In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

What are they after?William Davies
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Vol. 40 No. 5 · 8 March 2018

What are they after?

William Davies writes about the Tory Brexiteers

When​ historians examine Britain’s departure from the European Union, one of the things that will puzzle them is the behaviour of the Conservative Party. Thanks to copious demographic and geographical analysis, we are already in a position to make sense of the referendum result itself. But it remains difficult to grasp how the Tories could effectively have taken what was to everyone else a fringe issue and used it to attack the interests they had until very recently represented: the City of London, big business, the Union, even Whitehall.

To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, how did we end up in the grotesque chaos of a Conservative government – a Conservative government – setting about the seemingly deliberate demolition of the United Kingdom and its economy? From a Tory perspective, things must have reached a sorry pass when the sole voice speaking up for the Union belongs to Arlene Foster. However much energy the Leave campaign put into stirring up nationalist and anti-immigration sentiment, it is hard to see the Westminster Brexiteers as nationalists when they show so little regard for the integrity of the UK or its governing institutions. If the economic forecasts are remotely accurate, Brexit will render England, let alone the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a hoax nation. The most regionally imbalanced nation in Europe will become even more so, as the North suffers yet further decline while the South-East holds on. Much of South Wales and Northern Ireland will exist in a parallel economic universe to London.

What do they want, these Brexiteers? The fantasies of hardliners such as Liam Fox, Daniel Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg are based on dimly learned lessons from British history. The mantra of ‘Global Britain’ resurrects an ideal of laissez-faire from the era of Manchester cotton mills and New World slavery. Discussing the range of Brexit options at a Tory Conference fringe event in October, the former Brexit minister David Jones concluded: ‘If necessary, as Churchill once said, very well then, alone.’ This is the sort of nostalgia Stuart Hall warned against as early as the 1970s, and which Peter Ammon, the outgoing German ambassador in London, identified recently when he complained that Britain was investing in a vision of national isolation that Churchill had played up (and vastly exaggerated) in his wartime rhetoric.

Do they even believe the myth, or is it an expedient way of bashing opponents while pursuing some ulterior goal? Historical re-enactment may be fine for the Daily Mail and the grassroots, but it doesn’t seem a strong enough motivation to support a professional political career. We need to know not just what kind of past the Brexiteers imagine, but what kind of future they are after. One disconcerting possibility is that figures such as Fox and Rees-Mogg might be willing to believe the dismal economic forecasts, but look on them as an attraction.

This isn’t as implausible as it may sound. Since the 1960s, conservatism has been defined partly by a greater willingness to inflict harm, especially in the English-speaking world. The logic is that the augmentation of the postwar welfare state by the moral pluralism of the 1960s produced an acute problem of ‘moral hazard’, whereby benign policies ended up being taken for granted and abused. Once people believe things can be had for free and take pleasure in abundance, there is a risk of idleness and hedonism. In the United States, this fear was expressed in the cultural conservatism of the Nixon era, during which moral opprobrium was visited on welfare claimants and feckless liberals. The focus was on race and gender: in the conservative imaginary, compassion would be exploited in the economic realm by black women, and in the judicial realm by black men. In Britain, there was more emphasis on the language of economics, specifically the ‘supply side’ idea that the interests of investors and entrepreneurs were paramount. As the theory behind Thatcherism had it, government services shrink everybody’s incentives to produce, compete and invest. They reduce the motivation for businesses to deliver services, and ordinary people’s desire to work. Toughness, even pain, performs an important moral and psychological function in pushing people to come up with solutions.

