'BY GEORGE, I'M PROUD TO BE ENGLISH'

Tony Parson


THE TONY PARSONS COLUMN:

ONE fine day, many years from now, it just might be possible for the English to celebrate St George's Day.

If that day ever comes, the English will probably not dance in the streets or shout from the rooftops or parade up and down. That's not our way. But one fine day we might work up the nerve to wear a red rose in our button hole on this, our national day, April 23.

One fine day it might be possible to say: "I am proud to be English," and not automatically be thought of as a Tory or a monarchist or a racist or a Little Englander.

"We should be proud to be British," says Robin Cook, smiting down the racists with his popadom of fire. Well, we are all proud to be British, and only some Nazi nut-job would not realise that Britain today is a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. And a successful one.
But I would like the English to have the same rights as everybody else. I would like the English to be allowed to celebrate their national identity, which is real and vital and just as valid as those celebrated on St David's, St Patrick's and St Andrew's Days.

There are many good things about the English, including an endless tolerance. Robin Cook will not mind me pointing out that he is a Scot. And of course it would be unthinkable for an Englishman to occupy the position of power and influence in Scotland that the Foreign Secretary enjoys in England. Robin Cook is a beneficiary of English tolerance.
One of my closest friends is from Aberdeen. I have good mates from Wales and all parts of Ireland. And every one of them is allowed to celebrate their national identity in a way that is denied to an Englishman.

Why? England is a country that is easy to love. England gave the world football, parliamentary democracy and the Beatles. It is the birthplace of Shakespeare, Dickens and Robbie Williams. England produced the poetry of Lord Byron, the paintings of Turner, the crosses of David Beckham. Noel Coward, Henry Cooper, Keith Richards. England is a beautiful country. Whenever I travel out of my beloved London, I am always shocked with love by the sight of those green, rolling fields.

England is Sunday evening in country pubs, Hyde Park on a summer's afternoon, the rugged beauty of the Lake District, the manicured beauty of the Cotswolds, Piccadilly in the rain.
And England is the accents from the Mersey and the Tyne and the Thames. Manchester United versus Arsenal. Father Christmas in Selfridges. Chinatown first thing in the morning.
My England is probably not your England. But the fundamental truths about England - tolerance, humour, self-effacing shyness that can be mistaken for coldness, the physical courage of a people who fought off every invader for a thousand years - can be seen by any Englishman.

One day a year to stick a red rose in your lapel to say, you know, this is not such a bad place to live, doesn't feel like much to ask. But a love of England is the love that dare not speak it's name. Loving England comes with so much unholy baggage that we prefer not to make a fuss. And nothing is more English than not wanting to make a fuss.How incredible that loving England should be seen as morally dubious. No country has done more good in this world, whether it is inventing democracy or stuffing the Nazis above the skies of Kent when we stood alone or peacefully going, in the course of my lifetime, from a predominantly white country to a multi-racial society.

My mum died two years ago today. Every single doctor that looked after her in her long fight against cancer had an Asian name and a brown face. Yet they were all Englishmen and women, just as surely as I am an Englishman.

In the final analysis, eating chicken tikka masala has got little to do with making a multi-racial country work. It's got little to do with curry and everything to do with people. The way they live together, work together and see the value in every man, woman and child. That's my England, the England I love.

Perhaps one fine day it will be OK to love England. But not yet. And not today.

Tony Parsons - The Daily Mirror - April 23rd 2001



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