The recent reports that, under Boris Johnson’s leadership, cleaning and security staff were treated with utter disrespect is like being told it’s raining in Galway. It’s hard to feign surprise. Eton schoolboy and friends look down their noses at those cleaning up after them is hardly a revelatory headline.
It is claimed that private education gives one social skills par excellence but these people don’t even have the skills to hide their innate snobbery. Yet again, we have to ask. England, oh England, have you any idea how bad you look?
Of course, there’s more to this for Ireland than simple bewilderment as to what England is doing to itself and to the rest of the UK.
Johnson’s recklessness with regards to the North could have repercussions well beyond the stunted imagination of England’s eternal spoiled schoolboy. Our painful history is riddled with dead bodies not posh boy japes. It is serious, grown up stuff.
At the heart of all this, opportunist as it is, seems to be Johnson’s jingoism. His Little England mind. And we all know what Little England thinks of Ireland. How astonishing it is to think, then, that Johnson’s own father has just become a French citizen. That Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson himself, born in New York, held US citizenship until 2006. That Rishi Sunak and his wife held Green Cards, entitling them to permanent residence in the USA, even whilst he was chancellor. These patriots, eh? They love England so much, fought so hard for you to get England away from the dastardly EU, that they also thought about officially going somewhere else.
Now, nationalism and jingoism don’t make much sense but you’d hardly have expected those so fervently in favour of it to be so openly keeping their options open. Or maybe you would.
The UK media has been building up huge momentum in celebration of the Queen’s longevity. I’ve often thought of the Royal Family that it is a peculiarly British obsession and that it is best that I don’t comment upon it.
But I can say that I’m never as glad I’m not there as I am on days like those. Having lived through the truly deranged response to the tragic death of Princess Diana I’ve never wanted to be anywhere near British, or English, collective emotions again. I’d never realised, until those days in 1997, just how susceptible to suggestion the English were. A man I’d worked with for five years, in Manchester, told me, in the days after Diana’s death, that he felt like he’d lost a loved neighbour even though I’d never once heard him mention her name before that day. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, well, sure, it’s a tragedy but she wasn’t your neighbour and she sure as hell didn’t live around here.
I remember, just about, the celebrations for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977.
We lived in a very Irish, very immigrant neighbourhood but in one of those quirks of fate lived on a street where there were a lot of English people and we were the only Irish family. Our attendance at the street party saw the eight of us sitting right at the end of the line and my mother recalling to this day that she had never felt as uncomfortable in England as she did right then. I don’t remember much about it but I do remember really not wanting to stay.
The chance to wave the union jack was, of course, far too hard to resist for Johnson.
It was his first and only resort. For those of us still scarred by Donald Trump’s flag kissing and handling, England’s version isn’t as bad, but it isn’t that much better. It is such a cliché to say patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel but, after close examination, I can only conclude that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. They wrap themselves in the flag, be it red, white and blue, or green, and they make a mess. And then they look down upon those who come to clean that mess up.