The Undigested Empire


We British haven’t digested our recent past history, and this still contributes to our confused national sense of identity. And by history, I’m talking about the British Empire. We’ve never dealt with the reality of the drastic change Britain went through in only a couple of decades in the mid 20th century. The largest Empire that there had ever been in human history just disappeared, without fanfare and for the most part without much bloodshed. Embarrassedly, we quietly dismantled it.

 Jeremy Paxman in his Empire points to the effect that our disconnection from the past has on our own psyches.

‘Instead of trying to grapple with the implications of the story of empire, the British seem to have decided just to ignore it. It is perhaps possible that this collective amnesia has nothing whatever to do with the country’s lamentable failure to find a comfortable role for itself in the world. But it is unlikely. The most corrosive part of this amnesia is a sense that because the nation is not what it was, it can never be anything again. If only the British would bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name, they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world.’

Owning our past, finding belonging, can do much in my opinion to open the sluice gates of our national psyche and spirit, letting it flow and connecting with a new story of our times. We will then more easily discover our organic and effective role in the world as well a more sane relationship with the rest of Europe, the continent we are actually a part of.

Incidentally, as well as the effect on our national psyche, the legacy of the Empire is not at all distant or academic. I experience it every day in Britain. We all do. Sitting on the tube I am endlessly fascinated by the sheer extraordinary diversity of people, nationalities and languages in every carriage. More in one single tube carriage on the Victoria line than a great Victorian explorer of the past would be likely to meet in a lifetime of travel. Sixty countries worth of former Empire plus (at least for now) another twenty seven countries worth of the EU all mixing in London and all over the country today. This is one very real and tangible consequence of the Empire.

Being British: Our Once & Future Selves available:

Humour: a Funny link to British Creativity


Creativity is clearly important to all of us and I think that, as a nation, we British have much to be proud of regarding this key quality, both in our past and also very much in evidence today. One possible element, when looking at what factors are conducive to creativity, and particularly in relation to Britain is: HUMOUR. An odd connection? Bear with me.

It’s surprising to me how we often don’t tend to recognise the value or centrality of creativity in British life; yet if we tend towards a cynical bias, we are more likely to perceive decline wherever we look, and in doing so, miss the presence and ongoing value of our nation’s creativity. Of course I’m not suggesting that the UK has some unique monopoly on creativity compared to any other country.

Creative sector is the second largest sector of British economy

Although we tend not to think so, as a nation we British have been and still are remarkably creative. I’ve frequently heard it said that after the combined sector of banking, financial services and insurance, the creative sector is the second largest sector in the economy, although I am unable to substantiate this claim. It’s difficult to come up with hard facts about a nation’s relative creativity. Britain is credited with having one of the largest creative sectors percentage-wise of any country. To get a sense of what is technically meant by ‘the creative industries’, this is usually taken to include writing, art, design, theatre, TV, radio, films, marketing, advertising, fashion, product development and certain types of scientific research and development.

Today Britain is internationally (even if not always nationally) known for creativity in terms of design, media, fashion, writing, architecture, popular music, theatre, TV programmes, film – especially documentaries, comedy, computer games and the arts generally.

We’re all comedians here

The British sense of humour is intrinsic to the national character and has been honed to a fine art and aesthetic. In one way or another, nearly every British person is a self styled comedian; you have to be. It’s simply part of our upbringing and conditioning, and is a way in which we navigate social intercourse. As well as being needed for social acceptance, it also supports  emotional strength. Ironic, subversive, surreal and quizzical, humour here is the great social lubricant: the way pomposity, pretentiousness and authority is cut down to size in low key and backhand ways. British comedy with its trademark understatement, self-deprecation and deadpan delivery is renowned throughout the world from the many British comedy programmes that are exported.

Absurd & surreal

One particular hallmark of the best British humour is its often absurd, eccentric and surreal nature, seen for example in Monty Python or The Mighty Boosh, with a cultural pedigree owing much to the Goons, and stretching back through Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. And it is this surreal aspect of British humour which I think could be quite relevant to creativity in this country. There is an interesting link between humour and creativity and there exists quite a body of thinking as well as research on the link between these qualities. And if you stop and think for a moment, it’s not surprising that there are strong, shared characteristics. Humour, and especially the absurd, surreal British variety, involves juxtaposing seemingly unrelated ideas, seeing things from novel vantage points, and not surprisingly that’s also seen as the basis of all creativity. Take this classic one-liner from much loved, eccentric comedian Spike Milligan, in its juxtaposing of unrelated contexts.

