Wednesday, 7 June 2017

AND YET YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE HERE or ENDURING UNNECESSARY HARDSHIP: AN ELECTION MEDITATION

When we were younger, agitating for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, we used to have 'love it or leave it' thrown at us as a discussion closer. As it turned out, I did leave it, though not for lack of love for my country, and eventually I settled in Britain, where I have lived for forty years, and am a citizen (or, until recently, a 'subject') of the United Kingdom. The latter title seems more appropriate today, as we face an election to confirm, indeed, if the media are to be believed, rubber-stamp by acclimation, a minority government which asks for its minority of voters to give it an even larger majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Today's arguments are conducted in the more hermetic setting of social media, but they have grown almost as fierce as they were back in the Sixties. Which was confirmed to me the other day on facebook, when I was shocked to find a friend, with whom I've have the same arguments during the 2015 general election and the 2016 Brexit vote, but intensifying each time he wraps himself in the Union Jack, finally calling quits to discussion by saying 'and yet you choose to live here'.

Which admittedly is a little less excluding, albeit less catchy, than 'love it or leave it'. But I wouldn't let it lie, pointing out that indeed I had chosen to live here, unlike his own lucky self, fortunate to have been born a citizen of the country he loves so blindly. That was a riposte, not a reply, and I found myself wondering why I feel such despair in the face of this election, and why that translates into such disparagement of the country in which I chose to live. Was I creating the flag-waving antagonism I now felt? or was it the Union Jack-wrapped myopia itself that inevitably generated such antagonism?

My friend challenged me: “name me a country that values talent and ability more -- we may be far from perfect, but the days of the posh twit are significantly on the wane.” Well, I started naming countries of which I have some experience or some very good idea of their societal structure, which seem to value ability more. Canada, Australia, NZ, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, probably France, even my native USA. Then I realised such information was useless. His challenge was built on Little England false modesty and faux self-deprecation, distilled perfectly to a Mrs. T. I summed up his English world view that brought us Brexit: "we are far from perfect but it is a truth universally acknowledged that no one else in the entire world is better."

When I came here in 1977, following my English girlfriend who'd refused to spend a second winter in Montreal, I found Britain still endearingly backward in many ways, and I discovered George Mikes' loving dissections of the English, in particular the telling and still accurate perception that there is nothing an Englishman loves more than 'enduring hardship', and the kind of hardship that gives him the most satisfaction enduring is 'unnecessary hardship'.

The Britain I came to was civilised and caring in its bumbling ways, but this was also a Britain whose National Front was bleating hate, backed by one in seven English voters in the 1978 local elections. The rise of Mrs. Thatcher subsumed the NF at that time, but now, after 40 years of Thatcherism from both major parties, their descendants have been assimilated into our mainstream, skinheads replaced by Faragistas and Britain has become a meaner country., rallying around calls of fear and hatred.

Its caring side has also been tossed into a giant rubbish bin of greed, where need has been subordinated to profit. Everything has its price and nothing has value unless it hands the apparatchiks a dividend. Avarice promotes division, and a society where people's basic welfare takes the very last seat on the privatised bus service, is not a society at all. But that was Mrs. Thatcher's point, 'there is no society' and it was the point of Offshore David Cameron, whose 'Big Society' was the next-best thing to no society. When Cameron said 'we are all in this together', by 'we' he meant 'they' and by this 'this' he meant 'that mess we are leaving them'.

Every facet of life is poisoned by this. I came here and stayed here by choice, and I've lived here long enough to maybe adjust to enduring unnecessary hardship. But my son, who was born here, and considers himself English, didn't grow up with that old-time ethos of tug your cap and endure. He's been told there's a brighter future, but at the same time constantly being asked to trim his expectations.

Ten years ago, when my mother died, I found the letters I had written her from London in 1972, when I visited Britain for the first time. 'I could live here' I said more than once, little thinking that five years later that would be a real possibility. In fact, I moved to Montreal in 1975 and was considering that my adopted home when female circumstances intervened.

When I became a British citizen, I felt pleasure that it had come to pass. I watched the portrait of the Queen, whose eyes seemed to follow you as you took the oath. I was, according to the mayor, the only new citizen who sang the national anthem without looking at the lyric-sheets which had been provided. 'It's not the most complicated song in the world,' I told him, though I probably should have added for safety's sake, not to be thought a subversive, of course it is the best national anthem in the world. I was happy then that as a UK citizen all of Europe was now open to me, as well as to my young son. Now, when I look at the possibilities that will be taken away by Brexit, when I look at Britain snowballing downhill into American-style pay for play education and health systems, both of which used to be free here and both of which are hugely expensive over there, I despair. With the likelihood that our twisted electoral system will fail yet again to reflect the need of the electorate for change, I wonder if it's time to go home. Then Donald Trump comes on the news. This would be enduring unnecessary hardship indeed, and born an American, I am not genetically predisposed to it. But I fear even the British are going to find their endurance tested should the election polls be correct.

6 comments :

Mark Radley said...

It's a sad state of affairs when you feel the need to write such a column. I fear that if we wake up to 5 more years of Tory rule on Friday there will be Poll Tax style civil unrest before long. They have squeezed just about every drop out of the economy to reward their base and the consequences could be dire.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Very perceptive, Mike, as usual - and pretty much spot on.

As an Englishman "born and bred", I said on the morning of the EU Referendum result that I no longer recongnised my country. It becomes daily more unrecognisable.

Stephen Smith said...

A sad but insightful piece. "...and yet you choose to live here." is not a statement to be proud of. We should aspire to live in a country that ANYBODY would want to live in. Do we get the politicians we deserve? Most of us are from a genereation of take , take, take. Apathetic to anything outside of our own little bubbles. Altruism is gone from our vocabulary. "Look at the benefit scroungers", "look at the immigrants using the nhs", "look they're getting something that you're not!". I always thought that sick people get help from the nhs, do we really think that we should allow the government to ruin our nhs just so that no one gets anything that they haven't paid for. That sounds like private healthcare. Our politicians play to this. They've seen how the mainstream media fails again and again to hold them to account (Farage, Trump et al). The rich have control of the media including the BBC. I have been a vocal defender and supporter of the BBC for decades but ever since the last charter review it seems to me that even "aunties" fatcats are toeing the line, desperate to keep their gravy train running. Laura Kuenssberg anybody?
And today I hear Mrs May saying that we should not allow human rights law to get in the way of the police.... truly frightening. A woman who spends more on one pair of shoes than many families spend on food in a month. Wrap that union flag around you tight because it's going to get a lot colder.

Michael Carlson said...

The BBC, ever since Mark Thompson, has been buckling to Tory political pressure: they control its boards, hence the appointments of Harding (ex Times) as head of news and Sands (Evening Standard) to edit Today. They are desperately scared to be stripped of more of their assets, to have the license fee abolished or cut, and they have to play along...

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