Last Saturday Erica and I had a wonderful international evening at the Everyman Bistro inLiverpool. The occasion was the XX (it had a 0 at the end!) birthday of our French next door neighbour Georgina. Georgina came toLiverpool as a cellist for the RLPO she is married to Jonathan who is the principal cellist at the Phil. He is Norwegian and their three kids are all British but can speak in varying degrees French, Norwegian and English. We note that as they have gone to school all of them speak all three languages with a lovely Scouse accent!
We reflected after the event on the nature of the evening. Yes there were clear national differences in the way people behaved. The French were more noisy and exuberant, the Norwegians a bit quieter with the Brits somewhere in the middle. But none of that mattered at all. It was a lovely evening in which people from all three nationalities delighted in each other’s company, had a few drinks together and sang the songs from the shows. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the French Granddad started singing of Georgina, “when she’s smiling”, accompanied on the keyboard by the Norwegian Granddad!
So what difference does nationality really make to us? I am actually very proud of being British. I am aware of the shortcomings of my Country but also proud of our culture and the role we play in the World. Being proud does not mean being uncritical in fact it should mean the opposite. Because I am proud of my Country I exercise a critique because I want it to be even better.
My Britishness is tempered by two things. Firstly I am a Scouser. Yes we do things differently up North generally and in Liverpool in particular. We are not unique but we have an outlook on life which exudes friendliness, which can be a bit chippy (or even chip on shouldery!) but which is always outgoing and inclusive. Secondly, I am European. I feel much more comfortable going to France or Germany than I do going to America or theMiddle East. For millennia the people of Europe have fought together, invaded each other, married each other, traded with other to create a common sense of purpose and direction which is palpable.
These thoughts will come into play next weekend when I am spending three days in Istanbul as the representative of the 47 European LGAs on the appointments panel for the General Secretary of UCLG (the World LGA). Just for the avoidance of doubt none of my expenses are being met by the British local or central government taxpayer!
I will be looking for a person who feels as comfortable at being a citizen of the World as I am. I will not feel the need to go for a Brit or a European because that is where I come from. I will genuinely seek the best woman or man for the job who can deliver the high level diplomacy and administrative competence that such a position requires.
Embarrassingly it is certain that any candidate for such a post will speak English, will be a regular visitor to our Country and have a good sense that the UK can play in world affairs. Our offer to UCLG is simple. We are still one of the most important countries in the World and we have a big part to play in shaping international policies that affect the delivery work of councils in theUK. We have a wider role to play because of our history.
Many Countries, particularly in Africa, still recognise theUK as the country that established their institutions, their parliaments, their courts and their systems. We are respected for that, increasingly so as the spectre of colonialism retreats after 50+ years of independence. It is to us they look for help in strengthening those bodies when times are hard. That is a duty that we owe but it is also an opportunity for us to recreate links that could well lead to enhanced trade and commercial opportunities.
What’s this got to do with liberalism? It is liberalism. Wherever I go in the world and meet other liberals a defining issue and discussion for us all is this sense of being not a petty nationalist but a proud nationalist who wants to see our country play a full and appropriate part in the affairs of the family of nations.
So many of our problems now cannot be resolved inside a country, global warming, trade, the ongoing financial crisis, resource availability all need international solutions. Britainwould be better at dealing with them if it could draw on the past and look to the future and not revel in its past and hide from the future.