ADDRESS BY GUEST OF HONOUR ESPERANZA AGUIRRE AT THE BRITISH-SPANISH SOCIETY GALA DINNER 2014 (London, House of Commons

, 13th March 2014)
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E x c m o . S r. E m b a j a d o r d e España en el Reino Unido, The former British Ambassadors to Madrid, Dear Chairman of the BritishSpanish Society, querido Jimmy Burns Marañón,

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Dear sponsors of this Gala D i n n e r, I B E R I C A F O O D & CULTURE, And last but not least, the principal supporters of the BritishSpanish Society´s grants programme: Ferrovial, Santander Groups, BBVA, Telefónica and BUPA/Sanitas, Dear friends of the BritishSpanish Society,
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Speaking here, at Westminster Palace, is truly impressive.
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It is indeed very impressive to know that the leading figures in the History of Great Britain during the past thousand years have spoken in this very same place.
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The place impresses and so does all the history concentrated here, from the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England in the 11th century to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, may God bless Her.
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The weight of history is so great that I believe that any attempt to measure up to this extraordinary setting is bound to fail.
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That is why, I would rather begin by asking you all to do your best to forget we are in Westminster, so that you may listen to me for what I am, simply a friend of the British-Spanish Society, who is here to speak to you about Great Britain and Spain.
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Therefore, first, I would like to thank the British-Spanish Society for inviting me to participate in their annual Gala Dinner.
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And, most particularly, I would like to thank its President, my friend Jimmy Burns Marañón, and to congratulate him for having organised this Gala Dinner in this House.
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This gives me the opportunity of speaking under the same roof under which some of the politicians that I most admire in all History have spoken, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Thatcher.
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Dear friends,
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In 1998, the brilliant British-Dutch essayist Ian Buruma published an extremely clever book titled “Voltaire´s Coconuts or Anglomania in Europe”.
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In this interesting book, Buruma describes how, for the past three hundred years, Great Britain has exerted an intriguing attraction on some important European writers, philosophers, artists and politicians. And he analyses the causes of that fascination.
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I feel that the title of Buruma’s book needs to be explained. And the reason is that Voltaire, at a certain time in his life, was forced into exile in England, and came to know how English institutions worked here, and was fascinated by them.
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That is why, in his “Écrits Politiques”, he is in favour of transplanting the British political system, the English democracy, to the European continent, just like coconut trees are transplanted. Which explains why Buruma plays with the concept of Voltaire’s coconuts in the book’s title.
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From Voltaire to the German composer Felix Mendelssohn, in Buruma’s book we come across some very prominent figures of European politics, culture and thought, which, at some point of their professional life, were seduced by some aspects of the particular way that the British have of thinking, creating, behaving or of being in politics.
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However, among the figures picked by this half-British essayist, there is not one single Spanish name.
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I will not take into consideration that Buruma knows next to nothing about Spanish culture, but the truth is that, in the past three hundred years, Spanish people have looked too little towards Great Britain and too much towards France.
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I will not bore you with a list of Spaniards who in the past three centuries have professed their love and fascination for Great Britain, though the truth is that these have not been many.
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Let me say it this way: We have not been many.
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In the nineteenth century, Blanco White, Alcalá Galiano, Argüelles, Espronceda or, two of my husband’s ancestors, the Duke of Rivas and Admiral Cayetano Valdés, sought refuge in England during the years in which the Spanish King Fernando the 7th persecuted the Spanish liberals.
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Indeed, the Duke of Rivas compared the weather of his native Córdoba with that of London, where he lived as a refugee, with some sonorous and curious verses that I cannot resist the temptation of reciting to you in Spanish: “Y en vez del bálsamo del aura plácida del cielo bético que tanto amé, las nieblas hórridas del frío Támesis con pecho mísero respiraré”.
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All of them, whom Vicente Lloréns named the romantic exiles, when they returned, could have spread in Spain their love for Great Britain, and they could have transferred some of British political customs and traditions to Spain.
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In short, they could have transplanted to our country those coconuts which Voltaire spoke of.
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But what they learned under Lord Holland’s wing, their greatest protector here, in London, either they soon forgot it, or their Spanish compatriots did not pay them too much attention when, back in their Homeland, they had the opportunity of putting it into practice.
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Oddly enough, the nineteenth century Spanish politician who I think is the most British, never set foot on this island.
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I am referring to Cánovas, who, in 1876, sensed that copying the English political system, parliamentarian and monarchic, could be the best solution to provide stability to a Spain that had spent the previous sixty years in unrest, coups, wars and civil wars.
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And that is what he then tried to do, when he helped restore the Borbonic dynasty in the person of young King Alfonso the 12th.
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His admiration for all things British had led him to recommend to Queen Isabel II, then in exile, that her son, the future King Alfonso the 12th, should finish his education at Sandhurst, and not in Austria where he was studying.
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L a t e r, C á n o v a s h a d t h e intelligence and the skill of creating a political system based on two parties, that tried to be like the one in England.
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Cánovas was fascinated by British political stability and wanted Spanish politics to work in a similar manner: a parliamentary monarchy, and two large parties that agreed on the essentials and sportingly took turns in power.
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It is a pity that it only worked out for 47 years.
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The truth is that after Cánovas, those of us who continue to believe that we Spaniards would do better in politics if we imitated the English are few.
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As everyone knows, I am one of those “happy few” who think that Spanish politics would benefit from a British touch. I am, in Ian Buruma’s sense, a true “Anglomaniac”.
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For

