Smarm Offensive

Glen Newey

This week the queen showed up in Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. Her trip has taken in excursions to Frankfurt and Bergen-Belsen, to which the British seem to feel a proprietary bond through its having been liberated by UK and Commonwealth forces. She looked bemused when her hosts presented her with a painting, based on a photo from 1935, of her sitting on a sub-Franz Marc blue pony in front of her father, George VI. Did the queen recognise him? ‘No.’

Links between Germany and the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha remain robust, despite a couple of regrettable misunderstandings during the last century. But for the vagaries of 18th-century Anglican politics, the queen might have spent a blameless life pickling cabbage in Dortmund. At Berlin’s Technical University this week, she was greeted by a robot imitating the royal wave. It underlines the fact that the queen could have her job done for her by an android.

Ostensibly it’s a politically neutral state visit, but in reality its aim is to shore up David Cameron’s smarm offensive to smooth renegotiating British membership of the EU before the in/out referendum in 2016 or 2017. The strategy resembles cognitive dissonance theory: get people to behave in a certain way, and they’ll acquire beliefs that fit the behaviour. The Berliners love-bomb ‘Die Queen’ as she bobs down the Spree: surely Angela Merkel, EU president in all but name, will let Cameron cut benefits to migrants or lob him a sop or two over the budget that he can flaunt as ‘concessions’ to the europhobe red-tops, in another iteration of the posturing that has marked Britain’s stance towards the EU since Thatcher.

In The Reign of George the Sixth 1900-25, written in 1763, Albion worsts the dual threat of Russia and France in successive wars at the start of the 20th century. Britain stands firm with Prussia, which has forged an
Anschluss with the Austrian Empire. Its anonymous Pittite author, aiming to lampoon the Bute government for letting the French off the hook in the Treaty of Paris negotiations at the end of the Seven Years’ War, goes in hard on the dangers of emollience. Negotiations over the ‘peace of Beauvais’ in ‘1902’ are led by the 7th Duke of Bedford (John Russell, the 4th Duke, had been the principal British negotiator of the 1763 treaty). Appeasement triggers a second Franco-British war. A victorious George is crowned king of France at Rheims and Bedford wrings from the defeated Franco-Spanish axis a gamut of territorial goodies in a new Treaty of Paris.

A more dashing figure than his fag-puffing real-life namesake, George uses revenues from austerity and his new colonies to strengthen his armed forces and to build a new capital in Rutland. He’s lucky not to have to worry about the £150 million repairs reportedly needed to fix Buckingham Palace. One is presumably meant to infer that it pays to hang tough. But Cameron’s position is far weaker than that of his fictional Hanoverian counterpart, even if the imperial fantasising looks quite similar. At least George the Sixth’s author knew he was writing fiction.


  • 27 June 2015 at 9:28am
    cufflink says:
    Oh if only Glen Newey would move into the History Faculty I might start to read it once again.
    At first glance I thought the Queen might be David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell but then I thought better of it for I am a Reginaphone; but nevertheless this would bring into the picture the importance of being earnest, with a cast of Jack Cameron and Algy Osborne.
    Jack is sniffing round the seats of Euro trying to find the heart of Gwendolen Merkel but have you noticed he never stands still enough to cuddle anyone? The performance would be better done by Donald Sinden but to be fair that would not achieve the incomparable prattishness that Jack brings to it.
    I did so like the guest appearance recently of Michael Gove as the Jack of Clubs in the regalia of the supreme Law Officer.