This is what all new ‘British’ citizens are taught as part of their official test of life in the ‘UK.’ Despite the fact that this is evidently no longer the case (recent surveys have shown that more English people identify as ‘English’ than ‘British’ these days – a real rise in English identity) this is the official line of the British Government. It comes as no surprise that the whole Life in the UK Handbook is fairly ‘on message’ (singing the praises of ‘diversity,’ devoting much space to ‘equality’ and suffrage for women, recounting the evils of the slave trade and the atrocities that the Scots and Welsh suffered at English hands etc.)
I take particular exception to the groundless assertion that most English people primarily identify with ‘Britain’ rather than England, as this is Unionist propaganda. Surely it would be more accurate to say that the majority of English people have a dual identity and an equal sense of British and English nationality. Most English people that I know tend to conflate England and Britain and use the terms interchangeably, not seeing any conflict between the two identities and having affection for both. However, there are a growing number of us who identify primarily or exclusively with England these days as well as a small but influential section (including some immigrants, English liberals and fervent Unionists) who are steadfastly wedded to their British identity and who, for whatever reason, do not consider themselves English at all. Fortunately such people are finding it increasingly hard to ignore the English elephant in the room.
But what really annoyed me about the Life in the UK Handbook was that whilst it often speaks of the Scots and the Welsh people, it makes as little reference to the English as it possibly can. No surprises there of course! What it does frequently refer to is ‘people in England’ or ‘people born in England’ as though it could cause potentially offense to some people in England by calling them ‘English.’ This is an extremely common device that is used more frequently these days when (because of devolution) the Government is obliged to acknowledge that not all its services and directives apply to all of the UK. It will use the word ‘British’ whenever possible but if it is absolutely necessary to speak of ‘England’ you can bet your last silver shilling that the adjective ‘English’ will not be uttered. Hence we have an NHS ‘in England’ rather than an ‘English NHS’ and many other similar examples.
Last week Conservative MP David Davies had a furious (and vastly entertaining) radio row with a Welsh lady about the teaching of the Welsh language in schools. When she accused him of being English (he was born in London) he reacted by stating that he was proud to be both Welsh and British. But I also noticed how he criticised her attitude for “blaming everything on everyone in England” rather than on ‘English people.’ There seems to be a widespread reluctance to acknowledge that English people exist as a nation, and the worst culprits seem to be English politicians and prominent establishment figures themselves. Why? I never thought I’d say this, but thanks to David Mellor for reading out my message about being English rather than British on live radio last weekend. And well done to Ken Livingstone who on the same programme actually admitted that he was English and that there is “no such thing as a real British culture, we’re all English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh.” For possibly the first time ever, I agree with Ken!
The BBC (normally no friend of Englishness) is another organisation which likes to use the description ‘British’ to refer to the English whenever it can, but if not, the term ‘in England’ is widely used. A notable exception was during last summer’s riots when everything was suddenly ‘English.’ This is partly because our ‘compatriots’ in Wales and Scotland wanted to distance themselves from the violent disturbances in England. However, it’s amazing that when something positive happens in England (festivals, charity appeals, the Olympics etc.) the BBC and others nearly always describe it as ‘British’ but when it is something unpleasant such as riots, crime or racism then the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ are more likely to be used. This is all part of the agenda to attach a negative stigma to English identity and create the right resonance for the ideas of Britain and Britishness.
When the English alone are disadvantaged in some way by a particular British Government policy (university tuition fees, prescription charges) or when there is a controversy about say, mass immigration or the NHS that primarily or exclusively affects England – then it’s amazing how the Brit gang attempt to make it seem as though it were an issue that affects the whole of the UK equally. They do this by speaking of ‘this country’ rather than ‘England,’ which implies that it is a UK-wide issue, not just an English one. The effects of mass immigration (for example) are felt most in England where most of the immigrants settle, yet most politicians speak as though this was a ‘UK’ issue rather than primarily an English one.
We badly need an English parliament to fight our corner and ensure that our voice is heard. My own view is that the interests of the English and the interests of the UK are diverging rapidly, and unless we demand a credible English voice then we’ll be drowned out and pushed aside by the Unionists who will do what they always do – putting the interests of the Union first even if it means trampling on the English nation to keep their sinking British ship afloat.