Us And Them In Engerland
RULING metropolitan elite are not only out of touch with the ‘provinces’, but find Englishness alarming too
IT HAPPENED again, one evening last week. I’m in a bar in Edinburgh, chatting to a high-powered, Left-leaning woman from London about life and politics; the conversation turns towards Scotland’s independence referendum, and she begins to tell me that she is “not really English”.
That she is English doesn’t seem in much doubt, to me; she was born there, she lives there, she has an English accent. Yet among the English people I meet – mostly, I suppose, creative or academic types on the centre-left of the political spectrum – this denial of the word “English” is so common as to be almost universal. As soon as the issue of identity comes up, they start talking about the Scottish granny, the Welsh roots, the Irish or Caribbean migrants a few generations back; it seems they have lived all their lives in England, without ever acknowledging to themselves that they belong there.
So it’s hardly surprising that when they hear talk of the break-up of Britain, they experience it as a huge existential threat; it’s as if they were suddenly being forced to take up residence not in the vague borderless Britain of their minds, but in some “Engerland” that they would rather not think about, full of face-painted football fans with dodgy views on race.
“Don’t leave us,” pleaded the woman in the bar, towards the end of the conversation. “We’ll be governed by the Tories for ever!” And when I protested that the English people, given their history, would hardly put up with an eternity of one-party rule, she shook her head sadly, as if my confidence was woefully misplaced....
...Yet in the end, the cultural deafness of Britain’s metropolitan elites – their assumption that their identity is “normal”, and that all others are in some way irritating or suspect – is part of a much bigger picture of contempt for ordinary people in all their local diversity, and of sheer presumption that Westminster and Whitehall know best. It’s against that culture of contempt, and of arrogant government collusion with the self-interest of an overweening economic elite, that all the peoples of Britain now need to begin a long, democratic rebellion.
And along with the continuing debate on Scottish independence, the redefinition of England as the rich, beautiful and infinitely diverse modern nation it now is will be an inevitable part of that process; not to be avoided or denied, but to be lived through, struggled with, and enjoyed.