'Britain: nation or shopping mall?' - Stuart Millson [VIDEO and ARTICLE]
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I was asked by your President to address the Traditional Britain Group, I found it difficult to pinpoint a single topic for discussion. This is because so much seems wrong – is wrong – with our country. In a recent interview, the English conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle was asked about his tenure in Germany and his view of Britain. Sir Simon, who, if anything, is probably liberal-leaning in his views memorably stated: “This old country of ours seems to be playing out an end-game…”
I believe he is right – up to a point, because if we accept that all is lost, there is no point in holding this meeting. I will try to show what I believe is wrong with Britain and what can be done to salvage what is left of this old country of ours.
When the new Coalition Government formed itself after Gordon Brown – the Hosni Mubarak of Britain – left his Downing Street bunker, I was encouraged by some of the ideas which were, at first, promoted. I was pleased, for example, that there was a commitment to abolish the regional development agencies – those unelected quango bodies, responsible for spending millions of pounds of our money, and charged with the task of overseeing the housing and development build-up of South East England.
I was pleased, too, to hear that Gordon Brown’s surveillance state was to be rolled back, and that Jacqui Smith’s national identity cards were to be consigned to the scrapheap. By this time, Jacqui had also already found her rightful place on that scrapheap. I was also glad to hear that the Labour MP, Frank Field – critic of multiculturalism, critic of the EU, and a supporter of social conservatism – was to be appointed by the new Government as a special adviser. At least there would be one conservative in the Government. And there was also to be a cap on immigration – another example of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, but still nevertheless, a gesture that the growth in the country’s population – a growth fuelled by Poland, Somalia, Caribbean islands, the West Indies, the former Soviet Union, Pakistan etc – would at least face some regulation.
Since those heady days, when Nick Clegg and Dave would swoon together on the Downing Street lawn in front of the press, it is abundantly clear that nothing really has changed from the days of Labour. In fact, at least as far as defence policy is concerned, things are worse. The Conservatives, the “party of defence”, have now decided to scrap our Harrier Jump-Jet squadrons – possibly the most flexible and effective fighter plane ever devised; concluded a joint operations policy with the French (a country not known for its commitment to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or the South Atlantic), and destroyed with JCBs, as if scrapping some second-hand cars, a newly-delivered batch of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft – vital equipment in this era of international instability, Iranian nuclear development, Russian air incursions and general Cold War-style uncertainty.
Thank you Dave – you have effectively disarmed us, and certainly left the Falkland Islands open for invasion. And given that the role of the skeletal Royal Navy now seems little more than patrolling the English Channel and picking on Cornish fishermen who have not played by the EU fish quota rules – Fisheries Protection they call it – we have as much chance of defending Shanklin pier as we do of ever liberating Port Stanley again. Talking of the Royal Navy, I hope we all saw the pictures of HMS Invincible last month – on the day that she was sold to a Turkish scrap metal dealer. No doubt when Turkey joins the European Union they will be able to turn the rest of the fleet into recycled Tesco tins.
And recently, during the violence in Libya, we realised how dangerously disadvantaged we have now become as a result of this insane policy of cutting our defences – our defences being the nation’s rescue service. Incidentally, I was very sorry to hear how the Libyan crisis interrupted Nick Clegg’s skiing holiday. No doubt as he endured the deprivation of five-star accommodation in the Swiss alps, he was able to meditate on the hardships so bravely and selflessly faced by the unemployed and recently-made-redundant workers of Britain.
Yet it is not just the fact that we are now disarmed externally. Internally, the cost-cutting mentality has resulted in huge cuts to country police budgets, to the tune of millions of pounds. This means that the level of protection which we will receive from our taxation will be considerably less. The MPs, meanwhile, remain surrounded by armed officers. There is no question of cutting back on the 24-hour security enjoyed by the career politicians at Westminster.
