We and They

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

(from `We and They‘, by Rudyard Kipling.)

A few days ago one of my colleagues here in Maynooth mentioned that he found it amusing that, although I’ve been living and working here in Ireland for less than a year, I have already taken to referring to the British as `They’ rather than `We’. He went on to point out that he noticed this transformation from First Person to Third Person some months ago.

I hadn’t realised that I was doing this, but I suppose it is a reflection of the fact that I have accepted that I will almost certainly be spending the rest of my working life in Ireland, and will probably end my days here too. It has taken relatively little time of observing Britain from the other side of the Irish Sea to recognize that it is changing into something grotesque and horrible. I want no part of what it is becoming, a squalid xenophobic rathole run by crooks, liars, and narrow-minded bigots. My new home is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than Brexit Britain.

About a year ago I wrote (from Cardiff) about my reasons for moving to Maynooth. Here is a quote:

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me re-examine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.

I haven’t changed my mind.

Not that I now consider myself fully Irish. Passport and citizenship notwithstanding, I still feel like a foreigner here and probably always will. I lived for over fifty years in Britain and do not have sufficient experience of Ireland to feel really part of it. Yet. That may come. But to appropriate the phrase Theresa May used in her Lancaster House speech last year I am proud to be for the time being, and perhaps forever, a `Citizen of Nowhere’. I don’t mind that, and a little bit of autobiography that might explain why I see things the way I do.

I was born in Wallsend (on Tyneside) in the North East of England. My parents were both born just before World War II started, also in the area where I was born. Of my four grandparents, one was born in England, one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland, and one in Wales. I always smile when I had to put my nationality on a form, because I always put `United Kingdom’. Of course being born in England makes me English too, but I find that less defining than `UK’ or `British’ or even `Geordie’, and now of course there’s the Irish dimension. To be honest, my ancestry means that I generally find the whole concept of nationality fundamentally silly. I find nationalism silly too, except for those occasions – regrettably frequent nowadays – when nationalism takes on the guise of xenophobia. Then it is truly sinister. Nationalism is a tool by which unscrupulous individuals whip up hatred for political gain, regardless of the economic or social consequences. This is what lies behind Brexit.

Anyway, talking about Theresa May, it appears that the Prime Minister has written a letter to the British public asking for them to support her `deal’. I find it very curious that she has done this when, without another referendum or a General Election, the British public is denied any way of either expressing or withholding such support. Is this an admission that there will have to be another vote?

It appears from her letter that the PM is particularly happy about one aspect of the deal:

We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all.

Apart from the fact that the UK always had control of its borders anyway, I find it absolutely astonishing that any politician could brag about removing from its own citizens the right to free movement across 27 countries. Freedom of movement was and is one of the great benefits of the European Union. Outside the EU, Theresa May’s `hostile environment’ in which all foreigners are viewed with suspicion and contempt will become even more hostile. It is just a matter of time before the unlawful deportations that the Home Office have inflicted on members of the Windrush generation will begin happening to Europeans currently living in the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of her awful letter, there is this:

We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people.

Excuse me, but the time for reconciliation was in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Referendum result. Instead, Mrs May went out of her way to insult, denigrate and marginalize everyone who voted Remain; she never apologized for the `Citizens of Nowhere’ jibe and her pals in the right-wing added other pejoratives like ‘saboteur’ and ‘enemy of the people’. Like so many other things she says and does, Mrs May’s letter is so phony it is painful.

Worse, the Prime Minister has continued to insult European citizens working in the UK by accusing them of `jumping the queue’. It seems that the Prime Minister just can’t stop her deep-seated xenophobia showing itself from time to time. It’s her defining characteristic, and it is sure to be the defining characteristic of post-Brexit Britain.

14 Responses to “We and They”

  1. Yes, it does seem a free-for-all in insulting foreigners. I should say that I have never experienced any problems on a personal level: everyone I have met has been open and friendly. But May has made a number of these unguarded and deeply hurtful comments. Xenophobia is easier to plant than to root out.

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      Pun intended?

    • “I should say that I have never experienced any problems on a personal level: everyone I have met has been open and friendly”

      If my guess is correct and you are Dutch, then you speak English so well that no-one expects that you’re a foreigner. (At least, they won’t until you open your mouth—and they see your good teeth!)

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Us and Them
    (Waters, Wright)

    Us, and them
    And after all we’re only ordinary men.
    Me, and you.
    God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do.
    Forward he cried from the rear
    and the front rank died.
    And the general sat and the lines on the map
    moved from side to side.
    Black and blue
    And who knows which is which and who is who.
    Up and down.
    But in the end it’s only round and round.
    Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words
    The poster bearer cried.
    Listen son, said the man with the gun
    There’s room for you inside.

