Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Life after London 2012

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Life after London 2012

Article excerpt

"I m not racist," Rose told me over a cup of tea at her home, "but immigration has got too much.

"I used to know every family in this street," she went on, her voice shaking a little, "but now I hardly recognise anyone. People come and go and you don't know them--it's like a different country."

It was 27 August 2011 and I was in Essex on the first day of a three-month tour around the UK seeking the views of ordinary people about the state of British society for my book, British Voices. Rose was my first interviewee that day, an elderly widow who'd kindly invited me into her house when I met her by chance in a residential street in Romford.

I have thought back to my conversation with Rose many times over the past six weeks, as I read newspaper commentaries about Britain's "golden summer", a period during which we have "changed for the better", "looked in the mirror and liked what we have seen" and "emerged as a nation comfortable with ourselves". I wonder whether Rose's feeling about the country will have changed at all as a result of events in the Olympic Park, less than ten miles from her home.

I met Rose three weeks after riots spread across English cities in early August 2011. At the time, the prevailing narrative was that Britain was "searching for its soul" in the aftermath of the unrest; some commentators had rediscovered the "Broken Britain" narrative, painting the UK as a country of "problem families" and "feral youth". Yet the riots themselves came just three months after the royal wedding, a time when the nation had "come together in celebration" and "put on a great show for the world". …

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