England’s on the anvil
9th February 1996
It’s not much fun being English these days. We lose to South Africans at cricket. We mislay the best football coach the country’s had for 30 years. Brussels wants to harmonise us out of existence, and the snarling threat of secession by the north keeps Tory unionists awake at night. Even the tabloids whine about estuary English, and the pervasiveness of US popular culture. We shouldn’t. Let the French worry about the preservation of their language. We Englishmen have more serious matters to worry about.
Our identity is under threat. The easy, confident swagger of the Englishman abroad has been replaced by the twittering self-effacement of Hugh Grant. Why? Because we aren’t sure of who we are any more. You, like me, are attached to the English national identity. I know that to you it means church, monarchy, the Telegraphs and deference. The idea of a multi-ethnic, multicultural society makes you uneasy. I can’t allay your fears. But I want you to explain why your paper isn’t doing the smart thing in defence of England. I’ll explain what that is in this letter.
The Telegraphs are quick to worry in public about the moral and economic decline of the nation. Its columns resound to a klaxon of outrage at the fecklessness of the underclass, the failure of parental authority and the prospect of unbridled immigration. This agenda stands in the way of reasserting the values which made England great.
It may seem odd that the son of Caribbean immigrants should be so worked up about this. The black community has acquired a reputation for being radical, alienated and increasingly separate from white English people. Actually this is nothing like the truth about us. In very many ways, most of us (blacks) are more “English” than you (whites). History has entwined us, genetically and culturally, with the people who populated the British isles for 1,000 years. Hardly anyone from slave stock could claim to be completely African; generations of miscegenation have ensured that I carry plenty of Anglo-Saxon blood. There’s a Scottish sea captain not very far back in the Phillips line.
Culturally, West Indians are Edwardian. We grow up believing in order, discipline-enforced by violence if necessary-self-help, politeness and large families. Many of the traits people now associate with us-criminal, work-shy, sexually loose-we have picked up, like everyone else, as…