Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

At first glance, Emma Thompson's intervention in the Brexit debate earlier this week didn't make much sense. Asked at the Berlin Film Festival whether the UK should vote to remain in the EU, she said we'd be 'mad not to'. She went on to describe Britain as 'a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island'. She added that she 'just felt European' and would 'of course' vote to remain in the EU. 'We should be taking down borders, not putting them up,' she said.

I think I get the bit about Britain being 'rainy'. That's true, obviously, and some people dislike our islands for that reason. Not sure that is the most persuasive reason for voting 'in' -- will it rain less if we elect to stay? -- but perhaps she's worried that it will take her longer to get to her friend George Clooney's house on Lake Como if we leave the EU, what with the end of free movement and so on. As any Eurosceptic will tell you, that's a red herring, but it kind of, sort of makes sense.

No, the bit that confused me was her use of the phrases 'cake-filled' and 'misery-laden' side by side. Surely a nation that eats a lot of cake is, almost by definition, not miserable? I think it's unlikely that the average Brit consumes more cake during a typical week than the average German, but even if that were true I don't see how our love affair with cake makes us miserable. What's going on in that voluminous brain of hers?

The only explanation I can think of is that she has a fixed idea about the sort of people who are in favour of Brexit -- lower-middle-class, backward-looking, bigoted -- and she thinks one of their characteristics, along with having lace curtains and using words like 'serviette' and 'settee', is that they eat a lot of cake. That would also explain the note of surprise when asked which way she'd be voting. Didn't the questioner realise that all successful, Cambridge-educated, upper-middle-class women are in favour of the EU? Had he been living under a rock?

Thompson has come in for a fair amount of criticism since uttering these remarks -- and rightly so -- but she is hardly alone in suffering from such snobbery. As Orwell wrote about the liberal intelligentsia in England Your England : 'They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.