The 1970s were my best decade for hair production. My parents have pictures of me at a young age in lurid paisley colours with an Osmond-like hair helmet. Those pictures are safely under lock and key.
By the mid-90s, I was in remedial trichology. My hairline was under assault from above and below: my scalp was covered by only a sketchy film of strands. It was time to take stock. I took the advice of Quentin Crisp on the subject: don’t try to go against the flow – go faster than the flow.
So I shaved off what remained of my tresses (not many tennis balls were stuffed). I have never looked back and I have never needed to worry about the everyday humiliations that a combover offers or carry out the type of advanced engineering that Donald Trump undertakes on his bonce, trying to do more and more with less and less. By recognising reality, I was able to move on.
Brexit doesn’t offer much to Britain but it offers an opportunity to recognise reality. Let’s take stock.
“I recommend limiting one’s involvement in other people’s lives to a pleasantly scant minimum”
100 years ago a third of the globe was painted pink and Britain had commitments and interests on every continent. Britain is now left with a few speckles around the world’s oceans. Their combined population is only about 250,000, about the population of Wolverhampton. Most of these are in or around the Caribbean.
Yet Britain continues to behave as if it still bestrode the world. There isn’t a military engagement internationally that it doesn’t consider getting involved in. Never mind Syria, Britain has a current military interest in Mali against its Islamists and in Nigeria against Boko Haram. These are no doubt worthy causes but it’s not immediately obvious why Britain, as opposed to any of three dozen other countries, should be expected to take a role in either of these actions.
By constantly seeking opportunities to project its puissance, Britain is peacocking, seeking to dazzle others with its display. But peacocks can only put on a dazzling display if they are fit enough to be able to bear the costs of the display. Britain is long past that point.
A potentially defining crunch point came after the 2008 crash. But Britain let that crisis go to waste, bodging its defence review in 2010 even though Britain was running a frighteningly large deficit. Britain continues to rack up its debt, its deficit still not tamed. Britain has more admirals than ships in the fleet. It has commissioned aircraft carriers without aircraft. These are not the signs of a thought-through defence strategy, to put it mildly.
A new crunch point has been reached. Britain narrowly but decisively voted for Brexit. Its voters considered the economic risks and decided that they would nevertheless turn their backs on deeper levels of international co-operation.
This message has been immediately received. Britain’s influence with other European countries has been largely incinerated for the foreseeable future, with Britain becoming merely a problem requiring solving. This has played out on the wider stage. Britain last year lost its seat on the International Court of Justice for the first time since that court’s foundation in 1946. The world has seen that Britain has chosen isolationism over international networking.
The logic of this position needs to be pursued further. It is about time that Britain looked ahead to formulate the strategy behind its foreign policy and attempt to go faster than the flow. Since the British public have accepted that Britain should not pursue influence, Britain’s approach to foreign affairs should reflect this.
Instead of spending vast sums in order to project military power around the globe in a vain attempt to secure influence, the military budget should be rethought from first principles, based around the defence of Britain rather than what is required to play Robin to the USA’s Batman.
Correspondingly, the Foreign Office needs to be trimmed down, no longer seeking to play a first tier part in solving the world’s problems (why spend vast amounts of money in chancelleries when the world isn’t listening anyway?) and instead focussing on a narrowly mercantile view of Britain’s interests. It is time to step down from the top table.
This is of course a loss for Britain. It will be particularly regretted by those, primarily politicians, who like to see Britain showing heft and those who like playing with toy soldiers. When a cause is lost, however, it is time to retreat and regroup. It has been mandated by the referendum result. Now is the time.
“The poverty from which I have suffered could be diagnosed as ‘Soho’ poverty. It comes from having the airs and graces of a genius and no talent.”
The consequences of having the airs and graces of a superpower have been draining for Britain. Britain has been debilitated by its inability to put its past behind it. It has wriggled during each verse of the recessional, seeking to postpone the inevitable, to draw a line in the sand that it cannot hold to.
Since the Second World War it has throughout spent money that it can ill afford in order to punch above its weight on defence, money that could have been spent instead on more fruitful projects. The opportunity cost is enormous. That misallocation of resources has let other nations catch up and surpass it by income per head. If Britain were to join the CANZUK union that some of the weirder Leavers have advocated, the British would be the poor relations.
The savings from dispensing with those airs and graces could be used profitably. The Leave campaign suggested that hypothetical post-Brexit savings could be put into the NHS (a course of action which many Leavers now suddenly seem to regard as impractically expensive). Alternatively, the savings could be used to invest in infrastructure – for example, London could benefit from a firm commitment to Crossrail 2.
However the money is used, the time has come to use it in a much more productive manner. Brexit has made clear the public’s preferred way forward. It is time for Britain to take it.