George Canning, a Liberal Tory Prime Minister and a passionate supporter of de-colonisation (admittedly of the colonies of other nations, but we all have to start somewhere) …


George Canning (1770 to 1827) is one of those what might have beens of British political history. He became Prime Minister on 12th April 1827 and died on 8th August 1827. By the time Canning was appointed Prime Minister, he was already in poor health and his tenure as Prime Minister was the shortest in the history of the United Kingdom at 119 days.

A Liberal Tory, a man who applied himself unstintingly to his work; a gentleman of whom it was said he could not hold a tea party without first devising a stratagem for the holding of it and a loving father, who cared deeply for his disabled daughter.

Canning “called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old”. He engaged in three decker diplomacy.

It was good for the growth of liberal democracy and for British trade. It was one in the eye for a Spain that had slipped back into its reactionary bad habits, but clearly not too much of a one for our oldest ally, Portugal, that it strained relations to breaking point.

President’s Monroe Doctrine, set out in December 1823, warned European nations that the USA would not tolerate further colonisation or puppet monarchs in the Western Hemisphere.

Without Canning’s active deployment of the Royal Navy to enforce it, the doctrine would have been a dead letter.

The Royal Navy’s physical presence in the Atlantic helped the former colonies of Spain and Portugal consolidate their independence.

In 2021, Johnson clearly dreams of being piped aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Singapore Harbour.

As ever, style over substance.

Canning not only understood the respective values of the iron fist and the velvet glove, but how to combine them effectively to deliver practical, ideological and humanitarian benefits and not solely in the interest of his country.

Trade somewhat as diplomacy by other means.

For too many Brexiteers, trade or more accurately the negation of it is becoming war by other means.

With the prospect of every new trade treaty being a rerun of Dunkirk.


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