March 21, 2006

There is no England

In The Independent (Letters; 21 March 2006) Liberal Democrat Councillor Peter Arnold makes an intriguing case against an English parliament:

There is no need for an English parliament because there is no England. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are fairly homogeneous nations, each with its own clearly defined character and culture. That is why devolution (or independence) has been quite successful in all three. In England, the picture is far more complex. There are millions of Scots, Welsh and Irish living in England. The overwhelming majority of non-white migrants also live in England, along with many hundreds of thousands of other Europeans and people from other parts of the world. England is the genuine mongrel nation, and I welcome that.

The idea that a nation must racially pure for self-governance will come as a shock to those that sit on Capitol Hill, or in the Australian, Canadian or, indeed, South African Parliaments. What comes as a real shock is that these comments should come from a self-proclaimed Liberal.

Councillor Arnold continues:

I regard myself first and foremost as a Northumbrian, then as British, and finally as European. Here in the north-east we only began to be part of the nation after 1603. Before that, the independent kingdoms of England and Scotland played havoc with the area, and used it (and abused us) for their own dynastic ends. I have no loyalty to England. For me, the British state has meaning and relevance precisely because it has little connection with a brutal past based on ignorance and exploitation. The answer to the West Lothian question is the creation of a fully federal United Kingdom, based on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England. There would still be disparities of size, but these would be far less than a separate English parliament would create. The failure of the referendum in the North-east in 2004 doesn't invalidate the concept. Devolution is working in Scotland and Wales; and independence has given most of Ireland a new lease of life. We just need to expand that successful formula to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Councillor Arnold's politics are not only objectionable to the majority of right-minded people but they are also riddled with inconsistencies. In his view Britain and Europe - both more 'mongrel' than England - are worthy of parliaments, and the concept of devolution - the the surrender of powers to regional English assemblies by central government - is tied to the biggest exercise in centralism ever devised, namely The EU.

But it's not the political sophistry of the Euro-regionalist that I want to discuss, it's the oft-used epithet of 'Mongrel', so regularly used to descibe England, and the idea that immigration is the death-nell of the nation.

The definition of mongrel in my dictionary goes thus –

Mongrel – n. animal (esp. dog) of mixed breed. Adj. Of mixed origin or character

To me this definition implies an admixture where no particular trait or feature prevails, and a multiplicity of elements and forces, many of them unknown, has been at work. It’s opposite is often held to be ‘pure’. This article is emphatically not to be read as a claim that the English are a ‘pure race’. All I intend to do is ask (and, I hope, answer) two questions – “Just how ‘mongrel’ are the English?” and “Why is the term applied so frequently to the English?”

Few people in the modern world would ever make a claim that their nation is somehow racially ‘pure’. And yet by the same token few would be willing to dispense with their historical identity. The use of the word mongrel in relation to an entire nation of people implies that their characteristics are not only not fixed, but are easily mutable, and have been frequently changed over time. In recent years the word has often applied to the English by commentators and not a few English people themsleves in a way which would have been uncommon just a few decades ago. The implication is that the English are not an ‘historical’ people, and do not have characteristics of their own but have an identity that is simply an amalgam of elements taken from the identities of other people. In the context of the doctrine of multiculturalism, these elements are provided by the supposed ‘waves’ of immigration to which England has been subject throughout her history. The English themselves certainly began as migrants, originally moving to late Roman Britain in dribs and drabs to be employed in the defence of this far-flung outpost of the empire, but as that empire collapsed and as its inheritors became increasingly fractious the peoples of Southern Denmark, Northern Germany and the Frisian Islands began to move in increasing numbers across the North Sea, drawn by employment as mercenaries and the hope of acquiring land. These peoples, though known as Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians were essentially the same – Germanic people who shared the same language, customs and religion. Tribal identities were not strong amongst the early English and by the time of the Venerable Bede (b. 672 or 3, died 735) the idea of an English people was well established, and strengthened over the ensuing centuries. This identity was firmly in the mind of King Alfred when he signed a treaty of peace with the leader of the Danish invaders Guthrum –

“This is the peace that King Alfred and King Guthrum, and the witan of all the English nation, and all the people that are in East Anglia, have all ordained and with oaths confirmed...”

