England is the country, and the country is England

Originally published 7th January 2011

My pick of the articles that appeared while I was away in Canada is this one from Matthew Parris:

The presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was doing a quick round-up of the weather on a freezing December morning, just before signing off at 9 a.m. Very cold all over Britain, he said. Later there would be ‘snow in the north of the country’. ‘Which country?’ I thought.

It was an immediate and unconsidered reaction; and of course on reflection context often does make clear. But not in this case. I still don’t know which country Today meant. If the country they were referring to was Great Britain then they must have meant snow in Scotland. If it was England they were talking about then we in the north Midlands were due for snow too.

A small confusion, and slight enough. But faintly it troubled me. As an Englishman, and as 2010 drew to a close, I was experiencing for the first time the thought that, when directed towards a predominantly English audience, the ordinary and natural meaning of ‘the country’ might now be England.

Read it in full here.

This is a subject close to my heart. Regular readers of this blog will know about my ‘say England’ campaign in which I nag politicians to say ‘England’ when it is England to which they refer. Politicians often prefer to use the word ‘Britain’ to falsely convey the impression that they have a vision and mandate for the whole of Britain; or they may use more nebulous terms like ‘our country’ or ‘this country’, leaving the un-enquiring mind to assume that they’re referring to stories that apply to the entire UK, which, post-devolution, is very rarely the case.

As far as I am concerned our politicians do not mention England because they want to give the impression that the UK is still united, to all intents and purposes a unitary state, and that they and their pronouncements, policies and initiatives are still relevant and of interest to the entire UK. They also have no desire for England to start viewing itself as a distinct national, political and economic community, an idea that constant utterances of ‘England’ and ‘English’ might impress upon their audience. Until very recently the Media, who also like to portray themselves as British and who offer no specifically English news portals, have been in connivance with the political class, but that is changing and as Matthew Parris notes Scotland is fast becoming a foreign country to the extent that English ears now substitute ‘England’ for ‘this country’ and ‘our country’.

Many Scots and Welsh will say ‘it was always thus’, that for them England was always ‘the country’; but according to Roger Scruton the territorial ambiguity of Westminster politicians is a tradition that flows from a wider ill-defined sense of self.

Vague notions of ‘kith and kin’ animated the builders of empire; but who was included and why remained uncertain. When politicians appealed for support, they addressed not the nation or the kingdom but ‘the country’ – meaning all those people who were represented in the Parliament of Westminster. But what these people had in common, and what brought them together under a single crown remained wholly obscure. – Roger Scruton, England: An Elegy

If the ambiguity is removed and ‘the country’ now means ‘England’  then politicians are going to have to be more specific about when they are discussing England, and they’ll need to do this for the sake of Britain because it is ‘England’ not ‘Britain’ that is now the ordinary and natural meaning of ‘the country’ in whatever part of Britain you reside in.

UPDATE

Prof Arthur Aughey has referenced this post in a lecture.

Response to the Constitution Unit’s consultation on design options for an English Parliament

Following is my response the the Constitution Unit’s consultation on an English parliament. If you disagree with anything I’ve written and have a better suggestion then do feel free to comment or, more constructively, submit your own response here. You have four days left to do so.

1. What is your general view on the desirability of an English Parliament?

If there was a referendum on an English parliament that paraphrased the 1997 referendum question in Scotland (ie ‘I agree there should be an English Parliament’ or ‘I do not agree there should be an English Parliament’), then I am certain that England would vote for its own parliament by a clear and decisive margin. For political reasons pollsters muddy the constitutional waters by throwing in lots of alternative options such as regional assemblies or EVEL but there is clear demand over many years for an English dimension to governance over the Status Quo. Regional or local devolution is often put forward as an alternative to an English parliament as if devolution and national government are somehow mutually incompatible. It is not an either/or question. I want an English parliament and English devolution.

