Posted by: secretperson | April 21, 2008

Gordon Brown and William the Conqueror

I was reading a history of England, and was struck by the similarities to some of todays on going political debates.

Before the Norman conquest, men owed loyalty to the King of England. The King was the maker, and ultimate arbiter of laws and was therefore very powerful. However the Witan, a council of nobles, could choose who became king, so the power wasn’t absolute. The system of loyalty was based upon personal oaths, but post-conquest would be all about land. In fact the King in Anglo-Saxon times was often referred to, not as King of England as we would expect today, but as King of the English, referring to people, not land.

When William the Bastard became William the Conqueror in 1066, what we now call the feudal system was introduced. William was very definitely King of England, and in fact was the sole land owner. His land was not run personally but granted to those loyal to him as ‘tenants in chief’, who were knights and religious leaders like Bishops. The term tenants says it all, William owned England and everyone who did anything did it through his will. The tenants paid their ‘rent’ through military or monetary obligations.

One particular law struck me, the law od relief. This stated that if a son wanted to inherit his father’s lands, he must pay a sum of money to the King, as well as take an oath of loyalty. Reading this around the time of the Inheritance Tax debate, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarity. This was shortly followed by Gordon Brown’s Pledge of Allegiance and I couldn’t help but thinking that we were still living in a state governed by feudal attitudes.

Although we now have a form of representative democracy, and the Queen by no means acts as a feudal overlord, the Royal Prerogative remains an instrument of parliament. Parliamentary soveriegnty means the state has replaced the king as top of the feudal pile. But despite much progress many of the underlying attitudes remain.

Mainly this is the attitude that the state, as with King William, owns everything. Your land is not really yours, you must pay the government for the right to live there and they can use compulsory purchase if they want to take it off you. You must not drink or smoke or eat too much, because you will be a strain on the NHS and therefore the government coffers. And if you wish to inherit tenantship of the states land, you must pay a relief, or inheritance tax.

The arguers for IHT and similar high tax or government intervention schemes say it is unearned wealth, what right do you have to it? Well the government hasn’t earned it either, what right do they have to it? This rests on the assumption that it is a privilege and a luxury to be allowed access to this money, which by default is a posession of the state. You can release it by paying a fee and by pledging an oath of rights and responsibilities.

A system of taxing the poor, only to return it to the deserving ones through tax credits, makes for a client state, reliant on the state for money that was theirs to start with. Everything you have, they want us to believe, is evidence of generosity of the state and we must all show our loyalty.

Of course New Labour are not responsible for the system we live in, but they are statist to their very core, many were communists when young. The irony of playing out their ideas of equality and shared ownership through a highly unfair mediaeval system is lost on them. They see the state as identical to the people and the country, rather as the divine King was seen as the embodiment of the nation, inseperable and identical. Both assumptions are equally misguided.

In my mind, idealistically, I see some kind of government as a good thing. But built from bottom-up not top-down principles. People coming together to help the poor, agreeing to put in according to what they own, that should be the basis fo income tax. To be more democratic and consensual, tax needs to be more local. I don’t think people object to paying some tax for schools and hospitals, but we need a renewal of the democratic basis for this, not an unchallenged assumption. Taxpayers are not tenants of a divinely endowed state, but people volunteering, through their democratic endorsement of a system of tax, to give their money away for the greater good. They deserve a lot more respect.

Things like taxing high carbon cars might also have a similar mediaeval analogy. The supposed assumption behing ‘green taxes’ as well as alcohol and tobacco tax is that the money forces us to live up to our responsibilities. I half suspect the government just wants the money, but feels it sounds better to save the world through tax, but let us take them at face value. If it is our duty to reduce our carbon footprints, and this is enforced through higher tax, we can pay our way out of our duties. Under the feudal system, a landholder’s duty to provide military service to his feudal lord, all the way up the chain to the king, could be paid off under a tax called scutage (literally shield money).

And of course Magna Carta, a massive database containing details of all the landowners, so William would know how to tax them and rule them, has many similarities to the ID card scheme Gordon Brown is so keen on. This will also be backed by a massive central database, though I don’t think Magna Carta had biometric data. The only question is why Gordon is so keen on an unpopular policy, does he also have another purpose in mind?

