From Evelyn C Leeper

Fractured: Is British Politics Too Broken to Stay Together?
Saturday 10.00, L(Carron)
James Lovegrove, Ian McDonald (mod), Ian R. MacLeod, Nicholas Whyte

Description: “UK politics and race, class, geography, and changing political alignments.”

Whyte said he was from Belfast, lives in Brussels, and works on Balkans and the former USSR. MacLeod said his book THE HOUSE OF STORMS is an alternate England. Lovegrove said it should be called the “Untied Kingdom” because of the fractured society. And MacDonald said he was Irish.

Whyte started by saying, “The United Kingdom is dead; it is fractured.” Scotland has its own Parliament, and people are not thinking about the nature of Britishness. The only people who think of themselves as British first are the Scots, and there is even more English nationalism now in England. MacLeod said that he had a Scots background, but grew up in Birmingham, and thought of himself as English. Now it is a militant sort of Englishness that one sees; when one sees the flag of St. George now, he expects trouble. On the other hand, people do not worry when they see the Scottish flag. Whyte mentioned that the Cross of St. George was adopted by Georgia (the country, not the state).

Lovegrove is one-quarter Cornish, and says that Cornwall has some notion of separateness as well. Britishness seems a loose coalition of states. Old movies and Richard Curtis movies bear no resemblance to any notion of real Britishness.

MacLeod observed that frequently “England” is used to refer to all of the United Kingdom. MacDonald said that one of the problems of being from Northern Ireland is what do you call yourself? It is not Britain. “You are UKian [‘you-kay-ee-an’],” he suggested.

Whyte pointed out that a “Yugoslav” identity was invented, but when people could check off “Serb” or some other choice in Montenegro (in addition to “Yugoslav”), the term “Yugoslav” disappeared.

On Englishness, MacDonald quoted Victor Hugo who said, “It’s perfectly easy to eat well in England. Just have breakfast three times a day.” MacDonald added that a Scottish breakfast is an English breakfast with haggis. To his company, he said, everything outside the M-25 is a separate nation or region, so even Brighton is a separate nation or region. He also said that is was “ironic that the first region to have a devolved government [Irish Free State in 1921] may be the last region to have a devolved government.”

MacLeod said that divisions now seem more local (by street rather than large areas), and that fundamentalism (Protestantism in the case of Northern Ireland, Islam in other areas) is claiming allegiance to other areas that do not actually care about them. MacDonald said that in Northern Ireland the Loyalists (primarily Protestants) fly Israeli flags, while the Republicans (primarily Catholics) fly Palestinian flags. And everyone says, “We are the oppressed.”

Lovegrove said that what used to define politics in the United Kingdom was the class system, but now “we have a right-wing Labour government, and a left-wing Tory opposition.” And MacLeod said that people are now making a selective choice as to what they are, rather than following expectations according to class or income. Even in sports, people no longer automatically support the local team, they choose which to support. Beliefs, ethnicity, etc., are the factors now.

(Whyte said that when the split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland happened, Northern Ireland football survived very well, but the Irish part somewhat collapsed.)

MacDonald talked about “me-too politics” and “identity politics.” There is apparently a lot of money for Irish-language education, etc., so the Unionists invented “Ulster Scots” as their own language for which they want equal education and so on. MacDonald said, “Anyone who had drunk six pints of Guinness and fallen over on their face could speak perfect Ulster Scots,” but it is now one of the official languages, so everything has to be translated into it. “This linguistic emperor has no clothes,” he declared. Lovegrove said that most Welshmen he has talked to want to speak English, but there is still a lot of education being done using the Welsh language.

MacDonald cited recent statistics that 500,000 Britons have moved to Spain, and another 500,000 to France. MacLeod said that there is now an idea that the British (and other nationalities) should all think of themselves as European. Whyte thought this was good if it was as an additional identity. In the 1980s the Irish realized you could be Irish and European, not just Irish and not British, he said. (Someone in the audience said that he had lost the feeling of being British but did not feel particularly European either.)

MacDonald threw in the idea of an Indian living in Britain saying, “Let’s go out for an English. Can you make it a bit more bland?”

I asked about the parts of the British Isles I have trouble understanding: the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Shetlands, and the Orkneys. First they said that the Isle of Man is separate, but then it turned out that was not quite true. Maybe it is like Puerto Rico. I did not get an answer on the rest.

MacDonald talked about learning the “Orangeman’s Toast”, and Lovegrove said that it was interesting that we can laugh about these things. [Note: I am unable to find anything called the “Orangemen’s Toast” through Google.] He said that once a year in his home town they burn an effigy of the Pope, and no one thinks of this as anti-Catholic. (It is really an effigy of Pope Urban something-or-other (VIII?). I still think there is an anti-Catholic element here.)

MacDonald said that Tony Blair was attempting to use the Spanish model of strong regionalism, and MacLeod made reference to regional assemblies. The problem then is the people who regard that as “being ruled by Birmingham” rather than by London, which is least far enough away to take no notice of them. Whyte said that Belgium has only the army and the king in common, but otherwise is divided in two, and MacDonald cited Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Divorce”.

MacDonald said that neither the Labour nor the Conservative party can get established in Northern Ireland because it is all identity politics: you are either Unionist or Republican. Lovegrove said a big problem was that Muslim youth find no identity in mainstream politics at all.

Someone asked about the effect of the possible dissolution of the monarchy. MacLeod said that would hasten the dissolution of the United Kingdom. However, there is usually more fragmentation when a country is not under threat, but there is less now because Britain is under threat.

It was pointed that the government structure is not necessarily the determining factor: India is very fragmented even though it uses the British voting system.

Whyte said when the Norwegians gained independence from Sweden in 1905, they picked a new king to establish an identity. Asked how, he said, “I think it was the usual method that there was a spare German prince floating around,” but someone pointed out that Haakon VII was actually Danish.

(By the way, in Britain, “Red” (Labour) and “Blue” (Conservative) are flipped from United States.)

One thought on “From Evelyn C Leeper

Comments are closed.