As the UK faces EU elections some promised to end, Germany offers us the lesson of the Dolchstosslegende, a myth much used to paint defeat as the work of backstabbing traitors, rather than failed leaders. After First World War defeat in 1918, Germany’s militarists promoted the Dolchstosslegende, or Stab-In-The-Back Myth, contrafactually claiming that they could and would have won the war if weak-kneed pacifist politicians had not undermined them and stabbed them in the back, robbing the country of a great victory.
Whether or not the UK ultimately leaves the EU, in any one of the several possible ways, the results can never measure up to the wild promises made by the pro-Brexit campaigners in the referendum of 2016 – promises described by former Conservative Prime Minister John Major as “phantoms”. So would those promises be modified or retracted in the face of any unmentioned disadvantages developing after Brexit? More likely, taking a leaf from history, those responsible would say that they had been betrayed by traitorous insiders or interlopers who somehow sabotaged a perfect plan, though what the plan was had never been spelled out to anyone. Intriguingly, the original Dolchstosslegende may itself have been British in origin, coming from the mouth of a British general.
In fact the May 2019 EU election leaflet from UKIP (the UK Independence Party) prominently uses the word “betrayed” in relation to Brexit, despite the Brexit process being undecided and incomplete to date. Do they mean to say that it is a betrayal that the UK is holding legally required elections to the EU Parliament since the UK could not agree to leave the EU before these scheduled EU elections? And on-board the Brexit shipwreck, the UK’s Conservative party faces a many-headed leadership contest where the frontrunner, Boris Johnson, had previously lost after being publicly stabbed in the back by rival Michael Gove. Now rival candidates to become leader of the Conservative Party compete furiously to pour more Viagra into an ever harder Brexit and blame others for the poor performance of a Conservative Brexit plan that has not stood up to scrutiny by the UK’s Parliament or even the Conservative party itself. With elections on a knife edge, the UK looks set for a most dramatic dance of the Dolchstossers.