In recent years the British public have been bombarded with allegations about our alleged bigotry. When we failed to follow the advice of the ‘Remain’ campaign in the EU referendum this ramped up several gears. Since then there has been a seemingly endless parade of pseudo-scientific claims that ‘hate crime has soared’ and the like. This has encouraged politicians and pundits to spend the last two years insisting that while the UK had long been a cauldron, it is now one whose lid is off and where racists are allowed to roam the land, attacking foreigners at will.
Some of us – certainly a majority – knew all this to be nonsense. Though the British public are no fonder of uncontrolled mass migration than any other country, we are significantly more tolerant, welcoming and accepting of immigrants and their descendants than any other country anyone can think of. Yet whenever anyone has objected to the defamation of the British people over recent years the response has always been the same. Rather than accept that the British public genuinely don’t recognise the caricature of themselves that has been invented in order to punish us, the accusation has lingered that anyone denying that we are a horrible racist country must be providing cover for all those horrible racists and is probably a horrible racist themselves.
On and on it has gone. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times handed over its comment space to a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies to talk about (as the headline put it) ‘the British government’s racist heart.’ Recently the UN even sent a ‘special rapporteur on racism’ to the UK to do a fact-finding report. Of course sending a ‘special rapporteur on racism’ to a country like ours is akin to a judge putting on the black cap before a verdict has been reached. Sure enough after her 11 day visit to the UK, Tendayi Achiume duly ‘found’ that racism had been ‘normalised’ since the Brexit vote. I suppose no one likes to do themselves out of a job, do they?
Anyway, I have been mulling several things since Saturday. Like a lot of other people I watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with enormous joy. Indeed I found the whole thing deeply moving and uplifting. The bride looked wonderful. The bride’s mother represented her family with enormous grace and dignity. And both were cheered along with huge warmth not just by the thousands of people who turned out along the route to cheer on the happy couple, but by the millions who watched from home and at street parties across the land. Union Jacks obviously predominated, but there were stars and stripes and maple leafs in abundance as well. In the chapel of St George’s Windsor, the congregation represented not just the royal establishment, but the new and diverse celebrity establishment of Britain.
The American minister Michael Curry stole much of the show with his sermon. But Britain did not need to reach out far to demonstrate that we were not the country that some people still like to paint us as. A number of the prayers were read out by the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who is Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and to Her Majesty the Queen. The music during the signing of the registry was played by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the young cellist who won the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year in 2016. Some might think it was all laid on a bit thick, but personally I didn’t feel that at all. From the moment the bride walked in to ‘Eternal source of light divine’ the day could not have been happier or more fitting.
Of course a question remains: if this country was what we have been defamed as in recent years, why would Meghan Markle (now the Duchess of Sussex) have been so warmly received into the heart of the British public? Why would there have been such warmth and admiration expressed towards her mother? When Doria Ragland reached for the hand of her daughter’s visibly delighted new father-in-law as they went to witness the signing of the register how come the country did not go that bright red colour that Corbynistas are so obsessed with and shout as one ‘Get your hands off our Prince of Wales?’ Indeed why did angry crowds not line the route of the royal carriage to shout insults at the newly married couple?
I suppose that those so determined to continue insulting us (including a surprising number of our own elected ‘representatives’) will simply ignore the happiness of this past weekend. Or pretend that the racist majority in Britain are merely lying in wait. In fact it is the nation that the world saw on Saturday that is the real one and the nation of the New York Times and Tendayi Achiume’s imagination that is the fictitious one. But then anyone of good faith knew that fact all along.