I thought about patriotism. I wished I had been born early enough to have been called a Little Englander. It was a term of sneering abuse, but I should be delighted to accept it as a description of myself. That little sounds the right note of affection. It is little England I love. And I considered how much I disliked Big Englanders, whom I saw as red-faced, staring, loud-voiced fellows, wanting to go and boss everybody about all over the world, and being surprised and pained and saying 'Bad show!' if some blighters refused to fag for them. They are patriots to a man. I wish their patriotism began at home... - J.B. Priestley
Wales Online carries some interesting comment from Alan Trench in an article titled Why Eurosceptics are not (always) Little Englanders. Trench argues that the Conservative's fresh commitment to the Union, in spite of their continued failure in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, stems from two Tory anxieties:
- Dissolution of the Union would result in further integration of the Union's constituent parts into the EU
- Dissolution of the UK would diminish England/Britain's international prestige and influence (no seat of the UN Security Council for England alone).
Mr Trench said the strategy of fighting seats in all parts of the UK had "bombed".
But he is adamant that Euroscepticism within Tory ranks is a key reason why the party remains determined to keep the UK together, despite the failure to advance in Scotland or win any seats in alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.
He said: "It's one of the things people don't give enough attention to when they are trying to understand the Conservative party... All the evidence is Euroscepticism is one of the defining threads of the modern Conservative party."
During his lecture in Cardiff hosted by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, he said: "I think part of what's going on in this is if you are a serious Eurosceptic you are talking about Britain - the UK - being able to stand for itself on the world stage."
The United Kingdom has a population of more than 62 million, of which England accounts for just over 51 million - significantly less than Germany (81.8 million), France (65.4 million) and Italy (60.2 million), and only just ahead of Spain (46 million).
In other words, without the UK, England would be a midde-sized European nation which happened to have a few nuclear submarines. Would Japan (127.4 million people) see the UK as a peer or a pretender to be a great power?
It is essentially the contrary argument to that laid out by Robin Harris in The Rise of English Nationalism and the Balkanisation of Britain.
I tend to agree with Trench that Eurosceptic thinking is important in the debate over the British Question. The Tories are not 'Little Englanders' in the true sense of the phrase, they are anything but. I would say that the Tories want to keep Britain together because they are 'Big Englanders' or 'Greater Englanders' for whom Britain - or more correctly Westminster - is a device for projecting power and retaining sovereignty. They are what Chris Bryant refers to as the Anglo-British in his 2003 paper "These Englands, or where does devolution leave the English?":
I prefer to associate the Anglo-British not with an Anglocentrism whose epicentre is London, but rather with those in all regions and all classes in England for whom the difference between being English and being British, is, for the most part, unclear, unimportant and/or irrelevant. Many of them would see nothing amiss in the title of Clive Aslet’s Anyone for England? A Search for British Identity (1997). They inhabit an Anglo-British England.
The Anglo-British do not notice when an institution or person associated with England performs a British function. For example, it goes unremarked that the Bank of England is the central bank for all Britain, or that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of the Church of England, crowns the sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nor do countless references to ‘England’ which should have been to ‘Britain’ grate on the English ear. Walter Bagehot’s famous The English Constitution (1964 ), for example, does not strike the Anglo-British as mistitled. Similarly, it is the 900-year continuity of the parliament at Westminster – originally English, later British – that enables Rebecca Langlands (1999) to speak of the English core of the British state.
The Anglo-Brits are also people who say 'British schools' or 'this country' - instead of 'English schools' or 'England' - when they are talking about Education policy in England; they are people who tolerate the fact that non-English MPs vote on English matters, even though they can see it is undemocratic. The Anglo-British are everywhere but I do think there is a class and age bias. The Anglo-Brits are particularly prevalent amongst the upper classes and the privately educated, and they're also more likely to be older (at least in my experience). However, they're not just confined to England or the upper echelons of society. Scots like Gordon Brown are Anglo-British in their understanding of Britain, which is why he uses an English narrative and English values to try and forment a sense of Britishness. But it's amongst Tories that you find the classic unreconstructed Anglo-Brit, Englishmen for whom the sun never sets, and for whom 1707 and 1801 marked the creation of a new Greater England, a colonial expansion. Yes it was a shame about the Empire, but chin up lads, stiff upper lip and all that...We still have Scotland and part of Ireland, ungrateful bastards though they are. Tally ho! What, what.
