One of the most attractive aspects of Brexit will be that the UK will have the chance of reforging its relationship with Australia. As far as the Australians are concerned, Brexit is a second order question at the moment and it will primarily be up to us to ensure that both countries benefit. As the present Australian High Commissioner in London is fond of pointing out, we kicked the Australians in the teeth when we joined the EEC in 1972, but they somehow learned to live without us.
Nevertheless, as he is also fond of pointing out, his compatriots have a forgiving nature. They have been helpful and imaginative in their reaction to our decision to leave the EU, perhaps even because of their residual affection for us and the history we share. They are certainly looking forward with relish to the forthcoming Ashes series.
Equally, as Shanker Singham of the Legatum Institute has pointed out, there are several countries that together produce a high proportion of global GDP. They believe in the benefits of free trade, the rule of law and the supremacy of national representative institutions: the very things which have produced in the last few decades the greatest reduction in human indigence in history.
Australia is one of those countries.
The 27 remaining members of the EU are not. They pay lip service to these things, but the traditions of governance bequeathed to them by Louis XIV and Napoleon are, when push comes to shove, too strong. In the end the Enarchs win any contest with national and supranational parliaments and the courts are their poodles.
Government by fonctionnaire is not to be held in complete contempt. France proved during “Les trente glorieuses ” that a strong and intelligent bureaucracy can rebuild a shattered nation impressively. However, an embedded bureaucracy in a time of rapid change becomes inflexible. The tidiness so beloved of the administrative mind solidifies into the reaction of an ancient regime. The economic and political tensions so elegantly described by Mervyn King in his ” The End of Alchemy” begin to threaten the structure itself.
By contrast, polities in which parliaments are ultimately in charge are untidy; but they either respond to change or they are voted out. As Thomas Kielinger has observed, the UK is a maritime nation and is therefore good at dealing with uncertainty. At its best, it even welcomes it.
Does this mean that such parliamentary polities are always successful? Certainly not, but at least they have a greater chance of success. A lot depends on the quality of their political leadership, the vigour of their education and training and the youth of their populations.
Most of all, success springs from self-confidence, belief in the nation’s values and a willingness to stand up for them; and it is here that the UK, the USA and Australia may flounder. In recent years, their governing classes may have believed in their nations’ values, but they have not had the self-confidence to stand up for them.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the way they have treated Russian gangsters and domestically grown extremist Islam. The UK in particular has been far too tolerant of the gang of thieves who have robbed the Russian people blind and, seduced by their looted billions, has welcomed them and their money here. And, as far as militant Islam is concerned, our universities, our politicians and our police have kept their heads down.
Universities, if they are to succeed, depend on vigorous debate and rigorous inquiry. The universities are closing these things down. Western countries, especially their traditional left-wingers, have long campaigned for equal treatment of women and homosexuals. Yet, when confronted with FGM, Rotherham, modern slavery, the threat of murder for apostasy, hate preachers, the murder of cartoonists, attempts to impose dress codes in Islamic majority areas, their reaction is at most a “je suis..” demo, but more usually, especially from the left, an embarrassed attempt to say it’s all our fault. The police have taken the hint. They realise there is little point in bucking the consensus and they either arrest the raped as they shamefully did in Rotherham or they persecute the innocent, as they did Lords Bramall and Brittan. We don’t want to cause more trouble than we need.
And all this is happening at a time when the level of debt is higher than it was in 2008 and the concentration of financial power is in fewer hands. And those who brought about the financial crisis seem to have got away with it.
No wonder moderate Muslims in western nations, deprived of a solid stand by their governments, find it increasingly hard to stand up to the extremists in their communities. And no wonder that, seeing the vacuum our cowardice has produced, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Senator Pauline Hanson have rushed to fill it. They may not all win elections, but their opponents will take note and be tempted by the protectionist policies which will only make the problem worse.
So by all means let us forge an association of countries dedicated to free trade, the rule of law and strong parliamentary institutions. Let us hope that it will include ourselves, Australia, New Zealand,Canada, Singapore, Japan and India. Together, we might even persuade the USA and a reformed EU to join us. We could certainly become an even more formidable defence and security alliance than we are now.
But, none of that will work unless we believe in it and are prepared to defend it, however painful defending it might be. The alternative is what the Australians used to call the “cultural cringe”. An uncultured person could understandably cringe when meeting Lord Clarke of Civilisation, but it’s rather humiliating to be forced to cringe when meeting Al Baghdadi.