Are we European though, or Anglospherical?

The one thing that met a glum response in Boris Johnson’s speech was a statement that “we are European”. Are we?

We inhabit our islands close to Europe, and have borrowed a great deal of our culture from Europe, although in latter years they have taken more of ours than we theirs.  Our native languages are descended from those originating in Europe, and English in particular is a German language spoken with French and Latin vocabulary. That must settle it, surely? Not all our languages are European though: the next most common are not. In fact as Boris looked out, many in the audience were not European at all by culture or mother tongue, but Asian.  All though had been born to or absorbed our British culture and all of whatever origin passed undistinguished amongst themselves in the hall.

There is a continuum between European culture and British culture, born of frequent flows of trade, scholarship and warfare. We are familiar with the names of their great cities and may have holidayed there, and if not visited will have seen photographs or heard tales of when our grandfathers liberated them. We may listen to sublime German and Italian opera – perhaps this explains the more pro-European bent of the cultured classes – or watch their football teams, or both. Europe is there, close by.  It is part of our consciousness.

The cultural links only go so far though. Our social and political cultures are very different.  As was described on this blog a while ago:

We are not on any continent. Britons are a people of the seas:  we may dream at night of the endless ocean, and when beside the sea, and we are never far from it, then our hearts thrill at the sound of the shrouds hammering impatiently on the spars and lurch with joy at the draw of the wind in the taut sail. Beyond the sea, there is another home.

Yes, we eat French and Italian food, but also Indian and Chinese, just as voraciously. We are not limited to identifying with one continent.

The English-speaking world, the Anglosphere, is built on the inheritance of freedom which is fundamental to our culture. In continental Europe though, democracy is a modern accretion grafted roughly on from the example of Britain and America: strip it away and you are left with feudal tyranny as the basic norm of life. Strip modernity from the English-speaking peoples and you have the ancient rights of free Englishmen. It is no wonder that Europeans cannot understand the Britons: ancient authority for them was a tyrannous ancien régime, but for us it was a time of greater personal freedom.

Our closest cultural connections are not with Europe, which is not to deny cultural connection, but it is not so close – our closest bond is with the other English-speaking peoples, which are alike in language, culture, outlook, assumptions and attitudes, born of the same legacy, and if America or Australia has consciously moved away from their idea of British norms, actually we have been coming the same way, and as we watch each other’s films and read each other’s books, that culture grows closer, and Europe more distant.

Philologists used to look at the languages of Europe and said that as Latin had become divided across Europe and become separate, mutually unintelligible languages, so English would evolve into separate tongues across the world, but they wrote that before Hollywood and the BBC – nation shall speak English unto nation. We can find plenty of differences between the way Americans do things and the way Britons do, but they are petty cultural differences compared with the yawning gap we both have with Europe.

The truth is that parts of our culture are shared with Europe, but our whole culture is shared across the Anglosphere. If we are European, as we may be, then so are the Americans and the Australians. We cannot just divide the world into convenient geographically neat continents and allocate each country to its closest – the English-speaking world, scattered across the globe, and making the world more prosperous in all those corners, is a more realistic ‘continent’.

Books

Conservative Conference 2019: The Speech

Last day of the Conference, and it was Boris’s day. Whatever else was happening (and it was), the only thing that will be talked about is the speech.

Boris Johnson follows Disraeli as the second first-rate stand-up comedian to enter Number 10 and he is loving it, as are we.

It was not just a Brexit speech: after three years and the complete meltdown of the political system as a result it was unavoidable that the subject dominated – but it looked ahead also.

Oh – and we have been riding so high on this Brexit lark: what will we do what it is achieved? It’s back to normal politics, and the Socialists hammering at the NHS and class war and all the dishonesties of politics. If the election is delayed to when it legally has to happen, which is May 2022, who knows what will have happened?

To the speech, I will add nothing, but let you hear it all.

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Margaret Thatcher

By David Cameron

By Tim Bale

Brexit

Others

By Rory Stewart:

Conservative Conference Report: Day 3

The main conference floor has been a bit dull this year, but of course it is hard to announce major policy successes when the Commons are so deadlocked that nothing new can be done. It is a rally of the faithful, but a jar to see some of the faithless there too; the whipless ones. That said, there is more to Conservatism than one policy and when Brexit is over and done (in four and a half weeks, we hope, desperately) then we can re-examine who our friends are.

Off the main floor is where the real activity is. I cannot count the number of side meetings and fringe events there are: ‘fringe’ is a misnomer as I am convinced more good policy is worked out here than anywhere else, and more daft policy too.

The policy announcements we have heard often involved spending a lot of other people’s money. That is a bad sign. What else do you say though? ‘Less money for the feckless!’ Maybe not. Then there is the idea of longer prison sentences, which seems to be backed by no evidence that it will do any good and might be meant just as a dig at David Gauke, who had a more sensible policy. (He’s about, by the way, whipless but waiting.) Still, give Priti Patel her hour in the sun. Sajiv Javid suddenly speaking Punjabi went down well (yes; I’m sure they are very proud of you.)

It all feels like marking time. It is not even a pre-general election rally.

Back to the bars and side rooms, there are keen, enthusiastic councillors and ex-councillors (been there, mate) all anxious to talk at anyone who will listen, hoping they happen to speak to someone influential, and others who actually are influential even if I have never heard of them: I never know anyone and I tend to be left out of the circle.

So, few positive promises. A deadlocked parliament is not such a bad thing usually as it means less opportunity for well-meaning or publicity seeking members to stick their big feet in and get in the way of those of us trying to lead our lives. However after so many decades of idiotic intervention of that sort, some corrective is needed, and that needs a working Parliament.

One diversion has been logging the jokes from the podium, good and bad. I should spare the Lancastrian blushes of one of the most able and promising ministers who dropped the worst joke so far. We’ve a long way to go yet

Maybe the Conference needs a stand-up comedian. Ah – but his is the keynote speech.

Now I almost wish that I were actually at the conference.

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Margaret Thatcher

By David Cameron

By Tim Bale

Brexit

Others

By Rory Stewart: