Noel Currid

I think of myself as an old-style English Radical in my politics, somewhere on the Left. I see the English people, whatever their origins, as having struggled for centuries to reverse the effects of the “Norman Yoke” . When I was about eight, living in a Labour-voting (or, more accurately, Tory-hating) household in the West Midlands, I remember learning at school about the Roman and Viking invasions of England and how they left eventually. Then when learning about the Normans, the obvious question to me was “when did the Normans leave?” I never got a decent answer at the time. As I got older the obvious answer was “never”, but l knew from the callous destruction of much of the West Midlands’ industrial base under the Thatcher regime that we were a nation of lions led by donkeys. When I was 19 I came across the Levellers in the English Civil Wars and their idea of the “Norman Yoke” which deprived the “free-born” Anglo-Saxons of their liberties after 1066. Ever since, I have basically held onto the idea that England is still under the thrall of a much-modified “Norman Yoke”. The faces and names may change (and if your ancestors came over in 1066 I don’t hold you personally responsible for anything!) but “the Thing”, to quote William Cobbett, has persisted for centuries. Its “golden thread” , to coin a phrase, runs from the “Harrying of the North”, Magna Carta (a baron’s carve-up), the Glorious Revolution (a banker’s coup d’état) all the way up to New Labour’s paeans to “New Britishness”.

Why does anyone on the Left have hang-ups about the idea of being English? It sure beats the idea of Britishness. For about two decades I’ve thought the whole concept of Britishness (for which my spellchecker suggests “Brutishness“) as an idea whose time has gone. The only question is how we give the United Kingdom a decent burial. However, too many on the Left hold onto the idea of Britishness, fearing Englishness. However, how on Earth can holding onto the ideology of a big business dominated imperial state, which is in its death throes, be progressive? There is simply no “Britishness”, new or otherwise, that political progressives can subscribe to and be true to their ideals. It is a concept too weighed down by the gap between its democratic, enlightened rhetoric and the sordid reality that the British state has presided over for centuries.

Instead the Left should embrace English Radicalism, which inspired thinkers and movements such as the Levellers, Tom Paine, William Cobbett, the Chartists, the mutualist and co-operative movements, William Morris, the pre-1914 syndicalists and Guild Socialists such as GDH Cole. It was driven underground politically by the triumph of “top-down” socialism, in both its Fabian and Leninist forms, after 1918. Now that global “top-down” models of organising society, whether by states or corporations, are under attack from decentralising, democratic tendencies, it is time for the English Left to embrace a national identity that accords with the spirit of the age.

It also means we need a national identity that draws upon one of the most abused phrases in modern politics: “Little Englander“. The original “Little Englanders” were patriotic radicals who were opposed to the Empire building that underlay Britain’s participation in the 1899-1902 Boer War. Our nation can only be at ease with itself when we abandon imperial adventures, whether our own or on behalf of the USA or EU, and realise that our real gifts to the world are our language, our culture and our sense of humour, none of which the Normans gave us! (”Taking the piss” is something that William the Conqueror, Oliver Cromwell, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair would never appreciate!). We should become a country where, to quote Orwell, we “hate to see England either humiliated or humiliating anyone else.”

I was born in Walsall in the Black Country two weeks before the end of 1969. My mother was also born in the Black Country. My father was born in County Sligo. He came over in 1948 at the age of six after his dad served in the British Army during WW2 (and was to again in Korea in the early 1950s). However, I think of myself as English rather than British, and have done for 30 odd years. My blog is at:

Andrea Cox

Editor’s note: The following essay was originally entitled “All I want to be is British” but it reveals humourous insights into how others see us, the English.

Anyone who knows me, and some people do know me, knows I really want to be British. Nay, that I, in fact, SHOULD’VE been British but by some fluke or accidental “heaven to earth” tube slide mix up – I ended up in the sticks of Utah (I’ve always had the image in my head of little babies sliding down “heavenly” tubes to earth – I don’t know why). Sigh. It’s okay – there are probably a lot of ethereal tubes leading from heaven to every imaginable place in the world, and I’m sure a little mix up happens once in a while. Whatever happened, somewhere deep in my heart, I feel that Britishness, or Englishness rather, would suit me just fine!

Why British?

