2014: England Needs An Answer

ImageSince we English, unlike our Scottish neighbours, have not been asked the important question about the United Kingdom’s future, we deserve answers about the reality of a future England.

Standing sentinel at a local War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday, watching the flags of the Armed Forces in which, and the nation for which men and women willingly gave their lives slowly droop in the dazzling November sunshine, I was acutely aware of a sense of profound diminishment. A sense that my countrymen about me seemed unaware that the flags that were being lowered might be folded neatly in the dusty cupboard of history – along with much else of our sense of ourselves which already lingers there – before the next solemn meeting; one which, fittingly, would mark a hundred years since the beginning of the end of our civilisation. And that we would have absolutely no say in the matter whatsoever.

Amidst the jarring frivolity that awkwardly greets the fading notes of the Last Post at such occasions, it seemed that the gravitas of the occasion hadn’t even spread to Westminster. The Union Flag fluttered nonchalantly; its onlookers were largely not those who, like our Canadian cousins and former fellow subjects in Hong Kong, awoke one morning to see a strange and alien flag at the top of familiar mastheads.

Even if, as recent YouGov polls suggest, Scotland is set against leaving the United Kingdom, the future relationship between Scotland and England is uncertain. Further, and crucially for the majority of the population of the ‘United’ Kingdom, there is no mention of what will happen to England in the event of Scotland’s departure or its retention.

The powerful Scotland Act of 2012, a document which slipped past most peoples’ notice, even allows Scottish Parliamentarians to set the legal drink-drive limit and only sets into greater and starker relief the gulf between England and Scotland. This is compounded by wealth divides, social divides, unaffordable housing, limited economic growth, and a London which is looking increasingly like a republic which happens to have a Queen living in it, whether or not it is ‘driving away‘ or ‘draining life‘ from or simply creating a ‘gulf‘ between itself and the rest of England and the UK. The future of England as a political entity is decidedly uncertain.

The Unionist response has been unbearably tame. The formerly conservative Conservative Party (and before that the Conservative and Unionist Party) seem to be approaching the reality of a diminished United Kingdom (both now and moreso in future) by half-heartedly attempting to use the few remaining symbols of a ‘United’ Kingdom to paradoxically create one. Emasculated by the European Union’s border demands, such as the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 (one of many such acts passed in the dying days of ‘Tony’ Blair’s premiership), all the UK Government can do is pass Bills such as the United Kingdom Borders Act 2013, an odd piece of legislation which apparently orders

All points of entry to the United Kingdom… to be provided with and display prominently a portrait of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, along with the Union Flag and other recognised national symbols.

An odd requirement, certainly; but a telling one, also. In a post-Olympic Opening Ceremony Britain, are these the last meaningful vestiges of a British national identity? If so, what are the ‘other recognised national symbols’ and why are they not mentioned specifically? As is often the case with the ‘United Kingdom’ of the new millennium, the objective becomes subjective.

The Union is clearly unravelling. Allan Massie is right to suggest that in the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum in September of this year,  ‘further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament – and also to the Welsh Assembly, possibly to the Northern Irish one, too – would materially alter the structure of the United Kingdom’. He goes on to state that

‘There would be matters in the devolved parts of the UK over which Westminster and the UK government had no control. Those same matters, notably health and education, would in England remain the responsibility of a Parliament and government drawn from all parts of the UK. They might be affected by the votes of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. Moreover, the UK government itself – especially if it was led by Labour – might have no majority on purely English matters. But the Westminster Parliament and the government drawn from its members would be England’s only political authority.’

Such a situation is farcical, undemocratic, unprecedented, illogical… but worst of all, entirely possible and perfectly plausible. And yet, no-one quite knows what should happen next.

The mainstream media is not a place for the debate. Jason Cowley of the New Statesman can only echo Jeremy Paxman in mentioning England as being backward-looking, without providing any suggestion of where to move next. Further to British Future’s polling on ‘English identity‘ – the usual trotting out of cliché about about St. George’s Day and Basil Fawlty – the organisation’s own Sunder Katwala can only make passing reference to the fact that England’s football team ‘will be the only one of 32 footballing nations to take the field in Brazil which does not have a state to its name’ and that the upcoming Scottish referendum ‘could prove one of the most significant events in 300 years of British political history’. Even Simon Jenkins – agitating, oddly, for the present majority party in Government moving to favour Scottish independence, despite its leader’s vanity precluding this – who realises the ‘historically momentous’ significance of the Scottish vote, has no legitimate suggestion about what would follow. He speculates with palpable resignation about the fact that Wales could secede, noting in telling future tense about the prospect that ‘England will have contrived in a century to lose not one empire, but two.’

