DW2I read Tim’s piece about the term ‘Little Englander’ with the interest of somebody who, on occasion, has used the term ‘Little Englander’ in my writing or cartoons.

My nostrils twitch whenever I read an argument that question our use of certain words. I accept that some terms are simply unacceptable (*&?# and £$%@, spring to mind) but they are few and the exceptions. There is nothing that I can see about the phrase ‘Little Englander’ which strikes me as being worth censoring or, indeed, worth comment. It is shorthand and shorthand can be useful. We use shorthand all the time and there is no difference between ‘Little Englander’ and, let’s say, the highly politicised and voguish term ‘regressive left’. People use that to describe a type of person on the hard left who holds  certain hardened views. It is pejorative and often inaccurate and unfair. Yet it’s also useful because it describes a mindset that we can recognise. It aids communication both defining the object of our criticism but also, in a sense, defining who we are. In other words, you do not use ‘regressive left’ if you are yourself part of the ‘regressive left’.

Of course, we can have an argument about when it is right and proper to use these terms. Tim is right to argue that ‘Little Englander’ is perhaps an overused term but, in truth, most of these epithets are overused by critics on both ends of the political spectrum. In the current context, not everybody for Brexit is a ‘Little Englander’ and quite a few against it might well be. Boris Johnson, for example, has none of the typical Little Englander qualities. Little Englanders are governed by patriotic zeal that edges into nationalism and outright xenophobia. They tend to believe in some halcyon days of England and English values. They do not base their arguments on economic forecasts or EU politics. Farage is a Little Englander and so, I suspect, is Gove, who would force the poetry of the Romantics on every teenager in the country in the belief it will transmit some essential quality of Britishness.

Tim raises the point that given European opposition to the EU, we might need to apply the term ‘Little Englander’ to describe people in other countries. I’m not sure I see the problem with that. We could easily talk about ‘Piccolo Italians’ if they shared a concept of a golden age of Italian culture. No doubt they exist like the ‘Petit French’ exist but are no doubt called something else.

My main problem with the argument is that it amounts to saying ‘no name calling’ but, by extension, it would remove all these juicy phrases which give life to our political discourse. If you wish to raise the quality of the debate then you should at least be critical of the emotive terms we all use to describe those in the opposite camp. That leads the argument down some long and convoluted paths. Plato wanted poets banned from his Republic because, he argued, emotive language has no part in proper rhetoric. People should not be persuaded by the emotive quality of an argument but by the logic and the evidence. Yet, of course, most language is emotive and unless you really want to reduce this to the level of absurdity, you would demand that we argue in some abstract code which has always been the holy grail of philosophers such as Bertrand Russell with his logical atomism and Ludwig Wittgenstein with his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Political discourse is about emotive language sometimes highbrow and sometimes plain ugly. To accuse those that use the phrase ‘little Englander’ of snobbery is itself to use the emotive language that the accusation of snobbery is meant to oppose. Try to say ‘what a snob!’ without sounding like a snob. It’s difficult.

Little Englanders’, ‘regressive left’, ‘chinless wonders’, ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘back bench mentality’, ‘working class angst’, ‘elitist’, ‘warmonger’… These epithets are gestures and like all gestures they are sweeping and often unfair. Yet they are the language of our politics and to ask us to be so respectful as to stop using them amounts to more than a mild form of censorship but, more problematically, a prohibition on what and how we think.

 

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11 Comments on "In Defence of ‘Little Englanders’"

  1. Lesley Lubert | 11th May 2016 at 4:32 pm | Reply

    Nigel Farage is no “little Englander” he is in fact a little Churchill, who believes this country can do better, not necessarily on its own but part of a future with vision encompassing the whole world and not a tiny part of it which has stopped working for most of its members.

    • Interesting point, Lesley, but can you direct me to where Churchill said that? Churchill, as far as I know, was in firmly in favour of Europe and I believe he would want us to stay. I can only point you in the direction of this LINK.

      • Lesley Lubert | 11th May 2016 at 4:43 pm | Reply

        David Europe looked very different then. Yes it is a very good thing to trade with our partners, be safe with our partners. Churchill would never have gone along with un-elected foreigners running our country, when so many had just given their lives for freedom. What freedom now? We cannot even vote without bully boys doing everything possible to force us to stay. As I have said before, EU is the Hotel California of Europe, you can check out but you cannot leave. Worst of all you cannot reform it either.

        • You cannot possibly say that, Lesley. We only know what Churchill did say and he said “The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.”

