Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Becoming the 51st state

Brave New World (The Star)
13 May 2015

It now looks like the transformation of Britain into Little America is nearing completion.


THERE is a movie with the title The 51st State. There is also a book with the same moniker. I’ve watched the movie and read the book.
The movie is quite fun, romping through England’s seedy side as we follow the adventures of Samuel L. Jackson’s chemist-turned-drug dealer who is trying to sell off his latest creation; a super-drug made of perfectly legal substances. It’s a lot funnier than it sounds, actually.
Anyway, apart from the fact that the move is about an American in Britain, I can’t really understand the reference to the “51st State”. Normally this term is used to describe, in a patronising way, Britain’s relationship with the United States.

Where they are so subservient to that superpower that they have become, in fact, little more than a rather far-flung state in the great US of A. Like an Atlantic Hawaii.
The book uses the term in a more direct way. In fact, it uses the term quite literally.
In it, Britain does become the 51st state of the United States of America. It can be read in two ways, either a right-wing fantasy or a lefty satire, and I thought it was pretty good. Farfetched, but pretty good.
However, looking at recent events in Britain, I wonder just how far-fetched it really is.
What distinguished Britain from the US for me is the fact that although Britain is fundamentally a capitalist country, they tempered that with a strong sense of social responsibility. The Second World War, which saw large parts of the country destroyed and their people suffering, brought the nation together in a way that the unscathed America never experienced.
There was a determination that no one need suffer when the community could work together. And this meant greater taxes so that education was free (or close to it), the National Health Service (NHS) meant free and good medical care and ultimately in the event that one was unemployed, there was a strong economic safety net.
It just felt so much more civilised and humane to me.
But over the years, these elements that makes Britain great in my eyes (not their colonial rampaging), have been chipped away.
Margaret Thatcher had no patience with society.
In fact, she once famously said there was no such thing. So governing with a degree of humanity was not in her brain at all.
She took laissez faire economics to a higher level and suddenly student grants were gone; privatisation was the new buzzword (infecting even the NHS), and the welfare state was replaced by a colder, more distrusting, system.
The woman who said she supported family values made it so that people would hardly see their children because the need to make money became the be-all and end-all.
It was not uncommon in the 1980s for people to live in (cheaper) Birmingham but work in lucrative London, leave before the kids woke up and get home after they fell asleep. Family values, indeed.
Of course, the Tories are easy targets for lefties like me. They can be caricatured as heartless semi-humans and in the case of Norman Tebbit, there was no real need for caricature (he would have made a great Nosferatu).But Labour too changed culminating with Thatcher’s illegitimate not so secret love child Tony Blair whose policies made it near impossible to know where the blue of the Conservatives ended and the Red of Labour began. (Lines in red taken out by Star - ha ha!)
It now looks like the transformation of Britain into Little America is nearing completion. Funding slashes to the NHS are still going on. Student loans are now here to stay and as for benefits, the recently victorious Tories are planning a 12-billion-pound cut.
And to top it off, they want to repeal their Human Rights Act, because they don’t want to be bound by the human rights standards set by European law and the European Court. They feel so strongly about this that they are willing to break away from Europe and strike off by themselves.
By themselves? Really? Tiny little Britain, which might not be a United Kingdom for much longer if the sentiments in Scotland are correct, wants to face up to the world by itself?
Talk about delusional. The sun has set on Empire a long time ago.
It is unlikely small nations can stand by themselves against the giants of America and China and the emerging giants of India and Brazil. So if they don’t want to be with Europe, whose apron strings will they hang on to?
Well howdy partner, welcome to the US of A!

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