Sunday 10 January 2010

My debt to Norman Tebbit

A warm blogosphere welcome to Norman Tebbit, who has begun blogging for The Telegraph, particularly as he begins by saying something nice about Clement Attlee and William Beveridge in his acknowledgement that not everything was better 70 years ago.

Personally, I owe a lot to Norman. He was among those to have a formative influence on my emerging political views, as I told the Demos Open Left project last year.

What do you consider made you Left wing?

Without identifying any specific moment, I knew where I was coming from by the time I was fourteen or fifteen. I grew up in the north-west during the 1980s before the family moved to the south-east, so that had an impact. I was interested in history and in politics. We had the Daily Mail in the house, and I started getting The Guardian too. I discovered George Orwell and read as much as possible.

The other things that dominated my world somehow became more political. I was absurdly obsessive about football – and was interested in the emerging fanzine and supporters’ movement before the Hillsborough tragedy, when that seemed very urgent.

Then, when I was 16, Norman Tebbit proposed his ‘cricket test’. Well, I had supported England since I was seven or eight. My Dad didn’t – which was probably a good enough reason to go for England when they played India. (Viv Richards’ West Indies were magic: was that was the real ‘cricket test’?). I felt the divisiveness of that quite personally – my Dad worked for the NHS yet was being accused of treachery for liking Kapil Dev. So I was confused: could I keep supporting England now that had been made a loyalty test of support for Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit?

Perhaps that explains my interest in Britishness and identity too.

So, thank you, Norman.


Anonymous said...

Very wry, very nice, spot on.

Alex said...

See, I'm the opposite. Despite being from Leicester, I support Northamptonshire because my dad does and he got me into it. Have I failed the cricket test too?

Gareth said...

There's no point informing immigrants that they're British, making them sit Britishness tests, and then expecting them to support the English cricket team. Why should they support England when they are British?

Interestingly a recent MORI poll commissioned by the Ministry of Justice found that both whites and visible ethnic minorities had a greater sense of belonging to England than they did to Britain. Interpreting the results Michael Wills declared "Our British identity is different from our English identity…because it is quintessentially plural. And therefore inherently inclusive."

I wish Labour would stop being so prescriptive when it comes to identity and stop forcing Britishness on us when we're far more comfortable being English, Scottish and Welsh.

There's a good article by Norman Tebbit here, you should write one in reply Sunder.

Newmania said...

People who want us to lose , at whatever it is and there are varying degrees of seriousness from cricket to global conflict , can surely not be as English as I am .
I am sure we can all rub along in a tolerant spirit but I do rather resent it when newcomers want us to change for their benefit. Why should we have multiculturalism ? If you come to my house do you move the furniture about and change the radio station and so it suits you ?
The vast majority would like England to remain English but not , the Labour Party who are even now enshrining actual racist anti white employment laws for the Public Sector .Staggering .

A set of legal entitlements such as Britain has become has no more reality than the Empire did in the 60s when buffers were still to be found lamenting it . Britian in fact has been the tool for disentrancing the English and when it meant anything it was Greater England .
Would an English vote have allowed the disgrace of Lisbon to be perpetrated applauded by you who claim to care about the country , a country you are trying to abolish.
My view is that if it was made quite clear that unpatriotic behaviour was not appreciated new comers would understand it n and sympathise .Were I to go to Australia I would be sensitive that it was their country ,( and we are very close cousins anyway )

I became a Conservative when the Unions turned the lights out

Sunder Katwala said...

thanks for your comments

Toque - thanks for the interesting link. I will try to come back and do that; as we're heading into our big conference next Sat, it may now be a couple of weeks.

Sunder Katwala said...

I did, by the way, keep supporting England, though not in a very heartfelt way against the W.Indies I admit.

But while I supported us at football, and especially under Terry Venables, I did take the revolutionary pessimist line under both Graham Taylor especially, and also Steve McLaren, that the inevitable failure would at least make a change possible. And it was never quite possible to suspend disbelief and believe that Kevin Keegan's England could win when it mattered, much as I'd have liked them to.

Newmania said...

also Steve McLaren

Ha ha I think we all did

Gareth said...

It would be good to hear from you Sunder, What England Means to Me is short on essays from the Left. For some reason it seems that English identity is more problematic than 'Britishness'.

In the great scheme of things I think it's dangerous to ignore English identity, and I think Labour - specifically - do so at their peril.

It's curious that people support dual identities and cite them as a strength of Britishness, until it comes to English-British, at which point politicians clam up and come over all awkward.

It's been a particular obsession of mine for sometime that politicians refuse to say England when they are talking about English domestic policy - Gordon Brown is undisputed king in this field of endeavour

Unfortunately the Tories are no better, as highlighted by these two recent posts

What can be done to change this reluctance to use the E-word? As an Englishman I find it extremely discourteous, and even, to a point, anti-democratic because the use of Britain/Our country/This country in place of 'England' is an artifice designed to deceive (or at least not specify the territory under discussion). In 2001 David McCrone wrote that “In an important sense, Scotland’s politicians are all Nationalists”. Not just Scottish
politicians. Even unionist politicians use a nationalist frame of reference when discussing Scotland; David Cameron falls over himself to talk about sticking up for Scotland and his respect for Scotland, and Unionist politicians of all persuasions talk of being proud Scots and wanting the best for Scotland. So why don't politicians do the same for England and encourage a positive English political identity?

Why don't the Fabians ever raise this 'English Question'?

The issue was highlighted in no uncertain terms by Tristram Hunt when he told a Fabian audience "I understand why politicians are concerned to bolster our sense of society and the collective ties we share. But the problem with asserting a new and stronger Britishness could be that it is swimming against the tide. Culturally, it is Englishness which is on the rise".

It seems to me that this is something that the Fabians should focus on. The lack of a visible - or vocalised - English polity is damaging to the Union, our sense of Britishness, and it acts as a bulwark against a more plural inclusive English civic identity.

The obfuscation of England with Britain (Our country/This country) may be annoying to a lot of English people like me, but the conflation of England and Britain has actually been a bigger bone of contention for the Scots for far longer. Giving England back to the English allows the Scots and
Welsh equal ownership of Britain.

There's something in David Starkey's claim that England is the country that dare not speak its name. Though I would revise to "England, the country whose politicians dare not speak its name" because they are too obsessed with Britishness and don't realise that a strong self-confident English national identity can be a source of strength to Britain.