This morning, as is my habit, I scanned the email I receive daily from the Guardian media group that gives me details of the top stories. One headline caught my eye: a shadow cabinet minister had resigned because of a tweet she had sent during the Rochester by-election. Ed Milliband, her party leader was said to have been furious, or some similar adjective, about the tweet. Rochester is a city of two halves, and one where people will shortly be donning bonnets, shawls and loud waistcoats for the annual Dickensian Christmas festival. I clicked, wondering idly if she had called Nigel Farage a farrago, or some such thing, and saw a picture of a house where someone’s idea of exterior decoration appeared to be flags over the windows. St George’s flags. St George being the patron saint of England. Actually he’s the patron saint of various other places too, including Barcelona, but excluding Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so a pretty strange flag for a supporter of a party purporting to stand for the whole of the UK to display. She’d tagged it Image from #Rochester. That was it. Yet apparently some people, including members of her own party, thought it “derogatory and dismissive of the people”. Others have accused her of snobbery. It’s the sort of picture I might take myself. Continue reading
It’s a strange time. A man who preaches the politics of fear has achieved creditable results in both the local and European elections. Across Europe the far right has done well. Racist, xenophobic, homophobic just-about-any-phobic parties have received lots of votes. Though not, sigh of relief and some pride, here in London, where we know a thing or three about living in ethnically, sexually diverse communities made up of people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. And hey, you know what? We like it. We don’t feel threatened. We reforge our national identities all the time as new influences enrich our lives.
The idea that Englishness is somehow immutable is a nonsense. It doesn’t take much understanding of history to know that.
I looked at my fellow passengers on the bus the other day after hearing yet another speech about how how national identity was threatened and I felt proud. The two women sitting front of me were in their early sixties, obviously friends, chatting about their families, their homes. One black, and from her accent from west Africa, the other south London to her core. There were school girls of different races, some wearing the hijab, giggling and jostling each other just as remember doing with my friends decades ago. Tuning into other conversations, there were a number I couldn’t understand. The languages sounded eastern European, but I wouldn’t know what they were.