Status anxiety

Emma Thompson’s wrong about the EU and cake

She flaunts her membership of the liberal intelligentsia by bashing Britain

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

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.’ He continued: ‘In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God save the King” than of stealing from a poor box.’

Exactly this attitude — a sniggering contempt for the patriotism of ordinary people — was the subtext of Emily Thornberry’s famous tweet that got her fired from Labour’s front bench. And I’ve noticed it among my own social circle whenever Brexit comes up. It’s as though expressing any scepticism about our membership of the EU, particularly if it involves a concern about uncontrolled immigration, is a bit Non-U. On the surface, people claim to be concerned about jobs and the impact on our financial sector but really, deep down, they’re just advertising their membership of the educated elite. They’re not anxious about the consequences for the British economy. They’re anxious about being perceived as petit bourgeois.

It’s not surprising, then, that the cabinet is split along class lines when it comes to the EU. A majority of those in favour — David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt, Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan — were privately educated, whereas most of those against — Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel — were state educated. Within the Conservative party, the schism over our membership of the EU is a proxy for the class antagonism between the different wings that’s always been present but rarely rises to the surface.

I’m not entirely immune to these influences myself. As a state-educated Tory, I identify more with the flag-waving, ‘Rule Britannia’ wing than the sophisticated, Europeanised types who dominate Cameron’s inner circle, and that’s partly why I’m a Eurosceptic. Unlike Emma Thompson, I think it’s entirely honourable to feel patriotic for tribal reasons, but rather odd to regard your membership of a British clique as requiring you to pour scorn on your country.

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Show comments
  • Ruth

    Vacuous airhead.

    • Dougie

      Emma or Toby?

      • Wessex Man


        • Rob

          Its remarkable how quick we are(i include myself) having to judge people based on preconceptions and stereotype (i.e someone is posh,must be a snob)
          Many years ago i worked for a delivery firm and on many occasions delivered
          to Emma Thompsons house and i can say that She is certainly the nicest
          person you could hope to meet,down to earth and friendly,and most polite.
          No airs and graces in evidence,and furthermore her husband Greg Wise is equally nice,as is her Sister who lives nearby, and her Mother also.
          So i am sorry to disillusion anyone who dislike her,based on her having an opinion,has anyone here actually met Emma ?

      • Ruth

        Who do you think?

    • aspeckofboggart

      An Englishman once criticised Hugh Grant as a disgrace to Britain and praised the more accomplished Hugh Laurie. I like Grant better than the po-faced Englishman.

  • Bark Kantatas

    “With their chronic insecurity, their pathological need for fame, or their belief in its imminence, no group outside the confines of a MENTAL HOSPITAL is more psychologically and emotionally unsuited to give advice to anyone else about anything than are actors.”

    – Kevin Myers

  • Maureen Fisher

    Emma should just stick to learning her lines for her movie rôles and stop repeating what she’s heard at Islingtonian dinner parties.

  • jeremy Morfey

    I remember asking the Dutch what their ideal holiday month was – they said that they liked going to Britain in February. They found the grim, grey bleakness of the dog end of the British winter as romantic and mysterious. The cake is just the bit under the icing – the comfort food that makes a change to mayonnaise-smothered chips.

    It is a privilege to live here.

    • HJ777

      Mayonnaise-smothered chips are more of a Belgian thing.

    • Glynn Wright

      The western side of Vancouver Island announces its grim, grey bleakness as something to celebrate. It attracts many tourists precisely because of those characteristics.

  • What’s missing in this analysis is the size of Thompson’s ego.

    • Sue Smith

      It was obviously too much for Ken Branagh!! Being with somebody who has such impeccable social credentials and a permanent member of the bien pensant would be very tiring indeed.

  • John Carins

    “Europe” has given us (Britain) centuries of pain. Let the EU countries integrate without the UK and perhaps we can have a painless existence to trade freely and be responsible for ourselves. The longer we stay in the the EU, further drips of the anesthetic will be applied and we will never wake up. .

    • Migru Ghee

      Oh dear, did all the previous comments not suit?

  • Colonel Mustard

    “Emily Thornberry’s famous tweet that got her fired from Labour’s front bench.”

    Those “gestures” never last long these days. Her ample and privileged backside is now firmly back on Labour’s front bench. Our politicians like to try shame us these days but their own shame is transient to non-existent and no longer seems to affect their career prospects.

    To be fair to Ms Thompson I have always marvelled at her ability to play the part of Emma Thompson in so many films and plays.

  • David davis

    Perhaps we should have her sent on a single ticket to a place where there is no cake, no rain and nobody is misery-laden.
    I suggest Raqqa, where all the ISIL charmers are deliriously happy all the time.

