Toxic Englishness

When I saw this 10 second clip of Michael Gove clearly high on something strong, standing in the Commons ‘at work’, something made me angry, something clicked.

It’s not that ‘they despise us’ or ‘they’re laughing at us’, although given their classist conditioning both these things will be true. It’s that the Tory front bench get their kicks precisely from how obscenely hedonistic (or debaucherous) they can make their day to day life, while still having the most prestigious highly respected jobs in Her Majesty’s Government. See, once you have that position, the next rungs on the ladder of success are all to do with how much you can openly take the piss and still get away with it. Knowing that they can moderate the public perception through contacts at the BBC or Daily Mail. And, even if they had to resign over a scandal, it’s not a big deal – no one’s going to prison, getting hurt or god forbid run out of cash. It’s like playing Monopoly.

So what is it exactly that triggers me. I think its something deep in English culture…

red telephone booth near building during daytime

Being grossly offensive in upper English culture is like flashing a shiny Aston Martin. A signal of the firmness of your power. The more obscene you are seen to be – the more powerful you must be and the more disgusting you are – the more truth you know – that the real England is founded in evil or some shit like that 🌝.

Because we have to be so polite in our words, our best opportunity to flex our position in the hierarchy (or class system) is these occasional displays of indulgently offensive disrespect.

That, I think is toxic Englishness, and it’s not unique to the top of society. It’s found all over, its the same thing fuelling English football fans abroad when they chant “we’re racist and that’s the way we like it”. To me, there is no racism motivating this chant, it’s purely a power move, what they’re really saying is: “We’re feeling lowkey defensive and unsafe in Paris, but its fine because we’re British so we’re better than you and you can’t get us“.

For some, the English class system doesn’t stop at the cliffs of Dover, it extends to the rest of the world and everyone has their place – and that place is under the UK (except America).

Similarly Matt Hancock’s pub landlord friend comparing his lawyer aggressively defending his corruption from the press to “a tramp on chips”, and the Bullingdon club initiation ceremony of burning a £50 note in a homeless man’s face have the same familiar ring to them.

It’s a side effect, I suspect, of our sometimes sickly politeness. We are constantly, absent mindedly and insincerely apologising and thanking each other. Every “you are wonderfully kind, my good man 🙂” is building a paper mask that in its worst excess creates a cavity of unexamined judgement to fester behind it.

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Perhaps I only see it this way because after living for 4 years in the Netherlands I’ve seen the alternative. The Dutch are sometimes the rudest people on earth but the other side of this is that they’re disarmingly and wholesomely honest about everything. They won’t bullshit you or hide. They are true, sometimes that hurts but most of the time its good to know where you stand.

Soon after arriving in Netherlands a Dutch colleague told me that he’d studied for a year in Romford (UK) as part of his degree. I was really keen to hear what he thought of British people.

He paused for a few seconds to give me an honest answer:

“Honestly I liked it but I sort of find the English to be… nervous.”

It hit me then that the Netherlands had felt absent of the nervous social self consciousness that was the water I’d been swimming in my whole life – especially the further south I ventured in England.

It’s nice to be nice, but the truth is always concealed in the dark, and like anything in the dark, we irrationaly fear it. 

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