Something peculiar happened the other day. A British leader said that Brits have done some good things. This very rarely happens. Whilst in shock, most of the British press agreed. They know that bad news sells more newspapers than good news, but outright abuse of Britain might dampen sales even further. And it should be no surprise that British journalists, writing for a British audience, might know of reasons for Brits to feel proud, and patriotic. Perhaps they learned some of them at school, at the same time that Argentinean kids learned how Brits are evil colonialists who stole an (unpopulated, barren) island from them before their country even existed, and in the same way that Russian kids are taught that being gay is the kind of disease you catch by hanging around with Brits.
Whilst David Cameron was still in Russia, looking for ways to prevent Syrian children from being gassed, the BBC had sharply focused on its public service mandate, striving for balance in the reporting of every word that Cameron uttered. To achieve this goal demanded a search of the internet, looking for supportive and negative responses to Cameron’s passionate defense of Britain. Already, wise reader, you will have noticed the flaw in the BBC’s approach. However much an ‘objective’ journalist may want to find ‘balance’ by lazily looking up all the usual suspects, normally guaranteed to give kneejerk disagreement with what the politician said, it is going to be hard to find ‘balance’ when the politician is only saying nice things about people who come from the same country as you. Whilst the BBC found three articles that backed Cameron (in the Times, Daily Mirror, and Financial Times), and three that were less keen on what Cameron said (in the Daily Mail, The Spectator and The Guardian), they managed to ignore all the supportive press that Cameron received elsewhere, in The Independent, The Telegraph and The Sun. In the Scottish Daily Record, The Scotsman and The Belfast Telegraph. And from the Daily Star, The Express and the London Evening Standard. In fact, our balance-seeking BBC journalist even missed the positive article that a different BBC journalist had already written for the BBC’s own website.
Whilst the BBC listed three negative pieces, we should examine exactly how negative they were. Wise reader, you may also have noticed that The Daily Mail and The Spectator are two unlikely sources for stinging criticism of David Cameron’s full-on patriotism. As the BBC points out, both The Daily Mail and The Spectator used the word ‘bizarre’ to describe Cameron’s rhetoric. It is significant that the BBC highlighted how they used the same word. A good writer might look for contrast, to make his piece more interesting. This writer was unable to do so, because both The Daily Mail and The Spectator used one word – and only one word – that could be spun as having a negative connotation. Neither journal published anything else – not one more sentence – that could be interpreted as disparaging.
Of course Cameron’s speech was bizarre. The UK is a country where a self-styled cosmpolitan elite insists that the British Primeminister should spend all day, every day, apologizing for events that occurred before he was born. There is a class of rich person, raked with guilt at living a meaningless but materially wealthy life, made possible by inheriting their parents’ wealth, and sustained via a property bubble that they sometimes bemoan, but always seek to profit from. As befits their lack of real skill or merit, they often end up in high brow but low paid jobs, like those in the media. To comfort themselves, they loftily recast British history as if Satan was personally responsible for every domestic and foreign policy adopted by Britain since the Middle Ages. Yes, it is bizarre to hear a British leader express pride in his country’s accomplishments – though in any other country it would happen far more often.
Apart from that, Cameron took a whimsical turn when listing boy band One Direction amongst the country’s success stories. But whilst there is a dismissive class of Brit that loves to accuse every opponent of vulgarity and barbarism, taste is irrelevant to determining if One Direction are successful. One Direction’s popularity is a matter of fact, and there should be nothing ‘bizarre’ about acknowledging it. During 2012, the band had two albums amongst the five biggest sellers worldwide (though Adele deserved to be mentioned, for selling even more albums overall). Whilst some Brits conveniently forget that The Beatles started out as a clean-cut boy band, it is hard to think of many countries where a similar scale of global success would be so openly, and toxically, sneered at. ‘Bizarre’? It is to Cameron’s credit that he praises Britain’s winners, whoever they might be, without taking a snooty attitude to the pleasures of millions of people around the globe.
