The essence of England lies in her institutions. They are respected because they incorporate the distilled wisdom and acceptability of generations. Many are of considerable age, because England has not had the trauma of a bloody revolution (except in the 17th century and the situation was restored within twenty years) or of being occupied by a foreign power. This gives our institutions a long lived continuity, but they all adapt continually to changing circumstances. Our Monarchy stands at the centre of national life and the Westminster Parliament and government can trace 1000 years of its evolution (England was described as “The Mother of Parliaments” 150 years ago).
There are many other English institutions which have evolved and stood the test of time. Some are official (but independent of the Government) and all pervasive throughout the land: The Church of England, the Common Law and the whole legal system; the police and respect for law and for order; the armed forces of the Crown, Guardsmen and all. Others may be newer and not part of the state, but they embody similar principles: The National Trust; The Lifeboat Institution; the great national charities; the BBC; the sporting bodies who manage the games we evolved – cricket, football (of three kinds), horse racing , and more.
Other institutions, old and new, are smaller and more local – Universities and their Colleges, Schools, Hospitals, Lord Mayors and Mayors, Charities, from alms houses to the newest hospices, and clubs of every kind, from the Livery Companies in London and other cities; the “Gentlemen’s Clubs” of St James’s; the Womens’ Institute in villages and “Working Men’s” Clubs in the North. Some are “one offs” like the Chelsea Pensioners’ Hospital, others occur in different forms like the County Agricultural Shows.
The people who run these institutions, large and small, cherish their piece of England’s heritage and do their best to hand it over to their successors enhanced. They see their time in office as service to the community. So England evolves at her own pace, not essentially set by the Government of the Day, but the product of her citizens’ efforts for the common good. We respect one another and cherish the best we have inherited.
Lord (John) Cope of Berkeley is a former MP, now a Life Peer and Vice-President of the Royal Society of St George.