Niall Gooch

In defence of a ‘British culture’

The Fighting Temeraire (JMW Turner / The National Gallery)

From time to time, a would-be edgy Tweeter or columnist will shock us all by stating or suggesting that the boring white people who until the last third of the twentieth century made up almost the entire population of the United Kingdom, have no real culture to speak of. There is a twofold implication to this rhetorical ploy: that indigenous Britons should fall on their knees in eternal gratitude for the hitherto unknown liveliness and dynamism of the various diaspora communities who have made their homes here, and also that the demand that newcomers integrate into our way of life is meaningless because there is nothing into which the new Britons can integrate.

As a matter of objective reality Britain, and its constituent parts, have one of the richest, most consequential and deepest cultures on the planet

Well. Many white Britons are happy to participate in this self-abnegation. Pathologically anti-patriotic Tweeters love to point out that much-loved aspects of British culture, from fish ‘n’ chips to St George, have been influenced by foreigners. They also love to emphasise how dull Britain was in the bad old days before Windrush or Tony Blair. A classic recent example was provided by George Monbiot, who said a year or so back, ‘I was brought up in a village that was almost exclusively white and Christian. It was the most boring and stifling place I’ve ever known.’

Yet as a matter of objective reality Britain, and its constituent parts, have one of the richest, most consequential and deepest cultures on the planet.

England has existed as an organised unitary state within more or less its current borders since long before the Norman Conquest; Athelstan, who reigned from 927 to 939, was the first English monarch to exercise meaningful political authority over almost all the country. The English nation as a coherent polity is therefore 1,100 years old.

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