Spike: There’s only one cure for seasickness

Somebody: What’s that?

Spike: Climb a tree

Or Eric Morecambe’s, ‘My neighbour asked if he could use my lawnmower and I told him of course he could, so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden.’

Humour, the most significant behaviour of the human mind.

Attempting to explain jokes is not at all funny and best avoided. You either are tickled pink or you’re left untouched and perplexed. A lot of British humour is an expression of inventiveness rather than formal jokes. Edward de Bono, the originator of ‘lateral thinking’ and authority on creative thinking, says in his book, I am Right, You are Wrong,

‘The significance of humour is precisely that it indicates pattern-forming, pattern asymmetry and pattern-switching. Creativity and lateral thinking have exactly the same basis as humour.’ In the same passage he asserts that, ‘Humour is by far the most significant behaviour of the human mind. Why has it been so neglected by traditional philosophers, psychologists and information scientists?’

Rational linear thinking has enabled the great advances of modernity that we all continue to benefit from, and yet if it is seen as the only mode of understanding and the only mode of discourse, then we impose an inherent limitation on our comprehension of the world and of life and impose a limitation on creative activity.

Only one step from the ridiculous to the sublime?

In Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation, he makes the point that,

‘The laws of disciplined thinking demand that we should stick to a given frame of reference and not shift from one universe of discourse to another …the creative act, in so far as it depends on unconscious resources, presupposes a relaxing of the controls and a regression to modes of ideation which are indifferent to the rules of verbal logic, unperturbed by contradiction, untouched by the dogmas and taboos of so-called common sense.’

Koestler’s most interesting statement on this subject to my mind, though, has to be, ‘We all know that there is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous; the more surprising that psychology has not considered the possible gains of reversing that step.’

A sense of humour is just common sense dancing

Transcending common sense in the way Koestler describes creativity and humour is one interpretation of what occurs, though I also like the way philosopher and psychologist William James said that common sense and a sense of humour are actually the same thing, the difference being in their speed. He said that a sense of humour is just common sense dancing. I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering these words of James and while I can’t quite logically explain exactly what he means, I sense the truth of it. Humour does have common sense rules of logic in its own context; it just happens to mix different unrelated contexts together in rapid succession. I think I’d better stop here however before I dig myself into a hole, since it always tends to be somewhat of a futile exercise to try to analyse humour.

Who knows how much the eccentric and surreal humour of the British has been a contributing factor to national creativity? Yet in its anarchic displacing of habitual views and frames of reference, it is surely likely to be one contributing factor. As James Joyce said in Ulysses, ‘He laughed to free himself from his mind’s bondage.’
Being British: Our Once & Future Selves available:

Indefinable Britishness – a Virtue?

Brexit concept

Being British means something, but what that is, seems well nigh impossible to pin down. And in many ways, I think that’s not a bad thing – which is a British way of saying that it’s a good thing. I realise it’s easy to think of  ‘britishness’ as an embarrassing colonial relic which should be quietly forgotten, but it’s much more interesting than that. Here’s political philosopher John Gray on the subject:

“With all of its drawbacks, the British state has the overriding virtue that it is not founded on blood, soil, or faith. In their ways, the United States and France are both doctrinal regimes. To be a citizen of those countries is a matter of belief; it means subscribing to some sort of civil or political religion – in other words a creed, at once highly contentious and claiming to be rationally self-evident. In contrast… no doctrine of faith is required in order to be British. The British state is a cosmopolitan regime – a state to which one can be loyal without having to belong to any particular tribe or hold to any faith. Cosmopolitan regimes have the invaluable feature that they allow identity to be largely elective, and also plural.”

Cosmopolitanism and Diversity – Legacy of Empire

This is from Gray’s essay in an anthology concerned with trying to find the values which bind British people, where he talks of this unusual character of Britain. He observes how cosmopolitanism is best realised in countries that are monarchies or are the remains of empire like Canada and Britain – multicultural, multinational places in which different nationalities coexist and mingle, agreeing on a shared practice of peaceful coexistence.

