On the streets of Manchester, I asked a question to the general public: “Are you proud of our country?”.
A range of answers sprang from this question: from a young communist on his way home from a hard shift at Tesco, to an old lady struggling to use Google Maps to navigate herself through the city.
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The younger generation gave the predictable answer of no, they were not proud. On the occasion that they were proud, they cited aspects like the NHS as their source of pride. Other than that, they depicted Britain to be a bigoted, strongly nationalistic, and with a shameful history of the Empire.
The older generation had a more positive view of our nation. Though it seemed that, like the young people, they were just parroting the phrases they had heard growing up. There didn’t seem to be much substance, just a general feeling left over from their parents that they should be proud.
The British Empire
It’s strange that such a big part of our history isn’t involved in the school curriculum as much as other historical events. Partly because of this, there’s this odd British ignorance around the Empire of not knowing much other than “yeah it was bad” or nostalgia of a time when Britain was a strong and prominent force in the world.
This attitude trickles over to other issues. No doubt, Brexit had its roots in a desire to return to British exceptionalism. We reminisce at that time not so long ago where we were the greatest nation in the world. Now we are confused about where it went wrong and we lost it all.
The Nations attitude to World War Two
Despite winning the war, Great Britain doesn’t seem to take pride in this achievement. Our standard education is filled with the horrors of war, such as an anthology filled with anti war poems in the Power and Conflict. We commomerate Remembrance Sunday as a way of reminding ourselves of the lives lost during the war. Of course, it’s important to remember the sacrifices the soldiers made in the war and the sadness around it. However, it’s important to remember the reason why the war began in the first place.
Those who have any pride about winning the war are mocked. The media depicts them as uneducated “gammons” who get into fight with Germans when they’re on holiday and dogmatically defend Winston Churchill. Even wearing a poppy offends nowadays as some snowflakes see it as a glorification of war.
Should we not take pride in defeating the totalitarian regime of the Nazis? Should we not take pride in the community built while fighting the war, the Blitz Spirit? Should we not take pride in the fact that we fought on the principles of liberty and hope instead of hatred and fear? Surely, at least we can be thankful that the world is in a better place because we won the war instead of the Nazis?
Britain suffered greatly from the war. The economy was in shambles and the post war prime ministers made the faustian bargain, using the short term solution of Keynesian economics to deal with the economy: a problem which led to out of control trade unions, lame ducks of industry, inflation, unemployment, decreasing productivity, and state expenditure to name a few problems. It seems that the government used up all their conviction during the war, as the post war prime ministers seemed to push all their issues to the side for later generation to deal with.
It’s ironic that despite winning the war, we’re doing worse than the Germans now with many economic and social factors!
The New Culture
The Second World War saw a decline in religious attitudes and an increase in state spending. The NHS was created shortly after in 1948 under Attlee’s Labour Government. It’s depicted that most Britons were in favour of socialised healthcare. However, this was not the case. A survey of the time found most Britons were either against or didn’t care about nationalised healthcare.
Despite this, over time the country has built up a dogmatic attitude in support of our healthcare system. As Nigel Lawson said: “The NHS is the closest thing we have to a religion”.
When discussing the topic of NHS privatisation, it’s oftentimes clear that those who are against it haven’t even considered it. Why would they? It seen as a non topic in the UK.
If you do decide to talk about it, they accuse you of hating poor people or advocating for an American style healthcare system. They don’t seem to realise that there are many types of healthcare systems around the world and it’s not a dichotomy between the UK and the US. Nevertheless, the always assume you have bad intentions when you talk about NHS privatisation.
Politicians don’t dare to whisper the words “privatisation” when it comes to our healthcare. It’s political suicide. The opposition blasts at any opportunity that the government is trying to sell the NHS to America.
This article isn’t about the morality, efficacy or the usefulness of the NHS. However, it is concerning to see the countries cult like relationship to our healthcare. Shouldn’t we have a conversation about trying to improve our healthcare… Considering how many peoples lives depend on it.
While discussions about NHS privatisation is generally seen as abhorrent to the majority of the nation, the country is thankfully more split on issues such as Brexit and vaccine passports… However, the same hostile language seems to be used when debating.
While I’m obviously not impartial, there does seem to be an imbalance of hostility as a whole when it comes to these issues. With Brexit, it’s seen as normalised to deem leave voters as racist bigots who hate immigrants. It couldn’t possibly be that the British public wanted sovereignty over our country’s laws and borders. With vaccine passports and lockdown restrictions, it’s normalised to group anyone who doesn’t want an absolute lockdown as a selfish anti vaxxer. It couldn’t possibly be that people are concerned about their bodily autonomy and individual liberty. As the saying goes: we see them as wrong, they see us as evil.
Since the war, Britain has always felt the urge to buddy up to the US. However, the nature of this “special relationship” is no doubt one sided. After the war, when Britain had sacrificed everything to win, John Maynard Keynes went to America, whose economy and prosperity boomed after the war, to ask for a gift. However, regardless of how much Keynes tried, the US only agreed on a providing a loan of $3.75 billion at a 2% interest rate. The entire loan was only paid back in 2006. Unfortunately, Britain’s relationship with America is just another example of the perish of Britains prominence in the world.
However, culturally we have took upon a more americanised attitude towards things. for example, the BLM protests of 2020 after the death of George Floyd. The history and current racism in the UK is different to that of the racism in the US. Our slavery wasn’t in our country: most of the people of colour are recent refugees from the commonwealth nations rather than freed slaves who stayed in the country like America. In addition, police aren’t armed like they are in America. Of course, that doesn’t mean racism isn’t still an issue in the UK. However, we should focus on the British incidents of racism if we want to make change.
Britain is like an old man who lost his job which was once his passion. Now he is lost, confused what to do with himself. He clings to his previous identity, unable to find another. However, the memories are fading and the achievements are less noticed.
Britain is still the sick man of Europe. We need a genuine healing.