What Happened to Britain?

This weekend I will be in London, and I’m feeling some trepidation about visiting the great city. I’ve enjoyed other visits to regional British cities in recent years, but London is said to have changed so dramatically that I’m not sure I want to see it.

It is hard to express the pain the thought of England’s possible destruction through immigration gives me. I have friends in Britain and lived there for a period of time, and I think that for any American it remains the “mother country” in many ways.

The last time I was in England, I picked up a paperback at the airport entitled A World To Build, the first half of Austerity Britain 1945-51 by David Kynaston. It is a well-acclaimed social history relying in particular on first-hand reports of life in post-war Britain from the eclectic (and ominously named) Mass-Observation project. The early chapters paint a picture of a Britain that had reached a broad consensus that it was time to adopt wide ranging, centrally-planned, socialistic policies to address persistent poverty and social inequality. The changes were kicked of with the amazing phenomenon of the Tory loss in the general elections only two and a half months after V-E Day.

I was particularly struck by some almost poetic passages listing the many things that have utterly changed:

Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food, no flavoured crisps, no lager, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no Formica, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobiles, no duvets, no Pill, no trainers, no hoodies, no Starbucks. Four Indian restaurants. Shops on every corner, pubs on every corner, cinemas in every high street, red telephone boxes…. No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash every day Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board, rinsed in the sink, put through a mangle, hung out to dry….Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal. White faces everywhere….Heavy coins, heavy shoes, heavy suitcases, heavy tweed coats, heavy leather footballs, no unbearable lightness of being. Meat rationed, butter rationed, lard rationed, margarine rationed…. Make do and mend. (p. 18)

Britain in 1945. A land of orderly queues, hat-doffing men walking on the outside, seats given up to the elderly, no swearing in front of women and children, censored books, censored films, censored plays, infinite repression of desires. Divorce for most an unthinkable social disgrace, marriage too often a lifetime sentence…. Children in the street ticked off by strangers, children at home rarely consulted, children stopping being children when they left school at 14 and got a job…. A land of hierarchical social assumptions, of accent and dress as giveaways to class, of Irish jokes and casually derogatory references to Jews and niggers…. A pride in Britain, which had stood alone, a pride even in ‘Made in Britain’. A deep satisfaction with our own idiosyncratic, non-metric units of distance, weight, temperature, money…. A sense of history, however nugatory the knowledge of that history. A land in which authority was respected? Or rather, accepted? Yes, perhaps the latter, co-existing with the necessary safety valve of copious everyday grumbling. A land of domestic hobbies and domestic pets…. A deeply conservative land. (p. 58-9)

Reading the book one is imaginatively placed in the physical, everyday life of Great Britain over 60 years ago, and feels the warmth of that life and the many virtues of British civilization, along with the shabby environment and lack of social and economic opportunity that left so many people convinced that Britain needed, in the words of our Democratic presidential contender, “Change.” While many of the items in the above lists are negative (or so seen by the author, though a traditionalist will think several of them very positive), reading them gave me a poignant sense of how much has been lost. Compared to losing one’s nationhood, the discomforts of British life in 1945 seem of little consequence.

In many ways, Britain was much more conservative than the United States – nearly all white, an ancient history, a functioning class system. And yet there was a malaise, a dissatisfaction, rendering people ready to turn over their fate to powerful would-be social engineers. There was also, already, an influential left-wing intelligentsia. In the United States, there was more optimism and more opportunity, more religious belief and general contempt for Communism, but also a simmering racial problem and a sense, I think, of wanting to escape the heavy burden of being “leader of the free world” in the nuclear era.

Victorious in war, Britain immediately began to transform itself into a modern welfare state, complete with mass immigration. Why has this had to take place in every major Western country? While it is difficult to make comparisons, I believe Americans are finally catching up with Britain and Europe in giving up the idea of free enterprise and personal responsibility, and expecting government to create prosperity, security, health, and happiness for them. It is a tragic loss for our national character.

As dreary and frustrating as life in Britain may have seemed to many in 1945, it is hard to imagine that people there are happier today. How did everything hollow out? One can imagine that the morality of sexuality and the family, for instance, might have been much the same in 1845 and 1945, but somehow by 1945 it had become brittle, with people lacking the will to continue enforcing it. And why did the existence of slums or of a downtrodden working class or of a pampered elite necessarily persuade people to accept socialism? Why did even Churchill lack the will to prevent mass immigration into Britain? It seems that the temptation is often too great for a people to give up social restrictions once they are freed from the immediate negative consequences brought by more liberal policies. And it seems people are always susceptible to being taken in by utopian social engineering projects, even when it means giving up their freedom and identity.

It is easy to long for the past, but we also need to look at it critically, since it is likely the origins of our current crisis were hiding in plain sight. I hope to find signs of life in London this weekend.

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16 Responses to What Happened to Britain?

