THIS morning let’s give praise to Daniel Kawczynski, the Tory MP for Shrewsbury. And if you suspect I’ve been at the irony jar, you may well be right. That stuff is sticky as honey and sweetens the lips just so.
In case you need a recap, the Brexit-besotted member for Shrewsbury has been roundly ridiculed for saying on Twitter that Britain got nothing from the Marshall Plan, the post-war settlement which saw the US make payments of more than $12bn to help rebuild Europe.
His tweet from Saturday has, according to the BBC, received more than 10,000 replies – most of them pointing out that he is peddling porkies.
A quick google could have told Kawczynski that Britain received more under the Marshall Plan than any other country. Historians and non-historians alike rushed to Twitter to point out that Britain accounted for about 20% of the Marshall money – the biggest share, in other words.
The MP remains unrepentant and apparently still believes he is right. There is no telling some people, even when they’ve told more than 10,000 times.
This shabby little episode teaches us a couple of things. One is that Kawczynski probably knew he was wrong and tweeted anyway, intent on spreading false history to serve his purpose. The other is that it’s about time we forgot about the war. Sober remembrance once a year is properly fitting – whereas banging on about the war at every opportunity is unhelpful and leans on that old story about our ‘greatness’.
It happens that there is a telling aspect to the Marshall Plan, and this is perhaps what Kawczynski was tapping into. It has long been a favourite British hard luck story that we won the war and lost the peace, because West Germany received the Marshall millions and rebuilt its industry, whereas we were left to struggle on our own with worn-out kit and whale-blubber bacon on stale toast for breakfast (or something).
As an archived feature on the BBC History website points out, “successive governments squandered billions of Marshall Plan Aid to support British world power pretensions, and so jeopardised the economic future of Britain”.
As for the ‘poor Britain’ story recycled in that twerpish tweet, “This is utter myth. Britain actually received more than a third more Marshall Aid than West Germany – $2.7 billion as against $1.7 billion. She in fact pocketed the largest share of any European nation. The truth is that the post-war Labour Government, advised by its resident economic pundits, freely chose not to make industrial modernisation the central theme in her use of Marshall Aid.”
What a resonant phrase there is in that first quote – “to support British world power pretensions”. Yup – we were at it then and we’re still at it now, only this time it’s called Brexit.
That Brexit-besotted MP is 47, which is surely too young to be obsessed with the war. I was born only 11 years after the end of the war, and it all seems a long time ago to me.
Anyone who continually mentions the war in a Brexit context should be sent for breakfast detention and told they are not leaving the table until they’ve finished that whale-blubber bacon.