English Identity in an Olympic Jubilee Year
Last year the English capital was ablaze with ethnic rioting; this summer it is a sea of flags – both the Union flag of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the St George flag of England (mingled in early summer with the dark blue banner of Chelsea Football Club proudly displayed across West London, as for the second time in a thousand years Stamford Bridge became the symbol of English victory over our European cousins).
Is this mere shallow posturing, an effort to purge from Londoners’ minds any awareness of financial nemesis? Is it a transient phenomenon, a perfect 2012 storm combining Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich to win the European Champions League; Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in June; England’s ultimately feeble effort at the European Championships a few weeks later; and the world attention focused on the Olympic Games in August?
Or is there a more serious re-examination of British and English identity?
Until very recently such questions were confined to the marginalised and demonised: the sort of folk who read Heritage and Destiny! Mainstream politicians would have had automatic answers. The Right was redefined in the late 20th century: traditional Conservatism supplanted by a new Reagan-Thatcher ethos, the bastard child of 19th century Liberalism and post-Second World War “Chicago School” economics. For this “Right”, our identity was defined by the laws of the “free” market – considerations of nationality or race should not be allowed to interfere with the holy laws of the market place.
For equal and opposite reasons, the 20th century Left also rejected the politics of identity. For the followers of Marx and Engels, our identity was defined not by race or nationality but by social class, or more precisely by what they termed “relations of production”. In different historical epochs, we might be defined as serf or lord; worker or capitalist. Traditional Leftists argued that workers should learn to have more in common with each other than they have with capitalists of the same race.
Advocates of the free market Right have tended to be insulated from the real life consequences of their ideology: it’s a lot easier to be colour-blind if you live in Mayfair than if you live in Oldham. So when politicians of the mainstream Right have deployed the “race card” it has tended to be a cynical ploy to win working class votes – and of course it has often succeeded, from Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” to Margaret Thatcher’s carefully-timed nod to Britons’ fears of being “swamped” by immigrants.
Political realists on the Left have also engaged in cynical modification of their ideals. In the years before the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin deliberately appealed to the “oppressed” nationalities of the Russian Empire, from Finns to Ukrainians, offering them “self-determination” as part of his anti-Czarist revolutionary prospectus. Once at war with National Socialist Germany in 1941, Stalin chose to define this conflict not in class or ideological terms but as the “Great Patriotic War”, consciously appealing to Russian traditions and rehabilitating the heritage of Alexander Nevsky and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Since the 1960s the socialist ideal of class-based politics has faded, in what might be seen as the “strange death of Labour England.” Taking their cue from the USA, radical groups have turned to the politics of identity rather than class, promoting agendas of female liberation, black liberation and gay liberation – without much reference to the “relations of production,” but with a great deal of concentration on the lucrative grants to be obtained from central and local government to finance initiatives aimed at any minority group.
Often the competing claims of identity politics contradicted both each other and the traditional values of the Left. A typical example can be seen in the published diaries of Labour left-winger Chris Mullin, who was briefly a junior minister under Tony Blair. On 30th January 2002 Mullin records a discussion with fellow Labour MPs who were concerned about arranged marriages being used as a way to subvert immigration laws. Halifax MP Alice Mahon had said: “People shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind religion or culture any more. This is about human rights.” Mullin comments: “Interesting that people on the left are slowly waking up to the gross abuses perpetrated in the name of multiculturalism. Until now we’ve turned a blind eye, for fear of being labelled racists.”
Somehow forgotten in all this have been those White working class Englishmen who historically formed the backbone of the Labour movement – an oversight which helped the growth of the British National Party during the past decade. Traditional Labour voters who dared complain about the transformation of their neighbourhoods were dismissed as racist “bigots”, the very word used in an accidentally recorded comment by Prime Minister Gordon Brown after a confrontation with a Lancashire pensioner during the 2010 election campaign.
