Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Nick Jones Headshot

Britain Needs to Think Hard About Its Future and Leave the Past Behind

Posted: Updated:

We are now over a decade into this new century and Britain needs to redefine itself and figure out where we're going to go next. The issue of Europe is the best example of how we are still letting old attitudes and events shape our place in the world and it needs to change.

Someone pointed out to me the other day that next year it will be the 100th anniversary of the First World War. That's 100 years, an entire century, since the beginning of the end of the British Empire. And yet we're still letting our decisions about important things, like our economy, be influenced by a time when 'Britannia ruled the waves'. Despite the fact we are all living in a brave, new world and new century - well it was new a few years ago anyway - our national character is still dominated by events which happened in the past.

Let me say here, by no means should we ever forget the bravery and sacrifices made by our forefathers and mothers during WW1 and WW2, far from it. We should never forget these times, and we honour the people that died to protect this country with every day that we live in the free society that we have inherited.

That said, we need to get away from the mind-set that we are defined by our separation from, and defiance to, the threat of invasion or integration (depending on your perspective) from forces on the continent. Now that other powers are emerging and Britain's influence has been reduced from its dominant position some 100 years ago, this is not a time to be resistant to change. And, crucially, we should stop looking backwards for our frame of reference as to what the right course is for the road ahead.

We all know that this country is a fantastic place, with a rich history, great institutions, a combative free media, a highly developed sense of culture and fabulous ingenuity and enterprising spirit. In the past and in the present we have in our midst many innovators, pioneers, and pathfinders. Britain has had a massive influence on the way the world is today, there's no doubt about that. And we still can, if we're all prepared to engage in some forward thinking.

The London Olympics was the perfect example of what an amazing country we live in, a perfect expression of positive patriotic pride that won over even the most hardened cynic with its warmth, organisation, passion and skill. We know how to put on a show in this country, and we know how to deliver on the global stage.

However, despite this moment of supreme confidence, we seem to have quickly returned to a situation where we are arguing over, and totally unsure about, our place in the world. The current political debate on whether the UK should be part of the EU or not, smacks of a nation which doesn't really know where to go or what to do in a rapidly changing environment.
Instead of leading the way, working side by side the other bigger nations in Europe, we have been standing at the side-lines growling and complaining, when much of Europe is suffering from much more dire economic problems than we are enduring here.

Whilst Euro-sceptic politicians have sought to take advantage of this moment to hammer home some long standing points about why we should leave 'Europe to the Europeans', we've missed the opportunity to stand up and lead from the front and take up the kind of central role that this same voices are always harping back to - the days when Britain was a true world leader.
It's surely a mistake to marginalise ourselves, we need to forge stronger links with our European neighbours, not turn our back on them in their darkest hour. Anyone who lives and works in London will know that this is probably the most multicultural city on earth. It's certainly one of the most European ones. It's a city of hundred accents, languages and cultures, and, for the most part, it works. Just look at the Olympics if you want to see a good recent example of our harmony.

The great irony about our attitude to 'European integration' is that we do 'integration' and 'multiculturalism' (two very annoying words) so well in this country. We are arguable more tolerant of other cultures and creeds than anywhere else in the world.

Even our football league is a shining example of this. Every week thousands of people descend on football grounds around the UK and find themselves cheering on players from various places around the world, without even thinking twice about where they're from or what language they speak. 'When you pull on the same shirt you're in our team, and that's that.' Or so the mantra goes.

So, nearly a hundred years on from the de facto end of the Empire, and Britain is at something of a crossroads.

No, we're not the same nation as we were even 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean we've got nothing to offer. Far from it in fact, we can still be a big player in the world. But we won't do that by standing at the side-lines harping on about past glories and making reactionary demands. It's not constructive behaviour, and these attitudes towards Europe, in particular, are rooted in an old fashioned belief that we are going to be invaded and over-run by 'Jonny foreigner'.

We need to get over that quickly and figure out how to succeed in the next 100 years, we owe that to our children and to our children's children. When it comes to Europe, it's time to grow up and make a rational decision based on the facts.