Long life

Alexander Chancellor: I don’t like traffic jams or lager louts but that doesn’t mean I hate Britain

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

The Italians are often thought of as being unpatriotic, and one can see why. They relentlessly denigrate their national institutions, abuse their politicians, and compare their democratic arrangements most unfavourably with those of the ‘more mature’ north European countries. You might conclude, therefore, that most Italians ‘hate’ Italy. But, of course, you would be wrong, just as the Daily Mail was wrong when it decided on the basis of Ralph Miliband’s political opinions that he ‘hated Britain’.

The Mail’s justification for its now notorious headline (‘The Man Who Hated Britain’) was that Miliband Senior ‘had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished’. Well, I can think of lots of people, born and brought up in Britain, and with no leanings towards Marxism, who feel some aversion to each of these institutions, especially — and quite reasonably — to the Sunday newspapers; but none of them would be suspected of hating Britain. Why should even a belief in Marxism and a desire for socialist revolution be equated with loathing of a country? It is perfectly possible that the advocates of revolution sincerely believe that it will bring only benefits to the country they love.


To revert to Italy, its politics are such a mess and its institutions so defective that it would be very odd for any Italian to be proud of them. But there is so much else for Italians to be proud of. There is their art, their architecture, their music, and their way of life, which they generally hold to be superior to those of any other nation. And there is also their food. Marcella Hazan, the great Italian cookery writer who died last week at the age of 89, believed passionately in the superiority of traditional Italian cooking, with its emphasis on fresh ingredients and a subtle combination of flavours, over showy French dishes drowned in sauce. Her aim, she wrote, was to produce dishes that nourished and pleased, not to ‘dazzle guests with my originality or creativity’. Food, too, is a focus for Italian patriotism.

In Britain, however, our national identity has for so long been so tied up with our system of government and status as a world power that there seems to be no escape from it, at least not for the Daily Mail. In fact, there are as many different reasons for loving a country as there are for hating it. Nick Clegg had a point when he said, with reference to the Daily Mail’s attack on Miliband, that the newspaper ‘just seems to be overflowing with bile about modern Britain. They don’t like working mothers, they don’t like the BBC, they don’t like members of the royal family, they don’t like teachers, they don’t like the English football team. The list goes on. So talk about kettles and pots.’ I don’t like traffic jams, road rage, wind farms, lager louts and the revolting pub food in Northamptonshire. But that doesn’t mean that I hate Britain.

I don’t accuse the Mail of hating Britain either, but nobody has the same likes and dislikes about it. Writing in the Times this week, David Aaronovitch said that his father, brought up in poverty in the Jewish East End of London, had been a communist for most of his adult life, but that he had still ‘loved an idea of Britain’. He had read Dickens and Shakespeare and had learnt a version of British history that ‘went in a line from outlaws in the woods, through the Peasants’ Revolt, the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, and up to the General Strike’. He hated the British ruling class, but ‘he adored Scotland and Wales far more than most English people do and so was far more pro-British than many of them’.

I felt that Ed Miliband, in his reply in the Mail to its attack on his father, had played the paper’s game too much by relying on his wartime service in the Royal Navy and his gratitude to Britain for giving him refuge from the Nazis as evidence of his love for this country. He did not indicate what he actually liked about Britain after it became his home. What was it about life here that appealed to him? Even his friend and fellow Marxist immigrant Eric Hobsbawm, whom the Mail condemned even more harshly than Miliband as a Britain-hater, waxed lyrical in his memoirs about his rented cottage in Wales and about Britain’s ‘astonishingly lovely and varied landscape’.

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Show comments
  • mikewaller

    Although the “balance” in the final paragraph could well get Alexander a job at the BBC, it really wasn’t necessary. Not for the first time, the Mail behaved like an entirely untrained polecat and rightly got a first class kicking.

    As to what Miliband’s dad actually meant, I have an elderly friend of broadly similar background and what makes him very cross with us is our sheer complacency. He, too, has seen just how bad things can get and considers our blissful confidence that it will never happen here potentially suicidal.

  • blindsticks

    Traffic jams and lager louts. But you missed out chavs, footy hooligans, baked beans, Jeremy Kyle, the rain…
    Of course Londonistan is rather splendid this time of year.

    • chxxlie

      chavs? You obviously have more in common with Jeremy Kyle than you realise.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Be advised Alex, even suggesting that you just might hate Britain (shouldn`t that be the British?) can cause deranged Internet correspondents to assign you an entirely different race and nationality. This form of mental illness is not as rare as you might suppose. However telling all and sundry that you aren`t British because you live abroad of your own volition is an extreme form. For examples, look no further than the Spectator blog pages.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • rtj1211

      If you organise your business affairs so that you prosper if Britain suffers, you clearly aren’t British as such. You hate Britain. The Cecils are now Chinese, as they have organised their business affairs to prosper when the Chinese prosper and to the detriment of the British. It’s why the hereditary was kicked out of the House of Lords.

      That’s not being deranged, it’s telling the truth.

      • Toby Esterházy

        Never mind, he is obviously a mad Japanese Troll trying desperately—although with some success with readers normally of the Daily Mail—to stir up sedition in England to not much avail. Is the Mail not good enough for Trolls like him? I don’t know why he hates this Country—which is never his to start with—with such a passion!

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Don`t you have a minimum sanity requirement, Spec?

          • Toby Esterházy

            Amazing, that how you can deliberately write and structure your sentence in such a way so as to avoid having to use the letter “l”—the offensive letter for you as a person from a particular part of the Far East! The Perils of the Perils!

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        I warned you jokers that insanity was contagious, didn`t I? Well didn`t I?
        Looks like you`ve caught a dose, rtj. Judging from your writing skills, or rather lack thereof, you`re a borderline basket case.

    • Guest

    • Toby Esterházy

      Have you been banned from the Guardian, so you just comment on here anyway? Did you know the chap personally? So why do you call him “Alex” like your mate, pal?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        He`s irrepressible, isn`t he? Like hospital food you can`t keep him down.

        • Toby Esterházy

          Are yer talking about yerself?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    The ultra-nationalists have finally come out of the woodwork. “If you bad-mouth Britain you can`t be British.” Examine that for a minute. How many times have you heard someone say, “I`d emigrate tomorrow if I could afford to”. Sounds like a significant segment of UK based Brits would lose their citizenship under this football hooligan paranoid xenophobia. Face it, the majority of resident Brits have issues with Britain, ranging from mild annoyance to outright hatred.
    So which football team do you support, and haven`t you ever switched allegiance?

    • Toby Esterházy

      If you are without an ounce of doubt never the Queen’s subject in the first place, then why are you here to stir up dissent?

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