An informative article appeared on the Europe News website about the Telegraph article penned by historian Sir Roy Strong.
There is an interesting article on the concept of Englishness, the English countryside, and England, in the Telegraph by historian Sir Roy Strong today. He reminds us of the importance of the countryside in the English national identity, talks about England’s relationships to Scotland and other states in the Union, and reminds us of its artistic culture. So far, so good.
But, Sir Roy also suggests that there is no such thing as an English people — at least in an ethnic sense. Is that really true?
In his article, Sir Roy expresses some sentiments that we are more accustomed to hearing from English nationalists, even if they appear to be drawn from a perspective that could be described as realpolitik. Most notably, Sir Roy draws some fairly sharp distinctions between English culture and the culture of the other nation states in the United Kingdom. ”The reasons for [England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland] staying together [in the Union], in the main to create the empire, are disappearing one by one,” he suggests.
There is one area in which he historian seems somewhat behind the time, however. While Sir Roy notes that “Those who belong to the devolved parts of the island, Scotland and Wales, are very sure of their national identities,” he goes on to say,
In sharp contrast, the English have always been reticent to define themselves as they have been the dominant partners. We have forgotten too that the English have never been, unlike the Scots, Welsh and Irish, ethnically driven, for we have been a polyglot nation for nearly 2,000 years. We’re made up of descendants of ancient Britons, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Jews, Huguenots and to which, in the last century, we can add migrants from our former empire, as well as those from the European mainland. But we’re all English.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that most immigrants consider themselves to be British, rather than English, the latter of which is defined in law as an ethnic group. While I don’t take Wikipedia as gospel, even it defines the English people as “a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English.”
It is certainly true that recent Governments have looked very unfavorably on the idea of an English ethnic identity, and tried their best resist it, with Jack Straw (Labour) and William Hague (Conservative) condemning the English people and English nationalism to the BBC, and with the Labour Government at one point excluding English as an ethnic identity on the census. Of course, it is precisely this institutionalized anti-Englishness that has encouraged the growth of English nationalism — a phenomenon that was virtually unheard of when Straw and Hague were moaning about it in January of 2000.
Peculiarly, if the Government didn’t want to allow people to think of themselves as ethnically English, the Environmental Agency had no problem in barring Abigail Howarth, 18, from applying for an apprenticeship on the sole basis that she was “White English.”
It can’t be a coincidence, after all, that by the end of the New Labour Government’s reign, the country had not only seen the English flag popularized outside of sport, but a range of other organizations claiming an English identity, including the Steadfast Trust, the first and only charity founded for the ethnic English in Britain, the English Lobby, devoted to fighting anti-English discrimination through the courts, and the civil nationalist political party English Democrats. In a multicultural state, in which ethnicity is a factor in political policies, law, employment, and so on, there simply cannot be one group without such an identity, since this means being without legal protection or legal remedy.