Between Christmas and New Year, the 70th anniversary of an event, which in no small way helped change the course of history, passed almost unnoticed. On December 26, 1941, less than three weeks after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill addressed both branches of Congress in the United States. The prime minister, who was in Washington to agree military strategy with President Roosevelt, used the invitation from Senators and Representatives to excoriate the Axis powers and pose a simple question: “What kind of people do they think we are?”
This wasn’t Churchill’s finest oratorical effort, but it was clever. As well as denouncing the forces of darkness and the enormity of their aggression, it was an invitation to ordinary Britons, suffering the horrors of war at home, to reflect on the challenge ahead. He was, in effect, asking fellow citizens: “Of what are we made?”
Seven decades later, one wonders how the great man would view the kind of people the British have become. What has happened to the freedoms and independence for which he urged us to fight? It’s hard to imagine our wartime chieftain being anything other than dismayed by the erosion of sovereignty, capitulation to the “equalities industry” and enslavement by debt. We have lost control of domestic borders, ceded legal primacy to Europe and allowed the Storm Troopers of political correctness to stamp their corrosive version of right and wrong on British law.
For evidence of our self-inflicted abasement, look no further than this month’s ruling from Europe’s Court of Human Rights that Abu Qatada, a radical Islamist preacher, regarded as one of al-Qaeda’s main inspirational leaders in Europe, cannot be deported from Britain to his native Jordan because his trial there might have contained evidence obtained by torture.
According to a recent government report, some 3,775 former foreign prisoners, who were in line for deportation by the UK Border Agency, have been released from custody and are living here, most thanks to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a family and private life. A Nigerian rapist was due to be sent home after losing a series of appeals in British courts over his jailing for an attack on a 13-year-old girl. But Strasbourg’s worthies insisted that they must protect the culprit’s “social ties” with Britain, which had blossomed while he defied expulsion.
Are we really powerless to resist this nonsense? It would seem so.
One reason is the complicity of Britain’s home-grown human-rights obsessives and jackboot egalitarians who, in the words of sociologist Peter Saunders, professor emeritus at the University of Sussex, “seek nothing less than hegemony for their moral values and beliefs”. This requires the unconditional surrender of adversaries and the criminalisation of those who dare to oppose. It’s a war of attrition through relentless assaults on popular consciousness by masters of subversion.
Their goal, according to Prof Saunders, is “eroding the ideals of independent thought, self-reliance and personal responsibility and replacing them with the language of thought-crime, group rights and equal outcomes”. This is modern Britain, where a foreign-born paedophile cannot be put on a plane back to Pakistan but traditional Christians are arrested for disobliging comments on homosexuality—a triumph of intolerance over faith.
After 13 years of the Brown Terror, during which reckless state borrowing and out-of-control consumer debt masked economic and social failure, the Coalition is trying to reverse a pernicious tide of grievance culture and something-for-nothing expectations. George Osborne claims: “We are reducing welfare entitlements, imposing new conditionality on benefits and capping overall awards.” That, at least, is the aim, but an insurgency of human-rights lawyers, grandstanding bishops and professional do-gooders is defending every ditch. Only this month, a Romanian living in the UK, who claims to make a living selling the Big Issue, but qualifies for more than £25,500 a year in benefits, was told by a court that she was not receiving enough. Despite objections from the local council, she was awarded an additional annual housing allowance of £2,600. Chancellor, please take note.
Do not conclude, however, that the immigrants are to blame for this mess. Who among us faced with a choice between penury in a Bucharest rat-hole and £500 a week in handouts plus a subsidised home would not be on the train to London? The only surprise is that so few are already here.
What’s more, the influx of foreign workers is forcing us to confront a problem which those seeking to blame high levels of unemployment entirely on public-spending cuts would rather ignore. Why does London have the highest rate of youth joblessness in the country when so many services in the capital are underpinned by newcomers?
Last week, Pret a Manger, which pays above minimum wage, admitted to the London Evening Standard that only 19 per cent of its payroll is British (in London the figure is far lower). Are we really saying that our education system is so poor and work ethic so diminished that Britain can no longer produce staff suitable for a sandwich shop? That is the conclusion of many business folk to whom I put this question, though they prefer sanitised phrases such as a “deficit of lifestyle skills” instead of the less euphemistic “welfare addiction”.
Given that 70 per cent of Britain’s state-educated pupils do not even take GCSE history, never mind pass it, one can bet confidently that the majority of young people trying to enter a difficult jobs market will never encounter the Churchill question: what kind of people do others think we are?
Perhaps that’s a good thing. The answer is deeply discomfiting.