Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. When I was a lad it was commemorated at school with a special assembly; as it happens, led by one of our masters who had been a naval chaplain. Even the callow schoolboys noticed with respect the watery eyes as he read the names of our war dead; it was our version of the Armistice day commemoration. He’s served as a young man at the end of the Great War, and had seen the German fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow. Some time in the 1960s this stopped. I can’t recall how or why; patriotism seemed to become something about which to be ashamed.
I see the Archbishop of Canterbury is rocking the boat with some by suggesting that an economic recovery will not solve all Britain’s problems. This is being taken by numpties to mean that in some way he’s backing ‘Red Ed’ and talking down the ‘recovery’. Well. leaving aside well-founded doubts about what sort of ‘recovery’ it is that leaves us with sky-high energy prices and lots of unemployed young people, and a great burden of regulation on companies, as well as the fact that the leader of the Labour Party is not Karl Marx, however hard the Daily Mail tries to suggest he might be, the Archbishop has a point.
It may be me, but I have a sense that the country has lost its way and its vision of what it can be. That’s not rose-tinted nostalgia for bygone imperial greatness, I happen to agree with remarks Gladstone made in 1851 to the effect that Imperial Rome was not an example that a free people should wish to imitate, as it meant other people were subservient, and that was good for neither the ruled nor the ruler. It is rather an observation about the way in which we now see ourselves – or rather don’t.
From time to time we get reports saying that we need to establish what Britishness is. Well, after decades in which history teaching has effectively deconstructed every meta-narrative known to man, it isn’t surprising that children have no idea about what a narrative might be – we’ve spent so much time apologising for anything we ever did, and concentrating on the history of minorities, which, by the nature of the thing misses out the majority, that I doubt young folk today even know who Nelson was – unless it is Nelson Mandela, a reformed former terrorist, who showed true repentance and nobility of character – but has as much to do with giving children an idea of this country’s history as a hole in the head. I’m not against them knowing about Mandela, just in favour of them knowing about the other Nelson too.
That, of course, includes the history of the Faith which has helped shape these islands – perhaps another problem for the history teachers? A people bereft of a knowledge and sense of its own history is lost, and the idea that just because the economy may no longer be a basket case all will be well, is a sign of governmental myopia. We are in the hands of politicians who see themselves as managers. They are not, as it happens, very good managers. But what they very clearly are not, is men and women with any vision – and without that, the people perish.