The Danes originated from the same areas of North-West Europe as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (both the lands of the Angles and the Jutes are wholly or in part contiguous with the territory of Denmark), and began to settle in England in the 870s. Their similarity to the English was such that in the BBC documentary programme Blood of the Vikings it was so difficult for researchers to distinguish the genetic characteristics of Anglo-Saxons from Danes that it was decided to treat them as being the same. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the cultural similarity between these near cousins; they spoke a language so similar that an Englishman and a Dane could probably conduct business without the aid of an interpreter, and the area settled by the Danes seems to be free of those marks of inter-ethnic conflict we nowadays associate with ‘ethnic cleansing’. Modern place-names in the area of the Danelaw are often an amalgam of English and Danish elements, suggesting that the boundaries between the two peoples were so flimsy that they quickly lost their meaning. Certainly they lost their meaning politically when in 937 King Aethelstan defeated a coalition of anti-English forces (including some Danes from within England) at Brunanburgh and united the various English states into the single nation-state of England.

By 1066 the Normans could see few distinctions amongst the English as they cast a covetous gaze over an England politically unified and culturally homogenous, and prepared for what would later be billed as the first great ‘wave’ of immigration in English history. But in the Normans we again are not really dealing with a distinctive group of people, at least not in racial terms. Many Saxons were settled in what would become Normandy in the later stages of the Roman Empire for the very same reason that they were settled in Britain – as hired mercenaries to protect the coast from raiders. These people, amongst others, were still in Normandy when the ‘Northmen’ settled the area and gave it its name. The Normans were themselves Danes, and although they took on the language and many of the customs and social traits of their French neighbours, they also retained many of the traits of their ancestors.

When William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, landed in Kent he brought with him at the most 8,400 men, 3,900 of who were Bretons and Flemish. The Bretons and the Flemish would likely have returned home after the successful conquest of England, as indeed would many of the Normans themselves who had families, land and employment in Normandy and beyond. Other Normans would certainly have come over to England in the wake of the Conqueror, but altogether the Normans were unlikely to have formed a large group within England, which at the time of the invasion had a population estimated at 1.1 million. However, the Normans were to have an effect on the political and social structure disproportionate to their numbers for the simple reason that they held all the reins of power. They formed a new elite, choosing to remove the native English aristocracy, but penetrated little into the great mass of Anglo-Saxons who surrounded them. In time they came to adopt the tongue of those they ruled, as well as their system of legal customs (which became known as the common law) and the system of administrative boundaries, renaming them counties instead of shires.

1066 and its aftermath saw the last significant immigration into England until the mass immigration of the 1950s onwards. It is significant largely because of its political and social impact rather than because of any great change in the composition or culture of the English. In the 17th Century a small number of Huguenots (possibly 50,000) entered England, which then had a population of about 4 million. Many Huguenots did not stay in England but moved on to her North American colonies, a pattern of movement that would be repeated later in England’s history. Flemish weavers and Dutch millers migrated to England in small numbers, but quickly disappeared into the enveloping English milieu that surrounded them, the only evidence that they were ever really here is the result only of careful research by local historians.

In the 19th century the largest migrations into England since the Danelaw took place. This was the movement of Irish to escape the potato famine and look for work in England’s burgeoning industries. It is thought that upwards of 750,000 Irish came to England, whose population at that time numbered about 30 million. A smaller number of east European Jews (about 120,000) also came to England at around the same time.

Danes, Normans, Huguenots, Irish and Jews all emerged from Europe, bringing with them values, and even customs, they shared with the native English. They found a strong, vibrant English culture which, in the space of only two or three generations, consumed them with hardly a nod at their existance. The historical ‘waves’ of immigration, then, were spread over a period of 800 years, and taking the best estimates of total numbers of immigrants, it is unlikely that the annual immigration into England throughout that period amounted to more than a fraction of a percent of the total population. Is it any surprise then that the immigrants rapidly vanished, through anglicisation and marriage, and that there is little that is tangible left beyond a few material monuments, such as Huguenot churches in London to mark their passage into Englishness? Ultimately the course of the English nation was hardly deflected by their presence.

Modern research, including DNA testing shows that the population of England is not that different from what it was in 1066. It is still clearly English – largely genetically, and almost completely culturally. So why, for the English, the sobriquet ‘mongrel’?

