2012: The year we felt that golden glow of resurgent Middle England (And not even my cringingly inept BBC could shatter the illusion)
02:04 GMT, 30 December 2012
Analysis: Michael Buerk believes 2012 was a proud year for Britain – despite a few low moments
It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the mood changed and impossible, even in retrospect, to explain why.
For me, it came when I was standing in the drizzle, six deep in a crowd massed at a corner of a Surrey lane, waiting for my first glimpse of the London Olympics. The rain stopped. The sun came out. Suddenly, without warning and for no apparent reason, we all started talking to each other. The English do it once in a generation.
It became a party well before the first of a seemingly endless stream of motorcycle cops roared down the hill, grandstanding shamelessly.
They stood in their saddles, high-fiving the crowds and two-fingering Health and Safety. Never, even in Surrey, have the Filth been so feted. The cyclists flicked by in a moment but by then it didn’t matter.
The Olympics were a midsummer month’s dream, a celebration of national self-delusion right from the Opening Ceremony. Merrie England as a prelapsarian idyll was fantasy. The industrial revolution wasn’t mere despoliation, whatever Leftie producers might think; it was the birthplace of modernity.
And the glorification of the NHS was surely inexplicable to foreigners with demonstrably better health care. But, with its wacky panache and rich vein of self-parody, it was a triumph. If we can’t be powerful or even successful, we can at least be eccentric and show off.
Being in London this summer was to witness an all-too-brief resurgence of Middle England and its unfashionable virtues. It was well organised, for a start. The 70,000 volunteers rose above the cynicism, not to mention their jarringly tasteless uniforms, to set the tone with their humour and good manners.
We even did pretty well at racing round in circles, swivelling on a vaulting horse and other overstuffed furniture and chucking things. For a fleeting instant we felt good about ourselves, a united kingdom, if not Great Britain again. Even the Scots stopped moaning.
It had almost happened a couple of months earlier at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. All the ingredients were there, the spectacle, the organisation, the crowds; Middle England damply en fete. But the celebration of what the country has been was betrayed by what it is now. The one enduring British institution was mocked by another that had shamefully lost its way.
I had a grandstand view from the terrace of the Little Ship Club (it needs pronouncing carefully) just up river from Tower Bridge. We spent the day dodging between the real river pageant and the BBC’s television coverage.
Out on the water, a tribute to the Monarch that resonated back to the Middle Ages, rich in historical continuities, a floating salute to past glory and present fortitude. On the screen, a succession of Daytime airheads preened themselves, or gossiped with even more vacuous D-list ‘celebrities’. With barely an exception, they were cringingly inept. Nobody knew anything and nobody cared. The main presenter couldn’t even work out what to call the Queen.
The Dunkirk Little Ships, the most evocative reminders of this country’s bravest hour, were ignored so that a pneumatic bird-brain from Strictly Come Dancing could talk to transvestites in Battersea Park.
I was so ashamed of the BBC I would have wept if I hadn’t been so angry.
The worst thing was that it was deliberate – planned that way to be ‘light’ and ‘inclusive’. The BBC actually congratulated itself, and the executive ultimately responsible was promptly promoted to become the most disastrous director-general in the Corporation’s history.
The truth is that the summer was an illusion. We are not a united kingdom; we are not ‘all in this together’. We are more divided with each passing year and a cultural elite at odds with the values of those outside its own self-referential inner circle is probably the least of our problems as we head towards 2013.
Let down: Buerk is highly critical of the Diamond Jubilee coverage, which he has described as 'cringingly inept'
Embarrassing: Buerk was astounded that some presenters didn't know how to address Queen Elizabeth, pictured with, Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge
We were lonelier than we have ever been this year. In our atomised society, eight million people now live on their own, marriage is still in decline and we have the highest proportion of single-parent families in Europe.
it went into reverse.