  • The British are dryly hilarious. I love British humor and ever since I can recall, my particular form of humor (although dashed with some American sarcasm and slap-stick guffaws) is really very British. Witty, but not obtrusively so. Clever most certainly! It’s a smart humor that most Americans can’t fully appreciate. And of course – we must make our humor “bigger and better” which is what we do with everything – but really – is bigger (louder, annoying, pushy) better? No Texas. It isn’t!
  • The British Don’t Touch Each Other. I’ve never been a touchy or particularly affectionate individual. In High School – when girls all hugged each other and held hands (was that just my High School? Hmmm), I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t really want anything to do with hugging all over the boys either. As far as true affections go – I’m quite reserved and distant. It’s not a “defense mechanism” or anything of the sort – it’s just how I am. And it’s just how the British are too.
  • The British are Proper and Polite. I also feel I’m quite proper when the situation calls for such propriety, as well as rather polite. Sure, I have my little vices here and there – I think poop is funny – but all in all, I like the proper way of things such as “loading the dishwasher properly” or “politely clapping after a horrible performance or play.” They also are concerned that you “mind your head” and likewise “mind the gap” so’s not to injure yourselves while using their conveniant public transportation systems.

What I like About Britishness/Englishness

  • Spelling. Favourites. Shoppe. Colours. Yes yes. I think it adds a little something – er – other than the obvious
  • Street Names. None of this Jefferson Avenue or Bart Blvd nonsense. Or even worse, 13th East and 4th South. No no. The have names like “Little Winging” or “NewCastle Up-On-Tyne” or “Kensington and High Street” or “Notting Hill.” I also enjoy the “Shires” (said “sure.” It’s not Lord of the Rings) – Lancashire, Devonshire, etc.
  • They Name Their Houses. This is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the English tradition; their modest homes with over growing gardens and fences to keep out the rabbits. I could live in “Rose Cottage” or “Meadow Glen” or “Hamstead Heath.” Lovely.
  • Sweet Shoppes. Enough Said. Oh! Sherbet Lemons. Now, enough said.
  • Vernacular: Bubble and Squeak, Sausage and Mash, knickers and trousers, trainers, and jumpers. I also like saying Vitamins and Aluminium with a British accent…which brings me too
  • The British Accent. An Englishman could say “there’s a hole in my sock” and it would sound smart – Posh London style anyway. It’s an entirely amiable way of speaking and only adds to the overall pleasure being of the British. Don’t mind me a right “Ello Gov’na!” either!
  • The History. Roman Baths. Royal Heritage. They’ve been around the political block a number of times. The House of Lords and the House of Commons sounds much better than “The House of Representatives” and “Congress.” They’ve got cemeteries with gravestones dating back centuries. They’ve got Westminster, Tower of London, London Bridge, Big Ben and Parliament! What haven’t they got??? I wish I could say McDonalds and Starbucks but dammit – they DO have those. Sigh. Stupid American Big Business.
  • The English Countryside. Oh yes, absolutely ideal. Literary even.
  • Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Bath, the Cliff’s of Dover, Brighton, LONDON, Canterbury, Manchester, Wales!
  • Pasties! Mmmm, pasties. No you sicky’s – not in the “barely covering nipple” kind either. Psh. Pull yourselves together.
  • Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Jane Austin, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Bronte’s, William Shakespeare, Milton, JK Rowling “gasp” I better stop.
  • Tea. Duh. Translates into “tea breaks.”
  • The Tube
  • 2 hr train ride to France
  • REAL Chocolate – none of this Hershey’s nonsense
  • Nannys – Mary Poppins!
  • Boarding Schools – (better educational system in general)
  • Socialized Health Care

THUS! You can see what I mean don’t you? There are so many reasons why 1 – I should rightly be English and 2. Why anyone in their right mind can see WHY I have this desire. I went to London for 6 weeks on a Study Abroad through the University of Utah. 6 weeks was not enough – it was a mockery – but I did solidify my desire to join the ranks of Britishdom for a season, or two. When I go back, I’m going back to stay. God Save the Queen!

Andrea Cox is a 24 year old graduate of English Teaching and French from the University of Utah. Currently residing in Provo, Utah where she works for the Independent Study Program at Brigham Young University as well as researching and writing for an anti-pornography company based in Orem, Utah called Andrea plans on getting her Masters Degree in British Literature at BYU, emphasis is the rise of feminist literature in Great Britain, and eventually getting a Ph.d at a University in England somewhere, anywhere, they will accept her.

