By Vexen Crabtree 2004
To improve, you must first learn what your failings are, and see what other people think of you. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that if a person searches for truth too timidly, "I wager he find nothing!"1. To make Britain great, our youth must be brought up differently, and better, than before.
“England's binge-drinking habit is one of the most entrenched in Europe - even Roman invaders wrote about it with horror.”
Like every other country, the UK is engaged in a struggle to improve its people and governance. This aim of this webpage is to encourage all of us to help overcome our weaknesses. Although I am attempting to compile worldwide opinion on what the failings of Britain are I will undoubtedly cloud the picture with own personal dislikes. As long as I also include the international criticism we receive, my personal additions will do no harm.
The USA and the UK are frequently criticized together, especially in the last twenty years, but this page tries to concentrate on the criticisms of the United Kingdom that are distinct from criticisms of the USA. I also ignore condemnations that are given of advanced countries in general. So the criticism that "You, as a Western power, commercially exploit third world countries", although generally true, is not a specific criticism of the UK so won't be dwelt on.
The British themselves are some of the biggest critics of Britain; a nation of apparent nay-sayers towards their own establishments give a much worse impression than things actually are. Where opinion polls show that most people believe the UK economy is in permanent decline along with the employment rate, in reality the UK has experienced the longest period of stable growth and decreasing unemployment for many decades.
“The British love to moan, especially about the supposedly decrepit state of their nation's infrastructure - dirty hospitals, draughty schools and doddery transport networks.”
Our armies and antics during our colonial times were not admirable. The United Kingdom was the most powerful extended empire in the world. Our army was the most developed, scoring a series of victories that set the scene for British dominance of most trade in the world. India, Australia, much of America, Africa and dozens of islands were all sovereign British territory.
But with this came military oppression, intense racism, a continuance of the Slave Trade and commercial exploitation. Being ruled by an empire offered stability, safety, security, funded education and upgraded country-wide infrastructure developments, but at the expense of long term economic viability. The countries that were swallowed up by the Empire-builders all suffered under various rulers, i.e., France, and all empires suffered the same types of atrocities and oppressions, the British Empire was one of the longest-lasting and therefore draws some of the worst criticism.
Thankfully in modern times we British know that our imperial years were as corrupt, sometimes better and sometimes worse, as our "barbarian" neighbours and competitors. Since those days, the British government has treated the present-day populations of ex-colonies mostly with respect and care, so that largely the "anti-colonialism" criticism of the UK is outdated and misguided, but nonetheless it occurs.
Recent moves by the Government to consider returning the annexed Southern-most piece of Spain to Spanish rule revealed a fact that the British know: That all the civilians of Gibraltar consider themselves British and do not want to become part of Spain. Spain periodically motions that it would like Gibraltar back, but I believe that this is culturally impossible. It may not be "fair" but the fact is that Gibraltar is irreversibly British. It was captured from Spain 300 years ago. For this unmoving attitude, the British have received occasional complaints from Spaniards. To return it would be to create conflict for no gain.
The Falkland Islands are a British Dependent territory a few hundred miles from the coasts of Argentina (and known there as "Malvinas"). Argentina wants the Islands back, and once after a short invasion in 1982 claimed the islands before being repelled. Argentina frequently disputes ownership and Argentinians ridicule Britain for its odd insistence on ownership of the islands. The basis of the Argentinian claim to ownership is that after Spain withdrew from the islands in the eighteenth century, Argentina then owned them. But like Gibraltar, the occupants consider themselves utterly British and to surrender them to Argentinian rule is a move the British government will not make.
Brits are paranoid and scared of what "Europe" means, especially the EU. Europeans consider Brits to be a rather unsophisticated and scornful neighbour.
“Janan Ganesh describes the UK as "reluctant Europeans"4,5. The UK has voted "no" to EU proposals more than anyone else since 20096. We dislike learning about the EU, we don't keep up to date on EU news7, the most prolific newspapers on the EU don't have correspondents in Brussels, and the UK is the least educated of all EU nations on the very basic facts about the EU8. We are "marked by misguided assumptions and missed opportunities"5. UK citizens' complaints about the EU are mostly based on misinformation. The UK has suffered from having a dominant right-wing popular press which has served to actively misinform the populace about Europe, and about the EU in particular - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential9. The eventual result was the UK referendum on 2016 Jun 23 which saw "Brexit" votes narrowly outnumber those of "Remain", leading to the UK withdrawal from the EU.”