England must brace itself; its future is almost totally out of its hands. Hamstrung by a two-and-a-half party system which represents almost no-one, and subject to the whims and determination of an electorate outside its bounds and by a supra-national legislature and executive which sees any motion for national determinance, such as that in Catalonia, as treachery, England is left without any of the apparatus of a meaningful state and without the ability to obtain it.

We deserve a more meaningful answer to the shadowy questions which loom over our future. We deserve more well-informed decision-making than that which fluctuates with football results and external events. We deserve a more democratic way to determine our future.

England needs answers.

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On Lord Curzon’s Prophecy; Introduction

Every now and then, when one seeks out the wisdom of the ages, a singular passage or reference contains a resonance that is transcendent; one which helps the reader to realise that he is part of a continuum, rather than an atomised individual who shrinks from – or is oblivious to – the greatness of his forebears.

Such a reference recently made itself clear to me.

While reading some Edwardian texts as research for a matter quite unrelated to this blog, I was struck by a stark, bleak vision of the future, written by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in January 1908. The observation is repeated below in full:

England, from having been the arbiter, would sink at the best into the inglorious playground of the world. Our antiquities, our natural beauties, our relics of a once-mighty sovereignty, our castles and cathedrals, our mansion houses and parks, would attract a crowd of wandering pilgrims. People would come to see us just as they climb the Acropolis at Athens or ascend the waters of the Nile. A congested population, ministering to our reduced wants, and unsustained by the enormous demand from India and the Colonies, would lead a sordid existence, with no natural outlet for its outflow, with no markets for its manufactures beyond such as were wholly or partially barred to it by hostile tariffs, with no aspiration but a narrow and selfish materialism, and above all, with no training for its manhood. Our emigrants, instead of proceeding to lands where they could still remain British citizens and live and work under the British flag, would be swallowed up in the whirlpool of American cosmopolitanism, or would be converted into foreigners and aliens… As for the priceless asset of the national character, without a world to conquer or a duty to perform, it would rot of atrophy and inanition. To use Wordsworth’s splendid simile – ‘the flood of British freedom would perish in bogs and sands, and to evil and to good be lost for ever’.

Here, I realised, was not just the substance and matter of numerous issues which I have touched upon or analysed in detail in this blog, but also a gathering of all the current malaise which affects England and Britain; a full and scathing riposte to postmodern pseudo-English nullity.

This is clearly a work of prescience quite unlike any other; one which merits greater understanding and analysis if we, as English people, are to recapture and embody the virtues which he extolls and to escape and undo the vice, villainy and evil which he decries.

In a series of three blogs, to be published over the next few months, I will aim to analyse how Lord Curzon’s statements came to pass and manifest themselves in modern England and Britain.

As always, feedback, contributions, recollections and insights are heartily welcomed: please feel free to make full use of the comments section below, or get in touch on Twitter.

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To read previous three and four-part blogs here at The Flaming Sword, please visit here for the ‘London, England’ series and here for the ‘Endless Assault’ series.

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England, Scotland and the ‘Borderlands’

ukayThe announcement of the Scottish independence referendum – a decision equal in its short-sightedness and of comparable ignorance to the original moves towards devolution initiated by Tony Blair – has produced reactions ranging from narcissistic grandstanding, to pedantic infighting to the bizarre spectacle of a cross-party coalition of the unpopular which shares its name with a Scottish NHS intiative. What else, it is fair to say, can be expected from a union which has had its day?

Very little discernable coverage has been given to the effect upon, the opinions of or even the future for England and her people. What will happen to us if the Scots attempt to go it alone? What will happen to us if the Scots elect to stay in the ‘United’ Kingdom? What will the institutions which have been strengthened or defined by our union – the Armed Forces, the Monarchy and others – look like after 2014? Would the English finally be given proper political representation, or would Westminster linger on in its present bloated form?

