Land of Hopeless Tories? Why Peter Hitchens is Wrong About Britain

If you asked me at the tender age of seven what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered “British.” My love affair with your country began as a child, seeing the great houses of the countryside, the gritty streets of Walford on “EastEnders,” and the middle-class pretensions of Hyacinth Bucket. It grew as I did, introducing me to music via the Spice Girls, sport through David Beckham, and the grand ancient trappings of monarchy with Princess Diana’s funeral. When my father finally caved and our family went online, the first thing I did was go into a chat room and pretend to be British in order to talk to British people. Using the screenname “LondonLad,” I told people I was a 13 year old bloke living “near Parliament.”

It wasn’t until some years later that I realised how obvious a fraud I had been, but even now I chuckle happily at the thought. I wanted so badly to be British, even if only in some concocted fantasy played out in my mind. I would go on to study British history at a small American university, voraciously consuming anything written by Dicey, Pepys, or Churchill. When I finally visited for the first time, in 2007, I wept. I cried again when once more I left this past August. There is nowhere on this earth I’d rather live, nothing more I long to be.

This is all more saccharine than a Yorkie, I know. Of course, Britain is a country with many problems, some of them quite serious, all of them urgent. Unemployment, whilst having decreased, is holding rather steady at 7.7%-and is considerably higher for young people. The expenses scandal, Plebgate, the 2011 riots, Falkirk and the sheer need for the Leveson Inquiry all play well into the old Tory mantra of “Broken Britain.” I can only assume that this is the reason why, on last night’s Question Time, Peter Hitchens encouraged young Britons to emigrate. The message? “Anywhere’s better than here, mates.”

My blood boiled when I saw him quoted on my Twitter feed. For a man who routinely argues the hardline nationalist, Eurosceptic point of view, I was aghast to find out that he had such an abysmal view of his own country. You see, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life dreaming of ways into the United Kingdom. And along comes Hitchens, telling my British counterparts that they should give it all up, throw in the towel, and get out before it’s too damn late. The system is irreparable. The country’s in shambles. All is lost. Britain’s going down like the Titanic, and Hitchens is simply the orchestra playing you a fond farewell. Get off if you can; Hitchens, it seems, is himself resigned to going down with the ship.

From my point of view, across the pond, things are hardly that dire though. Britain isn’t the Titanic. Britain is more like the Trident programme-strong, proud, perhaps slightly past its prime in terms of infrastructure but nothing a little investment can’t rapidly improve. It is a nation with a proud history of liberty stretching back nearly a thousand years. Britain is a country that values fair play, that is pragmatic but compassionate, sensible yet idealistic. It is a nation constantly evolving in thought, striving to be fairer, to be kinder, to be better. A nation of witty banter, of overly polite commuters, of nosy but helpful neighbours who may peep across the garden hedges but will pop round in a pinch. Britain is a country that drinks Pimms in the summer, lager in the winter, and gin year round. It is a nation of industrious, ingenious people, who cracked the double helix and invented modern computing. It gave the world democracy, Shakespeare, and all five members of One Direction. It is a land that welcomes immigrants from around the globe, that adopted an Indian dish as its national supper, that in a generation went from Section 28 to celebrating a gay proposal at the Speaker’s house.

This is remarkable progress. And it’s progress I long to be a part of. I am sorry if Peter Hitchens thinks that his country is somewhat lacking, but I happen to think it’s quite fantastic. I can understand his concerns, but what I cannot accept is his attitude. It does no good to sit and bitch about everything that’s going wrong. If you’re not part of the solution, they say, you’re part of the problem. Peter Hithchens is most certainly part of this problem. Encouraging young people to flee the country not only creates a brain drain, but it is utterly insulting to the millions of Britons who are working to make their country better—like Brooke Kinsella, who since her brother was senselessly murdered in 2008, has been a tireless campaigner against knife crime, or Barnsley police sergeant Darren Taylor, who dashed into an unsupported mineshaft to save a suicidal man. In one snide, sardonic comment, Hitchens insulted the millions of Britons quietly working towards making Britain greater yet.

