Barry Hamblin

To explain what England means to me, I have to begin with my childhood days at school. It was in the days when English history was still taught properly, in my case by an animated teacher who himself was Welsh. I learnt about the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans and the Tudors and, along with field trips, I took a liking to England, its history and its landscape. When I returned from school one day I asked my parents “am I English?”, and when they replied that I was, I became the happiest schoolboy in my street. Even in those days I knew that England’s flag was the Cross of St.George, I knew that St.George didn’t really kill a dragon but symbolized the triumph of good over evil. When I saw England’s flag amongst the plethora of Union flags at events I would often stare with pride in the knowledge that someone else knew they were English as well as me.

Later, as an adolescent and a young man, it could be said that I forgot about my England for the most part of each year except for the day that matters most, St.George’s Day. Every year I would, along with my fellow English friends, don a red rose at work or, if we were lucky and the day fell at the weekend, we would eventually find our way to the pub and celebrate, often with the biggest English flag around.

Having followed my favourite football team all over England, I have met fisherman from Hull, miners from Sheffield, car workers from Birmingham, farmers from Swindon, hop pickers from Kent and dock hands from Portsmouth and although from different backgrounds and each with their own stories told with the twang of the their local accents, we had a common theme. We were all English. No North-South-East-West divide for us, England was England . There was also the ever-changing cities and landscape. In the early days each city and town had its own symbol of industry, be it the tall chimneys of Manchester, the mines shafts of Barnsley, and each was unique. Today this has given way to modernization and a sort of homogenisation, for good or bad who knows?

What of my England today? It was whilst organising St.George’s Day in my local pub that I was encouraged to look into the history of the man, his legend and what his links are to England and from this I renewed my interest in all things English. Little did I know where this would lead to. Where it has led to is a realisation that the England I love is being eaten alive from within and unless I take an active part to stop it, I would be as guilty as each Englishman who sat idly by and did nothing. I learnt of Blake’s Jerusalem, surely England’s anthem? I read G K Chesterton’s The Secret People just two of many pieces of literature to stir the heart and, like the speech in Henry V, to rouse the passion of an Englishman.
What England means to me, then, is the people from north to south, east to west; it is the rolling landscape, the unique towns and villages; it is its history from the Saxons to 1707; it is the Arts from Constable to Parry; it is when you turn a corner and find the Cross of St.George flying when you least expect it; it is St.George’s Day. That is my England, it is your England, it is our England.

Barry (The Elder) is the London co-ordinator of the Campaign for an English Parliament and Director of St.George’s Day Events.

Mike Rouse

At only 24 I can only look back to England in the 1980s, and the late 80s at that. My personal experiences then were filled with being forced to join campaign marches against the Poll Tax by my socialist mother or being dragged to church on a Sunday to get a drilling on why Jesus died for me followed by the nightmarish experience of my dad trying to teach my mum how to drive by going around in circles at the local supermarket’s car park because back then, all the shops were closed on a Sunday. It’s something I look back on with mixed feelings. Part of me wants the fast-paced consumer lifestyle, but then other times I remember how everything being closed on Sunday was a way of slowing the country down a bit – forcing it to take a break, to spend time with the family, to catch up on the household finances.

England today is already a lot different. Even at my young age I feel alienated from the youth that patrol the streets, but unlike older generations that call the police on these kids, I understand that the street is where they feel safe now, where they feel in control and where they are able to express themselves. England, to me, has lost something over the past few years and looking at the generation behind me is a vital clue.
It’s lost that face-to-face communication that was so common even when I was a kid, but in the evolution of the internet it’s gained something else. My generation and the one below are more comfortable with social networking websites than they are with sitting down with their parents over dinner. But, within that domain of cyberspace they are able to develop a range of skills and experiences that will sustain them through the burgeoning growth of the internet-enabled world.

Yet, despite the changes in communication, friendship and socialising that the internet has heralded, there is still something great and old-fashioned about England – our compassion and how we support the worst off in our society.

Look at the recent flooding, for example. Communities came together to offer assistance to their neighbours – probably people they would never speak to on a day-to-day basis. Then, there are terrorist attacks, which cause a great rallying around of collective solidarity.

