Empire Days and Empire Ways

13th October 2011

Or at least that's how it should have been.  For while the Union Jack has physically been hauled down across the globe, Britain mentally still behaves as if there was a thin red line defending Lucknow or Imperial preference gave the UK a right to sell goods unopposed across much of Africa.

Other European countries with former empires – the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain – seem to have thrown off nostalgia for non-repeatable events. But we still behave as though the Empire mattered.

For some of us, it's post-colonial guilt. British tourists in India often apologise for the Raj, even though many Indians acknowledge that without the Imperial episode, their country would not exist, it would have few roads and even fewer railways. And it certainly would not have had a unifying European language that has propelled its knowledge economy so hard.

But far more pernicious is the hangover effect on our national psyche. Our failure to throw off empire and embrace a new role as a nation with some importance but not too much is everywhere from the anti-European stance of the tabloids to the don't ever be positive about the euro from politicians to the expectation that England will win the football World Cup.

Cultural commentator Bryan Appleyard recently wrote in Prospect magazine that we "have no cohesive sense of statehood to guide us".

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