The state of the nation was neatly summed up between trains at Reading station one day last week.
For the second time that week I had bounded out of a west-bound train and dashed across to Platform 8 in time to see the doors lock on a train heading north to Oxford and beyond. Both trains were running to time so it is deliberate time-tabling which ensures that one cannot do a seamless change. Well, it may be deliberate – some venomous little bureaucrat spotting an opportunity to inflict a little more misery on those who are compelled to suffer the “service” which First Great Western offer to those who pay the wages; it may just be stupidity.
The next train north was, more characteristically, running late, so I went outside to have a smoke and to day-dream about kicking an FGW executive’s head – a great way of relieving the stress of train travel, I find. Outside the pub was a group of English youths, driven outside by the smoking ban. By English, I mean white, drunk, noisy, foul-mouthed and threatening in their appearance. They were of Blair’s generation, that is to say uneducated, contemptuous of others and confident that no-one would curb their behaviour.
A young man approached me, Middle Eastern in appearance, if not in fact a Moslem then conforming to the visual stereotype usually seen above a caption about indoctrination by extremists. He spoke politely and in accented but good English.“Are you English?” he asked. Won over a little by his manners (God help us when politeness is so rare that it attracts attention) I said that I was.“Thank goodness”. He said. “Everyone else I have spoken to was Polish or Lithuanian or something”.
It is no wonder that we feel that the world is turned upside down. Behind me, yobs of my own race were ignorantly abusing their native English. Beside me someone very foreign was sneering at everyone else for not being English.
It has taken just a decade to make me feel a stranger in my own land. When all New Labour’s sins are written down, this feeling of alienation will rank above all the other things – the decline of public services, the rot in health and education, the failed intervention in every walk of life, all the waste, neglect and corruption in government will all pale beside the way in which ordinary people have been made to feel that their country is not their own any more.