An Anglophile Swede's message to Britain: don't let woke cancel humour

Dear Britain, don’t let the woke puritans cancel your glorious sense of humour: From an Anglophile Swede, a cry for us to rejoice in our fabled eccentricities and stand up to joyless authoritarians

  • Johan Hakelius is political editor-in-chief of Fokus, a Swedish weekly magazine
  • Also a columnist at the newspaper Expressen, he calls himself an ‘Anglomaniac’
  • He accused the media, BBC and political classes of taking leave of their senses 
  • It comes after reports of an alleged Christmas party held at Downing Street 

Let me say this first: I love your country. I’m not just an Anglophile, I’m an Anglomaniac.

But lately, it seems a section of the British media, the BBC, the political classes and a portion of your population have taken leave of their senses.

Some of these people are sincere, some are stupid, some are scared — and some have ulterior motives. But all of them are making life unbearable for everyone else. I don’t know how the rest of you cope.

This month, swathes of the UK’s chattering classes got frantically worked up about a Christmas party a year ago.

To call it a ‘party’ is probably a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Act. By the sound of it, the quiz night at No 10 was a couple of beers beside a computer. In Sweden, that’s a budget meeting on a Tuesday morning.

A scapegoat, the PM’s former press spokeswoman Allegra Stratton, was forced to resign. For being captured on a private camera smiling as she discussed this so-called party, she had to weep in public and confess her grievous sins against The People.

‘Your universities are full of incensed, self-important students, eager to gag anyone with a remotely different view’. Pictured, Durham University students stage a protest at South College for a ‘safer more inclusive Durham University’ after columnist Rod Liddle’s appearance at South College’s Christmas formal led some students to walk out

To those of us abroad, life inside the British political bubble looked a bit like Red China at its most unforgiving.

And still the Commons and the media witchfinders bay for fresh sacrifices. Some want Boris Johnson’s head on a spike. Others will settle for nothing less than the resignation of the entire Cabinet.

What on earth prompted this outburst? To me, the culprit is clear: this ‘madness of crowds’ is the inevitable consequence of successive lockdowns. The cost of shutting down society, the world is learning, is more than economic.

Certainly, the financial costs are incalculable: in Britain, tens of billions of pounds have been poured into furlough schemes that have left countless businesses spiralling into bankruptcy.

Inflation is soaring, millions have seen their standard of living slashed to ribbons and major industries are clinging on by their fingernails.

The damage to mental health is vast, too; and it will take years to assess how many will see their lives shortened by undiagnosed cancers, heart ailments and diabetes because they have been deterred from seeking medical help by the slogan: ‘Protect The NHS, Save Lives’.

Sweden understood this, which is why we resisted lockdown so strenuously.

Of course, our government made many mistakes. There is much we wish we had done differently. But I believe we were right in striving to keep the country functioning normally as much as possible.

Lockdowns, as we have seen in our neighbours as well as in Britain, fundamentally erode society. They replace normality with daily weirdness. When that happens for a week or two, it is frightening. When it happens for 18 months on and off, the weird becomes normal — and returning to the sanity of the past becomes impossible.

It seems to me, reading with growing sadness the news reports about events in Britain, that a new puritan tendency has been unleashed in your great country. Something that had lain dormant for almost 400 years, since the era of the English Civil War, has been reawakened.

For the first time in centuries — perhaps since Oliver Cromwell and his peers outlawed Christmas celebrations — a bunch of self-important, joyless authoritarians are bossing everyone around. Worse still, many people in Britain appear to welcome being told what to do by these people.

The jobsworths are seizing the thing they have always dreamed of wielding: power to make their own rules for everyone.

Well, let me say now: I beg you not to let this happen. You will become a country governed by traffic wardens.

Then there is the march of wokery. Your universities are full of incensed, self-important students, eager to gag anyone with a remotely different view. The Twitterati police everyone else’s language. Cancel culture is a scourge — and it must be resisted.

With the woke puritans in charge, everything I love most about Britain will be forbidden. It is impossible to imagine them tolerating the anarchy of The Goon Show, the sauciness of Carry On Matron, even the cheekiness of The Beatles.

‘The cost of shutting down society, the world is learning, is more than economic’. Pictured, a closed pub in Camden, London, after the capital went into Tier 4 restrictions

As a teenager, I thrilled to your punk rock. Johnny Rotten sneering at mainstream pop and giving two fingers to anyone over 30 wouldn’t be permitted for five minutes now on the BBC’s sanitised airwaves.

Fun itself is on the verge of being outlawed in Britain, and this phenomenon runs even deeper than the Covid crisis. It is generally accepted that we are in the End of Days and that the planet is doomed: you just have to pick your preferred reason for Armageddon.

Climate change, institutional racism, immigration, transphobia . . . wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you are required to believe that the world is coming to an end.

All sensible reserve — and dissent on mainstream broadcasters — has been abandoned. Politicians and football managers burst into tears on screen and everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves.

But does this make people stronger or happier? Does it hell. Everybody only gets more hurt and more offended by everything.

This is part of Boris Johnson’s problem. His innate ‘boosterism’ and positive nature are out of sync with the urgent need on Facebook and Twitter for people to parade their anxiety and ramp up, wherever possible, the Covid threat. So many people are increasingly determined not to be optimistic — instead, they demand attention for how miserable they are.

That perplexes me. The British have innumerable reasons to be happy. I’ve idolised your culture since I was a toddler. You know what first won my heart? I saw a Land Rover on television. That was it, I was smitten.

The show, believe it or not, was Emmerdale Farm. I learned English from Annie Sugden and Old Amos with his lamb-chop sideburns.

The 52 per cent of you who voted out made the right decision: it is obvious the EU is working its way to dissolution, and you were simply the first ones to act on it. Pictured, guests celebrate the moment the UK left the EU on January 31, 2020

As soon as I could read, I was lost in The Wind In The Willows. All my life I’ve worn your clothes, read your authors, followed your press.

I’m a lifetime member of the National Trust and a lifetime fan of Paul Weller. The rock bands Crass and The Cure are next to Britten and Elgar in my vinyl collection. I’ve written several books about you — and I’ve proudly defended your right to leave the European Union, too.

The 52 per cent of you who voted out made the right decision: it is obvious the EU is working its way to dissolution, and you were simply the first ones to act on it.

But you cannot allow the trauma of that long debate, followed by the cataclysm of Covid, to cost you your fabled sense of humour.

You are losing, one by one, those public personalities who once defined Britain: the great eccentrics. I’ve always admired them above all because in Sweden we are instinctively conformist.

Not so for you. Defiant oddballs are at the heart of the Establishment — headmasters, editors, soldiers, not to mention your royals.

You still produce them, and Boris is a prime example. No one like him could ever become Prime Minister in any other country.

But if you allow the traffic wardens, Covid zealots, hysterical students and the woke to complete their takeover, your glorious eccentricity will be cancelled for ever.

Your national character is too priceless to be relinquished. Please never forget you are British, born to laugh in the face of anyone who tries telling you what to do. 

  • Johan Hakelius is political editor-in-chief of Fokus, a Swedish current events weekly, and a columnist at the newspaper Expressen 

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