    “I mean, they’re not gunna kill ya, so if you give ’em a quick short,
    sharp, shock, they won’t do it again. Dig it? I mean he get off
    lightly, ‘cos I would’ve given him a thrashing – I only hit him once!
    It was only a difference of opinion, but really…I mean good manners
    don’t cost nothing do they, eh?”

    Down and out
    It can’t be helped but there’s a lot of it about.
    With, without.
    And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?
    Out of the way, it’s a busy day
    I’ve got things on my mind.
    For the want of the price of tea and a slice
    The old man died.

  3. Bryn Jones Says:

    A central error of Theresa May’s strategy to leave the European Union was to promise a hard, but vague, vision of leaving, and to continue doing this for a full two years. She repeated meaningless phrases like “We’re going to deliver on Brexit”, “Brexit means Brexit” and “red, white and blue Brexit”. This fed the unrealistic expectations of leavers, who had already been promised an impossible policy for quitting by Vote Leave in the referendum campaign. Now that she has finally negotiated a policy for leaving, it falls short of the expectations of most leavers, expectations that she fed.

    Equally, May dismissed the concerns of remainers. She told us that we are “citizens of nowhere”. She failed to guarantee the right to continued residency in the United Kingdom of many long-term residents from EU27 states. Many remainers were concerned about the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum result for reasons including blatant lies by the leave campaign, a deliberately unachievable vision, overspending, illegal foreign interference, and the assassination of a democratic representative of the people by a Nazi terrorist. We have since established campaigns, networks and movements to oppose leaving the European Union, through democratic methods. Those campaigns are active and effective. Remainers might have agreed in July 2016 to a compromise policy around membership of some form of single market and customs union, but it is now too late. The continuing campaigns will argue powerfully against the United Kingdom quitting the European Union in the future.

    This situation is all of Theresa May’s own making.

  4. telescoper Says:

    I should have mentioned that ‘We’ and ‘They’ are the usual headings for the columns on a Bridge scorecard.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    I don’t particularly wish to enter into discussion about your views of Britain today, which you are fully entitled to hold and express, but I do disagree that Britain has changed a good deal recently. The atmosphere is both town and country pubs seems to me pretty much the same as a decade ago.

    • telescoper Says:

      Personal experiences evidently differ. I’d say that the last decade has seen a number of clear changes for the worse: a vast increase in homelessness, marked deterioration of public services, more overt signs of hostility towards foreigners, etc. There’s a lot more to life than the inside of a pub!

  6. Nigel Foot Says:

    Dear Telescoper,
    Thoroughly agree with your Blog. I too feel very depressed that the Country in which I was born and bred and have spent my working life, has changed irrevocably since the terrible 2016 Referendum. The “fair play” aspect of British life, respect for our the underdog and downtrodden has been replaced by an angry, xenophobic, intolerant, “nasty” outlook we present to the rest of the world. I am too old to move away from the UK as I am fast approaching retirement but all of my four grown up children have or will be moving abroad. Our eldest has moved to Germany, my son has moved to Dublin and our younger two will be moving perhaps to Canada and Germany also. What a shame that they do not feel they want to remain in “Brexit Britain”.

    • Shouldn’t it be the other way around, i.e. shouldn’t it be easier to leave if you are approaching retirement? At least you could leave after having retired. Many people do.

      • Dear Phillip,
        Yes possibly, I am not sure what I would happen about pension payments etc. Also I would want to contribute in some way to the Country I move to rather than just sit there drawing a pension

      • I know several people, including some from the UK, who moved abroad as pensioners. Payments are no problem. Many people have worked in several countries and receive payments from each one. The country of residence is happy because, just by living there, you spend money there.

  7. My Irish born parents worked all their lives for the NHS. I tweeted this story a couple of weeks ago in response to a thread by Prof Tanja Bueltmann @cliodiaspora .

    “At Brexit vote, people on train asked which way I will vote. #Remain, I replied I was proud that: 1. my Irish parents worked for NHS in medicine/nursing. 2. I worked at largest single site UK University, educating/employing globally. Their response: “People like you taking our jobs!” ”

    I was pretty shocked by this response and then later at the Brexit vote. I applied for an Irish passport over 20 years ago when we decided to renovate my grandparents house. I feel great links with Ireland since we were coming at least 3 times a year and had spent childhood holidays here, and I had been involved with irish and Scottish cultural music and language interests. I feel British as in from the “British Isles” and irish, but not English.

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