By Mike Small
Made in Britain was the 1983 British television play which propelled Tim Roth to stardom for his amazing portrayal of the skinhead Trevor. Yesterday it had a reincarnation as a backfiring social media debacle of the sort that would have an embarrassed PatronisingBT Lady spluttering into her Coco-Pops.
Both are tales of desperation –
#fundedbyukgov has spawned a whole new comedy genre. It’s the hashtag for Parody Britain. The botched brainchild of a nationalism running low on soft-power.
The whole Made in Britain flag-waving bonanza discloses a deep uncertainty by the British politicians about the degenerating project and shaky identity of Britain and Britishness. Combining nervous hand-wringing with emboldened flag-waving (a challenge of dexterity) David Torrance writes in today’s Herald (‘Britain is neither ‘broken’ nor a failed state’):
‘Of all the rhetoric produced by the referendum, the notion that the UK was somehow “broken” irritated me the most.’ And, we’re told, Tom Nairn is to blame.
Struggling just a little, Torrance explains that we are nowhere near as bad as Haiti before lighting on the arguments that the Malcolm Rifkind/Jack Straw incident are an example of brokenness. Complaining about James McEnaney writing in Commonweal he says:
“The argument makes little sense, for it implies that greed and rule breaking is somehow an inescapable product of a particular constitutional arrangement, which of course is ridiculous. Sir Malcolm (who certainly behaved badly) is, of course, a Scot, but then Mr McEnaney would presumably argue that Unionism had somehow corrupted an otherwise decent sensibility.”
It’s the oddest mixture of distortion and misunderstanding you’ll read in a long time. Now returning to his own desperately low-bar he established earlier Torrance cites the former Labour guru Will Hutton: “For all the egregious mistakes made on its behalf, the country is not a wasteland.”
“Not a Wasteland”.
Could we have that enameled onto the plaques maybe?
Torrance’s excitement can barely be contained by Hutton’s analysis but he does worry that “For too long constitutional debate has been much too Scotland-centric”. The statement is left hanging unexplained, like Boris on his zip-wire.
The problem is that not only does Hutton have a track record of picking apart the crisis of British economic injustice, none of his proposals and suggestions have seen the light of day.
The State We’re In (1995) must be an analysis that Torrance would find deeply disquieting. Hutton’s slightly vague left Keynesianism was quickly abandoned by New Labour. None of his ideas for reform have been taken up, nor will they.
In a review in the London Review of Books RW Johnston wrote:
The heart of Hutton’s book lies in his raking critique of the Thatcher period. This, heaven knows, has been done before but he does it exceedingly well. The sheer social vandalism of those years has lost none of its capacity to shock: the fact that homelessness has increased in every single year since 1979, an utter disgrace committed as a conscious act of policy; the £3 billion thrown away on bringing in and then abolishing the poll tax; the £22 billion given away in public assets sold under cost; the dreadful damage to the manufacturing base, which recaptured its 1979 level of production only in 1988; the crazy adherence to monetarism despite the fact that monetary growth in 1983-8 averaged 14.7 per cent while inflation averaged 4.7 per cent, quite invalidating the alleged causal link between these figures; the destruction of the Serps pension scheme and thus the deliberate infliction of poverty on millions of old people; and the wicked and deliberate increase in inequality of every kind. This last is what makes all the bombast about ‘Tory radicalism’ and Major’s ‘classlessness’ such a terrible, empty sham, for, as Hutton points out, the net effect of all these changes was ‘the entrenchment of the old class structure that Tory radicals affected to despise’, with the gap between those able and those unable to afford private health, welfare and education far, far worse at the end than when it began.
The problem for Torrance, and the latest discharge of British symbolism, is that the book review could be talking about any time and any government between now and 1979. Hutton’s articulate but futile rumblings over twenty-five years are the perfect example of how Britain is an irredeemable state characterised by patronage and studded by enshrined inequality.
This latest outbreak of fervent UnionJackery is being led by Danny Alexander who is promising to plaster Scotland with plaques as an antidote to ungrateful electoral collapse. As a tactic it’s almost certainly bound to piss off everyone apart from the tiny 20% of people who still identify themselves as British in Scotland.
I can think of nothing more annoying than stumbling across endless self-congratulatory Union Jacks everywhere as bankers hustle you out of money, the big business evades and avoids and the fabric of society is restructured by punitive changes to our social security system.
In place of transport connectivity, cultural cohesion or social equality we’re offered failed symbols enshrined in a bloody past.
Flags have been a trope and a treasure of Britishness for years as unity and cohesion disassemble. From Maggie fumbling with her tissues at the BA re-launch (1997), from Gerri Halliwell to Gerry Adams – to last years flegs protest in Belfast – the flag has been a contested, problematic image.
Red white and blue will soon be everywhere – a simulacrum for a functioning democracy.
Remember, where you are living is “Not a Wasteland”. Fly the flag.