In my personal opinion an English parliament is highly desirable. It would be good for England’s soul and help normalise English politics. At present England is a nation unimagined. We have British politicians who pronounce on English domestic issues but couch everything in the language of Britishness: ‘British education’, ‘British health service’, ‘Let’s get Britain building’, etc. Rarely, if ever, is the word ‘England’ used. More nebulous terms like ‘our country’ or ‘this country’ are used if the politician is conscious of the territorial limitations of their brief, anything will do other than a reference to that country of which they dare not speak. To speak for England would be to undermine [the Britishness of] Parliament, to ‘fan the flames of English nationalism’, to undermine the Union or to highlight the inconvenient fact that the UK is actually a multinational polity and not a unitary state. Our politicians go to great lengths to articulate a political vision for Britain (and Scottish or Welsh politicians envisage a better Scotland or Wales) while denying England the same.

England is no less an historic nation than Scotland or Wales and deserves the same constitutional and political recognition as the other nations of the UK. The people of England deserve to have institutions that reflect their national identity and speak for, of and to England. British institutions cannot do that (Gordon Brown infamously vetoed John Denham’s plan for state funding of St George’s Day on the basis that it would enrage the Scots). Asymmetric devolution (whereby all nations except England have a parliament) is driving separatism because it provides no legitimate political outlet for English national identity and, at the same time, deprives the Scots and Welsh of equal ownership of British institutions (for example the UK Parliament is also the de facto English parliament and the UK Government is the de facto English government).

Increasingly though there is the idea of England as a discrete political community: an English demos. This should be recognised and England should be permitted to develop its own policies and direction, an English polity, instead of having decisions made in the context of Britain, couched in the language of Britishness by British MPs (Nb The oft-used phrase ‘English MP’ is misleading, in reality there are MPs who are elected in England but because the House of Commons splits down party lines, not national lines, they can only be regarded as British MPs – even if EVEL threatens to undermine that).

Speaking of EVEL, an English parliament would allow the UK Parliament and government to offer equal opportunity to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. At the moment it is very difficult to envisage a Scottish MP becoming a minister with an English (or mostly English) portfolio, which somewhat limits their ministerial career opportunities. Some might even object to a Scottish prime minister or chancellor being able to control and influence the policy agenda for England when they can’t even vote on it. I know I would. I would not, however, have the slightest problem with a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish prime minister of the UK if England had its own parliament.

An English parliament would provide more time for English domestic legislation, instead of trying to fit the governance of England in around the British parliamentary schedule.

The decision to establish an English parliament also gives us the opportunity to address other constitutional problems that have been put off for too long, most importantly The Lords and the voting system. We should look at the UK constitution in the round instead of piecemeal, asymmetric tinkering at the periphery, which has proved destabilising and unfair.

Most importantly I think an English parliament (and government) would be good for the soul of England. England should be a source of political identity and citizenship. Without an English parliament we risk the ethnicisation of English identity. We need a modern English democracy in which we’re all English through the ballot box in elections to the English parliament (which must be more representative of England’s diverse population). We cannot continue with the situation we’re in now whereby immigrants to England are told they’re British (Black-British, British-Asian, etc.) but the native population increasingly consider themselves just English-only. Why can’t we build a strong civic identity for England based on democracy and liberalism? Why can’t we normalise English national identity? Well, at the moment we can’t because successive British governments are obsessive about Britishness and can’t even bring themselves to say ‘England’, even when they’re discussing devolved policy areas – we still get Education secretaries promoting ‘British citizenship classes’ and ‘British history lessons’ as if they are in charge of British – not English – schools.

2. Were an English Parliament to be established should this be as part of a settlement to bind the UK together in a more stable way, or to facilitate English independence?

I see little benefit in breaking the Union up if it can be successfully modernised, so ideally an English parliament should be part of a settlement to bind the UK together, and I think it would have that effect. If nothing is done then I can foresee a time when an English parliament is proposed as a hostile act. That said, I don’t want to set up an English parliament on the basis of precluding some future outcome. I want an English parliament to be set up because it is what the people of England want, in the expectation that it will provide better and more representative government. It would be helpful if an English parliament were set up with an eye to setting the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures free from the UK Government’s policies and spending in England. A semi-autonomous England with its own domestic policy would be liberating for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. No longer would they be satellites of of Anglo-Britain, they would be nations on equal terms with England, under the same umbrella of Britishness.