A new Localism Bill has caught the headlines – an example of the Prime Minister’s Big Society. The Government says that local decision-making will return to local people after the years of top-down presidential-style government by Labour. Dave would like ordinary people to run libraries and post offices – I presume by that he is referring to the libraries and post offices that have not been closed over the last few years – because they are, inevitably, too expensive. Doncaster is closing, or has closed all of its libraries, the town no doubt still boasting an excellent number of bingo halls, amusement arcades, concrete shopping centres, and the occasional mosque.
Meanwhile, “localism” in my part of the world proceeds apace: an ancient area to the south of my village, East Malling in Kent, once known as the Heath has been all but bought up by developers. The old name, is to be changed to – The Warren Wood Nature park – another example of the reality that there exists very little localism, or that localism and locations can easily be bought on the open market.
A couple of miles away from the so-called Warren Wood Nature walk, there is a vast suburban development called Kings Hill – a somewhat sterile area of reflective glass office blocks and houses that might be seen in Anywhere, USA. Kings Hill was built on the old RAF West Malling airfield, and all the remains of this wartime place is a few outer buildings and the control tower. In 1940, this building guided the Fighter planes which defended our island: today, a developer wants to turn the control tower into a Costa Coffee, Starbucks or Coffee Republic – with offices.
As a local independent Councillor in my district, I have publicly opposed this plan – arguing that we are beginning to inhabit a country that is devoid of identity, locality, and a sense of history and continuity – ideas which are alien to the planners, the builders, the bureaucrats, the politicians – all of whom seem to see the world as a gigantic shopping mall.
John Cruddas, a Labour MP, and Jonathan Rutherford, Professor of Cultural Studies at Middlesex University, recently commented in an article that we, the British people, are not so much living in a country, as existing in an economic system. And they are right. Years of the free-market mantra – the notion that growth and profit symbolise happiness and are the most important human activities; and years of unchallenged liberal-left propaganda – the view that tradition and national identity are outmoded and irrelevant to life today – are jointly responsible for the sterility of society today.
We have, today, become a mass – a herd of consumers, bleeping our way through supermarket checkouts and hunched in front of plasma-screen TVs or computer terminals; a gigantic human milking machine for local and national government. We inhabit a strange technology-dominated, twilight Britain – where bland politicians and a bland managerial class – corporations, council chief executives etc – run our lives. And yet despite our technology, and the way our TV scientists are able to provide us in half-hour slots with the answers to creation and the existence of the universe, our country seems uncouth, idiotic and unintelligent.
I don’t usually agree with Andrew Marr of the BBC, but in his series on modern Britain, he did coin a phrase which summed up the nature of society today. Marr described our post-imperial, post-industrial society – you might even say, our post-society society! – as existing in an “oozing mass of materialism”.
The lava-flow of consumerism and the cultural anaesthetisation which we have experienced has created a new type of society.
The majority of people, if ever they were interested at all, appear to have turned their backs on politics or political activity. I doubt that this has a great deal to do, as Andrew Neil argued recently, that the public schools and “new money” have triumphed over the inferior state schools – thus denying state school pupils the chance to gain the qualities which enable them to become politicians, although there is some truth in what Andrew Neil says. The fact is, though, that the people have turned their backs on politics and the public life, because they feel that they cannot influence what happens to them, and would rather retreat behind their front doors, worrying about their own lives, or who will win the Strictly Come Dancing contest on television. People have become atomised and private. The idea of volunteering for something, for joining a cause or a political party has greatly declined in Britain, especially – and worryingly – among the young.
The ordinary citizen lives in a state of anxiety. Worried about their finances, worried about their jobs, worried about everything – Britain is full of unhappy people who don’t believe in very much, or more importantly, are given very little to believe in and be proud of.
People also feel that if they put their heads above the parapet, they might render themselves unemployable – not fitting into the Human Resources officer’s criteria for what makes a person a risk-free, controllable employee. The corporations and companies of today require an easy-to-manage workforce that doesn’t think or act to any great degree. And woe betide you if you exhibit the dangerous tendency of being a right-winger or Eurosceptic… you simply won’t get a job at all!
