The recent General Election in Great Britain and Northern Ireland has revealed that a large number (tens of millions) of voters, and the winning party (The Tories) have an answer to the questions What is Britain For? and Why is Britain? - and they are depressing answers.
The economy, and nationalism.
It seems the narrow priorities celebrated by our political parties, given as the narrative purpose for the existence of Britain, is that it is better that it survive and defend its borders and its economic growth, than that it not survive.
The losing parties are much the same, with the slightly more profound idea that the economic well-being generated by growth and commerce be shared a bit more equitably.
But, at the end of the day, there is no vision to lift us beyond a perpetual cycle of birth, treatable illness, merciful death, and, in between, work, or unemployment, profit or loss, then pensions or penniless retirement.
The reason I am a Catholic, and a poet, is that I find this vision of existence - secular, materialist, and capitalist- mainly driven by those in engineering, science, politics and finance - to be depressingly limited and technological. What is Britain for?
Where is a driving aesthetic, or moral, or ethical, or even philosophical, description of the purpose of a nation, or gathering of nations? What is the historical endgame? Where do we aim for, what is the goal?
America has such a story, because its narrative of hope and achievement is underpinned by a society less secular, and less scientific - Americans are bigger dreamers, bigger believers - but the stories British politics tells us, and we accept, are mean, petty, shallow and self-interested.
Britain once sought an empire; that may have been wrong morally, but at least it was an impressive goal with reach. Since Suez, it has merely sought to punch above its weight. Now it merely seeks to stave off ruination, and slow decline.
The Tories will cuts Arts funding; and the British, especially the English, will continue to stave off emptiness with a diet of celebrity gossip, box sets, music festivals, drink, drugs, sex, and books by comedians and footballers. It is a dismal future, only marginally improved by choirs, some plays, and a handful of new poems and novels each year worth reading and recalling - and a few great songs. What makes British life worth living should not be just procreation and assisted suicide, not just atheism, bake-offs, a bit of shits and giggles, and so-called aspiration - Champagne for breakfast, a fake tan and a villa in France.
What is Britain for?
For power, for greatness, for profit, for self-defence, for business?
I wonder when it might become about justice, saving the environment, creating more and various art forms, and richer, more nuanced and complex life experiences? Maybe even, just a little, about trying to impress God.
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