In fact, as Gray notes, the most valuable legacy of The Empire is the diverse country Britain has become. Being British is a way of life in which people with many different views can co-exist, for the most part fairly amicably with the help of still influential British values of tolerance, acceptance and fair play ( – values which are now under serious pressure, from the darker impulses released in the Brexit climate).

Indefiniteness as a Positive Quality

In a recent talk I gave in London, I spoke of the positive side of the indefiniteness around Britishness. After the talk, a middle aged woman accosted me in the corridor and said that this point had struck her deeply and had been some kind of revelation for her. Her background was Muslim and Filipino, and as an immigrant she had desperately wanted to embrace being British, but had always found it difficult, as she couldn’t grasp exactly what being British means. She mentioned how she had tried to hold on to the Queen as one sure symbol and fixed point of Britishness, in a vague sea of living in Britain. She wanted a British identity but found it hard to find one. When I had talked about the indefinability of precisely what it means to be British, and how that seeming lack of a quality could actually be seen as a positive quality of being British, she felt a certain liberation in her adopted British identity.

Britain: a Makeshift Multinational State

Britain is a old-fashioned makeshift set up which is not really a nation state at all, but a cosmopolitan remains of empire with no written constitution. You can hold any belief you like; there’s no overarching secular or religious ideology or universal principles which you have to subscribe to in order to be British. You can choose your identity. It’s a multinational state full of inconsistencies and yet which has many understated virtues – which we British tend not to recognise nor appreciate at the moment. Perhaps we can continue to muddle through, as we have always done. I really hope so. But it would help if we appreciate what we already have, before we damage or lose it.

Being British: Our Once & Future Selves available:


Without Identity, we are mere Dust on the Surface of Infinity

United Kingdom Fingerprint Walking out of Liverpool Street station in London recently, I gazed at the brass monument to the Kindertransport, commemorating the events whereby 10,000 European Jewish children were rescued from near certain death at the hands of the Nazis and taken into homes in Britain just before WWII. I felt proud to be British looking at the touching statue of refugee children, marking where they arrived in safety at this station after a long perilous journey.

I’m not feeling very proud of Britain right now

In contrast, I haven’t felt very proud lately of being British, for the way we have behaved in such a small minded insular way to Brexit. And especially because of how it seems to have encouraged in some of us, baser instincts of fear, prejudice and sometimes, outright racism. This is not confined to Britain of course. Otto Scharmer in his recent One World, Two Social Fields, Huff Po article, has called this kind of closing off, a social field of absencing, with the qualities of prejudice (closing the mind), anger, blame (closing the heart) and fear (closing the will), as opposed to what he terms a socio-emotional field of presencing.

I’ve just written a book where one of the main points is how liberals and post traditional Brits could actually come to feel proud of being British. So ok, that’s a little problematic right now, but I am convinced that a deeper knowledge of our shared story as a country is more valuable than ever: the many centuries of struggles and setbacks and the incremental gaining of rights, dignities and freedoms. What we don’t value, we are in danger of losing.

On the more positive side, when Sadiq Khan was recently elected Mayor of London, the world press made a huge thing of his being a Muslim. But for myself and many people here who voted for him, we were initially surprised by all the fuss. We weren’t focussed on his ethnicity and weren’t particularly swayed by what religion he adhered to, or didn’t; it was just which candidate we felt was best for the job. That was the kind of understated British value that I am referring to – which is easily overlooked – and which we are in danger of losing.

Remembering Our Human Values

Lord Jonathan Sacks, former British Chief Rabbi, a renowned philosopher and theologian who I greatly respect, wrote movingly about what Britain has represented to Jews. He said (and this was in 2006 in an anthology commissioned by Gordon Brown about what being British might mean) that Jews knew tolerance when they saw it in Britain and they recognised that their lives and those of their yet unborn grandchildren, depended on it.

‘For Jews, Britain epitomised a deep-down decency, a refusal to let hate be the final word, a residual, understated, yet unshakeable, humanity. For many years I did not know how rare this was and is.’

Jonathan Sacks is not blind to anti semitism and is aware of over romanticisation; he notes the prejudice including the anti-semitism which could be heard at dinner tables or in pubs in Britain, yet he notes that it wasn’t heard in public discourse.