This style of thinking drove Thatcher through the vicious recession of the early 1980s. It was encapsulated by Norman Tebbit in his conference speech in 1981, often misquoted: ‘I grew up in the 1930s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it.’ That would imply that economic hardship should produce a more mobile population, and perhaps further abandonment of deindustrialised regions. A more interventionist version of such thinking appeared with the development of ‘workfare’ programmes by the Clinton and Blair governments of the 1990s, which sought to repurpose the welfare state as a means of boosting claimants’ ‘employability’ as well as their efforts to find work. Under workfare schemes, benefits were either paid to those already in work in the form of ‘tax credits’, or made conditional on enrolment in training programmes and constant job-hunting. The old British idea of the ‘dole’ (or in America of ‘welfare’), as something that was an alternative to work, was quickly eradicated. And there was a new iteration under David Cameron and George Osborne, in the form of austerity. The hypothesis of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction’, touted by Osbornites during the first years of the coalition government, is that cuts to public spending can lead to economic growth, by creating more opportunities for the private sector to invest. As most economists predicted, the hypothesis turned out to be false, but thanks partly to the workfare policies left behind by New Labour, levels of unemployment under austerity didn’t reach those of the Thatcher recession, and Theresa May’s government now boasts the lowest unemployment rate since the mid-1970s. An alternative perspective on that achievement is that hardship has forced people into worse jobs, demanding fewer skills and lower capital investment, so that Britain’s productivity growth has stalled to a degree not seen since the Industrial Revolution. That is what happens when work is framed as a moral duty, to be engaged in at all costs.

The fear of ‘moral hazard’ produces a punitive approach to debtors, be they households, firms or national governments, the assumption being that anything short of harshness will produce a downward spiral of generosity, forgiveness and free-riding, eventually making the market economy unviable. Osborne liked to claim (against all the evidence coming from the bond markets) that if Britain kept borrowing, lenders would lose trust in the moral rectitude of the government and interest rates would rise. Gratification must be resisted. Pain works. Only pain forces people to adapt and innovate. In practice that may mean all sorts of things: migrating, reskilling, sacrificing weekends or family time, selling property, the ‘gig economy’ and so on. The productiveness of pain is a central conservative belief, whose expression might be economic, but whose logic is deeply moralistic.

There seems little doubt that for many of Thatcher’s followers the free-market experiment hasn’t gone far enough. As long as there is an NHS, a welfare state and a public sector that is more European than American in scale, we will never truly discover what the British people are made of, because they will never be forced to find out. Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist, has often voiced the opinion that America’s only hope of moral cleansing lies in war. Tory Brexiteers tend not to go that far, but they may well be holding out for a milder version of the same idea, an extreme of economic hardship that means government is no longer capable of picking up the pieces. No wonder families in County Durham or the Welsh Valleys have experienced multiple generations of unemployment, they argue: there’s been adequate unemployment benefit. The estimated £80 billion hit to the public finances caused by Brexit might change that. And that’s before we take up the suggestive comment lurking in the official forecasts that ‘leaving the European Union could provide the UK with an opportunity to regulate differently across social, environmental, energy, consumer and product standards.’

The optimistic version of this story is that it’s only when the chips are down we discover what people are truly capable of. Brexit might reveal reserves of courage and innovation that have lain dormant for decades, held back by the interferences of bureaucracy and public spending. And if it doesn’t? Well, then the truth is laid bare. Perhaps that will be the moment for a more heroic form of political leadership to rise from the ashes. Several prominent Tory Brexiteers, including Iain Duncan-Smith and Steve Baker, have military backgrounds. As with the Second World War, Brexit will perform an X-ray of our collective moral fibre. Remainers love facts, but are afraid of the truth.

This is, I suspect, as close to a Conservative ideology of Brexit as exists. At the very least, it has some internal coherence, whatever it may lack in detail regarding the future. But we shouldn’t exaggerate the coherence of Tory Brexit. The situation is a mess, one aspect of which is the frightening lack of responsibility displayed by its main instigators. The political weather in Westminster has been made over the past two years by Boris Johnson, a man whose only apparent goal is to make the political weather. Senior Leave campaigners, such as Dominic Cummings, admit they would have lost the referendum had he not leapt on board. Johnson approaches public life as a game in which he commits sackable offences as a way of demonstrating his unsackability. The office of foreign secretary in this administration is treated as a leash to constrain someone who would otherwise cause more trouble to the prime minister elsewhere.