The secessionist threat, as I see it, comes not from England but Scotland. Eminent chin-scratchers have long opined that an English parliament would hasten Scotland’s exit and should therefore be resisted irrespective of public demand or democratic fairness. There is no evidence to support the claim that an English parliament would hasten the demise of the Union, and even if there was that is no reason to deny England that choice. As it is the opponents of an English parliament have had their way and denied England a choice, thereby creating nationalist grievance in England, while the Scots rail against the Anglo-British state/’English imperialism’ that is a consequence of not having an English parliament.

3. Were an English Parliament to be established what powers do you believe it should have?

The parliaments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have identical powers. At the very least everything that Scotland now has but with substantial tax raising powers.

4. Were an English Parliament to be established do you believe it should be a separately elected institution from the UK parliament, or should it perhaps consist of English Westminster MPs holding a dual mandate? If you support Westminster MPs holding a dual mandate then how might this work in practice?

Dual mandate MPs are a dreadful idea, we don’t want double-jobbing MPs wearing a British hat on Tuesdays and an English hat on Wednesdays. For one thing MPs might be in opposition in the English parliament and in government in the British parliament (increasingly likely with the coming breakdown of the two-party Westminster duopoly). The English parliament and government should be separate institutions from the UK parliament and government. We really must get away from the very anglo-centric idea of the UK. This conception that Britain is England with some semi-autonomous Celtic appendages is extremely damaging to the sense of British identity and the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish identities. It is one of the drivers of separatism.

5. Were an English Parliament to be established do you believe it should be unicameral (one chamber) or bicameral (two chambers)? How many members should the chamber(s) have?

Unicameral. There can be some scrutiny through the committee system. Additionally the federal [UK] parliament would scrutinise the legislation of the national parliaments (to mitigate problems of policy divergence between the four nations).

6. If you support an English Parliament separately elected from the UK House of Commons, what electoral system and boundaries do you believe should be used? Possible electoral systems include the first-past-the-post system used for elections to the UK parliament, the semi-proportional additional member system used for elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and the proportional single transferable vote system used for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Single Transferable Vote. I have no problem with the number of constituencies that we have now.

7. If you support an English Parliament separately elected from the UK House of Commons where do you think it should meet – in Westminster, elsewhere in London or in a different city?

My gut instinct is that London is England’s capital and Westminster has been the seat of English power for 800 years, so if any parliament is to be relocated it should be the UK parliament. Liverpool would be my suggestion for the location of UK parliament. It is equidistant between the national capitals, it has an airport, a pleasant waterfront location and a local economy that could really do with that fillip.

My head tells me that it’s probably unrealistic to expect the UK Government to move and that the rising hostility towards the London-centric nature of England would be addressed spectacularly by locating the English parliament outside London. Geographical separation of the UK and English centres of power would also be beneficial. With that in mind I am reluctantly open to the English parliament, government and civil service being located outside the capital, preferably in the Midlands or North. Somewhere historic; somewhere redolent of England. If a suitable pre-existing building cannot be found in the Midlands or the North then I would go for a new site somewhere like Kenilworth, which has a large stretch of open land (vacated during the Black Death) over-looked by the ruins of Kenilworth Castle (home, appropriately, to Simon de Montfort). This would be convenient for Birmingham Airport, HS2, M40 and the delights of Shakespeare Country, which includes ‘Parliament Piece’, the alleged site of Henry III’s Parliament.

8. Were an English Parliament to be established do you believe there should also be an English government (e.g. a First Minister and cabinet separate from the UK government)? If so, do you have any views on how the English government should work, and what relationship it should have to the UK government?

Of course, what would be the point of establishing an English parliament but having no English government or first minister? The maxim ‘power devolved is power retained’ would need to be chucked in the bin marked ‘paternalistic, patronising nonsense’. We would need a written constitution that set out the limits of power of the national and federal governments and their relationships.

