Letter of the Week: Speaking for England

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

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There may not be an “upsurge” in support for an English parliament or English devolution, as Jason Cowley observes (“England rising”, 6 July). There is, however, steady and consistent support for both. For nearly 20 years a clear majority have wanted English laws to be made solely by English MPs, and a recent BBC YouGov survey showed 62 per cent in favour of an English parliament and 73 per cent supporting devolution to combined local authorities (albeit with many “don’t knows”).

Levels of confidence in Westminster are catastrophically low. Change is needed, and active support would grow and options crystallise if only they were given public potential. England urgently needs its own equivalent of the Scottish constitutional convention; a civic
discussion going well beyond political parties.

Many different people could lead such an initiative, including elected mayors and local authority leaders, faith, business and unions.

The New Statesman magazine could provide a crucial forum for debate. Who will grasp the nettle?

Professor John Denham


Director, Centre of English Identity and Politics


University of Winchester

Dream team

What a marvellous article by Jason Cowley (“England rising”, 6 July). As a southern Irish woman living in England (London) for 41 years, I’ve felt for a long time rather sorry for my English friends who feel unable to wear their Englishness with pride as I wear my Irish identity. Other friends are comfortable and vocally take pride in their Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish roots. Indeed, my partner, who is English, chooses to be described as British, so that (in my view) he does not appear “nationalist” in any way.

The links with the World Cup and football generally are interesting. This gives those who are inwardly proud of their English heritage, but don’t usually like to display it, the opportunity to scream it from the rooftops (well, at
least in my house!).

The integrity that Gareth Southgate is showing to the football world is taken on board by those fans who think they need to defend their English identity with aggression and contempt through football. There is no shame in progressive English nationalism. (PS. I have never before written to any newspaper or other publication in response to an article I have read. However, Jason Cowley’s article so touched me that I absolutely had to send a comment in.)

Cathy Boyle
Via email

Jason Cowley quotes Orwell on a somnolent southern England before the coming war: “Probably the sleekest landscape in the world”, where lost in a “deep, deep sleep” are a people that shall “never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs”. WH Auden evokes this sleeping world with equal foreboding: “Soon, soon, through dykes of our content/The crumpling flood will force a rent”.

Today, however, one might say that those drowsy, class-driven English days are over. Support for a multicultural England team in the World Cup is a worthwhile test of patriotism; it could be, as Cowley implies, a patriotism without rancour, confident, harmonious. Are we becoming aware of a bigger, more egalitarian, more democratic world? Hardly. More multicultural – possibly. But more equal! More democratic!

Frankly, who really cares about patriotism anyway? Maybe, to quote Cowley, I am an “ultra-liberal enraptured by multiculturalism”. But maybe I am not “enraptured” by anything but equality and fair play. Ultimately, it is the game that matters. Come on England.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

The end of Jason Cowley’s thoughtful piece outlined a progressive-orientated view of Englishness and asked where the leaders were who would articulate and shape the current reawakening. My immediate reaction was that important though leadership and vision are, this would be hard to achieve without the underpinning foundation of a more equal distribution of income and wealth. I was thus heartened to read  Danny Dorling’s suggestion (“Peak inequality”, 6 July) that perhaps things are at last beginning to turn, though there is still a long way to go.

Michael Haskell
Broughton, Flintshire

Jason Cowley was spot on to applaud the outstanding leadership of the England football manager Gareth Southgate. Together with his fearless and skilful squad, he has immeasurably lifted the reputation of the national football team. With his intelligence and his varied working background built up over three decades in the beautiful game, it is no surprise that Southgate has more leadership qualities than the leaders of Britain’s two main political parties.

Cowley was right to describe Corbyn as being an international socialist with little feeling for what it means to be English. The Prime Minister is socially awkward, has made mistakes and is hindered by being a Remainer, but I cannot accept the complete castigation of her. 

Whoever led the fractured Tories would have found it difficult after the Brexit vote, not least because the referendum question set by David Cameron was so simplistic. The issues raised by leaving the EU (Irish border, customs union, free movement, trade in goods) have proved to be more complex, and anyone thinking that life after Theresa May will be suddenly much better is in for a shock.

