Traditional Britain Group Conference Speeches: The Meaning of English Nationhood
by Stuart Millson
Stuart Millson draws upon his decades of involvement within the Monday Club and the Traditional Britain Group to discuss the meaning of Englishness and its enduring qualities.
My Lord President, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an immense privilege to be able to appear today at the Traditional Britain conference. I notice in the email notice which was distributed to our many supporters, that I was described as a “veteran radical traditionalist” and a “former member of the old Monday Club council” – so I half expected to have some medals pinned to my chest by Gregory Lauder-Frost, the veteran antiquarian, Scot and traditionalist who has done so much to give us such a memorable and prestigious event today.
For those who do not know me, I was indeed a member of the old Monday Club executive, serving on that body in 1985, and it is good to see other veterans of those old campaigns in the audience today: men of great substance such as Sam Swerling, who in my view is one of the best speakers ever produced by the British Right-wing, and Adrian Davies, a long-standing friend and a very accomplished lawyer who struck out some years ago, with the Freedom Party – a party which had some success in a pocket of local government in the West Midlands.
I was also the founder of the University of Essex Monday Club, and in 1985 travelled – as a young student – to Belfast, to join with tens of thousands of my fellow countrymen in Ulster in the huge rally against the then Anglo-Irish Agreement – yet another example, along with the Common Market, the sell-out of Rhodesia and the Maastricht Treaty, of the Conservative Party’s commitment to our country and way of life.
I will never forget, as an Englishman, the welcome I received from the people of Northern Ireland in the city’s main square that morning – folk patting me on the back, enthusiastically taking the University of Essex Monday Club leaflets that I had printed on an old photocopier when one of the student union commissars wasn’t watching, and then carried over to Ulster with me in a battered hold-all. From the flagpoles of the City’s Hall flew the Union Jack, and all the flags of the British home-nations, and I felt pleased that the loyal people of the embattled province could see that at least somebody in England cared enough to stand with them in their hour of need.
As you can imagine, it was somewhat difficult being a right-winger and a radical traditionalist at the overwhelmingly Left-wing University of Essex. I can recall how I eventually left my Communism classes – due to lousy Marx! However, the University – despite its prevailing ideology – had and has a very good politics course, so I hope they will forgive me for exercising my right to free speech!
In the Monday Club of 1985 to 1992, I believe that we achieved a high-water mark in political campaigning. And may I say that our greatest triumph of that period was down to Gregory Lauder-Frost. In 1991, the debate over the Maastricht Treaty was reaching a fever-pitch. The great journalist and writer, Paul Johnson, one of British sovereignty’s most robust defenders had demolished the Treaty in his many articles for The Sunday Telegraph, describing the measure – of which the Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, was all in favour – as “death by a thousand Brussels cuts” and a “farewell” to the England he loved. More interestingly, he noted how, thanks to the grey, grim politically-correct bureaucrats of this new continental system, the culture of Europe itself was fading just as surely as that of our own country.
At the Tory conference of October 1991, Gregory had organised a fringe meeting – which in characteristic Gregory style would dwarf not just the proceedings on the fringe, but of the whole conference. Booked at the Monday Club “fringe” meeting – at the perfectly-named and chosen Empire Hotel, Blackpool, was Enoch Powell – the greatest Tory Prime Minister that Britain never had. Mr. Powell had, in the 1980s, spoken to the Monday Club – stating at one dinner how the new battle over (what has become) the European Union was as much a struggle for national survival as the Battle of Britain in 1940. Thanks to Gregory, Powell’s voice was heard loud and clear – warning the delegates at the conference, the ministers of John Major’s government, and the British people as a whole of what they stood to lose if the Government signed us into “the irrevocable European Union”of the Maastricht Treaty. I would like to pay tribute at this conference to the late Enoch Powell, and to Gregory Lauder-Frost for his outstanding leadership at that time – ensuring that the old Monday Club stood at the very centre of the storm.
However, I have been asked to speak on the theme of Englishness and the meaning of English nationhood, so you will forgive me for that short nostalgic interlude.
