"A Very British Transition" - A Post-Junta Britain TL

Epilogue 3 - Mountbatten
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Mountbatten’s shadow: reburial sees UK confront its darkest days

By Alex Marshall, New York Times


HAMPSHIRE - The gates of the suburban mausoleum that houses Britain’s most restless ghost are decked with a shrivelling bunch of red poppies.

The left-wing Government's long and fraught campaign to exhume Mountbatten from the splendour of Westminster Abbey has finally seceded. His body was re-interred in July here in the humbler surroundings of Romsey Abbey.

The graveyard, 90 minutes away from Westminster, lacks the baleful scale of Mountbatten’s current resting place. Not far from its entrance, an engine idles and a driver relieves himself against a wall. Romsey does not draw coach loads of tourists and those nostalgic for a half-remembered Britain.

Nor, come to that, is it a mass grave crammed with the bodies of more than 140,000 people from the dark days of the Junta. But the cemetery is home to the Mountbatten family vault, where the First Lord's wife, Edwina, has lain since she died in 1960.

Also buried across the cemetery is Mountbatten’s right-hand man, Admiral Peter Hill-Norton. The admiral had succeeded his mentor as First Lord in 1980.

Mountbatten joining Hill Norton will enable the country to shuffle a little closer towards confronting both men's legacies.

The timing could not be better, nor worse. In May's general election the Centrists became the first far-right party to win Commons seats in British history.

The Centrists are big on slogans, short on details and share much of its ideological DNA with Mountbatten and his followers.

Over recent weeks, the party has called for a “reconquest” of Britain, and called for the expulsion of 73,000 “illegal immigrants”.

Last week alone, it raised the prospect of banning far-left political parties and those that push for Scottish independence. The party's Leader, James Cleverly, suggested that “good Brits” should be allowed to possess weapons and use them in self-defence.

It is little wonder, then, that these are bittersweet times for those who suffered under Mountbatten and who have long yearned to see him exhumed.

The activist, politician and writer Sally Alexander, now 77, was arrested seven times under Mountbatten. She was hung by her hands from a hook in the ceiling while Civil Guardsmen beat her abdomen and shouted: “You’re not going to give birth any more, you whore!”

She makes no apology for using a familiar line on the Abbey. “Do you think Hitler’s remains would be kept in an enormous monument where his acolytes could go and pay their respects?” she asks. “Where would tourists and journalists go? Do you think that people would pay out a huge sum for its upkeep? Can you imagine that? Well there you are.”

Isla Martin, 49, is one of the thousands of babies who were stolen from their birth mothers and placed with other families under the Junta. She, too, struggles to understand how Mountbatten has managed to stay in his stately mausoleum. “All he did, as far as I’m concerned, was cause a suffering so profound that we’re still trying to find our way out of it,” she says. “It’s created a huge division: some of us want to talk about this and others don’t.”

Alexander snorts at any parallels between Mountbatten's uprising in 1968 and the emergence of the far-right. But in the Centrists, “who have sprung up here overnight, like a mushroom in the woods' ', she discerns a familiar kind of politics. “They’re the same people, except today it’s their grandchildren,” says Alexander. “A lot of Mountbattenites are rising to the surface now.”

She is not alone in her appraisal. In a recent interview, Polly Toynbee, Britain's former Foreign Secretary, was asked how she would characterise the Centrists. “To me, it’s Mountbattenism,” she told the BBC. “I was 33 when Mountbatten died. That means I’d lived for 33 years with Mountbatten in my head, my heart, my world and my soul.”

The Centrists' “ultra-British, thinking, based on King and Country", she added, was pure Mountbattenism. “It’s something recognisable because I lived it,” she said. “It’s exactly what we wanted to get rid of.”

The satirical magazine Private Eye has drawn explicit parallels. A recent cover showed Cleverly driving a tank while wearing Mountbatten's uniform. A speech bubble read: “At last you’ve managed to get Mountbatten out of Westminster Abbey!”

The Centrists have criticised efforts to exhume the dictator, arguing that the Government should be tackling Scottish independence.