Even before that defeat, Labour analysts (including some at the centre of “anti-racist” campaigns) were beginning a rethink. In 2009 London politics lecturer Maurice Glasman coined the term “Blue Labour” and began calling for the party to move back towards “the centrality of family life, a recognition of the importance of faith, a real commitment to the work ethic, a very casual but nonetheless profound patriotism that people feel about England.”
Where does race fit into this Blue Labour vision? Clearly an awkward subject, not least for Glasman himself (ennobled in 2011 as Lord Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill), who is an observant Jew and a visiting professor at Haifa University in Israel.
Yet Glasman isn’t afraid to point out that immigration has become “the big monster that we don’t like to talk about …an unofficial wages policy.” Labour and the rest of the mainstream Left have come to occupy what Glasman terms a “weird space where we thought that a real assault on the wage levels of English workers was a positive good,” acting in a “very supercilious, high-handed way: there was no public discussion of immigration and its benefits. There was no election that was fought on that basis. In fact there was a very, very hard rhetoric combined with a very loose policy going on. Labour lied to people about the extent of immigration and the extent of illegal immigration and there’s been a massive rupture of trust.”
Glasman resists Labour’s dismissal of a huge swathe of working class England that has come to see the BNP or the EDL as more representative of their interests than Labour or the trade unions: “You consider yourself … so opposed that you don’t want to talk to them, you don’t want to engage with them, you don’t want anybody with views like that anywhere near the party.” Instead Glasman would set out to “build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party. Not dominant in the party, not setting the tone of the party, but just a reconnection with those people that we can represent a better life for them, because that’s what they want.”
After various hints and false starts, it took about three years for Blue Labour ideas to permeate the leadership of the Labour Party, but during the early summer of 2012 a version of Glasmanism was expounded both by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, and by the Labour Party leader himself, Ed Miliband.
On June 21st in The Times, Yvette Cooper (often seen as a future Labour leader) confessed:
“Ministers talk tough on immigration. But it isn’t working. Public trust in the Government’s handling of immigration is falling and 75 per cent think David Cameron’s target for reducing net migration won’t be met.
“This isn’t the easiest subject for the Labour Party. In government we didn’t do enough to address people’s concerns on immigration. By the election, we had lost the argument – people felt that the system was unfair and politicians weren’t listening. We need to change.”
The next day her leader Ed Miliband (himself the son of two immigrants, Marxist academics Ralph Miliband and Marion Kozak) also repudiated his party’s previous position:
“We became too disconnected from the concerns of working people, we too easily assumed that those worrying about immigration were stuck in the past. …We were too dazzled, too sanguine about globalisation. We lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth. …Immigration made things easier for some, but it also makes things harder for others. If you wanted a conservatory built for your home, you were probably better off. If you were working for a company building conservatories, you probably weren’t.”
So much for the economic cost-benefit analysis: but all of this hand-wringing still begged the question of how to define our national identity. A debate about immigration is inevitably about “us and them”: but who are “we”? At the start of June, Ed Miliband tried to set out an English case for the Union, recognising “multiple identities” that included an acknowledgement of (and even a pride in) Englishness:
“We have been too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. For some it was connected to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Union flag was reclaimed from the National Front. Since Euro 96, English football fans have helped to reclaim the flag of St George from the BNP. Now more than ever, as we make the case for the United Kingdom throughout the United Kingdom, we must talk about England. Because people are talking about it and we cannot be silent. And because if we stay silent, the case for the United Kingdom in England will go by default.”
Yet when it came to the most crucial question of who is English, Miliband could not avoid a distortion of history:
“England is a nation built from the start on trade with outsiders. It has great cities that are world cities. We must always debate the right approach on immigration. And never run away from the issues it throws up. Our villages and towns have always been mixtures of locals and newcomers. At their best, these are places where people come together to make something new.”
The truth of course is that until the last sixty years (in many cases until the last twenty or thirty years) England’s villages and towns were ethnically homogenous. As one of the first official historians of post-war immigration J.A. Tannahill pointed out:
“Britain is not by tradition a country of immigration. In fact, between 1815 and 1914, she not only quadrupled her population without resorting to large-scale foreign immigration, but also dispatched over 20 million people to destinations beyond Europe, at first largely to the USA and later in ever increasing proportion to the developing countries of the Commonwealth.”