The efforts of our blessed political elite to secure the union are predictably laughable. David Cameron, it is said, has encouraged his Cabinet to ‘spread the word‘ of the benefits of the Union to the English. In other words, he’s imploring the same group who could not convince an electorate to see the merits of a Tory majority to inspire a nation to exert itself to win a plebiscite – a victory which may be against its own interests – which it cannot vote upon.

It is fortuitous that certain groups and members of the media have had the sense to analyse the reality of the situations which British subjects will face after the vote in fourteen months’ time. It is unsurprising that, given the state not only of Cameron’s UnConservative Party but the supposedly conservative media which has little idea of anything which is in desperate need of conserving, the left-wing have taken the initiative on the matter.

James Maxwell of the New Statesman points out that

‘British political leaders do not seem overly concerned with the absence of positive arguments in favour of the current constitutional set-up’.

It’s probable to suggest that, led by a Prime Minister who is ignorant of the origins of a key aspect of the English constitution, the ‘leaders’ of Britain are entirely unaware of what the positive arguments might be. Maxwell continues by stating that

‘Unionism’s intellectual credibility depends on a clear explanation of how Scotland’s social and economic life will benefit from London government over the next 10 or 15 years.’

Arguably, English Britons would benefit from just such an explanation; what will Westminster do for us?

This is most evident in the areas of England geographically furthest from Westminster. The North East of England’s proximity to Scotland – and apparent isolation from a South-centric political elite – has left it reconsidering how to orientate its future. Severn Carrell of the Guardian’s fascinating piece on the matter explores the very real possibility of a Scottish-aligned north of England. Carrell notes that the politicians of the north are being encouraged to see Scotland’s future scenarios – either as a separate entity or one with much greater regional autonomy – as being ‘an opportunity’, as at present,

‘North eastern leaders feel increasingly isolated and unloved: as Scotland wins greater powers and autonomy, the economy of London and the south east continues to accelerate far ahead of Tyneside and Wearside.’

This ‘opportunity’, as outlined in a 45-page report from the Association of North East Councils titled ‘Borderlands‘, would bring ‘greater benefits of economic, social and cultural partnerships’ with Scotland. Carrell notes that the report states the northern councils have reason to be worried, citing ‘concerns developing in the north of England that the UK government will ‘bend over backwards’ to reward Scotland’ and that this has led to ‘asymmetry in institutional capacities between Scotland and sub-national areas in England’. The same old story; England’s people and their horizons are sublimated by the desire of politicians to cling to the union.

The report itself has something of a defeatist tone. Its authors seem to be in thrall to Scotland’s clout, as at one point, it posits that a solution to the problems of the north would be to ‘get in quick’:

‘… timing seems to be crucial. In the period leading up to the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Government may well be receptive to new ideas and approaches. On a more practical level, the next year and a half will clearly be a period of uncertainty in Scotland, not least for the business sector. This might present opportunities for the North East and Cumbria to make their own offer to Scotland on how collaboration could contribute to Scotland tackling its own economic challenges…’

The great irony of the matter is that in seeking to take advantage of the possibility of Scottish independence, English councils are encouraging greater Anglo-Scottish co-operation. Wouldn’t a federal Britain, free from the shackles of enforced centralised government and the narrow single market of the EU, be a much better proposition for internal and external free trade?

The present system is building resentment. It is perhaps not insignificant that within days of the report’s publication, English people took matters into their own hands – quite literally.

The Journal reported that towns on the border of Scotland and England were the targets of a poster campaign consisting of ‘Home Rule’ for England stickers. While Byrnsweord cannot under any circumstances support the vandalism, and deplores the waste of public money it will cause, it is apparent that the locals have made their assertion quite clear.

The odd and irrelevant ‘EDL’ caption on the article’s photo aside, there were some interesting points made in the article; most notably, the reaction of local politicians.

Local councillor Dougie Watkin, who according to the article is the ‘Northumberland County Councillor for Norham and Islandshires’ stated that

“At the height of the tourist season, it is absolutely disgraceful. It reflects terribly badly on an area which depends on tourism, much of which is coming from across the border. It is not the impression that this part of the world wishes to give to tourists.”

Councillor Watkin is absolutely right; all vandalism is disgraceful. However, Byrnsweord does not understand how expressions of a desire for fair political representation of all English people are ‘disgraceful’. Furthermore, from the Book of Daniel, the story of Belshazzar’s feast reminds us all to be mindful of the writing on the wall.