The Centrists also have a controversial list of MPs. “A WARNING to the MEDIA and PARTIES that are witch-hunting our MP's,” Cleverly tweeted on Tuesday. “You won’t find a single enemy of Britain. Nor a single ally of Britain's enemies. Nor will you find any trendy lefties, communists, separatists or wimps.”

What you will find are two retired generals who last year signed a petition that claimed Mountbatten had been vilified.

Also on the benches was Richard Houghton an author who believes “the majority of Jews” were shot dead rather than murdered in gas chambers. Houghton has also made homophobic comments.

His “denialist and revisionist” remarks were condemned by Britain's Jewish Federation.

The Centrists did not respond to requests for comment on its relationship with Mountbattenism, nor on Houghton’s comments. But the party announced on Thursday night that they had removed the whip.

Academic Matthew Goodwin, counsels against direct comparisons between the Centrists and Mountbattenism. Although the Centrists may draw support from Junta nostalgia, it is very much a party of the new populist extreme right.

“The Centrists aren't going to burn down parliament,” says Goodwin. “That may sound ridiculous but it’s not irrelevant – it’s not like when fascists come to power and reject democratic and liberal mechanisms. What they will try to do, though, is twist things when it comes to which groups enjoy certain social rights, so they’ll whip up fear of others. They’ve already said they want to outlaw the People's Party and Scottish pro-independence parties.”

The issue of Scottish independence played a decisive role in the Centrist's breakthrough. Goodwin, who has pored over the polling data, says that it was Scotland rather than immigration that proved a key issue. “It was all about the voters who rejected what was going on in Scotland or were against regional self-government,” he says. “They were the people who voted for the Centrists most. That has clear echoes of Mountbattenism and a ‘united, great and free’ Kingdom.’”

Goodwin points out that “ideologies don’t travel well over time” and that while UK’s current politics may evoke those of the past, 2020 is not 1968. He sums up with the quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Another famous aphorism also haunts the debate – “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The problem is that Britain, in its headlong rush towards democracy, chose not to remember. Amnesty to those involved in crimes during the dictatorship, and the “stiff upper lip”, were intended to help the country move beyond Junta.

The 140,000 people still buried in unmarked pits were left where they were in the belief that sealed graves would ensure sealed lips. But Britain has more mass graves than any country except Cambodia. There is an odd irony that a nation should have continued to exalt one dead man while leaving so many others to rot into anonymity.

The journalist Adam Elliott-Cooper has written a book documenting the 400 or so political prisons through which 1.4 million Brits passed.

He understands why transition Britain was willing to accept what he calls “a series of shameful conditions, such as the stiff upper lip”. The threat of a coup d’etat was clear and present – and would eventually be fulfilled in 2009. The 40-year dictatorship had whitewashed itself and had been tolerated by European democracies.

But, he says, Britain’s failure to confront its past has muddied its future. “Today we’re up against the kind of denial and revisionism that’s condemned and prosecuted elsewhere in Europe. It’s been 50 years and we haven’t taken that step. That puts us at a serious disadvantage compared with the rest of Europe in taking on the resurgent far right. The far right and its discourse has been normalised and whitewashed here.”

Some see signs that things are starting to shift. The film-maker Peter Richardson directed Silence, a documentary that follows a group of Junta victims seeking justice. The film is also intended to confront the pact of forgetting and get the country to talk about its past.

“When we started the journey of the film we thought we would encounter furious opposition,” says Richardson. “And yet what we have found is the opposite: a real hunger for memory, a need to know and learn and discuss a part of the history that for many comes as a revelation. ‘My history has been stolen from me’ is a very common comment from young people in the Q&As.”

In Romsey, a cemetery worker with the weary air of someone who’s been buttonholed by too many journalists watches a film crew set up a tripod. Will the First Lord's arrival change the graveyard and draw many more visitors? “Who knows?” he mutters and wanders off.

The talk of wounds and scars, and bones and ghosts, will continue even after Mountbatten has arrived in Romsey. And it will continue no matter which rhyme history chooses.

“The sooner you can close up wounds, the better,” says Elliott-Cooper. “It’s not a question of reopening old wounds, it’s about closing up wounds that have been kept open by forgetting the crimes and forgetting its victims.”
 
