The UK Prime Minister invited views about what it is to be British, hence this essay.
Written by David Brittain
What it is to be British in 2013
What it is to be British depends very much upon how long one has been British! In 1936, the year I was born, for me there were no doubts about this matter because I was born into a white working-class English family, each member of which regarded their selves and their forefathers firstly as English and secondly as British. Similarly the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish folks regarded their selves firstly as Scottish, or Welsh, or Northern Irish and British second. All of the fore-going I will refer to as native Britons. At that time to see someone whose skin was not white was a rare and novel experience indeed. Employees were required to say "Sir" to their bosses, and bosses referred to their employees by surname only. We could name it "The pre-war keep-your-place syndrome".
Three years later at the outbreak of World War Two, and for the next few war-torn years, these local distinctions blurred when, as native Britons, nationally we all closed ranks to face a common foe, and as an evacuee infant schoolchild my war effort consisted during school morning assembly of singing, "What can I do for England that has done so much for me?"
When the war ended and as the warm camaraderie of shared perils quickly evaporated I recall the general atmosphere of greyness that followed with post-war rationing and shortages everywhere in the UK. The war had caused the tragic deaths of many British service men and this led to a dearth of employees to fill the huge numbers of post-war job vacancies throughout the land. Employers had no choice but to compete with each other to offer better wages and conditions of work, and to even adopt the previously unheard of custom of using their employees' Christian names. The effect of all this on the trade union-led workforce was to become convinced that this beneficial situation could never change, which of course it has done for the worse time and time again ever since.
Next, two changes took place that altered what it was to be British. The first change: trade unions insisted that the same pay rates should apply no matter the age or length of the employees' service to the employer; the same wage level for a man with a home and family to support as for his responsibility-free teen-aged son employed to do a similar job. The second change: before the war, most people disapproved of and avoided involvement in hire-purchase agreements. It wasn't considered to be respectable or wise to buy anything on credit. Post war the financial institutions eagerly focused upon the fuller pay packets of the workforce, and via the Media campaigned successfully to make hire purchase appear to be normal and respectable in the eyes of the public. The second change came through the money-makers' realisation that working teenagers now had wage packets just waiting to be milked. Another campaign, using the tools of media and entertainment, deliberately set about widening the generation gap so that parental sage advice and guidance based on hard experience would be ignored by their offspring. Enough of yesterday's dreariness; let's look at today's.
What of today, what is it to be British in 2013? In the UK it is difficult to voice an opinion without offending someone somewhere. For example, to broach the subject of immigration into the UK is to open a racist can of worms with endless heated arguments for and against, and yet really it isn't the immigrants that the British object to. Just like we British, mostly immigrants simply want to earn an honest living, pay their taxes and dues, and to live a friendly and pleasant life amid their local community. When I refer negatively to immigrants I simply mean anyone from wherever outside of the UK who on entering the UK expects to be housed and supported by UK taxpayers. Long ago via the media we learnt that in some foreign lands tuition classes on how to claim maximum SS benefits in the UK are eagerly attended by would-be immigrants. In no other country in or outside of the European Union would immigrants be offered the same generous support as they are offered here in the UK.
The main cause of discontent for the native Briton is the way in which his or her elected governments, no matter of which political persuasion, blithely ignore reality. The British public very much want to believe in the honesty, integrity, and wisdom of its political leaders, and so we trusted a previous government, which for its own reasons and motives urged local council house tenants to buy their rented council-owned houses, and as a result the stock of nationally available council dwellings was decimated in one fell swoop. Simultaneously, and maybe the object of the exercise, the power of the trade unions was drained away because, with mortgage repayments replacing council house rents, no union member could afford the freedom and right to strike for more than a couple of weeks. The results in 2013 are ever-lengthening council housing waiting lists on which native Britons have waited in vain for years, and this even before the flow of homeless immigrants began and continued to be inserted on a priority basis on the same UK council housing waiting lists, pushing native Britons further down the lists.
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