9. Were an English Parliament to be established how do you believe it should be financed? Possible options include through taxes raised by the English Parliament, through a block grant from the UK government or through a mix of these.

The English parliament and government (and those of the other nations of the UK) should be accountable for raising and spending the majority of their own taxes. Redistribution between the four nations to ensure some equality of services, investment and welfare should be done at a federal level.

10. Were an English Parliament to be established what relationship do you think it should have with sub-national bodies, e.g. city-regions or perhaps regional assemblies?

An English parliament should be established on the basis that devolves power to the most appropriate level, it should be responsible for legislation and national policy but I would like to see greater devolution under its auspices. One of the objections to regionalism was that it was partitioning England into unnatural administrative units, with the possibility of different legislatures and laws – a real ‘postcode lottery’ – within England. I think the objection to regionalism would be somewhat lessened if it were an English Parliament responsible for devolution within England, whilst maintaining nationwide legislation and standards. The regions could be self-selecting (for example local authorities banding together to reduce costs of service or increase their purchasing power). An English parliament shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a means to better, more representative governance. The UK government has traditionally used a top-down form of English devolution and more or less imposed regional assemblies, or used coercion in the case of city-regions and mayors. An English parliament should enable devolution rather than impose a uniform plan. Cornwall might want an assembly but that’s not to say that Surrey does. Regional grand committees, sitting in the regions, outside the English parliament, could also help give provincial England and local government a voice.

11. Were an English Parliament to be established what implications do you believe it should have for the UK parliament? E.g. Should it continue to have two chambers or should it be reduced to one chamber? Should the composition of the current House of Commons and House of Lords be changed in any way? Should the UK parliament continue to meet, as now, at Westminster?

There are good arguments for having a secondary chamber but not one based on political patronage, stuffed full of placemen, like we have now. I would retain a bicameral system for the UK parliament but both would be much reduced in number. It is not fashionable to say so but I think an appointed revising chamber in combination with an elected primary legislating chamber has benefits (expertise, real-world experience, longevity of service, less partisan) over two elected chambers both full of career- and party- politicians. I envisage a much smaller lower chamber elected on a first-past-the-post basis with a much smaller upper chamber of appointed ‘Lords’ representing equally-sized geographical areas (giving sparsely populated areas equal weight with urban areas – this also acts as a counterweight to England’s large population vis a vis rUK).

12. Do you have any further comments that you have not covered in response to previous questions? If so, please enter them here:

Thank you for conducting this survey.

We need to talk about England

Congratulations to Iceland on their historic and well-deserved victory over a hapless England last night.  The Iceland players and travelling fans are a credit to their country.  If only the same could be said for our players and fans.

The film below was aired by Channel4 News last night.  It is NSFW and makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially if you are English.  Not all England fans are like this, and it would be wrong to suggest that this sort of appalling behaviour is representative of English society as a whole, and yet we have become used to stories of England fans behaving like this.

What is it in the English psyche that gives rise to this? Why should England supporters like me be ashamed of our fans so often? Whenever and wherever in the world there is a football jamboree we see other nations embracing the carnival atmosphere and each other, while England fans drink in large groups and posture aggressively. Is there some sociological reason for it; is it a misplaced superiority complex, a hangover from Empire, or; is it part of a post-imperial identity crisis similar to that which Russia seems to be grappling with.

On the last occasion I visited the old Wembley Stadium it was to watch an England v Luxembourg friendly. I was unfortunate enough to be seated in front of a group of four middle-aged fans who insisted on repeatedly, and loudly, singing ‘Fuck the Pope and the IRA’. Now I have no love for either the Pope or the IRA but what place does this have in football, especially when playing Luxembourg! Eventually, against my usually reserved nature, I turned around and asked them to shut up.

