.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A THOROUGH FISKING OF TODAY’S POLLY TOYNBEE Thanks to Peter Briffa for drawing attention to this. I was, actually, looking forward, actually, to go going to the cinema, actually, any day soon, to watch guess what, actually, "a shallow, saccharine distillation of the romantic sentimentalism of [Curtis's] previous screenplays (. . . ) has the unwelcome tinge of sentimental porn", according to Sight and Sound magazine (November 23rd). In the Groan today Pollyester Toybee sticks with the sugar references:

Love Actually is a Christmas confection that's all icing and marzipan and no cake - not the kind of movie rabid anti-American lefties frequent.

So what are you doing there then? Admittedly though this film as an excuse for simple politicsing is a not unpopular approach to take, as this piece in the Telegraph shows, which coincidentally draws different conclusions than our Polly. Mind, perhaps this Toynbee isn't such a leftist after all:

But its one political moment draws a surprising roar of approval from the audience.

As a closer reading of this blog will reveal I am not what you would call a rabid anti-American leftie, or any sort of leftie or anti-American (the rabid bit is perhaps a different story for a different day), but there is a thing or two I do know about culture and politics. One of them is that politics is subtle in such films, and that is why there is not just one political moment. And on this point I will make my obligatory complaint about Curtis' films: they're whites only, unbelievably enough even those set in London. Although he seems to have altered that in this recent one by putting a token black in it, there are still no brown faces to be seen in his London. There is a political subtext to this, even if it is unintentional. The reason for Curtis-Britain's ethnic purity is probably commercial because today's multi-coloured UK doesn't much appeal to the established prejudices and received notions about Britain in overseas markets. There is however also a domestic implication to such a degree of quite literal whitewash and it's quite a troubling and almost racist one too. Toynbee doesn't see this, which is the real political trouble with the British films of this sort.
But I digress (I'll return to the point at the end)

Hugh Grant's fantasy prime minister - his most ludicrous role yet - repeatedly attacks Old Europe and its social provision, painting us as closer to the US neo-cons than to our neighbours. Then he holds a press conference at the end of a visit from the US president in which he has been offered nothing much by an arrogant ally. (What the dispute is, we have no clue: it's not that kind of movie.) In front of the press and the president, prime minister Grant makes a fine speech about standing up to the over-mighty, a small country still holding on to pride and principle.

Though of course the problem is, as soon as we're a fully paid up member of the Euro-bureau-empire, we won't be a small country anymore, and there will be not much pride or principle to hold on to for that matter either. I mean, what pride would there be? It would have proved we are totally incapable of utilising the fourth largest economy and second most-powerful conventional military force on the planet for the small task of remaining a self-governing country. And as for principle, this is the old myth of Europe's superior morality, which is just as rubbishy as it is often repeated. For example have a look at this item.

A roar went up from the audience and apparently every audience cheers as loudly at our PM telling the Americans to bog off.

So? Perhaps the audience would have roared even louder if the PM had told the French to get lost, in a speech including a lot of gratuitous references to frogs, cheese, surrendering, Trafalgar and perhaps even some monkeys. And let's be honest it would be a bit hard to imagine the audiences cheering with approval as the PM says that Europe's stale welfare states are preventing job creation. Not exactly stirring stuff, that.

What does it mean? What could it mean, if only we had the right political leaders to interpret it? Whatever the polls say - and they have been fickle - there is a strong instinct out there that resists Britain doing whatever the neo-con White House wants us to do, reducing our standing, dignity and influence in the world.

In a way which subjecting ourselves to Franco-German dominance wouldn't?

But if people are against our apparent poodle-dom, what are they for?

Well, whatever Polly may fantasize, we know that the answer is not the EU. What could it be then?

There are those who dream of a "plague on both your houses" stance, a plucky little boat navigating the seas alone.

Yes, that is it, Polly. And that is the reason why Hugh Grant's fictional PM is bashing Yanks and 'peens alike. What underlies this is the belief in British superiority. We are clearly so much better at everything from monetary policy and welfare reform to nation building, diplomacy and war fighting than both the US and the Europeans, that it is a bit of a hard point to sell to this nation the idea that we must either buckle under the demands from either Washington or Brussels. Most British politicians are aware of this sentiment. But there is a reason why none of them openly argue for it or try to pursue it. Ok, so John Major tried it a bit, but that sort of proves the point. Then Tony Blair tried to rectify the mess with the US and Nato over Bosnia, and the mess with the EU over those mad cows and the Maastricht Social Chapter, by talking about a British bridge across the Atlantic, which in effect meant, saying yes to whatever Brussels or Washington wanted. The problem is that in the current geopolitical situation the best way for Britain to have as much power and independence as possible is by trying to play both sides. Deciding either way will reduce our independence and/or our influence. That is why the Britain's transatlantic dilemma will never be solved, unless we decide we want either independence without influence, or influence without independence. Tow options that in the long run would probably prove to destroy the alternate benefit anyway. We have no choice and it's time we started getting used to it, instead of hallucinating about a return to glory by joining NAFTA or as Polly continues on the EU:

give it a few years, a recovered economy, with a better and more visionary top team and its power can only grow.

What amount of time does Polly call “a few years”? Politically there needs to be changes of government in the big three UK, France and Germany. That means there will be no change at least until the next election, which could reasonable won by the opposition, which by my rough guesswork would put us into the year 2009. Well, if you're patient. As for the needed economic changes: the needed reforms have been known for more than a decade, and the pain of not implementing them has also been with France and Germany for more than a decade. But still progress has been very slow and there no reason to think this will suddenly accelerate.

But Britain stays out of the euro, smugly lecturing Europe from the sidelines while our share of inward investment plummets.

I wonder though, if this is perhaps because Gordon Brown had been saddling our economy with tonnes of Euro-style regulations and petty taxes. What do you think?

One high price of the Iraq war that Tony Blair paid was to let the eurosceptics win.

High “price”? More like an additional bonus. And anyway, what about democracy? The vast majority of the British people are at least mildly eurosceptic and at the time a clear majority supported the toppling of Saddam. I wonder what Polly Toynbee gets paid for this sort of incoherent and inaccurate rambling. Every single penny wasted. Why didn’t she think about what kind of an image of Britain this film is showing both to the world and British audiences alike? It is a wrongheaded fantasy of a smaller, less dramatic Britain and as such its message should be challenged. It is an example of the mentality that I mentioned above, the belief in a British exceptionality that is not compatible with the way modern geopolitics works. We need a new sense of this exceptionality and understand how to protect it in the coming years instead of piling on the approval to escapist fantasy, Ms Toynbee. If instead you want to read something sensible about what Britain should be doing in Europe, Lord Howell has some good thoughts, while Daniel Johnson tries to explain why we need a close link to the US for such a policy to succeed.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?