England is the greatest nation on earth: we may cover just a tiny portion of the planet, yet no nation has given humankind as much.
English science and industry heralded the modern age. Our explorers and voyagers opened the world up to itself. Our political and legal systems are copied the world over. Our games – football or cricket or badminton – have gone global. English is the world’s language.
To me, English greatness is not something confined to the past. In fact, I get quite annoyed at people who attempt to define my England exclusively in terms of former glory. My idea of England is more than the nostalgia of “warm beer” and “long shadows on the cricket pitch”. English-ness must not be defined purely in terms of the past, or in terms of some backward looking, bogus past.
England enters the current century greater than she has left any previous one. Our standard of living is higher today than it has ever been. The freedoms we enjoy are more real to more people than ever before. Most of us can choose to live as we please and work as we wish. More than any people anywhere, we today benefit from the miracles of cheap travel and instant global communication.
If anyone should doubt for a moment the blessings of being English today, ask yourself, why is it that millions of people outside England are today prepared to travel half way across the globe to live here? Indeed, it is our very success in creating one of the freest and most prosperous societies on earth that has lead to a problem in that so many other peoples wish to live here.
Looking ahead, I am an optimist – but I see threats to England. The secret of England’s success historically lies in a distinctively English distrust of unaccountable power. Far from “not doing revolutions”, as some historians claim, England has always overthrown unaccountable concentrations of power. It was English barons who first curtailed the powers of kings. It was Englishmen who rose in revolt in the 1640s and English Levellers who first demanded universal democracy. The American revolutionaries of 1766 rose to defend the “liberties of Englishmen”. It was in England in the 1980s that the West first learnt how to dismantle unaccountable concentrations of economic power. These ideas on how to run society and the economy have spread to every corner of the world. England’s greatness comes from this mistrust of unaccountable government.
Yet we are losing the virtues that made England great. Government in England today is becoming increasingly unaccountable. Indeed, our uniquely English system – copied the world over – is being replaced at home by a continental European system of government. England rose to greatness once she broke away from political interference by continental Europe after the reformation. Until that moment we were but a middle ranking European nation. Once free from Europe, we rose to global prominence.
I fear that England’s political establishment is letting us down again. They are taking us back to being a middling European nation.
Government, which since the time of Cromwell answered to the people, is no longer properly accountable to the English.
In order to prosper in the years ahead, England once again needs to break away from Europe. We also need a new English democratic revolution at home. We need to pass power away from the remote and unaccountable elite in Westminster and Whitehall, and give it back to England’s greatest asset – her people.
Douglas Carswell is Member of Parliament for Harwich and Clacton.