However convulsive Britain's current crisis might get, there are reasons to remain hopefulby Tom Clark / December 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
In Chris Morris’s 1990s newssatire, The Day Today, viewers are told at one point that all normal programmes have been suspended to make way for a film to be played at moments of crisis—what follows are images of fluttering Union flags, British bobbies and villages with names like Wabznasm, set against the stirring backdrop of Holst’s Jupiter, as a voice booms “it’s all alright, it’s all OK.”
To say anything other than “this is a national crisis” just now is to risk sounding like that booming voice. The country is divided, the bedrock of its foreign and commercial policy for the last half-century having been shattered by a referendum whose meaning is bitterly contested, as constitutional fractures between parliament and government open up. Worse, as Fintan O’Toole mercilessly exposes from an Irish perspective, there are signs that the English are falling prey to dangerous and self-pitying nationalist myths that could—if they become entrenched—undermine our ability to chart a pragmatic way through the rocky waters ahead. The current cohort of hopefuls competing to get their hands on the tiller don’t inspire much confidence. Compare them with politicians past, and too many would rate as small-minded, even frivolous, in this grave hour.
And yet in pulling together a double issue of a monthly current affairs magazine at a time of flux, there is no choice but to think about many things that will continue to be true wherever we happen to land in relation to the EU in the fateful weeks ahead. Some of those things are indeed, as Morris’s baritone would have it, “alright” and “OK.”
Of course there really are deep social divisions, some of which were laid bare by the Brexit vote. But it is striking how much of the airtime in the so-called culture wars are consumed with offence and the policing of language, rather than threats to life and limb. Questions of identity and immigration sometimes get debated in incendiary terms, and yet this corner of the world is still one where people from far and wide can—in their practical, day-to-day dealings—mostly rub along with relative ease. Multiculturalism has its tensions, but overall the UK’s acceptance of living with difference has achieved happier results than, for example, heavy-handed French presumptions about every citizen having to sign up…