How to Fix Broken Britain: Some Terrible Historical Suggestions

16/03/2012 23:41 | Updated 16 May 2012
  • Greg Jenner Historical Consultant to CBBC’s multi-award winning sketch show Horrible Histories

In a previous piece, I argued that it's counter-productive to utilise long-dead historical figures as cheerleaders for current political causes. I made the point that King Arthur (the totally fictional defender of Romano-Celtic England/Wales/Wherever) has largely inspired a legacy of death and destruction in our history, and has proved something of a disappointment when it comes to fixing Broken Britain.

We are often told that we should learn from history, but this pedagogy usually deals in only the moral lessons associated with human and civic progress. However, much like an innocent child imitating his swearing older brother, I thought it would be much more fun to compile a short list of totally useless and inappropriate lessons from history that would undo all of our good work as a society.

So, here for your ironic consumption are some terrible, horrible, idiotic ideas for improving our nation...

King Arthur on the NHS
Despite being an entirely fictional monarch, Arthur was a rabid xenophobe who was at his best when fighting off foreign invaders... so his policy suggestion for saving the NHS would be to kill all non-ethnically British people. This would leave about 7,000 people still standing, and would reduce the NHS budget considerably. However, that is not the only good news. Due to the vast lessening in patient numbers, we wouldn't require anything like the staff we do now. Luckily for us, Arthur has thought of that already - he leaves nothing to chance, that boy. Some 30% of NHS staff were born overseas, so Arthur would kill them too. Job done.

King Aethelred the Unready on Immigration Reform
Immigration is widely-regarded as vital to economic growth, and helps to foster a more tolerant and diverse society... but those are boring reasons for letting johnny foreigners come over here with their funny names and their aspirations for a better life. No, if we want to keep them out of the country, then what we need is the gold standard in Anglo-Saxon solutions to unwanted immigration - Danegeld! Yes, it's incredibly simple. According to Aethelred the Unready, all we need do is pay people not to come to this country.

You may be thinking "this sounds like a terrible idea", and you'd be right - paying Danegeld does have a habit of causing enormous fiscal drain on the exchequer, and quite often the recipients of your massive generosity (usually Vikings, but sometimes Mafia heavies...) come straight back the following year asking for an even bigger cash sum. Sometimes they bring their friends and relatives too. This goes on for a few years until you have given them literally everything, and then, having accrued all of your wealth through zero effort, they invest that money in a mercenary army and invade anyway.

However, as problems go, these are analogous to hand-grenades... you get a brief three seconds of peace and quiet before being blown to shit. This is enormously tempting, if only for the delightful novelty of not seeing a Daily Mail headline about immigration for a bit... so, Danegeld it is!

Draco of Athens on Law and Order
These days, yobs and ruffians run the country. Did you know at least 97% of Britons are criminals? Well, they would be under a Draconian legal system. Yes, it's time to stop hugging hoodies, and get tough on crime. And what could be tougher than punishing all crimes, regardless of their severity, with immediate death, as was suggested by ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco. The death penalty is, I think it's fair to say, a well-proven deterrent... provided you accept a very, very loose definition of the word 'proof'. It is estimated that 20% of Britons have a criminal record, so that's 13 million fewer people to worry about. Some smart arses amongst you may intimate that such a drastic culling of the labour force could hurt the economy. Rubbish.

Under draconian law, laziness is also punishable by death... so with the legal obliteration of weekends, holidays, sofas, saunas and anything else that might facilitate the vaguest hint of laziness, the whole nation will be forced to work around the clock, which should compensate for the shortfall quite nicely.

17th Century Holland on the Economy
In order to kickstart this faltering economy, we need to encourage private investment. Rather than infrastructure, or land, or property, history suggests that tulips are the best choice for sensible short-term investment. These lovely flowers come in a range of varieties, and while they are only a couple quid down your nearest garden centre, with hysterical marketing and a complete collapse in human sanity, we can soon have individual bulbs reaching the value of a house. Who needs an ISA when you can have an absurdly expensive and not-even-delicious-to-eat flower bulb? Now, I do seem to recall the tulipmania did see a near-total collapse in the Dutch economy, so to stop that happening, we simply... er... we... um. Right, moving on.

Alternatively, we could set up a national company that may/or may not (it's the latter) be the greatest investment opportunity in the long history of cash. All we do is sell shares to the public for a company that trades somewhere far off - let's say the Americas - and whose enormous financial value is based on entirely spurious profit forecasts for a future that will never come. We could call it the South Sea Trading Company. Or Enron.

No? Alright... well, we could discover gold in Britain. This will provoke a gold rush, and that will see tens of thousands of desperate people travelling the length and breadth of the country to dig up their own nuggets of shiny metal. As the rush grows, we can overcharge the gold hunters for the cost of tools, bedding, food, basic sanitation and... well, you get the picture. Yes, we'll make a fortune while they seek theirs...

Of course, we don't want to find too much gold and silver. The Spanish made that schoolboy error back in the 16th century - they imported so much back to Spain from their South American empire that it lost all its value and the nation was bankrupted nine times in 50 years. No, let's definitely not stumble into that terrible mistake.

Tulips it is then...

18th Century Factory Owners on British Industry
British manufacture is in the doldrums, and the cause of this acute collapse in industrial robustness is the high wage and pension demands of UK employee. Goodness knows how it has got to this stage, but apparently people expect a decent living salary for performing their jobs. Unfortunately for us, there are many sensible people out there in places like China and India who are devoted admirers of the long-standing tradition of industrial exploitation, and have cheerfully sought to ensure it continues.

So how does Britain arrest the decline of manufacturing? The answer is simple - we require a new type of workforce, one that is willing to work for much less than the current mob of principled radicals. With chimps still proving unreliable in the labour market, this leaves us with just one alternative - children.

It's an absolute no brainer, really, I don't know why we outlawed it in the first place?! Children have no real concept of the value of money, and they're hardly bothered by health and safety - just count the number of times they have to be told to not run into that busy road. Kids are also highly unlikely to cross the picket line, largely because they have no idea what it is. There are some minor obstacles to this initiative, however, in that we'll have to take them out of schools (well, not the 4 year olds)... but that's still not worth much worrying because everyone knows there's no education like workplace experience.

Best of all, because kids are so small, clothing and feeding them costs much less than it does for an adult, and we'll ensure they stay small by giving them backbreaking work that cripples their limbs and curves their spines.

Fear not, gentle reader, Britain will be a mighty industrial powerhouse once more!