Britain’s Greatness

Stamford Raffles on a recent exhibition poster in Singapore

200 years ago, a 38 years old hot- shot, with a distinguished career already in his early twenties, set foot on an island off the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. With a stroke of a pen he acquired the place called Singapura for his boss of the British East India Company in Calcutta.

Statue of James Brooke in the Fort Margherita museum in Kuching

Yesterday, Boris Johnson, the current British prime minister, must have felt like Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1819 or like another contemporary in the region, James Brooke, when he asked the queen up in Balmoral castle to suspend parliament. Of course, all totally in line with constitutional traditions, but just – as it happens – in the decisive period before the United Kingdom will be exiting the European Union.

The prime minister trying to outmanoeuver the parliament, just as we were still in the 17th or 19th century. As an Irish commentator noticed, the unwritten British constitution fits well for an imperial power of a bygone era but is utterly out of touch with 21st century conventions of a representative democracy.

Men like Raffles and Brooke made Britain great (or at least large) on the world map. And as a man with „historical visions“ for the kingdom, Boris Johnson might well dive into the sentiment of a period 200 years ago. But we, and the rest of the world, look with astonishment or better with amusement on that display of antique political statesmanship. If it weren’t for the economic consequences for the people of the (still) United Kingdom, we on the continent could enjoy a wonderful soap opera in the halls of Westminster and in various castles and palaces up and down the island.

Pedestrians in Bath

How Britain stole 45 trillion from India. 19 December 2018

The Guardian online, 31 August 2019 

The Guardian online, 11.4.2020

The Guardian 13. Mai 2020