Stiff Upper Lip

Lady Di’s Death Revealed Unchanged Passions: Part 3— Fear for Britain

Part 3— Fear for Britain.

The death of functional conservatism within the British Tories led Dame Thatcher to give her blessings to Mr Blair, and shortly thereafter, Mr Blair made every effort to ensure that Dame Thatcher would not regret her decision. He shored up the special relationship with Washington, much to the United States’ advantage, as time has shown. Abandoning the traditional socialist approach, he merged the Self-Regulatory Organizations into the Security and Investments Board, lending it a structure similar to the United States Security and Exchanges Commission, and setting it up as a counter-weight to the Bank of England.

With the economic interdependence of the United States and Britain ensured, Dame Thatcher declared that “there was no fear for Britain under Blair”.

Taking a cue from the Chinese Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping, Mr Blair felt encouraged to launch his “four modernizations”, promising a flexible economy, a modern welfare state, constitutional reform and a role for Britain in the world. It was a tacit admission that Britain’s economy was rigid, its welfare state outdated, its unwritten constitution an anachronism, and that its grip on Uncle Sam’s coat tails was slipping.

Mr Blair then put act to speech, and Britain certainly changed. There was less unemployment, and seen as a whole, the British economy was doing well, with corporations thriving. Britain took firm steps to shift from an industrial to a service economy, and the housing market was booming. The effect on the middle and upper classes has been positive, but on the lower middle class and the poor, devastating. There was no job security, and the closing down, or relocation of traditional industries left people dependent on temporary employment agencies. For many job seekers, service industry translated as outsourcing with further job losses.

The results of the modern welfare state are overcrowded hospitals, poor schooling, and overworked police faced with a choice of chasing armed juvenile delinquents or hardened, home-grown terrorists. Constitutional reform stopped short of actually producing a written constitution compatible with the charters of European Union member states, and had to content itself with devolution of legislative power to Wales and Scotland. Since the bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999, the daily telephone call between the U.S. president and the British Prime Minister was ritualised, if that may be considered a foreign policy achievement.

Lady Di’s Death Revealed Unchanged Passions: Part 2— Multi-cultural Britain

Part 2— Multi-cultural Britain

The attitude of the stiff upper lip came under unconscious revision during the hey-days of Lady Diana Spencer’s rule over the hearts, expectations and imaginations of the British public. The reaction to her tragic and untimely death in 1997 by the same public caused this change to be openly acknowledged by sociologists and the media.

Shortly before her death, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, had led his Labour Party to a resounding victory and been nominated Prime Minister. Mr Blair’s campaign team had recognised the change in the British public, and revamped the labour Party as New Labour to respond efficiently to the expectations of a changed, socially mobile, heterogeneous and ethnically diverse Britain in which fish and chips as the national dish had been, in effect, replaced by Chicken Tikka Masala, a side effect of post-war immigration from South Asia.

The “quavering intuitions of the heart” were based on feeling and touching, and the British were said to have evolved into a touchy-feely people, a term that is now a standard way of describing this trait as opposed to the stiff upper lip.

Therefore no study of this change, and the degree to it which has endured, can succeed without taking into account the way the British public expressed their grief at Diana’s death, and what Tony Blair promised them.

Lady Di’s Death Revealed Unchanged Passions: Part 1— Myth and Reality — the Stiff Upper Lip

The reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales … was meant to mark a profound shift in the history of British sentiment as it moved from the stiffness of upper lips to the quavering intuitions of the heart.” Hywel Williams.

Part 1— Myth and Reality — the Stiff Upper Lip

Reserved, stiffening the upper lip, being strait-laced and sexually repressed, with tongue-in-cheek, understated humour is how the British stereotype is still described. It is a commonly held belief that as a child, Queen Victoria was encouraged to keep her chin up and maintain a stiff upper lip by a prickly sprig of holly placed under her collar.

Faced with misfortune or adversity, the upper lip tends to quaver, and stiffening it is an external sign of inner resolve. Emotion perceived by an audience deemed inferior democratises the relationship between superior and inferior, an undesirable change for the continuity of aristocracy. The class society of Britain relied on distance and exclusivity for its perpetuation. Entrants from the middle or lower middle classes into the colonial services maintained this trait in their relations with native peoples they considered their inferiors just as in the hierarchy of the aristocracy in Britain these colonial officers, by birth, were near the lower rung of the social ladder. As Queen Victoria grew up, and eventually became Queen-Empress of the British Empire, maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity assumed the proportions of a national virtue common to all classes in Britain. It enlarged its scope from facing adversity with dignity to suppressing emotion, and at all costs, avoiding its tactile expression.

The heart might quaver, but the upper lip would not betray it. Intuition, something that the science of the second half of the nineteenth century was incapable of explaining, was not taken into consideration. It was only after the twentieth century was well into its way that writers such as E.M. Forster were able to deal with this subject by comparing the intuitive and emotive approach of the Italians with the tight-corseted attitude characteristic of British females.