British Constitution

Punting on the Cam

Punting on the Cam

National Identity




Speech at Conservative Luncheon, 20 Sept 2002

County Hotel, Bramhall, Gtr Manchester

Prof Stephen Bush

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

1          The question of national identity is one which has come very much to the fore in recent years for reasons which are fundamentally due to three things: devolution of government in the UK; the accelerating pace of European integration, most obviously by the adoption of EMU by 12 other countries in the EU, and by the huge increase in immigration from other continents – principally Asia – most obviously through asylum seekers.

2          I want to say a little about each of these three, but first to try to define what nationhood consists of, and English nationhood in particular.  When we look round the world at today’s nations and nation-states and reflect on the huge changes in the 19th and 20th centuries, we can see that for nations which have lasted 5 or 6 generations or more there are five features which are present in some degree and that at least three of these features must be strongly shared by its people if a nation-state is to endure.

3          These five elements are in my view: common language, compact geography, common race, common history (experience), and laws and institutions deriving from its people.  Obviously these interact on each other, but we can see in our times that until very recently Britain scored about 4½ on this scale and it was (and is) generally seen from outside as a very stable nation-state.  Prior to the Act of Union in 1707 England as a nation-state scored fundamentally 5 on the scale.

4          By contrast Switzerland has no single common language, but scores highly on the other 4 elements.  The British Empire of settlement – the Crown Commonwealth of today – moved gradually from being a single national entity in the 18th and 19th centuries (say 4 on the scale) to distinct nation states today linked only through the Crown – as the original British races were joined by settlers from other European countries* and the fact that the fundamentally disparate geography meant increasingly different experiences (i.e. history).  The Soviet Union, which only ever scored about two and was held together by brute force, fell apart when that brute force was removed in the 1990s.

5          In Britain itself, the five elements are still largely intact, but three are coming under increasing strain, owing to the three factors I mentioned at the beginning – devolution, the impact of the European Union, and the mass immigration of peoples of very different cultures and race.

6          On devolution, let me say at once that placing power in the hands of the people most affected by decision-making is good practice in any organisation, so long as those people bear the costs while obtaining the benefits from those decisions.

7          It is the manner of devolution in Britain which is so totally wrong.  As I said in a letter to the Times last March – “whatever the rights and wrongs about hunting in England and Wales, it is a democratic outrage for MPs with Scottish seats at Westminster voting en masse on a matter which is the exclusive concern of England and Wales, particularly when their colleagues in the Scottish parliament have already had a decisive vote on the issue in Scotland”.

8          In truth, devolution is a stitch-up (a) to preserve Labour’s voting power at Westminster and in Scotland and Wales, and (b) to push Northern Ireland further into the arms of the Republic.  While it is conceivable that events may conspire to undo the devolution arrangements in Wales and Northern Ireland**, I think the Scottish parliament is a fixture for the foreseeable future.

9          The effect of Scottish devolution on England has been to evoke English national consciousness to an extraordinary degree as evidenced by the huge number of English flags displayed in shops, gardens and on cars, and at international and national events.

10        There is now an embryo movement for an English parliament, and while I am an instinctive opponent of having more politicians, I believe the demand for this will grow, particularly if, as was the case in 1964-66, and 1974-79, Labour forms a government without a majority in England.

11        I am proud of the Union Jack and all that the English, Scots, Welsh and Ulster peoples have achieved and fought for under its banner.  However I think restoration of the English parliament, constituted from the Westminster MPs elected for English seats, with the same powers as the Scottish parliament, would actually strengthen the United Kingdom – by responding to English feeling and also by making the Scots feel more equivalent to the English in constitutional terms, i.e. each Kingdom having its own parliament.

12        That said we must remember that England is a nation in its own right – its borders unchanged for 12 centuries, the great majority of its people tracing their ancestry back to the original Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th to 7th centuries and their close cousins the Vikings of the 9th and 10th centuries, its achievements arguably the greatest of any people.  It behoves every Englishman and woman to safeguard that precious inheritance.

13        Turning now to the European issue, some present will know that I have been a lifelong opponent of Britain’s membership of the European Union.  My 1989 Pamphlet “No Middle Way – Independence or Extinction” – expresses the obvious fact that the Continental political classes are of virtually one mind and have been for 50 years – that there is an urgent need to establish a United States of Europe with its own laws, army, navy, air-force, anthem, republican government, economic and monetary system – everything which makes a state a state.  As someone who has been involved professionally with the Continent for over 30 years and lived there in one way or another over that period, I have yet to meet one professional Continental who doesn’t share this view.

