John Hemming

Going back to the year 600 my family invaded what became Mercia and is now the Midlands. The local emperor Offa who was part of the Hemming clan and a descendant of the Danish emperor Hemming (see Beowulf) expanded the empire until it stretched as far as London.

To that extent I am perhaps a typical Englishman with ancestors born in all sorts of places (including Ireland and Uttar Pradesh). What England means to me beyond the geographical boundaries and what it means to be English has to be seen from that perspective.

It is said that the Far East has a perspective of life that is known as the “sticking out nail” that means that people varying from the norm are forced back into line.

To me England is a country which has since 1066 been independent and has developed a tolerance of variety and a desire for individual freedom. At the same time, however, there is value given to altruism and a respect for people who live their lives on the basis of principles rather than obedience.

Although in the 1850s the UK had perhaps 50% of the global GDP, I see England traditionally as a country that does not overvalue money. The willingness of clerics and others to work for the intrinsic value of what they do rather than because of pure cash is part of that.

Similarly a respect for the rule of law and a desire to do things that are “in order” is something that I see as linked to England.

The willingness to trust strangers has been described by Robert Puttnam as “social capital” and has been linked to the willingness to do voluntary work. England established many of the worlds international voluntary organisations such as the Scouts and developed many sports. I believe that arose from a weaker state allowing individual creativity to thrive.

Sadly many of these values have decayed. Parliament does need to accept some responsibility for the way in which it leads and responds to changing attitudes. The white collar corruption in some professional services that is driven by financial priorities has effects wider than merely the spheres in which it occurs.

Obviously there are traditional concepts of the village green and cricket that are seen by some to be typically English. However, the English have been mainly town dwellers for some time so it has to be the values of England that are key.

I think it is possible to change the direction of travel back towards a more traditional English set of values. The first step, however, has to be to recognise the need to change and that some changes are not irreversible.

John Hemming is the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley.