Sunday, July 02, 2006

Speaking for England

See Selected Articles for an article of mine that appeared in The Sunday Times today about the resurgence of Englishness through sport. Peter Whittle has just responded one with the following points. I especially like the Chav-Elgar discontinuity.

"A couple of years ago, I proposed and researched at length almost the exact same piece for the Spectator. It was at the time of the Euro championship. In the end, they didn't want it, and for interesting reasons: they had a very snobby distaste for what they saw as all the aggressive, chavvy flag-waving. They were in favour of the mythical, quiet type of English patriotism of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and a melancholy sense of loss. Well, I could certainly understand that, as I have more than a bit of that in myself.
"But what they didn't seem to understand was that that brand of Englishness relied on an assumption of effortless superiority. This no longer stands up, and I'd suggest that the various forces pitched around us now mean that a more in-your-face brand was bound to emerge.
"What struck me when I researched it was how completely this was a grass-roots development - in the face not only of no encouragement, but of active discouragement. I have to say I was astonished (and quite moved actually) by some of the things teenagers (in quite poor areas) said to me - their unironic attachment to their nationality.
"Apart from the odd comment, there was also no real racism evident, despite the way the metropolitan elite try to portray this. But this does lead me to one point which you didn't mention in your piece: along with the all-important effects of devolution, there's no question in my mind that this English revival is also a (possibly unconscious) product of the relentless drive for multiculturalism, and the concomitant hollowing out of the idea of Britishness. If everybody can seemingly be British, then nobody is British. As a result, people who would have once called themselves British are now increasingly calling themselves English. They are, in effect, trying to maintain their identity.
"This causes all manner of problems for the liberal elite. So they put their minds to deconstructing Englishness, calling it inherently racist, etc etc (Eddie Izzard's Mongrel Nation, AA Gill's bile-filled rant)."


  1. Just a small point -is it truly possible to FEEL British, as against English? Was it ever? Was Britishness ever really internalised by the English, except as Englishness writ large? Did English people routinely describe themselves as British until officially obliged to? I certainly don't feel British and never did, feeling I have about as much and as little in common with the Scots as with the French, apart from the more-or-less shared language. This feeling, needless to say, is only exacerbated by the overwhemlingly Caledonian make-up of our present McGovernment.

  2. As a working class man from North Manchester, I have to take issue with some of the sentiments expressed in the original article.

    '?They are reacting to a systematic repudiation of Englishness by the intellectual elite,? says the great philosopher Roger Scruton.' Perhaps, but remember also how the English working classes were robbed of their dignity so crudely by such institutions as the Conservative government of the 1980s - the institution that the very newspaper you are writing for supported unswervingly. The government that also de-humanised football supporters in this era.

    It was not until the 1990s and the advent of middle-class football support and the Euro 96 championship that it suddenly became 'okay' to celebrate one's nationalty (We shall ignore the trashing of German cars after the semi-final defeat. That was probably down to some 'leftist British snobs').

    However, English patriotism is very aggressive in its portrayal. Just listen to the tabloid radio station Talk Sport and its aggressive attacks on anyone not displaying the most fervent patriotism. In addition, it serves to feed the image of the England fan as a van-driving, beer-bellied lout.

    Yes, football is a way of uniting a nation - it is the national sport after all. However, we (working and middle class) still believe that, as the nation that invented football, we have a divine right to win every tournament. Please don't ignore (like most have) the continued violence that accompanies defeat both at home and abroad. This delusional arrogance (yes arrogance) still persists.

    Also funny how some of the names mentioned in the article (Martin O'Hara, Michael Collins - oh the irony!) are clearly not English in origin but consider themselves so. To paraphrase The Duke of Wellington (an Irishman) - because one is born in a stable does not make one a horse.

    I wonder, Brian, if you have a flag of St George on your car or draped out of your window? I may be wrong but somehow I think not.

  3. To draw a couple if your recent strands together: Englishness; lack of sporting prowess. Looks like Uncertainty Principle writ Large. Englishness is a vaguely geographic quality, so we are looking for something as vaguely connected with movement. Rhythm look like a good candidate and could explain a lot of other things too. The more you protest your Englishness, the more trip over your own feet.

    Of course for this to be a proper theory it needs to :

    a) be falsifiable , and
    b) predict new, hitherto unobserved phenomena.

    To blow it out of the water, all you need to do is find me an englishman wot can dance (the challenge is there).

    I predict groups of 6 or more Englishman (wearing funny clothes to accentuate the Englishness) gathered together and attempting to dance will start to wave sticks and pigs bladders and so forth and sing incoherently to hide the lack of co-ordination and prop each other up. If anyone sees this, please let me know.

    Note I say Englishman. There are obviously other factors at play here - gender and possibly race. This law, if law it be, does not apply to women (do any?). Lamentably I haven't had the opportunity to observe any Black Englishmen (and even more lamentably don't know whether that's an acceptable term) move closely to see whether this holds or not. I hesitate to extend the stable metaphor, but how many generations before natural rhythm and grace get diluted to traditional English levels ?