The Beatles in the 1966 song Taxman sang:

(if you drive a car, car;) – I’ll tax the street;
(if you try to sit, sit;) – I’ll tax your seat;
(if you get too cold, cold;) – I’ll tax the heat;
(if you take a walk, walk;) – I’ll tax your feet.

And today for nearly every activity we choose to undertake the government feels the right to levy taxes. When we earn, or pay an employee, they take a cut. When we sell or buy, they take a cut. To own a TV or drive a car or get married we have to pay them. When we give someone a large enough gift they can take a cut. And when we die, our money is no longer ours to dispose of as we should like.

All this comes from an underlying assumption that individuals have no rights to do as they like, but the state ultimately has the right to take what it likes. It comes from the confusion of state and people, as with King and country. It comes from our ‘democratic’ state being the successor to the feudal system. But rather than a heirarchy, one central state in effect controls us all.

If we get an English parliament it would be the perfect chance to change this attitude. Englisc Fyrd wants to see the county system renewed and I agree. A more local system can again build up trust in our representatives and a democratic mandate for taxation (hopefully at a lower level).

The separation of ordinary people from the ruling political class is often commented on. Post devolution for us English nationalists, this has come to be seen as the British state and the English people. The historical analogy with the Norman rulers and Anglo-Saxon commoners is obvious. We must be aware that all of us are the rulers and politicians and the abstract entity of the stae exist to serve us, and not vice versa. What better time to correct this lack of connection, than at the re-establishment of England.

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Responses

  1. All that history stuff aint my history — and it aint the history of millions of other people of African and Asian ethnicity, nationality, and heritage, who live in modern Britain.

    This country is OURS as well as yours. The model of government we will share in the future is as likely to be based on african village organization or Muslim tradition as by some oddball resurrected anglo-saxon mish-mash constructed by nationalists.

    We all have to get along secretwhiteboy, sorry, secretperson, and we don’t all share the attchment to “England” that some of you do.

  2. Well Tory Black Fist, I think it is a shame that you feel excluded from feeling an attachment to England, there is no need to feel that way.

    The history I talk about is the history of the land and institutions, and influences where they are today. I can’t quote ancestors back to Anglo-Saxon times, the Anglo-Saxon Norman metaphor is just that, a metaphor based on the separation of ruling and ruled, not on any racial classification. If you live in England, you will suffer the same democratic and financial deficit with respect to the rest of the UK as anyone else.

    I don’t really understand your objections, other than maybe my presumption that the county system is good? I could argue that on practical size grounds as well as traditional grounds.

    Maybe you could pick out some specific arguments you object to.

  3. My attachment to ‘England’ this moment is merely gravitational — my emotional ties to certain places and social groups has nothing to do with a nationalistic idea called ‘England’.

    I am not ‘excluded’ as such, just unqualified. It’s not me and mine. I’m British. Black. And it’s 2008. England doesn’t even exist for me, or for any government.

    Call me crazy, but other people’s history and other people’s contemprary fantasies don’t have much purchase on my loyalty.

    For me there’s nothing wrong with Britian – with the political and legal system we currently suffer – I much prefer that to one based on the particular history of a specific people among Britian’s hundred-plus nations.

    The institution of a political model based on ancient ethnic “attachments” and historic traditions of peoples who later colonised and subjugated my own makes me STOP and THINK.

    It should do the same for you.

  4. OK I gather this is just a general objection to nationalism.

    “I am not ‘excluded’ as such, just unqualified.”

    Only if you use a racial definition of English, which I do not. If you can be Black and British, why could you not be Black and English?

    You are of course correct that England has no legal existence. Apart from being the left over bit of the UK when Scotland, Wales and NI are all recognised. Abolish that recognition and at least we would have equality.

    “a specific people among Britian’s hundred-plus nations”

    Making up more than half the population though, they are hardly in an equal situation. But then I think we define nation differently, you obviously believe in a more narrow definition than mine.

    “The institution of a political model based on ancient ethnic “attachments” and historic traditions of peoples who later colonised and subjugated my own makes me STOP and THINK.”

    The vast majority of colonialisation was carried out by Britain, not England.

