Sunday, 21 September 2014

Finding a New England

Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
Lay that earth upon thy heart,
And thy sickness shall depart!

A couple of days ago, I made the case that the only sustainable solution to the 'West Lothian Question' is an English Parliament based in Bradford. However, there are several challenges to this being achieved, not least the Left's continuing fear - even hatred - of the idea of England. It is this that lies underneath Labour's opposition to any resolution of what we should really call the 'English Question' far more than naked political calculation or the national ambitions of Scottish MPs on Labour's front bench.

Don't get me wrong here, all those Labour MPs will cheer on English national sports teams - especially when this is needed for the purposes of getting votes. But those same MPs are from a generation brought up to believe the myth of a white supremacist, flag of St George waving idea of English identity. A myth that was - for all that racists and fascists still try to claim it a truth - blown to smithereens, for me and millions of other Englishmen, by the sight of Ian Wright's celebration of England scoring. We'd been told that the idea of England was racist, something not for black or brown people, and suddenly that wasn't so.

Yet the left still hates England, is still ready to see the red cross on a white background as a symbol of something to be hidden away, something shocking. The left point to the lunatic fringes of the racist right, to the EDL, and say 'that is England'. But it isn't and it never has been, England was never about the hooligan or marches or flags as symbols of race. Indeed the English were never a race - I remember my dad talking about a school friend with a name like Seamus O'Toole who would gleefully thump anyone who tried to tell him he wasn't English.

Today, as the flag and the idea of England is reclaimed by decent folk, the left has discovered a new problem. England is capitalist, we genuinely are that thing Napoleon thought was an insult but isn't - a nation of shopkeepers. More than that, we have taken that idea of self-reliance, independence, trade and the mutual benefit from exchange and made ourselves rich. Indeed the criticism of England is almost a cry of envy - how dare you make yourself rich by providing consumers with the things they want. And I know that we're not the only capitalists - everywhere is in the game of creating wealth, after all - but we are a nation that thinks capitalism is a damn fine idea, something to celebrate.

But to make this work we need a new England. Not a changed England but a rediscovery of some bits of that idea of capitalism we lost sight of along the way. We need reminding that capitalism isn't about the fix, is not a thing of exploitation, isn't some plaything for masters of the universe. We need to realise that capitalism is about trade and exchange, it works because I get more value from that thing you have than you do - and I will pay for that added value. So capitalism isn't about banks, it's not about macroeconomic and it's not about international oil companies. It's about hand carved shepherd's crooks, it's about craft ale, it's about barbers, bookmakers and the boozer. A million and one things that make our lives happier, healthier and more fun.

The left simply doesn't understand this and fears that a new England would reject its controlling, dictatorial and depressing philosophies. So bogeymen are invented to try and destroy English identity - stuff about racism or the rise of UKIP - in the hope that we don't create that new England. This is why rather than an English Parliament, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will try to push for regional government or a confused devolution of some powers to some local councils (but not to all of them).

At the head of this piece is a quotation from Kipling's 'Charm' - reading it brings lump to my throat because it's not about government but about England. Just as all those other things we cherish in England - church bells, the pub, afternoon tea, football on a Saturday afternoon - have little to do with government. Yet all those things are affected - and some are threatened - by government, by the left's petty little programmes of control, by their unchanging belief that they know better than you do.

To win the argument, England needs more than 'fairness', we need to form an ideological basis for home rule just as Scottish Nationalists created the idea of Scotland as a 'progressive' nation, we need to make the case for England as a conservative nation, as a place where those values of community, self-reliance, decency and looking out for the neighbours are held to our hearts. Not as justifications for government but as the values that all of us try to live our lives by. I could sell that in Cullingworth.


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