The answer is simply the unprecendented immigration into England that has occurred since the Second World War - truly a ‘wave’. Such high levels of migration into a country inevitably leads the native peoples to question whether or not they can continue to have a discrete existence as an homogenous people tied to a homeland. The English are now presented with a situation that is not in their national collective experience – a large, indigestible mass of people from very different cultures living amongst them. The English might respond to this by insisting that they are an ancient people, tied by ancient bonds not only to each other but to the land in which they live. Such a response would immediately place the future of mass immigration, and the doctrine of multiculturalism it has created, in jeopardy. In order to defuse any assertion that an ancient culture and national identity is being undermined it is important to show that that identity doesn’t really exist, or at least that it is easily shaped from the borrowings and leavings of other peoples’ cultures. If everything is in flux, is nothing but mix-‘n’-match, then what does it matter if the current manifestation of a common identity is abandoned for something new? In order to justify waves of immigration today it must be shown that there always have been ‘waves’ of immigration in the past, and that these have only been beneficial, because are we not a proud and accomplished people today?

But what if the ‘waves’ of immigration never happened? What if England’s achievements came about, not because of diversity, but because of her cultural homogeneity…?

Posted by Gareth at March 21, 2006 09:35 AM

The lefties use the word "mongrel" to try to diminish the idea of a British identity. It's a perfectly normal, long-running lefty perversity. Before mass immigration of Muslims, Britain was basically all the same race: Caucasian. Vikings, Celts and Anglo-Saxons, with some leftover Romans who never went home, and a well assimilated but fairly small Jewish population.

Countries that are occupied by essentially the same person as those occupying them 10,000 or 20,000 years ago do not need large-scale immigration. Large scale immigration by Muslims was a weapon for the purpose of destroying British identity, which was very strong, as it is in Japan today.

Posted by: Verity at March 21, 2006 11:39 AM

The putative race of the various peoples in British history doesn't matter as much as the cultures they carried, and those were pretty disparate in the case of the Romans, and the Celts; at least Romans and Celts thought so back in the day, and the Celts certainly felt that the Saxons were very foreign as did the Saxons in retuun. That's why they called them 'wealas'. So what? These diffenreces are not immutable. After long enough living together people tend to blend and cultures converge. A concrete example is linguistic - the British languages share lots of features that make English quite an outlier within Germanic.

The same thing happened in Scotland. The Scots from Ireland were separate and hostile to the Picts. Until they weren't. Ethnicity and identity are not static.

How long will it take until the Caucasians from India assimilate? Two generations? Ten? The term 'mongrel' is mindless. But it does carry a meaning from context, and that context is white supremacist. It is the underlying, standard snark you hear in Germany about America. Well, consider the source.

Posted by: Jim at March 21, 2006 02:02 PM

Jim, the Indians have already assimilated. One generation. Fifteen years ago, they wrote and acted in a successful TV show, "Goodness Gracious Me", taking the micky out of themselves, which was quite funny.

I don't believe they will ever assimilate 100% because of their religion. Hindus don't want converts. They're sort of like Jews. They don't prosyletise. They just want people to butt out. But that this their absolute right, and meanwhile, they're a pleasure to be around, and their professionals are, in most cases, outstanding.

Speaking of Goodness Gracious Me, I note to my surprise that although Britain, Australia and the US don't have any Muslim comedians (I mean, intentional comedians), Denmark has some. One Danish Muslim TV comedian said he was going to walk around dressed like a suicide bomber because then, if another suicide bomber got on his bus, he could tip him the wink and say, "It's OK. I've got this one covered."

OK, one comedian out of 2.2bn Muslims, but it's a start.

Posted by: Verity at March 21, 2006 02:21 PM

I agree with Jim, it's not the race that matters but the cultural homogeneity, the collective consciousness, a national psyche, the feeling of belonging to a group....It's that which defines nations and give them their spirit and identity.

To use the argument that 'there is no England' because of immigration is just weird. Really it's an argument in favour of ethnic nationalism and against civic nationalism; an anti-intergrationist (Multiculturalist) argument. I would love to know how the Councillor explains the strong nationalisms of nations like Israel and America - both multi-racial and both immigrant.

Posted by: Gareth at March 21, 2006 03:08 PM

Gareth, I agree. It's not race, because human society has been on the move for tens of thousands of years. They moved, they settled. They adapted. What they brought with them - if it was a large enough group, like the Romans, or the Vikings to Britain say - many of their ways were adapted by the host society to suit themselves. During the Roman occupation, upper class English women were wearing togas. When William of Normandy conquered England, the upper classes began to adopt a lot of French words into the language. It was ever thus.

None of this destroyed the national (or regional) identities. That we have incorporated a 200-year love affair with Indian food into our identity has only added to our texture, so to speak - not made it poorer.