    I believe that politicians, by denying England a political existence force Englishness to be identified as a racial classification. What would happen if Scotland declared independence? We would be default be in England, regardless of history or race or anything. Why not build an inclusive English identity?

  5. OK I gather this is just a general objection to nationalism.

    I see nothing wrong with nationalism. I’m complaining about your imperialism and racism.

    You are proposing to take the name of one ethnic group and apply it to hundreds of others and establish a new state named after your ethnic group and deny all other peoples in Britain the right to establish new states in Britain based on the particualr heritage of their communities – they will be made to live under your rule.

    “I am not ‘excluded’ as such, just unqualified.” Only if you use a racial definition of English, which I do not. If you can be Black and British, why could you not be Black and English?

    Then leave England out of it. Establish a new multi-ethnic state in Birmingham, or Liverpool or even all England but call it New Britain after all of its people.

    You are of course correct that England has no legal existence. Apart from being the left over bit of the UK when Scotland, Wales and NI are all recognised. Abolish that recognition and at least we would have equality.

    No, we would have equality if the Iraqis in England established their Iraqi British state. Plus of course, the hundred other British peoples.

    Making up more than half the population though, they are hardly in an equal situation. But then I think we define nation differently, you obviously believe in a more narrow definition than mine.

    See – you reject equality a priori. If you want an inclusive “nation” you should back Britain.

    The vast majority of colonialisation was carried out by Britain, not England.

    You are proposing future colonisation by the English.

    I believe that politicians, by denying England a political existence force Englishness to be identified as a racial classification. What would happen if Scotland declared independence? We would be default be in England, regardless of history or race or anything. Why not build an inclusive English identity?

    The English are an ethnic group. I have no right to take their name, you have no right to impose it upon other ethnic groups.

    There exists in Britain an inclusive “national” identity of the kind you favour that people of all races and ethnicities already have equal loyalty to – it’s the British.

  6. Tory Black Fist:

    1 I find your handle sets the tone for your approach. If you define yourself in terms of your race then the rest of us will too

    2 If you we’re born in England then you’re English.
    If you weren’t and you have a British passport then you’re British. English is a subset of British. It’s nothing to do with anything else.

  7. Well Tory Black Fist, there is a lot to answer there. Essentially what you are saying I think is that English is an ethnic group, British is an inclusive name.

    But you are wrong. British was an ethnic group (modern day Welsh and Cornish are nearest). There were some pre-existing people, then Celtic Britons (after who the island is named). Then some Angles (after who England is named) and some Saxons, Jutes and Fresians. We joined Scotland, Wales and Ireland (now only NI) And some Normans. Huguenots, Jews, Irish…

    And then Africans and Asians, English has never been an ethnically exclusive word.

    It seems you object to the word England, because you take that to mean an ethnic group. Well, wether you like it or not, the land you live in is England, and the state you live in is Britain. Yes it is a historic name, but the historic name of the land you share.

    Would you also rename France, Germany, Italy etc because their names derive from ethnic groups (or tribes as they were known then).

    The idea that England, Scotland and Wales could join into an entity called Britain, then Scotland and Wales leave and England is still called Britain is ridiculous.

    It is your attitude, denying a political representation to the land of England, that tries to force English to be a purley ethnic identity. Whatever you say, there are plenty of non Anglian people who identify as English and you cannot change that.

  8. Stuart: I find your handle sets the tone for your approach. If you define yourself in terms of your race then the rest of us will to.

    Stuart, race is not something that Black people deny the way White folks do. As a part of our genetic heritage pre-dating and more fundamental than the ethnic and cultural diversity within the race, it would be absurd to deny it. Asian people and American Indians and Maoris and Australian Aborigines and any non-white group I’ve missed feel the same.

    The unique racial cringe of White people is your problem, I suspect it’s more about social taboos and status seeking than anything else, but whatever, the racial pride and mutual concern the rest of us feel is healthy and normal.

    If you we’re born in England then you’re English. . If you weren’t and you have a British passport then you’re British. English is a subset of British. It’s nothing to do with anything else.

