The country plainly needs to change. So hear me out on a gloriously revolutionary suggestionby Joris Luyendijk / January 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
When I moved to London from Amsterdam five years ago I struggled to find my feet in English culture, wondering time and again why people here are so bitter and cynical, and so prone to escapism. The widespread binge drinking and gambling addiction came as a real shock to this European, as did the English tabloids. Take a look at any of them and you basically find every negative human emotion catered for: paranoia, selfishness, outrage, voyeurism, victimhood, sadistic Schadenfreude, envy and, most of all, pure, naked hatred.
Why is it that millions of English people feel a daily need to buy a newspaper of this kind, even on Sundays? I don’t know a single continental European country with similar media—Bild Zeitung in Germany is saccharine stuff of the boy scout variety compared to the Daily Mail or the Express. It is not that the English (I leave aside the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish) are evil or awful. But from a Dutch perspective at least, many of them definitely seem resentful, bleak and depressed. How to help?
I have given this matter some thought and now that I am about to leave this country to return to the European Union, I will let you in on my solution. You need to be occupied. Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive when your whole civil religion is built around your pride at defeating the Nazis. But that is not the kind of occupation I mean.
Nobody needs concentration camps, a horrible secret police or forced labour. But you do need the one thing that occupations have brought the rest of Europe and of which you are in sore need: a fresh start. Look at the map: over the past century every mainland European country, except Switzerland and Sweden, has experienced an occupation of some sort. Some came under their own army, as in Spain or Portugal, others under Nazi or Soviet rule, and still others under that of America and Britain. A few unlucky ones even suffered two out of three, like Greece and the Czech Republic.
England, however, has remained unoccupied—and nor has it had a decent, bloody revolution—for centuries. And here lies the root cause of so many of this country’s problems; for it is the reason why you’re still stuck with your old elites. These elites either shaft you, causing great bitterness, or they manage to co-opt you, leading to feelings of guilt (the Guardian) or contempt (the Daily Telegraph).
Think about it. When a country comes under occupation its elites have three options, all of them bad. They can join the resistance, meaning the occupier smashes them and their families as an example. The second option is to keep quiet and, in efffect, collaborate. That safeguards the elite’s privileges, but once the liberators come in they will do what the occupiers would have done otherwise. The final option is to go into exile. Then the occupier seizes their assets while after liberation those who could not flee will forever dismiss them as cowards and opportunists. It is by force of this nasty trilemma, an occupation frees you of your elites.
How would all of this work for England? I am Dutch and I can’t help thinking of the so-called Glorious Revolution under my fellow countryman William III of Orange, above. You will remember the basic facts. In 1688, Willem, as the Dutch call him, overran your country and chased out the intolerant and incompetent King James. He then gave England a Bill of Rights, setting up the country for the next few centuries.
This is the model. An enlightened European comes over, drives out the incompetent and self-serving establishment and sorts out the mess currently causing so much frustration and aggression. We’d start with the root problem which is, of course, private primary and secondary education. Only seven per cent of children go to private schools, yet they go on to scoop up two thirds of the good jobs. The remaining one third of good jobs then largely go to children from state schools in rich areas where the parents basically pay school fees through their mortgage.
This is how the English elite clones itself over the generations. No wonder the other 93 per cent in England are seething, with insult added to injury when they see private schools referred to as “public.” Unless you think taxis are public transport, that is mad, as is the non-dom tax loophole, not to mention the fact that five billionaires all but drive British public opinion through their newspapers. So let’s talk about taking back control!
One card the elite plays very cleverly is to compensate for injustice at home with vainglory abroad. Is there another country in the world that needs to call itself “Great”? The Dutch interim-dictator will put an axe to that very expensive submarine toy. The permanent seat on the UN Security Council goes to India, as payback for centuries of colonial occupation. Wiedergutmachung, is what the Germans call that. From now on English schoolchildren will actually learn about the horrors visited by the British imperial elites on ordinary Africans, Americans and Asians. “Imperial” will become a word of shame, as in the rest of the civilised world.
A final lesson you can learn from the Dutch is that punching above one’s weight causes dislocation of the shoulder. Stop this nonsense about a global role or race and put your energy into giving your people a decent life while being a good neighbour to the countries around you. It is not difficult, all you need to do is get rid of the people currently running the show. That is the way England can finally become, to paraphrase George Orwell, a family with the right members in control.
Now before you ask, I am not available. But I do know one or two people who might be tempted to come over and turn this country into a proper 21st-century democracy. And unlike that earlier “Glorious Revolution,” this time you won’t have to pretend that you invited them.