Leading Article: What a lot of tosh

THE FUTURE of Britain lay in Europe, John Major said in his speech on Thursday, but the character of Britain would 'survive unamendable in all essentials'. Fifty years from now, said the Prime Minister, Britain 'will still be the country of long shadows on county (cricket) grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers'. As Mr Major made an otherwise good speech, let's be generous and overlook his confusing of Britain with certain parts of England. The fact is that the Prime Minister speaks tosh. Like many people before him, he has succumbed to the disease of eternalism. Nothing in this world is 'unamendable' these days; never mind the warm beer, think about the ozone layer.

So where does Mr Major derive his lyrical certainties? The answer is George Orwell, who supplied the quote in Mr Major's speech about 'old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist' as another unamendable emblem of Britishness. Orwell depicted these old maids in his long essay, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, which was published in 1941, post-Dunkirk and pre-Pearl Harbour, when Britain stood alone against Germany. Orwell pondered the unique attributes of 'English civilisation' and concluded that it was 'somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes'. Ah yes: that solid breakfast known as muesli, that winding road called the M25, that gloomy Sunday spent in Tesco, that bright-yellow field of rapeseed, that old mill town where the only smoke is on bonfire night, that pillar-box which may be privatised. Our case rests.