Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Our island home really isn't so bad

We are not busted and have what it takes to rise to any number of challenges. Call it reactive patriotism if you like, the defence of the realm in its time of greatest need

Share
Related Topics

First, an apology to the Mail on Sunday right-wing columnist Peter Hitchens, never my political buddy but someone who takes his thoughts and words very seriously. In a book review, I described Hitchens as an English nationalist who longed for back then when "Englanders were pink, before immigrants sailed in and spoilt it all." That, said Hitchens, was a gross misrepresentation of what he believed. He is concerned not about England but Britain, the collective, and what he seeks is a binding "monoculture" for all who live here. He undeniably takes a pretty grim view of the state we're in.

Millions of others are pondering the future of our nation, debating, arguing, opining, questioning, sometimes getting abusive and over-excited. That is the priceless effect of an election: it leavens the most indifferent or bovine citizens (even the ones who can never effing be bovvered) to raise their thinking beyond the next beer or credit card payment.

The live leaders' debates have added heat and drama to what is turning out to be a decisive contest that will (hopefully) reshape parliament and define the story of Britain. Are we a dead loss, careless and hopeless, or, with all our faults, still a spry, effective, inventive, conscientious people? Ask that question and a rift valley opens up between gloomy, woebegone naysayers gathering on one side, and, on the other, some peppy upbeats, mostly those who still feel the heartbeat of optimism. Policies and politics depend on which narrative convinces voters.

We have a choice. I am always wary of blank-cheque jingoism – like Gordon Brown's Great Britain mantras – and am daily chastised for being critical and negative about my adopted land. The list of our social ills, political corruption and systems failures is long. The whole column could be filled up with those, starting with teenage pregnancies, alcoholism, hooliganism, workless lives, inequality, poor education, violence, and on and on and on. But yet, I find myself revolting against David Cameron's "Broken Britain", an indefensible slander, a calumny. We are not busted and have what it takes to rise to any number of challenges. Call it reactive patriotism if you like, the defence of the realm in its time of greatest need. It could be that one reason why the Tories are not running away with the election is that they make us feel bad about ourselves and snatch away the nation's self-respect. We may also be wary of politicians who talk up disasters and threats. That is one way they can take undue control over individual lives.

Phillip Blond, a perceptive though paranoid thinker, sees only wreckage and chaos when he surveys the landscape. In his recent tome, apparently Cameron's bible, he bears witness to what he terms the "wholesale collapse" of the country. There is "increasing fear, lack of trust and abundance of suspicion, long-term increase in violent crime, loneliness, recession, depression, private and public debt, family breakdown, divorce, infidelity, bureaucratic and unresponsive public services, dirty hospitals, powerlessness, the rise of racism, excessive paperwork...". Surely not excessive paperwork! And it goes on for a further hundred or so words, a depressive litany to make Pollyanna jump off the cliffs of Dover.

Sir Richard Attenborough, Terence Conran and others certainly don't believe Britain is kaput. In a published letter they say: "Investor confidence, tourism and our own self-esteem can be destroyed by painting a distorted picture." Boris Johnson too is a dissenter. Not for the first time I seek the views of oldie relatives for whom there is no place like this home. Some were swayed by the Tories but now, like other migrants made good, they are seriously offended by the crashing assessment.

Uncle Hassan, a simple man with a small corner shop and big bank account, spoke for many at a gathering recently: "Rubbish, what rubbish they are talking. This country is the best for hard-working people. OK, lazy ones are there, but have you seen how much people are now working: wives, husbands, everyone, day and night? When we first came they were much more idle. Also look how they help Haiti, and the way they take care of disabled people. You think they do that in our countries?"

The last few months have been hard for my family. My English brother-in-law, devoted to my sister, who is mentally ill, is dying of cancer. They live in the valleys in Wales. Although nothing can hold back the inevitable, or mitigate the grief, he has been cared for well by health professionals and his friends and neighbours have rallied to help.

Our teenage daughter has, inexplicably, started to faint many times a week. Again our fantastic GP and Charing Cross Hospital have spun into action and are testing for all possibilities. (My best mate, an American doctor, cannot believe we are getting all this for free and does the sums each time we talk). Her teenage friends make sure she is never alone. Friends of friends have phoned me to offer support and help. What broken Britain?

It is The Economist that has delivered the most effective rebuttals to the lurid Blond/Cameron scenario. Britons should beware of getting into a "slough of despond" or falling back on nostalgia about the good old days. The latest crime figures show a significant reduction. Though stranger violence has gone up, child homicides have fallen by two-thirds since the 1970s, when Britain was near the top of the list for these murders, says Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University.

Gun crimes are on the decrease, though are still unacceptably high in some sections of the population. We smoke less than any other European nation and domestic violence has gone down dramatically as society attitudes change. Even drinking isn't as bad as I thought; though binge-drinking is going up – a very bad thing – we are number 10 in the OECD for the amount of alcohol consumed by Britons over 15.

We still have to achieve the really good society. You don't do that by writing off the country. Sure it's creaky and grumpy and in parts dangerously unstable. It needs fixing. But Britain's Got Talent (I love that quirky show) and drive and guts and gumption and energy and kindness and faith in itself to handle the recession and whatever blows in our direction. Here's hoping we vote in a government which doesn't devalue this extraordinary social capital.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd put the creative industries at the top of the agenda

Christopher Frayling
 

How I’ve backed the winner in every election since 1959

Andreas Whittam Smith
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power