28 February 2010

What could be more British than a tea party? – Telegraph Blogs

What could be more British than a tea party? – Telegraph Blogs

What could be more British than a tea party?

Some British Lefties – and some Americans – are thrown by the idea of a Brighton Tea Party. After all, they point out, the original Boston Tea Party was directed against the British Crown.

Yes, it was. But where do you think its leaders drew their inspiration from? The American patriots didn’t see themselves as revolutionaries, but as conservatives. In their own minds, all they were asking for was what they had always assumed to be their birthright as freeborn Englishmen.

Part of that birthright was liberty from unjust, arbitrary or punitive taxation. The proposition that taxes ought not to be levied except by elected representatives would have been every bit as popular in Great Britain in 1773 as in America. It’s important to remember that there was a more restricted franchise in the mother country at that time than in the colonies. None the less, there are ways to infer public opinion from such data as newspaper circulation, petitions to Parliament (either for Conciliation or Coercion), and extrapolation from the views of that handful of MPs who, prior to 1832, represented a broader section of the electorate. From these sources, historians estimate that public opinion in Great Britain was similar to that in America: on both sides of the Atlantic, only around a third of the population were Tories.

The American Revolution, in other words, was inspired by British political philosophy and – more to the point – by British political practice. American patriots saw themselves as part of a continuing British tradition, stretching back through the Glorious Revolution, back through the agitations of Pym and Hampden, back even through the Great Charter to the folkright of Anglo-Saxon common law.

Naturally enough, once the fighting started, the rebel leaders began to use nationalist arguments, and subsequent historians in the US have tended to play these up. But the idea, in 1773, that Britain was a foreign country would have struck most Americans, patriot or loyalist, as ridiculous. A large majority of the British population sympathised with the arguments of the colonists. So, indeed, did the greatest British parliamentarians of the age.

“I rejoice that America has resisted,” proclaimed William Pitt the Elder setting out the case against the Stamp Act in 1766. “Three million people so dead to all feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest [of us]”

“Let us get an American revenue as we have got an American Empire,” said Edmund Burke in 1775, taking up the cause of no taxation without representation. “English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.”

Those British Lefties who now sneer at what they regard as the Americanisation of the British Right would do well to remember their own history. They are the political heirs of Charles James Fox, of John Wilkes, or Tom Paine. I have no doubt that if the heroes of that age – Burke or Fox or Pitt or Johnson or Swift – could be transported to our own time, they would recoil with horror at the level of taxation and state intervention.

To remind you, Labour has introduced 111 tax rises since 1997. It has taken a trillion pounds in additional taxation. And it has still left us with a deficit of 12.6 per cent of GDP.

Enough is enough. I’m not asking you to throw any chests into the Channel, but at least come to Brighton, drink some tea, and let our leaders know how you feel about their squandering of our property and our heritage. Here are the details.

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