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Final Epilogue - The Transition
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The British Transition 15 Years Later

Lecture by Ben Ansel, Oxford University


Britain’s move towards democracy is generally split by academics into three phases, the first second and third transition. The first transition covered from the 2005 election, to EU accession to the defeat of the 2009 coup and Johnson’s resignation in 2012. The third transition observed the rise of William Hague, the growth of third parties and Hague’s collapse in 2016. The third transition includes the chaotic interregnum period between 2016-2020 with four elections in four years - culminating in the Coalition’s formation in 2020.

The first transition was the most dangerous time for British democracy, this represented the height of military power, with General Mike Jackson serving in the Cabinet as Defence Secretary, and Richard Dearlove leading a strongly Mountbattenite Security Services. This first democratic Government was led by Alan Johnson, a former postal worker who clawed his way into Downing Street, leading a coalition of Social Democrats and the Socialist Alternative. Johnson was fundamentally a small-c conservative politician, prioritising cautious reform and keeping the military happy over radical change. This careful politics built him an unlikely friendship with Socialist Alternative Leader John McDonnell, with the two’s partnership lasting across Johnson’s first term and arguably destroying McDonnell’s political capital.

The first transition had many achievement, Johnson oversaw several socially liberal reforms, he expanded women’s rights through increased access to abortion and relaxed the worst excesses of Junta era censorship. Johnson also finalised peace in Scotland and the disarmament of the SNLA (although a significant minority would refuse this order). Johnson’s greatest achievement however was Britain’s accession to the European Union, in a record short space of time - which added rocket boosters to Britain’s economy.

However the first transition’s failures are numerous and well documented, on the economic side the 2008 financial crash decimated British industry which was overly reliant on the debt-financed construction industry. Instead of taking the opportunity to make a radical departure from the financial mistakes of the Junta, Johnson’s subsequent austerity measures made the situation even worse, leading Britain to have some of the highest unemployment in Europe and the lowest productivity. This economic slowdown caused Britain to need EU financial support, with even more financial strings attached - that Johnson was eager to accept.

On the political side Johnson’s consensual nature meant he struggled to confront military disloyalty and political attacks from the Security Services. He also strongly supported the pact of silence around Junta crimes, he refused to take down Mountbattenite monuments and kept his silence as more and more unmarked graves were discovered. Putting political stability over justice and the rights of victims. As the military establishment increasingly showed its hostility to his administration, Johnson bent over backwards to accommodate them. Rather than purge the military early, he allowed them to grow in power and arguably caused the attempted coup of 2009 to happen. Only after he had been personally threatened at gunpoint did Johnson acquiesce to military reforms, breaking the power of the army and appointing a civilian Defence Secretary.

Ultimately Johnson’s cautiousness caused his political downfall as the Social Democrats declined in every election after 2005, eventually leading to his removal in 2012 - and replacement by the equally technocratic David Miliband. By reusing to set out a clear alternative to the politics of the Junta, the Social Democrats greatly depressed their own voting base, leading to a landslide National victory in the 2012 elections, and the secession of William Hague

The second transition was arguably a repudiation to the first, National under William Hague (the party’s first and only civilian leader) began to roll back many Johnson era civil liberties, cracking down on anti-austerity protesters and taking an increasingly harsh line towards Scottish separatism. Hague modernised the National Party’s aesthetics as a civilian leader, promoting politicians from under-represented groups into senior positions, and he softened National’s stance on some issues such as climate - but ultimately pursued the same policy social and economic agenda seen in the late Junta era albeit democratically.

Infighting within the Social Democrats, coupled with Hague’s aggressive pursuit of austerity would ultimately destroy Britain's two party post Cardiff consensus. Both the People’s Party and Unity would break onto the National political scene in this period, and Scottish seperatist parties would see a surge in support at this time. This would all culminate in the 2014 European Parliament election where the two major parties had just 50%.

Despite his conservative outlook, Hague would oversee major constitutional upheaval during his first term. Ironically, Hague’s was dependent on the SNP during this period, and it was his government that instituted a united Scottish Parliament, arguably paving the way for a later seperatist crisis. Hague was also in office during Elizabeth II’s abdication and the activist King Charles’ ascent to the throne.