Brits are infamous for their insular attitude towards foreign languages. Whether it is a symptom of speaking the most widely used language or not I could not say. Throughout Europe most people are multilingual. A continent with a hundred languages has spawned a beautiful network of language and fascination. But not for the English. Every country in Europe complains the British do not bother to learn their language when they visit. It is true. Gordon Brown, a previous Prime Minister of the UK, critically points out that "Europeans are prepared to learn our language even when we refuse to learn theirs"10.
The worst aspect of this failing is that when challenged, the British are frequently ignorant and shockingly narrow in their responses, saying they don't "see the point" and "can't be bothered" to even pick up phrasebooks in order to know the polite basics, let alone grace the country with some personal effort to learn how to communicate. We are not even polite about our lack of knowledge of foreign languages.
The Venerable Bede, the founder of modern footnoted scholarship & Britain's first great historian at the dawn of the written word in the West, writes critically on the English on this very point, despairing of the "English" that our Churchmen do not know Latin, and that English in total "are lazy in learning foreign languages". He wrote this during his life 673-735CE, 1300 years ago! In Jeremy Paxman in "The English" (1998) concludes that our island mentality is partially responsible for some of our ignorance.
The USA is the world's most hated country and as a result of our closeness with the USA, the UK is caught up in the anti-USA finger-pointing. Our support of multiple Washington led unilateral moves has led to a widespread international dislike of the UK. We've supported the USA against the UN and against Europe and it has confused many how a once wise country is now following the lead of a seemingly short-sighted country. Nearly all political experts have issues concerning the foreign policy of the USA, across the world it is widely acknowledged that the UK is following the USA's lead economically and politically, especially militarily in recent years, Iraq is only the forefront example.
“Trash Culture is specifically British. It has become the mainstream culture across the United Kingdom. It is characterized by binge drinking, smoking, stupidity, the active hatred of intelligence & responsible behaviour, fashion-conscious youths, ignorant uneducated adults, misbehaviour at school, petty crime, organized crime, violence, homophobia, racism and xenophobia. Its greatest social monuments are pub culture and football, and its main facilitators are peer pressure, trashy tabloids such as The Daily Mail and The Sun, and uneducated, irresponsible parenting.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research reported in 2007 that as a result of teenage misbehaviour and habits of binge drinking "Britain is among the worst places to grow up in the developed world. Unicef claimed earlier this year that British children were among the unhappiest and unhealthiest in Europe"11. My page on Trash Culture is a guide to such central British culture. Its contents:
Britain is one of the least fit countries in Europe, we are the European country that is most close to USA levels of obesity and ill health. As such we tend to disgust, for subconscious and simple reasons, the rest of Europe. We eat unhealthy, are addicted to fast food and atrocious home cooking, whereas the rest of Europe has nowhere near the same levels of USA-style culinary abuse.
Michael Yardley in his essay titled "Towards the Future" and compiled in the Oxford History of the British Army12, says that "Entrants from abroad tend to be mentally and physically tougher than locally harvested recruits and highly motivated to boost their skills and academic qualifications". Abroad in this case means such diverse people such as Fijians, Samoans, Tongans, black Africans especially from Ghana, Caribbean entrants, white Southern Africans and Gurkhas. Note it is not just physical fitness but also mental hardwork and attitude that sets these people above our native recruits.
The British public recycle more household waste than ever - 14.5% in 2002-2003, up 2% from a year before. On 2004 Sep 30, the BBC reported on another government drive to get the public to recycle. "Britain recycles only 14.5% of its household waste - far less than nearly all other European countries. [... Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture] figures show household rubbish accounted for 88 per cent of municipal waste in 2002/3, at 25.8m tonnes". In other words: Most waste by far is household waste. We recycle less than one quarter of the waste that Netherlands does, and are one of the worst countries in Europe for failing to recycle and for dumping waste.
Despite all this, our pollutant emissions levels have shown impressive improvement and there is little room for real criticism, but, many European countries have developed their green economies more than we have. We emit more than a fifth of all of Europe's CO2. For its level of development, only one other established developed country, the USA, is a worse polluter. We could do with further developments towards environmentalism.
