One of the curiosities of the past 72 hours has been the manner in which it has become possible to make a clear distinction between those people who like and admire this country and those who only say they love it. There are certain ways in which the latter may be identified. The presence of a Spitfire or a noble lion on their social media profiles is one all but unerring indicator that you’re dealing with someone who deplores the realities of modern Britain.
These stout-hearted, willy-waving yeomen cannot help wetting themselves. The Mooslims are coming! (From Kent, it seems.) They are the panicky ones, not the ordinary British people who, while horrified by this week’s events, have quietly continued to go about their business. London is not under siege; it has not fallen. It has seen worse – much worse – in the past and might well do so again in the future but, if and when that worst happens, it will react in much the same way it has this week: calmly and with a dogged determination to keep buggering on.
Just look at Nigel Farage. To borrow from the late Jimmy Breslin, Farage is ‘a small man in search of a balcony’. If he weren’t so deplorable there’d be something pitiful about his incessant need to present himself as the true custodian of British values and the staunchest defender of a British people who have inexplicably seven times rejected his attempt to win a seat in parliament. As people who swank around declaring themselves the voice of the people go, he’s not even out of short trousers.
The telling thing about Farage and other members of the bulldogs-and-bullshit brigade, however, is just how much they hate the country they profess to love so much. It is a fallen place, betrayed by weak politicians and a liberal, metropolitan, elite who actively conspire against the interests of the British people. And yet, shockingly, these elites keep winning elections. We endure a world in which, once again, the lions are led by donkeys and only a chosen few have the testicular fortitude to see things as they truly bleedin’ are. When the country ain’t going to the dogs it’s being thrown to the wolves.
The flaw in this analysis is that it just isn’t true. Like every country, Britain has problems it must confront. But viewed in any reasonable historical perspective these are lesser problems than those confronted in the past. Most people in this country lead lives of tolerable happiness in conditions of tolerable prosperity.
This is not just my view. It is the view of the British people themselves. According to the government’s latest Community Life Survey, the overwhelming majority of British people are happy with their lives and with the neighbourhoods in which they live. In 2003, 80 percent of Britons agreed with the proposition that they live in a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together; in 2016, 89 percent thought so. Just six percent of people are ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ dissatisfied with their local area; 86 percent think their neighbourhood a good place to be. There is no crisis of atomisation or alienation or anything else. The idea the country is coming apart at its seams is not supported by the evidence or, indeed, by the testimony of the British people themselves. Indeed, levels of reported life satisfaction and happiness have increased in the last few years. This is a portrait of a country at ease with itself. And why wouldn’t it be? Record numbers of young people now have the chance to attend university; rates of crime, teenage pregnancy, and divorce are at 40 year lows. Even inequality, while a legitimate concern, has not increased dramatically since the mid 1990s. Race relations, while not perfect, are hardly at crisis point either. People muddle through in the great British tradition.
You would never know this, of course, if you listened to the prophets of fear and doom. For them, crisis is less an opportunity than a necessity.
The glum truth is that the hard right and Islamist extremists need, and feed-off, each other. Each, after all, has reached the same conclusion – Britain is a rotten, rancid, place – and done so for some of the same reasons. Both deplore Britain’s instinctive liberalism; each considers pluralism a sign of weakness and, even, depravity. The proof of a sick society run to seed. Each says, in effect, Look Britain you were asking for this. What else would you really expect? In this fashion, curiously, each also denies agency to the terrorist himself. If we/you hadn’t done this, that, or the next thing, this wouldn’t have happened.
And so, lurking within the far-right’s narrative of national decline and social disintegration is the fear that perhaps this was deserved.
These people relish disaster. The worse the better, as far as they are concerned, and if that means arguing that exceptional events are in fact routine then so be it. Indeed, without disaster their entire story would collapse. No wonder, then, that when danger is let loose, these are the people who run towards the nearest TV studio. Their outrage is suspect, however, for it is so evidently built on satisfaction.
Everyone acknowledges that we have a problem with a small number of radicalised British muslims. But to listen to Farage and his ilk, you’d think nothing was being done to counter the threat posed by these individuals. This will be news to the security services and the police. In fact, a great deal has been done to monitor extremism and, where possible, to minimise the threat posed by Islamist radicals. Their ideology plainly depends on their interpretation of Islam and so it’s fatuous to say their actions have ‘nothing to do’ with Islam but it is equally fatuous to claim their behaviour is a typical expression of British muslim ideals or identity. If it were it would be much more widespread than it is.
But it isn’t for the very simple and persuasive reason that the great majority of British muslims want nothing to do with it. Equally, while there are – in some places – undoubted problems with integration, the overall picture is significantly healthier. That doesn’t often make the papers because, by definition, what’s normal doesn’t usually count as news. Nonetheless, when it comes to immigration and despite what bilious populists and certain sections of the press would have you believe the truth is simple: Britain can take it. And has.
Nevertheless, if you wanted to increase the likelihood of muslim radicalisation, however, you’d do your best to make the British people think every muslim in Britain posed a mortal threat to the safety and security of the realm. You’d do your best to sow division and discord and panic and fear. You’d suggest that this is the natural way of things and you’d spread the bigoted line that this is all you can expect from Mooslims so why would you be shocked when something terrible happens? You were asking for it, you libtard pansies.
As for London, far from being the multicultural dystopia right-wing declinists fear is, by any reasonable estimation, an extraordinary success. It might dominate British life more than is altogether healthy but to the extent there is a problem at all it is that the rest of Britain is not more like London rather than the opposite. It is not one of the dark places of the world but, actually, a shining example of how humanity in all its guises, colours, and faiths can rub along happily together. The city sets you free, allowing you to be whoever and whatever you want. There is a place for almost everybody.
That evidently terrifies some tiny-minded people for whom the world is a fallen place and, worse than that, a betrayed one too. There must be someone to blame, some stab in the back theory that explains everything.
Reality is more complicated and, in the end, more reassuring. The British people can see their country for what it is. That means that, on the whole, they like it. And this distinguishes them from those right-wingers who plainly despise the country they profess to love more dearly than anyone else.