How a cult of nostalgia is damaging Britain

From imperial measures to crown symbols on pint glasses, the government seems determined to distract us from really important issues

 <p>During the potato shortage of 1947 (Getty Images), people in south London queued to buy food.</p> <p>” src=”” srcset=”https://www 320w, 06/03/16/GettyImages-3313809.jpg?quality=65&smart&width=640 640w, =65&smart&width=990 990w” data-hero=”” fetchpriority=”high”/></figure><figcaption class=

People in south London queue during the 1947 potato shortage (Getty Images)

“The government announces the return of imperial measurements so food bank queues can be measured in furlongs.” The Twitter account for Have I Got News For You was included a short joke how many people who don’t subscribe to the Daily Mail think about the festival of made-up nostalgia being put on by Downing Street at the moment.

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British politics has always had an unhealthy, inaccurate and deeply strange fixation on the past. A vision of a bygone era of ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘creating and healing’, when Britain was truly ‘great’, when Britannia ruled the waves and the sun never set on the Empire. (And there is not enough space here to go into the economic and cultural damage that was inflicted on former colonial nations and continues to this day.)

This virulent strain of antiquarian ideology found a succinct mantra in the slogan “Take Back Control” of Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave campaign, and it clearly still survives and thrives under the Prime Minister’s new cabal of advisers and ministers as the imperial measures “strategy.” ‘ is a reference to the current thinking in number 10.

The original price list for drinks hangs in the bar of The Valiant Soldier pub in Devon. The Time Warp Pub remained unchanged from its closure in 1965 until it reopened as a museum nearly 30 years later in 1998 (Getty Images).

Notwithstanding the fact that the proposed return to pounds and ounces has already been branded “nonsense” by Asda boss Stuart Rose, or that many retailers have warned that at a time of already rising food prices it will in fact mean additional costs.

During the pandemic, this cookie jar nostalgia was present in allusions to the “flash spirit” of those born in the 1950s and ’60s. It makes you think about what the government will propose next to bring it back. Rationing? bowler hats? milk floats?

Actually, it’s best not to go down that hypothetical route because you’ll soon get to other 1940s staples, like a lack of electricity for a quarter of the population, or foreign travel being a luxury reserved only for the wealthy, what may sound like viable guidelines for the next cabinet ideas meeting.

The reality is that here in 2022 we are in the midst of a real decline in living standards that we expect to see in the 21st century. The number of emergency food parcels being distributed by Trussell Trust food banks has been increasing gradually since 2014-15, with the number peaking at 2.6 million in 2020-21, at the height of the pandemic.

Nostalgia vs. Innovation

In times of such need, we need our politicians to be brave. To take decisive action that may not be popular with their base but will help the millions who need it most. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already shown reluctance to do so, finally waiving an unexpected tax after months of pressure.

We also need creativity and innovation: a sense of entrepreneurship that can put Britain back on the map for the right reasons.

Much of our science and technology sector has been hit by Brexit, but it is arguably still the country’s greatest asset. The University of Oxford has developed a vaccine against Covid-19 with AstraZeneca, which has been administered 2.5 billion times in 170 countries. Graphene, the world’s thinnest material that has enormous potential, has been isolated from graphite at the University of Manchester. The Humber Refinery in Lincolnshire is a key point in the global supply chain for lithium, the battery ingredient that could power a new green revolution. Scotland also plays a crucial role in the development of wind and tidal power.

A scientist working at the Oxford Vaccine Group laboratory facility at Churchill Hospital, Oxford (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

But instead of celebrating and promoting these achievements, breakthroughs and industries and many more, we are stuck in a wearisome cycle of nostalgia for a nation that never really existed.

Of course, this finds its focus in events such as the anniversary. It’s easy to see why people feel the need for a celebration, an easy distraction from a truly depressing news cycle that seems like forever.

But one has to wonder if it is really in the UK’s collective interest at this point to channel this to a group of people living a life of luxury at taxpayers’ expense.

The truth is there is one aspect of British life that is going back in time and that is our standard of living. The government’s own forecasts last month showed they would experience their biggest drop since records began in the late 1950s.

Difficult times lie ahead and so attention needs to be turned back to the UK’s current challenges and future potential, rather than a rosy version of a past that very few can remember anyway. How a cult of nostalgia is damaging Britain


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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