Friday, December 09, 2011

Why the UK has lost the Euro argument

The Euro debate in Britain takes place in a vacuum. The Euro-sceptics are not challenged, even when they start to resort to absurd national stereotypes and mentioning the war ("I think I mentioned it 73 times, but may have got away with it") in the most inappropriate contexts.


The fact is that the image of Britain is so rooted in the Second World War, that we have become imprisoned in a national myth which insists on our unique righteousness and moral certainty. No one is allowed to mention the equivocation that created a culture of appeasement, the rise of the Blackshirts, or the real possibility that instead of "fighting alone" in 1940, a Britain under Halifax would have probably come to terms. 


The problem is that the generation that actually took part in the war has more or less passed, and it is the post-war generation that mostly were not even alive at the end of the war that has created this pristine national myth. In the face of inexorable national decline, the country clings ever more tightly to "the finest hour", but it has little to do with the historical right and wrongs of the 1930s and 1940s, and even less to do with the present day.


The problem is that the latest generation now still thinks in terms of the stereotypes shaped by this national fetish. The French are cowardly "surrender monkeys", the Italians even more cowardly and probably mafiosi, and the Germans? 


Well the Germans are literally unspeakable. Sinister, brutal, efficient. Still planning global domination and undermining democracy everywhere. Yet its shows how little people in Britain actually know of Germany that this stereotype has grown and morphed into a profound but irrational fear and hatred of our Teutonic cousins. 


Few people speak German, fewer still have ever visited Germany. The gap in comprehension is yawning. Britain has learnt to hate Germany without ever understanding what Germany is. Whereas many Germans speak English and visit Britain, British lack of interest amounts to a kind of contempt. Even when our former allies ("the plucky Poles") engage with Germany, they are treated as though this is the blackest ingratitude.


The problem is that this fear and hatred of Germany has become bound up into British ambiguities about the entire European project. Whereas Germany and France reached out to each other in the post war generation, with Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand making their peace with the past, Britain remains unreconciled to the idea of our diminished place in the world and bitter and envious about the growth of Germany, which was the evil protagonist of the Second World War, versus her own eclipse, when Britain was the noble victor of the great crusade. We can not get over ourselves nearly three quarters of a century after 1945.


Yet it is a view that carries little weight- in Eastern Europe the Second World War brought the  further catastrophe of Stalinist Communism- a system which was Britain's ally and which only ended in 1989/91. Even if the result of the war was an unalloyed good- which is itself debatable- it was not brought about largely by Britain. If D-day was not, as claimed by the French, "a primarily Franco-American affair", then neither was the Second World War largely won by the British. It was won by American generals and Soviet troops, and after 1942, Britain was clearly the junior partner. 


In fact it is the Cold War where Britain fought for an unalloyed moral good, but of course that carries less resonance, it involved making alliances and partnerships, which is somewhat at variance with the myth of "standing alone".


The bitter irony is that the generation that fought the Second World War wanted to build and be part of the European project. They understood the ambiguities and did not swallow the myth of British purity. Indeed it is the patron saint of the myth of the Second World War, Winston Churchill himself, who first argued, not for a community or a Union, but a full "United States of Europe". 


I don't like the sceptics, I freely admit that. I see Dan Hannam as a puffed up pustule of ego, and seriously doubt Bill Cash's sanity. Yet I must concede that they have won the argument for now: not because they are right, but because they have persuaded the British people that they might be. But the consequences of their victory is that Britain has been pushed into deep isolation through its own myth making and intransigence. 


So invincible in the certainty they are right, the Euro sceptics are making Britain into a lesser country -and a weaker one. 

2 comments:

Piers Fallowcherry said...

Not entirely certain that I agree with every point you make here but my quibbles are minor: for example, I don't think that everyone has the unhealthy disregard for the Germans than you claim.

Furthermore, while the Eurosceptics and their feverish chums in the press (mostly but not always the tabloids) rack up a consistently horrendous din, it does the more thoughtful a disservice to believe that they are brainwashed by it all. It is a grubby descent to wander through the comments accompanying stories in the Daily Mail, for instance, but the consolation is that they represent the views of a self-selecting group with little imagination and too much time on their hands.

BUT ANYWAY … that's not the reason for writing. I've noticed that your output has increased of late – there's some pretty rich material to deal with after all – and this is a good thing. Yours is one of the two blogs on my newsfeed that I turn to with the most enthusiasm. As I said, I don't always agree but the educative nature of your posts is always welcome; especially on the questions of a new state, Estonia, Putin's Russsia and your home thoughts from abroad concerning the financial system.

I seem to remember you had some doubts about continuing a year or so ago. Please banish them ...

.. although you could, perhaps, make more effort to engage with your readers. Such criticism counts as abuse in our house.

Clym said...

With respect, this is irrelevant. I came to your blog looking for a reasoned discussion of the consequences of Cameron's veto and how it would really affect the future of Britain in the UK, and the Eurozone countries.

Something like your last post on Thursday - where if I read it correctly you did urge our PM to veto under certain circumstances.

I've completely failed to find any intelligent and detailed discussion of the facts - the MSM reporting has almost entirely consisted of repeating quotes from European politicians and other newspapers.

Please try again: I for one, as a pro-European (and German-speaking) liberal, am deeply confused about what is happening and need insight from someone with the depth of experience and closeness to the issues you show to help me understand.