It is now the case that private companies have become infected with the politically-correct mentality which we thought only existed in the world of deranged left-wing Labour councils. Today, companies have not just the pseudo-sociological control mechanisms of HR, but CR – Corporate Responsibility, or in other words, a company doctrine that requires them and you to celebrate the all-pervasive creeds of “diversity” – or in other words, the forced fragmentation of the established British national identity; and to “embrace” gay rights, and proclaim your support for equality.
Several British companies in their company reports, now proudly state that their employees receive compulsory on-line diversity training, and that even supplier companies are investigated, to check that they subscribe to the same “business values”, or in other words, march to the same politically-correct tune.
Despite our supposedly liberal society, true individualism has never been so repressed. In Britain today, the smart suit has almost died a death. The briefcase has been replaced by the rucksack, even for City commuters. The tie is regarded as a symbol of one being slightly repressed, old-fashioned. Instead, the open neck shirt is a requirement.
Call me Dave! The Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago, even members of the Royal Family now feel that they have to say things such as: “OK, guys”.
Society has lost its formality, it has lost its dignity. There is, to quote a phrase by Derek Turner, now Editor of The Quarterly Review, a modern cult of casualness. The military bearing which the police used to have has disappeared. The tall officer in blue, on the beat, has been replaced by someone wired up with walky-talkies, with mountain-rescue-style flak jacket, operating in the world of “community policing”. Meanwhile, on the 7th February, the Church of England announced that it was to make baptisms, weddings and other ceremonies “less formal” – the C of E the latest body to fall victim to the falsehood that people are somehow “intimidated” by anything formal. And there was even a discussion on Radio 3’s “Breakfast” programme (it used to go by the much more pleasing and formal title of Morning Concert) about whether orchestras were “intimidating” ordinary people by wearing white tie and tails. Is there no end to this campaign to engender slovenly mediocrity everywhere? Say what you like about America – at least their orchestras appear in white tie and tails!
On the 9th February, the Telegraph reported how the BBC Trust (that secretive cabal of holier-than-thou lefties who run the BBC – with our money) have decided that Radio 3 is actually too daunting and not light enough, and that it caters only for musical connoisseurs. What they really mean is that they dislike the white European nature of the music that the network provides. And inevitably, the BBC Trust has concluded that Radio 4 is too white and middle class – despite it being, in my view, a sort of Guardian newspaper on air! Perhaps they should replace Melvyn Bragg and Libby Purves with rastafarians – I am sure that will improve our perceptions of the world!
American or Japanese visitors to these shores, expecting to find Englishmen of the David Niven or George Sanders variety, are shocked to find a lack of civility and a brutalised public environment – a push-and-shove free for all, in cities and towns dominated by hideous, dehumanising plate glass and chrome buildings. Estuary English has slowly eroded local accents, and the middle- and upper-class are ashamed to speak the Queen’s English. Brian Sewell and Sir Roy Strong, and voices like them, are absent from our television screens. British television is now the stronghold of swearing chefs, the verbally aggressive, and people who have to end every sentence with “mate”.
In the 1970s, I can remember a very different BBC – the BBC, with its high-minded drama, Play for Today, and classical music in the form of Sunday night at the Proms. In 2011, BBC 1 is a cultural wasteland of lowest-common-denominator rubbish: the dystopia of such horrible, barbaric places as the so-called school, Waterloo Road, the politically-correct hospital, Holby City, and the truly vile Albert Square of Eastenders. They may be available in High Definition, and they may win television awards, but they represent the death of civilised England.
So we have it: politicians feathering their own nests, or duck houses; corporations happy to ditch British employees in favour of relocating to Poland or China; private-sector companies with puritan managements and politically-correct HR officers; social-workerish police, who look as though they are ready to patrol Snowdonia or the Cairngorms; and a country dominated by shopping malls, superstores, boarded-up high-street shops, and concrete slabs for city centres. And I haven’t even mentioned the domination of our affairs by the EU – something which we must thank the Conservatives for!
