By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
IT MAY BE well over fifty years since Dean Acheson made his famous statement that “Great Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role” but it still proves useful to the intelligentsia as a stick with which to beat any upstart patriots.
Somehow, the narrative goes, after the loss of its Empire the British have found themselves out of step with the modern, diverse, multicultural world around them. They’re bitter at no longer being top dog, and cling on to the pathetic rags of their faded imperial past, resentful of the increasing numbers of immigrants in their midst. They are racist, xenophobic and reactionary. And now by voting to leave the European Union they have sealed their fate as an insignificant island peopled with little Englanders.
It may have been true that for many years the political establishment was in a quandary about what “role” Britain had to play in the world, but I do not think the rest of the country gave it a moment’s thought. My grandparents were born while the Empire was at its height, and my parents when it was just starting to wobble. Both generations lived to see its final days. Never once did I hear them, or anyone else for that matter, talk about it, let alone bemoan its ending, not even my late stepfather who had been in the army since he was a boy and seen action at Suez and in Korea. Nor was it aggrandised in the history lessons we received at school. These days you would be hard put to meet a young person who has learned anything at all at school about the Empire.
The truth is there is no imperial nostalgia among the populace. It is a myth that exists only in the minds of the intelligentsia. It is an easy way to belabour those who value national identity, because the intellectual mind cannot dissociate patriotism, however mild, from imperialism. Patriotism, ie, the “desire to take back control”, is also racism and racism, as we know all too well, is the ultimate sin in the orthodoxy of political correctness. So, when Ben Judah in a recent article asks why Britain voted for Brexit, he has the automatic answer:
The key is not sovereignty but a rejection of ethnic change…Middle England did not treat this as a referendum on European Union membership but as a plebiscite on one thing: “immigration.” For Middle Englanders, “immigrants” is also a synonym for nonwhite British. Identity, not austerity, motivated their vote to Leave.
And that, dear reader, is a fine example of how to be correct on some points and then to draw entirely the wrong conclusions from them. Instead of going through those points I will pose a number of questions that should be asked but rarely are.
Why is “ethnic change” desirable? What proof is there that it strengthens or unities people? Who has decided it is desirable? Who has decided the British people must accept it? When were the British people ever asked if they wanted it? Why is mass immigration desirable? When were the British people asked if they wanted it? Why are the reactions of resident Britons to mass immigration undesirable or even unacceptable? Why do their opinions count less than those of the intellectual and political elite, or of immigrants? Why should they want to become an “immigrant nation”? Why shouldn’t a nation have control of its own borders and who it lets in? Why is a sense of national identity a bad thing? Who decided that and what right do they have to take it away from others? Why are the biens pensants, the politically correct, the intellectuals, the chattering classes, etc, so obsessed with race? Why do they denigrate white people so much? Why do they hate their own country with such bile they have to portray it as a battleground of racism, anger and small-mindedness? Why do they regard any national success as a moral failure? Why are they so gullible that, despite their education, their degrees, their intellectual hauteur, they fall for media panics such as the surge in post-Brexit racist attacks or the nonsense about Brexiteers regretting their decision, or the patronising belief that people were too stupid to realise not everything they were being told by the campaigners was gospel truth? Why do they raise the ghost of the Empire when nobody even talks about it any more?
And finally, for those who sit in the seat of the scoffers: what is it like to be wrong, colossally wrong, and to be knocked back by the very people you spend so much time despising?
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.