  4. I feel a response to some of the comments made by the anonymous 'working class man from Manchester' is in order. (Islington, Manchester perhaps?)

    You claim, sir, that the English working class was robbed of its dignity by the Conservative government of the 1980s. Well, in fact, the Conservative government rode to successive election victories in that decade by virtue of capturing the vote of the English working class; what the pollsters would call the C, D and E socio-economic groupings. Strange that a class so robbed of its dignity should choose to re-elect the perpetrators.

    Perhaps you are referring to the high levels of unemployment, and the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, which beset the economy in the first half of the 1980s. Well, in fact, this was not caused by the Conservative government, but, rather, was caused by the uncompetitive state of British heavy industry, which, in turn, was caused by trade-union malpractice: overmanning, underproductivity, frequent strikes etc. If you wish to find the origin of the high unemployment in the early 1980s, you need look no further than the infiltration of Marxists into positions of power in the trades unions.

  5. Well said, Gordon! But to bring together two other strands of this cat's cradle - music and England's World Cup disgrace - were my ears deceiving me or was that the fine Resurrection hymn Thine Be The Glory ushering our boys into the arena of shame? And was that or was that not Johnny Cash's cover of Trent Reznick's Hurt playing over their tearful little faces as the end? If so, then surely no further confirmation is needed that the world has finally gone stark, staring mad.
    A. Ghast

  6. Ah, Mr Ghast, I too noticed the use of that sublime Cash cover. Did those who chose it know that it was about a lifetime of excessive drug use? One wonders. Perhaps the England team would consider suing. They have time on their hands, after all.

  7. I enjoyed your article (2nd July 2006) and felt cosiderable empathy with much of the sentiment.
    I do feel that we are witnessing a steady process of break up of the UK, but the re-emrgence of a sense of Englishness might be too late.
    At school in the late 60's and 70's I was, even as a school boy, totally disillusioned by the manner in which British, let alone English, history was taught. It wasn't presented as a history of the mix of people in Britain providing a context of who we were and from whence we had had come. It was presented at best as a source of embarassment and often as a reason to feel shame and guilt. Britain and the British were some bunch of chancers on the decline deserving any humiliation the rest of the world could dump on us.
    Through the 70's, 80's and 90's this became a case of the English being responsible for most, if not all, of the bad things in world history and with the Empire in particular. The Scots and Welsh rose above this because they too were the victims of the English and joined the Irish as the ever innocent parties.
    The point is the process. In the 60's it was Britain that had to pay the price of Britain's brutal imperialism. The process shifted in the 70's to one where the English quite specifically had to pay that price. But it isn't all the English of course, it is the proletariat and the lower middle classes who actually have to pay that price.
    It always amazes me how large a percentage of the upper middle class and indeed wealthy people I know either directly or indirectly who are always not English, even if they happen to have been born here and lived and succeeded here. Indeed how many of the political and media "elite" are also living in England but are not English.
    Being English steadily became a badge of shame and perhaps it was the football hooligans who reflected this most poignantly. They actually reflected the shame all the English should have felt for our dreadful past.
    But having lived and worked in a number of countries around the world, I know that the the strongest and weakest aspect of modern Englishness is accepting other people for what they are.
    I sometimes forget this as I am now bombarded with anti-English sentiment on a constant basis here in my own country. But every now and again something happens to remind me. For example, I had the pleasure of a meeting with a Romanian couple a few months back. He was a senior IT executive and she a professor. As we parted company they both thanked me. Bemused, I asked why. They each replied that in all of the countires and cultures they had lived and worked around the world, England was the only place where they felt they could be truly themselves.I felt incredibly angry that this characteristic developed over centuries and generations was being obliterated. It was being obliterated because some within our own midst and some from elsewhere in the world are hell bent on imposing their distorted view of Britain, the world and the English in particular.
    In my travels I have had the misfortune to be abused on numerous occassions for being English. I have been threatened with physical violence on several occassions by Irish and Irish-Americans and was twice actually attacked by Australians. Ironic as my father was Australian. Since being back in England in my own country, I observe the tirade against the English and England is getting steadily worse. Indeed I have been subjected to racial abuse and threats of physical violence by Asians and West Indians.
    But what is truly frightening is that as I debate and argue with friends (?) and colleagues about the absurd imigration policy that the current government has embarked upon, I try to make the point that the indigenous populations of England and the other constituent countries of the UK have the right to decide who and how many people are allowed to migrate to this country, I am howled down as a racist.
    It seems that people, any people other than the English are actively deciding the fate of England and the English. It seems that I now have no right to protect and nurture my own culture, my own country. That right now rests with someone else, anyone else.
    That someone else of some self appointed political, media and business elite in this country and elsewhere have taken it upon themselves to decide that England and Englishness can be sacrificed for whatever purpose. If I or any other English person dares to raise a dissenting voice then I and we will be howled down in the most shocking manner.
    So whilst I enjoyed your article, it made me incredibly sad. It is, I suspect too little too late.

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