What we see, then, is that it is impossible to consider the possibility of Scottish independence or devolution without seeing either a need or a desire for a similar decentralisation of power – power which is currently being used incorrectly – on the English side of the border and across the British Isles.

The political elite in Britain needs to focus its energy very quickly. It must, as a matter of course, elect to defend the union in its present form and somehow justify the inherent inequality in this arrangement, or it must seek to devolve power in a meaningful way in the best interests of all persons in Scotland, in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

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Mass Criminality & Authoritarianism in England

Clapham Junction by flickr user bayerberg

“What an utter admission of failure, that after 50 years of the most lavish welfare state in the solar system, you cannot govern your country without soaking the citizenry in cold water and bombarding them with missiles from a safe distance.”

Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday, 14th August 2011

It is perhaps fitting that just prior to the mass criminality that struck across England two weeks ago, the Government announced its intention to consult the people of the UK on the prospect of introducing a UK Bill of Rights.

After more than a decade of New Labour’s succession of freedom-infringing laws and diktats, the present Government could perhaps be forgiven for being unaware of the English Bill of Rights, one of the last and most vital pieces of legislation passed by the Parliament of England. However, it is precisely this kind of historically illiterate ignorance of the fortitude of ancient legislation, and the English history of appropriate legislative measures to ensure social order and justice, that has led to the frightening, authoritarian and dangerous reaction of Parliament and the Government in the wake of the wanton destruction, looting, violence and murder that spread across England from London.

Outraged by the shocking scenes, the general public perceived that these events were the very manifestation of the ‘broken society’ that David Cameron had used as his calling card since becoming Tory leader. Two days ago, YouGov reported that

“74% of British people think that Britain as a whole is a ‘broken society whose social problems that are [sic] far more serious than they were ten or twenty years ago’”

As the days passed, and the violence continued with little sign of relenting – spreading across the country instead – many wasted little time in calling for a draconian response. In the midst of the turmoil, YouGov (for The Sun) reported that

“Curfews are backed by 82 per cent, using tear gas 78 per cent support and Tasers 72 per cent…90 per cent support using water cannons.”

Unfortunately, rather than realising that these were measures appropriate for quelling a civil war rather than retaining law and order, forgetting – or perhaps not knowing – that tactics such as water cannons were wholly alien to England, would require new training of a Police force that is increasingly an odd, neutered yet powerful paramilitary organisation and were tremendously oppressive, and disregarding the measured approach he had taken to gun control in the aftermath of the marauding gunmen Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird – which in fact killed many more people than did the mass criminality – Mr Cameron and his cabinet approved many of these draconian measures with unquestioning ease.

After agreeing these physical limitations to our liberty, the Prime Minister went an astonishing step further in supposedly ‘proportional’ measures to regain control. Standing in the House of Commons, he proclaimed that

“… everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.

And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Yes, a Conservative Prime Minister is wilfully endorsing the prohibition of freedom of speech of members of his own nation. Not only is this a frightening over-reaction to the problem, and evidence of how out of touch our political elite actually is, but the simple fact that the Police could easily have used Twitter, Facebook and other mediums of mass communication to prevent trouble before it ever happened. I was seeing and retweeting photographs of youths gathering and marauding across Enfield Town before there was ever an appropriate Police presence in such places.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, he casually stated that

“I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.”

Asking the British Police ‘services’ whether or not they would like more powers is much akin to asking Rupert Murdoch if he’d like to buy back Sky. Quite why an elected Conservative representative – the Conservative Prime Minister of the country, no less – is asking such an undemocratic, bureaucratic monolith for more powers beggars belief. See the powers that it already has at its disposal – the tremendously powerful Terrorism Act 2000 and its infamous Section 44, for example.

The saddest fact of all of this is that there is a precedent in England’s legal history for truly appropriate legislation in the wake of these outrages – legislation that, wholly unsurprisingly, was only recently abandoned.

Take, for example the Riot Act of 1714. Famed for its iconography, the Riot Act was intended as

“an act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters.”

The Riot Act’s key tenets would still be fair, logical and easily applicable today. A verbal warning about gathering in groups that appear to be ‘going equipped’ and then the use of force if the warning is not heeded. This immediately gives the power to the Police to act appropriately; force would be proportionate to the size of the problem. It also sets clear boundaries as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in terms of the use of force and the punishment as a consequence; a matter about which consensus could be reached easily in Parliament, particularly in these days of agreement politics. This is the logical solution to this problem. And it was there all along – not a water cannon in sight.

