Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Clive Anderson, Sarah Miles, English imperialism and me...
President, Woodland Trust.
I am currently a member of the Woodland Trust.
During a recent radio edition of 'Loose Ends', you interviewed the actress Sarah Miles. During the conversation, she expressed her pride in being English - and also bemoaned the fact that so many English people are apparently shy about celebrating their Englishness....
Your reaction was to utter a statement along the lines of 'Well, 200 years of English imperialism might have something to do with it'.....
As a proud Englishman, I was frankly amazed that you, a barrister and de facto, a supposedly intelligent man would make such a bizarre statement. Can you tell me when this 200 years of English imperialism happened? Do you mean the last 200 years and the days of Empire? If so, then you are mistaken. It was not 'the English Empire' - it was the BRITISH Empire'. Last time I looked, 'Great Britain' consisted of Wales, Scotland and England....
Maybe you were referring to the Middle Ages - a time when Scotland did more than its fair share of imperialistic invading...
Sarah Miles was right. Those born in England should be proud. Aside from coming second (behind China) in the list of nations responsible for the greatest number of inventions in the UN top 100 that have most benefitted civilisation, England has given much to the world. For example, England produced Magna Carta, the world's first document to formally set out the rights of the individual - a document much copied throughout the world, including the Declaration of Independence. And the 2 tier model of modern democratic representation originated in England, also.
England is a great country which is suffering grievously under New Labour. The only time people at the BBC mention England is to comprehensively rubbish it - and you appear to be no exception to that rule.
As you are a barrister, I am sure you would agree that we, the English should have our own national parliament. We are currently the only country in Europe without any national representation. No First Minister for us, no parliament - we aren't even allowed our own national anthem for God's sake!!!
I joined the Woodland Trust at the end of 2008 - I am passionate about the ever few remaining green spaces left in England (the 3rd most densely populated country in the world). However, I will not stay in an organisation which has as its head a man who apparently so flippantly rubbishes England.
Can you please explain your comment - your reply will decide whether I retain my membership or not.
Alfie the OK
Englishman (and therefore rubbished)
England (a country with no national representation).
Dear Mr OK,
Thank you for your E mail.
I’m sorry a remark of mine on Loose Ends has caused you so much distress. I particularly regret that it might lead you to disaffection with the Woodland Trust, an organisation you rightly identify as addressing an important issue.
When on Loose Ends Sarah Miles raised the question of Englishness, somewhat tangentially to the main thrust of our conversation, I attempted an off-the-cuff and, I hope, amusing explanation as to why England or Englishness might be unpopular.
If I had specified 200 years of imperialism I think your point, as far is it goes, would have been a fair one, as perhaps I would have been confusing England and Britain (or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , or in later years the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)– an error that almost everyone risks falling into from time to time – but one which I would have wanted to avoid in the context of the conversation we were having, however light-hearted.
In fact according to the BBC transcript of the programme I said
I think it’s a few hundred years of imperialism that have made England very unpopular.
This is vaguer, but I think more apt. In any event , I had in mind not just the years of the British Empire but also the centuries before that in which English kings, queens and state attempted, with some success, to acquire dominion over the rest of the British Isles and elsewhere. All in all I think there is a perception that Britain, and particularly England, has over long periods of history sought to rule parts of the world beyond its borders. While there is much to be proud of in England’s history it is perhaps understandable that this has provoked a certain amount of resentment in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and overseas.
Or perhaps there is some other explanation for the situation Sarah Miles identified?
With best wishes,