It’s a dinner party in Brussels and I try to turn the conversation to the war in Ukraine. My host is having none of it. She is determined to initiate another round of discussion on the theme of ‘isn’t Britain a basket case?’ From bitter experience I know that I am in for a lengthy diatribe about ‘nothing works’ Britain.
At times it feels as if there is a veritable crusade targeting Britain. Media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic constantly refer to Britain as if it is a country in the throes of an existential breakdown.
‘Britain is undergoing a full-blown identity crisis’, announced a New York Times reporter, before adding, that. We are a ‘hollowed-out country,’ ‘ill at ease with itself,’ ‘deeply provincial,’ and engaged in a ‘controlled suicide’.
Another commentator in the New York Times, Richard Seymour ostentatiously revels in Britain’s supposed misery. He contends that Brexit has cut Britain ‘down to size’ and, for good measure, that the nation is ‘economically stagnant, socially fragmented and politically adrift’.
The Wall Street Journal concurs and cannot resist the temptation of using the ‘Britain as basket case’ metaphor. One of its reporters wonders why the markets haven’t lost faith in Britain even though its economy ‘looks like a basket case’.
Increasingly, the international media portray Britain as a failed state, a nation of incorrigible xenophobes, who cannot let go of their racist and imperialist history. The supposed nostalgia of people for the imperial past is frequently associated with the behaviour of simple-minded Brexiteers, who are seen as searching desperately for their lost British identity.
There is more than a hint of triumphalism in these declarations. ‘There’s no cohesive British identity anymore, if there ever was,’ gloats one columnist in the Irish Times.
Numerous British commentators are more than willing to collaborate with Britain’s international detractors. On Fox News you can hear Piers Morgan confidentially informing American viewers that ‘Britain is a basket case’.