Do they mean us? International views on Britain

Do they mean us? International views on Britain

Battle of Ideas 2014 – Eye on the World

Garden Room,

Barbican Centre


Sunday 19th October 2014

There was a time when Britannia ruled the waves and the sun never set on the Empire. We had such a sense of self-importance that the ‘great’ in ‘Great Britain’ seemed just as much an advertisement of our cleverness, power and civilisation as a geographical description.

But times have changed. Now there are regular, angst-ridden debates about ‘British identity’ and ‘British values’. What does it mean to be British? In fact, what is the point of Britain at all? We fight wars alongside America to prove that we’re still at the ‘top table’ of world affairs. This year, our foreign secretary even spent a few days running a conference with a Hollywood actress in a desperate bid for a little reflected glory. At home, the rise of UKIP – with its Euroscepticism and anti-immigration policies – suggests that we’ve turned away from the world. Have we gone from Great Britons to Little Englanders?

Yet underneath, there is still a little bit of that imperial arrogance left. We may not have the power to invade anyone anymore, except on the coat-tails of others, but we still claim our military is the ‘best in the world’. We cling to our permanent seat on the UN Security Council as proof we still matter in the world. We like to puff up our successes in culture and science to suggest that economic power is less important than inherent smartness. Londoners love to revel in how cosmopolitan they are, living in a ‘world city’.

But how does the rest of the world see us today? Do they agree that Britain is still a player in world affairs? Is Britain a creative, cultural melting pot or a dying force in the arts? How do foreigners experience living here? Together with the Foreign Press Association, we’ve brought together a group of journalists living in London who report on Britain for their respective countries, to see how the world sees us.


Sebastian Borger, London Correspondent, Berliner Zeitung, Der Standard and Cicero

Florentin Collomp, UK Correspondetm, Le Figaro

Maria Tabak, Chief UK Correspondent, RIA Novosti (Russian News and Information Agency)

Paolo Totaro, Freelance Journalist; former Europe Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age


Bruno Waterfield, Brussels Correspondent, Daily Telegraph; co-author, No Means No.

Tiemo Talk of the Town Review

How does the rest of the world view Britain, has always been of interest. Now it’s much more than a curiosity for it’s arguably a matter of national security. If you believe the politicians and media you would have to say certain sections of the international community, not to mention some of our own community, detest Britain and wish to wipe out our citizens. Look at 7/7, the Woolwich soldier murder (2013) and countless foiled attempts to attack our nation. Britain, with it’s interventionist sorties into Iraq, Afghanistan and the like has quite clearly offended much of the Muslim world.

We overreach and over involve ourselves in conflicts that frankly have nothing to do with us and in certain regards has severely tarnished our reputation and made life very difficult for ordinary citizens here, as well as very tragically abroad, when you consider the beheadings that have taken place this year in the Middle East.

I think our Government needs to be taking all this into consideration before it launches into future military attacks and invasions. Does it really concern us and is it truly in our nation’s best interests? Why does Britain always have to get involved? Can we not leave some battles to other nations?

In a way this ties in with the Debating Matters Interational Schools Final that preceeded this debate on 18th October 2014, with it’s debate motion being: We should be willing to compromise our privacy in the interests of national and international security.

Negativity aside, the majority view of the assembled panel of foreign Journalists for this Battle of Ideas debate, ‘Eye on the World’ was overwhelming, 90%, positive. Concurring with this view, one lady in the audience pointed out that in her opinion this debate was more an introspective one about how we see ourselves.

Similarly, the French Journalist said the French like the British. Any rivalry is originating more with the British than the French. A well travelled man in the audience warming to this theme, agreed, saying that “the English don’t like the Scottish or Welsh or Irish for that matter! Northerner’s don’t like “soft southerners” and vice-versa.

According to a vox pop of international delegates carried out in Russia earlier this year British stability and authority is admired. One speaker advised Britain to remain the way we are. Not to try and get everything.

Another panellists praised our “tolerant, stable and vibrant nation, but, you can’t sit on the fence on Europe anymore. You cannot have your cake and eat it.”

Some said Britain does punch above its weight when it comes to its international standing.

A female Visiting Professor from Finland commented that, “You get a lot more access to different cultures if you speak more languages. In Finland, she said, nearly everyone speaks Finnish, Swedish and English, as bare minimum.

You can’t argue with that as we are somewhat spoilt and fortunate to say the least that the international language of commerce and aviation is English, which has resulted in Britons placing far less reliance on learning other languages than many other nations for whom English is not the first language.

In conclusion, it is important to keep a perspective on all this and remember that Britain is by and large a popular and much loved nation. London is widely regarded as one of the great cities of the world; we have a reputation for our world class legal system, educational system, higher education in particular, literature, our army and police are highly regarded too. Tourists, students and business men and women come here in their droves to work, study and play.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

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Battle of Ideas 2014 – Do they mean us? International views of Britain – 19th October 2014

Battle of Ideas 2014 – Tiemo Talk of the Town reviews

Battle of Ideas 2013 – Tiemo Talk of the Town reviews

Battle of Ideas 2012 – Tiemo talk of the Town reviews

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1 Response to Do they mean us? International views on Britain

  1. Pingback: Welcome to London: Immigrant Diaries | tiemotalkofthetown

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