Churchill: "The use of recriminating about the past"

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On May 29, 1936, Winston Churchill, conservative backbencher, spoke in a debate about British preparedness for the coming air war (emphasis added):

Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063_235px.jpgMy right hon. Friend said the other day that you must not cry over spilt milk, and he said it to-day in other words, as to recriminating about the past, and so forth. I will tell the House the use of recriminating about the past. It is to enforce effective action at the present. It is no use recriminating about the past simply for the purpose of censuring and punishing neglect and culpability, though that, indeed, may at times become the duty of Parliament. But there is great necessity for recriminating about the actions of the past and the neglects of the past when one is not satisfied that all is being done at the present time. That is the justification for it.

THE MODERN CONTEXT: Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, writing in the Spectator about the vindication of Eurosceptics regarding the single European currency (emphasis added):

Very rarely in political history has any faction or movement enjoyed such a complete and crushing victory as the Conservative Eurosceptics. The field is theirs. They were not merely right about the single currency, the greatest economic issue of our age -- they were right for the right reasons. They foresaw with lucid, prophetic accuracy exactly how and why the euro would bring with it financial devastation and social collapse....

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1936, Winston Churchill -- then himself a marginal and widely scorned figure -- uttered the following words: 'the use of recriminating about the past is to enforce effective action at the present'. So what are the lessons we should learn from the British argument over the euro?

First, we should cherish that very British trait, eccentricity. Study of the public discourse at the height of the euro debate shows how often pro-euro propagandists isolated their critics by labelling them cranks. Here's just one example, taken from the Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley's column on 31 January 1999: 'On the pro-euro side, a grand coalition of business, the unions and the substantial, sane, front rank political figures. On the other side, a menagerie of has-beens, never-have-beens and loony tunes.'

Most of Mr Rawnsley's 'substantial, sane, front-rank political figures' came together 12 years ago at the launch of the Britain in Europe campaign to take us into the euro -- Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Charles Kennedy, Danny Alexander. So here's another lesson: be wary of cross-party alliances. Again and again it is the lonely and cussed figures who stand outside the establishment orthodoxy who are vindicated over time.

There's a good bit too about how certain self-interested large corporations co-opted the Confederation of British Industry to support European monetary union. One suspects the same thing is happening any time a Chamber of Commerce backs higher taxes, illegal immigration, or greater regulation.

Just as bad was the CBI, whose claims to represent British industry as a whole have always been dubious at best. By the mid-1990s a small clique of large corporations were firmly in control, and they had the director general they wanted in the shape of the impeccably well connected Adair (now Lord) Turner, later to become chairman of the disastrous Financial Services Authority and chairman of the Government's Committee on Climate Change. Few pieces of conventional wisdom are ever too conventional for Lord Turner. His corporate bosses (Niall FitzGerald of Unilever, David Simon of BP, British Airways' Colin Marshall) claimed that an overwhelming majority of British businessmen backed the single currency -- a vital propaganda tool for pro-euro campaigners. The figures used to support these claims were, however, very flimsy indeed: they could only be sustained by ignoring the views of small businessmen, and in due course they were exposed -- a crucial early defeat for the pro-euro cause.

Linking to the Spectator piece, David Abbott of Brits at Their Best asks, "So what should we learn from the argument over the euro?":

"The cranks", the "loons", small business people and honest people were right. Joining the euro would have been a catastrophe for Britain.

Big business, big politicians, big crooks and the big BBC were wrong.

But make no mistake, they will try to make the same mistake again because it's lucrative, and they will try to drag the British people with them.

AN OPPOSING VOICE: The Laird of Swamp Castle opposes recriminating and bickering about the past:

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2 Comments

Bob said:

There are 27 countries in the EU, and 17 of those in the Monetary Union of the EU. The monetary union is also called the Eurozone, using a single currency for the 17 member participating states.

The monetary union cannot work in the long-term, and its impeding collapse is obvious.

The reason the Eurozone will collapse is because there are 17 different countries that each have different cultures. Those cultures value work, thrift, honesty, and integrity differently.

The Germans are thrifty, hard-working, and value integrity and honesty in their society and in their government.

The Greeks and Italians are far less hard-working, and their governments spend far in excess of their ability to tax the populace.

The Eurozone will fail because Germans will not permanently accept through their own hard-work, innovation, and thrift subsidizing less efficient and less hard-working Italians and Greeks.

Roy said:

I wonder how long thrifty, hard-working, Americans who value integrity and honesty will subsidize, well, Americans who are far less efficient, less hard-working, etc.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 26, 2011 12:36 PM.

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