Tuesday 15 January 2013

Words and Narratives

The BBC news last night reported that Cameron would be "heading to Europe" this week to give his much-vaunted speech on the "relationship between the UK and the EU".  The BBC seems to have fallen into the trap of adopting the Eurosceptic narrative which is coming to predominate in the Tory party.

To be heading "to" somewhere, you can't be there already; the phrase conveys the clear message that Europe is "somewhere else"; an external place of which the UK is not really a part.  It's not true geographically, but it seems to be true culturally for many - and not just the Tory sceptics.  The use of this terminology subtly reinforces that message.

In similar vein, talking about the relationship between the UK and the EU verbally externalizes the EU as something "other"; again reinforcing one particular narrative.  It's no surprise that the other EU states react with disbelief and scorn; the narrative may play well with its domestic target audience, but it inevitably sounds arrogant and aloof from the perspective of the other EU members.

There's nothing at all wrong with a member of any club seeking to change the rules of the club by agreement with fellow members.  But Cameron and his ilk succeed in giving the impression that they aren't really interested in putting the effort into doing that.  What they seem to want, rather, is a whole new category of membership which applies to only one member of the club and which gives that member all of the perceived pluses and none of the perceived minuses.

One would have to be an extremely highly valued member of any club to pull that off, and I see no sign in this instance that the other members believe that retaining the UK as a nominal member is so important that they're prepared to suspend some of the obligations of membership.

The EU isn't perfect, by a long way.  There are changes I'd like to see as well.  But, as with any other club, members need to decide whether they want to work with others to achieve those changes or whether they want to quit.  Cameron's posturing, in an attempt to appease his own party, is simply moving the UK closer to the exit.

The underlying problem is that many in the UK establishment haven't really got their heads round the change in the UK's status.  The Empire has long gone, and there are no longer any European 'Great Powers'.  Perhaps a break-up of the UK into its constituent nations would be the greatest favour we could do these people, by forcing them, at long last, to start facing a few realities.

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