was a Britain before there was a global America.  The pivot toward Russia represents the reemergence of an older pattern:  one in which Britain used continental alliances to maintain a regional balance of power.  Britain and France have tempered their courting of Russia with a new bilateral defense pact between the two of them, concluded last week.  As NATO dismantles its raison d’etre, the old fault lines of alliance and wagon tracks of diplomacy reappear.  The factors in why France and Britain made this agreement, but Germany is not part of it, are the same ones that obtained before there was a NATO or a global America:  some alliance is necessary, but a tripartite pact with Germany would alarm Russia too much.

Germany, naturally, prefers to retain a privileged central position anyway; for Berlin, the right note was struck with Angela Merkel’s participation in October’s three-way talks with Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev.  But Germany is deeply embedded in Russia’s oil and natural gas empire too.  The Germans have their own growing ties to Russia.

The British soul may be much like ours, but British geography is a stern taskmaster.  As NATO and the special relationship fade, her leaders have tough choices to make.  Even in an earlier era of technology, Britain could never stand alone.  She required alliances and strategies; like a ship of state moored to Europe, she needed a network of bumpers and a way of keeping a steady strain on the lines to prevent collision or being cut adrift.  Now her post-World War II holiday from that history is coming to an end.

As it does, Britain finds herself not so much bolstered by a stiff upper lip as mired in a protruding lower one.  Only Britain can determine whether she will sink into that mire and become something else: a fractious and stupid society, paranoid, entitled, and immobilized.  It doesn’t have to happen; I’m pulling for the stiff upper lip to reclaim its territory.

If it does happen, Americans are in for times far more “interesting” than any we’ve had.  We’ve never lived in a world in which there was not an anchor of preferential goodwill towards us in Western Europe.  Throughout most of our history, that anchor has been Britain.  If that anchor is weighed, we will find out just how small, today, the Atlantic Ocean really is.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. “Britain today still has a productive demographic that sees value in things like restoring fiscal responsibility to government, commemorating Britain’s national identity and history, and maintaining public order. But that demographic is increasingly under siege.”

    SIEGE?????? UNDER SIEGE???

    From some dozens of louts?

    I look forward to reading your next bit of melodrama. Maybe the Queen could be tied to the railroad tracks by Dr Moriarty’s minions and dacoits sprung up from their foetid opium dens.

  2. They might as well have called it the droog rally for
    the thugs from Clockwork Orange, the same ‘peace ful protests,’ are being planned here, thanks to
    Soros’s beneficiarie, the Ruckus society, Van Jones
    old affiliates

  3. fuster, you are are the one being melodramatic here by going bonkers over the word “siege” in my opinion. Perhaps J.E. means that those in Britain that have a conservative viewpoint are resisting the tide of liberalism that has overtaken them over the decades now? Anyway, maybe it’s better to ask for clarity first rather than dive right in to incredulity and snark.

    J.E., I’ve been sort of expecting something from you in regards to that mystery “aircraft” of recent note that launched off the CA coast. I for one don’t buy that aircraft story. It looked too much like a missle to me. My uneducated guess would be a submarine missle launch from the Russians, Chinese or North Koreans (if NK even has the capability) that the Obama admin would rather dismiss than confront. Again though, that’s merely an opinion from a non-expert.

    • RE, the “tide of liberalism” in Britain has been receding since about the time the Beatles broke up.

      What’s afoot in London is a different game altogether. and Britain faces times and choices less perilous and desperate than any she’s faced in the preceding 100 years

  4. Surely you must be joking, herr Frosch, the circumstances are closer to what happened 70 years ago

    • Sorry, miggy, but you’re not authorized to take that line on this blog.

      Such speculation is the intellectual property of the presently absent Geoffrey of the Britons. Unless you’re able to produce proof of stewardship; and that’s express, written consent from Geoffrey (or the Commissioner), it’s poor form, old boy.

  5. I think he will give me leeway, now the question is Cameron, Baldwin, who went on to further the Tory
    wave till 1945, or is he MacDonald, who became a punchline in a Python sketch

  6. Are you guys DENSE? You sound like a bunch of old farts in a smoky old London Club, so “veddy British that even the Brits can’t understand them!”

    Not sure who you mean by “louts,” fuster (that name suits beautifully – as in “fusty/musty”), but the EDL may be very non-U, but they may be all that’s left of Brit backbone & protest. But maybe, instead, you mean the muzzie vermin? That would be more like it…

    Anyway, another point, fusty: It looks, from this side of the Pond, that Britain has hardly been witnessing a “receding Liberal tide” UNLESS you mean a “Liberal RECESSION” – OK, I’ll buy that.

