The Observer tells us that we might look back into history to understand some things about the current day. Which, of course, is useful. For example, don’t let the government run the economy for fear of replicating East Germany circa 1989, or Venezuela today. Don’t buy into the back to the land as happy peasantry movement for fear of Pol Pot’s example.
Or, perhaps closer to today’s major concern, Brexit, we might consider the Corn Laws. The UK simply declared unilateral free trade. The net result of which is that the landlords lost income – and then again in the 1870s, then again in the 1890s as first the steamship opened up the American grain producers, then the railway the Ukrainian – and the economic power of the aristocratic landed estates was broken. To the vast benefit of the average working man. The 1840s marking when real incomes for the majority finally started to rise as a result of the Industrial Revolution. You know, the end of the Engels Pause.
Free trade has its merits.
But that’s not what they decide to concentrate upon. Instead they talk of Imperial Preference:
Imperial preference, 1902-1937 Witnesses of the Tory party’s unity-shredding convulsions over Brexit often look for similarities with the Conservative split over the Corn Laws under Sir Robert Peel in the first half of the 19th century. A less-cited, but perhaps more useful, comparison is with the Tory party’s battles with itself over “imperial preference” in the first half of the 20th century. A group led by serial party splitter Joseph Chamberlain, egged on by right-wing press barons, wanted to renounce free trade and replace it with preferential tariffs for the colonies and dominions of the empire. Their claim was that this form of protectionism was a patriotic policy, and would sustain Britain’s global power against its rivals.
There’s a connection with those Brexiters who radiate nostalgia for empire and a yearning to somehow recover lost international clout. Divisions over imperial preference contributed to the Tory party’s defeats in the elections of 1906, 1923 and 1929 – examples of the often reliable rule that divided parties lose votes.
There are indeed similarities to today. For example, bien pensant thinking today is very much against that idea of such imperial preference. They think it was silly then and would be ridiculous today. And yet what is the difference between imperial preference and the European Union? Sure, there’s a difference over with whom. In the one it’s any Dago, Wop or Frog who cares to trade with us, in the earlier one anyone sharing, roughly enough, a culture of free speech, civil liberty and the Common Law. We couldn’t then and can’t now claim that it’s about pinkish skins given the make up of the Empire. Or the Commonwealth today.
But what actually is the EU? It’s a zollverien, just the same. It’s preferential tariffs for one group of people instead of another. It’s a rejection of free trade to bias economic policy in favour of one group and against another. Making us all poorer in the process.
That is, and think about this for a moment, the only reason for the EU’s trade policy is a rejection of free trade with all. In favour of free trade with Greasers, Spics and Krauts, and against those brownish and darker peoples out there in the big wide world. And really, who would want to belong to an organisation as racist as that?