I hope no one on the Right quotes George Orwell again, because that would mean they "hated Britain" (Orwell wrote harsher things than RM).
— James Bloodworth (@J_Bloodworth) October 3, 2013
Indeed; I remembered Orwell being very harsh about British complacency, or what looked like it, early in the Second World War or just before it, in terms that were close to the young Ralph Miliband’s. I thought this was in one of the Essays, possibly Socialism and the English Genius, but I couldn’t find it.
This was because it’s actually at the finish of Homage to Catalonia. Orwell, having been thrown out of Barcelona by his own side’s secret police, is heading back to the UK.
And then England – southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass this way, especially when you are peacefully recovering from seasickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage underneath you, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth’s surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen — all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.
He sounds like he’s going to throw up.
I had in my mind an image of someone feeling much the same, looking down from an aircraft, and I realise I’d conflated Orwell’s text with a Battle of Britain memoir (quoted in Richard Hough’s book) in which an RAF pilot evacuated to the UK from France recalled his astonishment at the apparent peace, complacency, and arrogance he saw back in the UK, a few weeks before the bombs. The emotion was probably quite common.