It's time to take Englishness outside of the football stadium

Englishness finds a confident voice in sport, but has little cultural or political voice. Cameron and Miliband should not remain mute.

England are on their way to Brazil. Goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard meant that a spirited Poland performance could not quite conjure up those Wembley ghosts of 1973, when England’s failure to beat the Poles meant a shock failure to qualify, greeted by the Sun with a black border around the headline 'The End of the World'. Only a game, maybe, but it would be almost a decade before England were to again play in the World Cup finals again, in Spain in 1982. Something else that would surprise a time traveller from those days is how football today is the arena where English national identity is expressed with most confidence.

How unlikely that would have seemed in the 1980s, when footballing Englishness was a source of national shame. While the Dutch fans dressed in orange, and Scotland's Tartan Army partied, England's hooligan element marauded across Europe singing 'If it wasn't for the English, you'd be Krauts'. Our club teams were banned from the continent, and normal fans were often driven away from the hassle of following England by the extreme elements and the police presence they attracted.

Football Englishness sorted itself out in that halcyon summer of Euro 96. The team did not quite end those 30 years of hurt since the 1966 World Cup, but the fans showed how we could host a party. It was a very English occasion. Wembley had been full of Union Jacks when Bobby Moore had lifted the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy in 1966. Now England had the right flag, as the St George's crosses fluttered in the breeze. (Even if we do retain the wrong anthem to this day.) Ever since, people have enjoyed flying the St George's flag - as long as there is a tournament on.

During those World Cup and European Championship summers, it springs up everywhere. Sold in supermarkets, flown on family cars, we enjoy seeing it flutter, for a fortnight or two, uniting the country in hope if not expectation - since we all know about the penalty shoot-out thing. Yet when the tournament ends, the flags go away, and are replaced by a curious and unhealthy unease about the flag of St George.

Some worry that it becomes an exclusive symbol, not the same inclusive one of our footballing summers, when it is flown outside a pub on a cold winter's night. Others are, quite reasonably, frustrated at feeling that they would like to express a perfectly normal sense of national pride, yet feel that would be frowned upon. 

Yet with our footballing patriotism, it has long been clear that the St George's flag represents the inclusive pride in the talent of our team, whose family histories tell many different stories about the making of the modern English. The latest England hero, Andros Townsend, was born in the same Leytonstone hospital as David Beckham, to parents with Jamaican and Cypriot roots - one more route to a shared pride in wearing the England shirt.

It is time for England to be more than a '90 minute nation'. Englishness finds a confident voice in sport, but has little cultural or political voice or presence beyond the football, cricket and rugby teams. A "Festival of Englishness" in London this Saturday will look at sport and national identity, but will also ask what comedy, culture and politics need to contribute to English identity today too. This extends to major cultural institutions like the National Theatre. There is a Scottish National Theatre and a Welsh National Theatre, while English theatre-goers are left without: the London institution still thinks of itself as having a British remit. 

The English question remains an enigma in the assymetric devolution settlement, put by the politicians of all parties in the 'too difficult to think about' box since the mid-1990s. But the question of England's political voice will be asked anew next year as Scotland votes on independence and, quite probably, revisits the devolution settlement within the union too. 

Paradoxically, the Scottish referendum is both further catalysing the rise of Englishness, while curiously delaying political engagement with it too. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have acknowledged the need to talk about England, yet have gone strangely mute on the subject, perhaps because they fear speaking about Englishness may make it harder for their Scottish pro-union allies ahead of next autumn.

Perhaps Scotland offers a model for the English in developing a broader sense of civic nationhood. England’s achievement last night in qualifying for their fifth successive World Cup final emulates something Scotland achieved between 1974 and 1990. Yet Scottishness then was far too dependent on footballing hubris, leading to the debacle of the 1978 World Cup, when Scotland crashed out having declared they would win it, even as Archie Gemmill’s goal against the Dutch, since immortalized in Trainspotting, suggested they were good enough to do so. During that World Cup hangover, the failure of the 1979 referendum saw devolution shelved for a generation.

It might now prove a long time before Scotland ever qualifies for a World Cup again, though they won impressively against Croatia last night. But sport matters much less in Scotland today because of the broader civic, political and cultural confidence enjoyed by the Scots since the 1990s.

