For a long time when I was asked my nationality I’d say English rather than British because British had to my ear connotations of flag-waving nationalism. But now I’ve begun to feel that the opposite is true. It’s horrible being English at the moment: we have the worst Covid record in Europe and have just, to our utter shame, exported it to an otherwise Covid-free New Zealand. Our leader is the worst in living memory and is daily more clearly the tool of a right-wing maverick whose cock-ups get daily worse. Most governments take years to piss off their MP’s; this one has managed it in a few short months, and now they’ve sunk to a new Daily-Mail style low in proposing effectively to abolish the foreign aid department by merging it with the Foreign Office, thereby managing to bring two ex-Prime Ministers out of the woodwork to speak against it. Would that Messrs Cameron and May had talked as much sense when in office, because right now it’s not even looking like ‘Britain First’ so much as ‘England First’. Johnson might as well put on a Millwall shirt, drape himself in the St George’s flag and start chanting Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland; at least then we’d know what he stood for. I am ashamed to be – well, whatever I am – English, British – whatever it is, I’m ashamed to be it. I haven’t felt this way since the Gulf War when I was in Spain and we were bombing Iraq while trying to find those pesky weapons of mass destruction (spoiler alert: there were none.)
I was never particularly patriotic at the best of times, but there were things I was proud of. Our culture, our language. Our literature. The landscape, the architecture (some of it). Real ale and pubs. Pub games – not arcade games but cribbage and pool and skittles. The Archers. Our great sense of comedy. The fact that whenever two or three are gathered together at a bus stop one of them shall make a joke about buses and the other two shall laugh. The fact that on country roads we have special crossings for toads and hedgehogs. (One year when I came back from Spain it took me a while to realise where I was, but then we drove down a rural road and I saw a sign saying ‘hedgehog crossing’ and I thought, Now I know I’m home.)
But despite the antics of Johnson and Dom there are far worse places to be. I could be living in Somalia or China or India. I could be in Russia: poor as this government is, it has not yet sunk to the depths of Vlad (‘the poisoner’) Putin, as last night’s drama-doc The Salisbury Poisonings showed. We have yet to see the final episode but so far it’s totally gripping, telling the stories behind the officials, the police and the ordinary people caught up in the Russian-backed poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The public health narrative eerily echoes that of the C19 crisis, the more so as it must have been filmed before the virus hit.
I’ll post a full review when I’ve finished watching but so far it’s highly recommended – unlike this government, who I wouldn’t recommend at all. If you’re going for a new leader I’d choose Jacinda Ardern. Even David Cameron’s better than this lot, and he’d have the sense not to listen to Dom.