When I was a little kid, I loved my country. My family used to move around a lot, and I basically didn’t live in the UK long-term for the space of about 15 years, but every summer (and every other Christmas) we would come back home, see our family, and see our country. I remember the excitement I always had in me when we landed in Heathrow airport; it might be hard to believe, but I felt wonder and love seeing all those horrible concrete exteriors, because on some level it meant that I was now home; and when you have been living as I have, always on the move and the only real constant you have being your family, the feeling of being at home was always elusive. When you finally do get that feeling, it’s a feeling unlike any other.
My sister and I would race to our rented car, eager to see the rest of our country. My exhausted mother and father would sit in their seats, dad at the wheel, and the car would start rolling. And as the sun sets, in that sunset that you don’t ever really get anywhere else in the world, my sister and I would fall asleep looking out the window at the fields and canals and lakes passing us by. That sunset, for me, was always what I loved. That was my country.
So it was always strange when I would visit my family afterwards, who often voiced opinions against the government of the time. I never understood that as a child. Surely, if you love your country, then you love your government too? If you love Britain, then you love all that dwells within it’s borders? Phrases like “Orwellian” were bandied about, and in a conscious effort to understand what that particular phrase meant, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four at the age of nine or ten. It left a profound impact on me, opening up my eyes to the evils that a government could do, in a way that sometimes half-assed history lessons at school never did. But I still failed to see the juncture between that and the country that I loved. I was too young to understand.
The first real pride, or nationalism, that I ever felt in my life was on the evening of November 4th 2008, when Barack Obama was announced as the winner of the presidential race of 2008. My family and I had just moved to the United States at the time, and we stayed up all night listening to the election coverage. When it was announced, finally, after many hours and lots of tea, that Obama had won, my Mother turned to me and said: “Andrew, remember this night. You’ve just witnessed history unfold before you.” I was becoming much more aware of the different shades of politics, and knew that the Republican Party was associated with racism, bigotry, and the NRA. Whilst I didn’t know if the Republican Party was bad in itself, I knew those things were; and the feeling that someone associated with those things didn’t win, that good triumphed over bad, filled me with pride and nationalism. I might not have been American, but it was the first time in my life I ever felt like that.
The second night, and the first and last time I have felt that pride for my country, was during the Danny Boyle-directed Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. It was a celebration of all our great English accomplishments and culture. Beautiful and mesmerising, I was utterly captivated. I loved my country as a child, but this was the first time it had ever manifested as nationalism for me. Watching all the athletes from all around the world of all ethnicities run on to the field was beautiful. The Opening Ceremony wasn’t just a celebration of Britain, but I guess also a celebration of multiculturalism and a multiracial society. It emphasised togetherness and love.
Between that night and now I have attended the University of Warwick, a famously left-leaning and liberal institution, and it has helped shape my own political ideas and concerns. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the place is that I understand myself and my beliefs more than I ever did before. I understand politics, and I understand that loving your country and loving the government are most definitely not the same thing.
And there has been much cause for concern of late. Bigotry, racism, and fascism has gained a foothold in Britain that it didn’t perhaps have before; the leader of this contemptuous group is none other than the vile and bloated Nigel Farage (ever notice he looks like a human / toad crossbreed?), who hides his thinly-veiled racism under a carefully composed exterior of “for the people” this and “these bloody Tories” that. He’s really quite clever, and is perhaps the most representative of the EU referendum that’s just happened.
For those that aren’t in the UK, I’ll fill in the details for you – the UK has just voted on whether we should leave the European Union over issues of “forced” immigration and possible financial ruin. It has been a campaign filled with lies, hate, and racism. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have been the key leaders of the “Brexit”, or “Britain Exit”, movement, whilst virtually every major economist, liberal politician, and cultural authority has advocated remaining in the EU. It’s not often that you’ll find me agreeing with David Cameron (another utterly contemptuous figure), but I have on several occasions throughout this campaign.
The Brexit campaign in particular has been characterised by xenophobia and hatred, as can be seen below.
Not only that, but it has also made promises about recovering the NHS through reclaiming the large sums it has been sending to the EU.
Never mind the enormous investment that the United Kingdom has received from the EU, but both of these statements can characterise the Brexit movement as a movement uninterested in discussion with the EU and a renewal in intense isolationism. And just look at how these lies are already falling apart:
Today has been a victory for fascism, racism, and intolerance. But I guess I can’t complain, since just over half the country have voted to leave the EU. Whatever your thoughts on the EU; surely a campaign with such an emphasis on division and hatred is a signifier of “bad politics”? I guess not.
I am utterly heartbroken at the news today. It’s got me thinking a lot about my childhood and my naive love for my country back then. It gets harder and harder every day to get that love back, when we have a government that hates the poor and disabled, and we have just voted for a bunch of apes that spew racism and hatred on a daily basis. And whilst I may have been happy just a year ago at the news of David Cameron’s resignation, I now am genuinely frightened by him leaving 10 Downing Street; who will replace him?
So I ask now – where is the country that I once loved? I don’t recognise it anymore in the headlines that I read. Where is the country that jeered and clapped and cheered when Usain Bolt sped to victory? Did it ever even exist? I start to wonder about that myself. For a while now a bout of ugly nationalism and fanaticism has been growing in this country, and I have been terrified at the thought that it should ever gain a proper foothold in our society. I guess it has now. Why would anyone want to ally themselves with a campaign that has repurposed the suffering of the LGBTQ+ community to stir racism, fear, and hate? I truly don’t know.
I’m left with the feeling that perhaps I could have done more; I could have been more outspoken about my own beliefs in the run up to this election. People who know me know that I’m not one to make political statements and anti-establishment pleas beyond the nodding and agreeing with what others have said. Perhaps that should change now. Perhaps what is needed is less nodding and more speaking.
All we can do now is refocus our energies onto working toward a better future; and making sure that the likes of Farage, Johnson, and Gove don’t have a chance to screw this country even more come next election. So folks, please think seriously about how the Leave campaign has characterised it’s argument, and how it’s many lies are beginning to split at the seam; do you want these people in power? It could be Orwellian, I tell you.