example,

I

like

constituencies.
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And I like that every MP is proud to have gained the confidence of his fellow citizens.
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And I like the majority system.
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And I like the independence it grants each MP.
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Just as I like that political parties are not monolithic.
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I like that British people do not tolerate lies in public life.
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I like “fair play”. This means that I like discussions, like those that MP’s have in this House of Commons.
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Indeed, I even like that Great Britain does not have a written Constitution. It is the best d e m o n s t r a t i o n t h a t n o b o d y, absolutely nobody, in this country, doubts what their Nation is, what their rights are, and what their responsibilities are.
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I like Question Time in the Commons, which is much more effective and direct than our government control system.
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I like that all British Institutions are centenary: schools, universities, academies, the Houses of Parliament, military regiments, social and sports clubs, etc.
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I like the competitive spirit of the British. That spirit that has led British people to invent all imaginable sports, from football, today the most universal of sports, to cricket, the most difficult to understand for those not English. To golf and bridge, to which I am addicted.
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I like that Wellington came to Spain to throw Napoleon out. And that we Spaniards decided to name him Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo.
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I like English people because they value individualism and mistrust collectivisms. That explains why they have always defended freedom, and why, when some fall into the temptation of being Socialists, they become Fabianists, which is a very light form of socialism.
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I like that in England, people value originality and even eccentricity. Because I do not like everyone to think the same, be the same, and act the same.
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For that reason, because English people like cultivating that originality, there have been many who have become Hispanomaniacs. That is to say, lovers and admirers of Spanish things and of that wonderful country, from which many of us come.
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Some even come to love our bullfights. Like my friend Lord GarelJones who is one of the best bullfight writers of our times. He writes so well about bullfights that Boris Johnson, my predecessor at this stand, and current mayor of London, when he was editor of The Spectator, made him bullfighting critic of that prestigious publication.
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It will never cease to surprise me that the Club Taurino of London has 335 members (I do not think there is a larger bullfighting club in the world). Each member pays forty pounds per annum, and the club publishes six times a year a magazine called “La Divisa”, full of knowledgeable taurine information.
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I like English “Hispanomaniacs”, so well studied, in a delightful book, by my good friend Tom Burns Marañón, who has the good fortune of being the elder brother of your Chairman.
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I also like British patriotism.
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That patriotism that the British express, and not only when singing at the top of their lungs before a football or rugby match.
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That patriotism that makes them fight and die without protest when their government decides they must go into battle.
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That patriotism that makes them always defend the interests of their Homeland. Making them hard and difficult opponents to beat in real battle fields, and in all dialectic battles. Maybe this is why it is said that the last words of our King Phillip the 2nd on his death bed in 1598 were: “Paz con Inglaterra, con los demás, guerra”
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This patriotism, taken to the extreme, drives the English to defend English cuisine as if it were the best in the world.
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Maybe my Anglomania reached Her Majesty the Queen, and maybe that explains why She granted me the distinction of appointing me Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, which is, I must say, much more than I could have ever dreamed of when, as a child, I attended the British School in Madrid.
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I must say that, in Spain, it is not easy being an Anglomaniac.
