Tuesday 22 April 2008

To be an Englishman

“Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”

Those words have been variously attributed to Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and Alfred Milner, but seem most likely to have been uttered by the great imperialist Cecil Rhodes. No doubt that is enough to discredit them in many eyes, but they provide a fair summary of my own feelings as today’s representative of the “why oh why” tendency.

I love my country dearly, despite the massive efforts made during my lifetime to change its character beyond all recognition. I most definitely do not share the apparently widespread belief that we should regard our history chiefly with shame. We have punched far beyond our weight in bringing civilisation, order and enlightenment to the planet, and even when the work of destroying England itself is complete, we will leave behind the great legacy of our language, the richest in human history.

True, its magpie nature means that it can sometimes descend into meaningless gibberish through the importation of modish phrases. In my own trade, “cutting edge” public relations firms now like to use the “iconic” words “thought leadership” to describe what they are peddling: same product, different packaging, higher price. But the true essence of good PR remains the application of common sense. Say, if you happen to be working for the British Prime Minister, pointing out that it is not a great idea to make a profile-raising trip to the United States on the same day as the Pope.

I would point out that my comments last week about Gordon Brown’s highly paid new guru were evidently nothing like acerbic enough, but for the fact that things have now descended to such farcical levels that even I feel it is cruel to mock the afflicted.

So back to poor old England. Our sporting teams are generally pretty useless, and the national church would be a standing joke if it had not made itself so completely irrelevant. Our real masters in Brussels do not recognise the existence of England at all, preferring to operate through what they grudgingly call “the English regions”.

Uniquely among the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, we are denied our own Parliament, though we are expected to fork out for the special rights and privileges of those inhabiting our Celtic fringe. Rural England, where something like the traditional life of the indigenous people still goes on, is under unprecedented assault from efforts to industrialise the uplands with wind farms, wipe out what is left of the farming industry, and destroy the network of essential support services such as local post offices, shops and pubs.

Yet, despite all this, I would not wish to live anywhere else. It seems slightly bizarre that we need to import an American, Bill Bryson, to proclaim the obvious fact that we have the most beautiful countryside in the world. We also produce some of its finest food and ales, while even our wine is increasing in quality as one of the beneficial side-effects of global warming.

By all means celebrate the very special qualities of the North East, but don’t let us be lured into playing our enemies’ game of “divide and rule”. England as a whole deserves our loyalty and love.

So if you spot a man in Alnwick or Newcastle tomorrow sporting a rose in his button hole, do not instantly assume that he is canvassing for Labour in the local elections. Particularly if he is wearing a suit that is much too big for him as a result of recent weight loss, and humming “For he is an Englishman” from HMS Pinafore. That will be me celebrating St George’s Day, and I hope that you will all join me in raising a glass of English beer in an English pub to the greatest little country on God’s earth.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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