Comment: Nostalgic Britain risks becoming prehistoric

Lord Howard

by Sarah McMullan

BRITAIN has an unhealthy obsession with nostalgia. Cultivated in a host of period dramas, country policemen and well attired midwives, idealistic views of the past dominate our TV screens.

It’s an obsession that transpired to the white cliffs of dover as the face of wartime singer Vera Lynn was projected along the coastline for her 100th birthday.

It’s an obsession that makes Nigel Farage’s ramblings of grammar schools and problematic immigrants feel at home in the British dialogue.

It seems now, however, that Britain has grown fed-up of pedalling sentimental recollections of its own history and has decided that it is in need of a re-boot.

On the 35th anniversary of the war with the Falklands, and less than a week after triggering article 50, senior Conservative Party members are in talks of war with Spain to protect Gibraltar.

This comes after Madrid were accused of using Brexit talks to extend its political influence over the rock which voted 96% in favour of remain.

The very premise of these talks in British parliament reaffirms the government ideal that nothing generates national pride like war, and nothing is more poisonous to politics than nostalgia.

Speaking to Sky news on Sunday the former conservative party leader, Lord Howard, denied that he made inflammatory comments about Britain’s position on war.

He said: “35 years ago this week another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world, to defend the freedom of another small group of British people, against another, Spanish speaking country.”

He added: “I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”

His retort was positively gleeful as he remembered the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, who secured another term in office as a result of her interference with the Falklands.

Shortly after he declared that Britain would go “all the way” to protect the sovereignty of Gibraltar and that Britain could “cripple” Spain if it wanted to – a quote that was emblazoned across The Sun’s front page in a less than subtle nod to their coverage of The Falklands.

Mr Howard’s argument sounds a bit like a drunken uncle at the dinner table. He’s been invited out of sympathy and now a couple of drinks deep the conversation goes south while he professes delusions of grandeur and elaborate plans of action that you know will never come to fruition.

It is almost guaranteed that Britain will not go to war with Spain.

Spain is a member of Nato as is Britain, Spain is a member of the EU who Britain are trying to negotiate a good deal with, and if you were to eradicate all of these and make a simple comparison, Spain is bigger than Britain and therefore in a better position for war.

Brexit secretary David Davis is already planning a trip to Madrid with his tail between his legs in an effort to diffuse the tensions which were laid bare by Mr Howard.

This then begs the question, what is the point in this rhetoric?

It is political peacocking in a shallow bid to remind onlookers that ‘global Britain’ is still a force to be reckoned with.

In hindsight, however, Britain’s global input continues to flounder as it puts up trade barriers and curbs migration.

The faux war with Spain is a further nod to the woes of Brexit and another reason for our neighbours to point and laugh.

Reverting to past behaviour and flirting with the idea of war is a knee-jerk reaction to political negotiations which require patience and forward-thinking.

It is a PR stunt which would do no-one benefit bar the TV guides of the future.

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