The key essences of both the English Bill of Rights and Riot Act have been retained by former colonies, dominions and other free societies across the world. In their country of origin, the people from whom they originated seem to have forgotten what it is to truly be free; to have freedoms guaranteed by the state without fear of reprisal from the state; to know how to maintain a system of law, order and justice without the need for unethical, dictatorial and draconian measures or punishments.

This can only have come about because of an arrogant, ignorant ruling elite and an historically illiterate populace. But there is hope, there is time and the situation can be rectified. We must demand that the English Bill of Rights is the centrepiece of discussions about the rights of people in this country – as well as their responsibilities – and that we look to the ingenuity of our predecessors in order to balance our response with our strong traditions of law and order.

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David Starkey, Enoch Powell and the BBC

I have deliberately not spoken on the matter of the mass criminality in England, despite some accusing me of what appears to be tantamount to dereliction of duty.

The reason is very simple. I do not feel that it is fitting to add yet more conjecture to the avalanche of assumptions and gargantuan guesswork that has so far constituted national soul-searching. Furthermore, I do not necessarily know enough about the matters from the perspective of those who took it upon themselves to disgrace the nation; as I do not want to fall into what Dreda Say Mitchell rightly calls the bracket of ‘anecdotes and golf-club chatter’ I feel I must research more before commenting.

In addition to this, what is far more interesting is the fall-out; a calculated, cynical political spin game from which no party or individual has emerged with their dignity intact. Left and right alike are desperately clasping to appear self-deprecating and humble so that they will then appear the voice of reason when party politics and politicking resumes.

However, the left-liberal consensus that masquerades as a three-party democracy was shaken out of its faux-calm by BBC’s Newsnight; specifically the appearance and words of ‘telly historian‘ – as the Mirror so deliciously titles him – David Starkey. Why? Because he clumsily and inaccurately paraphrased Enoch Powell.

Alone in a field of platitudes, mumbling and vague finger-pointing, Starkey seized his opportunity – like Powell before him -to inject controversy, inspire outrage and provoke heated discussion.

This was the lighted touchpaper that the left had been looking for. Ed Miliband – the master condemner – labelled the comments

“racist comments, frankly, and there is no place for them in our society”…. “absolutely outrageous that someone in the 21st Century could be making that sort of comment”.

“There should be condemnation from every politician, from every political party of those sorts of comments.”

From others, the reaction was similarly ridiculous. Histrionic lefty Owen Jones stated – bearing in mind that this came in the aftermath of mass criminality in which people’s lives were threatened and in a couple of tragic cases actually ended – that this ageing historian’s words on a BBC2 show watched by comparatively few were ‘downright dangerous’. Ironically, he promptly ends his article by warning of precisely the same fate as Powell, predicting that

If we fail [to address 'issues' in the 'communities'], last week’s riots could be a dark foreshadow of far worse to come.

What the whole affair actually was was an unwittingly fascinating insight not into the ‘kind of society’ we’ve become, or even as Starkey attempted initially to assert, about the ‘profound cultural change’ which has taken place (an indisputable fact) – it was into how matters of paramount importance are debated in public forums in this country.

The Newsnight stage that evening was, as it almost always is, ordered in the form of consensus that the BBC propagate. As one would expect, Starkey was the only person in the debate to be known for holding views of any other description than those of the host and of his fellow guests – and, as with most right-wing guests, equally well known for controversy.

Here was the problem; in a field of almost total political and ideological consensus, it was almost inevitable that Mr Starkey would say something for deliberate effect. Every syllable of his proclamation that he had been reading ‘Enoch Powell’ and particularly the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was saturated in a melodramatic assonance intended to shock. Which it did. Starkey made the most of the dramatic pause he created and by the time he referred to Powell’s ‘prophecy’, which he called ‘absolutely right’, his embarrassing attempt at gravitas was already seriously undermining his credibility.

