Why I am NOT proud to be British

Why I am NOT proud to be British.

In the last year or two this country saw several events that brought out the bunting and the Union flags by the million. A royal wedding, a Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. I had zero interest bordering on outright boredom for the royal wedding, a mild feeling of goodwill towards the Queen for her jubilee and outright hostility to the Olympics. Explaining quite how opposed I was to what many termed the event of the century is going to be complicated so suffice it to say it was a combination of an objection to the hidden machinations that went on, the vast overspend of public money at a time when public services are teetering on collapse, an indifference to spectacle and sport and a few other issues.

What I heard a lot last year was the phrase, “It makes me proud to be British!” It baffled me. Let me explain why before I get strung up.

I’m British. Not only was I born here, but my ancestors back to the start of the eighteenth century were born here for sure (before that time, there’s a lot of Irish; go back to the tenth century and my ancestors were Norman warlords from Anjou. ‘Nuff said I think). I love this country, with its quirks and traditions and the countryside, and the mad weather and the melting pot of cultures. But I’m not proud to be British. To be proud of something like that is somehow claiming credit for a choice, a decision, a participation in that collective identity. I did not choose to be born here. I have done nothing in my life time to add to that sense of national identity, of being an integral part of what makes Britain, Britain. I’m just one citizen among around 62 million other citizens. I have no special claim to have added something to this country, to give me a sense of being proud of a collective achievement that being proud to be British might suggest.

In my forty or so years, I’ve learned to love (or endure!) the peculiarities of my country. I sometimes watch cricket, that sport so baffling to almost every American I’ve known, and while I’m indifferent to the sport, the quintessential English-ness of the game charms me. I’ve had to explain the British reticence and politeness and sense of humour to hundreds if not thousands of TEFL students. We’re a strange nation.

In the last five years I have watched with dismay as some of the things this country got right, like education, health care and the arts, are being ruthlessly undermined till they begin to collapse, set upon by a ruling elite arrogant enough to think we will just accept it. This is the nation whose women fought for suffrage, put their fight on hold during the Great War and took up the struggle again once war was over. We are not passive doormats; we fight back against iniquities. Yet now the people who are taking to the streets and demonstrating about what they feel is wrong are focusing entirely on the wrong things. Manipulated by media, blame is being laid on groups perceived as outsiders, immigrants and overseas minorities. It makes me very sad and very angry. Understandable outrage at lack of jobs is being twisted into hatred against groups that have very little to do with the issue.

I’m not politically savvy. But I’ve watched the way the government has been cutting and cutting and cutting at the most vulnerable of targets, from the disabled to our treasured health service, and it appals me that it’s just being allowed to happen. Recently, there was a leak of a proposal to cap GP visits at just 3 per year. Current health minister Jeremy Hunt has now gone on record saying this will NEVER happen (and also casting aspersions at various pressure groups, suggesting they’d made it up) but only after a high profile campaign and petition made it quite clear how much of a vote loser this would be.

Once, if asked, I would have had no hesitation in agreeing that had I had such a choice, I would have chosen to have been born in this country. Now I would hesitate to answer it in such a way. I love my country, but I am seeing less to be proud of as I get older and more to grieve for, for what has slipped away and for what has been stolen by greedy, amoral people who are the ruling so-called elite. 

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20 thoughts on “Why I am NOT proud to be British

  1. I think this speaks for many of us in the Western world, especially the US, where such deliberate wasting of public material is simply commonplace. We’re all being cheated out of this life, thanks to the greed of a few. No wonder so many look to an afterlife for the hope they don’t have in this one.

  2. I like this . . . I like it a lot!

    Fight. Fight. Fight on until there’s no more fight left . . . and then, with the grace and strength of God held in your reserve, fight some more.

  3. there comes a point where citizens’ rights and benefits are so whittled away that they turn round and ask of themselves whether there is any merit in remaining a citizen of such a morally (and probably economically) bankrupt state. The british stiff upper lip/grin & bear it probably makes such a breaking point more distant than for many countries. There was a moment in opposition where David Cameron threatened to say the politically unsayable, that as a country we are economically bankrupt. No politican can really peddle that message and expect to win an election. So whoever in power is ruling through complete self-denial of the realities, hence the viciousness of the scapegoating and the divide and rule.

    • I’m reminded of the Duke of Wellington’s words at I think Salamnca. “Hard pounding this, lads. Let’s see who can pound the longest.”
      My brother refuses to vote, saying it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government still gets in. I can see his point.

  4. I get chills re-reading this and I thank God for what the English have done for our world. It saddens me to see such despair.

    But, I also see a bright light being projected by the very act of speaking out against the many wrongs in England . . . in Greece . . . and in my homeland of America.

    Fight, is what the greatest leader of the 20th century told us. “Never surrender,” said Winston Churchill. Fight them in the commons and fight them in the lords; fight them in the house and fight them in the senate.

    “. . . [W]e shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . .”

    • I’m glad you can see the good my country has done. One of the issues I have with people being proud of being British is the reluctance to accept the shame that also comes with it. As Ian remarked, we invented concentration camps. It’s a two edged sword, is nationalism.

