Posted by: iangilbert | April 23, 2012


Once again on the subject of St George’s day, to follow up Billy Bragg, I thought I’d link to this:

It’s my favourite piece on the subject of Englishness and the far-right.

Given that the English Democrat candidate in Kursaal is an open supporter of the English Defence League and the Conservative candidate is boasting about engaging with that far right right group, it is very relevant today and has some wonderful quotes

…one does tend to see more foreign Nazi salutes at an EDL demo than one sees examples of our national dance for instance…

…there’s not even a small whimper in defence of Blake’s Jerusalem…

…they’re more likely to burn copies of Shakespeare’s Othello than save it…

…all the EDL know about England and Englishness is some rather rudimentary geography and a crude grasp of history…

So what is Englishness? If people ask me for a quintessentially English experience, I’d say the mesmeric quality of watching the England team take the field at Lords’ on a hot summer’s day with ‘Jerusalem’ playing on the loud speaker (OK, I’m normally watching test matches in the Eric Hollies but I’m allowed to go up-market occasionally).

Perhaps other people would like to suggest what Englishness means to them. A Shakespeare play? Punk Rock? Real Ale? Going down the pub to watch the England match? Morris dancing? A walk through the Shropshire countryside? The Tower of London? All these things are very much available  (well punk rock is looking a bit dated, but I gather Julian will lead a revival soon) and are there to be enjoyed.

English culture in all its forms is alive and well. Our music, language, literature is heard and enjoyed around the globe. English sport is flourishing (if we can ever find a decent manager for the England football team…) Whilst other countries have fallen pray to dictators and despots we have one of the most established, respected and (however much people moan, or maybe because people moan) least-corrupt political systems in the world. I celebrate great modern scientists like Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose amongst my English heroes.

If people do feel insecure the future of English culture or the English way of life, a better response would be to take a positive part in it.

I’m all too aware that not everyone feels able to take a part in society, trapped by poverty, ignorance, fear or ill-health, and therein is the hiding place for extremism and hatred.  So for people who want to tackle the far-right, the task is not to ‘engage’ or swap debating points with the small number of cynical and manipulative people who run these organisations. It is to fight poverty, to promote learning and understanding, to offer hope to people who are marginalised. I’m fortunate to work day by day with people who live those values.


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