For Enoch Powell certainly, Englishness was a defining characteristic of his life – and many of you may have seen television biographies of Powell, with those wonderful black-and-white films of Enoch, with cap and tweed jacket, his family dutifully following him, as he explored English country churches – trying to enthuse his children by pointing out Norman or perpendicular arches, and the many curiosities of our ancient parish churches. Guard well, said Enoch at a meeting of The Royal Society of St. George: “…the parent stem of England and its royal talisman, for we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth…” His was a vision of England, past, present and future – and isn’t it interesting to contrast his moving use of the English language, with the slang-like management-speak of our present Prime Minister, a man who seems more interested in assisting the Chinese in their asset-stripping of Britain, than in reflecting and honouring our national history and preserving something recognisable and ancestral for our descendants.
Enoch Powell was a man of the West Midlands, the urban face of which has changed out of all recognition, and I wonder how that most patient, pipe-smoking Prime Minister – Stanley Baldwin – a man of the border country of Worcestershire would react to the face of England today? When not addressing Empire Day rallies in Hyde Park or the Empire Parliamentary Association, Stanley Baldwin seemed to be forever receiving the freedom of this or that city, or thanking one or other august body for making him an honorary Highlander or Welshman! On July 6th 1928, was given the freedom of the City of Winchester, and he responded with this remarkable speech – dedicated to “The Wealth and Glory of England”.
“I want to say a word or two to you this afternoon – and there could be no more suitable place than Winchester to say it – of my desire to preserve the beauty of our country. There is nothing meritorious in such a desire. It is the wealth and the glory of England, this beauty which has been saved through the centuries. There could be nothing more disastrous, nothing more wicked on our part, than to waste it, to dissipate it, and destroy in our profligacy a priceless and irreplaceable heritage. I have been asked, as all people in my position must be, to undertake many salutary reforms: to reform the calendar, to make the Channel Tunnel, to repay the National Debt. But you may reform the calendar without changing our climate; you may make a Channel Tunnel to enable people to go and buy dresses in Paris; you may pay off the National Debt and, as many economists tell us, you will be no better off when you have done it. But to preserve the beauties of our country, that is something worth living for…. I read the other day the words of a well-known architect who said: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that in fifty years, at the rate so-called improvements are being made, the destruction of all the beauty and charm with which our ancestors enhanced their towns and villages will be complete.’"
“Trim the lamp; polish the lens; draw, one by one, rare coins to the light. Ringed by its own lustre, the masterful head emerges, kempt and jutting, out of England’s well. Far from the underkingdom of crinoid and crayfish, the rune-stone’s province, Rex Totius Anglorum Patriae, coiffured and ageless, portrays the self-possession of his possession, cushioned on a legend.”
A feeling for an ancient past, time out of mind, emerges in the writings of the modern critic and author, Peter Ackroyd, who has traced the origins of the English imagination in his magnificent work, Albion. In another of his books, Thames, Sacred River, he finds in the waters of the river and in the surrounding landscape’s folklore and mythology, the threads from which England came. At Abingdon, Peter Ackroyd discovers a site of great antiquity, the remains of a circle – “signs of human activity, while the inner area seems to have been used for specific rites and ceremonies. At the core was worship. The defined space might also offer a special form of protection, blessed by the river. The connection between their ancestors and the Thames must have been well-known through folk myth and oral memory… By the causewayed enclosure at Abingdon can be found a number of long oval barrows. These burial mounds were covered in soil and chalk. They would have gleamed white in the landscape.”
Mr. Ackroyd also travels to Dorchester, just south of Oxford, whose Saxon and mediaeval abbey plays host to today’s English Music Festival. Just beyond Dorchester are the Wittenham Clumps, a wooded ridge, which inspired the 20th-century English artist, Paul Nash, who died in 1946. The chalk downland and hill-forts gave the artist a spiritual, or even pagan inspiration. Nash said that the view here was of: “A beautiful legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten.”
