Travelling on the London underground is usually an interesting way to observe “diversity”, but earlier this month I was too absorbed in a piece in the Evening Standard to pay much attention to my fellow passengers. The feature which had caught my attention was headed “Ben Fogle and the fine art of being English”.
It turns out that Ben has written a new book: ” ‘we hit a funny obstacle today’ he said ‘the book was supposed to be called English but it’s been decided that it’s too jingoistic – it’s thought that no one wants to touch it in the bookshops because English seems to have bad connotations.’ A treatment of the nation’s many idiosyncrasies, the book will now be called Englishness instead, at the suggestion of [the publisher]. ‘You’re supposed to say British,’ Fogle said ‘you can be Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish but you’re not allowed to be English’ The book follows Fogle’s previous histories …. with a Brexit Britain providing the perfect opportunity to analyse the country and how we have come to equate patriotism as negative. ‘We’re being asked to describe our identity now more than ever …. during my time writing the book, when I told people I was writing a book called English they said ‘don’t you mean British?’ There’s a lot to be said for Englishness, it’s got a uniqueness'”
Well, thank you Ben, I’m sure that those English people who read the interview will agree with you about our “uniqueness”, but I do wonder how many readers of any London newspaper nowadays are likely to be English?
The article set me wondering how it came to be that some English people, heavily concentrated in the more influential sections of society, have come to despise their own nation and people. I cannot think of any other nation (except perhaps the Swedes) who suffer from this pathology to anything like the same extent. Here are two minor examples of this anti-English prejudice, no doubt readers could offer more: firstly, we all remember Emily Thornberry (aka Lady Nugee), now something important in the shadow cabinet, contemptuously tweeting a photo of a white van and a council house displaying the Cross of St. George; secondly, I distinctly recall a recent debate on Radio Five where a headmaster was at pains to point out that at his school condemnation of Islamic State was carefully balanced with similar views of the English Defence League – the English Defence League? Who have they killed? I suspect that had the EDL called itself the “Christian Defence League” (for example) they would not have attracted such hostility; it’s the “E” word which condemned them.
I believe that part of the reason for this pathology is that traditional English vice — class awareness, despising people for regional or working class origins, accents, or behaviour. Snobbery, in other words. As expressions of English patriotism are most pronounced among the less well off it is thought to be a bit, well, downmarket — and snobbery does the rest.
It was not always so: think of some of the great English patriots of the past such as the writers William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien, the composers Vaughan Williams and Delius, the painters John Constable and Paul Nash, the politicians Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Enoch Powell — these men may not have been nationalists in our sense of the word but their patriotism was not only profound but helped to form our very concept of Englishness. Downmarket? I don’t think so. The two or three decades immediately after the War saw a great outpouring of patriotic endeavour as people rediscovered a country which they so nearly lost, and then took action to protect it — this was the great age of the creation of Green Belts, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the age when the growth of the National Trust really took off. In those years patriotism was as classless as it had always been.
So how did patriotism fall victim to snobbery? How did our ruling elite become so detached from love of country that it sank into a despised characteristic of the lower orders? I think that the answer is guilt. The soft Marxist cultural revolution of the sixties was built on the guilt felt by the well educated and comfortably off for the plight – real or imagined – of certain favoured victim groups, hence the Civil Rights movement in the United States, the Anti-Apartheid movement everywhere, the Anti-‘Fascist’ movements in continental Europe. Middle class guilt in Britain, although heavily influenced by the American Civil Rights movement, had its very own sin to wallow in – the legacy of Empire. The Empire was to my mind a glorious adventure which brought the modern world into existence, but to the perverted group think of the Left it is a source of shame. It was of course the British Empire, not the English Empire, but as the English are the dominant nationality in the United Kingdom, the English attract the opprobrium.
A poisonous confection of snobbery and guilt has destroyed the once universal love of England by the English. A love still cherished by most ordinary folk is despised by a large section of our ruling elite. I can best illustrate that last point by quoting from David Goodhart’s book “The Road to Somewhere” where he describes a conversation at dinner in an Oxford College in 2011. One of his neighbours, Gus O’Donnell, then Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, said “when I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration … I think it’s my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare”. When Goodhart put O’Donnell’s remarks to his other neighbour, Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, he defended O’Donnell and said he too believed global welfare was paramount. Later in his book Goodhart says of O’Donnell and Thompson “they form part of that elite group that I have labelled Global Villagers, making up no more than 3 to 5 per cent of the population – people who would support open borders if it was politically feasible, and are as likely to identify as European or as a citizen of the world as they are British (let alone English)”.
So there you have it; when the Head of the Civil Service and the Director General of the BBC share such views is it at all surprising that immigration seems so stubbornly resistant to all attempts to bring it down, or that “English” – if Ben Fogle’s experience is anything to go by – is the love which, quite literally, dare not speak its name?
By Frederick Dixon © 2017
PS. Good news! Further to the article read by Frederick Dixon, it appears that Ben Fogle has prevailed over his publishers and his new book has been published by Harper Collins under the originally conceived title: ‘English’, and is available from most bookshops in hard-back for £20.00.
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