The comfort of hating Britain
Credit: Getty Images
27 October 2022
I occasionally get sent articles from the ‘London Correspondent of the Papua New Guinea Courier’ – less often, now that most people have realised that it is a satirical blog, not an actual newspaper. The articles are a droll extension of the gag – and it’s a good gag – of describing British politics using the language of foreign correspondents, like referring to ‘UK strongman Rishi Sunak’ or ‘feared interior minister Suella Braverman’.
When I gently pointed out that it was all made up, the only person who admitted she had originally taken one of them for a real article insisted it said something true about the government. The fact that so many people on her Facebook page believed it, she said, told you something.
It does tell us something, but not about Rishi Sunak. There has always been a sort of person who is very keen to assume that foreigners are looking down on us. Sir Roger Scruton called them ‘oikophobes’ – those with the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’.
Since the Brexit referendum, there has generally been a hunch that things are politically better organised on the Continent (oddly, it never extends to saying that the NHS could learn a thing or two from France or Germany). As the comic Sean McLoughlin put it during the last days of Liz Truss: ‘At least the Italians and Greeks have decent food. We’re going through all this with beans on f*cking toast’.
It is easy to dismiss oikophobia as self-hatred. But self-hatred is morally neutral. I have friends who make their living from self-hatred; comics deploy their self-hatred tactically and strategically, making themselves the butt of the cruellest comedy. Musicians use it too – Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, is almost entirely based on self-loathing.
What I object to is when people don’t keep their self-hatred to themselves. It’s supposed to be self-hatred. If they were properly self-hating, they would concentrate their loathing on themselves, rather than try to extend it to their nation or their class or their skin colour. Some people are happy to share the load, the jokes and the blogs, but the majority of people are not. The trouble with the self-hatred of British intellectuals – which everyone from Orwell onwards has noticed – is that it is not self-hating enough.
Oikophobia explains the attractiveness of being on the left. I sometimes think I would be happier if I were left-wing, mainly because I could pretend that my failures were the result of unfairness or a system stacked against me. (I could also be happier by being very right-wing and insisting my failures were the result of favouritism towards minorities; but that would be equally untrue).
It’s not surprising that Jeremy Corbyn always seemed much happier about bringing his party to its lowest electoral ebb than Liz Truss will ever be. Corbyn can say it was the right-wing press, factions within the party and various unnamed lobbies that bought him down. Truss has less to blame. Perhaps she’ll now be listening to her favourite singer Taylor Swift’s new album, and playing back the line: ‘It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me’. It’s a great tune.