  • Harry Pond

    Give her some credit, she is doing her best at becoming the ‘Queen of the Luvvies’- the title has been vacant since Dickie died and she faces stiff competition from the likes of Benedict and Stephen Fry amongst others.

    • Sue Smith

      Fry is much too candid to remain a luvvie for long. He’s only interested in gay minorities.

    • goodsoldier

      Just remember that Cameron and his wife are good friends with these people. I think they have more influence over him than his cabinet. They are having a good laugh at the Britain’s expense.

      • Harry Pond

        There’s no doubt Dave’n’Sam should be in the Libdems. He’s not a Conservative that’s for sure. Hence his love in with Cleggy in the Rose Garden.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Damming with faint praise?

  • Eddie

    A journalist once asked David Beckham a question on Britain’s foreign policy. He politely decided to not answer as he didn’t know enough about that subject. You see Emma – so very easy. Just be silent next time.

    • Mrs Cravatt

      Beckenham doesn’t want potential customers to hate him. May be he’s smarter than I thought or may be it’s his PR team pulling the strings. Talking of Beckham why didn’t the papers publish his extra marital affair 10 years ago – a number of British journalists saw him snogging his other woman.

      • Eddie

        This is my point……..

        ….and this is you….

        sharpshooter you are not….

  • Sue Smith

    Emma Thompson likes to portray herself as a likeable, warm and people-friendly member of the acting profession – unlike many of her peers. A working class girl made good. But don’t be fooled by that breezy exterior – not far beneath the surface lurks the nastiness of the class warrior and social antagonist with impeccable bien pensant credentials and a desire to adopt every marginal cause. There are genuine people who’ll do the latter, but they don’t need it splattered all over the front pages. The little woodpecker, like Thompson, will slowly kill the tree from the safety of a house.

    • Larzlaff

      Social and sexual inadequates like you should get away from your poisonous trolling for a few hours and try and be better people. Emma Thompson has class, education, and style – she’s the absolute opposite of bitter cowards like you.

      • Sue Smith

        Troll. Avoid.

    • Davetee

      She’s just another sanctimonious so and so. I’m surprised anyone even took notice of her pathetic ramblings.

      • Sue Smith

        My argument is that she’s pathetically arrogant to bag the UK from outside of it, all the while accepting the benefits of an excellent education from your country. A simple “thank you” would suffice, but breathtaking arrogance doesn’t accept the need to say thanks. She’s an odious individual.

  • Rajmuld

    Young is like so many Zionist journalists – he just spends all his time expressing hatred of other people. Sad…..Just ignore him Emma – he’s pathetic.

    • zoid

      ‘zionist’… f’cking pathetic specimen….too weaselly and cowardly to say what you actually mean…

      • Rajmuld

        Like I said, he’s like all Zionists: “he just spends all his time expressing hatred of other people”. Inadequate cowards like you prove my point 100 per cent.

  • ACN

    Is this Enema Thompson yet another TV cook?

  • Sidlam

    Good on Emma Thompson for expressing her views on Brixit-it’s called free speech! Who is Toby Young anyway?

    • big

      ……”Who is Toby Young anyway? ” good question! I once listened to him with James Delingpole on some radio programme,i was honestly shocked at how utterly childish the pair of them sounded

    • Topaz Frenzy

      Toby Young has a very low IQ. His comments are always so basic, not idiotic, just a bit dumb.

    • Ridcully

      Free speech goes hand-in-hand with the right of others to challenge your views.

  • Topaz Frenzy

    Both Toby Young and Emma Thompson are low IQ individuals, narcissistic and irrelevant to any social or cultural debate. He frowns all the time while she cannot stop smirking.

  • Charles Francis

    This woman works in a fantasy world and does not appear to be able to step out of it into the real world along with her support for Corbyn who also lives in a fantasy world.

  • richard

    A rather well written article ,I’ve always wondered what it is about Britain the left despises as they are forever trying to dismantle British institutions and way of life.i would never trust the left with governing Britain again.

  • zoid

    i’ll be f’cked if i#m taking any advice off a posh, never had to work a proper job, oxbridge luvvie.

    hr and cumberbatch…out of touch c’nts.

    • Sungei Patani

      You said that before, but it was worth saying twice but would have been better without the swear words.

      • zoid

        everything’s better with f’cking swearwords.

        • Ridcully

          No it f****ing well isn’t!

          • zoid

            you are just so c’nting wrong on this.

          • Ridcully

            I sure as f**k don’t sh*****g well think so.

          • zoid

            don’t be such a f’cking c’ntbubble. admit when you’re wrong.

    • Simon Raymont

      Hey, she’s an actress. Lives in fantasy land.

  • zoid

    i’ll be f’cked if i#m taking any advice off a posh, never had to work a proper job, oxbridge luvvie.

    her and cumberbatch…out of touch c’nts.