Until the 1950s the only immigrants that any Englishman would be likely to encounter would have been Irish. Large scale non-UK or Irish immigrants before the Second World War can be summed up very quickly:
- Two waves of Protestant refugees from France and Flanders, at the end of the 16th and 17th centuries – the so-called Huguenots, totalling about 40,000-50,000;
- Monarchists and other refugees from the terror that followed the French Revolution in the 1780s and 1790s, again about 40,000 immigrants;
- About 150,000 Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe who arrived in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, mostly between 1891 and 1906, plus another 60,000 Jewish refugees from national socialism during the 1930s, and a further 10,000 during the Second World War.
In Victorian and Edwardian times, non-White immigration consisted of a few thousand blacks who had come ashore for one reason or another during the slave trade era; a few hundred Asian employees of the East India Company or the British Raj; and a handful of Indian princes who settled in London after an Oxbridge education.
Even after the First World War, African or Caribbean immigration was virtually nil, while only about 6,000 to 7,000 immigrants from the Indian sub-continent arrived during the entire period from 1918 to 1939.
Our present multi-racial society is thus entirely the result of post-Second World War political choices, not a product of some long tradition of interaction with “outsiders”, as Ed Miliband pretends.
However it is with this mythical notion of inclusive Britishness that immigrants choose to identify, according to recent surveys. Unsurprisingly, given this artificial definition of Britishness, current research suggests that indigenous Englishmen feel less “British” than do some immigrant groups!
The most comprehensive collection of reliable information on such topics is in Understanding Society, published in July 2012 by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and based on interviews with about 100,000 individuals across 40,000 UK households.
About 11% of the UK population were born overseas, while 29% have some close connection to an overseas country: either they, one of their parents, or one of their grandparents was born outside the UK. However another way of putting it is that 48% of the entire UK’s population are thoroughly English: born in England, and with both parents and all four grandparents born in England. It’s safe to assume that the vast majority of these are White (at least if they are older than 25). So a general election could quite easily be won (now or in the near future) without a single vote from anyone with non-English family connections; while on the other hand it would be quite impossible to win an election by cobbling together a “rainbow coalition” of non-White, non-English ethnicities.
Nationalists do not lose elections because of inexorable demographics; they lose because they fail to attract the backing of more than a tiny proportion of their fellow White Englishmen.
Rather confusingly, Understanding Society reports that of those who have at least one parent from outside the UK, 35% describe themselves as White British. This would include people whose parents were British, but happened to have born abroad (at one time a large number, given Britain’s worldwide imperial role). It would also include the descendants of White immigrants who have become assimilated. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that vast numbers of mixed race immigrant offspring have weirdly reclassified themselves as White British.
The survey also attempted a precise quantification of British identity, with respondents being asked to say how important being British was to them on a scale of 1 to 10. Britons of Pakistani origin scored an average of 7.76; Bangladeshis were close behind on 7.75; Indians third on 7.68; black Africans fourth on 7.64; mixed race Britons 6.78; and White Britons averaged only 6.58. This suggests White Britons placed the lowest emphasis on Britishness, though I was unable to find a statistic for Afro-Caribbean Britons
Children and grandchildren of immigrants generally emphasised their British identity more than native White Britons.
The research was presented with a heavy dose of spin: we are invited to conclude that this evidence contradicts suggestions that immigrants fail to “integrate” with British society.
In fact both the survey, and many of the assumptions underlying the debate about “integration” are invalid. It is very much part of the EDL agenda, shared with some 21st century “nationalist” groups, to assert that the main problem is not immigration as such, still less is the problem with multiracial society. No, we are told: the problem is the failure of some immigrants – specifically Muslim immigrants – to “integrate”.
