Our ruling class must not look down on theirs
FUNNYMAN Andrew Maxwell, speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live, was absolutely right in his assertion that we are voracious consumers of British culture, but that the British know very little about us. He spoke of “a valve that flows in one direction”.
But to give an even fuller picture, it is also worth noting that for most practical purposes, there has hardly been much reason for Britain to be receiving our culture, the way that we receive theirs — whereas without their television and their football and their music, it is probably fair to say that for many of us, life would hardly be worth living at all.
Down the years, Britain didn’t have to be familiar with our artists and our footballers and our TV personalities, due to the fact that many of the really good ones would inevitably end up in Britain anyway, because it was better there. Andrew Maxwell, interestingly enough, has made that journey.
And we are dealing here in generalisations, since there are a few Brits who would know a great deal about Ireland, who would be specialists in Irish matters in the same way that they might be intrigued by the culture of Turkey or Tasmania — at random, I think of Robin Flower who did such important work on the Blaskets, or Jem Finer who wrote Fairytale of New York with Shane MacGowan. And there’s the fact that it is virtually unknown for the Irish to achieve international success without some crucial British involvement, be it the aforementioned Pogues or U2, or the Republic under Big Jack, or Katie Taylor whose father is, of course, English, as is the father of Conor McGregor.
But for the British multitudes, in the normal run of events, there really has been no great need to know who Marty Morrissey is, or to know the difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Ah, but this is not the normal run of events. This is a time of chaos and perhaps of catastrophe — and while many regular folks in Britain have helped to bring this about by voting for it, the original culprits are those members of the British ruling class who either allowed that Brexit referendum to happen, or who made it happen.
When David Cameron decided to empower the Eurosceptics (or simply the “bastards” as John Major called them), he opened up that strain of insularity and ineptitude with which Britain has long been cursed — there are echoes of the fabled “donkeys” who led the “lions” to their doom in the First World War.
They exude the certainty of people who know a lot of things, about a lot of places, including Ireland — and it turns out they know very little about anything. There was that moment when Iain Duncan Smith on Channel 4 News was heard to opine that the Irish are showboating because “the Presidential election is coming up” — that was last November.
But then it turns out that Iain Duncan Smith’s lack of knowledge of Ireland is just as deep as his lack of knowledge of everywhere else. Indeed, I have long argued that it is wrong to see Ireland as a unique sort of problem in the overall Brexit scheme, because Brexit disintegrates when it encounters any kind of reality — and Ireland just happens to be one of the first of those obstacles on a very long course.
So this is not just a failure of the British ruling class in relation to Ireland, it is the kind of awesome, epoch-defining failure to be found in those names that live in infamy, such as Suez or the Somme. It seems there are phases in British life when the ruling classes are cocooned in all their mediocrity and self-regard, and the best energies are nowhere to be found, the energies of the aristocracy of talent which was represented by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the Boys of ’66.
Therefore, it is somewhat unfortunate that the Irish ruling class at this difficult time, just happens to be led by men from an equally lofty position on the social spectrum as your top Brexiteers — so that an encounter between, say, Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson, would be a meeting of two men who went to the most storied “public schools” in their respective countries.
Not only would a Coveney or a Varadkar feel not a jot of inferiority, the danger at this particular time is that they would feel a distinct superiority — to their already copious quantities of self-esteem would be added the natural disdain that most of us would feel in the presence of these Brexiteering delinquents.
So you felt that Varadkar must be getting it right for a change, when he was accused last week by Mary Lou McDonald of “blinking” and “losing his nerve” in the negotiations.
It suggests that he is losing the belligerence that is common among the Irish upper middle classes in these encounters, this attitude that we have our own gentry now, and no Old Etonian is going to tell us what to do.
A little less of that would be good. A lot less would be excellent. Indeed not only should Leo be blinking and losing his nerve at every opportunity, he should always have been speaking to the Brits about the possibility that is still there for them, of changing their minds. He should always have been speaking as softly as you would to anyone you’ve known for a long time who is out on the ledge, thinking of jumping — “you don’t have to do this, you know, you really don’t.”
Indeed, there is every indication that a large section of the British population would only love to be told that it’s OK not to throw themselves into the abyss, that they can forget about this aberration — we’d be pushing an open door there.
Because when this ludicrous British ruling class is taken down, and put in the proverbial Tower, we may be back roughly where we always have been — with the “valve that flows in one direction”, us needing them a lot more than them needing us.
‘For the British, there has been no great need to know exactly who Marty Morrissey is...’