So many of our football songs seem to be about war, conquest, British imperialism or suggest that we have God on our side, as if we’re some sort of chosen people. We have Keep St George in my heart keep me English, another charming anti-IRA ditty; Two World Wars and one World Cup; Ten German Bombers; God Save the Queen, the British national anthem; Land of Hope and Glory, an imperialist command to spread our Empire ‘wider still and wider’, and; Rule Britannia. And when our fans aren’t singing those songs we are forced to listen to the bloody ‘England band’ playing the theme from The Great Escape or The Italian Job again and again and again, reinforcing the idea of plucky little England against the world. Are we really so insecure? None of those songs or tunes send a patriotic shiver down my spine, they are all depressingly uninspiring and say nothing about England.

Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Football’s Coming Home’ temporarily freed us from this tyranny of negative songs, and Vindaloo and Jerusalem by Fat Les suggested that we might at last be relaxed enough to take our place in the jamboree of nations at football tournaments, but the optimism was short-lived.

If England had its own national parliament then we might prioritise the case for a new national anthem, take more action to stop the shameful behaviour of England fans and normalise English national identity. As things stand we seem destined to stay trapped in a dreadful post-imperial British identity crisis.

English Civic Nationalism

The following article was written over ten years ago in 2005, hence the webarchive links.

It was with Helen’s recent post on British values in mind that I sat on my flight back to England reading the CRE’s paper ‘Citizenship and Belonging: What is Britishness?‘ (pdf).

It has long been my view that the British identity politics preached by the British government are a hamper to successful integration in England. The CRE’s paper reinforced that view; following are some selected extracts:

In England, white English participants perceived themselves as English first and British second, while ethnic minority participants perceived themselves as British; none identified as English, which they saw as meaning exclusively white people. Thus, the participants who identified most strongly with Britishness were those from ethnic minority backgrounds resident in England.

There is a difference between being British and being English. English is being indigenous, being white and from this country. But being British, the primary thing that comes to mind is that you have a British passport. The second thing is that you live here and you function here, in this society […] I am British. I am not English (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, London)

For many ethnic minority participants, in particular, maintaining the difference between the English and the British was crucial, because this provided them with some space to belong.

This seemed to be more important for ethnic minority participants who lived in England than for those who lived in Scotland or Wales, where they were happy to take on those national identities.

At the most basic level, all British passport holders know they are British citizens. However, not everyone attaches any value significance to being British. In Scotland and Wales – and this is true among both white and ethnic minority participants – there was a much stronger identification with each country than with Britain.

We therefore found that most black Caribbean participants identified as black British in England, as black Scottish in Scotland and as black Welsh in Wales.

…it may be that partial devolution in Scotland and Wales means that Scottish, Welsh or even European identies become more attractive than a British identity.

Those extracts seem to suggest that the British government is failing in its aim to integrate immigrants in England, whilst the Scottish and Welsh governments are having some success in fostering a civic, rather than ethnic, nationalism in those countries. Immigrants to England feel distanced from the indigenous population; they largely regard themselves solely as British, certainly in a legal sense; they rarely regard themselves as English, which they see as a ethnic or racial identity.

Why is England failing where Scotland and Wales are succeeding? Well, a quote from Helen’s article may help shed some light:

…the government has announced that “All secondary school pupils could be taught about “core British values” such as freedom, fairness and respect under new plans unveiled today.

That British government directive applies only in England; in Scotland and Wales it is the concern of the Scottish and Welsh governments. Why does the British government feel the need to foster a sense of Britishness in an English population that feels palpably more English (and increasingly so) than British, and, conversely, why reinforce a sense of Britishness in an immigrant population that feels palpably more British than English?

The main drive towards this New Britishness comes from Gordon Brown who has his own political reason for moving against the swelling tide of English self-awareness. It’s a mad, bad and dangerous policy – he is playing fast and loose with identity politics for political gain – and the net result may not be a happy one. I forewarned of this in my article English Civic Nationalism which was first published on the Campaign for an English Parliament website in November. I hope it will find an interested readership here.

