The front page of the Daily Express of 8 August 1939 contains one of the finest blusters in British history. Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor, had so supported appeasing Hitler he dropped Winston Churchill from his pages for warning of the Nazi threat.
Beaverbrook and his journalists were desperate to prove that they had not betrayed their country. Under the headline “No War This Year”, the Express assured its readers that no less an authority than “Mr Selkirk Panton”, its Berlin correspondent, believed that “Herr Hitler, despite all his mysticism, is a hard-headed, hard-boiled politician… He will not risk everything over some hasty action”.
On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. On 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. As luck would have it, on 3 September 2016 – 77 years to the day after its “no war this year” prediction failed so spectacularly – the print edition of the Express led with the headline that Britain was in a “Brexit boom”. Along with the rest of the rightwing press and the politicians who have led us to this pass, the Express is loud in its insistence that the “doom mongers” had been proved wrong.
Now, as then, we see the same desperation to believe that the Conservatives have not betrayed their country and the same refusal to face reality. We are not in recession because the Bank of England has pumped cheap money into the economy with Weimaresque abandon and reduced interest rates to their lowest level ever.
The right says the EU will want to give us a better deal out than we had in because the EU nations will still want their exporters to sell to us. They don’t look at how politically impossible it would be for Europe’s leaders to tear up EU rules when they are having to face down their own xenophobes and Europhobes.
They don’t have a shred of evidence that the EU will appease us. Just a forlorn hope and an echo of voices from the time of the British appeasers. They were as convinced that they were dealing with “hard-headed, hard-boiled politicians”, who would do whatever Britain wanted and not “risk everything over some hasty action”. They were as befuddled.