BOOKS: Revenge of the lavatory brush boys

Nor Shall My Sword by Simon Heffer Weidenfeld pounds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
Simon Heffer doesn't seem to like the English very much. In fact, the more he writes about them the less he seems to like them. On page 10 they "often give the unfortunate appearance of being complacent, slow- witted and uninterested in politics". By page 11 appearance has hardened into reality: "The English ... are a simple and politically unsophisticated people." By page 15 their stupidity is plural and congenital: "It is one of the stupidities, or carelessness of the English that they have for generations been so unaware..." By page 32 they have become "The rigour- free appeasement-addicted English" (given to constructing rigour-free sentences, apparently).

A century of right-wing cliches has worn the English down to the point where they are so lacking in backbone, spunk and vim that all they can muster an interest in is "the lives of characters in their favourite soap opera, or the fortunes of their favourite soccer team". When of course they should be reading Simon Heffer.

Perhaps it's because Heffer doesn't like the English very much that he wants to reinvent them. He believes that the increasingly likely secession of Scotland and the break-up of the Union presents an historic opportunity to do this. So what does Heffer's New England look like? Well, it's white ("at a time when a nation is re-establishing itself [multiculturalism] could be de- stabilising and harmful"), Christian (England has always been a Christian country), Conservative (the loss of the Scottish Labour vote will allow England to return to its "natural" state of unbroken Tory rule), middle- class (freed of the welfarist, collectivist Scots the English will flourish as an entrepreneurial and mercantile nation), and of course male. In other words, it looks just like Simon Heffer. Which isn't the most inspiring of images.

I suspect that even Simon Heffer is aware of this, so he presents us with a stark choice. "What would the English rather their independence movement drew its nourishment from," he asks, "men with haircuts like lavatory brushes, who fashion a recreation out of kicking foreigners, and whose definition of being English is reliant upon savagery, alcohol abuse and physical strength; or from Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Elgar, Constable, Montgomery and Churchill?"

Well, I'd rather live in a country fit for rough oiks over fond of football than for pompous oafs over fond of themselves. It goes without saying that when Heffer talks about "the English" he means "men" - the only women who seem to exist in Heffer's England are the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. The traits of the English he dislikes are the types of masculinity which differ from his own. He resents the (effete) toffs for their philistinism, paternalism and lack of respect for intellect (ie, his), and he loathes and fears the (lavatory brush) secondary modern boys who beat up swotty grammar school boys reading biographies of Montgomery on the school special.

Heffer hopes his New Englandism will see off both hoi polloi and toffs, and also what he regards as the hideous spectre of European Regionalism taking the place of nationalism under the hegemony of a Brussels superstate. It's clear that his New Englandism is really a New Conservatism. He calculates, probably correctly, that New Labour's greatest vulnerability is in regard to Scotland - both electorally and personally (a third of the current Labour Cabinet is Scottish) . Hence much of this book is devoted to persuading the Right to drop its stick-in-the-mud Unionism and attachment to "Britishness" and ride the wave-of-the-future New Englandism.

But Heffer is too late. The toffs, of course, have already been routed. The Dianista Revolution of 1997 saw to that. It was the tearful end of both the establishment and "Britishness" itself. The British Royal Family were dragged back from their holiday abroad - in Scotland - and humiliated in the streets of London by a mob angered by their treatment of "England's Rose" and their display of British reserve at a time when the (Southern) English were reinventing themselves as a nation which could cry in public.

If this renascence of Englishness was a mostly "feminine" affair - and hence completely beyond the ken of Heffer - the World Cup the following year provided English men wrapped in St George's flags with the chance to cry in public too. In worrying about the fate of their favourite (royal) soap opera star or soccer team, the English mob have shown rather more understanding of what Englishness might mean in the modern world than Simon Heffer's impotent prose.