    This statement effectively denies the historic existence of a distinct English people. It requires that the definition of ‘The English’ is constantly re-aligned to include the nations, communities, and traditions of the last/next people born in England, be they Poles, Nigerians, or Chinese, and they probably will be.

    The history and definition of the English must begin now, their story be told backwards, for the community must begin with its latest born and become ever more narrowly defined as we go back in time.

    You have it the wrong way around of course, the child is born of the nation, the nation cannot be born of the child. This ethnic cringe, and again, it’s unique to White peoples, I find silly and saddening, but it doesn’t harm me.

    What does harm me, because it makes an aggressive and unwanted claim on my identity, and on my past, present and future loyalties, is the false label it places on me and my people, as well as all the Poles, Pakistanis, Greeks, etc who are born here.

    Some of us may be British, some are not, but we will name ourselves, thankyou Stuart, and we already have ethnic groups and nations whose names we proudly bear. Thankfully, few immigrants and minorities in Britain are clueless enough about their (legal) nationality, their own ethnic identity, or the English ethnic identity to presume Englishness, and few English people agree with you either.

  9. secretperson: British was an ethnic group

    And isn’t now. That is it’s virtue for a multi-racial and multi-ethnic project.

    The English are an ethnic group descended from other ethnic groups some of whom you name (Saxons, Jutes, Britons). Some of the others you name clearly remain distinctly different ethnic groups (Jews, Irish, Scots). The African, African-Caribbean, and Asian peoples who came to Britain have not assimilated into the English community, we remain distinct and for the most part prefer to remain so.

    Well, wether you like it or not, the land you live in is England, and the state you live in is Britain… Would you also rename France, Germany, Italy etc because their names derive from ethnic groups (or tribes as they were known then).

    The land I live in is Great Britain, (I could just as easily say Yorkshire as England), and where people decide to draw lines of political autonomy are subjective and for political convenience. It isn’t I who am proposing changes to national arrangements (and let England be called England forever afaic), I am objecting to your attempt to make me and millions of other non-English Brits ‘English’.

    The idea that England, Scotland and Wales could join into an entity called Britain, then Scotland and Wales leave and England is still called Britain is ridiculous.

    The borders, constituent parts, and nations that make up states, empires, and alliances are often redrawn while keeping their names.

    The land is England. Not the prospective state. If the people of England decided to form a state it must have some name – and why not follow precedence and name it after its people: New Britain after the new British. It was a good enough idea for the English who once controlled England.

    And why must it be ‘England’ which forms the land-border of the new state? Birmingham, Manchester, Cumbria, or London are left behind if Scotland or Wales leave the Union. Let a hundred new republics thrive.

    And if the English however defined can start a new state, why not the Black British in those parts of the country where they predominate, or Sikhs, or Pakistanis?

    It’s not what I want, I’m happy with Britain. But I’m curious how you would argue that the Brummies or the Sikhs have no right to do what the ‘English’ might.

  10. I believe in self-determination, people have the right to choose their own identification. But England is a historic, not ethinic, name for the land we both share.

    You might think people consider themselves the “new British” but most people don’t. Legal citizenships and identities are different. I am legally British (resident in England which affects my rights) and European Union. My identity is English. Your identity is Black I gather.

    But what is the best way to decide our government? Essentially I define a nation as a group who accept democratic rule off each other. There is a full post/essay in this!

    Scots are unhappy in the UK because they see the English (by which they mean people in England rather than your definition) ruling over them, by virtue of numbers. It is democracy in the sense of majority opinion passing, but not in the sense that a group won’t accept it. To have a vote, you must also have consent to a vote.

    If Brummies, or whoever, decide they constitute a nation, let them try that. But at the moment, England constitutes a nation, the vast majoroty of people within England consider this to be true, regardless of race of region.

    Anyway, whatever we both think, the land, for historic reasons is called England. As most lands are named for historic reasons. We have England as a football, rugby or cricket team. Even the government accepts it, in some rare reports.

    You are arguing over a name. I think you are reading too much into it. You feel British. A large number of people in England don’t. (There are some stats here).

    “why not follow precedence and name it after its people: New Britain after the new British”

    Who are the “New British” anyway? Recent immigrants? How recent? Why not use the name that has been good for over a thousand years, and still represents the vast majority of people? Why not change the perception that English is a purely Ethnic identity (which is an uncommon view, only people like you and the BNP agree)?

