I don't know about you but I've been getting some mixed messages from the Tory Party Conference. First there's Jeremy Hunt telling a meeting that cutting tax credits was all in the interests of creating an Asian-style working culture. Then Theresa May piped up with a charming little speech about how immigration makes it difficult to have a "cohesive society". So, what is it, Tories? Do we want to integrate with other cultures or not?
I know where I stand. I'm all for a multi-cultural Britain - people of different nationalities, races and religions living and working together. All good. Immigration facilitates that. Still all fine. And drawing ideas and influences from other countries that might work well over here? Yup, that's fine too. But what I do have a problem with is this wholesale lifting from other cultures and trying to somehow pin it onto Britain. An Asian-style working culture? Oh yes, that's what we've been missing all this time. And where exactly do we get one of these cultures? Can we order it online? Maybe grow it in a petri dish? Or just make people work harder for less money until we feel that box is ticked?
There are so many issues tied up with this but mostly I just find it sad. Britain is constantly acting like that girl at school who doesn't have her own sense of style so just copies other people's all the time. You know the kind of thing - the most popular girl in the class gets a new bag, the next day this other girl has the exact same one. It's the constant trying to be someone else that I find pathetic. I mean, I've spent my whole life trying to be Julie Andrews but I'm no closer to marrying Christopher Plummer so at least I know how pathetic I am. Yet, when it comes to Britain we are receiving these constant messages that we need to be a different country entirely. So much of it revolves around our children and education - they're meant to be free-range like the Finns but yet hothoused like the Chinese and at the same time eating like the French. I'm confused and I'm sure they are too.
The hothousing of children is really the key to all this - if we want an "Asian-style working culture", there are so many things that go with it. The pressurized education system, the oppression of the masses, the censorship of the media. To use an aptly multi-cultural metaphor, it's like ordering the crispy duck but asking for no pancakes. Or hoi sin sauce. Or those really thin bits of cucumber. You'll get the duck but you won't be able to roll it up and pop it in your mouth and quite frankly, it might taste a bit rubbish. Without the hoi sin sauce, you're going to notice all that deep-fried fattiness a lot more.
Duck, ducks...I had a point somewhere. YES! It was that saying "we'd like your working culture but without the human rights violations please" is like that metaphor. Flabby and a bit rubbish. That's why borrowing huge lumps of culture from other people just doesn't work. Let's not even mention the Dutch (and believe me when I say, I actually typed "duck" there before I corrected it). It's square pegs in round holes, jazz rhythms in worship songs, Latin grammar rules on the English language...oh wait. Scrub the last one. If you want your country to display the kind of "culture" experience by the repressed masses of China, then you're going to have to remove all kinds of human rights as well. And I don't for a second believe that our government would want to infringe on their citizens' human...oh wait again. That bit needs scrubbing too. The Latin, the human rights and the duck. Why doesn't this keyboard have a delete key?
The ever-present argument for doing this kind of cultural copyright theft is that it'll make Britain better. Great once more. A world leader etc etc and that too is something I take issue with. We're not the kind of country that's best at things. We're about as mediocre as it gets - our weather is mediocre, our food is mediocre, our general demeanour is one of restraint, our national drink is bland and our national anthem even blander. We're a mid league-r. We've produced some excellent music, but it's balanced out by how very shocking our sports teams often are. If Britain was a schoolchild, its report would show some strengths, some weaknesses but overall, kinda average across the board. And unlike Michael Gove, I know how averages work.
We're just not cut out to be Great. I know we had that empire once but even then it didn't really suit us. We lacked the natural authority to keep it under control and kinda panicked and had to kill whole races of indigenous people just so we could stick our flag in their hostile soil. As conquerors we did a patchy job at best. As agreeable, appeasing, happy-to-help-but-with-no-real-power world leaders we do OK. Being the beta male of the EU suits us and the sooner we admit that, the better.
So no, I don't want an Asian-style working culture. Or an American one unless it comes with the kind of money that'll fund an American-style therapy habit. I just want Britain to look at itself and go "yeah, you're OK how you are". Not "we need to kick all these immigrants out and go back to being the White Britain that we never really were in the first place". I'm not saying "Britain should be British" in a UKIP kind of way. Hell no. And neither am I saying that the country doesn't have problems - we have many, starting with that government of ours. But I am saying that stealing other people's cultures is not the way to improve our own. We should just be happy with this C Plus country. With an extra star for effort.
This post first appeared on London With a Toddler