Ian Campbell

Until quite recently I never thought very much about being English. England was simply home. 20 years ago if anyone asked me my nationality I have said British. Oddly enough, it is only in Scotland that I am immediately recognised as an Englishman. I have been mistaken for an Italian (in France), an Irishman (on the ferry to Dun Laoghaire), a member of the Romany people (at university), an Austrian (in Germany), a Norwegian (in Norway and by a Norwegian taxi-driver!) so perhaps I am not a typical Englishman.

When Mr Callaghan and then Mr Blair proposed a devolved Scottish Parliament this seemed a good idea. I assumed naively that if the experiment were successful the same offer would be made to England. When I learned that the Government had no plans to hold an English referendum I joined the Campaign for an English Parliament in the hope that we could persuade the Government to do what was fair, just and democratic. It was Mr Prescott who turned me into an English nationalist. The discovery that our British government had decided to partition England made me realise that we English must stand up for and reclaim our country. You sometimes never know what you value until you are in danger of losing it. After our family, our nation is the strongest bond.

Although I was born and brought up in the small town of Luton in England and my mother was English, my father was a patriotic Scotsman – there is of course no other kind. As a child, Scotland was for me a different, interesting and exciting place where we met relatives we did not see very often. I knew that England and Scotland were different countries though both were part of Britain. I always knew that I was partly Scottish – my friends treated me as if I were Scottish. I was first taken to Scotland, in the cab of a lorry, when I could barely stand. My father humorously claimed that the air was different as soon as one crossed the border. He was quite serious later on when he made me promise that if he had the misfortune to die in England I would ship his body back to Scotland for burial. When very small, my sister and I could count up to ten in Gaelic and the first songs we learnt were in Gaelic. Even at school, we had a dashing Scots teacher who made sure that, for little English boys, we were unusually well-informed about Robert the Bruce and his battle axe, William Wallace and his two-handed sword and of course the Battle of Bannockburn. My father was a piper as well as a Gaelic speaker and when we were older my sister and I did our homework in the living room to the tremendous sound of pipes as my father and his friend patrolled round the room practising their tunes. The volume of sound indoors made by two pipers was impressive and did wonders for our powers of concentration. We frequently took holidays in Scotland when I was a child – visiting relations in Port Glasgow, the Isle of Skye, the Isle of Tiree, or the Kintyre peninsula. My father’s family came from Tiree but when he was a boy his father and mother had taken three children to the mainland to find labouring work, leaving two children with the grandparents in Tiree. The whole family used to camp in the cottage in Tiree in the summer. None of the family was at all well off but in all my visits to Scotland I have never met the “mean” Scotsman of legend. On the contrary, my Scottish relations and their friends almost overwhelmed us with their hospitality and generosity.

Although very proud of being a Scot, my father was not anti-English. He served as a police officer in England for 30 years and told me that the English had always made him welcome and treated him well. He had no complaints. My mother and her relations seemed a lot more relaxed in their Englishness, as befits the majority indigenous population, but they did not apologise for being English. In those days many English towns still celebrated St George’s Day, a celebration that is now happily returning, and we joined in English and Scottish events, Easter Bonnet parades as well as Highland Games. I was not particularly aware of Englishness but I noticed that my agreeable Scottish cousins thought I was English. I have always enjoyed having one foot in Scotland as a “second country”. My home town had grown considerably from immigration – first in the 19th century when labourers moved in from the surrounding countryside to join in the straw plait trade and hat manufacturing; then in the early 20th century when families came from all over Britain and Ireland to find jobs in motor manufacturing, engineering and building; later still from the middle of the 20th century people arrived from the West Indies, India and Pakistan.