His hasty effort to assert that somehow Powell’s speech was applicable to this scenario, and his thoroughly bizarre replication of Powell’s diction (the word ‘literally’ stressed almost identically) was as trite as it was transparent – it was obvious that he had only used Powell in order to make an entirely different – partly insightful, largely embarrassing – point about Afro-Caribbean-influenced culture. Powell’s speech was about something altogether different; the potential for unrest, violence and civil war because of mass immigration.

Had Mr Starkey undertaken proper research, and not been quite so focused on the shock value of his ideas, he might have noted this phrase from a speech of Powell’s in 1971:

“… millions of people believe they are watching, helpless and not so much unregarded as positively derided: the deliberate dismantling of the frontiers of decency, morality and respect, with a view to producing far-reaching and indeterminate alterations in society itself. They do not believe that these and other phenomena, such as the spread of drugs or the undermining of the universities, are simply reflections of a change taking place spontaneously and generally. They believe that intention is at work, and that it is the intention of a small and elusive but powerful minority.”

And perhaps then, people would be walking around and daubing on walls sentiments that assert that ‘Starkey was right’…

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Simultaneously grossly misrepresenting Enoch Powell and almost all black culture in one sitting is a spectacular error of judgement. This, unfortunately, seems to pass for debate on the BBC. Poor David Starkey – whether he was prepared or not for what he had to say or for the reaction to his comments – was a caricature of an alternative on a news medium that is patently not interested in hearing right-wing views.

James Delingpole, who himself avoided being in Starkey’s position, notes how the debate was set up to stifle open discussion;

Starkey’s debating opponent was Owen Jones, the BBC’s new pet angry young socialist whose default position is perpetual umbrage and righteous rage on behalf of the poor, working class, oppressed and – since Friday, apparently – black people. It’s a cheap trick but one that goes down very well at the BBC, which is why they have Jones back so often. What it achieves, while cleverly avoiding the need for debate on facts (never the liberal-Left’s strong point), is to imply that anyone on the right is evil, selfish, bullying, wrong or – that ne plus ultra of Lefty insults – raaaacist.

The BBC’s debate programmes – already riddled with condescending attitudes, rude interruption and impoliteness – are not, and have not been for some time, places wherein proper, reasoned, polite, appropriate and impartial political debate takes place. BBC shows sometimes contain entire sections given over to left-wing political analysis that is without a hope of balanced analysis from someone of any other political belief.

We, as people of this country, deserve better from our forums of debate. We deserve better than ignorant tirades from people of any political perspective. We deserve better than rude, uncivilised shouting. We deserve better than asinine political consensus. We certainly deserve to know the facts of the matter rather than endless opinionated conjecture and guesswork.

Now we must demand it. It is too important at a time when the mooted solutions are so muddleheaded. The soft-left’s wish to fix the problem by expanding their utterly disastrous social policies and the ignorant-right’s wish to curtail all our liberties to prevent the problem are both as ridiculous as the other. News coverage that is impartial and rigorous is the only way to appeal to easily-swayed politicans – we have a responsibility to ensure that it is.

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The Left, the left and the English

It is not every day that this humble blogger is called ‘indomitable’. It is still less frequent that his writing is described as being ‘tosh’ (this is not to say that all my work has been met with universal praise… far from it, in fact!) But seeing as it’s a respected fellow blogger, Mr Michael Merrick, I may let him get away with it.

In his recent post, ‘The Left and the left‘, he cited an observation of mine from an entry titled ‘The Left’s Fear of the English‘ in which I stated

“Since the time of George Orwell, the hatred and fear of England by the left has been a decidedly unguarded prejudice. My documentation of the phenomenon is merely a brief synopsis of some of the permutations that it has taken recently. Now, the logical conclusions of devolution – a scheme entirely concocted by the left and advised and warned against by anyone with a modicum of common sense – are provoking new swathes of histrionic fear and implicit anti-Englishness.”

In making a distinction between the sort of sweeping generalisation of ‘The Left’ and ‘the real left’, as it were, Mr Merrick asserted that I was misguided in my synopsis:

“['Most' ordinary lefties] take pride in being English, and are quite often supporters of the monarchy. They fight for their country and their Queen when asked to, partake in public displays of patriotism and pride for which they are routinely ridiculed, and make little effort to hide the identity that is the source of such pride – the flag of St. George is more likely to be draped out of the windows of Labour strongholds than it is in the quads of Oxbridge or the sleepy villages of the Cotswolds.”