For me, England is a nation that has so many different vibrant strands in society. There’s my internet-enabled generation, but then there’s also the elderly, those that can’t afford the internet, those that spend all day in tough jobs with little reward and those that face daily neglect and abuse. We’re a nation built of individuals, each with very different lives and cultures, and together we forge a great economy and a free nation. Yet, when the face of evil, or the hand of disaster comes to call we bind together, united in one clear voice that we are a community, we are neighbours, and we are a nation. We are England.

Mike Rouse is the Managing Director of MessageSpace Creative and Head of Technology at 18 Doughty Street Talk TV as well as blogger at

Sharon Ann Glenn

England alone is different, separate yet defining. It is a place of contradiction, a place for the best to meet, to decide, to govern, to rule, to defend, a place which often sets the standards that others follow. It is a place of pride and of strength, a place which frequently assumes that it must be heard and never ignored. That is what its former generations used to call England’s mission and England’s greatness. Coming from Northern Ireland, I find England means travelling without needing to travel far. It is a meeting of many cultures and traditions, all embracing and yet it can be also inward looking and bigoted. England means not only a fast city life but also the most beautiful countryside you will ever see. The glory of England is that it has some of the most impressive historic buildings and wealth in the world and yet the shame of England is that it has some of the worst slums, which house an existence and not life. It has a heart that beats for knowledge and learning for betterment, for opportunity and for celebration of achievement. This is the spirit which has meant that England (despite all the accusations of social conservatism) has remained a dynamic and inventive country. At the same time it also harbours a perverse pleasure in the weakness and failing of others and often in the failings its own people. This is the attitude which has given England the reputation for being perfidious as well as for being philistine. England is all this – a contradiction which aligns it as close as a heart beat with human experience in all its variety, for good and ill. And (here is yet another contradiction) it is all this without in any way diminishing the distinctiveness of English ways of living.

Sharon Ann Glenn is an occupational therapist

John J. Ray

Most unusually for an Australian, I agree with Andrew Ian Dodge about English beer. Australians are used to German-style beer only (Lager) so it was an enormously pleasant experience for me to discover the English alternative: Real Ale. It is over 20 years since I have been in England but I still have fond memories of Ruddles County in particular.

I grew up on English books. I was born in the 1940s and just about the only children’s books available in Australia at that time were imported from England. Additionally, the writers seemed mostly to be from the higher social strata of English society so the boys’ books that I read were mostly about life in English Public Schools (now usually called “independent” schools to allay confusions among Americans). So there I was in small-town tropical Australia among crocodiles, sharks, deadly snakes and insects reading about crocuses and nightingales. And schoolboy cries of “cave” and “pax” had to be understood too. Fortunately Latin was still taught in my local High School at that time so I eventually understood where those cries came from.

And while I always felt that “bounders” and “cads” were excellent terms of disapprobation, it was the man “who goes too far” who best summed up Englishness for me. It was a not uncommon term of disapprobation in my boys’ books and was a particularly final dismissal of anyone. To this day I still think it embodies a central English value and one that I still heartily agree with — although I suspect that I myself may “go too far” on occasions. The concept is of course that there is a broad range of behaviour that can be tolerated but that there are nonetheless important limits that must not be transgressed. It is both a celebration of tolerance and a condemnation of “anything goes”. It means that there ARE important standards that are needed for civility and that some things CANNOT wisely be tolerated.

Does that England still exist? I rather doubt it. Pockets of it no doubt remain but the relentless grinding-down of people by an educational system that transmits as little as it can from the past has left only instinct to guide Brits in that direction these days. I fervently hope that the instinct is strong but I am not optimistic.

John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) is a retired academic. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Andy Staines

Anyone untutored in history would find it inconceivable to learn that a small island, tucked away in the north east Atlantic, had once commanded an empire that spanned the globe, had given the world parliamentary democracy, countless breakthroughs in science, medicine, industry and technology, some of the greatest literature of all time and a language that is almost universally recognised.

That same person, arriving for the first time on the shores of England today would, perhaps, become quickly sceptical of such history for outside of museums there is little sign that we once – and not so very long ago – imprinted the indelible mark of England on the world.

The late 1950’s, as the ‘Empire’ was dissolving into ‘Commonwealth’, saw the rise of the ‘apologists’; it was time to be ashamed of our past. My generation was to carry the burden of guilt for the blood shed in the name of Empire. The conquests of our forefathers were to become the sins of their children.

