Well, what a Herculean medal haul by the miserable, cake-filled island cast adrift in the Atlantic – maybe we had too much time on our hands after the millions of Brexit job losses. At the 2012 games there was as much ideological fanfare as celebration of sporting success, but Rio was unconstrained glory. A few commentaries on athletes being too posh or white surfaced in the liberal media, but gained little traction.
With the 2016 Olympiad about to begin, Danny Boyle’s Stratford ceremony was reviewed by the BBC. The dazzling spectacle narrated Britain’s progress from feudal drudgery and dark satanic mills to socialised welfare and a multicultural society, and itself became part of our modern history. Celebrities offered snide remarks about how the country had since taken a turn for the worse, but as argued by Brendan O’Neill on Spiked website, the extravaganza had showcased not the real Britain, but the metropolitan elite at its zenith. Although much lauded at the time, on reflection it illustrates the incompatibility between cosmopolitan ideals and what national identity means to the common people.
Unlike Boyle’s liberal-left fantasy, O’Neill opined that the much-maligned Brexit showed the British people at their best: standing up to self-serving authorities and freeing themselves from the politically correct straitjacket that defies common sense. After defeating the Nazis, who would have thought that politicians would willingly cede our democratic rights to foreign power? Yet since 1945, Britain has been on an insidious trajectory to a bureaucratic polity of guilt-ridden Oxbridge types who are rather embarrassed about the plebs out there in the provinces. The EU was a robust means of overriding an electorate of dullards who don’t know what is good for them. Leave them to their simple pleasures of football, soap operas, two pints of bitter and a packet of crisps, while dismantling their outmoded traditions.
Too often, beliefs about how we should live differ between politicians and those they represent. Consider the urban redevelopment after the Attlee government was elected in 1945, when planners were allowed to play like a child with Lego. In Plymouth, the port that suffered the Blitz worse than anywhere else in Britain, administrators gazing over the rubble were not downhearted but excited. Here was a unique opportunity to create a new society, built on socialist doctrine. Whatever was left by the Luftwaffe could be systematically erased from the landscape – all in the name of progress.
Radical civic architect Patrick Abercrombie, whose book Town and Country Planning eschewed preservation of old buildings, was asked to submit a plan for Plymouth. The complete transformation was presented in a propaganda film ‘How We Live Now’ (see YouTube), but as social historian David Kynaston told, ‘there was little or no consultation, with all objections overruled’. Michael Foot, who won the Devonport seat in Attlee’s landslide of 1945, promoted the scheme with the zeal and certainty now revived by Corbynistas. Although citizens liked their narrow streets, local groceries and pubs, they had faith in Labour. At council meetings a lone Tory urged caution, but was drowned out by the momentum for change. The plans were approved, and for more than ten years the city was a vast building site.
Habitat was to be organised rather than organic. Plaster models displayed in town halls around the country boasted a clean white myriad of flyovers, subways, footbridges, barriers and purely functional rectangular buildings. But in reality, such design rarely worked. The spine of central Plymouth is a wide pedestrianised boulevard: flanked by dismal grey civic offices and empty oversized retail units, it lacks human character, and the tended flower beds seem merely an apology for their surroundings. Ugly housing estates, separated from the hub by dual carriageways, are a hive of drug addicts. The people trusted the politicians, who wreaked lasting damage to their close-knit communities.
Nonetheless, the paternalistic reformers of the post-war settlement compare well to the current political establishment. They created the welfare state and the NHS, for all its faults, and they were driven by egalitarian materialism. Politicians still tell us how to live, but their agenda has changed. Instead of concrete slabs, the building blocks are now cast in the concepts of identity politics. Ironically, increasing globalisation has brought a decline in universal values and provision. Some members of society are more deserving than others, and discriminatory relativism treats people differently by gender, culture, sexual orientation or any ‘protected’ attribute.
Critics of this Tower of Babel soon find themselves on the wrong side of the moat. Before gay marriage was legalised, there were several instances of employees disciplined for voicing their opposition (despite supporting the existing law of the land). Recently Philip Davies, a Yorkshire MP, was savaged for speaking against militant feminism. A prominent Labour politician demanded the whip be withdrawn, while the Lib Dem leader declared himself a feminist and urged Davies to be made a figure of fun. A Conservative being conservative is now a social anomaly.
Laura Bates, a young Guardian writer, gained a CBE for creating the Everyday Sexism website, where aggrieved women can report any perceived slight by a man anywhere and in any context. Such accumulation of anecdote may be meant for public good, but it feeds resentment and acts as another wedge between people. The fundamental problem with identity politics is that the various parties have conflicting claims, and convenient targets such as the white male cannot be sustained ad infinitum. Eventually the blind spots become too big. Feminists cannot ignore oppression of women in minority ethnic communities forever: they must either confront it, or accept differential treatment (as in Germany, where a court has allowed migrant Muslim men to keep their child brides).
As Peter Hitchens argues, a major mistake of the Conservative Party has been to relent to the cultural advances of the Left. Failing to see identity politics as a rigid structure in which they have become trapped, the Tories have uncritically endorsed the language of their opponents: ‘stay-at-home mothers’, for example, with the tacit assumption that full-time working women are somehow superior. So thank goodness for The Conservative Woman website, where we promote a society built on the hopes and habits of ordinary people. We social conservatives are the true egalitarians, and unlike the shifting sands of identity politics, ours is the house built on rock.
(Image: Garry Knight)