The history of the post-war period in Britain makes much more sense when one grasps this common thread: the British elite’s determination to destroy Englishness and recreate the British Empire within England, partly in order to secure itself from socialism and partly in order to prove that the Empire had been a workable project: ideologically untenable after the struggle against Nazism, the British elite attempted to recreate the Empire – with disingenuous justifications as though it had been a moral project all along – within what had been its citadel, almost the only place it felt certain of hanging on to.
The power of the English working-class had been enhanced by the shortage of manpower occasioned by the hundreds of thousands of men killed and wounded during the war (the appalling suffering and danger experienced by British troops in the defeat of Germany 1944-5, when casualty rates were worse than during the Great War, has, interestingly, been erased from national consciousness; we remember the victory over fascism, but not who did it) and trade unions were able to gain good pay rises for their members after the war. It is in this context that the decision to use migrant labour and the lofty tone of the dismissals of queries as to the wisdom of this should be seen. I have seen internet postings claiming that some of the post-war migrations had their origins in strike-breaking. Far from being “with it”, multiculturalism is old-fashioned middle-class deference to imperial ruling-class ideology, rippling on like gravitational evidence of the Big Bang.
The identity “English” was occluded by such terms the as “white British” and Britishness was hijacked by the ruse of taking the original equation (that if one was English, Welsh or Scottish one was British) and transforming it to a meaning that none of these nationalities were obliged to accept: that Britishness was a multicultural identity and that any national identity or none was a sufficient condition to be considered British. Occasionally one senses a sadistic pleasure in this destruction, as in Andrew Neather’s notorious recollection that some in the Labour Party wanted to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity.” Notable also was the inaction against those who made death threats against Emma West, whose spitefully broadcast altercation looks now to have been a defining moment of a character entirely contrary to that expected by the witch-hunters. Like the little boy in the fable she had spoken the truth: “the English are nothing now.”
In practice it has been the English who have been forced to accept this redefinition. Indeed New Labour gave devolution to the Scots and Welsh, thus implicitly admitting the potential for multi-identity societies to disintegrate (and abandoning any pretence to democratic principle in the process: Scottish and Welsh MPs vote on English law but not vice-versa; there are already “second class” MPs – English ones), just as it embarked on its eclectic-aesthetic “cool Britannia” project. Yet such “multiculturalism” is an implicit admission that multi-racial societies are difficult to make work, as even avowed “anti-racists” seem to assert in this way that it is impossible to assimilate people of different races.
Below I will make an appeal for a return to a kind of assimilation, but I hope you will see that my idea is a bit more subtle than a demand for conformity; it helps to remember that “the project” is at its heart negative – it hates Englishness, or, rather, any kind of domestic national identity, more than it loves anything. This was the real reason assimilation was abandoned.
Ordinary English people feel grief. They are bewildered by what has happened. They had, in the overwhelming majority, been willing to die for their country, and this betrayal is their thanks. It is as though the British ruling class knew that it had run up a debt it could never repay and, unable to face endless obligations, decided to liquidate its creditors. Now, like Macbeth, it finds itself so far advanced in wrong that the opposite shore seems nearer than the departed.
The strongest arguments the “multicultural” lobby have are the arguments of inevitability and practicality: that, with modern communications, immigration is unavoidable and that in any case attempts to avoid it entirely will rapidly become grotesque. I think they are right about this. However, this needs to be dealt with much more robustly. People are willing to face unpleasant realities, it is being made to pretend to like them that causes resentment. We must face the reality that, although driven by technological “progress”, change may not be for the good. Indeed there is no guarantee that society will be workable at all.
One can see in events like the remand of Emma West (in a maximum security prison), the murder of Lee Rigby and the secret surveillance of three million people (as reported by the BBC; the security services have a budget of £2bn per annum which works out at about £100 per adult), to mention but a few examples, just how unstable and consequently totalitarian British society has become.
When a large indigenous group perceives itself as discriminated against in what it regards as its country, it is only a matter of time before there is trouble, much more serious trouble than that made hitherto by unhappy minorities. At the moment the English remain just sufficiently visible in parliament, the army, the police and the judiciary, but this cannot last much longer given demographic trends and “equal-opportunity” hiring. From the moment that these arms of the state are no longer perceived as English, the English will consider themselves ruled by foreigners without their consent. No government has ever had a mandate for “multiculturalism”. The English accepted “multiculturalism” because it was inconceivable to them that this was ever anything else than a hypocrisy designed to facilitate assimilation under conditions of strict immigration control, as promised by all political parties in their manifestos (Powell was vilified, but his policies were adopted). Hitherto the English middle-class has sided with the elite, but the recent UKIP vote shows that it is starting to have doubts. It is much more difficult to suppress political movements that have a base among the educated.
One of the lessons of history is that once such a struggle begins it has a tendency to create the conditions for its continuation: lack of investment (investors demand a higher return to compensate them for the higher risk, driving down wages) and bitterly-resented repression. A point can be reached where there is no hope of victory for the colonising power, unless they resort to genocide. There is no limit to the amount of suffering the indigenous will endure in order to regain what they feel they have lost. This tenacity is often dismissed as irrational, but if one considers the fates of landless peoples and their descendants, it is not.
