Tuesday 1 December 2009

The world turned upside down

An old man recently asked whether I thought we would still be driving on the left when I reached his age. “Because,” he added, “it’s just about the only thing they haven’t changed in this country in my lifetime.”

He had been born into a white, Christian, English-speaking nation in which fathers exercised authority, divorce was exceptional, the monarchy and Parliament were respected, and it was naturally assumed that British was best.

Somehow, without anyone ever consulting him, he had seen it transformed into a multi-racial, multi-cultural society in which every religion (apart from Christianity) has to be carefully respected “to avoid giving offence”; women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities are sometimes given preference over heterosexual white males to improve representation, balance or simply compensate for centuries of alleged wrongs; children can no longer be disciplined; traditional institutions and values are relentlessly mocked; our armed forces have been run down and the essential attributes of national sovereignty quietly transferred to the European Union; and we have had to adjust ourselves to foreign weights, measures and even place names.

Education, for example, has been turned upside down. When I went to university I could have said, like Neil Kinnock, that I was the first member of my family in a thousand generations to do so; though unlike him I am well-educated enough to know that this is mainly because universities did not exist for around the first 975 generations in question.

In my day, if seeking admission to an Oxbridge college, it was a distinct advantage to have had a parent there before you; today it is a positive handicap. Both positions are equally unfair. Access to education at all levels should be based simply on ability, not manipulated to give a leg-up to the badly taught or thick.

My wife recently obtained a new British passport in which I noticed that some of the key information was translated into two sorts of gibberish. Not foreign languages that might actually be useful overseas, like French, Spanish, Russian or Mandarin, but what I finally worked out were Welsh and Gaelic. This is surely madness, because anyone so hopelessly monoglot in Gaelic that they cannot understand the English word “passport” is completely unequipped to leave their croft, let alone the country.

How long will it be before passports become 100 pages thick with translations into Cornish, Kurdish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Lallans, Swahili, Tagalog and every other conceivable minority language that might be spoken somewhere in this country?

Yet the clamour for change remains relentless. Open any national newspaper and you will read the whinges of self-appointed pressure groups complaining that our society is insufficiently adapted to their needs, say because BBC Radio 4 is still fronted by too many people who sound potentially white and middle class.

There are conspiracy theorists who argue that what has happened to Britain since the Second World War is the result of a carefully co-ordinated campaign by the Left. Having failed to achieve the glorious new dawn of communism, they turned to destroying society by systematically undermining and reversing all the assumptions on which it was based.

A revolution has undoubtedly been achieved, but it seems far too organised and brilliant for the Left as we know it ever to have effected it. The old Britain was simply asking to be toppled because it was a fundamentally decent place in which those in charge always thought it reasonable to listen to the other person’s point of view.

Now fears of being accused of racism or bigotry have silenced opposition so effectively that even the leadership of the Conservative Party is quick to condemn proponents of traditional values as “dinosaurs”. And so, oddly enough, our bright new “rainbow” society looks certain to be altogether less tolerant of dissent than the monochrome, patriarchal, deferential one we have lost. Is anyone surprised?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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