Ask me what England means to me, and it’s images that first spring to mind: Leicestershire bridleways, Cornish cliffs, Lutyens country houses, flashes of a Jaguar XK 150 on a country lane. Soon the other senses join in: the smell of wood-smoke and wet dog on an autumn day; the sharp creaminess of a really good Long Clawson blue stilton; the smooth taste and deep satisfaction to be drawn from a pint of London Pride from the wood. Memories are stirred: Thames-side pubs gliding by on boating holidays with my father 50 years ago, or dinners in brilliant pub-restaurants that belie our dreadful reputation for English food.
But England is more than the soil under our feet, or the rain laden clouds overhead. There are corners of many a foreign field forever England. We must not shy away from our history, as those on the left would have us believe, but take a proper pride in it, for it is a history of invention and intervention, of export of world-changing technologies, certainly, but also our system of law, our sense of fair play. Is any country’s past whiter than white? I don’t pretend that ours is perfect, but it is wrong to dismiss or deny the good that was done in an effort to atone for mistakes that were made.
Whenever the public is called upon to compile a list of English achievements, television, the steam train, and penicillin are all commonly quoted but are, of course, Scottish achievements. Scottish nationalists may spin this as yet another English attempt to subjugate the Scots, but I believe that in the minds of many of our citizens, British achievements, be they by a Scot, a Welshman or an Englishman, are all equal sources of pride. Certainly, I have the same fondness for the landscape of the West Coast of Scotland as I do for those Cornish cliffs. During my business career I spent four years in the whisky industry — and have the liver to prove it — and have as healthy a respect for a dram of whisky as I do for a pint of real ale.
Thinking of Scotland, here in Brussels we have just had our annual Burns night supper. Passing the Piper on the way in I felt a sense of pride. Knowing that Burns, a wayward poet from days long passed, was this evening being celebrated the world over, I was proud to call myself a fellow Brit. Luckily for me on this occasion we were not invited to dance, although the musical entertainment, by a trio of young fiddlers, was both rousing and extremely well performed. However, if we had been it would not have been my first time: as an expat in far flung Asia I was once inveigled into Scottish country dancing!
Your memories of England, and of Britain, may not be the same as mine. But my advice is the same: wear your patriotism with pride!
Roger Helmer is Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands.