Monday, September 01, 2008

The Britishness problem

In case anyone had been unduly cheered up by our recent 'great haul of China' up pops Chancellor Alistair Darling last week (just as the British summer was grinding to an already inauspicious end it might be added) to remind us all that the UK is still basically screwed, as the country now faces what he described as the worst downturn in sixty years.

The irony is that although the mess the world is currently in is - on many different levels - largely the fault of the Yanks, they may already be showing early signs of lifting themselves out of recession. Britain on the other hand has too many of its economic eggs in the financial services sector and its general population are comparatively over-exposed to the housing market.

None of this of course leads me to regret my decision to ex-patriate myself earlier this year.

Last week I watched Panorama's somewhat jocular take on the Labour government's suggestion that the August bank holiday should be upgraded to a regular jamboree when we collectively celebrate our Britishness. The programme included an interview with the BNP's Nick Griffin, a politician who says he would 'restore' Britain to the whites and other 'assimilable' groups.

As a recent immigrant myself in a foreign land I was led to reflect on what I might have to do to assimilate myself more in Guatemala. Ignore more red lights, turn up late for more more Tortrix?

If you are wondering what kind of place a BNP-restored type of GB would be, take a trip to somewhere like Playa las Americas in Tenerife. There the chain-smoking, chip-eating, beer-swilling, Bingo-playing, white working classes - themselves the world's worst migrants - have created a prototype monocultural paradise in their own image. Ask the Canary Islanders how assimilable this lot are! (Or indeed how yummy their food is...)

The members of Scotland's chattering classes interviewed by Panorama of course poured scorn on the idea of a Britishness day. Scottishness is all they really need it seems; the English are the only members of the Union with a void at the heart of their sense of national identity, they cackled. Nobody seemed to ask how many of Scotland's substantial Asian Muslim community are amongst those waving the flags of St Andrew so obsessively at Murrayfield. I'm sure they'd all have been choking on their haggis if they'd seen how the Mexicans referred to Team GB as 'Inglaterra' throughout the Beijing Olympics.

It's hardly clear to me anyway why American-style patriotism is the solution to all our problems - for it makes it all too easy for individual citizens to associate their own interests with those of monolithic military and economic power.

The issue of England-Britain and its team spirit probably needs a more nuanced solution than New Labour are capable of coming up with. The uniqueness of the situation is that of an empire that has collapsed in on itself just as the world has been expanded by the forces of globalisation.

How much of a mess the country seems probably depends on how long a memory you have. I've been concerned of late about how long mine has been growing, and certainly sensed the national entropy for some years before I decided to depart.

Part of the problem is the sheer quantity of migrants of a lower cultural level who are no more interested in participating in so-called British values than the ex-pat residents of the Spanish costas are in attending bull-fights and sitting down to dinner after 10pm. They just want to live in their own little ghettos of bloody-minded crapness.

One also wonders whether the lack of a guiding recipe behind the British melting pot is one of the things that makes all these different ingredients want to jump in. It's going to be hard to re-provincialise a nation that has become one of the most convenient generic access points for the globalised economy.

Anyway, roll-on 2012. Let's see if they can come up with something better than Beckham, buses and umbrellas to represent two millennia of shared cultural history.

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