Recycling rates are lower in deprived neighbourhoods13. But once this was accounted for by researchers, another unexpected trend emerged: ethnic minorities are better recyclers13. The core British populace, especially the poor, need to be re-educated and motivated about waste, rubbish and the environment we live in, and hopefully some of that inspiration will come from the fact that other countries and nations have done somewhat better than us in this regard.
We are called "the dirty man of Europe" not only for our recycling record but for our littered streets and cities. A Radio 4 report quoted officials who squarely blamed the bulk of the litter to be the discards of that associate of trash culture: fast food. Compared with other modern countries, the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Norway and Sweden, and most of the rest of Europe, and even the USA, all have cleaner and tidier city streets. Our major cities are covered with trash, carrier bags, food, discards and every kind of litter. It is confusing that adults and children in most the rest of the developed world are capable of keeping their own litter under control, but Brits cannot.
Ann Widdecombe, an MP from Britain's Conservative Party, complained about "people who think it's all right to just drop litter where they stand. It's unhygienic and unsightly"14. Many people do care but too many do not, both adults and children.
Many of the disputes that the UK is involved in are a result of colonial wars. Gibraltar has a population of 30,000 and is tiny, the Falkland Islands are about 200 mostly uninhabited islands, the "troubles" in Northern Ireland involve essentially only hundreds of militants, in short many post-colonial disputes are relatively tame, small-scale disputes. The UK only receives limited aggravation from these because most people the world-over cannot see the point of contesting, holding on to or getting wound up about small places they're unlikely to know of other than for the fact that Britain is associated with them.
The more serious problems for the future are the cultural ones associated with trash culture, drinking, ignorance and the squalor of the anti-Europe, insular masses. This horde is presenting increasing problems, generating widespread criticism for its crime, violence and disturbing behaviour overseas, from the relatively harmless refusal to learn foreign languages, to outright violent xenophobia and racism. That most countries have this internal quagmire of ignorance is no consolation for a country that prides itself on politeness, correctness and intelligence. These values, as they fall, cause the British to fall also in the estimates of the rest of the world.
The final most striking criticism of the United Kingdom is our deference to the USA, the last five years has seen the UK abandon many European commitments and motions in order to follow an increasingly estranged USA. Europe is learning to hate the British, and fast, for our continued support of the superpower that thwarts the attempts of all other modern countries for worldwide peace, fair economy and environmental sense.
The British are building up a catalogue of European dislike and worse, do not seem to care. Through cultural ignorance to wilful obstinence, the Brits are appearing as a misbehaved nation of confusing xenophobes, who are abandoning civility for drink, football and USA-style nationalism.
We could probably summarize most of British problems in one new phrase: Britain is a nation with a responsible government but an unresponsive populace.
The present Labour government, under Tony Blair, has implemented a multitude of bills designed to reform smoking, drugs, drinking and anti-social behaviour, and continued endeavours like these will eventually curb some of the fundamental causes of trash culture. In the future we are potentially back on track to being an educated, polite, civil country. Let's continue on this path
Acceptance of Europe and acceptance of the need to learn foreign languages & cultures would remove much of the animosity between the British and the culturally diverse Europe, and enrich our countries stagnant imploding culture
Support international wisdom, not the USA's unilateral politics. Traditionally we are a political and wise nation, but our acceptance of USA military and economic aggression has led us to abandon sensible world development in favour of confused war. We need to learn that when most countries are against us, it is because we are probably wrong about something
Become interested in doing environmental concern rather than just being concerned - the scientific and responsible communities in Britain and outside of Britain are disgusted by our hypocrisy, being the breeding-ground for many large conservationist movements yet being the worst recycler in Europe
Hatred is never a solution, neither is small-minded pointless criticism of individuals. Have patience, be sympathetic and calm with British rudeness and stupid youth culture. Have understanding and try to aid people become more worldly and less ignorant; discord will generally induce the British xenophobic response to the world & Europe.
Current edition: 2004 Nov 25
Parent page: United Kingdom: National Successes and Social Failures
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
(2016) Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk, UK.
ESRC. The Economic and Social Research Council
(2009) Britain in 2010. Annual Magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council.
(1998) The English. Paperback book. Published by Penguin Books.
The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.