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.