‘Political parties did not win elections by campaigning against immigrants or minorities. England lacked a rhetoric of hate. That was the difference and it was all the difference. Somehow the body politic in England has built up an immunity to the darker forces of human nature. I say this because we are in danger of forgetting it, and what a nation forgets, it loses…….. Why, when a whole continent from Paris to Moscow was convulsed by die Judenfrage, the Jewish question, was Britain – not quite, but almost, alone – immune?’

Yet clearly at the moment, we are in great danger of losing this ‘immunity to the darker forces of human nature’ which Sacks refers to, and seriously degrading our public discourse.

We can’t Outsource our Memory & Conscience

To continue in the same vein, I was very pleased to hear that Lord Sacks had been awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize, and his acceptance speech is a powerful overview of the deep challenges we currently face in British and Western society. I want to give a longer quote from this speech since, in my opinion, what Sacks says is crucially important.

“I want to look at one phenomenon that has shaped the West, leading it at first to greatness, but now to crisis. It can be summed up in one word: outsourcing. On the face of it, nothing could be more innocent or productive. It’s the basis of the modern economy. …..The question is: are there limits? Are there things we can’t or shouldn’t outsource?

There is, though, one form of outsourcing that tends to be little noticed: the outsourcing of memory. Our computers and smartphones have developed larger and larger memories,… while our memories, and those of our children have got smaller and smaller. In fact, why bother to remember anything these days if you can look it up in a microsecond on Google or Wikipedia?

But here, I think, we made a mistake. We confused history and memory, which are not the same thing at all. History is an answer to the question, “What happened?” Memory is an answer to the question, “Who am I?” History is about facts, memory is about identity. History is his-story. It happened to someone else, not me. Memory is my story, the past that made me who I am, of whose legacy I am the guardian for the sake of generations yet to come. Without memory, there is no identity. And without identity, we are mere dust on the surface of infinity.

Lacking memory we have forgotten one of the most important lessons to have emerged from the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and the new birth of freedom that followed. Even to say it sounds antiquarian but it is this: A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.

That is what Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, with licence, the freedom to do what we want. It’s what Adam Smith signalled when, before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. …And Jefferson when he said, ‘A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.’ At some point the West abandoned this belief.”

We British could do well to ponder on these points and to reclaim our story. There are deep embedded values from our long national story which are very much worth remembering and integrating. We can’t outsource conscience and moral responsibility. It’s not his-story, it’s our story, my story. And it matters; it really, really matters.

Being British: Our Once & Future Selves available:


Healthy British Pride?


Toxic Nationalism
The vote for Brexit has regrettably unleashed some pretty unsavoury nationalist sentiments and downright racist incidents. And raw nationalism can be a very divisive and destructive force that can appeal to our baser natures. All countries are susceptible to it and such hateful nationalism needs to be robustly repudiated. Yet I feel that if we Brits can come to a more healthy sense of self acceptance as a nation, then we will be able to cope in a more humane and reasonable way with the very real issues of immigration in Britain that many Brexiteers are concerned about. Can we have a healthy national pride or patriotism rather than a toxic or fear based nationalism? Those of us on the Left especially need to grapple with this issue.

George-OrwellListen to George
Patriotism and nationalism are not necessarily the same thing at all. Listen to what George has to say – and I mean Orwell not Osborne!

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Of course I must, as a caveat, note that the term ‘nationalism’ can and is used in different ways, and there are many nationalists who are not seeking power at the expense of other groups nor have any xenophobic attitude, in the way that Orwell suggested.

Patriotism Reloaded?
I feel that we actually need to rehabilitate patriotism, so that we can again allow ourselves to feel a certain pride in our country: that inclusive and multicultural Britain – that country which so many have struggled for so long to incrementally create its important values, laws and culture. Billy Bragg calls it progressive patriotism and he is a rare voice on the Left advocating it, since any kind of patriotism is anathema to the Left for obvious postcolonial reasons. Sensitive liberal Britons find it hard to come to any kind of acceptance and integration of British Empire history.

There’s of course more to the picture in regards to our current British national psyche. Long forged qualities such as fair play, human decency, tolerance and acceptance, have quietly informed the British over generations. Britain has a praiseworthy history of toleration and respect for human rights. Yet our recently increasing feeling of disconnection from any national historical narrative, along with increasing erosion of faith in government and civil institutions, is undermining this very positive legacy of ours. And what a nation forgets, it loses.

