The perils of nostalgia and boosterism

I think most political activists outside the Conservative party will have worked out that Liz Truss tries to combine the style of Thatcher with the boosterism of Johnson. The Iron Lady will always be “that bloody woman” for many of us. She can be accused of promoting profoundly destructive policies but I don’t think she went down the road of cheap optimism as far as Johnson/Truss have gone. Most politicians will use the word “hope” in their speeches and leaflets but it is important to distinguish between the hope that flows from a vision of a better world and a more civilised society and the promise of a golden future which simply ignores reality. The latter is, of course, the stock-in-trade of populist authoritarians. Few nations wish to dominate the world but Hitler and Goebbels managed to sell the plan for doing so to the German people even when the Nazis started to lose World War 2.

I would be hard pressed to say which is the most dangerous between nostalgia and boosterism. Both refuse to face and communicate reality, or perhaps an interpretation of reality, and in different ways both can have cruel consequences.

In England nostalgia played a powerful part in the EU referendum and in the Conservative so-called Red Wall gains in the 2019 General Election. Looking back to imperial glory has contributed to the UK’s steady decline over the post-war decades. Other European countries managed to get over the loss of colonies, with the exception of Putin’s Russia! English nostalgia for the past is a grim drag on our politics. At a time when generations have never hitherto been so polarised both in political outlook and political participation, it is perhaps a cliché to suggest that hope for the future lies with younger generations. The best political legacy that my generation could offer (apart from continuing to die off!) may be discussing politics with grandchildren and persuading them to vote.

While recession looks inevitable in the midst of so many other crises, we must hope that people will realise the hollowness of the promises of sunlit uplands emanating from Truss and her ilk. My parents lived through the 1930s in one of the poorest parts of the North-East but they claimed that never being without shoes helped to get them through tough times. Between the wars some working class communities were lured into voting Conservative, expanding the minority ongoing working class Tory vote. They insisted that the harsh realities of the thirties resulted in the “never again” approach, reflected in the 1945 election result.

Trump campaigned with Make America Great Again – not so much a political philosophy as a pseudo-religious rally cry – and weakened America. There are those in government and in the Conservative party who are happy to attach Great to anything with British in its name. So we have to have Great British Railways – a sick joke if ever there was one. These people try to kid us that we are the “best in the world” (or at least aiming to be the best in the world) at all sorts of public activities.

If we are to navigate our way through the crises of the next couple of years it has to happen by relying on the the country’s real strengths. There are resources in the communities of the nations and regions of the UK, in the voluntary and cultural sectors, in hospitality and tourism, and in various other elements of our common life which should be cherished rather than obscured by infantile claims that we are the best at just about everything. I really would like to live in a country that is not laughed at or pitied by our European neighbours because of English addiction to nostalgia and boosterism at the top of national politics.

* Geoff Reid is a Bradford City Councillor and a retired Methodist Minister.

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8 Comments

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Sep '22 - 5:39pm

    I came across an interesting way of looking at the Imperial Britain era. It was not so much that Britain had an Empire, more that the British Empire had Britain as part of it. Not so long ago people living in (eg ) Jamaica or Uganda were just as British as those living in London or Edinburgh.

  • Petronella Gymkhanna 2nd Sep '22 - 7:28pm

    I have often met ordinary English people who dream of a British Empire embracing India, Africa and most of Western Europe. They are easily influenced by Russian Facebook troll farms and Murdoch controlled media, such as The Times. That’s why important political decisions should be removed from nationalistic politics and transferred to the European level, where such people have a limited influence on policy, as in EU member states.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Sep '22 - 8:49pm

    I’ve never met anybody with such dreams.

    This a ridiculous post, Petronella, or a spoof.

  • Petronella Gymkhanna 3rd Sep '22 - 9:01am

    As this piece stated, we will never be able to end British embarrassment in Europe without a full blooded commitment to EU membership, the single currency and unified foreign policy and taxation. This is the only way to remove these topics from divisive national politics and nostalgic ideas of British pre-eminence. But it would be unwise to make these objectives too clear at this stage.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Sep '22 - 10:24am

    @Jenny Barnes

    “Not so long ago people living in (eg ) Jamaica or Uganda were just as British as those living in London or Edinburgh.”

    Remember that it was Labour in 1965 under Harold Wilson’s leadership who introduced the first restrictions on immigration from the British Commonwealth countries and Blair who failed to support Paddy Ashdown’s call for Hong Kong residents to have the right to live in Britain. Populism is not just a disease of the Right; it is a disease of the Left as well.

    https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/lord-ashdown-windrush-highlights-how-the-uk-has-failed-commonwealth-citizens-in-her-last-colony–hong-kong

    If we are going to sup with Starmer, the Party needs a long spoon.

  • Chris Moore 3rd Sep '22 - 8:12pm

    Well done on being a sock puppet, Petronella.

  • Gerard Harrison 4th Sep '22 - 4:23pm

    @ Laurence Cox. I think you’ll find that the first legislation providing for restrictions on immigration from Commonwealth countries was the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 which was passed into law by the Macmillan administration.

  • Gerard Harrison is correct Mr Cox. Keir Starmer was three in 1965, so more short straw than long spoon.

    The National Archives Cabinet Papers has an impartial summary : “The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 controlled the immigration of all Commonwealth passport holders (except those with UK passports). Immigrants needed to apply for a work voucher, graded according to employment prospects. Labour fiercely opposed the controls but, once in office, was forced to reconsider. In the 1964 elections prominent opponents of immigration control lost seats. In 1965, the Labour government tightened administrative controls over immigration and reduced the number of vouchers.

    The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968 : In 1967, Asians from Kenya and Uganda, fearing discrimination from their own governments, began to arrive in Britain. They had retained British citizenship following independence, and were not subject to the act. Enoch Powell campaigned for tighter controls. The Labour government passed the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1968.extending control to those without a parent or grandparent born in or was a citizen of the UK.

    The Conservative government announced the Immigration Act 1971 replacing employment vouchers with work permits, allowing only temporary residence. ‘Patrials’ (close UK associations) were exempted from the act. It tightened immigration control administration and made provision for assisting voluntary repatriation. In 1972, Idi Amin expelled large number of Asians from Uganda. The Heath government permitted the immigration of 27,000 Asians through a specially constituted Uganda Resettlement Board”.

    A much longer spoon is needed with Tories.

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