“The English are arrogant.” This week, I heard both a French journalist railing against the onslaught of Parisian Beckham-mania and the former Scottish rugby coach Jim Telfer, stoking the fire ahead of the Calcutta Cup, throw that accusation at England. It is so often levelled that there is surely some truth in it: no smoke without fire?
This is, of course, a throwback to colonialism. It is a charge labelled at most empire-builders of recent history: Britain, Spain, France, and – culturally – the United States. It was probably ever thus: Celts mocking Romans; Persians eye-rolling at Greeks. When the English hit back, railing at – for example – the lack of support from other home countries for England in sporting events it ignores their history of subjugation.
The line between arrogance and bloody-mindedness is thin, ask Napoleon or Hitler. There is nothing wrong with confidence. I’d argue England needs more of it. Not in nationalistic sports by which nations are so often judged, but in asserting pride in its own culture, society and – yes – history. Famously, it has lost its flag to a minority of bigots, but I fear they have stolen English patriotism too.
I feel England is actually too insecure: guilty about its past, and confused by a present which brings ever more devolved powers for the Scots and Welsh without a corresponding English parliament.
To me and mine, England is still a liberal, welcoming, friendly country mostly populated by well-meaning, fair-minded people who have so much to be proud of, despite manifest problems. England needs more pride, not less. It needs to find peace with itself, shrug off manufactured outrage and the politics of envy, and aspire to a new place within Britain, Europe and the wider world.