Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Fly the Flag
Why is it that people in Britain are so quick to assume they always have the pooey end of the stick and that life is so much better elsewhere? It's a mystery to me. I know the economic situation is bad, but long before the crunch the negativity was relentless. And depressing. The national self-esteem seems to have sunk so low that any criticism is snatched up eagerly for some collective self-flagellation.
Two recent examples: first there was a French journalist who explained to The Guardian exactly what was wrong with Britain: Britons had lost their way, were up to their necks in debt, only cared about money and had rubbish health, transport, social and every other system. He said we had lost our morality, and lost our way on immigration and crime (Do I hear the tinkle of a large glass house?) "Yes, yes, yes," the cry went up in response. It didn't seem to matter to anyone that the author, a journalist called Jacques Monin has spent only three years in Britain, included only one statistic and only one quote in his article (part of his book called The Shipwreck of Britain), or that he wasn't very specific and didn't mention much outside of London. Still, that's fine; it's Mr Monin's opinion and he's entitled to it. But why did so many rush to agree with him?
Then Nicolas Sarkozy weighed in saying we were basically stuffed, that we don't produce anything, that Gordon Brown was doing the economic crisis all wrong and that the PM's measures, including reducing VAT, were useless. He added that he, Mr Sarkozy, would not be making the same "mistakes". Well, what would you expect? He's the French president and he's there to defend and promote France. "Yes. Yes. YES," came the screams,"See, even the French think we're rubbish and we are."
Both men pressed all the buttons of those who feel Britain is going to a) the dogs, b) hell in a handcart c) down the drain d) worse. Mr Sarkozy's criticism was plucked with the breathless eagerness of a passed 400m relay baton and used to beat Gordon Brown around the head. It didn't even matter that Mr Sarkozy was playing fast and loose with the facts. As Downing Street pointed out to the Elysée Palace, Britain's industries represent 14 per cent of gross national product, compared to 16 per cent in France; not a huge difference. Plus, European Commission figures published in the Telegraph - not one of Mr Brown's biggest fans - show the economies are not so wildly different and even put Britain ahead in certain areas.
But never mind the statistics, what about a bit of national pride? Please. Not nationalism or imperialism or feeling superior or Rudyard Kipling's idea about the English holding the "winning ticket in the lottery of life" or The Sun's "Hop Off You Frogs" stuff, just a "Hang on a mo, it's not ALL bad".
I spend a lot of time in both countries, hence the title and raison d'etre for this blog. I love both for different reasons. There are great things, not so good things and pretty damn awful things in both. They are not always the things you would imagine.
Since President Sarkozy's criticism, the Frenchman - who also spends time in the UK - has been defending Britain to his friends and colleagues. If he can do it, so can you.