I’ve been dying to tackle Brexit and British politics ever since the process to hold a referendum began. An occasional tweet or Facebook post here and there won’t change anything. Nor do most blog posts, but perhaps- just perhaps- this little series will.
Ever since the last shots in 1945, Britain has been stumbling forward, unsure of where it belongs. We were once the mightiest of nations, with an empire that spanned the continents and the oceans. We were explorers. We conquered the greatest of peaks and toiled in the most inhospitable of lands. We made quantum scientific leaps that changed the world. We created cultural tsunamis with our art, our music, and our literature. We fought on the beaches, in the landing grounds, and in the fields, and we never surrendered. We lit the flame of the industrial revolution, and watched our ideas spark off into distant skies. We watched a nation rise from the ashes we left behind, and grow mighter than all.
We like to remember those parts of our history, but we have a crippling amnesia of how those feats were achieved. We forget the piercing screams of the slaves who were the arteries of British development. We forget the Bengal famine and the terrible massacres in India. We forget the pillage of Africa. We forget that we established concentration camps, and used them to kill 10% of the Boers. We forget that we decided how to partition India during a lunch break, killing millions with the stroke of a pen. We forget that sons and daughters of the empire came to our aid during the wars, spilling more blood and making more sacrifices for us than could ever be repaid- and now we spit in their faces. We forget every murder, every robbery and every rape that we committed.
We forget that when we walk down Imperial London’s streets, they were paved by the blood and bone of cultures we didn’t try to comprehend.
For every brick, a bone. For every treasure, a theft. For every cobble, a crime.
We remember so little, and we have forgotten so much.
It is little wonder then, that in a time of such amnesia, of such little clarity and of such little knowledge, that a man conjuring memories of red coats, of gold, of glory and of Empire could leave the disillusioned, the elderly and those left behind enraptured? When no other orators are left, when men take dogmatic gambles, and when politicians forget they are the people, then who is left to man the barricades?
But the sun has set on the British Empire.
Our problem is not our past. It is our future. We stumbled left and right after the war, but rarely forward. We watched our Empire be eroded by the winds of change, until there was nothing but the indelible mark left by us on the newest nations. We saw a staunch ally humiliate us in the Suez. We recaptured the Falklands alone. We fought like dogs for our government in the Middle East, and we made outstanding contributions to the environment, aid, and development after joining the European Community. We pioneered cutting-edge science and technology, and saw our universities rank amongst the best. Yet we’ve been fighting ourselves ever since the war. In Northern Ireland. In the black-coal pits of Wales and the Midlands. In the crushed metal and lost voices at Hillsborough. In Brixton. In the communities of the immigrants who strived to rebuild a broken Britain. Today we are fighting ourselves again, divided as never before. Everything we know and are- as members of a United Kingdom- is under threat. What of Scotland, of Wales and of Northern Ireland?
It is time for the winds of change to gust across our nation.
Why have British politicians not stood at the altar of democracy and inspired our citizens with an exciting, radical new vision for a united Britain? We can no longer accept a vision that prioritizes London or the middle classes- we need a vision that will capture the imagination of the young adults of Ballymena, the veterans of Glasgow and the workers of Port Talbot. We need a vision that recognizes the struggles of the Cornish miners, that identifies the problems our newest citizens face, and that supports the homeless and that creates the social support infrastructure we so badly need. We need to recognise the value of our communities, of our shared kinship and of our shared home of Great Britain.
Politicians talk of a new ‘Global Britain’, but that is far from the truth. Their vision of a global vision is the ‘old guard’ returning to become a major trading bloc. Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand… India if we are lucky. Welcome back to 1970. Obsolete thinking from obsolete parties trying desperately to put a veneer of modernity on their creaking spines by pretending to engage with the public on social media. I’ll never forget being told to ‘stop talking Britain down’, because apparently political debate isn’t the province of us peasants- that is reserved for our feudal barons and overlords.
I hold them in contempt, and you should, too.
It is time to accept our own winds of change.