Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Is Little England All There Is To Britishness?

The Conservative cheerleader The Telegraph tops even itself today with a series of articles designed to show that yes, there is nothing more to being British than being a bigot of the yearn-for-Empire Little England type.

It starts with a series of "Ten core values of the British identity". I have a problem with a few of those. The first is unproblemmatic but:

II. The sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament. This German royal has nothing to do with me. She wasn't elected by a Scottish Parliament as was our age-old tradition and as was allowed for by the Act of Union.

III. The pluralist state. Equality before the law implies that no one should be treated differently on the basis of belonging to a particular group. Two words - poll tax. It was imposed on Scotland a year before the rest of the UK by a Conservative government that Scots overwhelmingly voted against, again in flagrant violation of the Act of Union.

V. Private property. Freedom must include the freedom to buy and sell without fear of confiscation, to transfer ownership, to sign contracts and have them enforced. Unless of course you happened to lease a farm in the Scottish Highlands or in Ireland during the late 1700s. In that case, the English landowner happily ignored your contract and had you shipped to the colonies to make way for sheep.

VI. Institutions. British freedom and British character are immanent in British institutions. These are not, mostly, statutory bodies. Like what? The Bank of England, the British Museum, the British Library - all statutory bodies. Maybe they are talking about the MCC which didn't allow women even to enter the club until very recently.

VIII. History. British children inherit a political culture, a set of specific legal rights and obligations, and a stupendous series of national achievements. You know they mean English here, don't you? Anyway, the specific legal rights are different in Scotland which has it's own legal system.

IX. The English-speaking world. The atrocities of September 11, 2001, were not simply an attack on a foreign nation; they were an attack on the anglosphere - on all of us who believe in freedom, justice and the rule of law. Huh? Only the English-speaking world believe in those things? Gimme a break.

X. The British character. Shaped by and in turn shaping our national institutions is our character as a people: stubborn, stoical, indignant at injustice. "The Saxon," wrote Kipling, "never means anything seriously till he talks about justice and right." Quoting Kipling, who after his experiences in India bacame a vocal critic of "Little England", is rich. Oh, and the mere mention of "Saxons" makes the Telegraph's intent plain. I have not one drop of Saxon blood as far as I know, I'm a Celt to the bone.

No wonder so many feel excluded from thinking of themselves as British.

But just in case you think I am over-reacting here, have a look at the comments of the Little Englanders both at home and abroad who read the Telegraph.

Here's one of the most obvious:

I'm sorry, to spoil the party, but in common with more and more people, I do not accept that I am British. I am English, (and want Jerusalem as our national anthem). England, the country that dare not speak it's name - Churchill. The nation that makes up 85 per cent of the population of the UK, that contributes the most to the UK, that is being robbed and pillaged by this Scots dominated government, (via the Barnnett Formula). Since Scots devolution and the Welsh Assembly, the concept of Britain is finished. The problem is, it won't lie down whilst this government props it up in an attempt to support the Celtic Fringe at England's expense. JA Franklin, Orpington, Kent

Have a look and see how many others confuse being a certain kind of English with being a British, as if the rest of us don't matter at all (which we don't, to them).

Still, there are some that get it.

To be born British is to be lucky; to be born English is to be born blessed: to be born in Sussex is to have the winning ticket in the lottery of life. True Brits will laugh at this, because a true patriot recognises that whereas he knows that where he was born is the best place on earth, he understands that others (however wrong !) may have a different opinion. Nationalists feel the first, but deny the second. So, give me patriotism, please, but not nationalism: if this means no Land of Hope and Glory then so be it (as for 'I vow to thee my country', a definite no thanks). Graham Turner, Bath

Even (maybe especially) Americans don't get the plurality of the tiny islands that are Britain. The don't get that there are four different countries each with a seperate history of a couple of thousand years and that even within a couple of hundred miles the "cultural" background can change drastically. Armed Liberal at Winds of Change is in the UK right now and writes:

Reading the UK papers in the hotel restaurant this morning before walking to the office - through Guildford, a town so relentlessly charming that I described it to my wife as "a parody of a British town"

Well no. It's a parody of an English town and the two are not congruent sets. There is nothing like Guildford in Yorkshire, in Wales, in Scotland.

Let me try it this way - imagine trying to tell a Native American, a Bostonian, or a Hawaiian that being a Texan cowboy totally defines being an American.

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