In parallel, the post-World War 2 dissatisfaction with the status quo saw the rise of a new political class, the ‘common’ man, dedicated to sweeping away the old establishment recruited from the privileged few. With dedicated fervour for economic equality and to wrest power from the elite who had controlled our destiny for so long, England saw the beginnings of a social revolution that is still taking place to this day.

The results of all revolutions are a mixed bag. In tearing up the political and economic fabric of England and in negating our history, much damage has been inflicted on the England we once knew. There are positives: those in poverty fared much worse than today. Educational opportunity was not open to all. The class system was far more rigid and those on the bottom rungs tended to stay there. Healthcare was not so easily come by. But as the bad was being tempered, so the good was being annulled. The very qualities that made up the English character were being abandoned and discouraged by a growing, intrusive and overly interventionist State machine – self-reliance, determination, respect, a national spirit of brotherhood that could come to the fore in times of trouble. The famous ’stiff upper lip’ was allowed, even encouraged, to droop and pout.

The diversity of the English, politically, economically, socially, has been squeezed at both ends in a short-sighted drive for an elusive equality that can never truly exist. The problem with true equality is that it must use the lowest common denominator as its yardstick.

The cost of this misplaced hand wringing and social re-engineering has been enormous. Simple pride in being English, a natural cornerstone of any nation, has been branded as arrogance. Pride is a throwback to Empire and something not to be exercised. The result is a loss of a national identity; promoting Englishness has become a sin yet paradoxically at the same time we were floundering and being bullied into national guilt, people from all over the old Empire were flooding into our country wanting nothing more than to be English. Even our neighbours in the Union, sensing our weakness, have grown more vocal in reminding us of centuries of abuse, cherry-picking their history to suit.

This is not to say that many of the ingredients of ‘old’ England do not survive. The lush, green meadows; the old broad-leaved forests; the summer sound of leather on willow on the village green; the country inn; courteousness; tolerance and respect. They can all, just about, still be found. But our relationship with these symbols has changed as clearly as the social fabric that once bound us as a nation has become unraveled.

Over it’s long history, my country has stood at many crossroads and who knows if the paths taken were for the better. But those paths shaped the land and it’s people to what we have become today. As the twenty-first century starts to bite, England finds itself at another major crossroads and this is, perhaps, the most important we have ever faced. And we face it at a time when our very Englishness has become almost terminally ill.
Do we allow ourselves to be absorbed into a European ‘Empire’, dominated by others, where we will be but a junior state? Do we allow our three hundred year Union with Scotland and Wales to be torn up and consigned to the rubbish bin of history?

Or do we take back what is ours? Regain our inheritance. Re-establish pride in our nation and forge a new national identity to see us through the next century?

These are not questions for our politicians to answer. The new ‘establishment’ is just as divorced from the people as the one they destroyed. These are questions for the English to answer and I fear they are losing their voice.

Andy Staines is a retired software designer stranded on the edge of the Fens who keeps himself amused with Yellow Swordfish.

Simon Maine

England is a land of opportunity with a history forever inter-twining with the people of other lands. The Roman, Viking and Norman invasions have historically contributed to the mix of people that are proud to refer to themselves as English today. More than ever, England is welcoming people whose ancestral heritage stretches all over the planet and it is a source of pride to me that so many from so far away would wish to live in our land.

No national borders are set in stone but nationhood comes easier to those who live on an Island. We should therefore embrace our fellow islanders. Englishmen are not in competition with Scotsmen, Welshmen or Irishmen – we are all from the same stock, just as we are from the same stock as those in Europe and the rest of the world. England has a distinct identity thanks to its history 800-year history as a nation with its own parliament but this should not signal the end of our journey.

England is as artificial a creation as any nation can be. The Anglo Saxon tribes were fiercely separate from one another and if it wasn’t for the Romans, the English boundary-lines may never have been drawn as they are today. We would do badly to forget this. Wales and Scotland grew as separate nations because they were not colonised by foreign invaders. England, before most, knew what it was like to accept foreign cultures and peoples. It was this that helped us to grow together as a nation. When other European nations were mercilessly persecuting Jews in the 11th century, it was to England that they fled, under the protection of our first Norman king William the Conqueror. From that moment to this, England has been a shelter for those in need – a place of refuge in a land where needless persecution is anathema to its people.

