I live on a small Island off the coast of Belgium called the United Kingdom, it is an Island obsessed with a war that ended over 70 years ago, and we trot the war out at any and every excuse – like a child who answered a question correctly in class.
It is a shame that we are so obsessed with the War, the subject came up in Facebook debate with my Sister in Law regarding Europe and the EuroCrisis, her latest retort was ‘who won the war?’ I found the comment distasteful on many levels, because the story is one-sided, it spun by the Allies, but also it is really crap to use it as an argument about politics today, it was 70 years ago!
The obsession with the War in this country is stifling, being a railway enthusiast I am aware, more so now that I have German partner, that most of the major preserved railways will have a World War Two day with German and British enactors staging a ‘fight’ to capture a railway station, of course the Germans always lose, the Great Central Railway this added a bit of spice with the French Resistance. At some point, for the bigger railways, a Spitfire will do a fly past.
I find our continual recital of the War embarrassing.
We retell the stories that made us great, and centre of the World for a few years in the middle of the 20th Century, and if we are not obsessed with WW2 then we look to Trafalgar, Agincourt, Hastings or Jutland for our importance, we are addicted to your glorious, or some would say, inglorious past. It is not only ‘the war’ but we still cling to ‘the season’ of the Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot (Ladies in the Royal Enclosure will wear hats with a brim no less than 4 inches, Gentleman are requested to wear morning Dress, which will include a waistcoat, the other enclosures Ladies may wear Fascinators) and Wimbledon – an echo of the past social elite.
At times the United Kingdom seems like an old Dowager Duchess who is living in reduced circumstances, maintaining the fiction of better times, sitting alone recounting better days, living in the faded glory, unable to cope with the tatty reality of the present.
The political fictions are maintained by most governments, the history, the importance and defiant independence, but the British experience seems deeper and far darker, as if we do not want to face the reality, or worse that we can’t face the reality of our reduced circumstances.
I am not ‘doing my country down’ we have done a lot of good things, but, personally, I want to step out into the light of Europe, I want to be part of Europe now that it is emerging, trying to work together – as with America three hundred years ago – a bold experiment, an unfinished promise, but each day working towards that fulfilment. My tribal instincts are not honed to the story of Empire – they used to be when I was a kid – but I want to be a part of Europe not apart from Europe.
In December when Cameron stormed out of the Conference Chamber in Brussels Le Monde wrote my exactly why I feel dismayed about this country:
The British do not believe in the European idea. They are alien to this project, which is currently bogged down, but which appears to be more necessary than ever; to forge a single entity that will be able to exist as such among the other powers of the 21st Century.
We should have no regrets about what happened in Brussels. The ambiguity about the role of Britain has been cleared up: deep down the British, who joined what was the European Economic Community in 1973, are only interested in one aspect of Europe – the single market – while they have remained indifferent, if not hostile, to the rest of the European project.
I want a new story, I want one of moving forward – we have had our day in the Sun, and it is time we invent our new identity.