If you want to understand what it means to be English, don't ask Westminsterby David Skelton / June 26, 2012 / Leave a comment
As England licks its wounds after its Euro 2012 bid came to an end on Sunday, it may be time to reconsider what else makes the English proud.
The subject is back in vogue amongst political circles. Earlier this month, Ed Miliband’s “Englishness” speech was the subject of plaudits and brickbats from across the political spectrum which saw Dan Hodges, Owen Jones and John Rentoul forming an unlikely alliance in arguing that Englishness was a vague concept. The criticism on the left is particularly interesting and says a lot about the state of today’s Labour Party.
Owen Jones, author of Chavs, wrote in the Independent last week that “there is no coherent or cohesive ‘Englishness’.” As ever, Owen is lucid and fascinating but in this case, he is wrong. There is such a thing as Englishness, and politicians and opinion formers would do well to remember that.
By suggesting that pondering and pontificating on the meaning of Englishness is the domain of “think-tankers, political advisers and certain academics,” Jones is almost proving my point. The fact that Westminster wants to analyse and sometimes deny Englishness shows that too many politicians just don’t understand it.
Yet if you went into a pub in most parts of England outside of Westminster and suggested there was no such thing as Englishness, people would laugh into their pints.
No wonder then, that according to recent Policy Exchange polling, more than eight out of ten people think that politicians “don’t understand the real world at all.” To most people in England, Englishness exists, it’s a positive force and being English is something to be proud of. A quick glance back at the Jubilee celebrations makes clear that patriotism remains a powerful unifying force.
And even if Westminster hasn’t picked up on it, the English are decisive about their identity; a recent British Future/YouGov poll found that 18 per cent of people in England regard themselves as more English than British, 43 per cent felt equally English and British and 19 per cent felt English, not British.
What does this clear sense of Englishness really mean? Orwell called it an “unconscious patriotism,” and that’s a good start. But the roots of this intangible identity run much…