Come on England!

Here’s a confession: I feel really quite sorry for people who don’t like football. For the next month, it’s inescapable. We have now entered the four-yearly month-long period when football emerges out of its pop culture bubble, and becomes the dominant theme of media and social life. But for those of us, like your dear author here, who like nothing better than listening to a South Korea v Greece group game as they type, the next month is as close as it gets to heaven on earth.

This evening, of course, is the biggest day of all- England’s first game against the USA. But thinking about this has led me on to a slightly different tack- the curious relationship between being a Liberal Democrat, and being a British nationalist. The two may seem like an unlikely combination, but the fact is, I consider myself to be both. And furthermore, I personally think that by not emphasising this, I think we are scoring an own goal as a party.

Considering the reaction of the majority of people you meet who fly the Union Jack over the house to you when you say you belong to ‘that bunch of  multiculturalist traitors’, this may seem like an odd combination of political beliefs. But the thing is, I see no incompatibility between loving my country, and accepting the multitude of cultures which now comprise it. After all, we have had a multicultural country- with English, Welsh and Scottish cultures (and Manx and Cornish and Irish) ever since the 1707 Act of Union. What difference does it make if that cultural mix now includes Pakistani or Polish or Nigerian? Britain is a country whose culture has been changed fundamentally by waves of immigration in the past, from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, to the Huguenots in the 17th century and East European Jews in the 19th. What always gets me about the ‘nationalist’ demand for cultural uniformity, is the fact that the people making those demands don’t speak ancient Brythonic, the language similar to Welsh spoken before the Roman occupation. Even the words in which Nick Griffin speaks and the Daily Express writes are largely imports brought in by immigrants.

So essentially, in my opinion, the majority of people who call themselves ‘nationalists’ or ‘patriots’ are nothing of the sort. They do not love Britain as it exists today; they simply love a fraction, or a mirage, a dream of what it never was. If people truly love their country, they would love it all- green fields, grey cities and all. Certainly, don’t agree with everything that happens there; but love it all the more for that.

This may seem a controversial point of view- I accept this. But the fact is that liberals, and the Liberal Democrat party, have effectively conceded the argument over British national identity. Part of this is down to the internationalist principles of some of our members; these are their beliefs, and if they are strongly-held, that’s fair enough. But there also, with many people, a genuine embarrasment about expressions of nationalism- since these are instantly associated with Eurosceptic Toryism, or worse. This is perfectly understandable; but it is also very damaging. We have effectively allowed people like Bill Cash, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin appropriate the symbols and rhetoric of our country!

And I personally think that this is not only damaging culturally, but damaging in a more tactical, political sense. People who identify themselves as patriotic are far more likely to vote Conservative by default, even if they disagree with large amounts of what the Conservative party say or do. One of the great surprises to me in political life is the phenomenon of the working-class Tory. The party he or she supports, after all, is one which fought the election campaign on a pledge of cutting inheritence tax for millionaires, and often has a disturbingly fetishistic attachment to money. But the reason why hundreds of thousands or millions of people vote Tory, against their economic interests, is because the Conservative MP or candidate will be unafraid of standing in front of a flag on their election posters. I’m not saying that the Liberal Democrats should instantly become a populist, anti-EU party- but I am saying that we are missing a trick here.

So, in short, be proud of all you are- be liberal, be tolerant, but also shout “Come on England!” this evening all the louder.

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Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“I Agree with David”

After a while spent following politics, you are occasionally presented with a dilemma. One of these comes when, as happens on occasion, one of the other people (you know, THEM. THOSE PEOPLE. THEY WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED) come up with an actually rather good idea. Is it disloyal to say, “I Agree with David?” Do you put your immortal soul at risk by listening to the siren words of our dear Prime Minister, and actually agreeing with him?*

Such a situation presented itself to me in the run-up to the election campaign, and was presented to me in the unlikely form of that eminent British actor, Mr Maurice Mickelwhite Esq., otherwise known as Sir Michael Caine. Last seen starring in “LOCK YOUR DOORS! THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU!”-fest Harry Brown, Sir Michael announced his sudden conversion to the Conservative party by promoting their new big idea: “Bring back National Service!”

Now, considering what I’m usually like about such authoritarian solutions and the vilification of young people in our current society, it might seem unusual for me to agree with statements like, “We’ve got three and a half million layabouts laying about on benefits and I’m 76 getting up at six o’clock in the morning to go to work to keep them.” But the thing is, I actually think that reintroducing a (non-military) form of National Service is a rather good idea…

… AND THIS IS WHY

One of the major problems we are facing in our society today is the breakdown in social cohesion. I think just about everyone would agree that people do not talk to their neighbours as much as they used to, and are often even afraid of them- just look at the number of gated communities which are springing up all over the country. However, it’s also a general rule that if you don’t actually meet people from a different social, ethnic or national background, then you’re more susceptible to rumour about them- for example, the bedrock of BNP support is young white men who have heard things about immigration, but are from areas where it is not high. One of the reasons why Polish immigration into this country has not aroused the same passions that, say, Caribbean immigration did in the sixties, is the “oh, we got some Polish builders in, they can’t speak a word of English but you should just see how hard they work” effect. Simply put, Polish immigration has been much more evenly spread out around the country than Caribbean has, making it much more likely that someone will have actually met a Polish plumber than a British Caribbean one. It’s also a general rule that the earlier people mix with other cultures, the more used to them they get- kids under the age of four, for example, see no difference between black and white people, or so I’m informed.

So why not mix people, from different backgrounds, from different parts of the country, at a relatively young age?

You can see where this is heading, can’t you?

Traditionally, in countries which had conscription, this function would be performed by the one or two years of compulsory military service. Often, in countries like Italy which had recently been unified, recruits from different areas and backgrounds would be deliberately mixed to create a sense of national unity- and so, when people went home to Sardinia or Puglia or wherever, they could say, “Oh, those Sardinians aren’t bad- you remember the night when me and Vicenzo…”

So why not use a form of non-military National Service to address the same problem as the Italians faced, that of a country divided into many small regions, distrustful of each other, and which often would not mix otherwise? This wouldn’t have to be for a year- it could just take place during the summer holidays, where, from my own experience, I can say that boredom can reach quite monumental heights when you’re 16. If you can give kids the (voluntary) choice of spending six weeks doing some socially useful work a long way away from their parents, then going back to the camp and meeting girls/boys in the evening, do you think they might be interested? And who knows, maybe they might actually do some useful work in the process- clear up some grafitti, tidy up parklands- things like that.

So yes, I can say, I do agree with David- though maybe I wouldn’t put it in the same terms as he would. Don’t hate me, please!

* For the record, I reckon that if politicians occasionally could say, “Fair play, that’s actually a really good idea”, people might be a bit less cynical about the whole merry dance.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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