I wish that I had written the article by David Aaronovitch in today’s Times ( “You will, Paddy, you will”). It encapsulates everything I feel about politics, especially social and progressive politics. My political hero is Roy Jenkins who managed the change processes that meant that we stopped hanging people, created a law on abortion which gave pregnant women choice and respected sexual preferences – all within a sensible Legal and moral framework.
Roy Jenkins was a great reforming Home Secretary and he shifted the nation irreversibly in the direction of freedoms that we now take for granted. He was also, of course, Britain’s greatest modern pro European and saw that a liberal nation is also an open and international one.
On the environment in addition to Boris Johnson’s windy conversion (don’t hold your breath) we can include a raft of clean air measures since the 1950s. I first wore a mask not in 2020 to protect people from Covid but, as a little boy, to protect myself from smog. The power generation shift from coal to gas (opposed by some vested interests) was part of the drive which should ultimately culminate in a clean renewables dominated energy sector.
David’s final paragraph, tongue in cheek though it is, makes a connect between liberal reform and positive environmental change and Britain’s external relations. To leave the European Union is the most illiberal measure enacted by Britain in my lifetime. The parallel with social/environmental change is precise. These changes were as progressive as Brexit is regressive.
Post Imperial Britain has I now realise been fraught with the carry over from “Great Power Britain”. The withdrawal from Empire was at best messy and at worst amoral and deadly. From India to Kenya and Malaya and Cyprus we killed people in their hundreds as we freed them. And yet we still celebrate a “Land of Hope and Glory” – which it isn’t, and never was.
Our modest little island has a strange history with pomp and circumstance, but not a lot of genuine nobility. Our history is what it was and we both need to inform new generations about it, and atone for it, and move on. Moving on includes keeping on the liberating path of which we can be proud. Part of that is to restore our credibility as part of the European partnership of nations. Then we might have a chance to be Great Britain again – a liberal, open nation reconfigured for the modern age not silly Little England.