As Tony Blair said, politics is about tough choices, so here’s one where I’d like your help.
Frankly, I’d never heard of a “European laureate”, until I saw this story in the Guardian. But apparently the title exists; there is a proposal to nominate Shakespeare for the award; and it seems it has to be voted through by the European parliament. So I shall have a 0.13% say in the decision, which I shall exercise on behalf of my 4 million plus East Midlands electors.
Of course my first thought was enthusiastically positive. Shakespeare is unquestionably the greatest playwright that Britain — or Europe, or the world — has ever seen. (It’s the 60th anniversary of Beckett’s “waiting for Godot”, by the way, and I recently heard it described by a BBC arts correspondent as “the best play ever”. But I don’t believe much of what I hear on the Beeb these days). He (Shakespeare, that is) is also arguably one of the UK’s greatest poets, though there he has more competition. I like Betjeman myself (“Too populist by half”, I hear you say). And Thomas Babington Macaulay. And Henry Newbolt. Others may go for Keats or Shelley or Tennyson.
But I’m pro-Shakespeare, and pro-British, so how could I not support this honour for our national playwright?
And yet, and yet…. If this European laureate-ship is anything, it’s presumably a pale shadow of the Sakharov prize, which the European parliament awards every year. And the Sakharov Prize is nothing to do with honouring Sakharov, nor with honouring the recipients, who are forgotten a few days after the event. It’s all about EU propaganda, and showing the European parliament in a good light.
Thinking about it, the idea of the corporatist, centralist, anti-democratic EU awarding a prize for “Freedom of Thought” is beyond parody. The EU supports freedom and self-determination everywhere except Europe, where it blithely ignores the results of repeated referenda. It’s about as preposterous as the EU receiving the Nobel Peace Prize — and what a farce that was!
So this proposal is not about honouring Shakespeare in time for his 400th anniversary, as the English academics promoting the idea fondly imagine. Not at all. It’s about promoting “ever closer union”, and trying to recruit Shakespeare to the cause of European integration, as they have already sought to recruit Sit Winston Churchill. The great man must still be turning in his grave down at Bladon.
Do I do the obvious thing and vote for Shakespeare and British drama? Or do I think a bit more deeply and vote against a cheap Euro-federalist propaganda stunt? You tell me. Answers on a post-card, please. Or by e-mail.