But speaking of snooty and dismissively high-handed cosmopolitan elitists, the BBC did find one newspaper willing to publish an out-and-out diatribe against everything that Cameron said: The Guardian. Lest we forget, The Guardian is an unpopular, loss-making, tax-dodging experiment in social activism. It has long outlived its usefulness but will not outlive the death of the printing press. As a subsidiary of Auto Trader magazine, its capacity to make the world a better place is entirely dependent on extracting exploitative profits from Brits who want to sell their cars. So what does Stephen Moss, Guardian feature writer, think of Britain? Well, not very much:
Cameron is said to have got very little sleep last night and it shows, because none of his speech stacks up.
“Britain may be a small island, but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience”
First things first: Cameron was responding to somebody else’s alleged comments that Britain is a small island. So only a moronic pedant would criticize Cameron for using the same words. Cue Moss, who rushes to oblige…
Well, for a start Britain â€“ the landmass that comprises England, Scotland and Wales â€“ is not a particularly small island. It is the ninth biggest in the world.
Yes, a Guardian writer wrote that, as if Cameron was at fault because he did not assert that Britain is the ninth largest island in the world. Which, as far as most people in the world are concerned, means Britain is a pretty small country, irrespective of whether it is relatively big, or small, as islands go.
Also, Great Britain is a political concept too. We know this because we Brits learn history whilst at school, and are fully aware of how the term ‘Britain’ was used to build political support for the Acts of Union. Or we would know this, if learning British history was not looked down upon by the cosmopolitan elite.
Smaller, admittedly, than Baffin Island but marginally more powerful, even if a football match between the two would be hard to call.
I guess this is what passes for wry humour, if you write for The Guardian, and hate Britain. In the FIFA charts, England is ranked the 14th best team in the world, Wales is 46th, Scotland is 50th, and Northern Ireland is 109th. There is no ranking for Baffin Island. Let me emphasize the ranking of Northern Ireland. Whilst Cameron made it explicit that he was also speaking on behalf of Northern Ireland, our geographically clever-clever Guardian writer may not be aware that phrases like ‘Team GB’ are often, though imprecisely, used to refer to the whole of the United Kingdom. You can learn that by observing how ordinary Brits behave, which makes me wonder what kind of company a typical Brit-hating Guardian journalist chooses to keep.
For the sake of clarity, the occupants of Baffin Island are Canadian citizens, and hence would be eligible to play for the Canadian national side, ranked 91 in the world.
More to the point, everyone makes the claim that their country has the proudest history of all. Peruvians, Paraguayans, Papua New Guineans, you name it, they’ll all put their arms across their chests and swear fealty to their beloved country.
Funnily, not everyone claims that their country has the proudest history of all. For example, David Cameron did not make that claim, a fact that should be appreciated by any wordsmith, even one of the low grade required to work for The Guardian. There is a difference between saying you are the proudest and saying there are none prouder. As a clever politician, Cameron does not deny any country’s citizens from being equally proud. As a stupid Guardian journalist, Moss is unable to distinguish the subtle difference in meaning.
“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism â€“ and was resolute in doing that throughout world war two.”
This is at the very least arguable.
Britain helped to clear the European continent of fascism. Helped to clear. In what way is this arguable? Britain was engaged in a war for six years, longer than some of its eventual allies. The countries that fought against Britain were run by fascists. Britain was on the side that ‘won’, as far as any side can win a war. The fascists were ultimately routed, following seaborne invasions of Italy and Northern France, both involving British troops, planes and ships. Alongside the huge financial cost, which it took Britain 60 years to pay off, the price paid for Britain’s involvement in WW2 included the lives of 382,600 troops, and 67,100 civilians. But according to Moss, it is ‘arguable’ whether Britain ‘helped’ to win WW2. What kind of hatred must a human being have, to dispute that Britain even helped to win a war against fascist dictators? Moss should be made to personally visit every single one of the remaining WW2 veterans, and be forced to explain what he means by implying they were no ‘help’ at all.
By being arch-appeasers during the 1930s, the UK helped make Hitler possible.
Is Hitler to blame for Hitler? No. Were Nazi sympathizers to blame for Hitler’s rise? Surely not. Was Germany to blame for Hitler? Nah. Should France have acted sooner? Who knows. Was the Nazi-Soviet pact an enabler for Hitler’s aggression? ***Shrugs shoulders*** Did the weakness of the League of Nations encourage Hitler? Nope. Then who is really to blame for Hitler? According to Moss, we should blame the UK! Such is the warped logic of the true Britain-hater. Even whilst Brits were amongst the victims of Hitler’s aggression, there are some self-loathing individuals who insist that the same Brits must be blamed for making aggression ‘possible’. And this is written, without irony, in The Guardian, following a summit where Cameron was limited in his options to threaten military intervention in Syria because of the actions of present-day appeasers.
