THE BRITISH PLAY

WillThat the final visit to British shores of President Obama as leader of ‘the free world’ should fall on a weekend when our nation marks the 400th anniversary of its greatest writer’s passing is one of those neat strokes of fate, coming at a moment when the country is perched perilously on the crossroads between alleged integration and alleged isolation. Obama’s unsurprising pro-EU stance, whether his sentiments were given a canny nudge by Dave or not, have proved to be a sly stroke on the part of the Remain camp; regardless of his fairly unremarkable record in his day-job, Obama is a popular figure here, and no amount of crying foul play by the Brexit bunch will really alter that.

Neither Boris nor Farage have issued anything beyond petulant retorts to Obama’s veiled threat as to America’s position should the UK vote ‘no’. There is a certain irony, however, that such a professional patriot as Nigel should possess a frankly flimsy grasp of history. Accusing the incumbent President of being the most anti-British tenant of the White House is somewhat curious considering that just over 200 years ago one of his predecessors – James Madison – declared war on the US’s former colonial overlord. The War of 1812 may now be regarded as a footnote to the far greater Napoleonic conflicts by European historians, but it surely represents a bleaker low point in the Special Relationship than Obama indicating Britain will be shoved to the back of the trading queue if she chooses to retreat from the brotherhood of her nearest neighbours.

I at least expected a myriad of quotes from ‘Henry V’ to constitute the Brexit response to Obama this weekend. Regularly plucked from the text to provoke patriotism at best and jingoism at worst, the words the Bard placed in the mouth of the victor of Agincourt have become a default mechanism for the nation when it perceives itself as being under threat. And there is, of course, a case of the pot calling the kettle black in America preaching European harmony and anti-isolationism when it has spent so much of its existence masquerading as a country breaking with traditional Old World aggression by avoiding excessive participation in world affairs – on the surface, at least. A cursory glance at an enlightening article which appeared online a year ago reveals the US has enjoyed a mere total of 21 years of peace since 1776. In fact, America has never lasted so much as a solitary decade without being involved in some military conflict or another from the moment when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.

‘And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, and I hate the idle pleasure of these days’; so said Richard III in the hands of Shakespeare’s quill. While the gung-ho war-cry of Henry V may well be evoked to galvanise those who feel Britain’s precious sovereignty is forever in peril from some Brussels directive whilst we remain chained to treaties signed in the 80s and 90s, one could argue a withdrawal from the continent places us back in the role of detached observer on European activities, cast in the role of villain, mistrusted anew by the advocates of the great European project and consequently reinforcing our geographical separation from the mainland. This wasn’t a problem back in the days of the Empire, and we still have a network of connections to our ex-imperial possessions in the Far East, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent that, historically, should have precedence over the neighbours we’ve spent most of our lifetime fighting. After all, we only have a land border with just one country – the Republic of Ireland – which is itself further from Europe than even we are in terms of miles.

The perceived importance of a European Economic Community, not to mention a military one, was passionately promoted by Churchill even before such institutions came into being, but it was Sir Winston’s misfortune to be born too early to participate in the construction of the initial incarnation of the operation. The historical and sentimental ties with the Commonwealth somewhat got in the way of Europe’s post-war destination from Britain’s point of view, leaving the French and the Germans to take control and relegate us to a permanent periphery, even when Ted Heath achieved his long-term ambition of gaining us a place at the table in 1972. Lest we forget, the formation of the Common Market (along with NATO) took place while Europe remained divided between East and West, but the fall of the Berlin Wall, pushing back the borders of democratic Europe to the edges of Russia, changed the makeup of the EU, and the Referendum of June 23 this year will decide our role in an organisation that is a radically different animal to the one it was in 1975.

