"..can we not say that Dickens captured the soul of the English People, as much in its brooding melancholy as in its broad humour, in its poetry as well as its fearlessness, in its capacity for outrage and pity as much as its tendency towards irony and diffidence?"
The ability to make each word hit home, to count, to nail the idea, is what writers seek. Dickens did this, and Ackroyd is a worthy biographer of Dickens. These few word seem to me to distill that elusive quality of Englishness.
I shall take just the one phrase; capacity for outrage and pity. How expressive is this of Englishness?
Not only is it at the core of English values, it explains them. Others would call it fairness, but it is much more human than that. Fairness is the glib resort of the Politically Correct. This is personal. A capacity for outrage and pity. It requires not only recognition of others, but empathy; outrage at injustice, and pity, or compassion, (lest we confuse "pity" with condescension) for those who are not as lucky.
Which brings me to the political part. The standard refrain of the Left is that Tories are uncaring, that they only serve an elite. This is palpable nonsense. True, they are the party of capitalism, which serves those who can work the system, but Conservatism, the fruits of Conservatism can be shared, and are shared. Thinkers on Tory social policy, like Iain Duncan Smith, evince values that demonstrate "Englishness". IDS grabbed the headlines recently, though the headlines had to filter these through the prism of faux moral outrage beloved of sub-editors:
"Broken Homes damage infant brains, says Tory", screamed the headline of last weekend.
IDS's evidence for this is based upon research into brain development and as defined by IDS, he means neglect in the context of a family environment with multiple problems. You can argue all you like whether the research is valid, but the truth stares you in the face. Kids from poor backgrounds are disadvantaged. If he is being reported accurately, he believes:
..the babies’ brains failed to grow because their parents did not offer them “nurture and support”. Dysfunctional parents also failed to bond with their babies, speak to them or read to them. Often the children witnessed violence and angry scenes at home.
He said family breakdown meant that in many cases the children never caught up on their education and tended to become drug addicts, criminals or alcoholics.
What he is not saying is that all broken homes produce drug addicts - much as detractors wish to spin it. And as I say, you either get the drift or not. As someone who came from such a background myself, I can tell you that it fucks you up big time. Nowhere does Iain Duncan Smith suggest this is unique to council house dwellers on benefits either.
The Times managed to get a quote which I suppose sums up the degree of blindness, lethargy and lack of empathy expressed by the Left:
Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute*, questioned Duncan Smith’s assertions and accused him of generalising about families from poor backgrounds.
“It is critical not to confuse family dysfunction with family type. Regrettably, poor parenting affects families of all different types — likewise good family relationships exist in all types of families,” she said.
“Families tell us that they want politicians to sort issues such as the economy and housing and not to sit in judgment on the often complex and difficult choices they make about how they live their family lives.” (Times)
Lurking in that miasma of soulless codswallop is the central column of PC, which is that you must not disriminate or judge. My response to this is, well then, how do you begin to attack the problem if you will not allow yourself to make a judgement, and a particlularly sound judgement at that?
But I digress. My point was that you have to be concerned enough to think about these issues and look at the data. IDS does this and can be said to be passionate about it, if you like, a capacity for outrage and pity. You have to be looking, seeking, trying to find solutions to what is a perennial problem, and you do not do this by refusing to consider the information that is as plain as day.
IDS has mooted the fairly uncontroversial idea of encouraging children to do sport. But what is interesting, and exemplifies his agenda is this:
This project is not about finding the next Wayne Rooney. It is about showing that sport has psychological and social benefits that can help rebuild our broken society, and about giving poor children the chances their middle-class counterparts take for granted.(Telegraph)IDS has not pretended that middle class kids do not do better, of course they do, but instead of attempting to penalise and persecute the lucky ones, he instead wishes to help those who are not so lucky. A capacity for outrage and pity.
By contrast, New Labour is set on a course of revenge and retribution, driven by what is philosophically a brand of existentialism; they simply refuse to begin by acknowledging the basic inequalities of life, whilst scapegoating those who are lucky.
One is born out of love, the other out of baser motives. Perhaps Dickensian then, but the Soul of Englishness, and those values which express a capacity for outrage and pity.
Perhaps it is time to revive that Soul once again.
*The Chair of the Family and Parenting Institute is one Fiona Millar, better known to you as Mrs Alastair Campbell. The rest of the organisation is stacked with Labour friendlies and gets the majority of its funding from the Government. Funnily enough, The Times does not mention this, their only quote that is negative.