What are we going to do about these problems – this seemingly irreversible decline of Britain, to the levels of grunge, casualness, environmental degradation – with a demoralised and powerless population, kept happy by football, gadgets and consumerism?
Despite the grim picture I have drawn of modern Britain and its problems, I believe that we can as traditionalists and conservatives partially retrieve the situation.
Earlier, I mentioned how the people of this country appear to have fallen into a state of supine acceptance of their lot. But this is not entirely the case, and I am heartened to be able to report to you one or two instances of ordinary citizens fighting back and winning against the forces of uniformity, bland commercialism and environmental destruction.
I will also tell you – again, despite what I have said – that there a thousand places left in England and Great Britain, where rooted, normal, national and local identity have survived, and continue to thrive; and how there are countless groups, societies, orders, charities and associations – such as the Traditional Britain Group – which observe customs, maintain old ways of life, and keep all the good things of Britain alive. The mainstream media, of course, are not interested in the Newent Onion Festival, or the Rye or Lewes bonfire societies and their torchlit parades through 17th-century streets, or the pageant of English Music which takes place (no thanks to the Arts Council of England) each May in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, or the military re-enactment groups, or Mummers’ plays, and ceremonies for St. George, St. David, St. Piran or St. Andrew.
It is as if England and Britishness have retreated to the greenbelt and the countryside, places which have – despite the best efforts of local authority nitpickers, urban-minded planners, the race relations industry, and the Black Environment Network which believes in imposing multiculturalism on Kentish yeomen, Scottish crofters and Welsh dairy farmers – managed to retain some of the remnant characteristics of the nation which we all once knew, and loved.
And it is in the countryside and local communities, and within the conservation cause, that I believe that we, as traditionalists, can best influence public affairs. Of course, marching against the Nice Treaty, or joining the scores of thousands who poured into London, and then into Edinburgh, on the famous Countryside marches is tremendously important. But such events, although making us feel as though we have done something decisive, tend not to have a lasting impact.
Instead, allow me to tell you about how I changed the course of history, albeit on a small scale, for my village! In 2005, the Parish Council decided that it would be a good idea to build a skateboard park on one of the last-remaining green sites within the village. The Borough Council backed the plan enthusiastically. I – and others – decided that we did not want a graffiti-daubed skatepark with floodlighting just across the road from the village green and the war memorial, and so a campaign was embarked upon to express the outrage of ordinary villagers.
By a constant stream of letters and press releases to the local newspaper, and the circulation of information to the village – in the form of leaflets, which simultaneously reported back to fellow villagers and encouraged others to join the fight, we were able to defeat the scheme. During the campaign, I found myself in the middle of a somewhat tense correspondence with a very senior official of the Borough Council – an officer who is supposed to be a neutral executor of policy as decided by the members in the council chamber. And yet, I could not help but feel that I was dealing with an advocate of the scheme – an individual who was acting as if he were a policymaker in his own right.
The campaign grew, and I soon came into contact with a villager who enjoyed good contacts with a private planning consultancy – one of the best in the country. And so, after introducing me to one of the partners in the consultancy, my contact enabled the village campaign against the skatepark to benefit from almost free advice! The consultancy duly researched the entire matter, and we were able to present to the Borough and Parish Councils a very impressive, professional opposition to the scheme. The planning consultants had seen details in the skatepark application of which we – and most councillors! – were unaware. As you can imagine, our campaign gravitated from a level of amateurism to a new height of seriousness and professionalism. The end result? We won, and the hideous threat of the skatepark disappeared.
