We remain English through and through
I think it’s something we should all celebrate, preferably with a nice proper cup of tea, brewed for four minutes.
Or better still, with a viewing of that marvellous wartime propaganda film I caught on TV the other day, Went The Day Well?
Adapted from a story by Graham Greene, with a score by William Walton, made, of course, by Ealing Studios, the film perfectly evokes what England, Englishness and English culture mean – and why we’ve fought so hard through the centuries to preserve them.
It is set in the sleepy English village of Bramley End (in fact Turville, Bucks), where every cliché is duly realised: long shadows across the green, the benign, elderly vicar, the manor house, spinsters on wobbly bicycles, the cheery postmistress, the crafty poacher…
Then the Nazi paratroopers arrive (disguised as English soldiers), only to give themselves away with their arrogance and the suspiciously continental way they write
the number seven.
The villagers unite as one to repel the invaders – even if it means having to bludgeon them with a hatchet (as shocked Mrs Collins finds herself doing) or sacrificing their own lives for the greater good.
Though much has changed in the 80 years since – housebuilding, the decline of churchgoing, a less rigid class system – it’s still impossible for an English man or woman to watch that fi lm without a shiver of pride and a smile of recognition.
Yes, superficial details have changed – dental care has improved for one – but deep down, we know we’re the same people that saw off the Spanish Armada and beat the French at Waterloo.
We remain English through and through.
‘I think it’s something we should all celebrate, preferably with a nice proper cup of tea’
This was the point Orwell made in his wartime essay The Lion And The Unicorn.
“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840?” he asked – and answered with a tentative list of characteristics.
We like our hobbies (stamps, pigeons, crosswords); we’re very keen on flowers; we value our privacy (“The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker”); we’re patriotic but don’t like to bang on about it, preferring to boast of our defeats more than we do of our victories.
(“The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry that charged in the wrong direction.”)
Our intellectuals may be puritanical but our ordinary folk aren’t (they like to drink, gamble, tell bawdy jokes “and use probably the foulest language in the world”); we’re rubbish at art; we’re moral without being particularly religious; we have great pride in our English common law; there’s a gentleness to our culture which explains why, unlike those excitable continentals, our police still don’t carry guns.
ORWELL’S list doesn’t remain accurate in every last detail but it’s still closer to the mark than the clunky list of “fundamental British values” currently being promoted in schools as part of the Government’s Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy.
These – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs – are fine as far as they go.
What’s missing, though, is the essential quirkiness of the English character not to mention the suspicion of pomposity, which leads us automatically to reject state-prescribed value lists like the one above.
When we English get to define our own qualities, the ones we come up with are rather different.
Sense of humour comes top (80 per cent); then traditional (77 per cent); good manners (74 per cent); sense of fair play (72 per cent); friendliness (65 per cent); stiff upper lip and tolerance also come in at 65 per cent.
All this seems about right.
We like a joke and the pomp and ceremony of state occasions; good manners; we can’t abide a cheat.
As for tolerance, well, this is clearly not just a case of virtue-signallers telling the survey what it would like to hear.
We can see this from the answers to another question: 70 per cent of those surveyed think that all you need to be English is to have grown up in England.
‘Most of us see Englishness as a cultural quality, quite divorced from ethnicity or religion’
For just over a third (38 per cent), even just “considering yourself English” is enough to qualify.
What this strongly suggests is that the notion often promoted by Left-wing commentators and visiting UN special rapporteurs that England is riddled with racism and xenophobia simply isn’t true.
Most of us see Englishness as a cultural quality, quite divorced from ethnicity or religion.
“If you’ve lived here long enough to imbibe our values and share them, then you’re one of us,” the message seems to be.
This is something the bitter Remoaners have failed to grasp.
Their line on the ordinary English people who voted for Brexit is that they were bigots motivated by racism.
Indeed, the Remoaners find the whole concept of Englishness outmoded and embarrassing.
THAT’S why they sneer – as Labour’s anti-Brexit Lady Nugee (aka Emily Thornberry) infamously did – at people who drive white vans and fly the cross of St George outside their council houses.
Englishness, they feel, in their superior metropolitan way, has no place in a globalist future of open borders, diversity, gender-fluidity and the rest.
It’s no coincidence that the places in the BBC’s survey most conscious of their Englishness were the ones furthest removed from the Remainer stronghold of London: the West Country and the North of England.
Cities – such as those bastions of the liberal elite, Oxford and Cambridge – and younger people were less proud of their Englishness than smaller towns, rural areas and older people.
In other words, the demographic breakdown on Englishness is much the same as the one on Brexit: younger v older; richer v poorer; metropolitan v rural; anywheres v somewheres.
Anywheres are what writer David Goodhart calls the footloose urban elite who feel more European than British and have no qualms about being subsumed by the EU superstate.
Somewheres are the people with a stronger sense of cultural identity: the ones who think Englishness is distinctive, special and worth defending, which is why they voted in droves for Brexit.
The BBC despises the latter group: you can tell by the way it gave its account of the survey the negative headline: “Young are less proud to be English.”
But if it really represented the interests of the majority of licencefee payers, it would have run a headline more like: “Despite 40 years of Brussels rule, English feel as English as ever.”
Apart from being true, it would also give a fair indication of why so many of us are so frustrated by the Brexit negotiations.
We’re not Europeans. We’re English who live on an island on the edge of the European continent.
And we want our nation back now.