British culture is built on an iron strong foundation of the glamorisation of suffering for your patriotism- and seems to intertwine those two ideas into one. From phrases like “just lie back and think of England” when you’re in a situation you’re suffering through to ridiculous notions of “blitz spirit”, we are a country in a torrid love affair with the fantasy of our own suffering somehow being noble, a country unable to break the ropes of an oppressive government because we simply cannot extricate ourselves from the idea that this is what we’re allotted: we are not meant to suffer for our nationality, and it is time for us to come to this collective conclusion, and strive for better.
Austerity was a political choice. The levers to create it were pulled at the end of the old labour government in 2009 in response to a worldwide recession, in order to try and pare back money the country was deemed not to have and to prevent us from entering the type of runaway inflation and decimation of various sectors of the UK economy that- ironically- we’re getting a hearty taste of now. The tories took emergency cost saving measures and unbolted the safety wheels, cash-grabbing money back from the British public under the guise of protection. This affected public services which have never recovered since.
Austerity has caused mass death. We can put this alongside the government’s handling of coronavirus, both the virus itself and not funding mental health resources, as another way in which they have failed many people who would otherwise be here with us.
To someone my age (I am 35), austerity and its reverberations are still felt now. I am “used”, I suppose you could say, to a country that chronically underfunds its resources.
I’ve done limited travelling, but I do remember being amazed at how clean, up to date and timely German public transport is. I went to Cologne in December 2017 to enjoy the Christmas markets with my then boyfriend. Everything was lovely: the streets clean, the trains showed up exactly when they should and even some of the architecture that reminded me of England’s brutalist office buildings thrown up in the seventies were in good repair. I found myself raising my eyebrows at the regularity, pricing and ease of the public transport systems.
I had a similar experience in Portugal with trains so cheap, regular and timely that I was amazed at how they ran. It was impressive- but public transport that shows up on time is not, actually, amazing or revolutionary. It’s what should be expected.
Yesterday my train home was delayed because flooding on the tracks meant the driver was stuck elsewhere and another had to be found.
These things happen, of course, but it’s symptomatic of the UK’s horrific infrastructure. Our public transport up north is notoriously- to coin a northern phrase I love- shite. Old trains that break down, are loud, crowded and infrequent. Between the companies who run these lines and a government who doesn’t care about the north it’s not surprising. But we’re used to it, until we see that it can be done elsewhere.
Did you know, in Japan, rail operators kept an almost defunct platform functioning for years, to get one girl to school? I wonder if the UK would do that…
As systemic problems always do, this spills beyond my idle frustrations with substandard public transport. Strikes abound in the UK now- rail, postal, university, healthcare, public servants and more are furious, and it isn’t simply that people are furious about pay- which, just so it’s clear, is a perfectly valid reason to strike on their own. People are striking because their working conditions are, and I am quoting from a doctor friend of mine, “abysmal- like working in a field hospital”.
Our public services are collapsing around us. In the middle of last year we were warned about possible energy shortages, blackouts, food shortages. And how do the establishment respond to these stories?
Firstly when I say “establishment”, I have to point out that I am now of the firm opinion that most of the UK press is an arm of it. So let’s look at the press!
How did the media pundits amongst us respond to worrying stories of blackouts? Why, well known right wing columnists eagerly inked their pens and wrote that treasured phrase from above: blitz spirit! I mean, they got through blackouts in the war, didn’t they? It built character! The minor difference being there was a war at the time.
These blackouts have yet to materialise but if they do, it’s not because the Luftwaffe are dropping shells on us- it’s because the government has never wrested energy companies under control, worked to forecast the actual infrastructure the UK needs, implemented proper taxation against the hyper rich (both individuals and companies) and put that money into the regulation, restoration, upkeep or improvement of energy infrastructure.
We were warned there could be blackouts and the press’ response was: “get candles and enjoy the quiet, peasants”.
