Monday, 25 September 2017

To see oursels as ithers see us

The part of Theresa May’s speech in Florence which made me cringe most was when she said: “…throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union.  And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe”
It’s not just that she dared to express that view as though it were the view of all UK citizens, based on a narrow majority in a referendum in which people voted as they did for a variety of reasons, bad enough though that leap is.  Nor is it the suggestion that the history of the UK means that we’ve never really been part of Europe, which flies in the face of the truth: these islands have been inextricably woven into the history of the wider continent for many centuries.
It’s more that it goes to the heart of the way that the English (and I mean English in this context) establishment view themselves and the rest of the world.  It’s a lazy expression of the ‘natural truth’ that we are somehow different from, and superior to, the rest of the continent.
But most of all, it’s because it shows an inbuilt tendency to have not a clue about how the words will be received by others.  She more or less told the rest of the EU that ‘the EU may be good enough for you, but not for us’ with that casual superiority which comes so naturally to people of a certain class and background, and completely fails to understand that people from a different background may not see that superior attitude in quite the same way.  Perhaps she genuinely saw it as nothing more than openness and honesty; but that is exactly the problem.  From the outset of the Brexit discussions, the UK has been represented by people who have absolutely no idea how they sound to others.


Anonymous said...

It's all part and parcel of the British psyche and culture. Perhaps not something a culturally Welsh and predominantly Welsh speaking person could, should or would ever readily understand.

No harm was intended and I doubt any serious harm was done. But some will always take offence no matter what, as is their right.


John Dixon said...

Thank you for illustrating the point so neatly.