          The matter of how ‘well and truly built’ it is, of course, remains open to question. However, this article is not about my attitude for or against Brexit. For that, I point you in the direction of tomorrow’s much longer piece.

  2. David, I think the term has quite a narrow definition and is wildly overused. For me a little Englander is racist and xenophobic to the point of also hating the Scots and Welsh and is probably anti Catholic into the bargain. They have a rose tinted view of the past generally and especially of the British Empire and Britains role in WW2, tend to run the country down terribly and are normally over 45. They read right wing newspapers from the Sun up to the Telegraph and believe what is in them, think every single one of the nations problems stem from immigration and the EU and just don’t get them started about people on benefits. Thats my definition anyway, if you fit that then in my book you are a Little Englander and probably proud to be called one too. Don’t view Gove or Farage as being remotely close to either of these, in fact I think Gove is actually a Scot anyway.

    • I agree with most of that, Rob. Pretty good definition. Good point about Gove but the bloke just seems distinctly out of time. However, Little Englander isn’t necessarily just English nationalists. Wikipedia, not always a good source but I think correct in this case, suggests it also means British nationalists. The point is, we’re talking about gestures towards a certain mindset and these terms are useful even if they are not clearly defined. And, of course, there are degrees to which people fit: Farage more than Gove and both far more than Boris. Even I can be a bit of a Little Englander if you catch me on the right day. My main point is that political language deals in ambiguities and simply saying ‘it’s not right to call people that’ doesn’t get us very far because that would demand that we always talk about individuals. What I suppose I’m trying to say is that it is simply helpful to group people together and saying we shouldn’t is like saying that we shouldn’t think a certain thing or in a certain way. I don’t think that’s helpful. In fact, I am very wary of restrictions of language beyond obvious obscenity. Language and thought are too closely linked and censorship of one leads to restrictions of the other. It would lead us towards murky ends.

    • Lesley Lubert | 12th May 2016 at 7:43 am | Reply

      You are right David, Neither Gove nor Farage are little Englanders, far from it.
      I am a catholic, I am no little Englander. We have a different vision for Europe, we want it to be open and free, most of all working for the benefit of the member countries. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, it is no use burying our heads in the sand and say it is better to have more of something that doesn’t work, than to try to change things from the outside, since we have NO control on the inside.

      We all want to see a reformed EU, but the leadership of the club do not want it to be democratic, therefore it is a dictatorship. Sadly Our hands are tied.

  3. I think the problem with calling someone a Little Englander is you might as well call them an effing c really and I think what Tim was pointing out is that there is group of people who believe or pretend to believe that anyone who disagrees with their view on EU fall into a rather narrow set of parameters even though that is clearly not the case. It is no different to the type of language designed to stymie debate on immigration where anyone against is a defined as a racist. Now if someone calls me a Little Englander or a racist I call them out on it and mark them down as a £$%^ but not everyone is like that, they simply withdraw from the debate. To be naughty and use one of your previous arguments against you, where do you stop?. If censorship is wrong why is the n word unacceptable, it is a term designed to be derogatory and to bully but so is Little Englander isn’t it?. By the way my heart isn’t in the argument really, I’m anti censorship on pretty much everything and I would prefer to think that if someone calls you a Little Englander because you want to vote leave you ought to retort by calling them a Merkel Quisling or one of Junckers Bumlicks or something equally insulting and ridiculous.

    • Ah, good points Rob and I don’t think we’re actually that far away from agreement. I have written before (quite a few times) that I’m against censorship in language/thought. Don’t agree with it. Never will. Rather the nasty stuff be out there to be identified and countered. Just common sense demands that we have rules in place for language on TV etc. Broadly, I don’t agree with the idea there are thoughts that need to be supressed. LE debate is just part of that. Seems as silly as saying I can’t discuss ‘louts’ or ‘fools’ or, indeed, ‘racists’. I might be reductive but that’s my freedom and we are all reductive to some extent. Language is not exact.

      I was thinking about your previous comment when out a few minutes ago. I wonder if the reason Boris etc hate the term LE is because it’s quite powerful. The idea behind it carries some weight because there is some element of truth to it. Not saying that’s right but the thought crossed my mind.

      BTWL not naught of you but you use an argument against me which was used to describe actions. Civilisation means we do restrict what we do. We must do otherwise we’d have anarchy where we could kill each other with impunity. So, really, I’m not for curtailing words and thoughts. I do think we need to curtail actions.

      Such an interesting subject but LFC are due to kick off in 10 minutes and I’ve still not found the channel…

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