I’m OK, You’re OK
I’m not talking of that backward looking sense of identity and patriotism which abhors change and is fixated on keeping everything as it was (or was imagined to be) in the past. A positive sense of our own national identity can give sensitive Britons the confidence to not react out of post colonial guilt towards the subject of immigration, feeling that we have no moral right to restrict the influx of immigrants into Britain. We clearly can’t have uncontrolled immigration in a small crowded country, yet we can be confident enough in our identity to recognise the great invigoration and economic and cultural benefit continuously brought in by new immigrants. Also we can have the self confidence to assert the positive reasons for why we want and need some degree of integration of new immigrants. Knowing being British is not about race or blood but is elective and about hard won shared values gives us positive reason to want and expect a degree of integration without being at all racist. Social cohesion is a precious commodity which we need to safeguard and nurture, as it’s fragile and once lost, hard to regain. If we as British don’t respect ourselves and our nation, then we can’t expect new immigrants to respect us either. Lack of self respect in our British national psyche is much more likely to lead to unhealthy degrees of self chosen segregation in new immigrants.

A Healthier National Psyche
In one way, it is very simple. All I am really talking about is a healthy national sense of self acceptance; just like as an individual you would ideally want to be able to accept yourself fully, without hating or feeling embarrassed or guilty or avoiding whole chunks of yourself. Well, the same goes for a healthy national self sense; we need to accept and integrate our national history with all its dark shadows and great achievements, and move on.
Let me finish with another quote from Orwell to ponder upon:

“Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same.”

Come and meet Chris, hear what he has to say about Being British in Brexit-land and get a signed copy of his book “Being British: Our Once and Future Selves” on 8/7/2016

Up Yours!


A Dog’s Dinner of a Brexit
So much has been said about Brexit already that I don’t want to add more. Instead I’d like to reflect a little on our confused national sense of ourselves. I feel this underlies our attitude to how we British make choices like Leave or Remain. The thing is, we’re not sure who we are anymore as a nation, and we don’t want to be subsumed and become ever more lost within the faceless EU. And ok, we may have made a dog’s dinner out of brexiting, but dammit, it’s our mess and we’re in control! (Though of course we’re not really in control).

Cantankerous Brits
Let’s face it, we British are stubborn, difficult and pig headed; no one tells us what to do.
Nearly all the economic experts told us that it really wasn’t in our interests to Brexit; all the hard facts were against it, but we didn’t want to listen to ‘experts’ with all their fear mongering. Sod it! We’ll decide for ourselves, thank you. To hell with the consequences. Many people didn’t necessarily think things would improve at all with Leave, but went ahead anyway as a protest vote. We stand alone; the Dunkirk spirit.

Now there are also positive aspects to these qualities as I just mentioned. Our dogged determination served us well in the Blitz or when facing IRA mainland bombings and after the 7/7 attacks. No panic on British streets, it just hardened our resolve. Character traits are double edged.

Union Flag-Flowers-WEBWhere’s My Country?
Any positive sense of national pride in post-Empire Britain has become very problematic. Any expression of patriotism has been ridiculed and condemned as racist and living in the past. Think ‘white van man’. People felt their country was being taken away from them, and don’t even know what it means to be English or British now. We were Great Britain and The Empire, and now we’re…… dunno… sort of nothing. Many from outside of booming metropolitan areas, like those who live in the North and Midlands, have endured the numbing spectre of decline, disappearing jobs and hopelessness.

No National Story Anymore
People very understandably want to be respected, to have self respect, and yet they felt that the government and the elites have abandoned them. So they exercised their independence with Brexit, sometimes not even caring if they themselves will suffer for it (which they likely will). ‘Taking back control’ cleverly spoke to our feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, and promised independence and self respect, though in reality, it is just an artful slogan delivering almost nothing.

And also in well to do areas too, especially older people feel they are losing their country – Britain or England – and have made a stand with a self-determining gesture in protest. I was struck by this spirit in well to do areas of the East Riding in Yorkshire, where I visited recently.

The Scottish have a positive national story which all sections of the population feel they can embrace. In contrast, we British or English don’t now possess any positive national narrative; at best our story is vague, self deprecating and an embarrassment to us. We’re just not sure of our identity anymore, and this plays into the allure of ‘taking back control’, somehow fighting back and restoring respect.