The third transition was the period of interregnum after the first 2016 election. This resulted in four parties winning national representation, with greatly strengthened regionalist parties. After failing to secure his preferred coalition, Hague led the party to a second snap election, setting a precedent for future Prime Ministers. Whilst Hague was able to secure a governing agreement with Unity, the rest of his premiership was marked by an unstable Parliament and dissenting Cabinet.

Hague’s relatively weak position didn’t stop him from crushing the illegal Scottish referendum of 2018, although he was reliant on the support of Social Democratic and Unity MPs in Parliament to pass the controversial Article 219. Hague destroyed the separatists with all the power of the law, arresting political leaders, sending soldiers in and even prompting President Patrick Harvie to flee into exile. Hague’s harsh reprisals sank any chance of a peaceful resolution and even faced condemnation from the EU and Amnesty International.

Unfortunately for Hague the corruption within his own party would come back to ultimately bring him down. Both major parties had continued the Junta era political culture of corruption and kickbacks which inadvertently allowed for the growth of parties like the People’s Party on an explicitly anti-corruption message.

The third transition ended with the four elections in so many years, putting an end to the interregnum. Bell Ribeiro-Addy - a young black radical leftist - was elected Prime Minister, and no one stopped her! You don’t get more transition than that!

So what lessons can we learn from the British transition? Well the first and most important lesson is silence is not a political strategy. Johnson’s failure to tackle the power of the military led to the 2009 coup. Both parties' silence on corruption destroyed the two party system, and silencing Scottish dissidents didn’t bring about peace.

Whilst transition Britain had a legal technical democracy, it struggled to develop a true democratic culture. The pact of silence prevented real discussions about the past in order to move forward. A democracy requires people to rock the boat, it requires people to challenge the established order and it requires people to critically engage with the past. The Cardiff settlement prioritised stability over justice and instead got neither.

But was the Transition a success? That question I am afraid is for you - dear students - to answer. I have given you my take, but now in the name of pluralism and democratic engagement I ask for yours.

Your essays on the triumphs and failures of the British transition are eagerly anticipated.
 
FIN and What's Next?
Thank you again to everyone who read, commented on and voted for this TL.

I hope you enjoyed my in universe way of saying it but I really appreciate any comments, feedback or speculation as this TL comes to a close. If anyone wants to have a crack at their own spin-offs or TLs in this world I would love to see it!

I'm now going to try and send this off to Sealion Press to see if anyone bites, if anyone has gone through this process before and has any tips I'd love to hear them.

I'm also working on my next TL so keep your eyes open for that...

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This has been a genuinely amazing timeline. I feel like the thing that has made this timeline so good was the realism and intensity of the timeline. The general premise of the timeline is a bit ASB but the transition (the main story) was done both realistically and in a way that made it fast paced and a very enjoyable read. I loved how the timeline showed Britain's political system slowly turning from a rigid 2 party system to a vibrant multi party system and it was very interesting seeing how austerity and corruption ended up collapsing the two main parties and bringing forth new ones. Everything was very well written and I loved the format - a summary of events with news articles or speeches and pictures bringing the tl to life.
There are admittedly a few things I have criticisms about. One of them is the very Anglocentric focus. I understand that you know little about general European or world politics but I feel like you could have put a bit more focus on other parts of the world and how they react to events in Britain. I also think that Northern Ireland deserved more focus - I feel like there would have been quite a bit of violence early and later on, particularly with the Scottish crisis happening. I also think that the ending was a bit too optimistic. I don't think everyone, especially the military, would have tolerated a black radical leftist being elected that well.
Apart from that this tl has been amazing and one of the best on the site. Really looking forward to your next work powerab, from the picture I'm guessing it's the European one shown on the Commonwealth tl. Judging by your previous works it will most likely be another masterpiece, keep up the great work.
 
Whilst transition Britain had a legal technical democracy, it struggled to develop a true democratic culture. The pact of silence prevented real discussions about the past in order to move forward. A democracy requires people to rock the boat, it requires people to challenge the established order and it requires people to critically engage with the past.
A great note to end on for a great timeline. I look forward to whatever you decide to pursue next.
 
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