I recently got involved in an online forum debating English affairs and I started a thread to discuss the English identity. One of my fellow English debaters challenged me to be more open as to where I was coming from. This is my response. It’s more for the record rather than to stimulate any particular debate here, but, as ever, all comments will be read and are gratefully received.
- I like the idea of “honour” as a guiding principle when working out what I believe and when communicating it to others. If I ask myself – “am I being honourable?”, it helps me to appreciate and respect better the position of the other person. I believe that the English people should act “honourably” towards each other and towards other peoples.
- I oppose the Conservative economic policies of recent decades because I believe that they have concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively small proportion of people, led us to rely excessively on the financial services sector, and damaged social cohesion in England.
- I want rid of nuclear weapons asap. I can’t think of a worse way to spend £100bn.
- I believe in the dissolution of the UK as a political entity. In practice, I don’t believe that England should “dump” the other countries but start by stating its position to them and opening negotiations to reach an amicable outcome, however long that might take.
- I believe that dissolving the UK would involve drafting a written constitution for England. This process could be a great way to re-invigorate political participation among English people.
- Though we have sadly neglected our folk traditions, there still remains a distinctive English culture, in terms of the way in which we relate to each other informally. On the other hand, there is no corresponding English political culture which would give us an integrated identity. We do politics mostly as “Brits” and as such, espouse noble values. But we don’t often talk about “English” values or give political expression to them as such. There is a national schizophrenia here.
- Recent expressions of the English political identity have been dominated by the issues of immigration policy, the difficulties of assimilation and the influence of the EU in British life. “Englishness” has been tainted by the racism of some English people. Ethnic minorities in England prefer to consider themselves British. I believe that the English people need to discuss between ourselves what the English identity means to us.
- I believe in promoting an inclusive and welcoming English culture. Our wealth and colonial past make this all the more important. At the same time, we need to pull together to improve areas in our country where social cohesion is weak – both within the white English community and between the white English and other communities.
- There is a reality on the ground that ethnic minority communities are situated more commonly alongside poorer white English communities. Resentment towards ethnic minorities is more common among such white English communities who are more often at the sharp end of the difficulties that assimilation can give rise to. Expressions of this resentment can sometimes be raw and disrespectful. The official responses to this are to condemn and if necessary, take legal action. This is sometimes necessary but I don’t think it is enough. Between these two realities lies a democratic deficit. I believe that English political and cultural leaders need to do more to engage with this resentment sympathetically and help practically to channel it away from racist behaviour.
- I am generally EU-sceptic. The current UK is not a happy EU member. We are not able to reverse the drive towards an “ever closer (political) union”. We should either accept this and embrace political union as a necessary side-effect of our overriding desire for free trade. Or we should withdraw from the EU and accept that we might lose some free trade privileges and influence over EU trade policy. I prefer the latter. Unfortunately, this means I am choosing greater national self-determination at the expense of social policies emanating from the EU which better reflect my political preferences.
- I believe that we can and should learn from good policy practice in other European countries, but we should do so according to our own legislative priorities. Despite our many problems, we don’t need the EU to rescue us from governmental chaos. The UK is one of the better member states in terms of implementing and enforcing laws. There is a lot to be said for home-grown imperfect laws which are designed to meet UK needs and are well-respected locally, as opposed to the higher standards of EU legislation designed to meet the differing needs of many countries.
I like discussing and developing my ideas and am happy to be challenged. Thank-you for reading.