Whatever happened to the once Great Britain?

Australians have always enjoyed sticking it to the English. It is a grand tradition and has much to do with them colonising this vast landmass with their societal trash who were criminalised for appallingly petty offences and exiled to the harshest place on Earth the Royal Navy could find.

Forced to endure unimaginable hardship overseen by the brutal regime of British overlords it is hardly surprising the early settlers were less than enamoured of their jailers.

But the bonds of birth are not severed easily and our two nations remain inextricably entwined, especially given the Queen of England is also the Queen of Australia. That gets up the noses of the republicans among us but very few get really passionate about the whole situation.

Perhaps they should because it seems a waning of fierce nationalism can lead to massive change in a society as has happened in England.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is today a slender remnant of one of the greatest empires humanity has witnessed. It started to fall part a long time ago but seemed to enter rapid demise in the wake of the second world war. That was won by England, America and their allies, including Australia.

But whereas it delivered exceptional power, prestige and prosperity to the United States, England entered a period of decline. And that seemed to coincide with an exceptional period of mass immigration until, today, England is in many ways hardly recognisable.

For example . . .

In England and Wales, English and Welsh are the primary languages. Fair enough. But the third language is Polish which is now the second main language in England. And it is followed by – wait for it – Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati. Then there’s Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese.

In nine of the twelve boroughs of London itself, residents speak more than 100 main languages. Further, there are now more than one million households in which no-one speaks English as the main language.

It is a remarkable transformation and must make many native English people wonder what the hell just happened.

The point is not to decry immigration or multiculturalism. Australia, after all, has become one of the most multicultural nations in the world over the same timeframe and, remarkably – unlike England and many other places – without large-scale violence or societal breakdown. Which, given we ruthlessly enacted a formal White Australia policy up to and through the 1950s, is a massive change.

It does beg the question, though, of how a major influx of other cultures and ethnicities can change tradition and priorities. If there is a sufficiently strong national ethos in which people from all corners of the globe can believe in, then unity of ideals and purpose can be achieved with minimal disruption.

It would be fascinating to question in depth how the major and minor cultural and ethnic groups in both England and Australia feel about their respective nations and what they espouse as their key ideals and aspirations. The world might learn a lot from such insights.


Acknowledgement: Robert Booth, The Guardian