John Amery shortly after his arrest by Italian partisans in Milan
I couldn't help but be struck with an headline I saw on the front page of the Daily (Malice) Mail, last Thursday: "Who Will Speak for England?" Although the article is a thinly disguised piece of anti-European shite aimed at giving people a nudge towards voting for a Brexit - Britain leaving the EU - it did get me thinking about what it actually means to be English?
While most people today do have a sense of a national identity, in reality, many of us see ourselves as belonging to many different groups based on religion, region, culture, background and social class. In the words of Benedict Anderson, nations are 'imagined communities' - socially constructed communities imagined by people. We might consider ourselves 'English', but we cannot know everybody in the nation only our immediate friends, neighbours and family and the people we meet, even online.
Although a great deal has been said about the breakdown of the 'Schengen Agreement', Europe's borderless area, and European nations regaining control of their borders, an article in the New Scientist magazine (6-9-2014), points out that before the late 18th century, there were no real nation states at all: "If you travelled across Europe, no one asked for your passports at borders as neither passports or borders as we know them, existed." In 1800, almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French - half the residents of France didn't speak French - by 1900 they all did. At the time of Italian unification in 1860, only 2.5% of residents spoke standard Italian and its leaders spoke French to each other. It was said at the time that having created Italy, it was now necessary to create Italians. Even late into the 19th century, many eastern European immigrants arriving in America, could only say what village they came from and not what country, as it didn't matter to them.
Similarly, do we all share the same interests - politically, socially, culturally, economically, simply because we are English, British, or any other nationality? As an Englishman, I don't agree with former Sun columnist, 'cockroach' Katie Hopkins, who likened immigrants to cockroaches and wants to use gun boats to sink migrant boats. An online petition calling on the Sun to sack her, attracted 200,000 signatures. Nor do I believe like some English people that English people should go hungry, or become homeless, because they can't pay the Tories bedroom tax, while the government gives tax breaks to billionaires and pursues pro-rich policies. In truth, when we are called upon to support the 'national interest' or 'the general interest', very often we are being duped by vested interests into believing that we are supporting the entire population, when in actual fact, we are rallying behind the interests of a small dominant corporate elite. What we should always ask, when we hear the 'national interest', is whose interest are we really talking about? As Cicero says - "cui bono" (to whose profit?) or caveat emptor - "let the buyer beware".
It's curious that the Daily Mail should have based its headline "Who Will Speak for England", from a remark made by the Conservative Politician, Leo Amery, who feeling annoyed with Neville Chamberlain over his statement to the House of Commons in September 1939, following Hitler's invasion of Poland, shouted to him across the floor of the House - "Speak for England!" Chamberlain declared war on Hitler the following day.
Although the half-Jewish Leo Amery, was an anti-appeaser, his eldest son, John Amery, brother of Julian Amery, was hanged for treason at Wandsworth prison in London in December 1945. A fascist blackshirt, Amery made propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany. The Daily Mail itself, that bastion of the English middle-classes, was also rather taken with the blackshirts. Viscount Rothermere, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, supported Oswald Mossley's Nazi loving British Union of Fascists. An infamous article that appeared in the Daily Mail in January 1934, was entiltled "Hurrah for the Blackshirts." Neville Chamerberlain's own sister-in-law, Lady Austin Chamberlain, was also a known fascist sympathiser. So much for Englishness, when it comes from the mouths of the rich and powerful! But as the renowned Dr Samuel Johnson once said - "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."