Editor-At-Large: Ed's idea of England has lost its way

The 'make-do and mend' spirit that got us through the last war is truly English

Share

Ed Miliband has given a speech about the need to celebrate our English identity, to reclaim our national pride in the same way the Scots have. He wants us to celebrate our Englishness – but baulks at being brave enough to list what that might mean.

Instead, he cobbles together a handful of uplifting stories, about refugees, his own family history, a sporting star (one of his constituents) who cares for her parents who are suffering from cancer. According to Ed, the "essence of English identity is not found with the grandeur of public office in Westminster... but in people coming together in the struggle to improve their lives and the lives of others". This kind of touchy-feely bollocks sounds as if it was written by a group of young freshers in his office, the kind of special advisers Whitehall is over-run with, keen kids who've never done a day's work in the grubby world of manual labour, the factory floor, the department store or supermarket.

Ed's "big idea" could easily pass as one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's more lacklustre sermons. Of course, it's fabulous that all over England people are helping their neighbours, holding street parties and waving their flags. Every country in the world is full of people doing that at special national events – even Uzbekistan, the Ukraine and North Korea. Kindness is part of human nature. We are not born unfeeling – it's something that happens to us as we gradually realise there are two layers of English society– the haves and the have-nots. Ed talks about "the battle to protect the National Health Service", but that is not a battle being waged by ordinary people, defining their nationality.

All citizens pay for the NHS, but they seem to have no control over the fact that vast sums of money are squandered in administration and faulty IT systems, instead of being spent on more frontline services such as nurses and care assistants.

Ed isn't keen on an English Assembly along the lines of the Scottish one: he wants power devolved away from Westminster to locally elected mayors and councils. All that will mean is more duplication, more swanky uniforms, posh cars, expenses and consultants. What Ed should be advocating as truly English is the "make do and mend" spirit that got us through the last world war. Why not bring back National Service, rationing (of sugar, drink and ciggies)? Who's to say a bit of 1950s austerity living wouldn't bring out the best in flabby, unskilled, illiterate, jobless English men and women?

Grayson's diary

Grayson Perry is the Samuel Pepys of our day, shamelessly noting and collating everything tacky and vulgar that sums up contemporary values, blending it into a unique record of modern Britain. Forget Ed Miliband's feeble attempt to sum up Englishness, Grayson has his finger on the pulse of those tiny nuances of taste that mark out where you stand on the immovable ladder of class. J G Ballard once ruthlessly parodied modern values, setting his dystopian novels in a bleak world where gadgetry, cars and flashy new homes delineated social standing.

Grayson is his rightful heir, the man who we can rely on to leave a true record of what it is to live in Britain 2012, not pompous historians or social commentators such as Alain de Botton.

Perry's latest work, a set of tapestries, on show at Victoria Miro in north London, are based on Hogarth's 18th-century series The Rake's Progress. They tell the story of Tim Rakewell, born to a mum who bears the slogan "I did the best I could, considering his father upped and left". This modern Madonna and child are worshipped by four maidens straight out of Towie, while a pair of tattooed cage fighters kneel in attendance. The proud mother clutches her mobile phone, a can of Red Bull close at hand.

Referencing Renaissance religious painting, Grayson never patronises his subject material – that's what makes his work so exciting. His Channel 4 series In the Best Possible Taste (Tuesdays, 10pm) follows the whole process of putting the tapestries together.

Artists, not politicians, seem best placed to reflect the mood of modern Britain.

Hit musical

On Friday, at York Hall in the East End of London, a famous boxing venue, Kimmo Pohjonen, one of the world's top accordionists, created a unique musical event. I was prepared to be gobsmacked because a few years ago I saw his concerto performed in a farmyard in West Sussex, using sounds made by farm implements, including an ancient potato sorter.

This time, Kimmo recreated an old Finnish tradition from the 1920s, when accordionists accompanied wrestlers during matches, commentating on events through their music, rather like the role of the referee in sumo wrestling, who is dressed like a Shinto priest and displays his fan to denote his opinion of the fighters.

Kimmo used an extraordinary range of sounds emanating from his specially constructed instrument, to attack, encourage and taunt the 12 wrestlers in his troupe, which included two British champions. What a spectacle!

The wrestlers ranged in age from 62 to a girl of 15 – and Kimmo's music displayed their skills as subtly as the best dance piece. Hopefully, this extraordinary work, which will be performed next at the Lincoln Centre in New York, will be available on DVD.

Women grow smarter every day

At last, a fashion writer who's proud to celebrate real women, women who are over 50, women who are proud of their shapes and their wrinkles (like me!). My generation is completely ignored by fashion editors. We seem to be invisible, although many of us have the spending power that the teenage stick insects who populate these glossies generally lack.

Now and then, a token wrinkly might creep on to the catwalk, or feature in a "fashion for all ages" feature, but generally we are non-people as far as planet fashion is concerned. Ari Seth Cohen wants to change all that. He writes an influential blog, Advanced Style, filling it with pictures of stylish older women (up to a 92-year-old) spotted on the street. His mission is to demonstrate that style is something which improves as the years go by.

In his new book, Advanced Style, 200 gorgeous women are showcased and talk about how they put together their personal look. And it has nothing to do with spending a fortune.

GPs are failing us

The NHS has just published the results of its new family doctor rating system. Every practice has received a mark out of 10, based on patient's comments. The results are shocking – more than 90 per cent of surgeries in England aren't open when patients want them, and get a rating of less than 5 out of 10. The average score on this issue was only 3.5.

Many GPs opted out of working weekends and evenings when they signed new contracts drawn up by Labour in 2004. Now, most surgeries close on Saturday mornings and few open late on weekday evenings.

The average salary for a GP is more than £100,000 – and what do patients get in return? A service that isn't tailored to our needs. You can look up how your your local health centre scored by logging on to the NHS Choices website and typing in the postcode. Doctors plan to strike on 21 June over proposed changes to their pensions. Do they exist in the same world as the rest of us? Why should we have to go to pharmacies and surgeries in supermarkets when purpose-built health centres all over the country sit closed for two days a week?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there