  1. 2008andallthat says:

    Interesting post. As a Brit, I’m not sure I agree with all your views on modern Britain and it’s “possible destruction through immigration “. I’m not sure what this means. Immigration has been impacting on Britain since well before 1945, and as for the advent of socialism and the welfare state, these certainly have improved conditions for many people. The NHS, minimum wage, social housing all of these things are far from perfect but the alternative is the very things you mention – slums and a downtrodden working class.
    I think one of the most tangilble losses in Britain in the last 50 years is British industry. And much of this loss has come from killing off public sector services in the pursuit of free enterprise.

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    2008andallthat, thanks for the comment. This site takes a “traditionalist” view and perhaps I should have written a clear statement at the beginning, which might have offended you – I mean the destruction of the traditional family, the empowerment of Islam, and ultimately and above all the replacement of white Britons by a completely new population. This is a variant of what is happening in the U.S., with different particulars. The immediate problem is immigration, the larger problem is the moral condition of society as a whole and the loss of national identity and values.

    As for national health, etc., I’m aware that many – most? – British people express contentment with nationalized health care and I think that may be OK, provided that the citizenry has a sense of fairness and honesty in using the system, which again is impossible to sustain with mass immigration and loss of “Christian” ethics. In America, it’s the opposite – people have been content with the (semi-) private healthcare system which is now being chipped away at through an indirectly government subsidized “private” insurance system, and as the functioning of the system gets worse people are being convinced we need national health care, which, however, is going to lead only to more and more terrible service.

    I take your point on British industry, and my own view is simply that free enterprise needs to take place in a context of national interest. When I object to “socialism” I guess I’m objecting to a centralized, totalitarian, scientistic style of managing the population and not necessarily the existence of a public sector per se. I maintain that there is something toxic and deadly about European socialism with its materialism, radical egalitarianism, and hatred of anything smacking of traditional class privilege.

    I did have a bad impression of how easy it was in Britain for a capable young man to go “on the dole,” years ago, and I imagine that’s still the case. Feel free to set me straight on any of these issues!

  3. With all due respect to your first commenter, I think we could safely say that many Americans would staunchly deny that America stands in danger of ‘possible destruction by immigration.’ Some people here as well as in the UK still live in areas which are not deeply affected by immigration — yet. And many, even in the areas which are affected, prefer to deny that there is any problem at all, because in many cases human nature tends to deny unpleasant or unsettling realities.

    I’ve had British commenters on my blog deny there is a problem and I have had others tell me that there most definitely is a problem, just as with Americans or Dutch people or whoever in the Western world. We are all seeing our countries transformed at a slower or faster rate, and we are all being told by our monolithic mass media that we have no fixed identities as peoples, that all of us in the West are just an unrelated collection of individuals who happen to inhabit the same territory. And even the British are now being told they are and have always been a multicultural nation. Still most histories of Britain do not describe mass immigration occurring before WWII, and then afterward of course it began in earnest, just as in this country, accelerating in the 60s.

    As for the causes of what is happening in the West, I think it’s no coincidence that the loss of real Christian faith occurred at about the same time as the rise of socialism and other such this-worldly counterfeits of Christianity. Socialism promises some kind of earthly paradise if only there is ‘economic justice’ and complete equality. Christianity taught that this world, along with human nature, are not perfectible, and that the best we can do is to ameliorate the evil in the world, not eradicate it. Socialism/communism claim to be able to create human nature anew. And without the guiding beliefs of Christianity which made Europe what it was at its best, people are prey for political charlatanry like that of the left.

  4. stephenhopewell says:

    Thanks, VA. I’m here, and of course it is quite pleasant, but there are the same disturbing signs I see on my side of the pond, in the Detroit area. More on that later.

    VA, I think you are right about the decline of traditional Christianity being linked to the rise of socialism, and there does seem to be a link between the famed irreligiosity of the British and the fanatical forms PC is taking here. As you say, it’s easy not to see the problem in daily life. I think what some of us have in common is we’re sensitive to the awful loss of a core culture in our countries, which comes in advance of the actual destruction.

    On the other hand, there are parts of British society that are more traditional and healthy than in the US. It is an open question how things will play out.

  5. Joyce says:

    That book sounds lovely. I’m going to get a copy for myself.

  6. stephenhopewell says:

    Yes, it’s an epic work – the author plans to take it all the way to 1979. There is already a sequel out to Austerity Britain.

  7. staybryte says:

    Stephen

    Would be very interested in a follow-up post on your experiences on your visit. I lived in London for many years and my wife was raised 300 yards from Tower Bridge (we have since moved).

  8. Lurker says:

    2008andallthat – Im afraid your contention of mass immigration before 1945 will have to be backed up with some solid evidence. After all its mass immigration thats the issue, mass non-European issue to be precise.

