despite a multiculturism blindspot, david ware writes a lot of sense here.
The second unifying factor in Europe was a belief in multiculturalism. I had been brought up in an all-white seaside town in the 1950s, so I could see no downside to the tremendous vitality brought to large cities by immigration, at first from the West Indies, later from Africa. New arrivals cheered the country up, and did a lot to make it less smug and introspective. Later, when waves of refugees took to small boats in the Mediterranean, it was the Greeks, the Italians and the Germans who behaved heroically, doing their best by people whose only crime was to be born in places torn apart by invasion or by civil war.
But, to our shame in the UK, it had in the interval become necessary to the overriding Brexit cause to insist, against all evidence, that multiculturalism had failed and that “taking back control” must mean the same thing as closing down our borders.
When I was young, there was a very funny column under the pseudonym of Peter Simple. It was whimsical regressive fantasy in the old Daily Telegraph, full of attacks on motoring and housing estates. Peter Simple extolled an England peopled by sheep, aristocracy and peasants, and unspoilt by psychology, materialism or the weakening of the class system. When he railed against psychoanalysts in Hampstead, the dog whistle was at full screech. But in an interview with the column’s author, Michael Wharton, in the 1970s, he complained bitterly that, since his days at Oxford, it had always been assumed that such feudal attitudes must be a form of camp. It was amusing, of course, to want to take Britain back to the 18th century. It made good copy. But surely he couldn’t possibly have meant it?
Again, one of the bleakest features of my adolescence in the 1960s was the ridiculous disparity between Britain’s claims to global status and the reality of its condition. Harold Macmillan was rash enough to say that Britain was in an alliance with the US which resembled that of the Greeks with the Romans. We’d do the thinking, they’d do the enforcing. It became clear at the time that even if you could dismantle at least some parts of an empire at unexpected speed, dismantling the imperial thinking that went with it was going to take much longer.https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2021/03/populism-without-people
In the 20th century, British institutions continued to behave as if they were powerful and unique long after they had ceased to be either. I had never thought that in the 21st century such grandiosity and stupidity would return. I thought the empire was dead. But the rhetoricians of Brexit chose, not purely for tactical reasons but because some of them actually believed it, to revive the convenient idea of British exceptionalism.