But now England no longer exists alone – we have become part of something greater. England can pride itself as being at the heart of the United Kingdom, a union in which our total strength is much greater than the sum of the parts. It is no secret that men stand stronger together. We should not lament the loss of England as a distinct political entity because we are creating something much better. It may be tempting to think that the addition of new cultures can weaken our own but we must always remember that our culture was given to us and not formed by us. We are at our best when we think for ourselves and the variety of cultural norms in England constantly prompts us to re-evaluate our own ideas.

Having discussed what England is I would like to end with what England isn’t. England is not centred around ethnicity or race – it is centred around identity. Resentment of our friends to the North and West is becoming more common because they have devolved politics and we do not. It is pertinent to remind those who might tend to denigrate our fellow Brits that the old English Parliament in Westminster cannot helpfully serve those who live so far away. The alternative seats of power in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are not there to promote provincial nationalism at the expense of subsuming Englishness into Britishness. It is simply an attempt to bring politics closer to these people. We English (in the South at least) are lucky to have Westminster so near and we cannot know what it feels like to be ruled from a Parliament so far away from your home.

Finally, questions over English identity must never be allowed to spill over into questions of race. The English are not a race. We are as artificially thrown together as any nation. Our strength is that we can still forge a great society without the need for ethnic bonds. We are freed from primal politics and instead can look forward to rational politics. Some on the fringe may argue that Englishness means being of some particular racial background – this I wholly reject. We English are a people but not a race. We are inclusive to anyone who agrees with our basic values.
The great symbol of England that remains is our football team and I am a passionate fan. I expect I will still feel the desire to weep when England are knocked out of the 2060 World Cup Finals. I’m sure that then, as now, I will be cheering on a team with a variety of ethnic backgrounds – all proudly English. England is a land of inclusion, a land comfortable with the idea of mixing various cultures, a land with pride in humanity and not pre-occupied with racial origins.

Simon Maine is a student of politics and philosophy at St. Anne’s College, Oxford University.

Christine Constable

To me Englishness is not a tick box of attributes. It is an enigma, almost impossible to describe but when you see it, unmistakable. Englishness is like trying to describe fish in the ocean, most conform to a broad similarity in terms of fins and gills, but on closer inspection it is clear there are many hundreds of varieties of fish, all conforming to that genus but with so many colours and shapes it is difficult to discern a clear and constant commonality.

Englishness is a rich and complex tapestry, a contradiction and a truism but (to change metaphors), like the lepidopterist trying to capture the English butterfly, it is fruitless to search for quintessential Englishness, for one simply stumbles upon one variety of sub-species after another, each giving a new insight into the complex family whole.

Englishness to me is a state of mind as well as an ethnic identity for I have never believed that Englishness is conferred simply by bloodlines or heredity.

To be English is to carry the burden of a nation that has given more to the world than any nation on Earth. It is to be part of a legacy which has done much to bring the world to its current civilized state, albeit imperfect and flawed – but without England’s leadership could still be languishing in a third world lawless wasteland.

To be English is to know that our history has conferred on the English an unusual and onerous task, which is both a blessing and an unbearable burden. A legacy tainted with exploitation as well as service. Generosity and meanness, excess and poverty – all rolled into one.

English concepts of democracy, rights, justice, parliament, habeus corpus and common law have provided a unique distillation which has resulted in a small offshore island becoming the catalyst for the modern world as we know it. The Language English is the representation of our culture, our living history in the words and phrases we use to convey our many ideas. The simplicity of our language belies a complex and inexhaustable intellect, handed down through the generations enriching our language to encapsulate with stunning clarity our inventions, scientific insights and world changing discoveries.

To be English is to share in our nation’s boundless talent for invention. Whilst our skills of exploitation have always been notoriously poorly developed, we are nonetheless one of the most creative peoples on Earth and the world changing inventions created by the English are a testament to that fact.

Our creativity has also extended to sports and recreation, designing and setting the rules for most of the world’s sports and games. Our penchant for worldwide travel and our ability to adapt and develop ideas from across the globe, has enabled England to remain a vibrant leader in many niche areas and indeed many of our unique innovations have been acquired and built upon by many other nations.

To be English is to shine as a beacon of liberty and fairness within the world, to fight against authoritarianism, to cherish our sovereignty and to learn the painful history of our island race. To be English is to trust only ourselves. No other nation can have our confidence or trust, only the English shall rule the English, this is our right and we will defend that right – always.