It's the Anglo-British 'Big Englanders' - rather than Little Englanders - who oppose an English parliament and a federal Britain. Robert Key is one such Tory:
One thing that is absolutely clear is that we should make every possible attempt to ensure that this House remains the Parliament of England. I do not wish to see any other Parliament established anywhere calling itself an English Parliament. That would be appalling and would go against 1,000 years of our history.
Mark Pritchard is another:
I am afraid I do not support your campaign as I feel it will play into the hands of European federalists by breaking up the United Kingdom, even more than Labour have done already. I think that there would be many in the European Commission and elsewhere on the Continent who would be delighted at seeing the United Kingdom become nothing more than a country of regions - a type of “divide and rule” concept.
I know that the CEP has the best interests of England at heart, but I don’t think that an English Parliament is the way to deliver these interests.
Liam Fox another:
I think our national identity is being stripped away in order to prepare us for being engulfed by those who wish to see Britain merely as a region in a European superstate. I believe our integration has already gone far enough and I will resist any moves to diminish British sovereignty in any way, shape or form.
The Tories prefer to avoid the issue of the EU, and so for this reason it is UKIP politicians who we turn to for an honest description of Eurosceptic Conservative thought on the subject of devolution. The following is taken from a letter from Jeffrey Titford, UKIP MEP and former Tory, again in opposition to an English parliament:
From our point of view, there is little point in establishing an English Parliament, while we remain members of the European Union. In fact, to do so would be to play into the hands of the EU, which is quite happy to see the United Kingdom broken up. We can only enter into sensible debate on this issue, after Britain has left the European Union.
This UKIP view of devolution is embellished by Derek Clark MEP, again in a letter opposing an English parliament:
We see the UK as a sovereign nation independent of the political construction known as the EU but otherwise co-operating with the countries of Europe. I believe that this view is shared by the majority of people in the UK. What is happening is a deliberate destabilizing process by the EU with the active support of both this government and previous ones. As a result all sorts of movements have sprung up in support of one view or another. Frankly the campaign for an English parliament can only help to assist the break up of the UK and further the cause of the EU agenda.
It's not only in the field of politics that the Anglo-British rear their ugly heads. Dave Richards of the English Football Association provides a classic example of Anglo-Brit thinking:
"It's time for a British boss, somebody who understands our passion, belief and commitment. There's no distinction between English and British."
Incredibly Richards made this statement in the context of advocating Martin O'Neill as the next England manager whilst opposing a foreign manager of the England team. For Anglo-Brits the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is simply - England writ large (at least to all English intents and purposes, they are rather more tactful when addressing a Scottish audience). It is the thinking of these people that is the greatest obstacle to English home rule - to them British sovereignty is English sovereignty.
David Cameron is another Anglo-Brit, as Trench notes:
Mr Trench was struck by Mr Cameron's commitment to the union in a December 2007 speech in Edinburgh in which he said in a "choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I choose our United Kingdom".
The academic said: "That was the first time I noticed a Conservative leader come up with a reason to support the union... What he said was the importance of the union was it was part of the UK's wider standing in the world."
The Anglo-Brits have a very whiggish interpretation of Britishness. Devolution is an asymmetry that can be tolerated and explained because sovereignty remains with the Imperial Parliament. In that way the unbroken continuity of English/Anglo-British sovereignty is preserved. Tradition, continuity and incremental progress are more important than democracy. For these Anglo-Brits it would almost be preferrable for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be allowed to whither on the English vine and drop off rather than contemplate a federalism by which Westminster's sovereignty is diminished but an entity named Britain remains. They would internalise the managed decline of Empire by treating Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as colonies - as peripheries to the English centre - rather than undergo a radical re-imagining of the centre that disturbs their narrative.
I don't hold out much hope for a federal Britain. I see the future of Britain as one of 'managed decline' in which Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland claim ever greater powers from Westminster. The only way this will be averted is by the decline of the Big Englander and the rise of the Little Englander. In this respect I think demographics are on England and Britain's side, the youth of Britain being far more comfortable with the multi-national nature of Britain than is the post-war baby-boomer generation.
We Little Englanders do not necessarily view Westminster as a benign force for civillisation and progress; we talk of the Norman Yoke in the same breath as mention of Westminster; we sing Jerusalem instead of God Save the Queen or Land of Hope and Glory; and we view our politicians as corrupt and elitist, and invariably British.