From the age of eight when I landed in my brown corduroy shorts and walked off the plane into horizontal sleet, England was my home. I was there for 18 years, joking that you don’t get that for murder . We went to live in rural England in a traditional farming community. I had some time off school while the English kids caught up with my superior Kiwi schooling, then got an education, a job and a wife.
I was granted release in the mid-nineties, and after a brief sojourn in Sydney (where we should all spend a year in our twenties) got back home. It was a bit of an accident – my wife wanted to go back to England, and I suggested we go via Auckland. People who have seen me tell this story 20 years later smile when I choke up describing sitting in the shuttle bus and smelling New Zealand blowing in the window. I cried with relief, and stayed.
Those eighteen years in Britain were something I cherish. I was educated, I got married, I learned about the origins of our democratic system. I marched and rioted, got rid of a Prime Minister and drank significant quantities of brown water.
But I always felt like an outsider, because I could never quite understand why the British seemed to take such delight in division: the class system just completely baffled me.
I lived in Suffolk, a postcard county with a history of being bolshy. The main town, Ipswich, was a fairly safe Labour seat. But it was surrounded by an ocean of blue. My thinking about the paradox of this English division began trying to figure out why the poorest members of British society (farm labourers, meat workers etc.) for which working conditions have historically been appalling, clearly thought it was in their interest to vote for the people who owned the land.
Sitting in my local looking at men with bodies broken by 50 years of hard labour and listening to them explaining why the guy in the Range Rover was such a decent chap (and lovely children - the nanny doing such a great job, what tykes they are when they come home from boarding school in the summer) would leave me open mouthed (and in need of more brown water).
I went to a solid state school of about 1200 kids 13+. We didn’t get a huge variety of subjects (no Latin on the menu) but I had a good education. Later on I discovered that on Wednesday afternoons (sports: a time when I could generally be found somewhere other than school premises) some of my cohort went to play golf. My mate shyly shared this years later, explaining how his parents had been careful to stress the importance of discretion - keep it quiet or the wrong sort of boys might want to go, and where would that end?
By the time we got to the nineties I had spent two years receiving final demands from the council for refusing to pay the poll tax and been on a trip to Trafalgar Square for a peaceful protest. We got rid of Thatcher (at the price of a VAT rise so those who could least afford still ended up paying - but a partial win). But when John Major was elected (he was anointed initially, as will happen shortly for Cameron's replacement) I couldn’t cope with the dissonance of it any more. We left.
From overseas it has been less frustrating, but still just as baffling. In the UK today they have a principled, thoughtful leader who has never been embroiled in expense or offshore trust issues, who has a long track record of working hard at the coal face for ordinary people. Who has a support base that spans the young and old, the black and the white, Muslims and Atheists. He isn’t afraid to call out the batshit inherited decisions of the establishment. But his name is Corbyn, and he doesn’t sit well with, well, some constituency that deems him inappropriate - we saw it in New Zealand with Shearer, there is something in our psyche that distrusts authenticity.
Pundits are describing the swing to Trump and UKIP (for they share the same DNA: cynical fascist thinking that appeals to the most basic of our instincts) as a call to reject the establishment. But for some reason this hasn’t quite managed to find its target. In our world have been embroiled in an experiment over the last 35 years that is just as ideologically flawed at that which it pretends to oppose.
We will one day view neo-liberal dogma as a fantasy invented by social scientists masquerading as mathematicians. Marx was an economist, and it is another bunch who have invented their own nonsense. This is at the root of our problems, because it fundamentally fails to consider us as a social species. It is an ideology that assumes everyone is a sociopath (which is why it tends to be sociopaths who float to the top of it).
So somehow in the UK (and to a certain extent the US and NZ) a well founded instinct that we are being screwed has been redirected. I can only admire the brilliance with which this desire for change has been directed away from the real cause of our problems. Somehow in the last 30 years it has become acceptable to promote the interests of the few over the needs of the many.
Instead of doing something simple that would have worked (e.g. voting Labour, or even better adopting proportional representation) the British have been carefully shepherded to an outcome that will do nothing but reinforce the position of the elite, promoting more fear and infighting among the people who it will hurt the most.
And that includes the British Labour party. At a time when they could have risen triumphant over a divided Tory party, they have chosen instead to sacrifice the good of their country and the needs of the many on the alter of egos and sense of entitlement*.
Nice work fellas. As Churchill said, in a democracy you get the government you deserve.
*Yes you Benn: this was no time for Daddy issues.