  • implied author

    Nice restrained piece written about some posh tart who has taken the best Britain has to offer with both claws and then when she thinks she is above and beyond needing anything more from it she dumps on it. Vile piece of work.

  • Paul Hampson

    Maybe she was referring to the current obsession with ‘cake’ as in GBBOff, cupcake madness and the never ending bake sales we’re all subjected to these days.

  • green hackle

    She is Not just Wrong, She is a Deluded old Cow as well if she thinks Anybody Gives a Toss what She Thinks, The Problem this Old Hag and her Left wing Luvvies Mates is they Really think they are Somebody where in Fact they Really are Nobody, I can wait for Stephen Fry to tell us All the Gays in the EU want us to stay, Why dont they All Just Shut the F,,,Up/

  • voidist

    This is the fascism of the elite at i ts worst…apart from the fact that acting and politics are generally

    low IQ professions, what right does she have to rant on thus….miserable wench !!

  • Dave*

    Well said, Toby Young. I am a great fan of Emma Tnompson’s work. She is hugely gifted and has given a couple of particularly moving performances. I shall remain so., But Toby Young highlights something very real in general ~ the snobbery of the liberla intelligentsia as
    he aptly puts it, and a barely concealed contempt for anyone with the temerity to say, however softly, that they do rather love their country for all its many faults and would rather like it not to disappear forever.
    David “I am the real heir to Blair” Cameron is in fact the Neville Chamberlain of our age. These renegotiations have been a giant con from the start. He did not include anything about a referendum in his 2010 general election manifesto and then stated publicly in 2011 that he was
    against an In-Out Referendum. His hand was forced , though he probably didn’t tihnk he would win in 2015 and thus he has had to play out this absurd pantomine in order to once more visit on the British people another gigantic con.
    Ted Heath’s own Attorney General wrote to him telling him that as joining the old former EEC DID involve a substantial surrender of national sovereignty it was his legal duty to inform the electorate. Heath buried that advice. Likewise, a secret Foreign Office report which came to the same conclusion and guessed that it would take the people 30 years to wake up to the great deceit they had been subjected to had a 30-year secrecy rule imposed on it, only coming to light in 2002 when that ban ended.
    The truth is that it has all been entirely unconstitutional. The British Constitution states that ‘powers must be returned to Parliament INTACT at the end of each parliament.’ In other words, the powers do not belong to politicians of any particular era and are not theirs to give away. Am I talking about hight treason? Yes, I am. And each and every government since Heath’s has been guilty of that same crime.
    You can forget Guy Fawkes, Lord Haw-Haw, and the Cambridge Four (Philby, BUrgess, Maclean and Blunt). This 40+ year deceit is on another scale entirely. This is Britain’s political Establishment itself
    deceiving the people of these islands quite deliberately and continually, ultimately involving the cessation of our status as an independent self-governing country. Cameron’s claims to the contrary are bald-faced lies. He knows it is not binding. EU law supercedes anything lodged with the UN, and the European Parliament can vote to water down or annul this quick-fix.

    The same grand deceit that was visited on our parents and grandparents is about to be visited on us all in 2015. The “piece of paper” he is holdoing in his hand is not worth a fig. It is a con job designed to succour enough uninformed or just plain timid people into voting as instructed. The usual scare tactics will do the rest. And that will be the end of Britain. When did we become so timid, so lacking in faith in ourselves? But then that is 2hat 40 years of mind-manipulation and conditioning can do.
    Cameron – and every living politician involved in the constant deceit ov er the past 40 years – should swing. But then didn’t Blair do away with the death peneatly for treason? Odd too that the corrupt EU – whose accounts have not been verified as correct by independent auditors for 20 years in a row – saw fit to afford its employees lifelong immunity from prosecution. Now why would they have done that do you think…?
    Will I vote to leave the EU? Absolutely. I saw through this charade a long time ago.

  • Cav

    She is of no consequence to anybody who has to live in the real world.

  • Jab

    Emma is a fully- fledged member of the sneering class.These extremists have it in for the rest of us as they dont have to live in the vibrant, diverse and enriched craplands where hordes of cake -eating , misery -laden natives abide (having been stripped of green fields, trees and Victorian city centres to accomodate the hordes of sneering class’s mates).
    Sneering class members have several characteristics1. Wealth 2. Dont have any contact with the native lower class 3. Have no interest in the situation of millions of young in the southern EU states who have no chance of finding work.

  • Billiamo

    Emma Thompson mystifies me. She does justice to characters of such great sensitivity and intelligence, and yet the woman herself, if utterances like this last are any indication, is remarkably stupid — stupid in an articulate, accredited, Islington salon sort of way.

  • TVRubbish

    Cake is delicious and nutritious. Emma Thompson seems to forget that.