WS 2011/2012                 exam translation (advanced)          (Staatsexamen Frühjahr 2003           text #5 

On the eve of St. George's Day* 1993, the then Prime Minister, John Major**, had a tricky speech to deliver. He needed to convince his party they could trust him to defend the country when negotiating with the European Union. Party discipline was already badly fraying, as an increasingly voluble right-wing group refused to accept his assurances. The issue of Britain's relations with the rest of Europe split the party from the top of the cabinet to the humblest constituency association, with opinion getting increasingly 'anti-Europe' the further you got towards the party's grassroots. Within four years, the parliamentary party would be in more or less open warfare on the subject, squabbling among themselves as the Conservative government spiralled out of the sky to electoral oblivion in May 1997.

           Major could sense all this. His own attitude to Europe suffered by comparison with his right-wing critics, with their easy and scary slogans, because it was essentially pragmatic, with little clear ideology. His beliefs, in the sovereignty of nation states and the importance of free trade, were no different from those of most of his party. But he was not prepared to demonize the rest of the European Union, most of whose leaders he knew and respected. What was he to do? This most English of men was a decent chap who ought to have had an instinctive understanding of the worries of 'his' people. But he had been trapped in the narrow world of Westminster politics for years. And he had few rhetorical skills; a reporter who had seen him mount his soapbox during the 1992 election campaign had described him as sounding, when he tried to declaim, like some 'angry nerd in Woolworth's returning a faulty toaster'.

Much of the speech could write itself. There would be a recital of the government's. achievements, the usual credit-taking that is the small change of political opportunism. There would be a lot of nonsense about the government's determination to be 'at the heart of Europe' when so much of its behaviour made it seem less like a heart and more like an appendix. There would be claims that nothing in Britain's involvement in Europe endangered the country's sovereignty. There would be the blunt suggestion that, frankly, the country had no alternative. But he needed a peroration to end with and an image of Britain's security to leave with his audience. What emerged was an extraordinary word portrait. 'Fifty years from now,' he said, 'Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket*** grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and - as George Orwell said - "old maids cycling to holy communion through the morning mist".'

  from: J. Paxman. The English. Portrait of a People. Penguin: Harmondsworth 1999 
> >> A longer section of the text passage above can be found HERE!

*) for information on St George's Day go to:'s_Day
[click here for information on the UNION JACK: ]
Citizenship Test, question 5: 
**) for information on John Major go to:

***) for information on cricket go to:   video:  

The last four British prime ministers: John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron
1) John Major steps down:
 2) Tony Blair takes over:
 3) Gordon Brown: steps down:
 4) David Cameron takes over:

More books: #1 Kate Fox, Watching the English:
                       #2 Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island:
                       #3 George Orwell, Collected Essays:

John Major on SPITTING IMAGE: 

William & Harry: 
Headcases 5,1

two links that will take you to Jeremy Paxman, as he mercilessly interviews British politicians: [BBC, video: Paxman interview]  plus: transcript of interview
[BBC video, 3 more Paxman interviews]
plus NEW:
Jeremy Paxman interviews Nick Clegg (April 13, 2010): (highlights only)

   CARTOON: Steve Bell, The Guardian (1997)  

 for more cartoons by Steve Bell go to:,7371,337764,00.html 

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