I understand Mr Merrick’s point. I agree that some lefties are very keen to assert their national identity – though it is usually British rather than English. I also agree that I have seen Crosses of St. George flying above Labour Clubs across England- but it must be stated, however, that ‘Labour strongholds’ are very different places in the twenty-first century than they were even in the late twentieth century.

However, I do believe that Mr Merrick failed to grasp the wider concept of the aforementioned blog.

For example, I cited the example of devolution for a purpose. It is apparent that due to the imagined spectre of an unConservative Party hegemony, the Labour Party and its acolytes do legitimately fear the possibility of an independent or devolved England. I will repost the quote from George Eaton’s article in the original blog:

“Finally, the Tories and the Lib Dems introduce a cap on party donations, depriving Labour of much of its trade union funding and bankrupting the party. Labour is consigned to permanent opposition and a new age of Tory hegemony is born.”

By the same token, leftist writers do express a constant fear of the potential of a rising, organic English nationalism or national sentiments. I have quoted Madeleine Bunting before on the left’s perspective on Englishness, but here she insightfully exposes her flagrant fear of a resurgent English identity:

“British is seen as the inclusive, accommodating civic identity for a multicultural society and, by default – dangerously so – English has become a racialised political identity of resistance, resentment and grievance.”

Quite aside from the matter of The Left making convenient ideological distinctions between the glorious resistance & struggle of some political movements and the ‘unsavoury’ struggles of others, their first question is “How do we solve this?” They then answer their own question. “We stipulate how English people can express their Englishness! We must model how English people can be English!”

“English history is littered with material that can be fashioned as a backstory for a confident, small, multicultural nation…”

“The nationalism that urgently needs definition is Englishness…”

“If we don’t start shaping an English nationalism – just as the Scots started doing in the 1970s – that is outward-facing, optimistic and progressive, we’ll end up with a traumatic politics of decline.”

‘Fashioned as a back story’? Orwell would be proud of writing such a line.

But only are these points wholly inaccurate – quite how Bunting equates questions of nationalism with tangible national decline is beyond me – but they evince a fear of the potential for an identity that is not micromanaged by the state, not easy to pigeonhole alongside the imported cultural identities of the other myriad ethnic groups in ‘Britain’.

So. To use Mr Merrick’s distinction, there is a clear difference in views on Englishness between ordinary people who hold leftist views and the out-of-touch, paranoid, hateful political institution that is ‘The Left’ that perhaps I did not make explicitly clear in the original article (despite using the appropriate capitalisation in the blog’s title).

But it is clear, in my view, that due to ‘threats’ from the possibility of a devolution that will improve this country’s democracy and from a rising English identity that the left and right cannot or do not know how to control, The Left fears and thus reviles the ordinary English people who wish to express their national identity.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/15/nationalism-scotland-redefine-englishness-britain-england

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The BBC, English Identity & Scottish Independence

Courtesy of flickr user stephenmorris

Since the SNP’s various victories in the elections on 5th May of this year, the topic has never really been out of the news. In one way or the other – whether falsified ‘statistics’ or exaggerated hyperbole – the notion of a Scotland desperate to break free of the United Kingdom has stalked the mainstream media. Alex Salmond has at times appeared to emulate the bogeyman role previously held by Nick Griffin – a ‘dangerous’ cloak-and-dagger type, revelling in his role as non-specific aggressor against a way of life so routine and banal that most people barely notice it.

To keep the topic in the news at a time when YouGov report that the economy, immigration, health, pensions and tax are the most important issues of the day, this week, the BBC ran a Newsnight special on Scottish independence.

A good deal of it was stereotypical blathering – vaguely Scottish, vaguely Conservative MP Rory Stewart fumbling his romantic metaphors being a cringe-inducing highlight – though Peter Davies raised some good points about why the Labour Party undertook its moronic hack-job of devolution.

Any kind of programme of this sort is going to have its drawbacks – for a start, greater emphasis was placed on people’s opinions of facts rather than constitutional expertise, such is the BBC’s populism. But there were so many elephants in the room that I was surprised that Mark Pritchard hasn’t yet lodged a complaint. The most notable was, predictably, English identity; equally predictable, no Englishman discussed it at length. The only serious attempt to discuss the matter was from Irishman Fergal Keane. His supposed ‘report’ was simply reductionist, revisionist nonsense – propaganda of the very worst sort.