One of the most alarming misapprehensions in vogue is that human-made catastrophes are caused by great evil. In fact they often have their origins in trivial acquisitiveness. If this is met by passivity for too long its perpetrators acquire a righteous tenacity and require force to be dislodged. Moral statesmanship is the art of showing sufficient and timely will to deter such misunderstandings. It is lack of assertive statesmanship that is usually the cause of human-made disasters, not evil. Democracies, although, pace the European Movement, very unaggressive, have proved to be prone to appeasement and it is notable that they seem, like Victoria Wood’s “excellent driver” friend, present at a large number of “accidents”. Of course the English have been inattentive in just this way.
England is perilously close to a fatal “Hobbesian trap” in which the wrong done by the colonising power is perceived as unforgiveable by both sides and creates a vortex from which none can escape: the colonising power, fearing retribution for the wrong it has done already, finds itself impelled to totally destroy those it has wronged; its victims, seeing this logic, find themselves impelled to resist, thus reinforcing their opponents motivation, and so on, into hell.
I therefore want to make a plea for what seems to me the only way we might avoid these horrors: the relative abandonment in England by the state of Britishness and the relative adoption of Englishness. This may seem implausible at first sight, but, properly understood, it is our best hope (which is not to say that it is likely to be successful; it is not – it is almost certainly far too late for any liberal solution; but, before you scoff, have you got a better idea?).
The BritishEnglish identity works by maintaining both identities simultaneously. This is more than the logical function, already explained, that one can only be British by being one of Britain’s constituent national identities first, it is also a functional dualism in which Britishness is the body and Englishness is the soul. Britishness and Englishness cannot be separated. People in England who claim Britishness but not Englishness claim the protection of the British state but fail to make a spiritual union with their compatriots. As Rory Stewart said recently, “Nations are held together by love.”
It is this dualism that is at the heart of the hitherto highly successful combination of liberty and security that British subjects have enjoyed. By using the terms British and English seemingly interchangeably, the BritishEnglish have been able to cope with some cultural diversity because the duality admits the difference between messy reality (Britain) and romance (England): “Nations are held together by love”.
It is therefore more than merely good manners that settlers in the English part of Britain should agree to become BritishEnglish. The bitterness that “multiculturalism” causes is due to the fact that it is both straightforwardly rude and spiritually distressing to the BritishEnglish. Many immigrants are in fact looking for a new identity and in England that identity must be BritishEnglish.
There must be, therefore, a general promotion of Englishness. Now, before you scoff, is there any other identity available? Remember “British” won’t work because the English, all 40 million of them, rightly see the use of this identity as proof of the betrayal of their boot-on-face-stomping political class. If the shocking scale and nature of this betrayal was explained to newcomers, and that therefore the noble thing for them to do would be to adopt English as their identity (such as, in addition to calling themselves English, adopting English attitudes to religion and marriage, joining English cultural and conservation associations, marrying English people, making scones, playing cricket and using English names), we might have a chance, because it is the right thing to do.
It is only normal and natural that state institutions, such as schools, in England should promote Englishness. As in France, as it were, children need to be taught English manners and the fundamentals of English civilisation. This is no time for a long debate about what being English means, however, not least because those who argue that it cannot be defined are missing the point (usually, however, they seem ignorant of the cultural artefacts that do indeed constitute Englishness): what matters most is that the word “English” is used as an identity by everyone in England, just as one sees “Scottish” used everywhere in Scotland (“The Scottish Labour Party”, for example). This is not a draconian demand that everyone behave identically, rather an attempt to create sufficient loyalty to allow democracy to function.
In Wales and Scotland people must agree to be Welsh and Scottish of course. The English can tolerate these other identities because they have been politically subordinate and because they are extremely familiar. Just how delicate these matters are, however, is shown by the boost to Scottish nationalism that was given by what amounted to little more than tactlessness on the part of the Thatcher government. It is notable but natural that even those in the “No” campaign for the Scottish Referendum wish to be considered British and Scottish.
Although I have cast some doubt on the slogan “Britain is a nation of immigrants”, it is of course true if one looks back far enough and it is certainly true now. What people who use the phrase seem to forget is that there has been a certain amount of nation-building in-between. The mess that the British state has got into is that it has set up an opposition between Britain and its constituent nations. We need a return to nation-building, but that nation cannot be to Britain per se because there is nothing to be loyal to, apart from tawdry trappings of empire.
It takes only a moment’s reflection to grasp the grotesque and tragic ignorance contained in the dismissal of things English. The following, for example, used (and where degraded they must be restored) to be the envy of the world: the right to elect for jury trial; adversarial justice and debate; strictly-defined police powers; an unfettered press and free-speech; the sanctity of the home. I will not try to make a list of English cultural and scientific achievements for obvious reasons.
English civilisation is one of the greatest of human achievements. No matter what one’s origins, everyone has an instinct to love and cherish their land and its people. My father had no English blood and yet he played cricket and supported England at football. One of the first things I can remember him doing is building a model of a Spitfire for me. If I moved to another country I would set myself to loving it. What other behaviour does decency allow? It is time to stimulate and encourage this natural love and end the harping on difference.