Why Bevin matters


Atlanticists seem to have largely forgotten about the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and the role he played in the creation of NATO – for example, few of my former colleagues at the German Marshall Fund seemed to have even heard of him. As NATO approaches its 70thanniversary, which it will celebrate at a summit in London in December amid much uncertainty about its future, it seems like a good time to remember Bevin. But it is not just Atlanticists that seem to have forgotten him. It’s also the British left. With the Labour Party divided between centre-left Blairites and far-left Corybnistas, it seems to me that Bevin matters because he reminds us that a left-wing economic policy and a realistic, robust foreign policy can go together.

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Post-imperial preference

As a progressive, I find myself quite liking the idea, which Conservative Home Secretary Sajid Javid has proposed, of an immigration policy that does not discriminate in favour of citizens of European Union member states. For as long as the UK is in the EU, the principle of freedom of movement means that any citizen of another member state can come and live in Britain. But it is extremely hard for someone from outside of the EU to move to Britain. In that sense, though I voted to remain in the EU, the basic idea of the post-Brexit immigration policy proposed by Javid seems to me to be positive. But I would actually go even further. I believe British immigration policy should actively discriminate in favour of citizens of Britain’s former colonies.

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The deep, deep sleep of England


One of my favourite passages in the English language is the last paragraph of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938). In it he describes coming back to Blighty after fighting in the Spanish Civil War, in which he was shot in the neck and nearly killed. Forseeing World War II and in particular the Blitz, he captures beautifully the sense of cognitive dissonance one often has on returning from the world to the familiarity of England. The passage also evokes Britain’s tendency to ignore developments in contintental Europe until it is too late: the “deep, deep sleep of England”. It seems to me as apt in 2012 as it was in 1938:

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I’ve been a fan of the movies of Powell and Pressburger since watching A Matter of Life and Death in a film studies class in high school. Last weekend I went to the National Film Theatre in London to re-watch another of my favourite movies of theirs, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), which has recently been restored and re-released. Martin Scorsese – another of my favourite directors – is a big fan of the film and says it becomes “more resonant, more moving, more profound” every time he watches it. For Scorsese, the film is about time, memory and loss. According to the BFI, it’s also “probably the greatest study of ‘Englishness’ in the cinema”. But, as I watched it again last weekend, I found myself wondering whether it’s also about Powell and Pressburger themselves.

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