We British are not normally given to challenging authority – we are taught early on to ‘know our place’! At the highest level that place is either on our knees or backing away from some royal personage to whom we are merely subjects.
On rare occasions we may gather together with a couple of million of our peers and march through the streets demonstrating against the latest illegal war. We may chant ‘Not in our name!’, but we get ignored, go home and carry on as usual. Tucking our resentment down deep we mutter that it’s just not right.
While telling ourselves that we have a classless society, we fail to recognise that we face a different kind of serfdom. Our new masters bestride the world of corporate finance. They are the giants, we the little people.
We may believe that we hate cruel, greedy bankers like Bob Diamond but we leave it up to his powerful chums and their political poodles to ‘deal’ with him. (When it comes to rough deals, Diamond knows how to cut them.)
We know our place. Watching Diamond being interviewed by MPs on the Select Committee you could feel their resentment as he constantly addressed each one of them by their first names (just like that telesales person you want to get rid of).
But they could not voice their resentment. The best they could do was call him ‘Mr. Diamond’, as if that would teach him! All it did was reinforce the disparity – he was the boss calling them ‘John’ or ‘Jeanne’, while they, the employees, used the more respectful ‘Mister’.
They could not bring themselves to correct him, to insist upon reciprocal respect. It was just too difficult – deep inhibitions come into play.
Time and again this feeling is reinforced both by the more or less menacing treatment towards us by those in authority, as well as by our peer group. One thing we really hate is when somebody stands up to authority and gets away with it, thus exposing our own compliance. Consider for a moment the virulent attacks on George Galloway when he won the Bradford West by-election. Where did all that anger and hatred come from?
In 1934 someone from the ‘wrong class’ won Wimbledon – a working-class, grammar school boy from the North, called Fred Perry. Perry was the first Englishman to win for 25 years.
The establishment figures of the Lawn Tennis Association hated him so much that they could not even congratulate him afterwards. Instead they gave a bottle of champagne to the loser (an Australian) and regretted that ‘the best man’ did not win!
But Perry went on to win twice more, also winning the Davis cup for his country, which he loved, four times, together with pretty well everything else. Now that really did show them – you can bet the members of the LTA hated every single victory. No doubt each new success was met with apoplectic spluttering into their after-dinner ports.
Today Andy Murray will compete in the men’s final at Wimbledon. There is a delicious irony in the way the British press, the BBC and the rest of the media, will make constant references to Fred Perry as the last man to win Wimbledon in 1936.
I doubt whether many of them will mention that, after his last Wimbledon victory, he became so fed up with his treatment by the British Establishment that he emigrated to America and took American citizenship.