The Bibby Stockholm Barge: How Can One Be Patriotic When This Is The Solution?

Daytime image of a Churchill statue surrounded by Union Jack flags
Photo by Kristina Gadeikyte on Unsplash

The term patriotism has always been one I have wrestled with. I have never fully understood what it was supposed to mean. In a sense I am grateful for our country. I have never had to fight for basic rights such as food or water, never paid for healthcare and have benefited from a student loan system that allowed me to go to university, even if the repayment scheme is getting tougher. Despite this, on a personal level and less on a practical one, patriotism as someone who has grown up in an average town in England, never struggling yet never thriving, I have never felt particularly proud to be English. I have grown up around a distinct lack of culture, and whilst growing up I never knew why, it has only been in my recent entry into adulthood that has shown me that my country is not as glorious as I was told in school.

I am sure every person to some extent has to come to term with their own relationship to their country, but it seems to me that with every passing year, less people my age seem to feel the patriotism that our grandparents felt, and if they’re anything like mine, indirectly sought to instil in you. This question is not something I often think about, but the recent resurgence of Britian’s migrant ‘crisis’ has pushed the topic of patriotism back into my consciousness. This might all sound a bit silly given the magnitude of the issue and the lives being lost weekly, but I think the concept of patriotism, especially as a young person, speaks to the results of a flawed migrant strategy that implicitly captures anything but patriotism: it captures an archaic British superiority and imperialism that is still clearly present in our government’s conception of the nation.

The Bibby Stockholm Barge

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s migrant strategy has rightly come under scrutiny, emphasised further by the press’ renewed coverage on those who have died trying to reach our shores. The Bibby Stockholm, a barge that government ministers have insisted is safe to house people because it has been used by other governments, has recently tested positive for bacteria in the water

The idea of housing migrants in barges is not only inhumane, it is a great risk to the people who have already risked their lives crossing violent waters in dinghies too small. You do not need my opinion to recognise that this solution is not fit for purpose, stranding people in a place that does not fit the capacity, with the BBC reporting that some describe it as being like ‘Alcatraz prison’.

Conservative Societal Responsibility

The migrant issue, if you even see it as one, is a multilayered subject that cannot be solved in one short opinion piece. It is an issue that results in a myriad of side effects, both practically and socially. Without overlooking the practical issues of the barge itself, I believe that the social side effects deserve more attention: namely how they intersect with the aforementioned idea of patriotism and the kind of values that the Conservatives seemingly want to take us back to.

Whether we like it or not, the idea of societal responsibility has been irretrievably complicated by the growingly complicated world we live in. The world runs off of different social currencies compared to our grandparent’s generation, and despite what they might say that gets passed off as it just being a generational thing, the social implications of a migrant crisis will never be simple. We have lost the idea of social responsibility, and our government are handing out mixed messages that are not setting a good image for the rest of the world. For a party all about returning to stable, old-fashioned values, Braverman’s Bibby Stockholm barge completely undermines this sentiment. These old-fashioned values should include looking out for your fellow human, and yet the Conservatives are imprisoning people.  It creates a sense of villainization that is the last thing the Conservatives, or our country needs.

A More Complicated World

I fully recognise that throwing terms around like ‘patriotism’ can seem counterproductive and unhelpful. In our contemporary world, terms like this carry a different, perhaps more loaded meaning that sets the stage for a more modern form of the same basic concept. Being proud of your country means something different today. We have become hardened to the increasingly fragile state of our country and the world. This is to be expected, but the idea of being proud of your country’s response to fragility is not something that should be lost, even if the response will never be as rip-roaring as it might have a couple of generations ago. To impose something on people is not responding to fragility in the right way, it is only adding to it. With increasing fragility will always become more fragile solutions, granted, but the barge fails to do anything productive in the long term. As a result, whatever patriotism means in 2023 will never be found. 

We, as a country, are imposing this barge onto people. They might be coming over here illegally, and our collective failure to tackle criminality surrounding migrant crossing is a debate for another day, but presenting such an obvious cop-out in the face of said criminality will never be a suitable solution. Societal responsibility cannot be broken down easily into right and wrong, because as said the world is simply more complicated than that. But, despite this, there has to be a basic level of human decency retained.

I am not necessarily saying that a temporary system to process people and sort out where to go from there is a bad thing. I am not under the allusion that we just let them roam free. But, the way we have gone about it cannot stand. It feels distasteful, and even if the standards the Conservatives are striving for are most likely out of reach, even they have to realise that a solution is one thing, but an inhumane solution is another thing entirely.

What Is Patriotism?

If you were to tie this into the idea of patriotism, it may seem utterly trivial and irrelevant. But, in the face of such a delicate problem, we need to find our way to something that can make us proud to live here, and this migrant crisis offers the perfect means. This is not to say that using their pain for our gain is the way to making us feel better, what I am trying to posit instead is that without a viable home policy that reflects a more humane solution, our country will suffer for it. The contrast between the sentiment of the crisis and the sentiment of Conservative values feels almost too wide to reconcile in the current moment.

I do not have the answers for how to actually solve the migrant crisis. I am not a politician. But, as a young person, it feels harder and harder to find hope to hold onto. Everything seems dour, and Bibby Stockholm is just another nail in the coffin. I hope that our government can find a way to solve the crisis in a sustainable way that finds some sort of reason to be proud of how we helped the people who needed it most. When actually solving this, patriotism is not going to be at the forefront of anyone’s mind, and understandably so. A solution needs to be found no matter which way you look at things, and the barge is not it.

Blurring Values

Perhaps the Conservatives do not realise this, but the core values they desire will never be found if they keep behaving like this. We need something we can be hopeful for, putting aside what it easy and searching for the right thing to do. It is not something people of my generation talk about, because there are few times in our lives when we have experienced it. Despite this, I am confident in saying that right now we all need some inspiration to heal our breaking systems, something that will restore some semblance of faith. 

When it comes to politics, this is always easier said than done. To act so poorly and without foresight is appalling, and I do not want to forgive the government for this. We are in the midst of a decreasing social mobility and togetherness, and the Bibby Stockholm Barge as only added fuel to the fire. If the Conservatives continue to push their barge plan it will not just be the migrants looking for a place to be safe that will suffer, it will be our country too, and the values of decency that grow blurry. 

Words by James Evenden

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