David Cameron's 'small island' tribute: Media reaction

David Cameron: "Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience"

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Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a rousing defence of Britain to journalists at the G20 summit in St Petersburg after a Russian official described it as "just a small island".

He included references to clearing "the European continent of fascism", helping to "abolish slavery", inventing "every sport currently played", The Beatles, Shakespeare and boy band One Direction.

Here is a selection of reaction from newspapers to Mr Cameron's tribute:

George Parker and Elizabeth Rigby, writing in the Financial Times, said Mr Cameron had "struck back in lyrical fashion", delivering "an elegiac hymn".

"Although Mr Cameron noted that the remark had been categorically denied by the Kremlin, it did not stop him embarking on a Churchillian rhetorical mission to restore the country's international reputation - to the delight of his MPs back home," they said.

One Direction with Prime Minister David Cameron The PM appeared on One Direction's Comic Relief video One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)

They added: "Mr Cameron admitted his speech could be set to music and bloggers quickly obliged by adding a soundtrack of Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory to the prime minister's patriotic speech."

The Daily Mirror said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "found out just how much punch a small island can pack when David Cameron laid into him over his arrogant jibe".

It praised the British PM for launching "a passionate speech about Britain's fantastic achievements through the centuries" and said the One Direction reference "even proved to the Russian president that we have the biggest sense of humour across the globe".

The Times also praised his "love letter to the nation", saying he had launched "an impassioned and poetic defence of Britain's achievement" that "drew praise even from his most rebellious backbenchers".

'Bizarre outbursts'

Not everyone was quite so gushing in their praise of the speech, though.

David v David

"Great" Britain according to David Cameron:

  • sixth-largest economy
  • fourth best-funded military
  • cleared the European continent of fascism
  • took slavery off the high seas
  • invented the Industrial Revolution, the television and the World Wide Web
  • invented most of the sports that the world likes playing
  • The Beatles
  • Elgar
  • One Direction

And according to Prime Minister David - as played by Hugh Grant in 2003 film Love Actually:

  • Shakespeare
  • Churchill
  • The Beatles
  • Sean Connery
  • Harry Potter
  • David Beckham's right foot
  • David Beckham's left foot

The Spectator called it a "bizarre statement" and compiled a playlist for its readers to accompany Mr Cameron's words.

It includes Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations, The Clash's This is England and One Direction's Best Song Ever.

The Daily Mail agrees Mr Cameron's comments - made over two separate press conferences - were "bizarre outbursts".

"David Cameron today turned to boy band One Direction to prove Britain can still conquer the world," it said.

It added that a Russian denial that the offending "small island" remarks had even been made, had done "nothing to contain Mr Cameron's fury".

Many papers compared the speech to a scene in 2003 romcom Love Actually in which Hugh Grant, playing the British prime minister, says: "We may be a small country but we're a great one, too."

Grant's prime minister - also called David - in a joint press conference with a bullying US president, references The Beatles, Shakespeare, Harry Potter and David Beckham's feet as reasons for British greatness.

The Guardian's Stephen Moss says that, while Mr Cameron had tried to "channel the urbane Hugh Grant", it had ended up as "playing-fields-of-Eton hogwash".

He goes on to pick holes in Mr Cameron's patriotic claims - or "greatness guff" as the paper calls it - suggesting, for example, that Britain had helped to abolish slavery "once morality kicked in at the start of the 19th Century, but that was only after we had profited from slavery for 300 years".

"One of our greatest assets is our collective sense of humour", he adds.

"Another is - or used to be - our stiff-upper-lipped modesty. If you need to boast of your greatness, it probably means you are not very great."

Here is a selection of reaction from readers to Mr Cameron's comments:

Richard Wills-Woodward, London

Vladimir Putin and David Cameron British relations with Russia have been strained in recent years

Why should we not bring our achievements to the surface? It is remembering these achievements that should spur us on to even greater things.

Cameron is right. I am tired of having to be embarrassed by how incredible this island is at being almost single-handedly responsible for the world we have right now.

From industry to the web and to sport, the list of British achievement and influence is longer than any other country on the globe.

C L Freer-Smith, Winchester

Our resilience in the face of economic turmoil, our prioritisation of good humour and kindness and our ability to simultaneously mock and adore the politicians that lead us so gracefully through this period of globalisation and widespread social upheaval.

That's what makes Britain great.

Rob, London

Boasting how great you are is something rap singers no-one's ever heard of do. The truly great maintain a dignified silence.

Anna, Sevenoaks

I thought it was fantastic stuff.

Finally, someone actually broadcasting our history with some pride.

M R Lovell, Ramsey

The Beatles Mr Cameron said Britain produced music "that delights the entire world"

That Britain was once a powerful nation which led the industrial revolution is beyond dispute but please don't let's get carried away with all the rhetoric.

Mr Putin described us exactly as we now find ourselves - a nation in decline so far as world influence is concerned but I see nothing wrong in that at all.

It doesn't stop us doing what few things we do well and trading them abroad.

John Bell, Livingston

Cameron showed himself up as a small politician from a small island.

Knowing nothing of diplomacy, he hit back like a petulant little child showing he was hurt and the alleged jibes were hitting home.

Darrell, East Yorkshire

Mr Putin has obviously never had proper fish and chips or played cricket on the village green.

He's never sat on the edge of his seat whilst his national football team play. He's obviously forgotten how many medals we won at the London Olympics.

And for every great Russian I bet we could name five Greater Britons.

Roger Pearce, Lancaster

Our ability to drink vast amounts of warm beer.

Colin Scot-Jackson, Crowborough, East Sussex

England winning the 1966 World Cup Britain gave the world many modern popular sports including football, cricket, rugby, golf and tennis

The whole world now speaks English and we have given it our legal, administrative and parliamentary systems which are globally copied.

Also, huge cultural contributions in music, science and the arts and we invented every major sport. And we built the world's biggest and best-run Empire.

We have paid in blood and gold to fight evil empires, often alone and are still paying for it.

Not bad for a tiny island. We should be proud and speak a little louder.

John Batten, Sherborne

Some people seem to be taking the whole spat a little too seriously. I thought I detected some wry humour in Mr Cameron's remarks.

Gerard Kelly, Glasgow, Scotland

I agree on all of Cameron's comments, although I hope the sound bite at the end of this clip, "This blessed plot, this separate isle, this 'England'", doesn't mean he has actually forgot about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Warwick Paul Onyeama, London

It bothers me that the prime minister even considers it necessary to launch this faux patriotic diatribe.

There are huge structural problems at home that his government are not effectively addressing and, if Money Week is to be believed, the country is suffocating under a mountain of debt and at risk of going bankrupt should interest rates be raised.

This kind of posturing on the international stage is not just a distraction from the matters at hand but trivialises their significance.

Rod Morrison, Montrose

Inventing the telephone, television, pneumatic tyre, James Bond, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Rolls Royce, the Jaguar E-Type, the Forth rail bridge, steam engines, the Spitfire, Tony Hancock, Monty Python, Morecambe and Wise and raising the Mary Rose for starters.

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