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.
2 thoughts on “Celebrate the creation of liberal open Britain and fight to restore it.”
I saw an excellent interview this week that Michael Palin gave to CNN. He said something very relevant about how the state of politics in Britain and the US has somehow morphed into a caricature of the satirised versions he and Monty Pythion created in the sixties and seventies. That it was no longer possible to write satire because we are living with it every day in the news and online. Satire is the new reality.
Trump and Johnson act the caricature bit parts quite deliberately. The hairstyles and poor impressions of Churchill being only two examples. Imagine for a moment FDR spending $75K per annum on his hair.
Political substance such as you rightly point out we enjoyed from the likes of Roy Jenkins has been replaced by a chaotic form of knockabout policy you might find in a cheap funfair by the seaside. In fact, the seaside comedy routine everyone enjoyed back in the day exists in Downing street today but with less humour.
The real question we should all be asking ourselves is how on earth did it happen? Do we shrug and say to ourselves democracy sometimes produces anomalies?
I believe societies in Britain and America became so overconfident in its ability to create wealth it forgot that situation only came about by decent previous generations of political leadership and sacrifice.
The European project and successive democratic Presidents steered both nations to probably a zenith of what is possible to achieve and the electorates of both nations simply just got bored with it.
We can only hope people wake up in America and see off their seaside comic and of course what happens over there follows over here.