A few ‘Rants’ ago I alluded to Britain being a country increasingly ill at ease with itself, and some overseas readers have asked why this should be the case.
Well, in truth, I’m not entirely sure. No doubt there are many reasons, collective and individual, some of them obvious, others not so. What is clear, though, and always has been, is that Britain is a nation that has mastered the art of self-deprecation, and rather enjoys it to the point where it has become a national pastime. This does not make the country a miserable place, just a place with a high quotient of people who take a perverse and almost parodic pleasure in being miserable.
It all starts, I suppose, with the unpredictability of the weather. Britons seem convinced that their cloud-borne, mist-laden climate is unique in the world. It is far from that. In fact, Britain’s weather is little different from that in a number of neighbouring countries a few miles across the English Channel. The difference is that our continental neighbours seem to ignore it while we on this island talk about it incessantly. Foreigners laugh at this – as well they might – but that only plunges us into even greater depths of feigned despair.
But as much as we try, we can’t blame everything that goes wrong in Britain on the weather. The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, not even in our clouds, but in ourselves.
Allow me to sing the praises of this beleaguered island nation.
We might start with the fact that Britain is at present ruled by the worst government in living memory. It is a government of staggering incompetence: inept on the legislative side; incapable of clearly stating its aims – if it has any beyond that of mere survival – and afraid to appeal to the better nature of the electors. Instead, it consumes itself by waging vicious internal warfare as only the Conservative Party knows how. It is kept in power only by fear of the alternative of a Labour government headed by the hapless Jeremy Corbyn, but in reality controlled by a ruthless old-school Marxist cabal led by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
My advice to my fellow citizens is not to worry so much. Governments come and go, and this one will eventually go. Admittedly I can’t at this point predict what will replace it, but as Mr. Micawber said, “Something will show up.” It always does. A new leader will emerge, regardless of party, and put things right.
Brexit is what has put us all, ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’ alike, even more on edge than usual. The leavers have got what they wanted – Britain will leave the European Union in due course – but still they are unhappy because they no more than anyone else have any idea what the terms or the consequences will be. They have only themselves to blame, by voting to invest in a start-up business without bothering to study the business plan, which like all business plans contains risks and rewards. The remainers, including this writer, happen to think that voting for something so ill-defined was downright irresponsible, though no more so than David Cameron calling the referendum in the first place without presenting anything remotely resembling a business case.
My position now is that we are where we are and that we must assume that British and EU negotiators will in the end come up with a settlement that will do the least amount of economic or commercial harm to either side. This is an assumption based on neither strong conviction nor special knowledge, but reverting to the credo that Life Will Go On is at least a plausible alternative to The End Of Life As We Know It.
Britons are also worried about, if not preoccupied with, the future of the Kingdom, which at present seems far from United, and one day could end up as something other than a Kingdom.
The Irish Question has reared its ugly head again, this time not over religion or nationalism, the usual causes, but on the matter or what kind of border there should be between the Irish Republic and the British province to the north. That, too, will be sorted out, even if it is not entirely to the satisfaction of either side. Right now the border issue is merely a weapon that both sides in the negotiations are prepared to wield to score points, but that weapon is a blunt instrument made of breakable material. The Scots meanwhile are making new noises about independence, apparently on the grounds that a majority of them voted to remain in the EU. Well, the Scottish National Party has already lost one referendum on the issue, and by a large margin, and will almost certainly lose the next one. At some point, the British parliament will have to say “Enough!” at any rate for a generation. Poor old Wales would like to weigh in but clearly has too few muscles to flex in a punch-up with England.
I think therefore that for the time being the Kingdom is safe. Inertia and tradition are powerful motives for embracing the status quo, and the recent royal wedding demonstrated, if nothing else, that its citizens are still suckers for a bit of pomp and circumstance. At any rate, I failed to spot any Republican banners among the Union flags waving along the route of the wedding procession. (Admittedly that might not have been true had it been held in Glasgow.) Of course, Harry and the former Miss Markle are so well down the succession list that the occasion resembled not so much a royal occasion as an episode in a popular soap opera. But then the whole Monarchy Thing is nothing but a long-running soap opera, and if Coronation Street and East Enders can generate record television viewing figures, the House of Windsor should have no trouble maintaining its ratings for the foreseeable future.
“What about immigration, then?” Well, what about it?
People may be nervous about neighbourhoods being overrun by Poles or Muslims or Rumanians or by Little Green-Eyed Men from Mars, but the plain fact is that both economically and culturally Britain is a better place for hosting people who are prepared to do jobs that indigenous workers would not stoop to do even if their livelihoods depended on it, and who bring a social diversity that is more likely to energise the country than bring it down.
I am no flag-waving jingoist, but I have been to no other place on the planet, in this hemisphere or elsewhere, in which I would rather live than Britain. I recognise that, as an elderly man, I may be plumping for the comfortable and the familiar – and will certainly be accused of doing so. But whenever I try to think of some country to which I might repair if I were only younger, or more dynamic, or more intelligent, I come up short. And another thing: if this country is so bloody downright awful, a noxious and decrepit shambles, why do immigrants flock here in the hundreds of thousands, or for all I know, in the millions – some of them from countries held up by the Brits as earthly paradises (United States, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, even France …to name just a handful).
So, come on you Brits. Buck up your ideas and buckle down to work. And when confronted by something that is not quite right, get off your arse and do something about it, if only to write a letter to The Times.
I must now confess that, having written what may seem altogether too much like a chapter of Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities, I am today in a thoroughly relaxed mood.
The weather has been glorious for a week. The Kent countryside – through which I drove today to a splendid pub lunch – looked positively divine. The ale is better than ever. Even the food was decent.
Oh, and England’s cricket team managed, after eight forlorn attempts, to win a Test Match.
What could possibly better any of that?
Give me a day or so and I’ll probably think of something. Meanwhile, as they say in New York City, “Enjoy!”