Guilty men who missed the cross-channel ferry

Britain and Europe since 1945

May 21, 2004

This interesting and unusual study is, in effect, two books in one. Oliver Daddow examines how three schools of historical writing have interpreted a specific sequence of events: the story of the UK's troubled relationship with Western Europe in the two decades or so from VE-Day to Charles de Gaulle's rejection of the first British attempt to enter the European Economic Community in 1963. At the same time, Daddow uses this episode as a case study in historiography, exploring how and why different schools of thought come to different conclusions about the same topic. A large part of the book deals with philosophical issues deriving from "what is history?" and with questions about the sociology of historical knowledge.

Readers familiar with the literature on Britain's relations with the institutions of Western Europe will have no difficulty recognising the three schools (and will agree with the honest qualification in which Daddow concedes that there are considerable overlaps between them). First, he presents the "orthodox" school, consolidated, if not founded, by Miriam Camps' work Britain and the European Community, 1955-1963 (1964) and continuing roughly up to Edmund Dell's The Schuman Plan and the British Abdication of Leadership in Europe (1995). Daddow's shorthand label for these writers is "the missed opportunities school": in various ways, it accuses British leaders from Clement Attlee to Anthony Eden of missing opportunities open to Britain of influencing or leading the nascent institutions of Europe by wilfully choosing to stand aloof from the Coal and Steel Community and the European Defence Community in the early 1950s, and by withdrawing from the process that led to the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Daddow's second school, which he sees emerging in the 1970s and flourishing a decade later, consists of the revisionists - historians from Alan Bullock and Geoffrey Warner to John Young and Sean Greenwood. They argued that the choices facing postwar decision-makers were by no means obvious. The revisionists broke with the "guilty men" accusations of the orthodox school and concentrated on clarifying details of how things had looked at the time and examining the real constraints on British governments' freedom of action.

Daddow then shows how this second school gave way to a more subtle post-revisionist approach that underlined the complexity and confusion of British policy-making. It also rejected some of the more stark claims of the revisionists - for instance the view of some of them that London's Free Trade Area proposal of 1956 was deliberately designed to sabotage the EEC.

This ambitious book offers many stimulating ideas. But it should be said that the argument is sometimes interrupted as the author alternates between presenting his European case study and his general thoughts about historiography and related matters. The case-study material is sometimes presented in a rather unbalanced way. For instance, the brief account of what the orthodox school said is overshadowed by all the data about what kind of people these "Europeans" were, and what may have influenced them.

Again, the correct argument that the revisionists disputed the orthodox view of British policy in the 1950s is not backed up by the author's over-detailed treatment of how they re-evaluated Ernest Bevin's sustained interest in a European "third force" in the late 1940s.

There is a surprising omission from the literature surveyed. Alan Milward's official history of Britain and the European Community, published in 2002, covers the period 1945 to 1963 in a way that touches on many of the issues raised by Daddow. A reference to it might have rounded off some of his arguments.

This study will be of great interest to readers concerned with the topic of its historical case study or with the general issue of why historical scholarship has developed as it has. Daddow has some stimulating reflections on how research methods have been influenced by purely intellectual developments - postmodernist and deconstructivist concepts - and by sociological factors such as research funding, the apprenticeship system in postgraduate studies and the academic "disciplinisation" of history itself.

Roger Morgan is external professor of political science, European University Institute, Florence, Italy.

Britain and Europe since 1945: Historiographical Perspectives on Integration

Author - Oliver J. Daddow
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Pages - 252
Price - £47.50
ISBN - 0 7190 6137 7

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