The British Dream


Al Murray’s alter-ego the Pub Landlord said “There is no British Dream…. because we’re awake.”

On the other hand, Theresa May has vowed to bring back the British Dream – which she defines as the hope that each generation will improve their lot compared to the previous one.

Maybe she believes in that particular manifestation of a British Dream because she is Prime Minister although her grandmother was a domestic servant – whereas Al Murray comes from a line of aristocrats, but since his own career is based on drinking heavily in public while blathering opinionated nonsense, in terms of primary occupation he has remained socially static.

But these are two extremes.  What does the British Dream mean to the average Brit in the street?  And if there really isn’t a British Dream, then maybe we should find one. After all, to quote Oscar Hammerstein: ‘If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’

I thought, maybe by examining a combination of things we hate, and things we love, it would be possible to identify what it really takes to make British Dreams come true.

I decided to read nine articles in three different online newspapers – or, rather, the comments sections thereof.  I then read William Hill’s recent survey of Britain’s top 50 favourite things.

My findings suggest that we Brits are an unlikely blend of morose subversive…and Hobbit.

This past week people have mostly been ranting about Boris Johnson, Brexit, naval cuts, police cuts, terrorism, Theresa May’s cough, and the plotted leadership coup.

And, I must say, we are a tough audience for those who govern us.  No wonder politicians pay themselves so much!

We like sensible centrists but want them to inspire us with flamboyantly passionate oratory – and we love them to be engagingly eccentric but despise them the moment we see them tip over into buffoonery.

We want someone to tell the EU precisely where to shove it’s perfectly formed bananas, but we prefer to fume about the predominantly Remain Conservatives, rather than do what might seem the logical thing and vote for UKIP under it’s new (sensible, centrist) leader, Henry Bolton.

We want new housing, but resent it being built.

We want tough action on terrorism – but are repelled by those who become impassioned on the subject.

We value our armed forces and are worried about cuts to military spending.  We like law and order, and are anxious at cuts to police budgets. We want to know that the frail and needy are being taken care of and are outraged when they are not.

The fact that we are also annoyed at the idea of paying for any of this, is beside the point. Comments left by readers on articles related to these things, indicate a nation on the brink of collective apoplexy.

But according to William Hill, all our thoughts are mild and amiable, and largely centred on what we will have for Second Breakfast.  Our favourite thing of all is the Great British Countryside – and after that, the way to our hearts is through our stomachs: fish and chips comes in at Number 2, followed by roast dinners, tea, the English fry up, strawberries, cream teas, Cornish pasties, Marmite, real ale, and cider.

We love our cosy, familiar, defining icons – the NHS, BBC, red buses, the Spitfire, black cabs, Beefeaters, Wimbledon and The Proms; Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben.  We even love our unpredictable weather – but perhaps the need to combine tee-shirt and shorts with wellies and an Aran-knit sweater to cover all eventualities over the course of a morning in June produces a look to which only a few can do justice, because ‘fashion’ isn’t something we value highly.

A Best Ever Day Out would seemingly be spent sitting in a rural beer garden in fitful sunshine, drinking real ale and watching cricket, perhaps with Stephen Fry, or one of our three favourite women: the Queen, Judy Dench, or Jessica Ennis.

No wonder Tolkein said The Shire was inspired by an English village!

In fact, it could be said, that is the British Dream: nothing to do with social advance at all – just placidity, security, continuity, a kind of gentle, uncrowded conviviality, a comfortable, accepted patriotism, sufficient money to eat and drink out, protected from harm – and judging by the subjects of the angry comments, the British Nightmare is any perceived threat to those things.

So instead of imagining that our British Dream is a version of the American one – poor kid becomes president/prime minister – Theresa May should simply concentrate on ensuring we have ‘hearts at peace, under an English heaven.’

Because if she doesn’t, she can expect us to give her merry hell.