English Civic Nationalism

Nationalists are people that claim that the nation is the only legitimate basis of the state and that each nation is entitled to its own state. It is a fundamental belief, and the axis around which the world’s politics revolve. Those that claim it is not a fundamental belief are usually people who have their own political agenda, and who wish to see supra- or multi-national states formed from pre-existing nations. In time these multi-national states either become nations themselves, or fail, as we have witnessed in the cases of Yugoslavia, USSR and India, to name a few.

But the issue is more complex than that. ‘Nation’ can mean one of two things; an ethnic nation, based on a common ethnicity, collective identity and culture; or a nation based on shared purpose, beliefs and common goals, usually founded on such principles as democracy and individualism. In most nations though, or at least for most people in most nations, nationalism is a mixture of both these forms.

Academics refer to nationalism based around these two alternative definitions of ‘nation’ as ‘Ethic Nationalism’ and ‘Civic Nationalism’. In the West, especially in multicultural nations, it is the commonly held view that only civic nationalism is acceptable. The USA and France are often held up as examples of nations based on ‘civic nationalism’ as both nations were founded on constitutions expressing common rights and privileges, and the principle of citizenship. Although, from an ethical standpoint, civic nationalism is preferable to ethnic nationalism (in multicultural states at least) the Los Angeles and Paris riots show that neither ideology is without its faults.

It could be said that Britain is an example of a state based on civic nationalism. After-all, we are a multi-ethnic and multi-national state, and, for all intents and purposes, a unitary nation with a shared purpose and equal constitutional rights for all. Or at least we were prior to 1998.

In 1998 Scotland became a nation apart, able to influence English and Welsh legislation, but spared from political interference from Wales, and, more importantly, from England and the English. Scottish nationalism was, and still is, a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalism, but the path to independence – temporarily stalled by devolution – was driven mostly by ethnic nationalism and a hard-wired oppositional attitude towards the English. The Scots define themselves not as what they are, but as what they are not; and what they are not is Sassenachs.

When Scotland ring-fenced its legislation to prevent English interference, and when UK politicians started speaking of Scotland as ‘a proud historic nation’ (Tony Blair) and stating that ‘Scotland is a nation in its own right’ (Nick Raynsford – Labour Regions spokesman) without making similar claims on behalf of England, any sense of a shared collective purpose, for me at least, disappeared. Since that time politicians – most notably Gordon Brown – have invested a great deal of energy in trying to redefine Britain in terms of ideals that unite us and a shared collective purpose.

At the same time there has been an assault on English nationalism, with the Labour Party appealing to the Conservative Party to make devolution to Scotland work by not fanning the flames of English nationalism. Ostensibly Scottish nationalism is a civic nationalism, and Welsh nationalism too, otherwise the UK Government would have had trouble justifying it; and to their credit the SNP and Plaid Cymru are signed up to the European Free Alliance, a nationalist alliance that promotes civic, as opposed to ethnic, nationalism, and which supports all nations in their quest for self-determination. But the UK Government did not allow England the same right to self-determination as it offered Wales and Scotland in their 1997 referendums.

Last month Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in anticipation of an English Ashes triumph in her Independent column, complained that ‘If the cricket is won, many more white Britons will give up on Britain and take refuge in England’. The implication being that English nationalism is purely an ethnic nationalism based on skin colour (see The England Project).

Alibhai-Brown was followed by Vince Cable MP, in his Demos pamphlet on multiple identities, who compared English nationalists to Islamic fundamentalists and white supremacists by stating that ‘The threat to harmonious social relations in Britain comes from those who insist that multiple identity is not possible: white supremacists, English nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists’.

It should be remembered that both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Vince Cable are nationalists themselves: civic British nationalists.

Vince Cable went on to say ‘This is the opposition and they have to be confronted. An important element in that confrontation is the assertion of a sense of Britishness’.

As someone that counts himself as an English nationalist – a civic nationalist – I was offended by these remarks and responded to Alibhai-Brown and Cable (see The Green Ribbon) in the same knee-jerk way that they no doubt made their remarks. Having had time to cool down and reflect I am still offended by their remarks, and see them as politically motivated, but I concede that they are at least partly correct.

