The Prime Minister invited views about what it is to be British, hence this essay.
David Brittain. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
What it is to be British in 2012
What it is to be British depends very much upon how long one has been British! In 1936, the year I was born, for me there were no doubts about this matter because I was born into a white working class English family each member of which regarded their selves and their forefathers firstly as English and secondly as British. Similarly the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish folks regarded their selves firstly as Scottish, or Welsh, or Northern Irish and British second. All of the fore-going I will refer to as native Britons. At that time to see someone whose skin was not white was a rare and novel experience indeed. Employees were required to say “Sir” to their bosses, and bosses referred to their employees by surname only. We could name it “The pre-war keep your place syndrome”
Three years later at the outbreak of World War Two, and for the next few war-torn years, these local distinctions blurred when as native Britons, nationally we all closed ranks to face a common foe, and as an evacuee infant schoolchild my war effort consisted during school morning assembly of singing, “What can I do for England that has done so much for me?”
When the war ended and as the warm camaraderie of shared perils quickly evaporated I recall the general atmosphere of greyness that followed with post-war rationing and shortages everywhere in the UK. The war had caused the tragic deaths of many British service men and this led to a dearth of employees to fill the huge numbers of post-war job vacancies throughout the land. Employers had no choice but to compete with each other to offer better wages and conditions of work, and to even adopt the previously unheard of custom of using their employees’ Christian names. The effect of all this on the trade union led workforce was to become convinced that this beneficial situation could never change, which of course it has done for the worse time and time again since.
Next, two changes took place that altered what it was to be British. The first change; trade unions insisted that the same pay rates should apply no matter the age or length of the employees’ service to the employer; the same wage level for a man with a home and family to support as for his responsibility-free teen-aged son employed to do a similar job. The second change; before the war, most people disapproved of and avoided involvement in hire-purchase agreements. It wasn’t considered to be respectable or wise to buy anything on credit. Post war the financial institutions eagerly focused upon the fuller pay packets of the workforce, and via the Media campaigned successfully to make hire purchase appear to be normal and respectable in the eyes of the public. The second change came through the money-makers’ realisation that working teenagers now had wage packets just waiting to be milked. Another campaign, using the tools of media, and entertainment, deliberately set about widening the generation gap so that parental sage advice and guidance based on hard experience would be ignored by their offspring. Enough of yesterday’s dreariness let’s look at today’s.
What of today, what is it to be British in 2012? In the UK it is difficult to voice an opinion without offending someone somewhere. For example, broach the subject of immigration into the UK is to be accused of opening a racist can of worms with endless heated arguments for and against, and yet really it isn’t the immigrants that the British object to. Just like we British, mostly immigrants simply want to earn an honest living, pay their taxes and dues, and to live a friendly and pleasant life amid their local community. When I refer negatively to immigrants I simply mean anyone from wherever outside of the UK who on entering the UK expects to be housed and supported by UK taxpayers. Long ago via the media we learnt that in some foreign lands tuition classes on how to claim maximum SS benefits in the UK are eagerly attended by would-be immigrants. In no other country in or outside of the European Union would immigrants be offered the same generous support as they are offered here in the UK.
The main cause of discontent for the native Briton is the way in which his or her elected governments, no matter of which political persuasion, blithely ignore reality. The British public very much want to believe in the honesty, integrity, and wisdom of its political leaders, and so we trusted a previous government, which for its own reasons and motives urged council house tenants to buy their council owned houses, and as a result the stock of nationally available council dwellings was decimated in one fell swoop. Simultaneously, and maybe the object of the exercise, the power of the trade unions was drained away because, with mortgage repayments replacing subsidised council house rents, no union member could afford the freedom and right to strike for more than a couple of weeks. The results in 2009 are ever-lengthening council housing waiting lists on which native Britons have waited in vain for years, and this even before the flow of homeless immigrants began and continued to be inserted on a priority basis on the same UK council housing waiting lists, pushing native Britons further down the lists.
