O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
A new book by the ex French Ambassador to Britain is reviewed in an interview with the author, Sylvie Bermann, in The Times today. She is seeing ourselves as others see us, not least the fact that we have chosen to have a liar as our Head of Government
From Biden and Obama to Merkel and Macron “others see us” as, frankly, fools. Ms Bermann has the insights and the courage to say and explain why. National pride and delusion (not to mention personal ambition) has stopped our leaders (or most of them) from telling the truth about where we are. Up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
In 2016 after the disastrous Referendum vote and the obscenity of the American election putting Trump in the White House I was talking with an American friend – a rather “drowning our sorrows” conversation. “You can get rid of the monster in four years” I said. “We will be stuck with our insanity for twenty” . “Don’t bet your house on it” he said regarding Trump and he was nearly right. But that worked out alright in the end, thank God. Brexit, of course, not.
The problem is that we never took a collective pride in our Europeaness . We should have. At an intellectual level a United Europe was something from Churchill onwards we approved of. Whilst, like Churchill, our continued Imperialism and fantasy about the “Special Relationship” made us think that Europe, in some way, stopped at Calais, the geography, and reason, should have told us otherwise.
The British sense of humour is indeed one of our assets – especially the “self-mockery”. I have been re-watching “Allo Allo” in lockdown and one of its themes is the gentle but affectionate laughing at the British. The French and Germans are mocked as well of course but this quintessentially British comedy is never unkind. Even to those with swastikas on their arms.
I think it’s insecurity which makes us so faux-patriotic and which prompts the obsessive flag display of our leaders. From time to time we are told the truth by our friends – as here by Ms Bermann. And we do have among us those who are honest as well. Peter Oborne’s “The Assault on Truth” documents forensically the mendacity of Boris Johnson that she refers to here. It’s a best seller, but it won’t change anything – not that Peter thought it would I guess.
Robbie Burns would lament that for all too many of us no “Power” has gifted us self-awareness. Had we had it a few years ago we would have seen the benefits of being a major player in Europe. Back in 2012 a French athlete in the Olympic Village told me that “London was the Capital of Europe”. It was. It could still have been. 😢