Celebrity culture may make a few talentless yobs famous, but the privately educated increasingly control the commanding heights of British life. Most of the Cabinet, of course, but many of Labour’s senior figures, too.
A third of the House of Commons went to public schools. So did nine out of ten judges and one in three medical students.
The arts, low and high, are dominated by them. The BBC is a private-school old boys’ and girls’ association. They edit most newspapers, even the Leftish Daily Mirror and the Guardian. Is it any wonder when public schools, which educate just seven per cent of our children, get far more straight As at A-level than all the comprehensives put together
Just not good enough: Michael Buerk was highly critical of the BBC's coverage of the Diamond Jubilee – which included Tess Daly
Class is back. The saddest survey of the year found fewer than half state school teachers would advise their brightest pupils to try for Oxbridge.
The country is splitting apart in front of our eyes. Much of the North already seems like another country, poorer, more dependent on the shrinking state, shorter-lived and – measured by their need for anti-depressants – more miserable.
Scotland may well soon actually be another country. The campaign over the independence referendum, due in less than two years’ time, will be a major issue in 2013.
I lived there – very happily –for years and know how different it is already. But why they should want a complete split when we subsidise that separateness, and so much of the Union seems to be run by Scots anyway, baffles me. But, then, so does their idiotic chippiness about the English.
I lived in Cardiff, too. Wales is not another country; it’s England with an accent and a good singing voice. But it is being pulled along by Scotland in devolution’s slipstream, whether it likes it or – more probably – not.
Northern Ireland’s in its own schizophrenic, subsidised, limbo. The Catholics will soon enough be a majority, but they’ve done well out of the price England continues to pay for peace there. They’ll stay – for a while. Bankrupt Dublin couldn’t afford them anyway.
I sometimes feel even London’s leaving the Union. In the bits I frequent, you feel the only way to hear English spoken is to hail a taxi. The property is being bought up by Russian crooks, Greek tax-dodgers and Arabs escaping their summer or, more likely, their Spring. This year, I don’t think I met a single English person serving in a West End pub, restaurant or sandwich bar.
Pride: Team GB Olympians pose with their medals
Snowball effect: And there was huge successes with Paralympics GB too
We seem to have parked half of what used to be our working class on benefits, and imported a new one, wholesale, from Eastern Europe. I’m not complaining. They’re cheerful, hard-working and ambitious, everything many of their British counterparts are not.
And this whole, dis-united kingdom now seems suddenly bent on pulling out of Europe. A referendum on British membership looks inevitable. If it were to be a simple – in or out – question, the last YouGov poll I saw suggested 49 per cent would vote to leave, against 32 per cent who would choose to stay.
UKIP, yesterday’s fringe, single-issue loonies are an increasingly powerful political force, terrifying the other parties. It’s been one of the most significant developments in 2012 and will be one of the big stories of 2013.
There will be lots of competition in a world flirting with a choice of catastrophes. The euro probably won’t collapse, though Greece might. It could well be the year Israel and/or America attacks Iran to stop it developing a useable nuclear weapon.
It could also be the year we realise we got some things wrong. The Arab Spring wasn’t a triumph for liberal democracy. It looks like replacing nasty, pro-Western dictators with nasty, West-hating Muslim fundamentalists. Gas and oil fracking has turned all our assumptions about energy, and many about the politics of global resource dependency, upside down. Climate change is not as clear-cut as the windmill wizards would have you believe.
And maybe, in 2013, we might start to think about the real existential problem that underlies so many of the others – our fertility. At the turn of 2012, the seven billionth living human being was born. According to the UN, we’ll be ten billion by the end of the century, numbers still rising. We may be able to survive, but won’t be able to flourish.
Not just seasonally appropriate, but wonderfully paradoxical, then, that redemption, or at least relief from the pervasive gloom, will come in the form of a baby.
What the Olympics was to 2012, the Royal heir, to the heir to the heir will be to 2013. Maybe the BBC will even get its title right.