A wonderful book, one that I really enjoyed mainly because the author has not shrunk away from discussing many of the issues that face Britain and ongoing internal problems. It's an uncomfortable but necessary and illuminating read.
My father came to Edinburgh Uni. as a student in the 1930's He came from a nasty apartheid state and what he experienced in the UK was a revelation. He no longer had to look whether a shop had "whites only" outside and people were fair and kind. He thought that British people were amazing and of course Britain the best country in the world. I am sorry in a way that English people cannot see themselves through his eyes, for they could and should be very proud of the people they are and their achievements on a world scale. It was inevitable that he should marry an English girl and though they had two diametrically opposed religions as well as political views: they always managed to show us kids that the areas of agreement were of much more importance that those where they disagreed. In addition he would always purchase British goods as he not only believed them to be the best, but he also wanted to support the nation he admired so much. Indeed his greatest wish was to become more and more English not to seek to apologise for it on any level. My dad died 30 years ago and I suspect that today he would not recognise much of the country he so admired.
The book simmers along beautifully but I think that Chapter4 is such a well presented and cogent analysis of many of the problems that beset us. In addition the discussion on queuing, lack of decorum in public places and of course the "Scottish Question" - for me spot on. When I am out and about I now try to turn the arguments subtly. On a recent ski trip a French chap was berating a Scottish lady with 2 kids in terrible English for pushing in. For the only occasion in my life I summoned perfect French to remind him that not 10 mins before she got there he pushed in front of me and several others! Coming down the mountain on the train two boys had their muddy ski boots on the seat. I said to them in a loud voice "I just hope you are not English! "
For me our greatest dangers are as follows:
Politicians who have no principles and don't seem to believe in anything apart from self-interest and what people think of them. This is why the monarchy is so popular for we see the alternative as having a President Blair, Brown or Cameron!
Schools that not only don't teach history but don't teach anything. My grammar school was torn down and in its place a school that no Politician from any party would send their kids. So what happens to bright kids whose parents cannot afford a private education? Do we think that the Americans or Chinese will worry about selecting a child at 11 - when they know that these kids will go on to fly the plane or take the brain tumour out or invent the next jet engine !
Films: It began with Mel Gibson ( have we upset him? ) rewriting chunks of history. Later on we found that we did not recover the Enigma machine and this is why more people believe in the existence of Jedi knights than Winston Churchill. This has now moved up a gear and we now all know who the baddy is because he will speak in a perfect English accent. Maybe we need a few films of our own to bring out our magnificent country, values, principles and creative talent.
Concerns over population growth have been subverted by chants of racism. I knew what racism was at the age of 6 and trust me those who bang on about it don't know the half of it. Debates we should have had a long time ago have been closed out the whole population has been gerrymandered when we should have talked of population density, our creaking infrastructure and the tens who arrive in my surgery daily with a long list of problems they want the NHS to fix for them. Perhaps a long time ago we should have had the courage to say "If you practise a set of extreme values, then please dont come because you are not welcome"
Welfare state. More and more are paid either not to work and either feign illness or actually make themselves ill. It is so much easier to collect a benefit cheque each week than to look for work - can we blame them?
My Dad and I would have a much longer list of British gifts to the world, my fear is that we have already passed the point of no return and I tell my girls as regards education to learn something they can 'export' to Canada, Australia or New Zealand - as I suspect in future these countries will hold more of us in their memories than we do now ! Oh and of course to read this wonderful book before they turn the light out.