David Rimmer
Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Jason Cowley’s piece on Englishness still refers to differences as divisions. We will certainly be damagingly divided if even responsible media continue to tell us so. I am in my mid-eighties but voted Remain, as did many of my friends. Are we then “young”? Of course not. Our national wellbeing is complex, so we need to have the will and acquire the skills to work with differences at many levels. Above all, we must not allow them either to be denied, or to be defined through malice or laziness as monolithic interests in hostile opposition.

Ann Loxley
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Super Southgate

Thanks to the editor’s enthusiasm for football, the continuing debacle of establishing what is meant by Brexit and how that should play out was, in your editorials, placed alongside a short but entirely convincing piece about the performance of the England team at the World Cup (Leader, 6 July).

Regardless of the relative importance of these two topics, notwithstanding Bill Shankly’s claim that “football is not a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that”, the contrast in leadership styles is just about as stark as possible.

Discussion of our relationship with the EU, and now the management of our exit from the bloc, has always seemed heavily reliant on the so-called dark arts – or put more bluntly, lies, damn lies and dodgy statistics.

Meanwhile Gareth Southgate has displayed the kind of leadership and management that somehow feels alien to modern sporting culture, excelling in straightforward honesty.

What a blessed relief that has made the successes of the past weeks seem even sweeter. Perhaps Southgate is an NS reader who has been exposed to “Enlightened thinking in dark times”?

Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

Game over

I am unable to be as relaxed as Keith Stuart’s attitude to the video game Fortnite (Digital Native, 29 June). As both the parent of a 15-year-old boy and a secondary school teacher, I believe I have a valid concern about the exchange of the traditional pursuits of reading, playing instruments, sports, hobbies and generally mucking around in the real world with friends, for the playing of the modern generation of sophisticated, and yes, “addictive” computer games. I am certain that it is an exchange of one for the other, rather than a balance of both types of living, which is happening for the vast majority of boys in our society.

Yes, responsible parents, of which there seem to be not enough over this issue, limit computer games, but did our parents have to impose limits on our riding of bicycles or reading of comics?

My son, an otherwise balanced and happy teenager, would play Fortnite until he physically collapsed if we weren’t engaged in a perpetual and exhausting negotiation with him. And, during this beautiful weather, when he has contacted his friends to suggest going and jumping in the river, they are online and not planning to leave their rooms. Consequently, he is furious with us. To me this is a tragedy worth being “hysterical” about.

Do we want to see a generation of men whose childhood memories are of staring at screens in darkened rooms all engaged in this identical activity? And who are all the intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, naturalists, anglers, engineers and musicians of the future going to be if we allow this to happen?

Alexandra Treasure
Otterbourne, Hampshire

Point of order

I fear Rowan Williams is confusing the two Acts of Union which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (The Critics, 6 July).

The first Act of 1707 created Great Britain from England and Scotland. Ireland was then under English control with a quasi-independent parliament. The 1800 Act united Great Britain with Ireland, creating the United Kingdom; that was two hundred years ago, not three.

Robert Campbell
Dungannon, County Tyrone

Feminist issues

Like Anna Leszkiewicz, I too am concerned about the usurpation of feminism – and indeed all civil rights movements – for individualistic ends (The Critics, 6 July). It leaves the movement open to commercial exploitation – think feminist slogan T-shirts made by low-paid female labour in countries with few workers’ rights – and encourages a who-can-shout-louder approach that destroys the intersectional, open dialogue essential to cultural and legislative change.

But chastising the current wave of introductory books to feminism seems so very wide of the mark. By describing pejoratively their “boisterous adolescent language” do you mean their passionate, engaging and accessible prose that allows those not privileged with a deep, academic education in the history of feminism to be inspired by and join a movement with so much still to achieve?

Most of the books you indict are introductions to the subject written with a lot of love and thoughtfulness. I know of children bringing them into “show and tell”  – that’s something to celebrate, not put down. Please continue to hold to account the increasingly vacuous and solipsistic approach to politics pullulating through social media, but please do not bad-mouth books that are so clearly more part of the solution than they are part of the problem.

Edward Smith
Via email

Oxy-more-on

Your correspondents have been sending in oxymorons. Surely the ultimate oxymoron is “self-catering holiday”!

Judith Jackson
London SW6

Having waded through the recent articles by Nick Timothy and Simon Heffer, could I add:  Conservative thinker?

Graham Bunting
Via email

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This article appears in the 13 July 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit farce

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