Magazine article The Spectator

Stop Agonising

Magazine article The Spectator

Stop Agonising

Article excerpt

Who'd be left wing? There's so much to worry about in the world. Why, even being English is a source of shame and guilt that requires counselling to come to terms with. In north London a group of left-wingers meets to try to cope with the problems they have in being English. 'To be English is to be anti-somebody else,' a woman told Gavin Esler in his three-part Radio Four series Brits (Monday), an examination of the British, post-devolution.

Comically, it seems that she and her companions were particularly upset by the slave trade and the British Empire. Do people still agonise about these things? Why can't they look on the positive side? It was Britain that helped end the slave trade and it voluntarily gave up its empire. One might as well be ashamed of witch-burning and Henry VIII's marriage guidance policy. Actually, what the poor darlings of north London needed was counselling about being left wing rather than English.

Those on the right and centre have no problems with Englishness. We know who we are, just as much as any Scotsman or Welshman knows who he is. We do not have an identity crisis triggered by Scottish and Welsh devolution. If anything, many Welsh and Scottish people have more difficulty with their nationality as they told this programme that they did not not regard themselves as being British any more. It would also seem that some BBC presenters and producers might need counselling about their own identities. Esler and his team have been roaming the British Isles with tape recorders asking earnestly, 'Who are we? Or, rather, who do we think we are?'

Devolution has got many commentators excited about the break-up of the United Kingdom. Some of those, in the long history of English intellectuals who hate the nation state, can't wait for Wales and Scotland to look to Europe instead of London. Others, according to this programme, worry about the affect this will have on the English. Sir Roy Strong told Esler that the British were unprepared for what is to come. An historically illiterate government had, by introducing devolution, taken Britain back to the divisions of the 17th century. Over the centuries, said Strong, governments had stressed what we had in common with each other but now there had been a profound reverse with people thinking only of their differences. …

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