Our rul­ing class must not look down on theirs

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints - De­clan Lynch’s Di­ary

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...’

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