This previously unheard of councillor from a small, uppity party advances the multiculti one-worlder argument.

As Gareth rightly notes, the United States and Israel are both immigrant countries. As are Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

I think it's basic human nature that newcomers want to belong. It's also human nature that host communities adapt what appeals to them that the newcomers bring with them. (In Britain, Glasgow has a name for having the best ice-cream in the entire country, because it was brought by Italian immigrants to the city over a hundred years ago). Force, a la Tony Blair and the multicultis throughout the Anglosphere, not only doesn't work but creates seething resentment and resistance.

This foolish little councillor seems to be walking with a tilt, due to the large chip on his shoulder.

Posted by: Verity at March 21, 2006 04:28 PM

The idea that a nation must racially pure for self-governance will come as a shock to those that sit on Capitol Hill, or in the Australian, Canadian or, indeed, South African Parliaments. What comes as a real shock is that these comments should come from a self-proclaimed Liberal.

Gareth, you got to the essence of the matter right there. All the rest is commentary. The idea that nations must be "homogenous" genetically (which is the only way i can read those comments) in order to deserve self-government goes right back to the continental idea of the "organic" nation-state, which when taken to its logical extreme became fascism. It is idea alien to the civic patriotism of the Anglosphere, which is a form of patriotism inherently friendly to assimilation and integration. And this patriotism has always been tied inseparably to the idea of representation, contitutional order, and self-government.

The relatively higher percentage of immigrants in England is in fact an argument for an English parliament, since it is pointing out another way in which England is distinct.

As for "regional" government, that was put to the test in one of the areas of England which was presumably most in favor of it, and lost by one of the most lopsided electroal defeats of any referendum in British history. Political enties work when they are cretaed with the grain of history and the natural patterns of civil society. England has such -- its shires and cities -- and it would be quite natural to decentralize the rather overlarge British state (it's the largest nonfederal state to be in the top rank of world GDP) by returning to them the autonomy they enjoyed through most of their history. And England itself is a fundamental constitutional constituent of the United Kingdom. This obsession that all the units in a federal system must be of similar sizes is not borne out by historical experience -- witness the ratio between California with its 30+ million and Wyoming with 0.6 million, or Ontario and Quebec at 10 million each, more or less, and Prince Edward Island with 0.13 million.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at March 21, 2006 04:51 PM

For what it's worth, I sent this letter to the editor. Maybe it'll wake somebody up to Mr. Arnold's drivel.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Peter Arnold, in his letter, "England needs no parliament", writes that
England is quite "the mongrel nation", and that its ethnic diversity makes
"makes identity far more complex and difficult than in the other British nations",
presumably making it impossible, or at least very difficult, for an English state
to succeed.

I must agree with Mr. Arnold: Ethnic diversity is the enemy of national success.
Why, look at the ethnic homogeneity of that most successful country, the United
States, whose people have good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon names like Smith, Jones,
Armstrong, Murphy, Dupuy, Schaefer, Santoni, Kowalski, Romanoff, Guceri, Michaeledes,
Patel, Hsiao, Chan, Watanabe, Nguyen, and so on.

Yes, indeed, ethnic diversity is the enemy of national cohesion and identity.

I could dig up names more exotic still from my copy of the Baltimore telephone directory,
but I think you get my point.

Multiculturalists like Mr. Arnold really know very little of the world. If they
actually paid attention in their college classes on world history, they would realize
just how ridiculous their multi-culti twaddle makes them look.


Posted by: Hale Adams at March 21, 2006 07:23 PM

Hale Adams - You bring up a very good point: multiculturalists know very little of the world. They have an infantile, kumbayah notion of the world which is at odds with the world as it is. Most of them have never lived in any other country, for example, so they do not understand how very different cultures can be. That is why such a premium is placed, by realists, on assimilation. Multiculti is divisive and dangerous to national identities.

BTW, England doesn't have a relative high percentage of immigrants. Six percent, against 94% native is hardly a shockwave.

Posted by: Verity at March 22, 2006 07:45 AM

"I don't believe they will ever assimilate 100% because of their religion. "

That brings us to the crux of the question. How much assimilation is assimilation? How is Hinduism any more culturally diffenrent in Britain that say, Judaism is? Or Calvinism, is "Christian" simulacrum. Why should it pose any more of an obstacle than those reliogions, which obviously pose none at all?

