And Now England for the English

Daily Mail (London), July 21, 1997 | Go to article overview

And Now England for the English


Byline: KEITH WATERHOUSE

ONCE the referendum has been held, once the Scottish parliament is in place, Scotnats will be able to vote for independence. Or so, it would seem, they have been assured by Improved New Labour - in the belief, of course, that they won't.

But it's a logical next step, and the logical next step after that is that the Welsh could be independent too, free at last to raise their own taxes, burn down their own weekend cottages and make unwatchable Welsh-language TV programmes at no cost to anybody but themselves. Now that I like.

That won't happen either but we can dream, can't we? And if by any bizarre happy chance these Irish talks led ultimately to a reunited Ireland, we could be a right little, tight little island once again.

This England. It would take a bit of getting used to, not being British, but speaking for myself I should be prepared to have a crack at it. It would be, by way of a bonus, a step on the way to not being European.

I have never called myself British (some Yorkshire tykes don't even admit to being English) and still less have I any time for those people - invariably equipped with mobiles, laptops and lapel badges - who would have me believe that I belong to the UK, or the Yewkay as John Osborne mockingly used to call this septic isle.

Britain/UK is all about export drives (whatever happened to export drives?), political summits, banning things, fighting the occasional war, and giving fishing rights away but otherwise never never never being slaves.

Being English is an altogether different cup of Earl Grey. But what?

No one except our Celtish neighbours ever thinks of us as being English.

The Americans don't even know we exist ourselves. As Jeremy Paxman wrote yesterday: `English nationalism has thus far been the preserve either of Morris dancers or football yobs.'

Well, up to a point, Jeremy. English nationalism is the nationalism that does not care to speak its name. To do so would be to let down English diffidence, one of our most defining characteristics. Who knows more than the first two lines of `There'll Always Be An England'? Nevertheless, we go around being English all the time, in a hundred sorts of ways.

And I am not talking about rolling downs or honey still for tea. Or St George's Day, a national red-letter day which we ignore so totally and completely that it makes one proud to be English. Defining Englishness is like Louis Armstrong's answer to the woman who asked him to define jazz - Lady, if you has to ask, you'll never know. …

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