Alphen, Netherlands, 1 January. Happy New Year! Well, apparently not if you are English. According to the much of the Press as I write hordes of Bulgarians and Romanians are en route to Dover courtesy of yet another diktat from loathed, lamentable Brussels. With another wave of immigration likely elections to the European Parliament and the Scottish referendum there are lots of contentious issues in a 2014 that will be a big and possibly disastrous year for Britain. The impact of these linked but distinct issues is that for the first time in many years the views of the English are suddenly in the political spotlight. For the past decade and more the English have either been ignored or seen as a lab for some ghastly, failed political experiment in social engineering that destroyed the England I knew. Five issues dominate the pub – poverty, Scotland, the EU, freedom, and of course immigration.
Firstly, England is becoming rapidly more populous but poorer. The main crutch supporting hyper-immigration has been that it grows the economy. With the British economy likely to grow between 2.5% and 3% next year there may be some truth to that. However, with immigration growing faster than the economy the net result is a bigger economy and poorer people, a phenomenon most clearly seen in the rise of youth unemployment.
Secondly, the English have been marginalised in Britain. Although some 90% of Britain’s 67 million people live in England devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has undoubtedly come at the expense of the under-represented, politically-marginalised English. Moreover, with Scots contemplating an independence referendum on 18 September Westminster will spend much of the year appeasing the Scots at the expense (again) of the English.
Thirdly, Euro-scepticism is a very English phenomenon. The EU is seen as a form of foreign legislative occupation that has failed the English badly costing them far more than they gain. Brussels is perceived by much of the English population as openly anti-English fronted by a London Establishment unwilling to fight England’s corner. The English were told that joining the then European Economic Community back in 1973 would strengthen Britain and make the English more prosperous. Internationally Britain (and by extension England) has been profoundly-weakened by an EU first dominated by France and Germany and now dominated by Germany. Domestically, by transferring so much funding power to the EU Brussels is steadily replacing London as the decisive locus for decision-making.
Fourthly, England’s sense of self is being steadily undermined. Britain was built on ancient English concepts of freedom. By signing up to EU treaties that fundamentally change the relationship between leaders and led and human rights legislation that fundamentally changes the relationships between rights and obligations belief in the efficacy of representative democracy is fast collapsing in England. If power is elsewhere what is the point voting for people who cannot actually do anything? Indeed, the EU is seen by many as an illegitimate, bureaucratic assault on ancient English rights and liberties. Perhaps the most hated phrase in England these days is “new European regulations…”
Fifthly and finally immigration is again on the rise. In many ways immigration has indeed been a good thing for England as the best and brightest of many poor societies have been cherry-picked to support an ageing society. However, immigration has also imported real hatreds, intolerance and criminality into England and has done grave damage to English society. A close friend of mine is a black community leader in Salford in the north of England. He told me recently a chilling story about the impact of Eastern European organised crime on his community. The Yardee gang drawn mainly from the Afro-Caribbean community tried to resist. A battle for the streets ensued lasting three days before the Yardees were forced to retreat in the face of utter brutality. London as usual is in denial.
For all that blaming immigration and immigrants for England’s woes is far too simplistic and wrong. Immigration is rather a metaphor for the collapse of trust between the English and an unworldly, failed Westminster political class. The real problem is the dangerous gap between a political class that has retreated steadily into a private conversation between themselves about fantasy policy, pretend power and political correctness. Today, the gap between that which politicians say, what they can do, and what they actually do is now a gulf of credibility open to political exploitation.
However, in his big year for Britain the English must also be clear what it is they want. The only way for England to be again a self-governing country is to let the Scots go, leave the EU and establish an English Parliament with real power. And yet many English people are confused, trapped between romantic Englishness, romantic Britishness, failed Europeanness and hard-headed political calculation. I am no different.
The English simply no longer believe their politicians have their best interests at heart…and they are right!