I might also tell you about another success in which I was able to play a part, which also shows that not everything our local authority does is bad! As an independent councillor, and member of our local Planning Committee, I was able to contribute to the wording of our objection to a staggeringly ugly proposed development – even by the standards of modern architects. I condemned the developers (who had informed us that this was to be an exciting new scheme) by suggesting their jagged, triangular-topped slab was anything but original or exciting – and that it was, in fact, a depressing repetition of the discredited, ugly and inhuman trend of ‘60s and ‘70s modernism. Out-of-place, out-of-scale and a perfect example of everything that the Prince of Wales has rightly condemned in the field of architecture and building, I am proud to say that some of my words found their way into the Borough Council’s report – and the plans were rejected!
And the Traditional Britain Group must take the lead on such matters –perhaps by opposing the hideous and alien skyline which is emerging in London and across urban Britain – the science-fiction structures of Richard Rogers’s ghastly, gleaming, yet monstrous new City of London; the attempts to build crumpled heaps of metal at the side of the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the general dictatorial march of the modernist architects as they inflict more of their own distorted egoism on our public space and civic environment. Two years ago, Germaine Greer was given a slot on BBC television to enthuse about a new, almost Legoland structure which someone wanted to build across Cambridge. I cannot remember whether this programme was broadcast on April Fools’ Day.
Ladies and gentlemen. I must tell you that I have, in 28 years of political activity, attended countless meetings and events (usually in London meeting rooms or pubs such as this) where we have made ourselves feel better by discussing motions about immigration, how we are going to work for a British exit from the EU etc. Important though these meetings are, I believe that the only way in which traditionalists are going to make a true difference to this country today is by involving themselves in local or county activity, on matters and issues that affect real people.
I must advise all of the younger people here today, who are keen to shape what happens to their country, and to oppose the great liberal-left-modernist consensus, to become as active as possible in their village or town. Set yourself objectives which can be achieved. Gather and inspire people. Meet people half-way – or in other words, avoid being doctrinaire, yet promote and adapt the doctrines we believe in at local level.
In a recent Radio 4 programme on the Danish Peoples’ Party – I hasten to add, the programme was not sympathetic to that party! – we nevertheless discovered a winning formula for politics. The Danish party has managed to make itself attractive, both to the concerns of what is perceived to be “the Left” (social policy, are we going to have a local hospital or old community centre etc) and to the concerns of the Right, with its traditional ideas of national sovereignty, and a wish to halt immigration and reverse so-called diversity and multiculturalism.
Working from the grass-roots, rather than trying to assail the centre of government; talking to ordinary people on their terms, and being sensible and patient enough to modulate tone and presentation, the Danish Right has gained trust, and has become completely relevant to the lives of Danish citizens. And as a result, the party is able to hold the Government to account and alter the legislation that it does not like. Whilst not yet forming a government, the People’s Party holds a balance of power. It has a bargaining position, and it can exert real pressure on government decisions.
I believe that similar achievements can be made here in Britain. But before Right-wingers and traditionalists ever reach that position of power, we need to change things – bit by bit – starting with what can be done in our local area. And with the public so disillusioned with the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition, now is a very good time to offer our fellow citizens a real choice – independent, traditionalist, small-c conservative candidates who can appeal both to the “pavement and drains” concerns of the Lib Dems, and the “law and order”, true-blue beliefs for which the Conservatives once stood.
There is now a chance that we might be able to change the voting system. I believe that this will help to weaken the hold which habitual party allegiance has over so many people. It will encourage a disillusioned life-long Conservative to give his second preference vote to the UK Independence Party, or the English Democrats. It may encourage a Labour voter, living in the middle of Islamic Lancashire, to vote for a party committed to halting all immigration. And it may encourage, too, a greater Green vote – which, as we have seen with the successful campaign which forced the Government to abandon its disgraceful knock-down sale of England’s ancient woodlands, is a vote that has huge potential and power. Again, here is an example of the nation being capable of waking up and of using grassroots methods to change the diktat of Government – and the mind-numbing mediocrity and sameness of the three-party system, in reality a one-party system. This is true Localism!
So there is much that we can do. And I hope this speech has outlined a constructive approach for the traditionalists of this and future generations.
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