  9. Laban Tall says:

    a) To find out how we got here from there, the best guide is Peter Hitchens’ book ‘The Abolition of Britain’.

    b) on mass immigration pre-1945, the recently released 1951 Cabinet papers record the following :

    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/politicspast/story/0,,2142476,00.html

    “David Maxwell-Fyfe, the home secretary, reported that the total of “coloured people” in Britain had risen from 7,000 before the second world war to 40,000 at the time of writing, with 3,666 of those unemployed, and 1,870 on national assistance, or benefits.”

    c) a similar view : Anthony Jay in the Telegraph on Britain under the 1945-51 Labour government

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1557389/Here-is-the-news-%28as-we-want-to-report-it%29.html

    “… the social system was at least as authoritarian as the political system. It was shocking for an unmarried couple to sleep together and a disgrace to have a baby out of wedlock. A homosexual act incurred a jail sentence. Divorcées would not be considered for the honours list or the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Procuring an abortion was a criminal offence. Violent young criminals were birched, older ones were flogged, and murderers were hanged. Two years’ National Service was compulsory for 18-year-olds. Small children sat in rows in the classroom and were caned if they misbehaved. Drugs were confined to the surgery (and the aristocracy). The bobby on the beat made sure the streets were safe at night. And for an England cricket captain to miss a Test Match by flying home to be present at the birth of his child would have ruled him out of serious consideration not just as a cricketer but as a man.

    So what happened ? How did we get from there to here ?”

  10. stephenhopewell says:

    staybrite, I have only superficial impressions but will comment more soon.

    Lurker – exactly; Laban Tall provides some info here as you see.

    Laban Tall – thank you for the information. I’ll try to get hold of Hitchens’s book. The Jay passage paints a similar picture to the passages I cited, doesn’t it.

  11. Mr Hopewell,

    I was going to recommend Peter Hitchen’s book too – but I see Mr Laban Tall has beaten me too it. The book is a polemical work rather than a historical work but it is certainly an eyeopener. I read it a number of years ago and it confirmed me in my Conservatism and in my impression that there was something profoundly wrong with the “mainstream” values of our New Elite. His other books are of interest to : A brief history of crime (and the revised edition of this: The abolition of liberty). He also has a column at the Mail on Sunday which may also intrigue you at http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/

  12. stephenhopewell says:

    Mild Colonial Boy, thanks for the information about Hitchens.

  13. stephenhopewell says:

    Yes, I think there’s truth to this – the U.S. has been the crusader for post-World War II liberalism and Americans have felt self-righteous about their *apparent* success in creating a multiracial society. We still have not been cured of the delusion. A broader view shows the two countries developing separately but with lots of exchange. For example, Ida Wells went to Britain to lecture on the lynching epidemic in the U.S. and aroused lots of sympathy, which put pressure on American politicians to do more. Some British felt they were more “enlightened” than Americans, had banned slavery first, etc. On the other hand, in the race riots of 1979-80 in Britain, some Americans felt smugly that they had “experience” from which the British could learn.

  14. peezedtee says:

    You should be aware that most people here (London) regard Peter Hitchens as barking mad.
    That aside, there were always a few immigrants (not necessarily coloured) in London and possibly Liverpool but absolutely none anywhere else until the 1960s. Those who then came (invited here by the Tory government to fill labour shortages) were from the Caribbean. In some cultural ways (music, food) they seemed alien, but they were from the English-speaking Commonwealth, “British” through and through, in terms of identity and loyalty. They were black but not Moslem. (In fact their descendants here now are far more Christian than the indigenous white population.) People from “Asia” (mostly in fact Pakistan/Bangladesh) came only somewhat later. So I think you may be conflating different phenomena here.

  15. peezedtee says:

    “I did have a bad impression of how easy it was in Britain for a capable young man to go “on the dole,” years ago, and I imagine that’s still the case.”

    — Yes, I’m afraid it is. One reason you find so many foreigners working here in London is surely that many Brits are just too idle to work. A friend who employs a dozen or so staff told me the other day that he nowadays doesn’t even bother to interview Brits for jobs, and every single one of his present employees are foreigners of one sort or another, because, he says, they work much harder.

    However, I was cheered by Gordon Brown’s speech the other day in which he said we were going to become a “something for something, nothing for nothing” society instead of a “something for nothing” society. There is some scheme in the pipeline to stop paying the dole to people who are making no effort to find work. This may help, but I think the underlying problem is one of moral degeneracy, and I don’t know what we can do about that.

  16. stephenhopewell says:

    peezedtee, thanks for your comments.

    Agreed on the problem of moral degeneracy. There is simply no solution to this problem in sight, and all I think we can do is keep talking about it and try to discover a strategy for getting a handle on it. It’s a task for many generations to address.

    Obviously the Muslim immigration is distinctive and uniquely threatening; but I also think Afro-Caribbean immigration brings unsolvable racial problems to a white-majority society if it takes place on a large scale. I think Europeans used to blame American racism and the legacy of slavery for our “coloured problem,” then they imported “coloureds,” and lo and behold, they have a “coloured problem” too. This although as individuals (and I know some) many may be exemplary citizens, conservative, intelligent, Christian, hard-working, ethical, etc.

    IS Hitchens barking mad, or just regarded as so? His book and columns seem on the mark about many things, though I don’t know anything about his personality.

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