Monday, July 31, 2006

Who are we English?

In this month’s edition of searchlight there are two very interesting articles about England fans in Germany. Nick Lowles points out that “there is something unpleasant and aggressive about our society that is not repeated on the continent”, and he reports how there were repeated incidents of xenophobic violence, and celebration of our culture of fighting and drinking. In contrast Mark Perryman points out that this violence is hardly surprising given the level of violence every Friday and Saturday night in pubs and Clubs round England. And while a minority of England fans are hooligans, the overwhelming experience of Germany 2006 was positive, as an amazing 350000 English fans visited the World Cup! Most enjoyed the footballl, and enjoyed mixing with the travelling fans of 32 nations, united by love of football. England fans even laid a wreath, alongside Polish and German fans at Dachau.

This has been a huge shift, as in previous tournaments the numbers of travelling fans was much smaller (just 10000 in Italy in 1990), allowing the ultra hooligans to have a disproportionate influence.

But Perryman asks an important question that will not go away. Who are we English?

The St George flag is a new phenomenon, almost unseen before Euro ’96. It is noticeable where I live that many of the large population of Goan immigrants (who are Portuguese citizens through accident of empire) are strong England supporters, with flags on their cars, and replica shirts. England can be a racially inclusive national identity, stripped of Imperial British baggage. If we want it to be, if we fight for that vision of our national identity, and contest the political right’s authority to shape Englishness.

As Scotland and Wales move towards independence, faster to the north than in the west, but both inexorably, then who are we who are left behind? We have no parliament, we have no national anthem. For most of us English we don’t even have a capital city, as London has a culture and dynamic completely alien to us, and most English people can't stand the place. But we do have a football team, and we do have Monty Panesar!


Martin Wicks said...

Andy, I can't see that there is anything inexorable about Scotland and Wales moving towards independence. Where's the evidence?

Do we need a 'vision of our national identity'? What is there which is particularly 'English' as opposed to British. One of the things we can look to positively, Chartism, actually combined the struggle for political democracy with rights in the work place. If I remember correctly the first big launch meeting of the Chartist movement was in Glasgow, linking the Charter with a protest against the use of the Master and Servant Act against ssome Scottish workers who were given a free antipodean trip.

Whilst there are specific characteristics to the labour and trade union movement in Scotland and Wales, for the most part it developed as a British movement.

Personally, I don't agree with the SSP's policy on independence. I think it has dragged them away from the rebuilding of the political movement of the working class on the British level.

Given the massive influx of migrant labour into Britain we should concentrate on developing a political consciousness which has an internationalist outlook.

AN said...

Well in terms of the inexorable creep towards independence, I think that is the logic of devolution. Only this week that ineffctual debating chamber the welsh assembly got more powers, and next year there may well be a pro-Independence majority, or nearly so - in Hollyrood.

personally i think that the decline of Emprire, and then the move by the Tories under Thatchher to undermine almost all British institutions, such as the NCB, British rail, British Steel, etc has undermined much of the gulue that held Britain together.

the "west Lothian" question will eventuallly force England to have an equivelent body to the Scottish parliment, as policy between edinburgh and London diverges over the year, surley it cannot be right that Scottish MPs vote through polices for England that do not effect their own constituents.

And the debate about English national identity is happening anyway (the flags!!!) - the question is whether the left participates in that debate or not.

And sport is currently the area where that debate is crystalisng. (For example how ludicrous that Andrew Murray is described by the BBC as playing at home at the All England Tennis Club!)

seren said...

Opinion polls are just snapshots, sometimes inaccurate or blurred, but an opinion poll in Wales on Sunday showed 52% supporting Welsh independence. That's a radical shift in the past few years.

Also Plaid Cymru has won the last five by-elections it contested (3 gains, 2 retained), including some in very unpromising territory.

It's likely the SNP (together with the Greens and SSP) could form a coalition running the Scottish Parliament after May 2007. Opinion polls in Scotland show a narrow majority for independence.

I can't speak for Scotland but Labour is in meltdown in Wales. Assembly leader Rhodri Morgan has said he'll step down in 2009 and is now a complete lame duck (a la Blair), all attempts to put "clear red water" between him and London Labour have failed while the latest government bill produces a colonial situation (where the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Vain, has a veto on any laws passed by the Assembly) that will become very acute if we get a situation where the Tories are in power in London and another party in power in Wales (or, more probably, Labour is in power in London and a non-Labour coalition is in power in Wales).

Ironically, I think it could be English Tories who take a strategic decision to ditch the Union for power in England. Think about it - ditch Scotland and Wales and you have permanent Tory rule in England under present circumstances. No wonder Brown is waving the Union Jack (the only dickhead outside the BNP doing that these days!) - Labour is the glue holding the dis-United Kingdom together.

The English left had better get cracking if it wants to be a part of it - thankfully a few of you are on the case.

AN said...

As an aside, Gordon Brown's capaign for Britishness seems to have been the brain child of North swindon MP, Michael Wills, who i stood against in the general election.