Johnson is as close as British politics has to a Trump problem, and his seniority suggests that Trumpism has permeated our political culture more deeply than we like to admit. Trump may be a more acute case, but both men compel all around them to react to their idle remarks, mistakes and fantasies. On the day President Macron visited Britain, to take just one recent example, Johnson declared that he wanted to build a bridge across the Channel, and that became the headline. Trump and Johnson are ‘real-time’ politicians: they dominate the rolling news cycle, and devalue the painstaking aspect of politics in the process. Psychologically, they are inverses: Trump has no sense of humour, where Johnson sees the funny side of everything. Johnson is said to strut around Whitehall asking civil servants if they’ve found his £350 million a week yet: ‘I know it exists because it was written on my bus.’ Ha ha. After his vacuous Valentine’s Day speech on Brexit, most pundits agreed he had overplayed his hand, but that’s always been part of his brand. No doubt men such as Johnson and Trump have always existed, but healthy political systems have ways of keeping them away from the highest echelons of power.

For all his idiosyncrasies, Johnson typifies something about contemporary conservatism, which might best be understood biographically. The cultural forces shaping the new conservatism resolve in a particular stereotype: men born between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, with some constellation of expat backgrounds, famous fathers and first careers in the media. All four things apply to Johnson, but a Venn diagram of these various characteristics would also include Michael Gove, Douglas Carswell, Daniel Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg. The result of these disparate characteristics is a comfortable familiarity with the myths and rituals of the British state, but a blasé indifference to the impact of policy. As Ian Jack pointed out in these pages last year (15 June 2017), the expat perspective seems to play an important role in the psychology of Brexit. Hannan and Carswell both had expatriate childhoods. Astute observers, such as the writer Gary Younge, have argued that Brexit rests more on an imperial imaginary than on a national one. But as much as anything the expat is in a position to see ‘Great Britain’ from a perspective other than that of government. Such things as statistics, macroeconomics and policy itself fade into insignificance compared to the way the nation is seen from afar, alongside its historical rivals. Ignore ‘official Treasury forecasts’ and focus on the atlas instead.

In contrast to the populist message of Ukip, which is all about British blood, British soil and how the elites have betrayed them, Tory Brexitism can have a strange flippancy about it. In some cases, you wonder if they really mean it or if it’s just another attention-seeking strategy. Like Johnson, Rees-Mogg was treated as a joke until suddenly he was being discussed as a potential Conservative leader. Then there are their allies who write in the Spectator and specialise in exploring the sliver of political space between irony and bigotry. Among them is Toby Young, who originally found fame as the butt of his own joke with his memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2001). The game is a quest for attention, and humorous transgression is the key skill in winning it. Another name for it is ‘trolling’.

Armchair psychoanalysts can muse on what responsibility the high-profile fathers of these men have for cultivating their sons’ delinquency and need for attention. It is surely a safer psychological force confined to op-ed pages than unleashed on politics, especially where historic constitutional reform is at stake. But the boundary separating the conservative press from the Conservative Party has in any case been slowly dissolving, with the Times (Gove’s former employer, which currently boasts two Conservative peers, Lords Finkelstein and Ridley, on its comment team) occupying a particularly porous position on the border between the two. In January, Young came within a Twitter-storm of being appointed to the new Office for Students, which will regulate universities in England and Wales. The reality is that in addition to the ideological and cultural forces behind Brexit, it is also happening thanks to the recklessness of individuals who see public life as an opportunity to show off. This is the more fundamental sense in which Westminster is being permeated by Trumpism.

These men’s contemporaries on the centre-left had the existential fortune of beginning their careers in tandem with Blairism. The likes of Ed Balls, David Miliband and Andy Burnham threw themselves into the details of policy design and implementation, with a level of technocratic commitment that would eventually provoke populist derision from both left and right. No doubt this clique contained some planet-sized egos too, but one thing that can be said for the New Labour generation is that they saw politics as a serious business, requiring hard, serious work. Among Tory Brexiteers, by contrast, ignorance and a lack of effort is taken almost as a mark of distinction – how else to explain David Davis? Having spent so long witnessing the Blairite policy machine churn out evidence and evaluations, year after year, with impeccable economic logic, it’s as if they have abandoned such dull, humourless pursuits altogether. Hence their disdain for the Treasury and for the man, ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond, who runs it.

