“ ‘Very well, alone’ did good service for Winston Churchill as a wartime rallying cry in 1940,” says Andrew Rawnsley ("Boris Johnson’s Global Britain is exposed as impotent and friendless by Afghanistan", Comment). The myth that Britain “stood alone” in the Second World War and that Europe was then liberated from “our island fortress” was woven by Margaret Thatcher in her 1988 Bruges speech and became one of the driving fictions of Brexit.
“Where is Global Britain in the streets of Kabul?” was a little rich coming from Theresa May, who declared, when triggering article 50 of the Lisbon treaty in 2017: “I want Britain to be… a great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, united and confident at home.”
Now that the Atlantic alliance is broken, our international influence is in tatters, we have burned our bridges with Europa and the country is weak, divided and fearful, it is high time that we took a long, hard look at ourselves and our place in the world before the nonsense of imperial fantasy sweeps us on to the rocks of any more historic humiliations.
Robert Gildea, professor emeritus of modern history
University of Oxford
One can perhaps forgive Americans for botching the Afghanistan campaign but the British, who fought the Afghans three times – in 1839, 1878 e 1919 – should have known better ("It won’t do to blame the US for Britain’s humiliation", Editoriale).
quando, before the first Anglo-Afghan war of 1839, Lord Auckland, the head of the British invading force, asked the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, to undertake the responsibility of invading Kabul, the maharaja refused; he knew only too well that they were easy to conquer but difficult to rule; that they were a mosaic of competing tribes, which ensured that no strong central authority maintained its power over them for too long. It is a pity that western leaders could not foresee in 2001 what Maharaja Ranjit Singh could in 1839.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Londra
Sippi Azarbaijani-Moghaddam offers a reality check to counter the over-rosy western view of progress in Afghanistan ("Progress was always fitful. Many Afghan women felt unsafe before the Taliban’s arrival", Comment). Too many are exaggerating the improvements in life for women and girls, perhaps compelled by the necessity to justify their outlay in blood and treasure over the past 20 anni. Three-quarters of the population live in rural areas and only just over half of Afghan men are literate, while the female literacy rate is under 30%. Female doctors, lawyers, judges and journalists are doubtless shining examples of what can be achieved if girls are given half a chance but basic schooling is still a pipe dream for the overwhelming majority.
Western governments are too eager to make wildly upbeat claims for their influence in raising women’s status during the past two decades. The country remains for the most part desperately poor, with most people struggling to make a basic living. Most girls are married by 19, the most common ages being 15 o 16, and the fertility rate at five children per woman is the highest outside Africa.
In answer to Will Hutton’s question ("As the economy bounces back, do we sceptics need to say we got it wrong?", Comment), a resounding no! As his brilliant analysis reveals, the “recovery” has delivered much more for the few than for the many. And the cracks that have appeared over the past year – in the NHS, social care and other public services stretched beyond breaking point – will only get wider unless fundamental change comes soon.
Better informed and caring policies, backed by a fairer taxation system, are long overdue. The sustainable economic, social and environmental policies that apply in Wales are one model for this, comparing favourably with the UK government’s mix of optimistic rhetoric, short-term “fixes” and rush to get back to “business as usual”.
Kay S Powell
I am a paid-up and enthusiastic anti-Brexiter. I read with joy the articles by William Keegan in particular, such as “We need a new driver at the wheel of ‘Global Britain’" (Business).
tuttavia, I fear that, by emphasising the rational economic arguments, he and many others miss the main point. It is that both those for and against Brexit have a view based not on economic but on emotional grounds. Those who oppose EU membership do so because they see the EU as a foreign, dysfunctional, money-wasting, dictatorial organisation from which they want freedom and independence. The anti-Brexiteers see the EU as a force for good and like the idea of being closely associated with other European democracies.
Such views won’t be changed by presenting the economic arguments and that is why there is no evidence of “buyer’s remorse”. Polls indicate few have changed their mind over the last five years, despite the evidence of the economic pain inflicted on the UK since we left the EU.
So Priti Patel regards Extinction Rebellion activists as “extremists”, a group of “criminals who threaten the nation’s way of life” ("XR supporters are not ‘extreme’ – Patel adviser", notizia). Such a view demands critical scrutiny. Shami Chakrabarti, the former shadow attorney general, rightly points to the “sloppy lack of legal definition”, which is a shocking failing in a home secretary.
But there is more to be unpacked here with regard to notions of extremism. One could say that climatic and ecological effects so extreme that they present an existential threat can be effectively addressed only by fundamental, ie extreme, systemic change. Put the other way round, these extreme effects arise as the result of the continued burning of fossil fuels and exploitation of nature and people, so the real extremists are those who profit from and perpetuate such business and those who do nothing to change the world economy and the way we live.
The demise of the traditional high street may well be exaggerated, if the example of the leadership, vision and entrepreneurial energy shown by the council of Stockton-on-Tees is anything to go by ("Never mind the shops, focus on parks, theatres… and people", Focus). Symbolised by the revival of the Globe, a Grade II art deco theatre, their message is about creating a greater sense of community and local identity by moving away from an emphasis on mere consumption to one of promoting genuine participation and wellbeing.
That certainly resonates here in Harborne, a couple of miles from Birmingham city centre, where we too have an art deco Grade II cinema but one that’s now a sad shadow of its former self, a casualty of long-term public and private neglect. Harborne Royalty Trust has put forward proposals on how this building could be restored for a diversity of uses such as a cinema, theatre, music venue, and other activities. Infatti, a public consultation demonstrated overwhelming backing for such plans, rather than seeing the Royalty make way for further residential apartments, which could happen if our council fails to heed the lesson from Stockton.
Rob Sutton, chair
Harborne Royalty Trust