To be English is to be misunderstood, undervalued, occasionally abused, often exploited and usually misjudged, for an uncompromising heart beats beneath the stiff upper lip and protective reserve, which simply masks the temper of a raging bull. To be English is not to be confused with being British, an imposed identity which has lost much of its gloss after the Empire and as a consequence of devolution in the United Kingdom after 1998.
To be English is to be an individual, with a fierce belief in democracy and freedom and a healthy suspicion of all things ideological and foreign. As an island race we have been forced to defend ourselves from those who would subsume us and even our invaders have been absorbed into the English fabric, in time seeing themselves as English. That was true of the Romans as it was true of the Danes and Normans.

Englishness is open and sharing, it encourages knowledge and education – yearns to debate and challenge. It is both conciliatory and contradictory, both classy and crass and forever transforming into its next incarnation.

Being English is about freeing the spirit and the mind, thinking the unusual and seemingly impossible, pushing boundaries, evolving and making things happen. Being English is about valuing the under dog, challenging authority, valuing effort and encouraging innovation. It’s about never giving up and going the whole hog, doing the best you can do and never countenancing failure however impossible the odds appear – the ‘Goose Green mentality’ and ‘Dunkirk spirit’. Englishness is about honour, fair play and hard work.

Englishness is about setting trends and capturing the spirit of the epoch, whether in music, fashion, art, politics, or technology. English intellect is often stunning, yet understated and overly modest. Mediocrity is feted in many nations of the world, but only in England could sheer brilliance be treated with indifference and sometimes even contempt. Englishness is an enigma – those that are English rarely think about it, those that aren’t often wish they had it.

Christine Constable is Vice Chairman of the English Democrats and Director of the English Constitutional Convention.

Christine Berberich

When I was a little girl growing up in Germany, I decided that one day, when I was grown up, I would be English, live in England, and be the Queen. This ambition was kicked off by two events I still remember very clearly. The first was the broadcast of James Herriot’s nostalgic memoirs of life as a Yorkshire vet, All Creatures Great and Small. This triggered my love for what I considered to be the quintessential English countryside: green and pleasant fields; rolling and gentle hills; picturesque villages. The other was the fact that my grandmother pointed out one day that my birthday coincided with that of the Queen – and the Queen came to symbolise English traditions for me.

With those credentials, I thought, nothing could go wrong. My family was, at first, bemused by my attempts to become English; later, their attitudes varied from tolerance (my mother) to annoyance (my father) when, during holidays in France, I stood wistfully on the beaches, gazing towards where I thought England was, or when, during England vs Germany football matches, I hung a Union Jack out of the front window. Once I finally started studying English in school, that was it: I refused to go to France or anywhere else other than England where I spent all my summer holidays, and once I started university it was clear that there was only one subject I could really pursue with real passion: English literature which for me epitomised the idea of English history and culture.

Several years down the line and I have fulfilled at least some of my childhood ambitions. I do, indeed, live in England now, and while I am not (yet?) strictly speaking English and I’m not the Queen either, I do consider myself part of English culture as I now teach English literature and culture at an English university. My childhood love of the English countryside is still intact and the Queen still represents English tradition for me. Nevertheless, several years of living here have taught me a more critical attitude. Studying theories of nostalgia I have come to realise that my early feelings for this country fell into the category of ’simple nostalgia’ – albeit a nostalgia for something I did not really know from personal experience but only from hearsay or rather, in my case, from books and films. There are, of course, inherent dangers to simple nostalgia in that it takes things for granted and closes its eyes to reality. A reflective nostalgia, on the other hand, queries the notions of nostalgia in the first place. Why is it that I fell for this country so unquestioningly at a stage in my life when I couldn’t really judge things? When nobody in my family had even ever been here? And, more importantly, how do I cope with the realities of living here now that do not really conform to my childish notions of the mythical England? After all, not all of England equals the chocolate-box village with thatched cottages, content villagers and happy sheep that I came to expect. Living here has taught me that not everything is better here; the Health System, for one, or the fact that the trains generally don’t run on time. But this is counterbalanced by the continuous joy I get from a walk in the Peak District; or by the tolerance, even friendship, I have been met with by people from all walks of life, in particular by my students who do not query at all that they are being taught about their own culture by an ‘outsider’. This tolerance in particular is something that sets the English apart from other people; of course we now hear and read in the media about rising anxieties about increasing immigration; about the alleged disadvantages of a multi-cultural society. But the reality that I have experienced is the exact opposite and that, for me, means that England is still the one place where I want to be.