Keane wasted no time in reeling out all the usual asinine cliches; an ‘imagined England’, tiresome pity for an un-named group only titled ‘the colonised’, ‘working-class values’, ‘right-wing extremism’. Stock footage of Windrush and the EDL were notable for their visual impact among other vacuous left-wing interpretations of our history. Keane’s report was nothing more than the typical socialist assertions, built on manifest falsehoods and nonsenses, that attempt to assert that Englishness has always been a pampered figment of the imagination of working-class labourers turned into thugs by a political and capitalist elite. In other words, arrant nonsense.

Keane’s report failed fundamentally because he failed to realise the fact that had been staring him in the face – Englishness is as complex as any other national identity. His report, astonishingly, entirely failed to recognise the significance of the aristocratic elite in English national identity. There was, for example, no mention of the people who built and lived in the castles Keane tried to assert were built to hide cowardly Englishmen from rampaging, valiant Scotsmen who were secure in their national identity. This contrast was re-written time and again, entirely omitting the knights, Lords and visionary clergymen who over time forged a rich, invaluable and distinctively English architecture that still defines every hackneyed image of ‘England’.

He mentioned Shakespeare only in an effort to assert that England had the luxury of never having been invaded or colonised by a foreign invader since it became what we now assert is ‘England’. Aside from the fact that this is baldly historically inaccurate, it also fundamentally undermines the valiant heroism of the men who died to make sure that this was the case – whether at sea in wars against European aggressors, on land against foreigners in distant lands or in the air against all comers in the late twentieth century.

No effort was made in the slightest to praise the thousands of Englishmen who had a hand in creating a Parliament so expressive, so articulate and so just that scores of other nations have had it at the fulcrum of their own success. No effort was made even in passing to praise the Englishmen and women whose likenesses are revered by grateful men and woman across the world for their pioneering work of incalculable value. Not even the merest nod was made to the creative geniuses who have populated this isle since time immemorial, bequeathing a wonderful language to the world – many of which, thousands of miles away, have it as their de facto or official language.

Including religion as a sop alone to the true complexity of the English identity, Keane’s questions only attempted to assert the supposed tangibility of the British identity and ‘value system’ over the alleged elusiveness of the English equivalent.

Quite why the BBC elected to couch a discussion over English identity in a wider narrative about the future of Scotland and Britain is unknown, but it is could be suggested that the BBC fear the very real certainty in England and Wales over the future of Scotland. Far from Keane’s assertion that Wales is part of some imagined Gaelic union of secure national identity, recent YouGov polls suggest that 40% of people in England and Wales believe those nations would be better off without Scotland in the Union,  and that 54% believe Scotland benefits more than England & Wales in the Union. A fairly secure perspective, it seems.

Ultimately, Keane and the BBC have underestimated, or are ignorant of the fact that one of the hallmarks of Englishness is an unruffled pragmatism. The English do not fret about what someone else wishes to label them; they simply are who they are. They have no need for the superfluous and vacuous trappings of national identity – most of which are embarrassingly outdated – that some of their fellow Union members cling to. They have no desire to constantly re-evaluate themselves. They’re simply English.

During Keane’s piece, Zaiba Malik asserted her desire for an ‘easy Englishness’. There is a great allure about this kind of identity; uncluttered by fretting over ‘extremism’, unburdened by a prescriptive interpretation of very recent history and simple in its expression. In other words, an old-fashioned Englishness. After the piece, Don Letts spoke eloquently on his own struggle for national and racial identity, correctly noting that British minority communities have only discovered and been comfortable in their double-barrel identity label fairly recently. Perhaps in the context of this brave new Britain, the formulation of a more facile and simple English identity is something that will require a lengthy and concerted period of ‘claiming’ from historical revisionists, the ill-informed and the ignorant.

If Scotland elects to go its own way, England will soon find its own way of presenting itself to the world. There’s overwhelming historical evidence to assert that England has always forged its own path and known who it was. Was there hysteria over the trappings of nationhood after Henry VIII’s reformation? Far from it; the King took the opportunity to formalise a distinctive new Englishness of his own incentive. Free from Rome, he asserted that England was in itself an empire; then had this fact enshrined in law!

Perhaps freedom from the Union would be equally liberating for England. And perhaps that makes the British Broadcasting Corporation a little nervous…

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