The archaeologist, Charles Green, in tracing the people who worshipped those gods noted: “It is a commonplace that in the veins of most modern Englishmen there runs the blood of many ancestral peoples. We may turn for example to Daniel Defoe who, in 1703, gave us "The True-born Englishman" –
‘The Western Angles all the rest subdued A bloody nation, barbarous and rude, Who by tenure of the sword possessed One part of Britain, and subdued the rest, And as great things denominate the small, The conquering part gave title to the whole; The Scot, Pict, Briton, Roman, Dane, submit, And with the English Saxon all unite.’
And then he [Defoe] goes on to satirise at greater length the Norman strain in the hotch-potch. But this mongrelism, as Green goes on to explain, can be and is often somewhat exaggerated: “For Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, Danes and Norsemen were little more than tribal names of folk of closely-related stocks, of cognate speech and culture. Normans, too, were transplanted Norsemen, somewhat modified by admixture with Saxons and Franks, another northern tribal group. And though the ancient British element, itself compounded of many strains, has modified the ‘Nordic’ mixture, it has still to be shown that its proportion is considerable in the English amalgam….”
And this statement, ladies and gentlemen, is – I believe – what comes very close to explaining the true essence of England – and when I say the name “England”, I am not simply referring to a country on its own, but England as a part of a united Britain; part of the unique culture of the British Isles and the United Kingdom, which our politicians have done so little to defend, nurture and celebrate. Writing in 1985, the historian David Cannadine (commenting on the idea of nostalgia, and of a particularly fine and well-presented exhibition held in Washington that year, devoted to the art of the country house). David Cannadine wrote:
“For the argument in favour of museums rather than country houses as the best medium of display presupposes that English art galleries are in a position to acquire and to show such beautiful things in surroundings and conditions comparable to those available in Washington. Many British museums are almost as shambolic and uninviting as the most rundown country house. The Thatcher government is not much concerned about this: the idea that works of art may elevate the mind and lift the spirit, and that they should be freely and easily available for all, is not something which seems to concern her administration very much… But of course, Mrs. Thatcher herself is no better disposed to the country-house world which is so valued and vaunted in this exhibition. She may approve of the tourist trade as a dollar earner, but her personal brand of radical and petty bourgeois conservatism has no time for the escapist syndrome, which she sees as anachronistically irrelevant to the Britain of 1985. Her heroes are self-made men (and self-made failures) like Clive Sinclair, Freddie Laker and Cecil Parkinson… She hates the idea of Britain as a museum society, intent on embalming itself, whether the impulse comes from the left (in the shape of Scargill and the miners) or from the right (in the form of country-house owners and their propagandists).”
Very little has changed, it seems, from the world of 1985, to the world of 2015. Led by a man who didn’t even know what the name, Magna Carta signified, the philistine Conservative Party of today parrots the language of “diversity” and political correctness, the language of the Left. Meanwhile, the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn has abandoned the last strongholds of what was the industrial working class of Britain, upholding instead the slogans and demands of Marxist public-sector unions. In Scotland and Wales, separatist parties are seeking to make the people of these islands strangers to one another – turning their backs on their natural neighbours in England, and yet reaching out to the EU, and telling people in Glasgow and Cardiff that they should welcome mass-immigration.
And so, in conclusion, we need to turn to the Britain inhabited by such figures as John Betjeman, the poet who looked to the peaceful suburbs of “Metroland”, to the country that existed before thoroughly English, human-scale buildings were replaced by what the poet described as “rent collectors’ slabs”. We can also regain some sense of confidence from some recent events, such as the widespread celebrations that accompanied the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – proof that one of the last remaining symbols of our identity still has the power to move us.
Stanley Baldwin, addressing the Junior Imperial League in 1928 stated:
“So, every one of you, be ready in time to take up the torch from the hand of the generation that drops it. Make it a brighter light; carry it further with stronger steps. Let us feel, when our time comes to hand it on, that you will do your duty and in your turn pass it on to a generation instructed by you, which will be yet better, so that in time long distant, and after our puny lights have been extinguished, the kingdoms of the world may be flooded with the light which we only see to-day in our dreams.”
We can only hope that by celebrating the culture of England, and fighting for our wider British identity, independence and traditions, the TBG may help to turn the tide against the current miasmic atmosphere of indifference, decay and loss.
Stuart Millson, October 2015