Having left the UK in 1984, I am beginning to wonder if my fatherland is not the outward looking and relaxed land that I thought it was.
I love the UK, don’t get me wrong. I can assure you that, on the 24th June, I was one of the most upset persons in the EU, despite the fact that the referendum result was not a big shock for me. Deep down I expected it, but my love for the UK made me believe that the voters would have favoured “remain” and thus maintained the status quo.
Am I like a child who loves his evil father unconditionally?
I was lucky enough to have been to an international school, the French Lycée Charles Gaulle, in London. The primary school was entirely in French and based on the French education curriculum. The first 4 years of the secondary school also followed the French curriculum. By the 5th year, students could choose between an English section for students wanting to sit “O” and “A” Levels (remember those?), and a French Baccalaureate section. As a student in the English section, I could still mix with students from the French section, but by then, most of the lessons were in English. I studied dentistry at Guy’s Hospital in London and qualified in 1982. Now I think back on my time spent there, I ask myself if the great majority of students were, and still are, not so open to a multicultural society. It’s not that they were openly mean or abusive towards me, but I have now got the feeling that there was this underlying suspicion of anything tinged with “foreignness”, a feeling that I ignored at the time. As a child for his father, I had an unconditional love for my fatherland, even though evil may have been in the air.
That nationalism remains present in the general population is no problem so long that it is contained and doesn’t spread. What is extremely worrying is when the same nationalism creeps into government circles and policies in such a way that it passes unnoticed and becomes accepted as the norm for government. Maybe I’m exaggerating the issue, and the rise of British nationalism is not as worrying as I make it out to be.
Nationalism outside government can be controlled. Inside government, it becomes dangerous.
But what is nationalism exactly, and what do we mean by “nation”? If a nation is defined as a collection of people sharing common boundaries and government, then multiculturalism should not be a problem, as long as everybody respects the laws imposed by the nation’s government. Furthermore, assuming that nations have no intention of invading each other’s territory, there is no reason why differences between exogenous and indigenous individuals living together in a particular nation should not only be tolerated, but also accepted as beneficial to that nation.
“But the great nations themselves, it might have been supposed, would have acquired so much comprehension of what they had in common, and so much tolerance to their differences, that ‘foreigner’ and ‘enemy’ could no longer be merged, as they still were in classical antiquity, into a single concept.” Freud, 1915
Where nationalism becomes dangerous, is when legitimate governments take nationalist ideologies and convert them into something a little bit more palatable for the country at large. In this respect, it is quite cynical that Theresa May is not only considering implementing far-right-wing policies, but also willing to bypass the UK’s democratically elected parliament, in order to implement a “nation changing” exit from the European Union. She then has the audacity to criticise anyone who dares to oppose her.
“Because those people who argue that Article 50 can only be triggered after agreement in both Houses of Parliament are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it.”
Theresa May – Conservative Party Conference, October 2016
Theresa May has stated that there will be no general election before 2020. Well, that puts her in the elite club of prime ministers having served without winning a general election. It also gives her time to implement policies that none of her voters have heard of, yet alone supported. Take this one, for example:
“We will consider getting in line with countries, like the USA, who use data collection to see whether they’re getting the right skills training for workers in their economy.”
Theresa May – PM Question Time, October 12th 2016
Theresa May has probably already ordered the software from Apple. You can count yourselves lucky that you won’t get the first version of that policy, the so-called “name and shame” where companies had to list all foreign employees. It reminds me of that episode in the comedy series Dad’s Army, where the German captain prisoner takes the name of everybody who annoys him.
Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.
I could be extremely cynical and say that from David Cameron’s decision to have the EU referendum to Theresa May’s announcement of March 2017 as “Article 50 month”, we have witnessed a beautifully orchestrated democratic coup d’état (I take much pride in having said this straight after the referendum and before the BBC!). The UK voters have been tricked into leaving the EU and giving unopposed power to an extreme right-wing conservative party. The opposition parties have fallen apart, a partisan press is rampantly publishing lies and propaganda, and to top it all, Brexit is looming on the horizon.
The UK is treading uncharted waters. Where “Britannia” is heading and how long it will take her to get there, nobody knows. What is certain is that the extreme right-wing policies the UK is considering implementing, pose huge questions for future generations. It is not too late to stay in the sheltered waters of the harbour, rather than to sail out into the storm.