Tales of Poundland (formerly GB)

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“Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives. The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century. It must be as appealing to some who have voted for Trump and Ukip as it is to the supporters of Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn.”

George Monbiot

Human beings seem built to emotionally relate to stories. It’s a primordial and powerful urge – and a valuable one too. Everyone has some kind of narrative which helps to orient their lived experience, even if they claim that they don’t have one. Yet especially in Britain, our current lack of a healthy national story, has created a kind of void which has been filled by the story of neoliberalism. The ‘counter narrative’ to that – if it can be called one – is the reaction to the consequences of neoliberalism by a very substantial section of the population: by which I mean the disempowerment, frustration and anger people feel about seemingly having no control over what happens in their own country following unfettered globalisation.

As George Monbiot has described well, the neoliberal narrative has been much more successful in guiding and dominating British society since the Thatcher years then any other narrative. And part of the consequences have been to contribute to a degradation of traditional British society and culture – and most especially, of meaning –  for many people, especially those on lower incomes. The ‘Left Behind’ have become vast swathes of the country.

The far more caring social democratic narrative has fallen flat as a story which can still inspire many of us Brits. The Third Way of Blair and Clinton came to be seen as just a mild cherry picking of neoliberalism. British left leaning internationalism with its focus on postnational human beings and ‘global village-ism’ certainly has a narrative, yet  unfortunately leaves many Britons feeling excluded, alienated and lacking belonging. It may be ok if you’re a left leaning internationalist living in London or other big cities; the changes may not feel threatening but instead, exciting and optimistic, reinforcing your narrative about multicultural progressive development. But for many in the hinterland, it’s ‘what happened to my country’ as Great Britain becomes Poundland. So we end up with no other grand project or story to share together other than that of neoliberalism, and the often inchoate and understandably angry reaction against it.

The crucial social cohesion of communities in Britain is being undermined by all this. And now of course, the blame for our predicament often falls unfairly on immigrants. Key uniting British values such as tolerance, acceptance, fair play and moderation, are regrettably becoming hollowed out in this time of division and alienation. And it is values like these that I cherish most about being British. Qualities like these give Britons a healthy sense of identity, and yet these long forged values are being eroded by the knock on effects of neoliberalism. This not only is making our society less compassionate and less decent, but is also degrading our formerly more healthy sense of national identity.

There is no simple solution, and I do feel there is a gritty resilience in the national spirit, which can help us weather these difficult times. Yet it would help us if we could come to a new embrace of localism, of belonging, of heritage, of continuity, connection, and identity. We need a new inclusive national story.

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

Being British: Our Once & Future Selves available :http://www.chrisparishwriter.com/book/being-british

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