Thursday, October 17, 2013

The English, the English, the English are best? Ha!

On The Spectator's "Coffee House" blog John Redwood has written a bizarre paean to "Englishness". I thought that it was a parody at first - perhaps inspired by John Major's very odd "A country of long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer, green suburbs, dog lovers, and old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist." But I don't think that Mr. Redwood, a rather serious cove, does parody. So we had better take it seriously!
For me the idea of "Englishness" as opposed to "Britishness" is too obtuse to bother to define. Mr. Redwood's attempt is not worth the candle. I would contend that if you asked matched samples of English people to define in the one case what being English means to them and in the other what being British is there would be no difference. Indeed possibly the only way that you can only define Englishness as separate from Britishness is by saying what if isn't. If you are English you are not Scottish or Welsh or Irish! But what you are? That's another matter entirely. 
What Mr. Redwood should say is that there are only three tiers that matter in our islands and beyond them. First that that is closest to our home. For some this is coincidental with a nation - the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish. In England it may be a county - Yorkshire for example or a City - London or Liverpool or Manchester. The next is that that is coincident with our National identity - we are British. The final tier is that of being proud Europeans. Proud that the civilising influences of Dante, or Beethoven or Moliere or Shakespeare have given us so much jointly to be proud of with our fellow citizens of a modern united Europe. And especially proud that today's Europeans are at peace whilst sadly our forefathers were at war.
Nationalism has killed far too many to try and seek national identity where it doesn't exist. I'm proud of being British. And I'll happily support English sporting endeavour where that is the way it is organised - in Rugby or Football. But I actually prefer the unifying character of a British team – as at the Olympic Games for example. But I don't need the flag of St George, nor to harp back to the days before the United Kingdom was formed. I don't need an English Parliament when I have a British one. And I certainly don't need to be told to retreat backwards to a phoney sentimental Englishness when the right way is forwards to having confidence in the virtues of Europeanism alongside my Britishness.


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