What does it mean to be English today?
It means that you are someone who feels at home within the UK and can feel proud about elements of our history, whilst feeling empowered enough to play a role as a citizen within the country. Basically, feeling English does not mean being related to a homogenous society but about feeling that you have a stake in the country and its past and future.
What do the English think of England?
Good question. I would like to believe that we are proud of where we have got as a country, though obviously in my opinion, our politicians have made some political decisions that I disagree with.
What do the English think of Britishness?
I believe that there are differing views on this. Some feel that the two are identical; some may feel that the two are distinct. However, some may associate Britishness with values and ideals and sometimes, I am afraid to say that xenophobia creeps into the agenda. Increasingly, the issue of values to Britishness has been proposed time and time again by politicians.
How do others see England and the English?
As being (1) quite formal or reserved (2) exclusive (3) wealthy (4) following rules or rules driven (5) some may see support for actions like the invasion of Iraq as being driven by the need for resources and being mandated by the public which was not exactly true (6) Having a rich history – though this can be seen in a positive and negative light depending on whether, for example, countries were colonised or not colonised.
Is Englishness a spiritual inheritance or does it only describe the condition of living in England?
In my opinion, it describes the condition of living in England . I am testament to that. I feel a part of the country even though the history of the country has clashed with my own ancestral history just 150 years ago. Soldiers of the rapacious East India Trading Company, who by defacto, did some of the bidding for the Government prior to the 1870’s, murdered and exiled many of my ancestral relatives in Mughal Delhi. If I was to believe in a spiritual inheritance in being English or Englishness, I could say that there was a spiritual inheritance to identity and whilst I believe that people may be receptive to their past ancestral histories, dwelling on just this fact can be dangerous.
Does Englishness have a nature or is there only history?
Both. I think that we can associate behaviours and traits to identities like being English or ‘Englishness.’ As I said earlier, there are also deep historical elements. I suspect that for migrants to England , there has to be some form of selective history absorption and this may sound contentious, but there have been times when the history of Britain and its actions have left deep scars on the international landscape. It is extremely difficult to just accept the complete history of Britain and its legacies across the world, some of which have led to wars and foreign policy catastrophes. Yet, there have also been many times when Britain has left positive legacies and where the English have generated and supported other peoples and nations.
Finally, I would like to add that there has been much talk about migrants and identity and about Englishness, etc. In my opinion, migrants from the Commonwealth such as from East Africa arrived in this country with a better knowledge of the culture and mental make up of residents because of the legacy of colonialism. For some politicians to assume that migrants are not aware of the ‘laws of the Land and how things are done in the UK ,’ is simplistic and not accurate.
Is Englishness a political or a cultural idea or is it both?
Is the cheapest form of pride national pride (as Schopenhauer thought) or is national pride essential to modern England?
I personally think that national pride is not essential to a modern Britain . Yet, it does play a role in inspiring people and that leads to actions that further promote the country which in turn inspire people. So it is cyclical. Therefore, it has a role, but it is not essential. More than anything, how we treat others and how we engage within a fast shifting global environment will make more difference to our country and how we are perceived. This I believe, is very important.
Where does England fit in the new, devolved United Kingdom?
It is learning to play a role as a partner with Wales , Scotland and Northern Ireland.
How does England connect with Europe?
It has a love hate relationship. We all love the holidays in Europe and enjoy the food and dare I say it, we all love the continental feel of Europe. Yet, there is also a feeling that we want to maintain our distance ideologically and in terms of identity. I personally feel that the future of England is firmly within Europe and playing a leading role within it. Putting one step in and then another step out makes us look as though we are not committed. We should be and with globalization affecting all countries, we will no doubt move towards the leading role in Europe.
What is the distinctive place of England in global culture?
We influence global culture in many ways. Language, football, music and research, though the latter and its influence is being overtaken by countries such as China and India . Even countries like Iran , with their investment in stem cell research, are potential competitors and mean that our research influence is slowly starting to have less of an impact.
Fiyaz Mughal OBE FCMI,
Cllr for Noel Park – London Borough of Haringey,
Adviser to the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Interfaith and Preventing Radicalisation and Extremism. Member of the Federal Policy Committee – Liberal Democrats