  5. B…r, wrote a lengthy reply on my tablet (one finger) and then lost the lot – but now I am on the desktop…
    I found myself saying yes frequently to your blog – I know it’s a cliché but I really do believe that narrow forms of national pride – my country right or wrong, jingoism etc. are the cause of so many conflicts. And the lines that delineate nationalities (read “accidents of birth”) are so arbitrary – even we in the UK, although an island, have an arbitrary line drawn across the Irish island.
    I did enjoy the Olympics (minus the opening/closing ceremonies – not to detract from the work many put in) but I only watched the sports that I’d have enjoyed anyway. Yes I was pleased to see Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis et al, standing on the podium but I think it was more from a sense of shared community, like being pleased when a neighbour has some luck. But the edges were smudged – I was pleased when a real performance shone out from someone from another country – sheer admiration. This was even more smeared among the paralympian athletes – I went to the paralympics and folk were cheering anybody and everybody regardless of nationality.
    I have been becoming stereotypically aged, I listen to politicians and others spouting and it’s clear they have no idea of what has happened even 20 or 30 years ago, in this country and they betray their ignorance of how there is no black or white divisions among people – yet they persist in categorising groups using superficial attributes. Are they deliberately trying to divide and rule – or are they really ignorant of the nuances that exist, the complexities of people’s lives?
    We get a sham military funeral for Thatcher – and folk now in power, who were never even aware when she was in power (they were too young) extolled her virtues and disparaged any who said “Yes, but…”.
    We forget our history (or at least the bad bits) very quickly. Churchill becomes ever more mythologised – forgetting he authorised the chemical weapon bombing of Kurdish civilians. We say we are wonderful Brits who fought the nasty Nazis – but we invented concentration camps. The Brits were fighting in Vietnam before the US came in. and I could go on.

    There are many who despair, you aren’t alone, Viv. Maybe we are victims of our age,even as we despair, maybe we expect immediate gratification and see a setback as a complete defeat; a brief couple of years as some indication of eternal trends. That’s the ethos of modern Western societies – I want it, and I want it now and it is a real problem if we don’t get it. Yes, despair, but let it rebound as righteous anger and harness it to campaign or take some action, however small, that moves in the right direction. After all, when we were inventing those concentration camps, there were women here campaigning for the vote and men trying to get fair wages. Many never saw it in their time but, even if they despaired, they had a sense that they might be doing it for their children and they might never see the outcome of their struggle. I have a theory that they were nearer to their agricultural past and were from a time when you planted out orchards and drained marshes, not for yourself, but for the future. So much effort in the countryside is of this type – ephemeral on one hand, and projecting a hundred years into the future on another. A bad harvest was cause for concern, but the cycle begins again next year and who knows….

    • Your words give me some hope, Ian. We have lost that sense of doing something for future generations. I shall start to think of it more.

  6. You have echoed so many of my thoughts; the undermining of education and health being the most anger-inducing things that are currently going on as well as the bubbling hatred of fellow-humans who just happen to have been born elsewhere.

    I could go on but you have said it far more eloquently than I could have done. Well done for blogging this.

  7. Your view is a by-product of maturing, of seeing with adult eyes what was always there. As children we have the tendancy to trust, to revere which are by-products of innocence.

    As a researcher in history, I have seen that in all centuries, those in power are ruthless, self-focused, and other de-senstized. Cruelty is the norm for ruling parties when it advances their own ambitions.

    There have been and always shall be champions of equality, justice, and mercy among us. They will continue to fight the good fight. But as the population booms, technologies advance, and the ability to crush improves, those champions stand in dire danger.

    Britain fought the good fight so many times: from the Magda Carta to slavery to the World Wars — but even then, thousands of innocents were the victims of betrayal and expedient sacrifice.

    The same is even worse in my country:

    My Lakota Sioux ancesters will tell you of their problems with immigrants. The Robber Barons, slavery, endentured servitude, racial bigotry, political assassinations to name but a few.

    Yet there were moments of breath-taking bravery, honor, compassion, and successful struggle for human rights in both our countries during that same time.

    We are living in a time that Dickens made famous with the lines: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

    It is up to us to make the times and places around us the better for our being in them. Insightful post, Roland

    • Thanks Roland. You are right and the Dickens’ quote is very apt. Heaven knows how this time will be viewed a hundred years hence.

  8. This is, indeed, a world-wide trend, Viv. In Canada, we are adopting some of the anti-union trends by right-wing conservatives, influenced by the US-based Tea Party. Currently, with scandals in Ontario at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, the feds are now attacking union and public service sick leave. It puts me in mind of the tragic deaths in Bangladesh. It sets back the labour movement a 100 years, where the 1% continue to thrive, the middle class is losing out, and the poor are becoming increasingly poor.
    Thoughtful post.

  9. Viv, don’t be in any rush to emigrate to the States. The “proud to be an American” attitude is getting more obnoxious. Or maybe I’m more aware of it as I get older, and I see extreme patriotism, especially among believing Christians, as idolatry.

    You said, “In the last five years I have watched with dismay as some of the things this country got right, like education, health care and the arts, are being ruthlessly undermined till they begin to collapse, set upon by a ruling elite arrogant enough to think we will just accept it.”

    I’m still waiting for my country to get those things right, and in the past five years, with the bank crashes and recession, it’s getting uglier. I like some of the things your Winston Churchill said:

    On a plaque in the home of a friend of mine: During World War II one of Winston Churchill’s generals asked him whether they could help pay for the war effort by cutting England’s arts and culture budget. “Certainly not, man!” cried Churchill. “What do you think we’re fighting this war for?

    That quote doesn’t seem to be well documented, but it’s in agreement at least with this authentic quote by Churchill, addressing the Royal Academy on 30 April 1938: “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

    So stay where you are, or maybe just come over here for a visit. The garden of Eden is closed.

    • I’m in no hurry to go anywhere. This land is in my bones.
      Yes, I think extreme patriotism is a form of idolatry, both religious and secular.
      And Churchill was right about the arts. The Latin motto of the Arts faculty was haec otia ars fovent (I think. This leisure/wealth fosters the arts)

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