It’s not really about the EU
We are a difficult bunch. Britain arguably had the best deal with the EU of any country. We paid less per head than all other nations with rebates secured by Mrs Thatcher. We had special exclusions, from the single currency to the Schengen passport free zone. We had all the benefits and less of the costs. It was us who chose to follow neoliberal policies; that didn’t come from the EU. So we managed to have free trade with less constraints than many, especially southern European countries. Yet we were always complaining (which of course is a British national habit). Our attitude towards the EU has always been argumentative and extremely self serving.

Much of what we do is not very rational. The sovereignty which many felt they were reclaiming by voting Leave, was largely fictitious. Hanging onto notions of sovereignty is understandably appealing to many of us Brits who feel our country has been taken away from us. Yet if we had more confidence in our national identity, I feel that we would recognise that there can still be sovereignty along with cooperation and interdependence.

This is why I feel it is important that we come to terms with our past and come to a healthier and better integrated national psyche, for all our sakes.

Come and meet Chris, hear what he has to say about the referendum results and get a signed copy of his book “Being British: Our Once and Future Selves” on 8/7/2016

It’s Getting Better all the Time….or is it?


Glass Half Empty low res 250The Glass is Half-Empty
Isn’t it hard to be objective about our own country? We British tend towards a glass half-empty view of our nation, and sometimes even to a glass almost-empty view. Our wonderful media (plus some politicians too) find that it sticks better to come up with catchy emotive phrases, rather than to examine the facts. According to them, Britain has been variously, ‘Going to the Dogs’, ‘Broken Britain’, or at ‘Breaking Point.’ I’m convinced we need a more balanced view about Britain.

How positive or negative do you feel about Britain in general if you had to rate it on an online survey? Of course the mood changes and how we as a whole tend to feel about our country and its prospects, does fluctuate.

Losing our Religion
The NHS is a good example of glass almost-empty. The NHS is often spoken of as the closest thing to a national religion that we have left in Britain. But if so, then we are losing our religion. The media gives us a daily drip feed of tales of the NHS collapsing, being ineffective, making dangerous mistakes, and it taking ever longer to get appointments. Exposed to this relentless barrage, you might think it’s safer not to go to an NHS hospital at all; like in Victorian days when your survival prospects could be diminished by hospital treatment – the surgeons wearing their infection-spreading blood-stiffened aprons as a badge of honour.

Of course it’s right to highlight faults and negligence, but to put these very real troubles in perspective, the NHS is by far the largest employer in the country, with 1.7 million employees. Yet such is our general pessimism regarding this much maligned national organisation, that it is hard to let in that the NHS is ranked by independent international surveys  as the number one best health care system in the world; and also the most efficient health care system. Doesn’t compute in the British brain, does it?

Going to the Dogs
There are underlying currents of semiconscious sentiment that get passed down generationally and are absorbed osmotically. To take an example, the 1970s were hard economically in Britain (as they were all over the West – though we don’t take that into account). Our general sentiment in those times became very pessimistic, and I am convinced still carries over to this day. This was the time of the ‘Winter of Discontent’, the 3 day week, a sense of general decline, and Britain as the ‘sick man of Europe.’

Here’s what the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had to say in 1974, (from historian Dominic Sandbrook):

‘Even Callaghan himself seemed to have little faith in his native land. In November 1974 he told his colleagues, “Our place in the world is shrinking: our economic comparisons grow worse, long-term political influence depends on economic strength – and that is running out. And,” he went on, “If I were a young man, I should emigrate.” ’

If even the Prime Minister himself had such a view of his own country, it shows just how deep the currents of negativity and cynicism had begun to run in Britain.

Never had it so good?
And interestingly, although times have changed since back then, we’ve never quite got over that glass half-empty mindset. Because despite continuing poverty for some, and even widening inequality, it is a fact that most people in Britain are better off, are healthier, have longer life spans, more opportunities, better safeguarded rights and more leisure time than ever before in the whole of recorded history; and far in excess of that available to the great majority of the world’s population today.

Do we feel fortunate? Rarely, for most of us, most of the time, if we’re honest. That’s part of why I feel that as a nation, we need to come to a more balanced view of ourselves: a healthier national psyche.

Come and meet Chris and get a signed copy of his book “Being British: Our Once and Future Selves” on 8/7/2016