On the face of it this survey contradicts such claims, as it shows that of all the ethnic/religious groups in Britain, Muslims from Pakistani families place the greatest emphasis on their Britishness.
But should we really be surprised? The roots of these immigrants are after all in an artificially constructed state that was part of the British Empire for a century until 1947. They have no common Pakistani heritage to draw on: the only historical and cultural factor that all Pakistanis have in common is that their various territories were conquered by the British East India Company (often as late as the 1840s) and were then part of the British Raj. In this sense some sort of identification with “Britain” is likely to mean more than “Pakistan”, a name that was invented in the 1930s by a campaigner for independence from the Raj.
The name “Pakistan” is both a pun (since it literally means “land of the pure”) and an acronym denoting the different regions of the country: Punjab; Afghan Province; Kashmir (now disputed and divided between India and Pakistan); Sind; and Baluchistan. These areas were not part of a single country (except under the Raj) and had been part of different empires over the years. Punjab and Kashmir were conquered by the British after the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s; Baluchistan and the Afghan Province were not fully incorporated into the Raj until the Afghan Wars of the 1880s; while Sind was taken by Sir Charles Napier’s forces in 1843 from a Muslim dynasty, the Talpurs.
Of course on a day-to-day basis the real identification of most Pakistani-heritage Britons is not with any nation state, but with their clan or extended family. The same would apply to a large extent with Indians and Bangladeshis. Identification also varies in context: against whom are you identifying? Frequently Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis will identify against each other; occasionally (especially in a sporting context) they might identify against England; hardly ever would they identify against “Britain”.
In this respect they are very different from Irish immigrants and their descendents, a very large part of whose national consciousness was traditionally defined as hostility to Britain.
And this gets us to the heart of the matter. The politics of identity isn’t about artificial questions, scales of one to ten, or even essentially artificial concepts such as the British Empire or the nation state. Identity and loyalty are based on an extension of loyalty to the family: a clear sense of racial and cultural heritage. In other words Englishmen need to recover a sense of identity that is completely different from the EDL’s identity, which is race-blind and cares only about preserving the worst aspects of 21st century British culture: alcohol and drug abuse; race mixing; and sexual license (both hetero- and homo-).
Nor do we have anything to learn in this respect from the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders. Their incessant Islamo-obsession has at least some logic, since a very large part of Dutch political culture is ultra-liberal and from this perspective is threatened by Islam per se, rather than by multiracialism per se.
Walk through any council estate in England and you will see the real threat to our traditional values: drug abuse, poverty, cultural degradation – the values of an inner city American negro ghetto transposed to post-industrial Lancashire. Neither Wilders’s neo-Thatcherite economics nor his ultra-liberal social “tolerance” are of much help to the despised “chavs”, the descendants of the men who built the British Empire.
When asked during the 1930s whether they agreed with German National Socialist race laws, Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists replied as follows:
“They are German and we are English, therefore our views and our methods on many subjects will be different. In this particular we possess a great Empire comprising many different races. They possess no such Empire, and their aim is a revived German race, geographically united. We believe profoundly in our own British race which has created the Empire, but we know also it would be bad for the Empire to stigmatise by law other races within it as inferior or outcast. We have created that Empire without race mixture or pollution, by reason of the British social sense and pride of race. That is an achievement unique in history, and we can trust the British genius in this respect in the future as in the past. It should not be necessary to secure British racial purity by act of law. It should only be necessary by education and propaganda to teach the British what racial mixtures are bad. If a Briton understands that some action is bad for his race he will not do it. With the British this is a matter for the teacher rather than the legislator, but if legislation was ever necessary to preserve the race, Fascism would not hesitate to introduce it.”
Mosley lived to see the end of the Empire and to look beyond imperial mythology to a new union of Europeans. He did not quite live to see the progressive decay of that “British social sense and pride of race”. If we are to stop the rot we need to assert our identity not as “British”, but as white Europeans engaged in a global racial and cultural struggle.
This article appeared in Issue 50 of Heritage and Destiny