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.