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Monday, 7 May 2012

The Big Idea

The doomsters have been saying that Britain is 'exhausted' for over a century; and much earlier Sir William Gilbert had castigated people who favour "all centuries but this one and all countries but their own". A whole cottage industry sprung up during the Second World War and burgeoned after Victory, asserting that the clapped-out country could be satisfied with its gargantuan effort against the Nazis and sink through obsolescence into terminal decline softened by the smug self-satisfaction of films that extolled wartime successes while industry and commerce could slide away into foreign hands.

The United States, asserted to be Britain's greatest ally, has always been the most determined enemy of the British Empire: wartime aid was given in accordance with the 'Atlantic Charter' by which Churchill agreed that the empire would be abandoned as soon as possible. India was dumped in 1947: the Labour government was so keen to slough-off that 'problem' that they authorised their Viceroy to enforce the partition of Pakistan from India, despite the certainty that hundreds of thousands of deaths would occur immediately and decades of armed confrontation would ensue. Where the strategic interests of the USA required Britain to stand firm against communist subversion of colonial territories - as in Malaysia and Greece - the British stood fast: otherwise the abandonment of territories in which the US saw business opportunity was encouraged. An incompetently-devised and poorly managed project to produce vegetable oil in East Africa was taken as a sign that the colonies would always be loss-leaders that the could not be afforded, and the process of withdrawal was accelerated.

Britain is now left with direct responsibility only for a few scattered island dependencies, mostly in the Atlantic but with outposts in the Indian Ocean, Antarctica and the Pacific. These are seen as burdens. The Falkland Islands have become newly controversial as oil reserves are explored, and no government dares to speak of negotiations on sovereignty with Argentina while the snivelling minions of the Treasury wring their hands at the current and potential cost of maintaining sovereignty. There have been plans to build an airport on St Helena for well over half a century, but the current highly viable plan may yet fall victim of spending cuts. Because they are useful to the Americans, Ascension and Diego Garcia both serve as major mid-ocean airfields: while other tiny settlements are regarded as inescapable burdens.

This whole picture is desperately inappropriate. Adding together the coastal waters of the UK and all its dependencies, Britain has the biggest marine frontiers in the world. Within those borders - which can now be delineated exactly by satellite plotting - the boldest venture of the planet is begging to be empowered. While other nations look to monumentally expensive space exploration or the capture of asteroids, Britain has the geographical, geomorphological, biological, oceanographic and practical skills to develop its own oceanic resources sustainably and for the long term. It is so obviously a viable prospect that politicians can not be expected to recognise it until it is hammered into their heads, past the nonsense of 'The Big Society' and the petty arguments about membership of the eurozone. The world's investors would line up with open wallets, hoping to capture the cream by again allowing the British state to create and flog-off assets: and unless they are stopped the politicians would again waste the assets that the people can create. This is the last great opportunity that Britain has been given by the adventurism of our ancestors: it must be captured. If that is to be done, we can move within a decade into the comfort created by being in conformity with the Laws of Politicial Economy.

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