Englishness as I grew up was taken for granted. People frequently said “England” when they meant “Britain”. That annoyed the Scots as did post boxes in Scotland bearing the legend EIIR when of course Queen Elizabeth I had never ruled in Scotland. Then suddenly, around the year 2000, it seemed that England had ceased to exist. It disappeared from EU maps. Following the creation of national assemblies which provided devolution to Scotland and Wales, the British government announced (so quietly that few noticed) that England was to be divided into regions. Over 1000 years of national history was to be set aside in favour of recent, meaningless regions which, apart from Yorkshire, lacked any cultural or historic identity. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister explained that this was because England was “too big” to fit in with the Labour government’s idea of the United Kingdom. It became official policy to refer to the “nations and regions of Britain”. The British government poured money into promoting and researching regional assemblies. All regions were to be offered a referendum. Then as the English began to resist, the first round of referendums was restricted to the North East, the North West and Yorkshire. Finally, the North-East was selected for the first referendum. The British government clearly hoped to achieve a “domino” affect but lost by 78% to 22%. It has not given up. Ministers have been appointed “to represent the Government” in each of the so-called regions. It has now become official policy to call England “Britain”. The Prime Minister, Mr Brown, has announced that “Britishness”, whatever that is, will be taught in English schools but not in Welsh or Scottish schools. He says “this country” (not England) when he refers to health, education and transport in England. Supermarkets flag up Scottish and Welsh produce with their national flags while English produce usually bears only the Union flag. Henry VIII is described as a “British king”.
Poland was partitioned in the 18th Century between Austria, Prussia and Russia and ceased to exist politically until 1919. Despite 150 years of partition, the Poles never forgot that they were Poles. We English are now becoming the “Poles” in partitioned Britain. It has become essential to reclaim and defend our Englishness. Recently I met up with a school-friend I had not seen for nearly 40 years. “When we were at school, Ian,” he told me, “if anyone asked me, I used to say I was British. Now I reply that I am English.” So must we all. I thought I lived in a democracy, protected by the great statutes – Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the Declaration of Rights – and the Common Law of England. No longer. We English have never been asked what sort of government we want for our country. Being English means that in the last resort we must stand up for England and defend our liberties. We are told that devolution is the “price we pay” for the Union. If that price includes the partition of England, it is too high. Those who speak up for England are often denigrated as “Little Englanders”. The term was used in the 19th Century to excoriate those Radical members of the Liberal Party who were opposed to the expansion of the British empire. They did not wish to rule over other peoples. That is probably a majority position today.

1,000 years ago England, already by then a centralised and wealthy country, was seized by the Normans. William the Conqueror built the Tower of London, over which the Union flag now flies. His cronies built castles over England to terrorise the English and snuff out any revolt. Having secured England, the French kings of England turned to Wales, which was finally incorporated into a Greater England under Henry VIII. An English king born in Chinon, Henry II, was the first to sail to Ireland with a great army. The Irish gave in. The Pope had already granted Ireland to Henry as a papal fief. Next the French kings of England turned to Scotland, putting down an insurrection led by William Wallace. They were only defeated when they came up against one of their own, a Norman knight called Robert de Brus who made himself King of Scots. From 1314 until 1707 Scotland maintained a precarious independence from Greater England, briefly united in a Union Parliament under Cromwell. The Acts of Union 1707 were however agreed between the respective Parliaments. Scotland was almost bankrupt and needed access to the English overseas empire. The negotiations were pressed by the English government, anxious to secure Scotland against the French. Money was provided. The threat of military force if the Scots did not come to heel was implied. It was an arranged marriage, with force behind it. The Union was completed in 1801 with the closure of the Irish Parliament.

This is the Union, essentially a guise for Greater England, that the Unionist parties now declare to be sacrosanct because “it makes us stronger”. Stronger to do what? Invade other countries? If the Union is to continue, it should rest on the consent of the people. Many politicians have recognised, in the Claim of Right for Scotland, the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. The UK has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 1 of which recognises the right of peoples to national self-determination. Devolution started a process in Scotland but paradoxically, within Great Britain, England has become a colony itself. No national devolution for England – it is the national equivalent of Middlesex. Sovereignty of the people means that all the British nations have the right to decide whether they wish to have their own national assembly, within or without the Union. They have the right to leave the Union if they wish. British Unionist politicians extol the Union but refuse to test it against the popular will. Outside the UK, peoples have the right to choose. Within the UK, Unionists close down discussion.

So what does it mean to me to be English? My nationality is English but I am a British subject. I am an Englishman who is partly Scottish, just as the son of an immigrant from India may be English. My English nationality is not recognised by the British government. If I speak up for England, I am a “Little Englander”. It seems to me that we need more Little Englanders, and fewer Greater Englanders, so that England can regain its identity, its self-respect, its freedoms and its culture. What began for me as the rediscovery of Englishness has brought me to realise that it is also a quest for democracy. I am happy to be a Little Englander.

Ian Campbell is a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament, the English Democrats Party and the Scottish National Party.