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Rule Britannia belongs in one box. What’s really important belongs in another.

August 27, 2020

For someone like me who writes such a spectacularly mundane blog that I once referred to myself as the Gerald Ratner of blogging (sorry, bewildered readers around the world, a joke that only British oldies will appreciate), the Rule Britannia fracas would seem to be highly suitable material.

C’mon everybody, let’s get angry.

But first, news that polio is eradicated from the whole of Africa and from all but two countries in the rest of the world. That’s good news, right? I guess.

Now for the meat. The BBC plans to drop the singing of Rule Britannia at the end of its annual Promenade concert series. Bleeaaagh! A vomit of outrage. A video of a singing Nigel Farage who, without the sound, looks like a Chelsea fan in the 70’s just before he takes out the bicycle chain. Boris, in the tones of a junior school prefect, saying that he’s had enough of “wetness”.

Back in the real world, heads rolling at the UK Department for Education and associated quangos because of the exam fiasco, while the minister’s idiotic head remains on its shoulders.

And then there’s the Republican National Convention over the pond. How can America sit and listen to a parade of screaming harpies, smooth-talking liars and emotionally stunted sociopaths while a seventeen-year-old in Wisconsin with an assault rifle thinks it’s OK to shoot people in a riot over the shooting of a guy seven times from point-blank range in front of his kids?

I don’t give a hoot about Rule Britannia. You would never drag me to the Last Night of the Proms in case I encountered Nigel Farage. But I’m utterly indifferent over whether they sing the stupid song, play an orchestral version or ask John Cleese to narrate it using his satnav voice. If the BBC want to leave it out, fine. It’s not as if they’re spitting at the Queen.

I also don’t care if someone decides to ban Zulu, Bridge over the River Kwai, Henry V and The Dambusters. For kids corralled along delineated areas in their schools, they’re an irrelevance, of no more importance than fairy tales.

Nor, for that matter, do I care if woke America forgets How the West was Won, Mr Smith Goes to Washington or Birth of a Nation. For kids on the street in riot-torn America, or squeaky clean God-fearing Trumpites, they’re equally irrelevant, far less noteworthy than Shrek and Captain America.

Lately I’ve been reading a book about Saudi Arabia which was written in 2005, four years after 9/11. The author, a journalist who was working for an English-language daily in Saudi at the time, came up with an explanation as to why young middle-class Saudis felt able to applaud 15 of their number who had the “courage” to bring down the twin towers, while surrounding themselves with western technology, drooling over western porn shows and wishing they had the guts to board those planes themselves.

John Bradley, in Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis, put the apparent contradictions down to the ability of these kids – born into a world of religious stricture, raised not by their parents but by hired domestic helpers, spoilt yet angry, devout yet envious, disapproving yet curious – to compartmentalise. God, jihad, virtue and purity in one box. Playstation, porn and parties in Vegas on vacation in another. Neither box intersects. A kind of schizoid condition, if you like. Not hypocrisy, because that implies an awareness of the boxes.

I saw that in Saudi Arabia too. I see it in the west as well, and not just in the kids.

In Britain, I see it in “I’m not racist, but….”. I see it when we happily order our lattes from a Lithuanian waitress, or profusely thank a Syrian doctor for saving our life, and then vote to kick them out of our country. Nothing personal. No contradiction.

In America, I see it when people go to church every Sunday and happily applaud those who break the Sixth Commandment, that thou shalt not kill, now subtly redefined as “thou shalt not murder”, and vote for a man who breaks the Seventh, prohibiting adultery, on a regular basis. A means to an end. No contradiction. And I see it when grandmothers bake cookies for their grandkids and take them to school, while at night wallowing in QAnon conspiracy theories about blood-drinking satanists. Protecting the family. No contradiction. No overlap. No hypocrisy.

So here are my boxes. I won’t apologise for the British empire, slavery, Winston Churchill, Cecil Rhodes and Edward Colston, any more than I will take credit for William Shakespeare, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, Alexander Fleming and all the British luminaries who have made the world a brighter and more enlightened place. They’re in the box called Past.

But I will condemn all the racists, the bigots, the lying politicians, the grasping hedge fund owners, the amoral shareholders, the oligarchs, the dictators, the oppressors and the assassins. Because they’re in the box called Present and Future, and something can be done about them.

If we have to be angry, they’re the ones to be angry about, not a hackneyed old tune by Thomas Arne (above) that represented aspiration rather than reality three hundred-odd years ago.

No contradiction. No hypocrisy. But most certainly an overlap, because learning about the one box feeds our understanding of the other. And that learning gives us a better chance to deal with the things that make us angry about the present, and likely the future too.

  1. I have not yet finished reading it, but would recommend you find “The Immoral Majority”, published last year, written by Ben Howe. It is very short (thank goodness) but explains a lot about the hypocrisy of the evangelicals, written by one of their own.
    Finally understand how they do it.
    Of course, they then sell it, which is what is wreaking havoc over here.
    Perhaps there are equivalent situations there?

    • Thanks Debby. I’m not sure if we have the equivalent, but I imagine the sales technique is replicated in some way. Sounds hilarious. S

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