Englishness

In America, flags are flown everywhere. Here in England, flags are MIA. So is national pride for that matter. Granted not all of the country’s history is positive, but there is a lot good here that should be celebrated.

The Sunday Times, November 25, 2007
We’ve been robbed of our Englishness
Jeremy Clarkson
As the nation settled down on Wednesday night to watch England play Croatia, I sensed an air of optimism in the land. A feeling that all would be well. I mean hey, England were holding their own against Brazil when Croatia didn’t even exist as a nation state. So what chance would these swarthy-looking Yugo-ruffians have? They were minnows in a tank of sharks. They weren’t going to be beaten. They were going to be eaten.
Hmmm. I’m afraid I knew we were going to lose moments before the match began. I looked at our players mumbling their way through the national anthem and realised they didn’t really care about playing for England. Because they don’t really know what England is. And truth be told, neither do I.
When I was their age it was crystal clear. Newspapers would report: “Fog in the Channel: Europe cut off.” Peter Ustinov would arrive at JFK airport and, having studied the signs saying “US citizens” and “Aliens”, he’d ask a security guard where the British should go. We were separate, different, better.
We had hardback dark blue passports with a personal message from the Queen on the inside cover “requiring” that foreign border guards allow the bearer to do whatever he or she pleased without let or hindrance. Sl
ap one of those down on a Frenchman’s desk and the crack of invitation grade cardboard would have the greasy little oik sitting up straight; that’s for sure.
We had saved the world from tyranny so often we’d lost count; we’d brought decency, truth and cricket to every continent and every coral pinprick. We’d sailed iron steamships into America when they were still using coracles. We were defined by our brilliance, our superiority, our technical know-how.

Today, things are rather different. Mention the war and you’ll be told by an outreach counsellor that we must empathise with the Germans, who are coming to terms with their mistakes of the past. “And you know, children, it was actually the British who invented concentration camps . . .”
Empire? When I was at school, teachers spoke with pride about how a little island in the north Atlantic turned a quarter of the world pink, but now all teachers talk about is the slave trade and how we must hang our heads in shame.
Right. So we must forgive Germany for invading Poland. But I must beat myself to death every night because my great-great-great-grandad moved some chap from a hellhole in Ghana to Barbados. In fact I can’t even say we’re British any more because then all of Scotland would rush over the border, pour porridge down my trousers and push a thistle up my bottom.
I believe people need to feel like they’re part of a gang, part of a tribe. And I also believe we need to feel pride in our gang. But all we ever hear now is that we in England have nothing to be proud about. In a world of righteousness we are the child molesters and rapists.
Our soldiers were murderers. Our empire builders were thieves. Our class system was ridiculous and our industrial revolution set in motion a chain of events that, eventually, will kill every polar bear in the Arctic.
And it gets so much worse. Because if you say you are a patriot, men with beards and sandals will come round to your house in the night and daub BNP slogans on your front door. This is the only country in the world where the national flag is deemed offensive. Small wonder the England players were disinclined to sing the national anthem with any gusto. It’s in English and that’s offensive too. Unless it’s simultaneously translated into Urdu, for the deaf.
Then there’s our national character. In the past, boys were told in school assembly that their mothers had died and were expected to get over it in a nice game of rugby. Crying only happened abroad. Not any more. We were ordered to weep like Americans when Diana died, and no local news report is complete today without some fat oik sobbing because his house has fallen over. I sometimes get the impression Kate McCann is being hounded precisely because she has a stiff upper lip.
Every day we read obituaries about men who pressed on with the attack on a German machinegun nest even though their arms and legs had been blown off. Today disabled people get a statue in Trafalgar Square just because they got pregnant. Tomorrow all the obituaries will be for those who saved others from certain death by insisting they wear high visibility jackets. Cowardice is the new bravery.
As for that wounded soldier seen recently sporting a T-shirt that said: “I went to Afghanistan and all I got was this crappy false leg,” I call that typically English. But not any more. It’s appalling. A slight on disabled people. And you shouldn’t have been in Afghanistan in the first place, you baby killer.
Do you see? We can’t be proud of our past because it’s all bad, we can’t use British humour because it’s offensive and we can’t use understatement to deal with a crisis because the army of state-sponsored counsellors say we’ve got to sob uncontrollably at every small thing.
I want to end with a question. It’s addressed to all the equal opportunity, human rights, diet carbon, back room, bleeding heart liberals who advise the government: “I am English. Why is that a good thing?”
I bet they don’t have an answer. And until they can come up with one, chances are we’ll never win at football again.

