STEPHEN GLOVER: What do all those stars who love to denigrate Brexit Britain have to say now their beloved Europe has fallen for the hard-Right?

Will the rise of the hard-Right in Europe lead progressives to question their conviction that civilisation thrives south of Calais, whereas Brexit Britain is narrow, reactionary and inward-looking?

Such prejudices are not new. For at least a hundred years, English intellectuals have looked longingly across the Channel in the belief that in almost every respect life is superior on the Continent.

George Orwell wrote about the phenomenon in 1940, famously asserting that ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality’.

He added, accurately, that ‘the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow’.

Dame Emma Thompson, a fervent anti-Brexiteer, who before the 2016 referendum described Britain as a ‘tiny, little, cloud-bolted, rainy… cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island’

Has anything changed? The war obviously put a slight dampener on the progressives’ certainty that, culturally and politically, Europe had much to teach dingy old Britain.

Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy — not to mention Stalinist Russia, Franco-ist Spain and Vichy France — rather punctured the view that European countries could be held up as exemplars of good governance.

But after the war it didn’t take long for intellectuals — who, as Orwell pointed out, are overwhelmingly of the Left — to gaze covetously at Europe once more, and wherever possible to get into a car or jump on a train to enjoy its delights first-hand.

Books by Elizabeth David about French and Italian cooking were snapped up by people who needed little persuading that English food was dull and tasteless, and far inferior to European cuisine. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was considered an abomination.

Intellectuals lapped up Marxist continental writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre or Bertolt Brecht with an enthusiasm they could never quite summon for their home-grown counterparts.

Let me stress that I love France and Italy, and revere their great art and beautiful architecture, though not their political systems. But such esteem hasn’t made me feel less affection for my own country, of which I have certainly never been ashamed.

Not so the actress Dame Emma Thompson, a fervent anti-Brexiteer, who before the 2016 referendum described Britain as a ‘tiny, little, cloud-bolted, rainy… cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island’. The poor woman has evidently never enjoyed a good Victoria Sponge or Dundee Cake!

The actor Sir Ian McKellen was no less down on his own country, as well as awestruck by Europe, in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. He lamented: ‘Everything that’s good about being British is related to Europe.’ Surely some mistake, as the late Tory politician and journalist Bill Deedes might have said.

Thompson and McKellen could have been speaking on behalf of generations of middle-class intellectuals who have deprecated their own land, and uncritically venerated all aspects of Europe.

For years they have flocked to the Continent like homing pigeons. They may nest in ‘Chiantishire’ (a fictitious British enclave in Tuscany) unaware of the perennial political volatility in Italy, which in the 1970s exploded into far-Left and far-Right terrorism.

Sir Ian McKellen also lamented: ¿Everything that¿s good about being British is related to Europe'

Sir Ian McKellen also lamented: ‘Everything that’s good about being British is related to Europe’

Or perhaps they have roosted in the Dordogne, a beautiful department in south-west France, and ignored the 1968 student uprising in Paris, which necessitated President Charles de Gaulle’s sudden flight from the French capital.

Or conceivably (though Germany is a less popular venue for our itinerant intellectuals) they perched in the Rhine valley in the 1970s and 1980s, blissfully ignorant of the activities of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, which was responsible for bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and bank robberies.

Britain seems tame by comparison. We’ve had our difficulties — I’m thinking of Islamist terrorism, also experienced by other European countries — but since the war, as before it, our politics have been calmer and less violent than those of other major European countries. Northern Ireland was an ugly tragedy, but the contagion barely spread to Britain.

Might the virulent denigrators of this country concede that our constitutional monarchy and long history of parliamentary government have created an enduring stability that is sometimes absent in Europe? No! They will never admit that Britain has any intrinsic advantages over its neighbours.

The success of the hard-Right over the weekend in European elections, in France, Germany, Italy and several other countries, wasn’t a bolt from the blue. It is a cancer that has been growing and spreading for years, so that in one month’s time there could be a hard-Right government in France.

What do the intellectual detractors of Britain with funereal faces say now — the Thompsons and the McKellens, as well as novelists such as Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, who decried Brexit as an act of stupidity and blind insularity? Do they give thanks for our dependable political arrangements? I have heard nothing.

Believe me, I don’t rejoice that the hard-Right is on the march in Europe. But I am glad it’s still only on the fringes in Britain. Nigel Farage can’t be equated with Marine Le Pen in France, or even the slightly more moderate Giorgia Meloni in Italy. We aren’t about to catch Europe’s disease. The worst we have to fear is the stolid, rather boring, democratic socialist, Sir Keir Starmer.

As I say, our political institutions have deep roots. We are also not cursed with proportional representation, which inevitably gives a bigger voice to radical parties of Left and Right. An unlikely alliance of Farage, the Lib Dems and the Green Party wants to get rid of first-past-the-post, the very system that offers protection against extremists.

But I believe there’s something deeper — a tolerance and sense of fairness, remarked upon by Orwell, that distinguishes the British from other races. Many people are furious about uncontrolled immigration, and understandably so, but they haven’t turned to the hard-Right. Let’s pray they never do. Our rainy little island that supposedly owes everything to Europe turns out to be more stable, more grounded in its democratic ways, than most of the countries the other side of the Channel.

Zealous anti-Brexiteers will never admit as much, of course. Nor will they recognise that the economic fortunes of Germany, France and Italy are worse than our own. The other day, the head of Deutsche Borse, a huge German multi-national, declared that Germany is little more than ‘a developing country’. An exaggeration, of course, but one sees his point.

Brexit hasn’t ruined the UK economy, though you would think it had if you relied solely on the Financial Times, Guardian or BBC. In 2021, Britain was ranked the seventh-largest exporter in the world by the UN Conference on Trade and Development. It now stands in fourth place, following rapid growth in the export of services.

Point this out next time you are abroad and a well-meaning foreigner, influenced by wrong-headed British progressive intellectuals who in the long tradition of their kind run this country down, looks pityingly into your eyes and offers to send you a food parcel.

The sub-text of this election campaign is that Britain is a crumbling, depressed, dysfunctional country in urgent need of emergency surgery.

Believe that if you will. But when I look across the Channel, and see a rampant hard-Right and economies dickier than our own, I can only count our blessings.

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