Where they are correct is in the fact that, at the moment, English nationalism is mostly an ethnic nationalism. Immigrants that come to England are informed that they are now British, and they are. ‘British’ is not an ethnicity, Britain is a political construct that incorporates the different nations and ethnicities, and in that sense it can be argued that Britain was multi-cultural before the waves of immigration that began with the Empire Windrush.

The problem for English nationalists like myself, is that for all our best intentions – arguing for an English parliament that represents all English people regardless of ethnicity – there is no civic nationalism in England, not for immigrants, not for anybody. We English have no collective political representation that allows for an expression of our collective political will, and many or most of our cultural and civic institutions have been appropriated for Britain. Scotland has a Scottish parliament to which all Scots, regardless of ethnicity, elect their Scottish representatives. The Scots also have a National Library of Scotland, a National Portrait Gallery and a National Gallery, and much else besides. Taken apart these things mean little, but taken together an immigrant to Scotland – and I lived there myself for five years – is left in little doubt as to what nation they are in. Minority ethnicities in Scotland are much more likely to prefix their ethnicity with ‘Scottish’ than ethnic minorities in England are inclined to prefix their ethnicity with ‘English’. In fact ethnic minorities in England almost always refer to themselves as ‘British-[insert ethnicity here]’. It makes sense as that is how the Government defines them. This fact annoys me greatly, and I think it is divisive and damaging to race-relations in England, but that said I don’t blame the immigrants I blame the political establishment and the race-relations industry.

Without any form of civic nationalism the English seem only to be able to express themselves through sporting tribalism and xenophobia. That is a sweeping statement, but it seems to be the widely held opinion of what Orwell referred to as English intellectuals, particularly those on the left. The Government’s steadfast refusal to allow or build any form of English civic nationalism has created a situation where English pride is exhibited in moments of pure tribalism; St George’s Day and sporting victories are the only times that England’s flag can be waved without accusations of racism. This is wrong, the English flag should fly above the English National Library, the English National Museum, the English Portrait Gallery and, YES, the English Parliament and Executive. Only in that way can we build a civic nationalism for England in which all can take pride. The Government are culpable in making ‘English’ a synonym for ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and in being so they have played into the hands of what Vince Cable refers to as ‘white supremacists’, which – by the way Vince – is not a synonym for ‘English nationalist’.

‘English’ cannot any longer be permitted to be solely an ethnic description, it must embody more than that. The absurdity of Tebbit’s cricket test is plain for all to see:

A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?

Immigrants to England cannot be informed they are British and then implored to support the English cricket team. Why should they when they are British not English? Why should they take any note of England’s history or achievements prior to the Act of Union when Britain and their adopted ‘Britishness’ came into being? The sense of Englishness is growing, it has been well documented, and a divide is opening up in England between that part of society that define themselves as English and those that don’t. It is noticeable that those that don’t are overwhelmingly from non-white sections of the population, although it is also noticeable, and encouraging, that some blacks do refer to themselves as English. I think that this black-led revelation has come about through inclusion in English sport; it certainly hasn’t come about thanks to the race-relations industry or Government; both of whom constantly seek to define them as Black-British, and whose very policies exclude them from Englishness.

The ‘Death of Britain’ has also been widely documented – Hitchens, 1999; Heffer, 1999; Redwood, 1999; Marr, 2000; Nairn, 2000 – but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all be British citizens with equal political and constitutional rights within Britain, and with a democratic say in the way our own nations are run; that is the only way that it can work, the British onion cannot be put back together; Welsh, Scottish and English nationalism are all out of their own halves and running towards the opposition’s unguarded goal. The only guard against a certain goal is in creating an inclusive civic nationalism not just for Britain, but for England, Scotland and Wales. And that’s the task that faces British nationalists like Vince Cable and Alibhai-Brown if they want a civic and civil Britain. Trying to keep the English from asserting their Englishness all the while talking down English nationalism as if it were any less valid or worthy than Scottish, Welsh or British nationalism is simply no longer an option.

