Identity Crisis

“What does it mean to be British now?”

An unexpected question, put to me by one of my Airbnb hosts a few days ago, which has been rolling around in my head ever since.

Five weeks of roaming around Europe by train, moving from one country and culture to another, visiting places freighted with history and listening to stories of human endeavour and achievement, I’ve often thought of how I might try to tell the story of Britain in return.

As my journey comes to its end and my mind turns towards home again, that story looks very uncertain.

Britain is faced with a great number of extraordinarily significant questions, all at the same time.

The European question, which seems beyond the capacity of anyone to solve, crippling the political classes for generations.

Britain’s place in the world – are we now looking away from Europe, towards America, the Commonwealth or somewhere else?

Our relationship with Ireland – recently vastly improved after centuries of error and tragedy, but now threatened once again by an apparent absence of consideration.

The future of the union with Scotland – the pressure for another independence referendum will surely only increase if events continue their course.

The condition of the country – wide disparities in life chances in the regions, compared to the major cities, have been rising unchecked, accompanied by mutual antipathy, exacerbated by current events and increasing polarisation. Do we even feel part of the same country any more?

The traditional political party structures are no longer capable of handling the current circumstances – the Left and the Right cannot handle the European Question, riven as they are by irreconcilable internal differences on the issue.

Parliament, as an institution, has entirely failed in its primary purpose – to act as the instrument of democracy and to carry out the will of the people. It has been able to say what it is against, but not what it is for.

The increasing threat of a total loss of faith in Government is clear and present, with a greater degree of cynicism and dismay arising from years of prevarication, while other great issues remain almost untouched, such is the focus on just one.

That’s eight major issues, all pulling us in one direction or another, swirling around like dangerous currents, conspiring to pull us further down into even murkier waters.

Once upon a time, Britain was the home of the “Mother of Parliaments”, a world power known for its reason, its diplomacy, its authority and its responsibility.

Now, as we turn inwards, cutting ourselves out of a European sphere and instead looking towards America at a time of their own isolationism, we risk our own place in the world becoming ever smaller and reduced.

“What does it mean to be British now?”

I really don’t know any more.

I hope someone does.

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