For many months I have had this niggling feeling at the back of my mind that I should try to work out what on earth Lord Adonis meant by his strange assertion that those of us (17.4M of us) who voted to leave the EU were just like those who supported the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.
First, I must try to explain Lord Adonis. He is a life peer (one of Blair’s many creations). He has tried several political parties (Social Democrats, then Liberal Democrats and finally Labour). He is not stupid. He has a very respectable degree in history (a first) from Oxford. He was a minister under Blair. Of course, he has never been elected to any political office, but that should not be held against him: he is not a man of the people and I don’t think he has even claimed to be such a vulgar thing. But he has one enormous problem: he is one of the many supporters of our membership of the EU who has been driven mad by the result of the 2016 referendum.
Forgive me for going off topic for a moment. I was fascinated to read the results of a recent survey of public opinion. It seems 9% of people who voted to leave the EU would be deeply upset by any members of their families marrying remain voters (so there are nutters on both sides). But 37% of remain voters would be distraught at the prospect of their relations marrying leavers. There is no doubt, therefore, but that insanity is much more common amongst remainers than leavers.
But, back to Adonis. A while ago he made his odd assertion about leave voters and appeasement. I confess I didn’t pay much attention at the time. I think I read a headline or two, but I didn’t go further than that. I knew, by then, that Adonis was dotty, that he had lost his marbles. So I didn’t bother to inquire further. After all, when the chap in the asylum assures you he is Napoleon Bonaparte you don’t tend to investigate the claim. But, as I say, I started to get that niggling feeling that I really ought to understand the point Adonis was trying to make. After all, he had a first in history from a decent university. There must, surely, have been a tiny bit of sense behind his apparently preposterous theory.
Well, I have investigated. Sadly, I have to report that the Adonis theory is complete and utter nonsense. Let me explain.
My first step, of course, was to read what Adonis had said. Maybe there would be more there than in the headlines I had seen months ago. There wasn’t. He never explained his reasoning. He just baldly stated that we were all appeasers. The closest he got to an explanation was the statement that he was a historian. We were required to take his word that his theory was true.
As I was being given no help by the nutter himself, it was plain that I would have to do some serious research. Who were the appeasers of the 1930s? Was there any sense in which they could be compared to people in the 21st century who wanted the United Kingdom to become a sovereign state again?
The first point to be made, in fairness to the appeasers, is that they get an undeservedly bad press from the likes of Adonis. Yes, of course, they were wrong. We can all see that very clearly now, with the benefit of hindsight. But they didn’t have that benefit. They just had an overwhelming desire to avoid another ghastly war. Almost every MP, Conservative, Labour, Liberal, was an appeaser. The important newspapers favoured appeasement. In short, the establishment was firmly committed to appeasement, even more so than today’s establishment favours our membership of the EU.
And yet it is implicit in Adonis’s attack on his 17.4M fellow Britons that he is sure that, had he been around in the 1930s, he would have opposed appeasement. He asks us to believe that the man who is today quite incapable of thinking it possible that the establishment is wrong about Brexit would have had no hesitation in attacking the establishment of the 1930s. He is not alone in that. It would take a very honest politician to concede that it is possible he might have been on the side of the majority of politicians in the 1930s. The modern politician is not notable for his honesty.
Would I have been an appeaser? I hope I wouldn’t have been. My father (though he was only eighteen at the outbreak of war) was not an appeaser. But I fear the odds are probably against me. There is every possibility that I, like almost the whole of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would have cheered Chamberlain to the rafters when he brought his piece of paper home.
The point I am making, which I suspect Adonis would not understand, is that the appeasers, though horribly wrong, were not evil in the sense that he considers those of us who voted to leave the EU are evil. They were decent men and women who wanted what they honestly thought would be the best for their country. That is true of pretty well every one of the countless examples of the establishment, as it often does, getting things disastrously wrong. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that today’s establishment, which deplores the referendum vote, is, on the whole, made up of people who want what they, erroneously, think to be best for their country. They are not bad people (though some, as we have seen, are mad).
But where is this similarity between appeasers and Brexiteers which Adonis claims to have spotted? It does not exist. We are appeasing whom? Who is the modern Hitler in Adonis’s befuddled mind? He doesn’t tell us because he doesn’t know. Being young, he just thinks that appeasers were all awful people and, having become mad, he thinks those who support our departure from the EU are also awful. That, I am afraid, is all poor Adonis meant.
I did do a little more research. I found an article in the Independent written by one of Adonis’s disciples. It sought to explain why we leavers are appeasers. It was actually rather funny. The best line, I thought, was the assertion that Jacob Rees-Mogg was opposed to our membership of the EU because his father-in-law had supported appeasement. I reckon that even barmy old Adonis would have thought that stretching things a bit.
Is there anything we, in the 21st century, can learn, as we grapple with Brexit, from 1930s appeasement? Not a great deal. The two sets of circumstances are quite different. There is, I suppose, one useful lesson. The assumption that the establishment (the Westminster Bubble as it is now called) is bound to be right about everything is plainly, as we look back in history, rubbish. Obviously, that does not mean that we must assume the establishment is always wrong. Sometimes, maybe more often than not, it is right. But we must never just assume that the “elite”, as they are now called (people like poor Adonis), are never wrong about anything.