Tags

, ,

This morning I came across the following passage. It was written by Cyril Connolly and published in Horizon in 1947. And it seems to me that, apart from some specifics of time and place, this could very easily apply to Brexit Britain.

For context: 1947 was one of the harshest winters in recent British history. It was the worst since the 1890s, and there has been nothing like it since. Snow blanketted the country for months, in many place food and fuel could not get through. Since food and clothing were still rationed (food rationing would continue well into the 1950s), it was a hard time for everyone. Winning the war had brought no tangible benefit. The country was in so much debt that every cent of Marshall Aid it received went to pay those debts, so there was none of the investment in repairing infrastructure and buying new technology that happened in the rest of Europe. (I remember there were still bomb sites around my home in the suburbs of Manchester throughout the Sixties and into the Seventies.) This was one of the reasons why, industrially and economically, Britain lagged behind other European countries right up until the time we joined the Common Market in the 1970s. The other main reasons, of course, being antiquated management practices, appalling labour relations, and the policies of successive governments during the “thirteen years of Tory misrule” between Churchill shutting down the Festival of Britain and Wilson extolling the “white heat” of technology.

So we were poor, hungry, freezing and probably wondering what was the point of winning the war. And Connolly, a misanthrope who complained about everything, wrote:

The advantages which position, coal, skill and enterprise won for us in the nineteenth century have been liquidated and we go back to scratch as a barren, humid, raw, but densely over-populated group of islands with an obsolete industrial plant, hideous but inadequate housing, a variety of unhealthy jungle possessions [though, of course, empire has gone now and the various former colonies rightly care little for us], vast international commitments, a falling birth-rate [it was actually rising at the time, but is falling now] and a large class of infertile rentiers or over-specialized middlemen and brokers as our main capital … Most of us are not men or women but members of a vast, seedy, over-worked, over-legislated, neuter class, with our drab clothes, our ration books and murder stories, our envious, stricken, old-world apathies and resentments – a careworn people.