Posts Tagged ‘Englishness’

Englishness? Whimsy and Billy Bragg songs. Look local instead

14/06/2012, 02:39:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like the inhabitants of Laputa who were embarked on the task of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers in Gulliver’s Travels, picking over the mysteries of Englishness in search of an intelligible definition is a similarly laborious – and quite pointless – endeavour.

Yet it remains a vogueish pursuit. Last week Ed Miliband made a long speech on the subject, laying heavy emphasis on his own idiosyncratic background as the son of Jewish immigrant parents who was born and grew up in different places, engendering multiple identities and loyalties (“a Leeds supporter, from North London”).

Rather than nailing a coherent version of Englishness, however, the speech served to show how variegated the term is.

Our island story is nothing of the sort. We are many tribes and have many, often conflicting accounts. We should call off the search for an agreed, top-down national narrative.

Princes and paupers, Cornish and cockney; there is little practical mortar unifying a sense of Englishness in either our geography or class. A working class Brummie has traditionally had more in common with a working-class Glaswegian than he has with an Englishman from a different social class.


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Sunday Review: Ed Miliband on Englishness

10/06/2012, 07:00:33 AM

by Anthony Painter

The Labour party approaches the politics of Englishness rather as Perseus would have approached the Medusa – best avoided if at all possible and if it has to be encountered then no eye contact should be made at any cost. Last Thursday, Ed Miliband talked confidently about the Medusa but thought it best not to enter the cave.

Unfortunately, the Medusa still must be slain.

The speech had quite a nice pace to it and succeeded in many of its rhetorical flourishes. If in doubt, talk about common humanity, Morris, Ruskin and pulling together. This will always be safe ground for a Labour orator – and it does provide some significant crossover into English romanticism too.

No harm done – it can’t, as Miliband argued, be all pounds and pence. The romantics would have been distraught at the omission of shillings but time moves on. On the negative side, we can only hope that the phrase ‘progressive patriotism’ will never be uttered again. Overall though, I’m glad he made the speech – it needed to be done and was long overdue from a Labour leader.

Miliband skidded between the cultural and the political as if there was no distinction between them when it came to his analysis of Scottish nationalism. Unless I’ve misread modern Scottish nationalism I’m not sure if Alex Salmond is really in the business of forcing people to choose between their Scottishness and Britishness. That would certainly seem to sit rather oddly with the passage from his Hugo Young Lecture of early this year where he argued that there would always be a ‘social union’ based on ‘our shared economic interests, our cultural ties, our many friendships and family relationships’. He is asking Scotland to (with notable exceptions such as the currency and the monarchy) choose Scottish political institutions over the British state.

The speech was rather more definitive when it came to distinguishing English culture and political institutions. For Miliband, English cultural expression is “not about an English Parliament or an English Assembly.” So wave the flag of St.George like Bobby Moore was still captain of England but don’t get all political about it. We’ll have none of that.

In this argument was the speech’s central weakness. This would have been a good speech in 1996. Things have moved on considerably since. It is now clear that Scottish devolution was not only the culmination of one process – a creation of institutions to match a rejuvenated civic Scottishness – but the beginning of another process. The claim on ever greater powers for Scotland may or may not result in independence.


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