Well, where Hinduism mandates satii, for instance, or insists on observing the caste distinctions in ways that hinder civil society, obviously it is incompatible. But Hindus aren't insisting. Maybe I am not paying close enough attention to news out of Britain, but there doesn't seem to be much friction on those issues.

Something else on how stupid the genetic pipedream is - People of Scandinavian or Germanic ancestry in Britan, in York or Scotland, or East Anglia for that matter, may in fact find themselves more closely related genetically to Siberian peoples or even Native Americans than they are to other people, in Wales for example, whose ancestry relates them to North Africa or Anatolia. Even the supposedly obvious racial distinctions are illusions.

However. I may may be misreading the man, but it sounded to me that he was calng for devolution ot sub-regions within England. Why is that such a non-starter? Aren't there natural regions in the larger country - Cornwall, Yorkshire etc?

Posted by: Jim at March 22, 2006 12:21 PM

The regions are a non-starter because they are not English regions (such as Cornwall or Yorkshire) but are instead artificially created EU regions.

People often draw comparisons with the federal systems in the USA or Germany and ask 'why can't Britain also adopt such a system?' The reason why it is problematic is the fact that the UK is a multinational state; the UK Government has created national legislatures for Scotland and Wales (and Northern Ireland - a few teething troubles there) but what they propose for England are regional assemblies with no legislative power. Legislation for England will come from Westminster (meaning that it will be voted upon by Scots, Welsh and Irish MPs). Naturally, as an Englishman I see this as an affront; if national parliaments are good for Scotland and Wales then England should have one too; and there is no reason why the Scots and Welsh should vote on English legislation whilst English MPs cannot vote on theirs.

Councillor Arnold supports the balkanisation of England into powerless little regions controlled from Westminster and Brussels (through the Council of the Regions) because he has a EU agenda. It is also the reason why he doesn't want an English parliament and puts forward this ludicrous argument.

Serving 85% of the UK's population an English parliament would be absolutely incompatible with the EU's federal structure, whereby nation states are broken down into federal units each with their own offices in Brussels and Ministers for the European Parliament.

These two maps can explain it to you better than I ever could

Posted by: Gareth at March 22, 2006 02:27 PM

If a 6'6" black man came up to you and said I'm a Scotsman, you'd probably raise an eyebrow. If he came up to you and said, I'm an Englishman; there'd be no surprise. In my mind I'm imagining Lennox Lewis, who is an Englishman and proud of it. It was no different for Disraili

Arnold has it backwards. The concept of "Englishness" evolved from a sense of enthno-cultural one into one based upon the rights of Englishmen. Such a veiw of nationality was the proto-form of the American view of what an American (or Aussie, or Kiwi, etc. ) is.

The Union Jack may be waived by all from the Isles, but only St. George's cross will be waived by the Asian, the West Indian, and eventually, the Polish plumber, for, after the fall of the British empire, their only course of acceptance is that of Englishmen.

Given that the flying the English flag has become more commonplace in the last decade, what Arnold is really trying to do is squash what could be a stong nationalist (and openly recruiting) movement before it becomes a threat to the supra-national EU. Doubtless, no one will rally 'round the flag of North Umbria against the EU.

Posted by: elambend at March 24, 2006 08:02 PM


There are a couple of fairly well-known British moslem comedians - Shazia Mirza and Omid Djalili. They turn up on TV programs like Have I Got News For You, from time to time.

Posted by: Simon Jester at March 27, 2006 07:03 AM

excuse me,

what is the relevancy of the word "Albion" to modern England?

I have been researching on the web and it seems to be blended with more fable than truth

Posted by: stephanie at April 3, 2006 11:18 AM

You make some good points, Elambend. I don't quite understand the bit about flags though. Could you put it another way for me?

I think we have to remember the historical context here. The reason devolution happened was because people in Scotland, Wales and Ireland do not like being thought of as conquered, second rate people. They don't like the English much. (I am generalising a great deal here, mind you)

This animosity is absent in the regions of England, apart from Cornwall. You don't go to Yorkshire and here them talking about independence.

There should now be an English parliament, and the parliaments of England, Wales and Scotland should be under a higher, British Parliament.

This is not because English people share anything particular in common, it is because they are the leftover community after devolution.

If it came about in the future that regions within England were calling for separation, they could be granted a separate parliament (Cornwall seems likely but perhaps others)

This is bottom-up politics.

Posted by: Timothy at November 3, 2006 03:22 PM