Friday, July 18, 2008

Affairs Of State

Recently, as one does of a Friday morning, I was wandering through the blogosphere, looking for things to read.

Eventually, I wound up at

Here the case is put for an English Parliament to offset the new Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, created in the early years of Blairdom. This case relates closely to the West Lothian complaint: that sense that the Celtic countries of the UK have an unreasonable influence over purely English affairs. I may write further about the West Lothian question at a later date, as well as the related proposals to establish an English Parliament for English issues. This morning, however, I was given to meditate on the deeper, broader question of the identity and constitution of my country as a whole. That is, England, the largest country of the as yet still, just about, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I was fired up to this end after reading about how, in Chris Abbott’s opinion, Alan Duncan, the Shadow Trade Secretary, had been insufficiently concerned in a recent article he’s written, to safeguard and consider England’s interests, inclining too much to emphasise Britain’s identity above that of England’s.

Chris Abbott took umbridge with Duncan’s emphasis on the so-called ‘Regions’ of England. Yorkshire, said Duncan, was a region, when in fact, of course, well at least as far as England is concerned, as opposed to the European Union, it is a county (or three counties, to be precise). Then after quoting Duncan as saying this:

But we still need to do more to target areas of the UK that are failing to keep pace with the rest of the country.

Abbott replied: The UK - a country? Surely it's a Union of countries?

At which point, not disagreeing but feeling the Realm shattered and broken, supine on the floor beneath me, I felt encouraged to take up me ‘pen’ (if you see what I mean). I then proceeded, it might be supposed, to have ‘gone off on one’, as the curious idiom would have it:

Yes the UK is a union of countries, not regions. Just as England is a union of counties; and counties, so one hopes, a union of cities, towns and villages, each of which are unions, or so one hopes, of neighbourhoods and families - which are, again, or so one hopes, unions of individuals who don't hate each other too much.

This, to me, is the natural, healthy order of things. No I'm not saying 'There is no such thing as Society', but we do need, I feel, to return to our roots, to the familiar, to what is most at home about ourselves.

The UK is essentially two things: The shared face that our four countries show to the world, and a statement of our common bonds of cultural affinity, bonds that understand themselves as rooted in the lands of the British Isles and united around a common allegiance to the Crown.

To me The Union Jack is a Monarchical expression of the Union of the British peoples around the Crown. It is not the flag of England, and obviously not the flag of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (though these nations (except Wales, alas) express themselves through it). There really should be no tensions or confusions regarding this matter.

Personally, I have no problem being both English and British. But I am not Welsh, nor Scottish nor Northern Irish. Indeed I would expect a person from these countries to get upset with my presumptiousness if I ever claimed that I was.

But the problem is, if you take away my right to be English, this will mean either that I will have to become Welsh or Scottish or Northern Irish OR that all of our British peoples will also have been deprived of their rights to identify themselves with their respective countries.

Is this what Europe wants, I wonder?

Actually, my comment has not yet been approved. Maybe the webmaster thinks I’m some kind of nutter.

Or maybe he’s a Republican. Not sure that that should matter too much, though. I would question the relevance of this issue to the basic bond of English patriotism that we share. After all, the role of the Crown is to defend the laws and liberties of the British Peoples, so Monarchists and Republicans should always be able at the very least to agree that what is most important in our form of government is that it discharge this duty to our freedoms and our dignity.

As for why I would prefer Monarchy to a Republic, that is a whole separate question. But it is perhaps instructive to remember that the last time we experimented with a Republic, the experiment came to an end not because the Monarchist forces wrested the country back from the Roundheads by force, but because the Army, fearing anarchy, asked Charless II to come back. And even before this, let us not forget, Cromwell himself had been offered the Crown, though he declined it, assuming its functions in all but name. Our innate preference for Monarchy has already been shown – and this preference, despite the best efforts of a scurrilous and vapid media to sell newspapers through scandalous reportage, seems, despite all modernist suppositions that it should not have endured, to have nonetheless endured.

On the other hand, maybe Chris Abbott didn't post my comment because he wants to see a dissolution of the Union?


Zenobia said...

Perhaps he's upset because the Minister tries to pretend that he's talking about the UK when, due to devolution, the only place he can legislate for is England. Now, as he cannot actually admit to that, he has to pretend that the 'unamed' place is actually a new conglomeration of ubiquitous 'regions', when actually it is England whose historical subdivision has always been to counties. Perhaps

gadgie said...

The Tories are no better than the lib/dems or New Labour when it come to making clear who they are talking about.The Libs do have a disclaimer on any press releases saying who they are talking about,(England) or (England and Wales), but then they will stil rabbit on about britain or the uk.
All the political parties have played a massive con trick on England since devolution.
The bbc fell into line with regions and nations and steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the existence of England in their reports. We're hoping the new bbc enforcer will force mp's and journalists to clearly say which country they are refering to in future.

Gadgie said...

coincidence, but here is a letter to the scotsman today.

"BBC bias against the English

« Previous « PreviousNext » Next »View GalleryTHE BBC's response to Professor Anthony King's criticism that its journalists pass off English stories as 'British' was to point out, correctly, that the Government, led by Gordon Brown, does exactly the same thing ('Tartan enforcers target BBC bias', July 13).
Brown and other members of his Government use the term 'this country' to describe policies that only apply to England. One would not know, for example, that an item about the NHS applies only to England. It is not just that the BBC does not give enough attention to the devolved nations but also that both the BBC and the Government try to avoid reminding the English that they are, well, English. They are worried that the English might realise they too are a nation and a nation without its own government.

Viewers and listeners in England will be only too pleased if as a result of Professor King's report both the Government and the BBC start to come clean about what applies to England and what doesn't. Some people in England have been complaining about the BBC's institutional anti-Englishness and its British bias for years. It takes the Scottish mafia to get something done".

Ian Campbell, West Horsley, Surrey

Jonathan said...

Thanks for your comments.

Zenobia: Yes I'm sure you are right (though Westminster does still have real influence in some matters affecting the Celtic nations). I was wondering, though, whether he may have disliked my Monarchical perspective, and my belief in the UK. After all, one could totally share the thought that England needs to be defended against an advancing anti-Englishness, while still disagreeing about the future status of the UK, its ultimate rationale, and whether England needs a Parliament. I am not of firm opinion about the English Parliament question. I can see potential dangers in it. On the other hand, I could see how some version could work. The question , though, is what effects its existence will have on the integrity of the UK, and whether or not we want to keep it going. Matters, of course are always complicated by prospects of Scottish independence (which would arrive as fait accompli), and the very sense in which our ability to be a sovereign group of peoples at all is brought into question by the EU.

Gadgie: Thanks for info about the enforcer. Sounds dramatic (at least in theory). Will look into it.

I need to reflect more on the motivations behind so many Politicians' reluctance to use the England word when it is appropriate. Find how many cans of worms are festering there, and of what type. Or whether this reluctance, and to what degree, is motivated by the fear that speaking of England would increase pressures to weaken the integrity of the UK. After all, Labour said at the time of Devolution that it in no way wanted to weaken the UK - and that Devolution would not weaken it. Events don’t seem to have panned out in quite that way. Perhaps they fear that by detaching the English people’s’ identity from Britain and moving it more officially onto England, by speaking more of England, the prospects for the UK would get even shakier. Not that I approve of the dishonesty involved nonetheless.