  11. I believe in self-determination, people have the right to choose their own identification. But England is a historic, not ethinic, name for the land we both share.

    The two sentences are unconnected.

    If you believe in self-determination and self-identification you must forget your ‘England’ project. Millions of people in England (and wider Britain) would choose Britain, or Cornwall, or Black Britain, or an Islamic state over your England.

    England is named after an ethnic group, and ‘England’ is not the name of ‘the land we both share’ any more than Great Britain is.

    You might think people consider themselves the “new British” but most people don’t. Legal citizenships and identities are different. I am legally British (resident in England which affects my rights) and European Union. My identity is English. Your identity is Black I gather.

    We simply ARE the New British. I don’t say or believe that most people consider themselves the ‘New British’, but more people would keep the Union than dissolve it. ‘Identities’, particularly the non-identities of location which you promote (identity = who, not where), are not the only factor in their decisions. However, you are undermining your later claim about the Scottish basis for independence being non-identitarian.

    Essentially I define a nation as a group who accept democratic rule off each other.

    A nation is either a state or a people. You are proposing a state of many peoples to replace the state of many peoples you already have. I’m not sure why.

    Scots are unhappy in the UK because they see the English (by which they mean people in England rather than your definition) ruling over them, by virtue of numbers.

    I think that’s balderdash, more ethnic cringe. The drive for Scottish independence is a continuation of historic struggles between the *peoples*. If you were right the Scots would reject democracy and the EU. They favour both. And we would see rural Scotland seeking independence from the cities. But we don’t. These conflicts are national because they are about historic peoples.

    But at the moment, England constitutes a nation, the vast majoroty of people within England consider this to be true, regardless of race of region.

    The vast majority of people in England, regardless of whether they are English or not, consider the English a nation (people). No-one with a brain considers England a nation (state). The vast majority of non-White people in England know they are not English and say so. The vast majority of White non-English people – Scots, Greeks, Germans, Poles, etc, know they are not English because they have another ethnicity, and recognise the English people’s own distinct ethnicity.

    Who are the “New British” anyway? Recent immigrants? How recent? Why not use the name that has been good for over a thousand years, and still represents the vast majority of people?

    The New British are today’s British. And it is we who are left behind if Scotland and Wales were to secede, not simply ‘the English’. The name ‘English’ has been ‘good’ for a thousand years to describe only one particular among Britain’s peoples. My ancestor peoples have had numerous names over the last thousand years, most unknown to me. Other British peoples’ ancestors may have been Chinese for a thousand years, or are of multiple European or African or Asian peoples. Only some of us are English, even if it’s the vast majority, whereas we are ALL British. Again, it is you proposing change, not me.

    Why not change the perception that English is a purely Ethnic identity (which is an uncommon view, only people like you and the BNP agree)?

    I have said why – it is an attack on the English people as a distinct and valuable part of humanity’s diversity; and it is an attack on the heritage and viability of Britain’s non-English peoples. We all have our own communities, histories, and traditions, which are fundamentally threatened if we lose our own names – the names place us in time, space, and wider humanity, and enable us to orient our futures.

    You are quite wrong about prevailing opinion regarding the English being an ethnic group. England’s non-English peoples are overwhelmingly with me, as you must know. Indeed, a disappointingly high proportion of us reject a British label altogether even when they are the only options positively offered.

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=459

    And you still must reckon with the problem I identified of your and Stuart’s forced inclusiveness denying a particular people – the English – their own name, and more vitally, the power to define themselves by *who they are and have been*, rather than who was last born in their land. Better, surely, that you are known to be the people of Alfred the Great or Shakespeare, than of the last born child of Abu Hamza which by your method of definition is all that you once were.

  12. I understand your point, but I think we will have to agree to disagree. The overlap between race, ethnicity and nationality is not a simple one!

    Unfortunately for you, England is already called England. Whether you choose to identify as English or not is up to you, but if the UK breaks up you may end up with an English passport by default.

    Funny this whole interesting debate stemmed from a historical analogy about the attitude of our rulers.


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