Hart of the Matter
I expect we
shall hear quite a lot over the next few weeks about what various people think
it means to be British, or English. Whether the target is immigrants, Muslims, Jews
or Scots, there will be people about who see the coming election as a forum for
venting their prejudices.
leader – let’s steer clear of specifics now we are in the real run-up to May 7 –
has suggested we should have a bank holiday on St George’s Day to give us all a
chance to celebrate being English. Presumably this would not apply in other parts
of the United Kingdom, where they would want their own national saints days.
argument would carry a lot more weight with me if anyone had thought through
exactly what it is about being English that we should be celebrating.
I may think
that the English countryside is the best in the world, but that would be highly
contested by most other nations on earth. We may hold up what are glibly called
our ‘values’ as being particularly fine, but history has shown that, even if
the values themselves may be okay, English people have not shown any marked
ability to uphold them, particularly abroad.
think anyone could find much evidence of Magna Carta in action in colonial
India, or of Habeas Corpus on West Indian plantations.
honest, the record of the British, and particularly the English, abroad has
been pretty poor, for all that one may argue for some good intentions having
got misconstrued on the way.
So what can
we be legitimately proud of in England? I would argue that our greatest gift to
the world has been our language, which many people from all countries would
agree is the most expressive, the most flexible and the most effective in the
world. It may not be as beautiful as Italian or as trenchant as German, but it
has the widest range of all.
politicians were to make April 23 a bank holiday, it should not be in honour of
a Middle-Eastern warrior who may or may not have existed, never came to England
and, as far as anyone knows, never even thought about this part of the world.
It should be
in honour of the greatest practitioner of the greatest language in the world,
who died on that day, and was quite likely born on it as well, William
It is a
shame on the English nation that its members are among the least appreciative
of Shakespeare of any nation on earth – just ask the Japanese, or the Germans,
the French, the Russians, even the Chinese, the list is endless of those who
accept his genius towers over all other writers in all languages.
But it is
scarcely surprising in a nation which has degraded the language which he used
and in part created, particularly over the last 50 years – and I don’t mean
just the old chestnuts like grammar, punctuation and spelling in schools, texting,
Americanisms, slang and the many other criticism which pedants may throw at modern
I mean things
like this: ‘Public realm is tired in
places and inconsistent’. ‘Blank elevations discourage walking’. ‘The focus is
to understand how traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, car park users, bus users, etc
use the High Street spine and consider ways of improving both the movement and place
functions.’ ‘The objective is to understand the pattern and/or complexity of
movement across different means of transport and see how any issues can be
tackled using a hierarchy of priority’.
I could go
on. These are quotes from the first three pages of the Town Centre Masterplan Issues
And Options Consultation. The last two quotes are actually statements with which
members of the public who respond are asked to state whether they agree, don’t
know or disagree.
One could be
forgiven for adding a fourth category: ‘Don’t understand the flipping question’
(a mild version).
there are, somewhere in the world, people who speak like this. Well, I know
there are. They work for council planning departments, and town planning consultants.
breakfast they state that the objective is to interface the horizontal section
of carcenogised wheat-based leaven staple with a scraped portion of pre-churned
dairy product and that this might be facilitated by relocation of the latter in
an inward direction, and then ask their partner if they agree or disagree.
of the document when I began to read this sort of thing because it is clearly a
disincentive to people taking part in this vital round of consultation, and
bears a remarkable resemblance to virtually all the previous consultations, which
have told us nothing we didn’t know already and ended up filling shelves, or
now diskspace, in council storage.
sake, let us at least try to speak to people in plain English, preferably with
a bit of expressiveness to mask its functionality – that means nice words which
conjure up some sort of picture in the mind and stimulate a useful response.
It is just
this sort of jargon which discourages people from taking any interest in the
local government systems which massively affect their lives, often frustrating
them beyond measure.
You can see
the effect of it when residents, forced to attend a council meeting by some
unexpectedly horrific plan being put forward for the open space behind their
home, try to imitate this sort of bureaucratic-speak, usually unsuccessfully.
They are much
better off just speaking their mind as some do, often with considerable vigour.
At least then everyone knows what they mean. But, of course, you have to wonder
in the case of these public consultations, whether that is what the instigators