Brighton Festival Review: Is Britain Still Great?

15 May

Corn Exchange, Wednesday March 9 2012

“Is Britain still great” said Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee towards the end of this debate. “I think we could have had a discussion about every word”. It’s a shame they didn’t.

What was plugged as a to and fro about the state of British society, frequently failed to live up to its billing.

And while panellists author Adam Foulds, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and Toynbee touched on what was the premise of the debate, most of the talking was centred on readings from their respective writings and, at times, well-rehearsed comments about the past rather than the present.

To be fair, Toynbee made a good fist of arguing that the last Labour Government did quite a bit of good, even it could have gone a lot a further, she said, before it royally soured its legacy with various debacles.

It was Manzoor, however, who was by far and away the most engaging. His story of growing up in Luton as an alienated, young Pakistani before charting how he came to appreciate Britain, successfully put immigration into a heart-warming, human context.

That said, while this event provided a pleasant enough evening out, it was largely a wasted opportunity; What should have been a free-for-all about the state of modern Britain, was largely a southern England-focused discussion that had more in common with the hackneyed debates witnessed among the political elite, rather than being a genuine boundary-pushing discussion about the here and now.

Still, it might have sold a few more books for the panellists.

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