The freedoms bequeathed by England to the United Kingdom, guaranteed by law, represented an exceptional method of social integration, ‘the most civilized and the most effective method ever invented by mankind’ (1948: 476; 489-90). This method of social integration translated a specific aspect of the English political tradition – parliamentary sovereignty – into a British one in order to secure the unity of the United Kingdom (Crick 1991). This made the development of a specifically English nationalism not only counter-productive but also irrelevant (Crick 1995). This has been usually interpreted as an expression of English arrogance. The opposite reading can also be made and it is possible to interpret it as an expression of English modesty, for what is often ignored is the attraction of English civilisation as a method of social integration. In the mid-nineteenth century even one of the stalwarts of the proud Edinburgh Review was prepared to declare that ‘the nearer we (the Scots) can propose to make ourselves to England the better’ (cited in Massie 2002: 13). Moreover, its method of social integration was also here a method of multi-national integration. England, while remaining England, ‘a concrete reference’ for poets, in a real sense also became Britain, as its economy drew in the Irish, Scots and Welsh. As an ‘absorptive patria’, there was no need to base Englishness on blood or soil or even a flag and ‘flying the Cross of St George was a protest or a foible, usually Socialist or Anglican’ (Grainger 1986: 53-5). The good fortune of this social and national integration relied in large measure upon the relatively stable identity that England gave to England/Britain (Stapleton 1999). The United Kingdom was a nationality not a nation, one that had taught ‘its citizens at one and the same time to glory both in the name of Scotsmen or Welshmen or Englishmen and in the name of Britons.’ (Barker 1928: 17). — Arthur Aughey

We need to glory again in the name of Scotsmen or Welshmen or Englishmen and in the name of Britons, but in a multi-racial society we can only do this through fostering a sense of civic nationalism and pride in our collective and separate identities.

Blaming the English

Over the past few years numerous constitutional experts and political observers have been warning that the English feel disenfranchised and alienated from Westminster. English identity has risen and become politicised, perhaps as a badge of resistance against the British state, the European Union, globalisation and immigration; and British identity has decreased, to the point where only the denizens of London feel more British than English. Campaigners such as myself have argued strongly that England requires the same sort of democratic recognition of nationhood and national identity as is enjoyed by Scotland, namely its own parliament and government. Our argument is that an English parliament gives legitimate expression to English national identity, making English identity more inclusive and constructive instead of a badge of resentment. The British political elite were frightened of normalising English national identity in case they ‘fanned the flames of English nationalism’ and instead offered fig leaves in the shape of regional assemblies, regional ministers, elected mayors, English votes on English laws, city regions and police commissioners – anything other than recognition of England as a discrete nation and source of political identity and citizenship.

The result is an England that feels it has no voice and no one who will speak for it.  And so here we are.  The English have given the British a damn good hiding in a referendum on the EU, and in doing so have delivered an existential crisis to both unions of which they are a part.  No one can claim that the British Establishment weren’t warned.  IPPR, Arthur Aughey, John Denham, Michael Kenny, Simon Lee, Frank Field, Anthony Barnett , myself and many others have all repeatedly warned that there needs to be recognition of the growing English demos.

Scandalously the English, and in particular the English working class, are now getting the blame for voting against the wishes of the British and European political establishments that not only failed to recognise their nationhood but actively tried to suppress it.

There are many factors that that played into how people voted in the EU referendum: economic vibrancy, immigration, democracy and sovereignty. One issue that hasn’t been explored (or at least I haven’t seen it) is the issue of civic identity. The two parts of the UK that voted overwhelmingly to remain are Scotland and London, both of which have a very strong and inclusive sense of citizenship/civic identity. In England there is no civic nationalism, evidenced by the fact that we have no parliament; and Wales, although it has an assembly, has always had more of a cultural – linguistic – nationalism.

So I would like to float the idea – admittedly only a hypothesis – that the British Government may have lost the EU referendum because successive British Governments denied England a parliament and denied the English the chance to feel secure in, and positive about, their national identity.