The Brexit camp contains those who recognise the differences between the modern-day EU and the old EEC as well as those who have always been opposed to any integration with Europe, while even the Remain gang recognise something has to change in order for our continued membership to be something worth fighting for. President Obama’s sentiments are obviously influenced by American interests, but his intervention probably hasn’t helped make the minds up of any don’t knows out there. As with a General Election, notions of doing something in the country’s best interests will largely be supplanted by individual concerns. As someone whose shopping is mostly done online, I would begrudge the addition of import tax on buying overseas goods that EU countries are currently exempt from if we leave, whilst a friend has already decided she will vote ‘out’ due to EU interference in the e-cigarette issue. I suspect this will be a pattern we will all follow come June, and Obama’s opinion will count for little when we visit our nearest polling station.

© The Editor

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5 thoughts on “THE BRITISH PLAY

  1. Can the Obama who threatened the UK and warned us not to contemplate Brexit- does he remember these words that he used to underpin his election campaign not so long ago?

    “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

    And did he also remember these words?

    “Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except somebody somewhere was willing to hope, that’s how this country was founded because a group of patriots decided they were going to take on the British Empire. Nobody was putting their money on them.”

    No threats and scare tactics will make me change my mind. I only have to look at these words to strengthen my resolve to vote Leave

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    1. Well said, Dave.
      Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get the BBC to give equal prominence to this glaring example of double-speak as it has done to the crafted sound-bites of ‘back of the queue’ and ’10-years’.
      You will, of course, fail in that endeavour because the massed ranks of the establishment (Government, BBC, IMF, hired-hands etc.) are all pissing in the same pot and determined that all cosy sinecures should continue, whatever the cost to British futures and freedoms.
      Those of us who have removed the blinkers will vote Leave, the rest, sadly, will follow the domesticated flock like the sheeple they are. That they will get what they deserve gives me no comfort and perhaps we should try to forgive them for they know not what they do.

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      1. Funnily enough, I recently purchased ‘The World at War’ on DVD. Not having seen it for a few years, watching the opening episode on the rise of Nazism reminded me of the old question about why the German people as a mass accepted every diabolical move Hitler made. The answer seems simple now. As a mass, people are basically f***ing stupid. They want to be told what to do by a father figure and want their minds made up by a symbol of authority that will spare them from doing all the hard work themselves. Doesn’t matter if it’s a tyrannical individual in the Hitler, Stalin or Mao mode or an establishment of big business, media and politicians. Issue the order and they will follow.

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      2. Rather than ‘wanting to be told what to do’, maybe the ordinary folk just want clarity. What the ‘dictators’ really offered (including the Saddams, Mugabes and Gadhaffis etc,) was clarity – there was a clear statement of purpose and the people were content to follow that clarity of vision, no need to think, just follow my leader, they’ll sort out the details.
        It’s quite telling that, when such dictators are deposed, like Saddam and Gadhaffi etc., the country usually falls into chaos because there is no longer any clarity or commonly-agreed mission and the people are unable, unready or unwilling to learn to live with the unclear grey-scale that is middle-ground democracy. But it’s also telling that, in mature democracies like Europe and the USA, the people are now tiring of that perpetual compromise, hence the rise of the Trumps, Sanders, Corbyn’s, Le Pens, Grillos, Ukips etc., all of whom offer a new clarity, whether you agree with them or not.
        Those voters here who are seeking clarity in the EU debate will be disappointed because neither side can offer clarity, it’s about futures and the future is inevitably unclear, there are no future facts on the table, whatever they may tell you. In the 23rd June voting-booths, it will be much more about hearts than minds.

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  2. We can all be brilliant in hindsight. In 1933 Germany democracy had broken down, there was huge poverty, there was rioting in the streets between Nazis and Communists and most people by then probably just wanted a stable remotely competent government for a while. Still, most people didn’t vote for the Nazis but when they took over no doubt many people just hoped for the best as there didn’t seem to be a better option anyway. The Communists must have seemed at least as unappealing to the mainstream German at the time, especially with Stalin’s Russia as an example.
    I doubt there were many in 1933, either Nazi supporters or the Nazis bitterest enemies, who thought things would get anywhere near as extreme as they did or that the Nazis would so quickly have zero domestic opposition to hold them in check or even overcome them at the next election,

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