Ironic, also, that we were forecast energy shortages- most of us are afraid to put the big light on now. Remember the stark rebukes of our fathers shouting it was “like Blackpool illuminations in here!” when the big lights were on- ironically now the country has scaled back so much on helping with the price of energy bills it wouldn’t shock me if our living room bulbs ended up a more decadent display of wealth than the whole promenade’s flashing cacophony.
How about the food shortages? Most of these warnings were two pronged- the damage done to import/export by an almost hilariously badly implemented Brexit deal means that it’s harder and more expensive to bring goods into the country and, when they are here, there aren’t enough workers to get the goods on the shelves. The escalated prices are passed, through governmental lassitude, to the customer- so you’re paying more money for less readily available goods.
The press was absolutely fervent in its desire to advertise poverty porn, running stories about the positive side to fasting (fasting is a choice, not eating because you can’t afford food is called, say it with me, starvation), or which types of food you can eat even when they’re mouldy. They were happy to platform MP’s like “30p Lee” Anderson who claims, still, that you can make meals for 30p. Lee, as an MP, earns £82,000 a year by the way. Even today Lee posted a photo on twitter of a “30p breakfast”, of two weetabix and milk.
4 pints of milk is £1.65 and a box of 48 Weetabix is £5.50- are we allowed to go to Tesco and ask if we can get our milk and weetabix in daily 30p sized assortments?
I shouldn’t say that should I, that will be Lee’s next bombshell bill in parliament… and the government are so on the nose about their distaste for the working class it’ll likely be termed the “let them eat cake” bill.
A brexiteer recently, someone who somehow STILL supports Brexit as not an abject failure, told me we need to “be more positive and make the best of it”. I’m sure she meant that to be helpful but I read it as “ignore reality and try to eke some joy out of the utter ruination of our economy based on hubris”.
If you voted for brexit, I don’t hate you. If you still support it, this far down the line, I think you’re utterly foolish and are one of the people who this piece aims to wake up.
Our suffering has been normalised- we’re told by press and by our very parliamentary representatives that it’s normal to be cold, in the dark, hungry, sick, unable to not go to work, forced to walk office corridors with people who think wearing masks is an infringement of their rights but their covid breath isn’t an infringement of yours. And we accept it.
That’s the point that makes me want to tear out my own hair. So much of the British populace accepts it! And I’m not talking about the belly crawling shoe kissers who thoughtlessly worship career politicians like Boris Johnson (e’s so relatable, I could have a pint with him- me nan died in her care ‘ome cos of ‘im but ‘e did ‘is best), of course some people exist whose entire raison d’être is to gently caress the loafers of their “betters”. I don’t concern myself with that type, I can’t help them and frankly, I don’t want to after many years of trying.
I mean the people who grumble and mumble, who moan and mope- and who still accept it. The people who are truly fed up but who never speak truth to power. Those who are as fed up as they should be with the government but who do not act are entirely antithetical to improvement.
They grumbled and mumbled as the cliff edge of brexit came closer and closer, they whinged and griped as the government peeled back our protest rights not once but twice, they shook their heads and frowned as the government gripped our right to vote in it’s hand and squeezed until it stopped flailing…
The people who are completely subsumed by the 1984-esque message of “it has to be this way and we need to make the best of it” are lost, but those who know it’s unrepentant bollocks and who still don’t fight back infuriate me.
The country will continue to collapse around the ears of everyone in it and some of us are working both behind the scenes and in the open to push a critical mass of the public into calling for better.
Many of us are forming broad networks to counter the insidious message of “suffer for being British, you are British because you suffer”. And still, still sitting in their dark kitchens, fingers white with cold, a core knot of Brits who hate it but don’t stand up against it, throw their fine chains around our necks and hold us collectively in place! If everyone who was sick of this industrial fuckery took to the streets we’d petrify the government into action before they could snicker at us.
Let me be the first, the loudest to break this spell which has so thoroughly entranced so many.
You deserve better.
You, as a person, do not deserve to worry about how much it costs to put your light on. You don’t deserve to buy the cheaper cuts of meat because you can’t afford the normal ones. You do not deserve to shelve the idea of property ownership. You do not deserve to have to move to a smaller place because your landlord put your rent up and your employer’s kept your salary the same for 7 years.
