England gave the world Shakespeare, the steam locomotive, the computer, Isaac Newton and photography.
But when it comes to what the country excels at, Alan Bennett believes there is only one answer. Hypocrisy.
Playwright and author Bennett, who penned The History Boys and Talking Heads, claims that no other country in the world is so adept at saying one thing and doing another.
“Take London; we extol its beauty and its dignity while at the same time we’re happy to sell it off to the highest bidder,” he said, “Or highest builder.”
“We glory in Shakespeare yet we close our public libraries.”
Bennett made the comments in a BBC Radio 4 broadcast to mark the 50th anniversary of the World at One. As part of the celebrations, 50 public figures have been asked to decide what sets Britain apart from the rest of the world.
The playwright said he had debated choosing Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales, medieval churches or even the National Trust for his nomination, but what he really felt England is best at, “better than all the rest” is ‘hypocrisy’
“In England, what we do best is lip service,” he told presenter Martha Kearney.
“Then we wonder why things at the top do not change or society improve. But we know why. It’s because we are hypocrites.”
Bennett said language was a good example of refined hypocrisy where we want to have it both ways.
“Words which start off as good and meaningful, terms like environment and energy saving, rapidly lose any credence because converted into political or PR slogans, ending up the clichéd stuff of an estate agents’ brochure. A manual for hypocrisy.”
And warning listeners not to grumble – Bennett held his hands up and said he didn’t exempt himself from these criticisms. “How should I?” he says. “I am English, I am a hypocrite.”
Alan Bennet hits the nail on the head, and the greatest exponent of this in government (closely followed by Give, Grayling and IDS) is Big Eric. Think of his use of the terms ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘localism’, ‘affordable housing’, ‘Duty to Cooperate’ and ‘protecting the countryside/green belt etc.’ in government statements and in the NPPF; all of which is practice mean precisely the opposite of their usual meaning. Planning Ministers which for all of their faults are not hypocrites, like Nick Boles, and don’t have the Big Eric reality distortion field, have never lasted long/