The Rutland Biz Club welcomed the distinguished historian and bestselling author Professor Norman Davies at their monthly lunch at the Falcon Hotel in Uppingham on (Friday 25 January).
Professor Davies, who has published xx books on the history of Europe, Poland and the UK, offered a view on the electorate’s backing for Brexit in the context of history. He claimed the public’s affection for the monarchy is driven by blockbuster films such as the King’s Speech and TV series including Victoria and The Crown, informing our knowledge of the past and providing a sense of continuity and stability. The two world wars, commemorated on Remembrance Sunday, help create a narrative of ‘Great Britain’, the greatest nation that has managed its own affairs for centuries.
He said: “Hardly anyone talks about the EU from an economic perspective, about its strengths and weakness, but a prominent factor that’s not expressed is based on an emotional narrative of contemporary British history. It is based on an optimism that people remember over the last few decades, a collective of assumptions that drives people to the political positions they have and the view that the UK can go it alone.”
Professor Davies challenged this view, claiming it is built on a myth that has permeated the British psyche from John of Gaunt’s famous soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Richard II, to Winston Churchill’s speech, The Finest Hour. Key World War II battles including the battles of El Alamein, Dunkirk and D-Day, immortalised in Hollywood films such as the Dam Busters, only succeeded with the military support provided by other nations including America, Canada and Poland.
He also dispelled the optimistic perception of Great Britain after the end of World War II with the abandonment of Palestine, the Suez Crisis and the Winter of Discontent in the ‘70s when the UK was known as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ with rubbish piled in the streets and rats running along the pavements.
He said: “Since the Winter of Discontent, we have pulled ourselves together, with rising prosperity and external threats receding, giving a sense of economic optimism. We like to think of the UK as having the sixth largest economy in the world, but the EU’s economy is bigger than ours and our period of recovery coincides with membership of the EU. It’s not about England, but about nations working together. If we are to survive, we need allies and partners – that is what we are missing.”
Biz Club President Geoffrey Pointon said: “Professor Davies delivered a challenging and thought-provoking speech that questioned many assumptions that we have about our view of history. It’s easy to take at face value the populist narrative of popular culture in films and literature, without stepping back and looking at it from a different perspective. The Biz Club was privileged to listen to one of the most eminent authors and historians on the subject of Europe, an issue I’m sure will continue to rage for many years to come.”
The Biz Club meets on the third Friday of each month for a lunch at The Falcon Hotel in Uppingham, with a visiting speaker to encourage enterprise and stimulate dialogue between politicians and business people. For more information visit www.thebizclub.co.uk