Beware of Kipling-spouting politicians
The world isn’t a plum pudding anymore. It’s time for Britain to stop pretending it can carve it up—and scrap its Imperialist approach to post-Brexit trade.
Opinion piece in Prospect on-line by Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson, October 9th 2017
In October 2017, Joris Luyendijk made a heart felt plea to the English in the pages of Prospect magazine:
“Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about ‘foreign judges’ and the need to ‘take back control’ when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled?”
To try to answer Joris is difficult, but we are both English academics who have looked at the changing social geography of the country and how the English have been taught a particular version of their history. A huge problem is that many among us have still not yet accepted that our place in the world is not at the very top.
Had Joris been writing a few days earlier he might also have asked about why the British Ambassador had to tell his near namesake, Boris, to shut up when he was about to say something extremely offensive at a temple in Myanmar. It was, apparently, because Boris didn’t understand just how offensive it was for him to recite the lyrics of a Rudyard Kipling poem about a British soldier kissing a Burmese girl. Worse still, there is the possibility Boris did understand how offensive he was being, but did it deliberately to court favour among a certain camp at home.
The Plumb-pudding in danger – or – State Epicures taking un Petit Souper by Gillray. Picture: British Library
Boris’ tone-deaf stunt is unfortunately indicative of a wider issue. Almost two centuries ago, sometime around 1818, James Gillray drew a cartoon of William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte desperately attempting to carve up the world, which appears as a plum pudding. These days, the carving is done by trade deal rather than sword. So where have we got to with those brilliant trade deals planned with the rest of the world after Brexit?
In September 2017, with less than eighteen months to go before the leaving bell tolls, the EU’s chief negotiator (Michel Barnier) told the world that the UK’s approach to leaving the Union was “nostalgic, unrealistic and undermined by a lack of trust.” Two weeks later, Prime Minister May suggested adding another two years before Brexit, prolonging the uncertainty and lack of clarity on trade deals; and not helping display any further signs of trust.