8 Comments
  1. What is Britain?
    Good article by Clarkson but he makes the classic error of conflating English with British. Growing numbers of us living south of Scotland and east of Wales now think of ourselves as English, not British.
    Perhaps it`s time that like the rest, the English forgot Britain, rejected the guilt complex for the sins of the British Empire the PC brigade seem determined to offload onto England. The Scots and Welsh were there too! Let`s take a quiet pleasure in some of England`s achievements for a change.

  2. As a outsider, I get the impression that not everyone who was born in England considered themselves English. Something to do with not being able to trace your family back say 1000 years. Whatever, the case, I think it’s quite ridiculous. It would be a much more harmoneous society is people starting adopting the belief that if you born on English soil, you are English! Perhaps then we’ll see a bit more national pride.

  3. That`s true Ursula. The British Establishment, many of whose English members are ashamed of their country of birth, would rather encourage us to be British. As I wrote previously, England and the English are now blamed for all the wrongs of the past: racism, slavery, exploitation, military aggression etc. No one else of course was ever involved in such activities. Small wonder that new comers to England do not wish to be labelled as such. If you can say you are second generation Indian, Chinese, Polish or whatever, well that`s infinitely preferable. The problem of English identity is made worse when our PM, a Scot, having spent years campaigning for a Scottish Parliament, now insists on wrapping himself in the Union Flag and stoutely defending all things British. To him, England is no more than a set of bureacratically imposed regions, not an historic nation like his native Scotland. How can we be a nation when we don`t even have a Parliament?

  4. Based on my limited understanding of the matter, not sure that having an English Parliament is the answer for improving national pride here in England. But there definitely should be debate and dialogue as something needs to happen as the English and England have lost their way when it comes to national pride.

  5. Not the whole story maybe, but the lack of a dedicated national political forum does add to the sense that we cannot, unlike Scotland or Wales, be a proper national entity. Do you know of any other western country without a national parliament?

  6. Nope! Not aware of a western country without their own national parliament. That said, of the 646 MPs in the UK parliament, the majority are English. Thus, perhaps only they should vote on matters related to England.
    That might be a better solution that creating a separate parliament as it would almost surely mean the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. That may not be a bad thing for those of us here in England — however, do we really need to go that far to instil national pride in those that live here?

  7. As you say, the end of the UK may not necessarily be a bad thing. I`m hard pushed to think of anything the UK does that England couldn`t do for it`s self.
    Since the 18thCentury the English have been encouraged, brainwashed even into thinking themselves British pure and simple. Unlike Scotland, our national institutions, like Parliament ceased being English and became British. This perhaps leads to the semantic confusion that Clarkson demonstrates, between English and British. For many people the words are interchangeable, not in a colonial sense of Scotland having been absorbed into England. They have become synonyms. Actually things are changing fast. Ten years ago you would not have seen English flags flown at sporting fixtures, symptomatic of the English reasserting their identity in the wake of Scots and Welsh devolution. Times are changing, a recent poll indicated that over 60% of people in England do support the establishment of a devolved English Parliament.
    English votes on English laws you suggest. This would leave non-English MPs, including the PM and half the cabinet with little to do. It would effectively bar non-English MPs from many senior ministerial posts. Imagine the anger this would cause outside England. Under such a system, the person who would decide what constituted `English legislation` would be the Speaker, who is at present a Scottish MP. How bizarre would that be?
    The creation of an English legislature is not the only issue in regard to Englishness. however it would at least act as a focus for the national will and allow us to govern ourselves in a way which reflects our national interest. This cannot be said for Westminster with it`s divided loyalties.
    Imagine if the US and Canada were in a Union, but Canada maintained a seperate Parliament whilst still sending MPs to Washington to vote on US law?

  8. Ok! Say for a moment I buy into your argument that having an English parliament is that way to go. What would that look like? Specifically, how many additional MPS? Also where will the parliament reside? Also, what will be the division of power?
    I pose these questions as I am particularly concerned that creating a seperate English parliament will create an unnecessary layer of politicians and bureaucracy that will cost the taxpayers a fortune — particularly as there will be a lot of duplication of roles and responsiblities.
    Thus if the idea was fully fleshed out and presented to the people, I’m not so sure that 60% would still be in favour. But hey, what do I know, I’m not English.
    That said, I still think that there are more cost effective ways (yet to be fully explored) to instil national pride than creating a seperate English parliament.

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