Saturday, 24 November 2012

How to Ruin Something

The eleven-o'clock sun is glaring through my window. It's a frosty, crystalline heat. It makes of the window a crude lens. It photographs itself onto my laptop screen and, having caught my attention, develops as my focus shifts from the document to a pale, crisp image of myself squinting.

It's the November sun; the eleven a.m. sun; the hard light that guides autumnal England into winter. It's capricious. It catches the eye. When you blink you see red, then white, then blue. In this way it makes of itself a metaphor for itself.

It's a good metaphor for Britain, too. Britain, this morning, fancies itself a guiding light for Europe - a harsh, cutting light full of predictions of frost and frugality. Come, says Britain, follow me into a new winter.

It's not just Dave and his backbench pews of scrooges. The whole nation's singing the hymn. Our newspapers preach like mad evangelicals from train seats, or blowing along pavements.

A time of reckoning for the Ninevites of Europe! Repent, surrender ye your vain endeavours, come back to the righteous path! Cut ye your indulgent budget! Do as the good, long-suffering Britons do!

It's us lot - the public - too. The newspaper congregation. We take the Word home and spread it to our housing blocks, our crescents, our squeezed-in-the-middle suburban cul-de-sacs. We teach our children. We beat that bad Mr. Hitler, we say, but now the Europeans want a new empire. They want our sovereigns, we warn each other, to put up bridges and roads. We won't have it, we insist. Mark our words, this house is built upon sand.

Well, forgive my sarcasm. As Britain preaches to itself of European ruin and the follies of union, it forgets its own past entirely. It forgets that Union is the essence of this nation. A Bathonian is also an Englishman. And he's a Brit. For us, it's an identity amongst other identities, naturally and comfortably worn.

Interesting, too, that independence movements seeking to break from Union at home often seek, with matching alacrity, to move closer towards Union in Europe. The politics of outrage aside, it's how we seem to think.

Yet we, the United Kingdom, seek to prove in Europe that Union is impossible. We ignore the most basic and obvious of facts: Britain is a key state within Europe. How, with Britain talking itself into a deeper and deeper suspicion of its own continent, could a united Europe ever work? How can agreement be reached when we are so determined not to agree?

We are becoming more and more convinced by our own self-fulfilling prophecies. We think ourselves to be the bright light of reason. In Brussels (that beautiful city which shares our love for beer and chocolate) we stamp our mantra onto everything, like a photograph of frozen panic. Yet the more we flash this angry light in the eyes of our fellow Europeans, the less chance there is that anybody will be able to see anything but flashes of red, then white, then blue.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting piece. I particularly appreciated your commentary on identities; I myself would identify as English less than British, but perhaps even more than that with a localised, regional identity.

    As for a European identity? Forget it. Illogical and impractical though this may be, it certainly appears to be a common trait which goes a long way toward defining the current state of British solidarity - though I'm sure it could be argued that in this context the words 'solidarity' and 'bloody-mindedness' are, to some degree, interchangeable.

    Anyway, thank you for a highly thought-provoking - and slightly uncomfortable - slice of national self-reflection.