Christine Berberich is a Lecturer in English at the University of Derby

Andrew Ian Dodge

I may come from a different perspective as I am not English or even British. I am American. I am an American who has probably spent more of his life being exposed to the English and Englishness than ever I have been to Americans. This was especially true during my school years.

My first three years of education were in Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, Little England beyond Wales. I was taught the Queen’s English and my three Rs in a manner that was probably no longer used in England proper and all by an excellent English teacher from London. It would be fair to say that the reason I am a writer is because of the first three years of my education in a two-room schoolhouse. I am proud to say that many years later I visited my teacher to give her credit for my chosen path. My exposure to Englishness did not end when I left Pembrokeshire. I moved with my family to Honduras where I spent my time around English expats and their families. A move north to Miami brought me long friendship with an English-Jamaican family. And during all this time, my family took me back to Britain nearly every year during the summer hols.

Consequently as soon as I was an adult, I endeavoured to spend as much time in England as possible. Its weather suited my constitution along with the beer and English women. I am not quite sure what it is but the water in the North of England lends itself to making the best ale in the world. Culturally I was attracted to the UK because of the great writers it has produced from Shakespeare to William Blake. The music enthralled me and it still does. Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Thunder or Black Sabbath. I would dare not try to count the genres of music that have emanated from this small country (the size of my home state of Maine).

My politics too sprang from this isle. I am a libertarian inspired by the great post-enlightenment thinkers who earlier inspired my country’s revolution. The filter that was English political thought took the ideas of the Greeks, the French enlightenment and turned them into something special. My recent inspirations range from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher. Men and women of determination are always welcome here in the political realm and none more than these two.

As to the daily joys, it may seem a bit twee that I think of warm flat bitter ale, drizzle, loud music and good women when I think of England. But these are what so enthralls me about the country. So enamoured am I with all these, but especially of one British woman, that I have married my own English Rose and we have settled in North London.

Some may say the England I admire no longer exists, that I am a nostalgic old fool. I would respectfully disagree. I would reply that all those things I admire are still here under the surface of the froth, political correctness and heat that is modern politics and culture. It’s all there if you know where to look.

England still enthralls, inspires, fascinates and infuriates in equal measure. Long may it remain the source for all those emotions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Ian Dodge is the blogger behind Dodgeblogium.

Tim Daw

The England I believe in is a Taurean, placid, tolerant place – bucolic and green; but when tweaked capable of violence and rage.

It is the England of the countryside, especially of the soft Wiltshire Downs where I live. Gently scarred by our ancestors as they worked and worshiped the soil. Each acre tells its history and its continuity of centuries of use. As the land nurtures us we also give back and make the

The strange tarmac and concrete of our cities seem alien but around corners suddenly a small slice of our heritage reveals itself and suddenly I am transported back to the England of our past. I knew our Island Story before I ever knew our cities and so they will always be seen through the lens of history. The new and vibrant are discordant with a sense of belonging. But the wonder of our culture is that what is good and lasting is absorbed and becomes part of it.

We are not a nation founded on race but on a common culture, respects and language. I have been in “England” on the Pacific shore, under the African sky and in the snows of the Rockies. We are not constrained by geography, creed, breeding or birth – open to all who wish to belong.

Our history means we are feared and despised by many but were a benefactor to most. Maligned both abroad and also at home, lied about so much the truth is hard to find. But good people everywhere still like us. We have been put upon and yoked by foreign rulers, but remain strong enough to make it through such times to regain its freedoms.

My England is different to Your England but Our England is a grand place; worth fighting for.

Tim Daw is a farmer, and a long barrow builder, he lives in Wiltshire.

John Redwood

England is a summer’s day by a river in a wooded valley, an afternoon on the cricket field, strawberries at Wimbledon, and well kept gardens in leafy suburbs. It is seeing Shakespeare enacted at the Globe, hearing William Byrd and Handel. It is a way of life and a way of thinking.

