Tangles and Ties of Strength and Sentiment

By Foot, M. R. D. | The Spectator, August 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

Tangles and Ties of Strength and Sentiment


Foot, M. R. D., The Spectator


THE RISE AND FALL OF A NATIONAL STRATEGY, 1945-1963

by Alan S. Milward

Whitehall History Publishing/Frank Cass,

L65, pp.512, ISBN 0714651117

Alan Milward defies the proverbial saying that those who dive deeper come up muddier. This is the first volume of the official history of the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Community; it runs from the decision by the British that they wanted to join the community to de Gaulle's decision that they should not, or at any rate not yet. Its author is a leading intellectual, professor of contemporary history at the European University Institute at Florence, who has seen every paper he has asked for and writes with equal clarity and impartiality. He is particularly good at clearing away misconceptions, and at explaining how politicians - on both sides of the Channel - managed to get into muddles as well.

Time and time again, he cuts down to size media speculation about motive and power; he has found out why statesmen behaved as they did, and sets it down in limpid English. He begins by explaining what he means by a national strategy - a line of policy pursued over decades, irrespective of party, by leading ministers and civil servants - and discusses both how it is formed, and how it is approved. Sometimes approval was lacking; in November 1955 `Britain crossed its Rubicon almost by default', when we withdrew from the Spaak Committee that had been set up ad hoc after the Messina conference of ministers of the Six to settle details, a decision which Milward thinks critical, but which passed almost unnoticed at the time.

Seventeen years of exclusion followed, 'over which every might-have-been and should-have-been to do with the decision became part of the daily fabric of political discussion and fantasy'. We now have a sure guide through these tangles.

He is of course aware of the ruinous state of all Europe in the immediate aftermath of the world war against Hitler's Germany, and expounds the strengths as well as the weaknesses of Great Britain's economic position, as the nation grappled as best it could with the consequences of having persisted with a war that the rest of the continent supposed Hitler had won in 1940. …

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