14        It is therefore cowardly nonsense of the British political classes – in all three main parties – to deny what is evident to every other person on the planet.  British policy, where it is not openly in favour of this destination for the EU – consists of going along with the next step to USE – even suspending Habeas Corpus for example (just about the most precious protection of the citizen there is) – trying to mitigate its worst effects and hoping that somehow the issue will go away.  Meanwhile to build a European national identity, the EU focuses heavily on the Laws and Institutions element of the Five components of nationality.

15        Looking now briefly at the third factor in the discussion (on Identity) we can see that much of the attention given to National Identity, of late, has derived from the supposed need for changes so that ethnic minorities will feel at home in Britain – or rather England where the vast majority have settled.

16        One might comment that there is no precedent that I am aware of where a powerful, long-established people, hugely successful in virtually every sphere of human activity, living within defined borders for over 1000 years, has changed or adapted its national identity at the behest of newcomers or people claiming to speak for them.

17        As many present will recall, the successive Immigration Acts in the 1960s and 1970s were designed to terminate the mass immigration from Asia particularly of the early 1960s, leaving only a small number of class A permits (5,000 per year) for the immediate families of immigrant heads of family to be applied for over the following 10-20 years.

18        By the beginning of last year (January 2001) it was clear however, as I wrote in a letter to he Daily Telegraph, that the present government was preparing to break this compact with the British people as an alternative to dealing resolutely with the Asylum-seeker crisis.

19        The best estimates of numbers – put together by a new independent organisation “Migration Watch” (the Times, 2 July 2002) with an impeccably respectable provenance – is that net inward migration for settlement of non-British, non-EU people is currently 200,000 per year, equivalent to another Portsmouth every year (about 25,000 acres and 80,000 new homes) or another Bradford every 2½ years.  (For comparison, current new house building is about 130,000 homes.)

20        This coming year, 2003, the government aims to issue 175,000 work permits – resulting on past evidence in another 81,000 on top of the 200,000 per annum settling in 2007 at the expiry of their permits.

21        It is a complete fabrication to pretend that such numbers are required by the hi-tech economy.  If US experience is anything to go by – and the present government is fond of quoting US experience – most new jobs in the economy will continue to be simple service jobs – security, waiting, cleaning, washing up in restaurant kitchens, call centres***.  It is testimony to the paranoia about race that trades unions are mute in the face of blatant wage cutting by unscrupulous employers applying for work permits in these sectors.  Unemployment in the services sector is going to rise sharply in the next five years as jobs in the telecoms and financial sectors emigrate, like manufacturing, to the Far East.

22        Leaving aside the housing and transport congestion issues, it is clear that such numbers are massively disturbing to the native population of this country, and in some cases to ethnic minorities already firmly settled here.  Of the five elements of national identity, race and geography are fixed, but the other three – language, knowledge of our history, adaptation to our laws and culture, take one to two generations even when there is a will to adapt on the part of newcomers which in some cases there manifestly is not.

23        A word on culture.  Culture is basically what people do – day in day out – above all how they sustain their lives.  The culture of Britain, like that of Western Europe and North America, is overwhelmingly industrial/technological – a product of the industrial revolution and the scientific enlightenment which were initiated and propagated by England more than by any other country (everything we see around us in this room and outside – is a product of that culture).  Along with the English language and its literature, the Rule of Law, most international games, its massively disproportionate contribution to modern science, the Industrial Revolution is one of five transcendent achievements of English culture which have in effect become the property of the whole world.  English children in particular need to understand this and take pride in it as part of their identity.

            Besides these world-shaping cultural exports, the spread of Italian spaghetti and Indian curry – while attractive parts of our diet and other countries’ too – are really only minor add-ons.  In no way should they be adduced as evidence of a multicultural society with all the verbal loading which goes with that phrase.

24        Few if any of us expected our national identity to be questioned and challenged as it has been in the last two years or so.  After fighting two ruinously expensive world wars to uphold our national identity, still less did we expect that countries which we had rescued from tyranny or newcomers to these shores, mainly from poor, weak countries would do the challenging****.  The English people, in particular, have every reason to expect, nay demand, that those who represent them should uphold their basic human right, namely to unfettered enjoyment of their own land and culture as they have fashioned it and inherited it from their forefathers over 40 generations.


*               Lower Canada (Quebec today) was of course originally settled by French people.

**             The one out of boredom, the other from the collapse of the “Peace Process”.

***            US figures for the ten years to 1991 show that of the 25 million jobs created in that period, only 4% were professional or technology related.

****           E.g. the 2000 “Commission on British Identity” where people from ethnic minorities were hugely over-represented.

« previous page next page »

Top| Home