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A few days ago, my friend José Pedro Pérez Llorca, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and now one of our most prominent lawyers in Spain, was telling me that he had met a local man in his native Cádiz who in his typical accent had said to him: (chiste en español) “well, you know, English people are very bad, so bad that they call bishops ‘ bishos ’”. The Spanish equivalent for bugs.
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Even though I admire and love England and the English people and many of their customs and way of life, this does not mean that I want Spain to be like England.
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Because I also love Spain and Spanish customs and traditions.
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As is the case of the great romantic travellers, who discovered Spain for the nineteenth century English public: the great George Borrow (known in Spain as “Don Jorgito”) or Richard Ford.
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Or those extraordinary hispanists who dedicate their lives to the study of Spanish History, Literature or Art. From Sir Raymond Carr to Paul Preston and Gerald Brenan, Sir John Elliott, Lord Thomas, Henry Kamen or Ian Gibson.
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We, the Spanish, owe these hispanists a great deal because they have helped us to gain a better understanding of ourselves and to know our history and our culture better.
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I feel like the millions of British tourists who have travelled to Spain in the past decades and have loved my country.
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Or like the thousands of British who have stayed to live among us.
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Like them, I also like that the Spanish are quite “Quixotes”, that is, we are idealists.
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I like that we are generous and disinterested.
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I like that we are proud, and that we are proud of being Spanish, of our History and our culture, which can indeed be on par with the British.
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I like that in Spain there are still many gentlemen that place honour before any economic interests. And these gentlemen are not necessarily persons of means. They are often people from small villages without a penny in their pocket.
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I like that Spanish people like to go out, drink some wine with friends, and spend a bit more money than we should.
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Deep down, Anglomaniacs like me, and Hispanomaniacs like many of you, have the same problem: we miss from the other country what we lack in our own.
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That is why I think it is good to cultivate a mixture of the two cultures and two ways of being. Like this British-Spanish Society does.
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I truly believe that a good mixture of these two ways of understanding life, the British and the Spanish, could be an ideal formula for everything.
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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
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I must confess that I was very excited when in August last year, Jimmy Burns Marañón invited me to this Gala Dinner.
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And I must also confess that, from that very moment, I have been very worried with the responsibility of speaking in this House. And of speaking to an audience that I know possesses the best of the British and the best of the Spanish people.
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Although some might find it hard to believe, I must say that this has been the speech that I have found most daunting. And in my political life, I may have given several thousand speeches.
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I will be happy if my words have managed to express two things:
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First, my admiration and gratitude for everything I have received from the English culture, since I was a child.
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And second, my pride in being Spanish and my conviction that with a few drops of Anglomania, everything in Spain would work better. And that with a few drops of Hispanomania everything in Britain would also work better.
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Dear friends,
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Before I come to an end, I want to pay tribute to the British Spanish Society.
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I am very aware of the great work that the Society does to build cultural and educational bridges between Britain and Spain.
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And as a Spaniard, I am very and sincerely grateful: Keep it up!
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I can't wait to get back to Madrid to tell everybody what an extraordinary bunch of people you all are and what a wonderful Gala Dinner you have organised.
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Thank you very much

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