You don’t deserve to drag yourself, coughing, sweating and still shivering, into work because you can’t afford a day off and your boss legally does not have to let you.
You don’t deserve to wonder if you can get away with one more slice of bread from the packet if you just scrape off the little green bits (I did it recently, it’s not pleasant).
You don’t deserve to work 8 hours a day with an hour’s commute either side, where the transport is late and costs you so much it eats over a quarter of your salary but where if you work from home pundits like Isabel Oakeshott call you entitled.
You don’t deserve a government who sees you strike from your job, not because you’re greedy but because- work or not- you can’t afford your bills, your rent, your goods any more or because the conditions you’re working in are so dire you are getting PTSD.
Britain does not have to be a country of abject misery. We’ve done this to ourselves, imbibed a past that, in large part, doesn’t exist and the parts that do don’t deserve to be wooed across our front pages because they are already romanticised by the fools typing them with no clue of the suffering they reference.
Of course they suffered during the war- it was a war. And I’m tired of hearing about how you grew up with frost on your fucking windows; because you did, doesn’t mean I should- do we, or do we not, want to improve conditions for the human race as we grow, do we or do we not want better for our children than we had?
We are a country who tells its young to go to unprepared schools to catch coronavirus whilst telling them to get better grades on harder tests to apply for jobs that need experience and a degree we’ve made more expensive- then, finally, an employers says yes and offers you a salary that means you’ll never be able to save enough to buy your own house. Asking for more means you’re greedy, so we accept the miserable salary because maybe we can cut back on our designer coffee- the coffee that used to be £2.80 that’s now £5- it’s wise for a capitalist to bump up their prices but stupid for us to buy it, so we don’t, and yet still – no savings because the rent on your run down flat went up and the bus that sometimes just doesn’t show up is more expensive… and we tell people this is normal as if it is not the definition of wrong.
We take misery from the shoulders of the older generations, reshape it into a whole new type of trauma than they suffered, and then tell kids how easy they have it.
Being endlessly condescended to by people who normalised their own misery and abuse is tiresome, so here is another key message that must be forced out into the British populace like a vaccine against this ridiculous rhetoric: what you went through was terrible, and shouldn’t have happened to you. Just because you survived it, doesn’t mean we all should have to.
We have utterly normalised suffering at every level of our society- and why? What has it brought us? What is the grand old payoff for all our noble British suffering?
Nothing positive can, or will, come from the British continuing to embrace warmly the notion that our immiseration somehow magically creates a better, stronger country. It’s for those of us with the strength and with the conviction to gear up and march amongst the throngs of those who still embody this message to disabuse them of it.
Suffering does not make you British. Britishness does not have to make you suffer. It is not just that you deserve better because everybody does, but because when you accept worse conditions for yourself this has a collective effect on everyone around you- when the strongest amongst us accepts poorer, those less strong must do the same and for much too long, the strongest amongst us have been forced to accept less.
Britain can and will be a prosperous country filled with people who are happy to be here, not because we suffer under a government unbothered about its country, but because the country will take care of us again.
We need broad change- to legislation, to our dealings in the world- but most importantly, to our own self perception. We do not deserve the continual recycling of harsh anti British rhetoric camouflaged by the act of waving a union jack or wearing a golden crown as it’s said. The establishment is arguably anti-British, calling for us to chin up and accept our difficulties- the true patriots among us are calling for a final end to the long suffering of our lives, to the reformation of a system which has seen me, at thirty five see three recessions.
Our leaders must not be weakly constructed from the same tattered cloth as those from before but be those strong and brave enough to break the rusted chains of suffering that we are forced into and chart us a new course.
Does all this seem hyperbolic? Good.
Too long in my short life have I watched people in this country languish and have the pavlovian urge to enjoy that suffering. If this writing lights even one fire in one other British person’s heart then so be it.
We deserve better. I’ll say it until I’m no longer here to- because the establishment won’t.
We deserve better.