At what stage do we declare that enough is enough? Unfortunately a government, comfortably cushioned against reality as its members are, that allows streams of homeless, jobless immigrants and their families to enter the UK to partake of scarce UK resources, seldom if ever consider the traumatic effect on the welfare of the tax-paying public of the government’s generosity to outsiders. I’ve nothing against immigrants, they all have human needs, but surely it would be better to aid them in their own countries, or at least limit the number of new arrivals to our shores until we have the resources to cope with them? To word it another way,” You can’t squeeze a quart into a pint pot” So why try? From where could we obtain these much needed resources? Assuming that the European Union rules demand that the UK accepts a flow of immigrants from far and wide, surely the E U should be the main source of funding to provide the required extra homes and welfare benefits?
To be British in 2012 is not very enjoyable. Anti-terrorism has been the vogue word and media theme since 9/11, and we all have been fed an indigestible diet of fear ever since, even though in the UK one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to ever be directly affected by a terrorist. The USA apparently regards itself as the self-appointed policeman of the world. Today after the Bush era of freedom-suppression thinly disguised as patriotism that this side of the Atlantic slavishly emulated, the UK, European, and USA publics are left floundering and bewildered at having been drawn into continuing highly expensive wars based in lies, greed and the thirst for oil. A side effect of the anti-terrorism industry band wagon is that today every UK citizen has no choice but to be under surveillance should he or she step out of his or her front door.
We have to expand the frontiers of our imagination to fully comprehend the multitudinous ways in which computers and security cameras are already entwined into our daily activities. Today we receive our e-mail and Spam via our computers, after those e-mails have been monitored for keyword content. In this way government computers can monitor our supposedly private communications. If we enter a shop or service station to make a purchase or to buy petrol a security camera linked to a computer records our movements, and another computer records our transaction and credit card details. When we stroll across a public square a selection of security cameras affixed to buildings dutifully records the fact. Under the blanket of national security we even have in public places some cctv cameras fitted with Tannoy systems so that should we drop a piece of orange peel or a sweet wrapper, a highly-paid policeman monitoring at a distant screen can bellow admonishments at us. When we drive upon the public highways increasing numbers of roadside cameras record our vehicle registration number plate, our vehicle’s speed and closeness to the vehicle ahead of us and so on. All of these high-tech devices are, I assume, installed to give us all a feeling of being safe, secure, and lovingly watched over at all times. Not so reassuring is the fact that all of these various sources of information are to be linked and made widely available to interested and caring parties, although of course not to the general public.
Here I must pause to make a point that may have been missed about those roadside security cameras although my point has more to do with the vehicles the cameras are installed to monitor. Manufacturers of motor vehicles will be faced with a major technical challenge and that is to design a vehicle capable of travelling at speeds at and below the official speed limits. To date I have yet to drive a modern vehicle that doesn’t require its driver’s eyes to be dangerously riveted upon the speedometer instead of the road ahead to keep the speed down to the 30 M P H speed limit. Here I will mention that my old 1936 Austin 7 used to cheerfully cruise at 29 MPH, admittedly it was reluctant to go any faster than that, but as modern vehicles are already endowed with unusable high speeds far above the legal speed limits this further refinement should present few problems for the manufacturers.
It must be difficult for UK governments always forced to think in terms of re-election when faced with the demands of powerful lobbyists, and pressure groups as opposed to fulfilling the generally held wishes of the wider public which is, believe it or not, made up of freewill-endowed individuals, whose massed public demonstration themes are always studiously ignored by current governments. Another case in point is that of smoking, and of drinking alcohol. The impression we are left with is that under the cover of undeniable health risk concerns especially to young people, the government, rather than courageously ban smoking and drinking, is determined to tax all smokers, drinkers, and as a side-effect, public houses, out of existence.
I consider myself to be adult enough to make my own educated decisions as to health risks in regard to smoking and drinking and so I don’t feel the need for government intervention on such a wide all-encompassing scale. By all means strictly enforce the laws regarding the sale of alcohol and tobacco products to, and consumption of by, under-age people, but please leave us adults to make our own choices. Instead use the decades of ever-increasing taxes drained only from the smokers’ and drinkers’ pockets, to supplement the National Health Service finances, depleted we are told by smokers’ and drinkers’ illnesses.
As a proud Englishman I could ramble on indefinitely but won’t, but will ask this. If a loaf of bread that cost four pence half penny old money when I was a boy, and now in 2012 costs around two pounds decimal money, does this mean that today’s pound is only worth two pence farthing old money? If so is this progress?