English culture is dead. Or dying, perhaps.
This is something we have been led to believe by a multitude of Daily Mail articles and right wing extremists, usually with the finger of blame pointing squarely at immigrants, asylum seekers and the political correctness brigade.
In 30 years time, they tell us, we’re all going to be speaking Arabic because of those
bloody Eastern Europeans. And we can’t even have St George’s Day Parades like we
used to where everyone gets together in the town square and symbolically slays a dragon. Suddenly this voice has taken on a new ferocity with the false or exaggerated stories in the media about local councils burning national flags and shooting on sight anyone in an England football shirt. Or something like that.
The worrying thing is, these people aren’t as wrong as you might like to think. Admittedly, they’re a long way from being right, but they have picked up on a genuine problem. They just look at it through goggles of patriotism and reactionary right wing politics.
But English culture actually is dead. And someone killed it.
So, time for the post-mortem, because the cause of death is far from clear. To illustrate my point, the example I’ll give is the East End of London, my home. Sixty years ago it was a booming community of mainly dockworkers and their families. They’d been through the blitz together, everyone knew everyone else’s children and most of them were related in some complicated, partially incestial manner. There was a local dialect, a local way of life, a local butchers, a local pub, a local market. Kids played around on the streets until late, forming friendships that they would carry on into adulthood, the cornerstone of the next generation of community life. Ok, so it wasn’t a paradise, they were still pretty poor, a lot didn’t get a proper education, there was crime, housing problems and deprivation; in short many of the problems people in the East End face today. Then the government closed the docks and shifted them out to Tilbury. On the docklands they started building what is now London’s financial district. The local residents, many of whom lived in council housing schemes were evicted to make way and moved out to Essex. Out went the local butchers and the local market, in came Asda and Savacentre. Out went the local pub, in came executive flats for the new city workers. Out, in droves, went the alienated and unemployed local people, in came migrant workers, brought in as cheap labour for the few factories that were still open, or to drive the buses, clean the offices and work in the supermarkets.
And so the old culture died. And what killed it?
Did political correctness shut down the docks and drive up housing prices? No. Did
immigrants close the local butchers and open a supermarket? No. Was it asylum seekers who moved into the luxury flats that took the place of local boozers? No again. It was the rich. It was capitalism.
This process was repeated up North when that angel of rampant, merciless economic
growth, Margaret Thatcher decimated the mining communities. Bit by bit, it swept across the country. We became a consumer society, relying on television for our entertainment and superstores for our food. And somewhere inside that process, English culture died.
In some ways, at least in East London, a new culture has grown up out of the multi-cultural society that has been born there over the last few years. Again, we’ve developed a local dialect, a local way of life and we still have a local market. To me this is positive. I think I was lucky to grow up in an area that produced such an exotic melting pot of cultural experience. But to the older generation, especially those who were moved out to Essex and the fertile BNP breeding ground that is Barking, it’s all very different from how it used to look and sound. The pace of change has overtaken their lives, and a lot of what they used to understand has disappeared. These are the people who have borne the price of the developments. They’re the ones whose jobs have been swallowed up, undercut or shipped overseas. They’re the ones who have lost the culture which represents their roots and sense of belonging. And out of that comes the bitterness, the resentment, the reactionary racism. They’re lost in the modern world, casting around for someone to blame and pointing the finger at political correctness and Eastern Europeans.
But immigrant groups don’t kill a culture. Most of the time, they enter it, permeate it and contribute to it. This has been happening for years and is in no sense the death of English culture. The change, which has been occuring since the 80s, is the spread of big business. In many ways, the rise in immigration over the last few years is a symptom of that. There wouldn’t be a poverty stricken global south without capitalism and as a result there wouldn’t be immigrants. There wouldn’t be a need for hundreds of service industry workers without advanced modern capitalism, and if there wasn’t they wouldn’t be coming here. Immigrant groups have left their home, their family and their life to come and work doing menial jobs for poor pay in a country with rubbish food and even worse weather. You wouldn’t do that unless you had to. Like the unemployed former miner up north, your average immigrant is just an innocent person whose life has been overcome by economic tides they have no power to control.
And it’s not just English culture. The disease is global. Farmers and rural communities in the third world have had their land taken away by multinational businesses and been forced to get a job in a sweatshop and live in an urban slum. All over the world, local communities and local ways of life are being swallowed up by economic growth. Everyone becomes a worker or a consumer. And because of that, everywhere, even in England, culture dies.
So don’t listen to those who tell you it’s because of the immigrants and flag bans and the lack of St George’s Day parades. But equally don’t listen to the liberals who laugh at the idea that there’s a problem. Just look for who the real enemy to English culture is.
Ironically enough, it might be the man who owns the paper telling you it’s someone else.