And lest we forget the lesson of history, the leading appeasers in 1930’s Britain were the British Labour Party, who described Neville Chamberlain as a warmonger, not as an appeaser. In the mid-30’s, Clement Attlee, Labour Party leader and patron saint of the NHS and the Welfare State, repeatedly accused Chamberlain of spending excessively on rearmament and of deliberately increasing the likelihood of war. Would any present-day Guardian journalist care to name Clement Attlee as one of the Brits responsible for Hitler? Somehow, I doubt anyone in the Guardian would dare to blame that particular Brit, though they rush to blame Brits in general.
After 1940 we did our bit, but it’s a myth that the Battle of Britain alone saved us or that the UK won the war.
Whilst Moss talks about myths, he conveniently shifts the ground away from what Cameron actually said. Cameron did not say that UK won the war. He did not say the UK did it alone. He did not mention the Battle of Britain. Moss wants to desecrate the memory of Britain’s role in WW2, not because he is countering what Cameron actually said, but because he wants the British people to hate themselves.
Hitler lost interest and looked east, and it was on the eastern front â€“ at the cost of countless Russian lives â€“ that Germany was ultimately beaten.
And here we see the hints of the left-leaning apologist. Thank the Soviets, for they won the war single-handed! Even whilst the Soviets were splitting Poland with Nazi Germany, we should give all our praise to them, and none to the Brits. But note Moss’ pig ignorance, even of the country that he thanks for winning the war. Of the 26 million Soviets who died in WW2, 7 million were Ukrainian. In total, 12 million of the Soviets who died in WW2 came from outside Russia. But whilst Moss seeks to give all Brits a history lesson, he only reveals his astonishing ignorance of who were the combatants in the WW2. And for a man who flippantly tosses out geography lessons about the difference between Britain and England, Scotland and Wales, he desperately needs to be taught the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union.
“Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery.”
OK, yes, allowable once morality kicked in at the start of the 19th century, but that was only after we had profited from slavery for 300 years.
Note Moss’ style of argument. He grants what Cameron says is true. After all, it is true. Britain did help to abolish slavery. But instead of taking pride, we should feel shame. Why? Because Britain did not do more, and did not do it sooner. And who else did more, and who did it sooner? Well, heaven forbid that we should list every country that engaged in slavery, or profited from slavery. That would spoil Moss’ argument. His argument is that Britain – and Britain alone – failed to do enough. He applies a higher standard to Britain, so he can enjoy the agony of seeing Britain fall short.
Per Moss’ logic, if slavery was never legal in Britain itself, we should ignore that fact, because it does not suit the argument he wishes to make. If Africans enslaved Africans, if Muslims enslaved Christians, if Catholics enslaved South Americans, if the USA’s founding fathers declared the unalienable rights of all men whilst owning large numbers of slaves – every fact about human behaviour and worldwide history must be ignored, for fear that Britain’s influence might be interpreted as relatively progressive and humane.
If Cameron is wrong about anything, he is wrong to say that slavery has been abolished. Britain led the charge when it came to making slavery illegal, though many countries were slow to follow Britain’s lead. But slavery still persists today. Will Moss name the countries where slavery persists, and chastise them accordingly? No – he would rather reserve his bile for Britain. The Britain of the 19th Century, and of the 300 years before, must be held to a higher standard, much higher than the standard applied to slavers who live in the world today.
And as recent documents revealed, the slave traders â€“ including ancestors of David Cameron â€“ were given huge payments in compensation for their losses.
Who paid for this compensation? Britain! And yet, we should feel shame because Brits received compensation, without feeling any pride that other Brits paid for that compensation. And whilst Moss holds Britain to the highest standard, does he argue that British policy was mistaken, because it sought peace and compromise with its pro-slavery opponents, rather than lengthening the struggle and leaving them embittered? Brits should take pride in a history where practical solutions were sought, in order to end slavery as soon as possible. But for Moss, it is better to insist on utopian ideals, without ever dealing with the messy business of compromise. Hence, he can chastise Britain’s current leader for expressing pride in our country, whilst nothing is said about the villains and despots who tyrannize millions of people around the world today.
