Quaintness pervades British Society – from our cute little village tea rooms, the genetically coded-in inferiority complex of the working classes, Barristers’ wigs to the way we run our Parliament and economy. We wear 21st century clothes which disguise 18th and 19th century thinking.
For instance, India has a Space programme, nuclear bombs and an industrial infrastructure which will leave our economy standing in a couple of years. Yet we still see ourselves as “England Sahib” and attempt to dispense Colonial munificence to the natives by insisting that they accept our charity. They are embarrassed, they don’t want it but we feel that they ought to accept the £200 million-odd per year.
Remember how we felt in 1974 ago when the mad Idi Amin of Uganda launched his “Bananas for Britain” campaign because he’d heard that we were starving ? Mind you, at the time, the UK was in a spot of bother. The oil crisis had sent the economy into freefall, unemployment was rising and industrial strife was worsening. (Sound familiar?).
The following Amin telegram was received in Whitehall:
“In the past months the people of Uganda have been following with sorrow the alarming economic crisis befalling on Britain. The sad fact is that it is the ordinary British citizen who is suffering most. I am today appealing to all the people of Uganda who have all along been traditional friends of the British people to come forward and help their former colonial masters. The people of Kigezi District donated one lorry load of vegetables and wheat – send an aircraft to collect this donation urgently before it goes bad .”
The politicians and Civil Servants both greeted the message with embarrassment and derision.
That is exactly how those millionaire and billionaire Indians feel about the “peanuts donations” (their words) that we keep forcing on them.
But that is the very essence of our collective quaintness. We are oblivious because in our minds, we are still “KING OF THE WORLD!” We appear to be oblivious to the fact that since 1845 (never mind 1945!), the world has changed.
We’re still like a maiden aunt handing a 5/- Postal Order to the nephew with an iPhone.
“But English is the world’s main-language” is the oft-repeated Mantra. Yes, because hundreds of years ago, we could sail boats. That meant that we could travel and steal lots from the natives! Then we’d force-feed them God but more importantly – we taught them the English Language.
We weren’t “quaint” in those days. We were thieving and murdering conquerors with attitude. We used to have balls!
Now we are like the wheezy old duffer draped over a worn-out leather club chair, who likes to reminisce about the “good old days” and when being British “meant something”.
Great Britain consists of 6,289 damp little islands in the North Sea – and only 803 of those have what can be loosely described as a coastline. The rest are rocks sticking out of the sea.
It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire – but IT DOES NOW and like a rheumy-eyed old-timer, we should wake up and smell the Earl Grey!
There is one word which we treasure above all other : “TRADITION”. Our mentality dictates thas as soon as we have done something once, it has to become “tradition”.
Everything from the Christmas Turkey to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace are “tradition”.
Why is there a ribbon on every MPS coat-hook ? “It’s for his sword, Dumbo! It’s TRADITION!”
“We vote Labour in this house -it’s tradition !!”
“You have to drink 10 pints and then be violently sick because…………” You’ve guessed it!!
I am listening to three Royal Commentators being interviewed on the subject of the Queen’s Jubilee. A great demonstration of synchronised obsequiousness borne of our love of tradition. ” The Queen does not see herself as a celebrity, she is far more than that….did you see those new photos of her….she wasn’t just “Hollywood”…. she was….Majestic!!!”
The Brits absolutely worship the Royal family because……it’s TRADITION. It’s tradition personified.
No-one is suggesting that we should start , as the French did, by trashing the Royals. The French are almost as traditionally-minded as the Brits . That is why Monsieur le Président de la République is expected to behave like a king and why he lives in a palace.
Yet, the French have taken that important one step forward from tradition and appear more modern and sophisticated than the Brits. They are NOT quaint. They have struck the right balance between modernity and tradition.
Why do we feel so uncomfortable in Europe? Why do we come across as outsiders? Geography is often blamed. “We’re an island…that’s what it is. We’re British!!”
Geography is to blame but it is not physical Geography. It is our mental, attitudinal Geography.
“We’re BRITISH, for God’s sake!”
Yes – we are British but we continue to treat Britishness as a virtue whilst we sit passively as the world around us grows and changes.
The government is ruled by the Conservatives (yes, even when the Labour Party is running things). They (the Conservatives) are VERY traditional. They are the Establishment.
Her Majesty’s Labour Opposition (see what I did there?) is ruled by the unions who are more conservative than the Conservatives.
Even those vast expanses of white nylon shirt displayed by overweight union leaders have become “tradition”. Their antipathy to any government has become traditional and in its own way…..quaint.
We are all drowning in a sea of tradition and quaintness – but there’s a surprising answer.
The Liberal Democrats are the United Kingdom’s newest and least-traditional bunch of politicians. But traditionally , they are constantly squeezed from the Left as well as from the Right
Liberal Democrats do not make enough of their “Democratic” credentials because they prefer the more traditional (and quaint) “Liberal” – which actually doesn’t mean anything to the average voter.
Liberal has two sets of meanings: Progressive, forward-looking, reformist, radical, libertarian, free-thinking, modern.
The second set of definitions or synonyms is the one with which the Liberals have been traditionally associated: Tolerant, indulgent, unbiased, broad, disinterested, unopinionated.
However, they do have one great advantage. They are neither in the hands of the traditionally quaint Establishment nor the quaintly traditional Unions.
That’s where our answer could be. Not necessarily in the hands of the traditional Liberal-Democrats but maybe in a new fired-up Democratic-Liberal Party ?
The quaintness has to go.