We are who we are by our parents’ genes, by our inheritance of history and culture and our own experience of life.
That inheritance of history may reach back to a time before one’s family came to this island – in the case of my father’s line, in the 16th century. So, to be English today is to be an inheritor of the most powerful language in the world – literature, art, science and technology, even sport, which have done so much to shape the world, and a philosophy or culture of government which has permeated not just the Anglosphere but great countries such as India.
We English are not an introspective people. We rarely think about England (except in the field of sport) unless something malfunctions. As for Britishness, that wider concept is a way of sharing with others living in this kingdom their history and culture and our own. It provides a banner around which we can all rally for mutual aid and strength.
Since the English have influenced and been influenced by almost every other nation we know that how others see us is as much about what they are as what we are. From time to time, if it seems to affect our interests we become anxious about that, especially if we are seen as weak, a soft touch or an unreliable friend, but being mostly content within our collective English skin we are neither extrovert nor introspective and leave others to make of us what they will.
Tolerant as we are, we do not require outsiders who come to live there to put on an English identity – but we do ask that they respect not just us but our English house – its fabric and its customs. Should they not like it we would not wish to detain them there – but if they and their children wish to join our tribe we see no reason to discriminate either against them or in their favour.
Quietly, as we look back at what the English family has done, what it has given to the wider world, we take pride – not arrogant nor puffed up pride, but honest pride in our history. That pride is patriotism and without it societies disintegrate into no more than crowds jostling for shoulders in one place.
For the English the modern cry for devolution sounds like a struggle to put back the clock and chop up the United Kingdom which has been of mutual benefit to all us British islanders. If that is what the others want so be it, but they should not think that they can have both their independence bun and their halfpenny too.
However, the concept of England is changing. The false doctrines of multiculturalism and the authoritarians preaching the doctrine of the big state ruling a citizenry denied the strengths of family and of religion and of history, has ruptured the English consensus. A growing underclass, the like of which England had not seen for centuries, rootless, feckless, ill educated and violent, has begun to infest England’s great cities. The ballast of the respectable working and middle class families is shifting.
They may look for a while at outsiders from the Continent of Europe to resolve our difficulties – as the Romans and Normans did in their time – and the political classes of Brussels are eager to do today. Or they may look to an English hero – a twenty first century King Alfred – to define as he did what it meant to be English.
His victory at Edington was the birth of England and the English which led through to the Magna Carta, the Tudors, the Empire, the Reform Acts and the 20th century wars to the flowering of an English culture whose power and reach has been rivaled only by that of China at its greatest.
The English must soon choose. To succumb like Italy after Rome – or to rediscover what Alfred found in Wessex a thousand years ago.
The Rt Hon Lord Tebbit, Conservative politician and former Member of Parliament for Chingford.