Saturday, July 11, 2015

"The Anglosphere ", insular, imaginary and deep down very silly!

You may not have encountered the idea of "The Anglosphere" unless you are a follower of the writings of the Tory Right - and of "thinking" further to the right even of them. Perhaps the best analysis of it came from Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce in the "New Statesman" here:

"The Anglosphere" has all the logic and credibility of the "Commonwealth" (i.e. not a lot ) with none of that preposterous and archaic institution's substance. Daft though it is the Commonwealth does actually meet and has employees and an office. The "Anglosphere" does not - to all intents and purposes it does not exist at all except as a figment of the imagination of the likes of Uber Right Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.

As the article in the New Statesman says the Anglosphere is a dreamlike notion that what Winston Churchill called the "English Speaking Peoples" could have more in common than just our shared language. Actually that is not really controversial - there is a strong common culture across London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Wellington, Melbourne, Vancouver, Cape Town and (to a rather lesser extent) Boston. Perth, Scotland, is more like Perth Australia than it is like Paris or Berlin which are infinitely more "foreign". Culture is shared, and language is a key determinant of it. I have got off a plane and instantly felt at home in English Speaking cities as diverse as Auckland, Bridgetown Barbados, Toronto, Singapore... even though the underlying cultural mores may be different. And yes there are post Imperial similarities in all these places including parliamentary democracy and freedom of speech that are admirable.

On my first visit to Australia many years ago I was with colleagues in Melbourne who were entertaining me to a delicious dinner in a top restaurant. Towards the end of the evening one of them asked me a question -  "Righto Paddy you've been in Oz a few days now where does it remind you of most?" The 'correct" answer to that question was something like "San Diego' - that is to say an English speaking city, easy to be in, with sunshine and good food and quite a laid back lifestyle. That's how these Aussies saw themselves and their country.  My response was not to refer to California - "Frankly" I said "it reminds me of Croydon". I was teasing, and they didn't mind, but there were truths both in their California and my Croydon. Language (etc.) does bind us. 

So if I see strong links across the English speaking world, links (mostly) enhanced by a common history of having all been at one time "British" ( I do) why do I poo-poo the Anglosphere? It's because language and culture may bind us emotionally, but the modern world ain't much about that. What it is about is the hard reality of economics and geography. Travelling Canadians often wear a maple leaf so that people hearing their North American accent know that they are from the northernmost American country not the big one to the south of it. But pride in their distinctive Canadian-ness does not mean that Canada is ignorant of the economic and geographic reality of needing an exceptionally close relationship with the United States which through a Free Trade agreement and other ties it has. Similiarly Australia has long since developed close links not so much with countries with which it has cultural links (New Zealand aside) but with its Far Eastern neighbours with which it shares geography -dominated economic interests. 

For Britain it is I think fair to say that if the once popular "Commonwealth preference"  trade option had been in any way a runner in the modern world than it might have been touted at Commonwealth meetings - but in fact the potential for economic cooperation plays little or no part at these largely ceremonial and nostalgic events. By far Britain's most important economic partners do not speak English as a first language at all (Ireland aside) they are the other 26 fellow members of the European Union. 

As the New Statesman article reports most of the affection for the Anglosphere from UKIP and the Tory Right is that they see it as a potential alternative to the EU. This spreads credulity to breaking point! To argue that an "organisation" that doesn't exist, "comprised" notionally of members who see little merit in it and united only by the fact that they speak English and were once part of the British Empire is preferable to the EU is just plain silly! 


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