Professor Christie Davies
In the latter days of June Britain celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of Trafalgar with fleets reviewed, the battle re-enacted with the British and French fleets disguised as the reds and the blues (or was it the other way round ?) and of course fireworks.
There have been exhibitions and commentaries all over the place and some of our most interesting and many of our most boring historians have enjoyed pontifical status . There will be yet more of it on Trafalgar day 21st October and Trafalgar weekend October 21st-23rd.
It is of course fair enough that the skill and courage of the men involved should be celebrated in this way. But the main point of the battle has been completely forgotten. Victories are only important because they are a defeat for someone else. If Trafalgar had been lost it would not have led to the invasion and occupation of Britain. As with Hitler, Napoleon’s ambitions lay elsewhere. That is why the French have had the gall to be celebrating their imperial victory at Austerlitz over the other continental nations in the same year as Trafalgar, even to the point of issuing a special French stamp. One can only hope that other Europeans will in due course have suitable stamps celebrating Pavia, Leipzig, Waterloo and above all Sedan. Between 1871 and 1914 Sedan Day was celebrated in Germany on 2nd September rather like Trafalgar Day was in Britain in the nineteenth century as a defeat for Napoleonic aggression. Besides there is Tchaikovski.
What we should be celebrating in 2005 is the defeat of France, a defeat that led for an entire century to the triumph of our Anglo-Saxon way of life over the repressive, statist and inferior traditions of the French. We are unable to do so because what Nelson won for us, Edward Heath threw away. Heath ought to be renamed Raglafart ,Trafalgar spelled backwards, a suitable French sounding name for the man who supinely surrendered to the French. ©
The French pretend that Trafalgar was for them a minor matter. It was not. It meant that they could never enforce their continental system of excluding British trade from Europe or prevent the landing of British troops to stir up guerrilla warfare. It was Trafalgar that forced Napoleon to invade Russia and Trafalgar that enabled Wellington and the Spaniards to drive Napoleon’s armies back across the Pyrenees. Just as British sea power in the end enabled the armies and partisan forces of others to defeat Hitler, so too it encircled and trapped Napoleon to the point where others could hammer him into Elba. The Napoleonic victories that the French inscribe on every vain monument in Paris were indeed in vain.
Trafalgar led to the British century 1805-1904 It was the century of the pax Brittanica, an era of peace, and commerce, free trade and the night watchman state, global capitalism and its dominant language, English. It was based on the supremacy of the Royal Navy and the ubiquitousness of our merchant fleet. Latin America and the Far East were opened up to trade and much of the rest of the world was under light and benign British rule, often indirect rule, not for glory and robbery in the manner of France but for the mutual enrichment that trade alone can provide. It was the opposite of the Napoleonic social order based on the coercion of other nations by armies that occupied, taxes that crippled and conscription that killed.
Then we threw it all way and Napoleon finally triumphed in 1972. The European Union is the opposite of the British century that Nelson made possible. It is an unfree trade area. The agricultural products of the Third World are excluded from the European market; it is one of the main reasons they are poor. President Chirac and Mr Blair have made their history poverty. There is no free trade in services lest the efficient British and the cheaper East Europeans disturb the comfortably backward and expensive French. Europe has become what Napoleon wanted, a device for enriching France at the expense of others and an area of ever increasing state regulation that squeezes other nations into a French mode. Parliamentary sovereignty and the common law, which triumphed at Trafalgar, are now slowly dying. We no longer have any reason to celebrate Nelson’s victory, for we are allowing its fruits to rot. We have betrayed the men who died at Trafalgar.
Trafalgar was in many ways about sugar. Nelson quite explicitly sought to prevent supplies of sugar from the West Indies reaching France, a nation whose only sweetness lay in its teeth. In this way he could force the French into peace and free trade. Napoleon responded by establishing a state subsidised and state controlled industry for the planting of sugar beet. It was the very model of an inward looking and autarchic Europe, the very opposite of global free trade. The EU is the heir to Napoleon’s Continental System and sugar beet both as symbol and reality is a key cause of world poverty.
Sugar cane is a key crop for development because it requires little capital investment and little sophisticated maintenance. It can only be grown in tropical and semi-tropical countries. For poor countries with these climates it could be a source of foreign currency, economic growth and rising incomes. All that stands in their way is the European Union, an economy based on the Napoleonic principles of high barriers to trade and feather bedding the French. Producers of sugar beet in Europe have a guaranteed price for sugar that is three times the world market price. Unsurprisingly the European Union produces a six million ton surplus which is then dumped on the world market, further depressing the world market price paid to the poor countries growing sugar cane. The EU produces a third of the world’s sugar exports and is the biggest exporter of refined sugar. Some unrefined sugar is imported from former colonies but then re-exported. Even this concession will cease by 2008 as far as the West Indies are concerned and their local economies will collapse. Why? Because even small French farmers can receive subsidies of as much as £15,000 a year for growing sugar beet. Such are the sweet and sour consequences of Napoleonic economics.
The EU announces bursts of generous aid and debt cancellation to the poor countries of the world but every year they lose far more in lost export earnings than they gain from EU handouts. During trade negotiations behind closed doors, representatives of the EU have been known to walk out whenever the subject of sugar is raised by the poor countries.
Sugar is of course but one aspect of the new Napoleonic Europe, a negative sum game in which everybody loses. The subsidies used to oppress the world’s poorest people are paid for directly by the tax-payer and indirectly through the creation of a stagnant, over-regulated European economy. The Britain that Nelson defended was able to fight and win a long-war because of its world-wide success in commerce, its inventiveness and rapid technical development and the stability and flexibility of its financial institutions. Which of these qualities is true of Europe today? We have lost everything we sought to defend at Trafalgar, including our own sovereignty.