“Britain has invented most of the things worth inventing.”
Oh for goodness sake, what about the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Indians? Until about 1500 the countries that now make up the UK were a complete irrelevance â€“ true minnows in the global pond â€“ while China was the centre of the world.
So, to rephrase Moss’ argument, a British-centric view of world affairs is gauche, but it is okay to argue that China has always been the centre of the world? So was Marco Polo a backwater ignoramus, before he travelled to the world’s centre? And Moss may be shocked to learn that whilst ‘the countries that now make up the UK’ were minnows, China has not always been China. China has had civil wars, split apart, been invaded, reunified, split apart, and reunified again (and that is without arguing the toss about the relationship between Taiwan and the People’s Republic).
Focusing on the word ‘invention’, I think that Cameron’s argument has some merit. There is a difference between discovery and invention. There is also a difference between invention and other kinds of learning. Whilst we can agree that the question of who invented the most will always be difficult to measure objectively, look around your home and think about the objects that make life worthwhile. A staggering number depend on British invention and insight, whether it was Turing’s genius when realizing that computer programs could be abstracted from the hardware that runs the programs, or Faraday’s insights into electricity. How do Chinese innovations compare?
The Chinese invented gunpowder, printing, banknotes, the blast furnace, the toothbrush, fishing reels, harnesses and stirrups for horses, kites, nail polish, porcelain, playing cards and puppets.
There you have it. Brits gave you boring electricity and computers, whilst the Chinese gave you the life-enhancing technology of puppets. And whilst Britain’s inventions rapidly spread around the globe, thanks to Britain’s shipping fleets and telegraph cables, Moss finds it literally impossible to imagine that other nations might have independently devised their own ways to fish, or clean teeth, or ride a horse. Bear in mind that this is the same China that practised Chinese medicine, right up to the point when some Europeans showed up and explained to the Chinese Emperor what a body looks like on the inside. Since that time, they have learned Western medicine, which actually works, leading to longer Chinese lives and less Chinese pain and suffering. And some of the advances in Western medicine were thanks to Brits, funnily enough.
“Including, every sport currently played around the world.”
Sorry, but the ancient Greeks played rugby; the Chinese and the Romans played football (though not against each other); and cricket is probably Dutch. British blazers codified a lot of these games c1880, but they didn’t invent them. Basketball and volleyball are American; baseball is French; and as for Greco-Roman wrestling, the clue is probably in the name.
And yet, the Incas also played their own version of basketball, long before it became popular several hundred miles to the north of them. Again, there is a difference between doing something that looks superficially like something else, and doing something which others genuinely copy. We say Basketball is American, and not Incan, because of who standardized the sport and lead to its popularization elsewhere. By that standard, the Greeks did not invent rugby, and the Chinese did not invent football. The British did not merely ‘codify’ games, as if Brits only sat around, wondering what to do, whilst waiting for Marco Polo to come back and show them some sports he learned in China. The reason why rugby is called rugby is because Rugby is in Britain, and the reason why soccer is called soccer is because posh Brits transmuted the words ‘association football’ into ‘soccer’. On the other hand, mahjong is called mahjong because anyone who now plays mahjong is directly or indirectly copying the Chinese who used to play mahjong and who called it ‘mahjong’. Nobody on this planet is copying the Chinese who used to play football, which is why the Chinese play the game according to the rules ‘codified’ in Britain, and not vice versa.
We are “responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world”, according to Cameron, who goes on to praise “our contribution to philosophy and world civilisation”.
Well, up to a point, but are we really so special?
It was at this point that I started to wonder if Moss had even heard, or read, Cameron’s speech. Why is that awkward ‘according to Cameron’ bit inserted into the text, if he is just quoting the PM?
By now, it feels tedious to review the corrupted thought process of a numbskull who wants to demean anything and everything that is British and special. Moss is offended if Brits feel special. Imagine how he would feel, if Brits really are special!