Of course Britain is facing hard times. So are we all. In case Hitchens hasn’t been paying attention, America isn’t exactly a stellar place to be either. Our government can’t even get a basic website to work, and one of our leading conservative figures wants us to celebrate Easter like Jesus did. Well, before I’m crucified and stabbed by a Roman, I’d like to live a little. And if I have my way, I’ll be living British. Being born American was a blessing, no doubt, but it was also a curse, in my case. My heart longs for Blighty, and if Peter Hitchens has such a dour outlook on its future, I will gladly swap him passports.

19 responses to “Land of Hopeless Tories? Why Peter Hitchens is Wrong About Britain”

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    • Hi. I’m afraid Peter Hitchens is right. I’ve just published a book on Amazon kindle which explains why. Called “Titanic Britain: 50 Years of the Left-Wing Liberal Iceberg”. Would appreciate your review if you see this message. Thank.

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  12. Of course this column is hyperbolic, as it serves both as an indictment of Hitchens’ comment and an introductory post written in the dead of night. I actually agree with Peter Hitchens more than this post allows, and I’m certainly not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s simply his comment, that young people should leave Britain, that got under my skin. I could have done research, shown how Britain’s energy prices are still low compared to the whole of Europe, how unemployment figures in the UK are nothing compared to the rest of the EU, compared the standard of living and happiness quotient to the Commonwealth or the United States, or simply quoted some dry figures from my FTSE feed or the latest report from this or that quango.

    That wasn’t the reaction I had to his statement, though. It wasn’t analytical or professional. It was personal. Perhaps this guttural patriotism is a uniquely American phenomenon, one that I’ve transferred to my love of Britain. But, you know, for him to tell people to get out when I (and so many others) have spent our entire lives trying to get in? Yeah, that’s a slap in my face.

    • To be fair to you, I certainly couldn’t agree with the call to emigrate either. Do not apologise for your patriotism, I am very patriotic indeed. The things you say as positives in this your comment in reply are true, but there are a lot of very worrying things happening and developing, some hard for you to understand simply because you are not here. I believe it is a very valid thing to be extremely worried for the future of Britain, there are many roads and junctions ahead of us, and so many of them seem to lead to oblivion. I am not being melodramatic. Peter Hitchens is a wise veteran of social commentary, but very weary and under a constant barrage of disappointments, people abusing and misrepresenting him, he has clearly grown pessimistic and sees a road ahead leading to desolation. I see this road too but hope we can steer away, but we cannot be sure. Don’t be too hard on him, he is a defender of your country against an unfortunate amount of misguided anti-Americanism in Britain. You upbeat optimistic demeanour is not something I wish to browbeat down, I daresay this country could do with a good few more people like you. If it was up to me we’d be welcoming in Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians with open arms but instead we restrict the immigration from these countries as it is the only way we are able to restrict immigration because we have open borders with Europe. This is why you can’t get in. We are not an independent country any more, that’s another problem. We face many now and in the future.

      Twitter: Ben Kelly @IabiMyshkin

  13. … although your love for my country does touch me, and I myself, as an aspiring writer of 29 years of age, have not completely given up on old Blighty yet, though the odds are stacked against her!

  14. So…. you know nothing about Britain except this air headed idealism? I’m afraid the problems that Britain has run very deep indeed. You list things that were great about Britain that are steadily being eroded or are simply no longer true, sorry. It’s proud history of liberty is has been disgraced over the last few decades and this is assault on it is continuing, it’s tradition of politeness given was to coarseness and rudeness rapidly, It is rapidly becoming a nation of ill educated, non-skilled people with pitiful literacy and numeracy skills with little knowledge of their own history, it is becoming a fractured and divided society and is in dire straits in many ways. You are not qualified to wade into this debate i’m afriad. Peter Hitchens message is indeed an unhappy one, but his life’s work has been dedicated to highlighting what he sees as the countries ills and he does it because he cared. I don’t agree with him on everything but certainly he, myself and the many other people, who have lived here our whole lives, expressing deep concerns about the decline of this country are more relevant and knowledgeable on the subject then a fantasist addicted to his own idealistic dream world Britain, many of the elements of which are crumbling which is exactly where such concern comes from.


    A British person

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