Is London English any more?
What colour do you have to be, to be English?
What colour are the elite?
What does it mean to belong?
Over the past couple of months, a slew of white men have all decided to pontificate and fret about “Immigration” and “Englishness” and “Belonging”. Taken together we can piece together an idea of what is meant by ‘Englishness’, by ‘belonging’, by ‘elite’ and by ‘London’.
None of these words mean what you think they mean.
To start with the most recent, and the most obvious; John Cleese peaked out from his home in the Caribbean to declare that London wasn’t really English anymore. Foreign friends visiting the city had confirmed this view.
It is not clear how these foreign friends ascertained the nationality of the people the saw in London. Presumably they didn’t talk to a representative sample of them? Perhaps they kept an ear out while seeing the sights? Seems like a bit of an oversight, to assume that the voices you hear at the London Dungeon are representative of the residents of Southwark. Let’s credit Cleese’ fabled, foreign friends with more acuity than that.
Maybe they based their opinion on observation of the general populace? How can you tell that people in England aren’t English just by looking at them? I think we know how, don’t we?
At the start of May, Tom Smail, a self-described “multi-lingual Londoner” wrote a piece in Prospect magazine lamenting the sense of isolation he now feels, at the lack of English voices in the communities that surround him. After thirty-five years living in Green Lanes with his French wife and Italian stepchildren, Tom now feels alienated by the Turkish and Kurdish voices that besiege him.
Let us ignore the cognitive dissonance sparked by referring to ones foreign family during a lament about immigration. Let’s also resist the urge to ponder how his immigrant family feel about this article, lamenting their presence in London.
Because Tom isn’t lamenting their presence is he? They’re not the type of immigrants he’s upset about. Why might that be? I think we can guess.
This week, Giles Fraser declared that Labour have “betrayed its working class base and turned itself into a party for London, Cambridge and Brighton.” The word “London” is doing a lot of work here. It apparently isn’t just a geographic signifier, so what is signified?
Giles past interventions have made it clear that he sees England as divided between an authentic, leave-voting, working class who understand patriotism and can appreciate football; and rootless, decadent, metropolitan Remainers. The latter are citizens of nowhere who sneer at love-of-country and could never appreciate the world cup.
London must mean elite, it must mean frothy-coffee drinking rootlessness, and absolutely no working-class people. But what else does London mean? It means not England.
Of course, some people acknowledge that there are multiple facets to London. Some of these facets are working class, some of them suffer from poverty and unemployment. Some of them are communities that have been at the sharp end of neo-liberalism for decades.
But here’s the rub, those people are white too. And of course, those are the people who are being swamped by the immigrants. Losing their culture and their communities to the influx of foreign people. None of those newcomers are part of the working class. Instead they are part of the elite, or at least if they’re not the elite, they are an infliction which the elite imposes in order to facilitate their frothy coffees and ‘diversity’. And no matter how long they’ve been here, they’re can never be English.
Some people just come right out and say this stuff. Lots of people are far more comfortable expressing their racism now than they were a few years ago. But most of the time they don’t need to.
If you spend a whole interview talking about immigration, then sign off by advising the left to talk about “Belonging”, it’s pretty clear who you think belongs, and who doesn’t.
You don’t have to say that only white people can be English, you just need to talk about how places with lots of non-white people (like London for instance) are not English.
You can’t talk about who the English are without creating a negative image of who the English aren’t. You can’t talk about belonging, without defining who doesn’t belong. So you don’t have to. Do the first bit, and people will fill in the blanks.
I was born in London, and have lived here my whole life. My wife is white, she was born and brought up in Canada. She still has a Canadian accent, She is an immigrant. But John Cleese et al seem to be more perturbed by my presence than by hers. And I think we all know why.