We would get an A* for literature and score highly for pop. We can hold our own in philosophy â€“ David Hume could indeed out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel. But in art, classical music and film we would be struggling, and facing a stern Govian lecture. We may not quite be the “Land ohne Musik” of Germanic imagination â€“ Purcell, Elgar and Britten would make the all-time composers’ top 40 â€“ but we can’t match Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner, and that’s just one letter.
The lesser spotted British cosmopolitan elitist briefly leaves the safety of his underground warren, revealing his true colours. We may be good at ‘pop’, but we are not good enough at classical music (let us ignore rock, or any other genre of music). We ‘struggle’ in art, though Damien Hirst is one of many British artists who suffers no shortage of overseas buyers. We had, and have, one of the most vibrant and productive film industries in the world, not that Moss seems to be aware of that. Perhaps he thinks that Hollywood is filming the new Star Wars film in the UK because Brits know nothing about making films. Or maybe he is comparing British films unfavourably with those made in India, or Nigeria, or Korea. But I doubt it. We all know that the British cosmopolitan elitist also sneers at those countries too, and spends all his time admiring the French, who make films with subtitles and which are rarely seen by common people, including the common people who happen to be French. Anyway, what really matters is Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner – certainly not world music, or K-pop, or anything else that fails to fit Moss’ elitist straitjacket of good taste. As such, he does not mind that all the classical composers whose names begin with ‘B’ manage to sell, each year, less than 1% of what One Direction sells every day.
One of our greatest assets is our collective sense of humour.
And yet, where was the humour in Moss’ piece? Instead of being collectively apparent, it was individually absent.
With the word ‘collective’, we get a proper understanding of Moss’ outlook. There have been many outstanding British comic geniuses: Monty Python, Peter Sellers, Eric Morecambe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steve Coogan, Peter Cook… it soon becomes boring to list them, though it is never boring to think of them. And both Ricky Gervais and Rowan Atkinson have attained extraordinary levels of success overseas, though I fail to understand why. Some of Britain’s comic geniuses have even appeared in brilliant British films, though Moss was seemingly unaware of the greatness of our film industry. And yet, whilst lauding British humour, Moss prefers not to list great individual British comics, though he was quick to list individual German composers.
Examples of successful British individuals always stimulate fear and jealousy in the collective subconscious of the middle class, middle-of-the-road mediocrities that enjoy this brand of Guardian tripe. And how could it be otherwise? They embrace the collective, whilst despising common tastes. They appeal to a single sense of British identity, which allows no Brit to rise up and become a world beater. At the same time, they bemoan that the average Brit prefers One Direction to Debussy, and is more familiar with world-beating British TV like Downton Abbey, than the philosophy of David Hume.
Another is â€“ or used to be â€“ our stiff-upper-lipped modesty. If you need to boast of your greatness, it probably means you are not very great.
Stiff-upper-lipped modesty should be preferred to bragging. But Britain does not boast; Moss is wrong to claim otherwise. Britain is endlessly deferential and polite – to the point of excessive appeasement of rapacious enemies. On this occasion, Britain was insulted, attacked and demeaned, though the provocateur’s identity remains a mystery. This kind of thing happens often, due to the envy which is inevitably stimulated by Britain’s success, wealth, and extraordinarily good manners. Britain’s leader responded politely but firmly – and this is hardly the first time that Russians have behaved in an aggressive and inflammatory manner.
But instead of backing Britain, Moss’ species of insidious parasite takes joy in seeing Britain attacked. And he is not alone, as is wearily apparent from reading the comments left by jubilant Guardian readers, eager to blame ‘Britain’ for everything from syphilis to slow broadband connections to the sores on their collective backsides.
Rather than standing with their fellow Brits, in a common chorus of patriotic praise for our country, there is a special band of weasel that wants only to belittle everything about Britain, from how we play football to how we fought in World War 2. To them, our island is small and unimportant, criminal, undeserving, evil, and silly. To them, half of Britain is comic tragedy, and the other half is unspeakable villain. In truth, Britain is neither of those things. If Moss, and the average Guardian reader, wants to know what is wrong with Britain, they need to look into the place that they are running from, but will never escape. It lies inside them, in their cold black hearts. There they will find jealousy and misery, where they should find pride and joy. Moss and his ilk should be pitied, but otherwise ignored.