Friday, November 28, 2014

The Self-Destruction of Modern Britain

Speechwriters never get the credit they deserve, but they have changed the course of history more than once. The metaphor of an 'iron curtain' or the uncertain promise of a 'tryst with destiny' etched in people's minds a concept that would become permanent by the power of imagery, even if the reality may have suggested otherwise. Fast forward to the society of ours where sound bites and TRP points trump any real experience, the speech writers are enjoying unprecedented powers to change destinies of nations: This comes with a huge responsibility that most are not even aware of. 

So, for the future speechwriters, following the case of the person who would have made the Leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, David Cameron, promise to bring down immigration to 'tens of thousands' might be beneficial. Exploiting the resentment about immigration when an open-door policy had resulted in a surge of migration to Britain and the economy had just turned south was a smart political strategy; even Britain's gaffe prone Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was trying to champion 'British jobs for British workers' then. The genius of Cameron's speech-writer was to go beyond the vague promises and to distill the discussion down to a number range, which sounded reasonable. It was satisfying to all: It had a 'rivers of blood' smell in it but none of its nastiness, as well as a certain tangibility packaged with an appropriate vagueness. It was one of those triumphs of rhetoric against which no claims of logic, as many did dismiss the promise as an impossible target in a modern open rich economy, would ever hold. It captured the resentment of the people, the usual tortured anguish of any people faced with globalisation, and allowed them to indulge in a reasonable xenophobia.

After he won the election, Mr Cameron set out to make good of the promise with all the sincerity of a politician who owed his success to rhetorical flourish. He went after soft targets, international students, and made tough gestures, like putting up a stern-looking (though utterly inept) Home Secretary. He sponsored mobile billboards in black and Asian neighbourhoods offering voluntary deportations: The meaningless of the exercise being irrelevant in the context of TV crews it attracted. He promoted a vision of a British society with horses, pubs and ales, consistent with his native Oxfordshire country, but a far cry from London's working class suburbia. And, it did work - as the international students were suitably discouraged from coming to Britain, allowing some of the other country's education systems, like Malaysia's, get some unexpected windfall. However, the overall migration number refused to budge, just as the critics said it won't.

So, came desperate times and desperate measures: The idea of a 'Fortress Britain' was a slippery slope, much easier for any opposition to exploit than anyone on government. Mr Cameron's TRP sensitivity was a great boon for more xenophobic opposition, who did not have to necessarily maintain the dignity and political correctness of a Prime Minister. The fact that Mr Cameron made it a game of mere rhetoric, and not of any principle or practise, suited them very well: They embraced the horses, pubs and ale Britain, true to Mr Cameron's vision, and left him to play the catch up game with London's famously multicultural Square Mile as his baggage. 

The migration numbers kept rising, despite all the sternness of the Home Secretary and increasingly desperate tone of the Prime Minister, who seemed to be forever in the search of new villains. The South Asian students were replaced by the Romanian Gypsies, and in time, even the Polish, Spanish and Italian workers came to be blamed. After the students, the government tried to stop the refugees, despite indulging in various interfering wars in different parts of the world, which invariably left the humanitarianly assisted countries in more inhuman conditions, and encouraged even more people to leave. The government then zeroed on economic migrants, claiming they come to Britain for benefits, not for jobs. Indeed, none of the migrants coming from outside the European Union have any easy access to benefits, and as one thing leads to the other, Britain is now threatening to leave the European Union and to risk it alone in an uncertain economic world where size matters over most things.

This may be the story of self-destruction of Modern Britain. This can be perhaps seen as a jurney fro one speechwriter's glory to another: The vivid imagination of the Iron Curtain made Britain relevant even with its dwindling imperial assets; the clinical precision of 'tens of thousands' may now return it to a certain kind of deserved senility. As every society around the world ponder over globalisation, the seize of Britain from inside should serve as a cautionary tale; and indeed, every politician beholden to television would strive hard to avoid being a prisoner of campaign promises such as Mr Cameron's. And, perhaps those who care for Britain would desire that Mr Cameron sought some counsel from his deputy, Nick Clegg, who managed to renege everything that he ever promised and still kept a straight face. For Britain, that abominable position may be infinitely preferable than letting a speechwriter wreck its future.






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