As is so often the case in any family that has a mentally unstable member, the suffering one’s awkward and difficult behaviour tends to surface most embarrassingly at the most inopportune moment. Aunty Mary chooses her nephew’s wedding as the best time to strip off in front of the vicar, whilst cousin John feels that no funeral is complete unless he tries to masturbate at the graveside.
And thus it was that Britain, delinquent and constantly carping European thorn-in-the-side, and in the person of David Cameron, chose the European Union’s most tricky moment to start protesting that it’s all so unfair. Mummy Angela and Daddy Nicolas have told their wayward teenage angst-ridden moaning Minnie in no uncertain terms to put up or shut up. “But that’s so unfair…”, begins David again, before being unceremoniously thrust onto the naughty step and left to sulk alone.
So why is Britain such a recalcitrant and difficult member of the European family? I think it has less to do with the Euro, or the Eurozone’s crisis, or the right of the City of London to continue to do the very things that got us all in the brown stuff in the first place, and more to do with Britain’s continuing crisis of identity. We still fundamentally resent having to be in the same club, and on equal terms with, erstwhile imperial rivals that we have prided ourselves on having bested. We are still in mourning for our lost empire, our pink-coloured world atlas, our global boss-status. We succeeded in overtaking the German, the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese empires, and we’re damned if we’re going to forget it. Or let them.
So we want to be in Europe, but only if we’re allowed to strut about the place as if it were still 1910. At the same time, we want to curry favour with a different family altogether, the family of those that speak our language, if for no other reason than that we can continue to be able to ignore other, more inconvenient languages, ones that we seem quite incapable of learning. The English language club has another alluring quality, in that it contains some very big bully boys on whose protection we want to rely, and in whose wake we can continue to pretend that we are still an important power. OK, one very big bully boy. Its bullying bragging rights might be a little less universally recognised than they once were, but if we’re good at anything, it’s living in the past, and so we haven’t really taken a lot of notice of the United States’ inexorable and steady decline.
Thus all this adds up to a kind of national personality disorder. We have delusions of grandeur, and we want to regress into a past in which we were top nation. We can’t understand that this both makes us look pretty stupid, and is infinitely irritating to our long-suffering fellow relations. Just as we love Aunty Mary and cousin John, but cringe when they play up at the wrong time, so the European Union loves us in a baffled and slightly pitying way, but is not going to tolerate our wedding-day stripping or our funereal masturbation. If we want to be a proper and valued part of the family, we need to get some therapy, and bloody-well grow up.