All Aboard For Broken Britain


So Pauline Hanson wants to be a Pom now. 

Or does she? Hanson-watchers have been left scratching their heads as to whether she is loving us or leaving us. The story broke at the start of the week with teasers from an exclusive interview with Woman’s Day. She told the magazine that she’d had enough of Australia and was leaving for the UK. "Sadly, the land of opportunity is no longer applicable [to Australia]" she said, adding that she loved "the culture" of England — whatever that means.

Although your average Pom might have viewed all of this as simply wrong-headed, the Woman’s Day interview left many Australians wondering whether this wasn’t just another erratic publicity stunt.

Speculation was heightened when her real estate agent, one Keith Edwards, accused the publication of falsely representing the former One Nation leader’s travel plans as migration. Edwards later retracted his comments and Hanson issued a joint statement with Woman’s Day confirming that she was indeed relocating to England.

Tony Abbott declared himself disappointed and the media had plenty of fun speculating about what would happen when Hanson worked out that England was just as friendly to migrants of the non-Anglo-Saxon variety as Australia.

As it was with One Nation, migration is the key campaigning issue for the far right wing British National Party, whose "anti-sponging" platform has won many votes. Even as Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP welcomed the news of Hanson’s imminent arrival, referring in sympathetic tones to "that most vicious stitch-up by the Australian establishment of her and her party," he warned that she might find UK cities overcrowded with foreigners.

One question remains unanswered: why on earth would she want to live in England? Everyone over there wants to leave.

The main trigger for her departure is the decline of Kevin Rudd’s Australia. Or as Hanson puts it: "Over-regulation, increasing taxes and lack of true representation."

But for any Brit, this is a pretty accurate description of life in the UK. Hasn’t she heard of "broken Britain", a catchall term for everything wrong in Blighty. And in the view of an increasing number of Britons, there seems to be an awful lot wrong.

Even before the credit crunch, record numbers were leaving permanently. In 2006, nearly 400,000 Britons left the country for good, the highest flight since new recording methods were put in place in 1991, figures from the UK’s Office of National Statistics revealed.

More recently, a poll published by the Times earlier this month found 42 per cent of UK voters "would emigrate", while 70 per cent agreed that "society is now broken". Come on in, Pauline Hanson!

What’s more, the number of Brits emigrating to Australia has doubled in the last 10 years; between 2006 and 2007, more than 23,000 Poms moved Down Under, according to UK government figures. And that number could rise to 110,000 with the Rudd Government’s new plans to attract skilled migrants.

If you’re British, Australia is the place to be. Not Britain. As usual, Hanson is barking up the wrong tree. As a Pom living in Oz, if I were told I’d made the wrong choice and that there were actually plenty of positives about living in Britain, I would have to stop you and, yes, I’d have to ask you to please explain.

The "broken Britain" soubriquet frequently surfaces in stories about so-called social decline: teenage drinking, drugs, sex and violence, political corruption, bureaucratic red tape, censorship, permissiveness, celebrity worship, terrorism, espionage, police incompetence and brutality, multiculturalism, racism … Anything bad, really.

But it’s more than just good, old British cynicism and pessimism that’s fuelling the perception of a broken country. How do I know? Because the BNP under Nick Griffin is making such alarming inroads into the political establishment.

And wherever voters are unhappy, political extremists exploit their insecurities. (I also know this for a fact because I now live in Tasmania.) And, sadly, the BNP and Griffin have been doing just this.

During the 1990s, the number of BNP candidates running in elections at every level of government increased, as did the party’s percentage share of the vote, the total number of votes for the party, and the average vote per candidate.

In 2008 the BBC estimated that the BNP had seated 56 local councillors. It won a seat in the capital’s Assembly after the 2008 London Mayoral elections and two seats in the European parliament in the 2009 European elections, one of which belonged to Griffin, who called this, the party’s most high-profile achievement yet, "a great victory".

So while the BNP succeeds, Britain festers.

Packs of hoodies roam the streets, bristling with knives, high on the latest drug. The police are as draconian as they are incompetent, finding ever new ways to monitor the island’s sorry inhabitants — unmanned drones being the newest incursion into the country’s dwindling freedoms. Your average person pays out more and more to the government and its agencies and reams of red tape stifle day to day life. Or at least that’s what a broken Britain looks like to a lot of its citizens right now.

And with an election due to be called anytime, the interchangeable political elite are in paralysis. Your average pollies blast through legislation in kneejerk responses to negative headlines, all the while lining their pockets. They’re equally terrified of bad press as they are of thinking or acting independently. Whether this is true or not, it’s a common perception of political life in 21st century Britain.

And such perceptions are the clincher. Hanson always did have a problem with distinguishing reality from perceptions. If she thinks she’s heading off to a green and pleasant land full of well-behaved white people, good luck to her. She’ll need it. She can settle down in a BNP stronghold, find a nice shaven-headed chap and lap up all the "culture" she likes. But if she thinks Australia is no longer a land of opportunity, God knows what she’ll make of broken Britain.

And she’s left the door open for her return if it doesn’t work out. "Australia will always be home.. [but]I’ll probably head south if I ever come back to live," she said. Tasmania, that means you. Well, the island is sorely lacking in devils at the moment …

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