In​ his book Propaganda, published in 1928, Edward Bernays, the creator of modern public relations (and Sigmund Freud’s nephew), expressed his optimism that expert communication strategies could protect democracy from the psychological excesses of mass society (it is sometimes forgotten that Bernays saw ‘propaganda’ as a positive and civilising force). Modern democracy would have to draw on the most advanced techniques of communication and persuasion, just as modern business had done with advertising, if the masses were to be satisfied with the policies and leaders that were available.

Bernays believed that politicians struggle to understand the importance of communication strategy, because they never have to struggle hard enough to win public attention. Unlike businesses, which have to work hard to attract publicity, political parties and politicians get attention from the media regardless of how well thought-out their message is. Bernays believed there was a risk that mass democracies would come undone unless politicians gave more thought to how they presented themselves in the media. Recent history suggests that he was worrying about the wrong thing. The professionalisation of politics and the rise of spin led to the opposite problem: politicians began to think too carefully about how they presented themselves in the media. The image management of the Blair and Clinton era smacked of inauthenticity, a charge that was later levelled at mainstream political parties in general, leading to the populist upheavals of the past few years.

But there is a further risk lurking in Bernays’s analysis, which he seemingly didn’t anticipate. If professional politicians have an unearned advantage over others when it comes to attracting public attention, there is a danger that politics comes to attract people who only want public attention – such as Johnson – and others who only know how to exploit it, such as Rees-Mogg. While Rees-Mogg may be a firm believer in the Victorian moral vision of Brexit, there can be no denying that his currently elevated status is largely down to the fact that he is recognisable and provides good media ‘content’. When the media report his latest comments, it’s because he is someone whom everyone recognises from the media. Everything he says or does must be calculated to ensure that this remains the case. As any troll understands, wit and disruption are the best tactics for succeeding in the ‘attention economy’.

It would be almost reassuring to know that there was an ideology of Tory Brexit that was driving things, just as there is an ideology known as ‘Lexit’ which views the EU as an anti-democratic neoliberal institution that must be resisted. But for the generation who entered public life in the 1990s, after the ‘end of ideology’, there were only two choices: to devote oneself with immense earnestness to the nitty-gritty of policy and economics, or to revel in the freedom of symbolism and storytelling, as journalists, PR professionals and pranksters. Political careers came later. Britain’s misfortune is that matters of the greatest seriousness are now in the hands of basically unserious people.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 40 No. 7 · 5 April 2018

William Davies mentions the North, Wales and Northern Ireland but seems to have forgotten about the South-West (LRB, 8 March). Perhaps he doesn’t realise that the most recent Index of Deprivation rates Cornwall as the second poorest region in the whole of Northern Europe. According to recent figures, 17 neighbourhoods in Cornwall are among the 10 per cent most deprived in England. Our infrastructure is crumbling and central government appears to have few plans to make improvements or to drive significant business investment our way. It takes on average longer than five hours to get to London by rail from Truro. Newquay, the only airport, provides a limited service to the rest of the UK and Europe. The main industry is tourism – seasonal and weather-dependent. After Brexit, prospects for a revival of our fishing industry appear bleak. Thousands of new houses are being built, but where will people find meaningful work? I could go on.

Yvonne Bristow
St Just in Penwith, Cornwall

It isn’t clear whether it is William Davies or the German ambassador he cites who regards the UK’s wartime ‘national isolation’ as ‘vastly exaggerated’ in Churchill’s rhetoric. Either way, with Czechoslovakia swallowed, Poland conquered and divided, Holland, Denmark and Norway occupied, Italy newly declared a belligerent, Russia nominally allied with Germany, and the United States maintaining its isolationist stance, it would be hard to ‘exaggerate’ that isolation in June 1940, when France, Britain’s last remaining ally, capitulated to Germany.

Not that this has anything to do with Brexit. King George VI and Air Marshal Dowding may have heaved a sigh of relief when France sought peace terms from Germany, so sparing the sacrifice of any more fighter squadrons in a vain attempt to prop up French resistance, but the truth is that Britain was ‘better off alone’ in military terms, reasonably confident that the German air force and navy would be unable to mount an invasion.

You are entitled to bang on about Brexit: but try to keep it relevant.

David Elstein
London SW15

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.