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My Word!

September 19, 2020 7:59 PM
By Alison Eden

"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my Shakespearereputation!" From 'Othello' by William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene III, line 254.

Schools are going back and in a September Summer sun bags are packed with freshly acquired pencils and course-work. I suspect former Prime Minister John Major studied, as millions have and will, Shakespeare's play 'Othello.' Iago an evil ensign, disappointed in promotion, takes revenge by convincing his General, Othello, that his wife Desdemona has committed adultery. Cassio, a supporter of Othello's gets horribly drunk and disgraces himself. As a teenager I found Cassio's speech about reputation funny. I think I missed the point!

The decision by our Conservative government to break international law prompted Sir John to speak this past week in Shakespearean tones:

"For generations, Britain's word - solemnly given - has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct. If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained."

As I recall, when our Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the BREXIT withdrawal agreement he courted a lot of applause for doing so, promising us an 'oven-ready' trade deal. Now, it seems, that withdrawal agreement is to be trashed. The decision by Prime Minister Johnson to betray his signature has even attracted horror and criticism from senior Conservatives in the Commons, Lords and other walks of public life.

Why does reneging on the agreement matter? It matters because we need a harmonious relationship with trading partners. We need people to trust our signature means something. The Prime Minister's decision to betray his own signature means that they will be able to say, with proof, that it's not worth the paper it's scrawled on!

We are not important as a country. We are not exceptional in the sense of being greater or better than other countries. We do not treat our elderly better than our close neighbours in Europe. We do not provide the best state pensions. We don't provide anywhere near the best social housing. Now we have left the EU, we will not be protecting our farmers, our countryside and our water quality to the standards set by other countries.

The fatal flaw of our current Conservative government is clinging to a Walt Disney inspired belief in the exceptional nature of Britain. Our parliament may be the 'mother of all parliaments' but its current behaviour is set to consign that fact into the history books of future pupils as an interesting footnote. It will be an astonishing fact that the country that is now a dumping ground for other countries' rubbish and is not much more than a theme-park celebrating past British glories, was once considered as a leader in democracy, in science, in philosophy, in integrity. No more. Look at the trashing of the pound on the currency markets! Anybody buying goods in Euros needs a great deal more of them at the moment!

Our glorious past will not look after an isolated enfeebled future (unless the shops run out of loo roll of course and I have to start working through the Shakespeare section of my bookcase…)