At their best Englishmen and women believe in fair play, freedom and tolerance. We want to live and let live. We are Tolkein’s hobbits of the Shire. Our land is fertile, our climate temperate, our island disposition makes us interested in the wider world but beholden to no foreign empire. We are confident of our island, its protecting seas and its traditions. We hold our heads high because we have not been conquered for a thousand years, we are proud of our democratic traditions, we take delight in our past and present enterprise and economic success, we are pleased our ancestors fought to free others on the continent of Europe.

I remember once showing a Russian visitor the House of Commons. I talked to him about the portrait paintings on the walls: the winners and the losers, the establishment figures and the rebels, cavaliers and roundheads, free traders and interventionists, Labour, Liberals and Conservatives, monarchists and republicans. He replied after a while “How wonderful it must be to live in a country which is at peace with its past”. We see nothing wrong with celebrating Cromwell and Charles under the same roof, for their conflict produced the 1660 settlement and in turn the Glorious Revolution.

England has been settled since 1660. Our near neighbours have had revolutions, military dictatorships and radical constitutional upheavals in later centuries. I might have been a Parliamentarian in 1640, but would probably have been more in sympathy with the royalists by 1645 and would have objected to the killing of the King. I like to think I would have been a slave trade abolitionist, a free trader against expensive corn, an enthusiastic advocate of the wider franchise when reform Bills came to the Commons. I want our current Parliaments to further the long march of everyman and woman to be an owner of business and shares, as well as a voter and a property owner. The English story is far from complete. Everyman and woman has come a long way in three hundred years, but there is much further I would like him and her to travel.

The English story is now interwoven with the British story. Some of us are happy with the Union, others now chafe at it. We all agree that the future of our Union will evolve and will be settled by arguments and votes, not by guns and bullets. That is the English way, and is often also the UK way.

John Redwood is the Conservative MP for Wokingham in Berkshire.

Julia Stapleton

I grew up near one of the naval ports on the south coast when Britain could still be described as a maritime nation. The immediate horizon was set by battleships, uniforms, barracks and forts, not the most prepossessing side of the country. By contrast, there was an exotic air about many of my school fellows, born in far-flung places wherever there was a British base. Our enviably thick stamp and postcard albums reflected a certain global consciousness courtesy of a navy that was still on worldwide patrol. In these circumstances it often seemed that England was ‘no place’, overshadowed to a much greater extent than Scotland and Wales by the institutions of the British state and the commitments of an empire, albeit an empire in decline. In the absence of any formal provision at school for addressing such issues, still less cultivating patriotism of any description, the sense of Englishness could easily have gone by the board.

And yet there were historic ships in this midst as well, lovingly preserved and quietly but powerfully suggestive of a proud and heroic past that was as much English as British; this was without the benefit of hard marketing that has made defence, no less than other areas of national life, big heritage business, and all the more effective for being unspoken. Then there were war memorials, sites of commemoration but not bitterness and recrimination – unlike countries whose borders had been overrun in two world wars – nor the smugness of the victor. There was also a tolerance that made those outside the mainstream, i.e. Anglican, culture seem different, but their differences in beliefs and practices were treated as being in no way anyone’s business but their own, a feeling that was fully reciprocated. There was, too, contact with folk songs in primary school evoking English streams, vales and woods and something of what Yehudi Menhuin memorably described as “the infinitely shaded green of the English summer”. The many varieties of fruit and vegetables – each with their own distinctively English names – testified to the fertile nature of the soil. Looking back, the impression can only be one of immense good fortune in being born into a society that enjoyed such natural geographical advantages, and with few hang-ups about itself.

It was of course true that the cohesion of this society was somewhat fragile, on the surface at least, with class divisions that were especially apparent in the armed forces. But the gaps were by no means unbridgeable, and did not preclude mutual respect. Indeed, class might be seen as one of many distance-setting mechanisms which have maintained the liberty of the English nation, and what G.K. Chesterton termed the “sleepy sanity” of its people. Class also made for some of the best English comedy, nowhere more so than in Dad’s Army and the tension between the grammar-school educated Captain Mainwaring and the public-school educated Sergeant Wilson.

Much of this is fast disappearing, especially a lush countryside, given over to developers. But while the erosion of some aspects of England, ‘old style’, may be for the best, there is little now to replace the strong but invisible threads on which a common sense of Englishness hung in the past; certainly not the heavy-handed attempt by government to foster identities based more upon ideals of ‘citizenship’ forged in Europe than indigenous sensibilities.

Julia Stapleton is a Reader in Politics at the University of Durham.