Joan Smith: Grovelling and indignation are English specialities

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The Independent Online

A prince marrying a commoner, with time off for the serfs; two posh blokes and a squeaky-voiced footballer pleading for England to be allowed to host the 2018 World Cup; who says this country doesn't know how to present a bold modern face to the world? Me for one, and I'm still squirming with embarrassment when I think of the antiquated, snobbish and indeed delusional image the English (not the Scots or the Welsh, obviously) have projected in recent months.

Actually, that should have been three posh blokes. For a blissful moment I forgot Boris Johnson, who pitched up in Zurich with fellow Old Etonians David Cameron and Prince William in an admirable illustration of the diversity of modern Britain. I have to say it would seem a little odd to me if three old girls from my alma mater in Basingstoke were sent to represent England at high-level international talks – and I speak as someone who was a few years ahead of that quintessentially English celebrity, Liz Hurley.

Some bright spark seems to have decided, however, that Johnny Foreigner at Fifa would be seduced by Prince William cracking jokes about his wedding. The English bid did not stand a chance with an organisation so manifestly unfit for purpose. But I also find it hard to think of a less convincing team than Cameron, Windsor and poor old Beckham. The weird accents, from posh to Essex; the Prime Minister's undignified appeal to delegates; that familiar sense of patronising entitlement and poorly disguised distrust of the outside world: I wonder if any other country (the US, perhaps?) has so much difficulty in seeing itself through other people's eyes. It was as bewildering as the moment last month when the nation or, more accurately, its self-appointed representatives in the fourth estate, went into swooning raptures about the second in line to the throne marrying a coal miner's granddaughter.

What on earth do the sane, modern bits of the world make of a country which appears to believe that flaunting a royal bride's "humble" origins is an indicator of meritocracy? It's not even as if Kate Middleton – Princess Catherine, as I suppose we'll be expected to call her after the wedding, in another shining example of the collapse of class barriers – did anything as plebeian as attend a state school. She went to Marlborough, the public school attended by Samantha Cameron, whose father is a baronet.

These nauseating royal effusions come from the very same news outlets which told us earlier this year that England could win the World Cup in South Africa. It's a fantasy they peddle every four years, and without acknowledging the fact that the national team isn't very good at football. Oh, and they also detected a late surge in support last week for England's 2018 bid, a piece of wishful thinking that verged on the delusional and cued an orgy of recrimination when England got two votes.

There are a lot of things the English should be proud of, from our versatile language to our championing of universal human rights (all right, there was a blip under Tony Blair, but all that rubbish about ID cards and 28-day detention is being dismantled). Fawning over the royals and the titled isn't one, and neither is an inflated sense of our importance in the world. Next time England needs international ambassadors, why not give the job to a couple of girls from Basingstoke? I'm game if Liz is.