We should not place too many English eggs in the sporting basket either. After the golden generation of the 1990s never quite fulfilled their promise, we have gone beyond the rollercoaster ride where England have to be either the best or worst team in the world.

England fans are glad that we have qualified. With the England team in transition, playing in the South American heat, the traditional quarter-final exit would be more respectable than disappointing. (It would be hard to do much worse than the last World Cup in Brazil, when England lost 1-0 to the United States, back in 1950.)

But we will dream a little, and then enjoy the World Cup while it lasts. We should realise too that, while it is good to express English pride and patriotism for our sporting teams, taking Englishness outside the stadium is long overdue.

"England, my England – A festival of Englishness" is hosted by British Future and the Institute for Public Policy Research on Saturday 19 October at the London College of Communication, London SE1. Tickets are £10 (£5 concessions). For more information and to buy tickets go to www.ippr.org

A young England football fan arrives ahead of the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match between England and Poland at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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Building peace in a dangerous world needs resources, not just goodwill

Conflict resolution is only the first step.

Thursday 21 September is the UN-designated International Day of Peace. At noon on this day, which has been celebrated for the last 25 years, the UN general secretary will ring the Peace Bell on the UN headquarters in New York and people of good will around the world will take part in events to mark the occasion. At the same time, spending on every conceivable type of weaponry will continue at record levels.

The first couple of decades after the end of the Cold War saw a steady reduction in conflict, but lately that trend seems to have been reversed. There are currently around 40 active armed conflicts around the world with violence and suffering at record levels. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index worldwide military spending last year amounted to a staggering $1.7 trillion and a further trillion dollars worth of economic growth was lost as a result. This compares with around 10 billion dollars spent on long term peace building.

To mark World Peace Day, International Alert, a London-based non-government agency which specialises in peace building, is this week publishing Redressing the Balance, a report contrasting the trivial amounts spent on reconciliation and the avoidance of war with the enormous and ever growing global military expenditure.  Using data from the Institute for Economics and Peace, the report’s author, Phil Vernon, argues that money spent on avoiding and mitigating the consequences of conflict is not only morally right, but cost-effective – "every dollar invested in peace building reduces the cost of conflict".

According to Vernon, "the international community has a tendency to focus on peacemaking and peacekeeping at the expense of long term peace building."  There are currently 100,000 soldiers, police and other observers serving 16 UN operations on four continents. He says what’s needed instead of just peace keeping is a much greater sustained investment, involving individuals and agencies at all levels, to address the causes of violence and to give all parties a stake in the future. Above all, although funding and expertise can come from outside, constructing a durable peace will only work if there is local ownership of the process.

The picture is not wholly depressing. Even in the direst conflicts there are examples where the international community has help to fund and train local agencies with the result that local disputes can often be settled without escalating into full blown conflicts. In countries as diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Nepal long term commitment by the international community working with local people has helped build durable institutions in the wake of vicious civil wars. Nearer to home, there has long been recognition that peace in Ireland can only be sustained by addressing long-standing grievances, building resilient institutions and ensuring that all communities have a stake in the outcome.

At a micro level, too, there is evidence that funding and training local agencies can contribute to longer term stability. In the eastern Congo, for example, various non-government organisations have worked with local leaders, men and women from different ethnic groups to settle disputes over land ownership which have helped fuel 40 years of mayhem. In the Central African Republic training and support to local Muslim and Christian leaders has helped reduce tensions. In north east Nigeria several agencies are helping to reintegrate the hundreds of traumatised girls and young women who have escaped the clutches of Boko Haram only to find themselves rejected by their communities.

Peace building, says Vernon, is the poor cousin of other approaches to conflict resolution. In future, he concludes, it must become a core component of future international interventions. "This means a major re-think by donor governments and multilateral organisations of how they measure success… with a greater focus placed on anticipation, prevention and the long term." Or, to quote the young Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousufzai: "If you want to avoid war, then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of tanks, send pens. Instead of soldiers, send teachers."

Redressing the Balance by Phil Vernon is published on September 21.   Chris Mullin is the chairman of International Alert.