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On whose behalf does May actually speak?

The US election is past the point of tedium. That goes without saying. The tyrant trails by seven points after three of the most catastrophic presidential debates in US history and the sensationalism is somewhat overshadowing political commentary on issues closer to home. But, the question of what is “home” is becoming more abstract. The country whose future Theresa May championed at the annual Tory party conference seemed foreign to me. “The internal politics of a small and distant island.”

After Brexit, that’s all Britain will be. The fall in the pound to a six year low against the euro reflects this. The remainers have every right to feel alienated and ignored.

As the orgasm of nationalist sentiment overcomes Britain in the wake of the referendum result, to great applause, the prime minister declared ‘if you are a citizen of the world, you a citizen of nowhere.’

The soundbite generated a lot of media attention. It is divisive, confrontational, taking the same form as ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’ and, in short, it is xenophobic. It isn’t hard to read between the lines and spot the double entendre.

What is a citizen of the world? Is it a person who doesn’t identify with Britain or is it a person who has come from abroad? ‘Citizen of the world’ is in the second sense a euphemism for ‘foreigners’. And what is a citizen of nowhere, someone who doesn’t have a sense of self, someone who doesn’t belong and whose government doesn’t care about them?

As some commentaries have already pointed out, every Tory is now either a Brexiteer or a recently turned Brexiteer. The party’s break manoeuvre beggars belief. Already we begin to see the effects of the Conservatives’ total indifference to the lives of immigrants.

The government voted 293 to 250 against a motion to protect the rights of EU nationals to live and work in Britain, essentially rendering 1.2 million people bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. So much for ‘a country that works for everyone’.

The question of national identity is difficult for me and many people in Britain. It’s the idea of belonging that I have trouble with, that is to say the underlying discursive assumption is that I am property; an asset or a liability to an economy.

I’d rather not think of myself as such but if I instead identify as a ‘citizen of the world’ my interest in UK politics, dismissal of US politics, and ignorance of European politics betrays me.

My course is not ‘Literature’, it is ‘English Literature’. As a result, a distinction needs to be clear for each of us that our national identity is separate from our nationality. We are surrounded by reminders of our nation all the time – it barely warrants comment. It encompasses sport, news, economics, politics, literature, music and law. My use of the collective pronoun ‘we’ reiterates this.

So given Theresa May’s speech, we would do well to remember that while we are attached and care for our country, we cannot put these feelings above a mutual respect.

Let’s take the face of the new five pound note, Winston Churchill, as an example of recent iconography.

Calling the man a white supremacist, as Benjamin Whittingham did, is a hugely controversial statement, not due to its historical accuracy or inaccuracy, but due to its implications about our identity and how we recognise our history.

We should remember that we are all individuals with different relationships to the world around us and our feelings of oneness with our country are not exclusively ours.

31/10/2016

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matthewbiggs