|The Legend of Being English
(Image © UGardener)
I watched a party political broadcast tonight for the English Democrat party. I sat open mouthed, not sure whether I was watching a real broadcast or whether it was a parody. The message repeated often by four or five white middle class, middle aged men (one woman) was to ‘Vote English’. It got me thinking about what I was proud of. Am I proud ‘to be English, not British’ as the broadcast tried to persuade me to be?
Being English is pretty much the only life event that I had no choice in. A fluke of attraction between two people who happened to both be English, who happened to have both found jobs and a house in an English town at the time I was born. That’s what made me English. And yet, for many, that one life event – the one in which you have absolutely no say – becomes central to their beliefs.
Am I proud to be English? Well, I am proud of the country I live in (which happens to be England) and I m happy to be an albeit small part of the mosaic which makes it what it is. I am proud to live in a country with freedom of speech, a country with probably the best welfare state system in the world, where medical care is free on the point of access. I am proud to live in a country which immigrants risk their lives to reach in order to better themselves. The list goes on: a country in which the justice system is one of the fairest in the world, with one of the least corrupt and most approachable police forces in the world. A country where education is open to all regardless of birth, sex or ability.
So yes. I am proud to live here. Proud to be part of this country. But I don’t think it’s perfect. I firmly believe the welfare state could be improved , could be streamlined to focus on those who need it rather than those who assume it. I believe that the NHS could be more efficient at the management level, could be better focussed on those who need free healthcare. I believe our tax system could be fairer, less aggressive and could reward entrepreneurism, risk taking and success much better. I admire countries like the United States for promoting the need to improve ones chances, Sweden for their more relaxed approach to education in the early years, India for aggressively creating a service economy that has moved from the budget solution to the slick high quality choice in only ten years. I even admire Belgium for their incredible success in bringing on youngsters through the football ranks into their national team. And on the flip side, each of those has elements I don’t like. (Although struggling to think of anything wrong with Belgium!!). I’m proud to be therefore part of a progressive country. One that for all it’s flaws, I believe is focussed in the right direction. An inclusive, fair, just and giving society. That’s what I’m proud of. Not necessarily being English.
The inference from the broadcast was that as a supposedly stereotypical English person (white, 40 plus male) I should identify with other ‘Englishmen’. Let’s test that one for a moment. I identify most with people who are trying to better themselves. In my professional, social and some would say most importantly, my sporting life, I surround myself with people who are trying to further themselves. This is where the Englishness of the argument falls apart. I don’t care what the nationality of that person is. I don’t care what sex they are, what sexuality they are, where they are born or where they have decided to live. What I care about is whether they are happy and whether they are driven to succeed. So at this point, being English has nothing to do with the people I identify with. In fact in many ways, being ‘culturally different’ from me is actually a positive thing. Surround yourself with yes men and you will never be wrong but never be challenged.
This brings me on to one of the key principles of their somewhat limited sales pitch. “English jobs for English people”. I struggle with this on two levels. First, I am firmly of the belief that age, sex, sexuality, colour etc is of no relevance when I am recruiting for roles. What I am after is talent. I do not care in the slightest about the religion, political beliefs or nationality of that person. I want ‘can do’. I want experience and passion for delivery. I work with Germans, Indians, Americans and a Spaniard on my current job. It makes no difference. In fact that’s wrong. It creates a cultural melting pot that enables different approaches to problem solving, to team building and to work attitude. It’s great. Surround myself with white, middle class, middles aged, English males? No thanks.
Secondly, I struggle with the term English jobs. I presently work in England for one of the most recognisable British (sic) brands. It’s owned by an Indian company. Is this an English job? I’m guessing they would say it was because it is predominantly based in the UK. Most of my work though is for global firms, generally run from England. When I am abroad working for them is that an English job? Are the people who work abroad in Europe, USA, Canada for that UK based firm taking jobs that should be English or is that different. If they weren’t working in those ‘English jobs’ would we have market penetration in those geographies? It’s a joke. Any job should be given to the person who will deliver it at the best quality or cost depending on the driver regardless of location or nationality.
And then I ask myself what I don’t identify with. And I come up with racists, I come up with people who think they are owed a life on benefits, people who think that they should get a job because of their nationality over their ability. And I start to wonder. I think of the person I saw yesterday at a football match. St George’s cross tattoo on his arm and yelling w****r at an opposition player whilst his young kids sat either side of him. I think of the pubs that I would never walk in because they are populated by ‘English’ men. Unreceptive, hostile and questioning of outsiders. And my mind is made up.
I would happily move to another country. I’d go the US, to Canada, Australia to further myself. I’d go European as well if I wasn’t such a sad Englishman who like so many has no grasp of foreign languages. And abroad I would feel proud. Proud of my nationality and of my new found host. Proud to be part of an evolving global tapestry of multiple cultural, cross boundary cohesion. Quite honestly, the opposite is true. I welcome with open arms anyone from another country that feels they can improve themselves in the UK. Rather have someone like that than someone who thinks the world owes them a living. Regardless of where they are born.
I am proud to be English. I’m proud to be British too, to be European. In fact quite honestly I am proud to be part of a world wide population at such an exciting time in history. I am proud to be living here though. But above all I am proud that a group which in my opinion has such narrow minded, backward views get their five minutes of fame on national TV. I’m proud to live in a society where there is that level of free speech is allowed and where they can have the ability to persuade me to use my vote. To vote for someone other than them.