    A friend who keeps up with these things informs me that he THINKS that the Cameron coalition is serious about substantial budget cuts and bringing over-spending and entitlements closer in line with reality. Is he reading his Brit tea leaves accurately?

    • My Very Dear Mistress Joy,

      I was nominating the poppy-burners as loutish.

      However, I can’t see you as accepting the EDL as swinging hepcats as
      “Five other members of EDL have been arrested on suspicion of affray.”

      I don’t envision yourself as approving of tactical affinities that place one in peril of accusation of such offense.

      “Affray” is so, so redolent of year rolls.

  7. I hope fuster reads your reply thoroughly, Joy. I don’t think you’re actually agreeing with him. The EDL is just the kind of organization he despises — certainly not a last-line-of-defense keeper of the national backbone.

    But if I sound like an old fart in a London — well, what can I say. I have, actually, BEEN in an old farts’ London club, for all over about an hour and a half. Apparently it shows. Kewl.

    • Thoroughly indeed. So much information to absorb.

      I’ll allow you to hang with the EDLs, Rev Paisleys, Pat Robertsons, and the other self-annointed defenders of what they believe that they ken.

  8. Thanks for the alert – and partial translation – Optimistic. With Fuster’s reponse, I realize that the Atlantic separates more than land mass – what in hell is he talking about? I think I need a translation into American English to learn what is meant by “affray?” I clicked on the link – and it was there in BBC-speak, too! Help! My Webster’s “New World” Dictionary (OK, we Yanks need all the help we can get!) says that it’s alternatively Middle English for “attack” and even ARCHAIC for frightening or to frighten. Sounds like an old-fashion “fray” to me!

    Well, I’m glad that you’re reference to louts meant the poppy-burners (couldn’t get you to say Islamic fanatics, could we? or going a wee bit further than mere “louts!”) – and O.C. is right, you like to lump the EDLs in with what you perceive to be all those right-wing fringies in the USA. Of course, our own historical heros, the Revolutionaries, the rebels, would hardly have earned a place at YOUR table – but that’s not surprising since they went a lot further in their “fraying” than the EDLs ever attempted to do.

    One last question, What are “year rolls?” Lord, how to obfuscate a simple (??) exchange…

  9. OMG: A grammatical error bashed out in too much haste! To wit: First line, 2nd paragraph, should read: “I’m glad that YOUR reference…” – NOT “you’re.” Just got caught up in the phonetics of it all…

  10. No doubt fuster will be pleased as punch to be mistaken for a Limey toff, with his “affray’ quotation. While we here at TOC can’t vouch for where his journey in this vale of tears began, however, we do understand that he lives in NYC and counts himself a Murrican.

  11. fuster is flustered rather than punchy to be taken as anything but the Bronx-born boy that he is and would never have expected that any reader of this blog would take his parodic puffery as anything but the lackwit lampooning that it was.

    He will confess to having read a fair bit of English legal history in his tearful time.

  12. Thanks, TOC, for the clarification – I appreciate your droll wit and light sarcasm – well placed!! As for Fusty Flustered Fuster, he’s a bit too too for me – “clever by half,” as the saying – and put-down – goes. He says nothing and accomplishes less. Reading TOC is valuable for its substance, not its “puffery,” preening and pretense.

    I’m sure Fuster would recoil in horror, but I’m going to make the comparison anyway: He reminds me – but without the wit or the spot-on political analyses – of Michael Savage (aka Weiner), PhD (2, by his count), who originated in the Bronx himself – and often refers to it – but RARELY, if ever, uses the word “Jewish” to describe his upbringing, background, speech patterns, paranoia or constant references. I guess it must have been tough growing up in a place that stamped itself all over one before one even had the skills to shed that skin…

    I grew up in what was then the very bland Pacific NW – no accents or regional “charm” or anything characteristic of my place of origin. Maybe that’s what’s missing; but, as they say, one usually doesn’t miss what one never had…

  13. Miss Joy,

    I’m not familiar with Michael Savage by any name, so the horror eludes me.

    I’ll leave to you the recoiling from that man’s two offenses and my own one and a half or more.

  14. Be thankful for small favors, he’s like the left’s caricature of what they think a conservative is, you’re too self aware for that, Herr Frosch

  15. (BTW, I’m still “Joy,” but WordPress got me mixed up – all by itself! – and “couldn’t find me,” so I had to change my username – but now they say I can’t change it back!! Rats!)

    Thanks, Miguel, for your oblique description of Savage – ’nuff said! But, for the record, he’s been “banned in Britain,” which – to him – is worse than being “banned in Boston!” He’s definitely NON-PC (Big Time!), and they claim he might upset the social tranquility of the UK…. (that’s a laugh!) Of course, he heartily endorses the EDL.

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