I let this article, a version of Andrew O'Hagan's George Orwell Memorial Lecture, pass in last week's Guardian Review, but I am very glad to see Tim Lott responding to it in the correspondence column of yesterdays's Review with a certain, to my mind, justified indignation.
The tenor of O'Hagan's lecture is that the English are a brutal, torpid, useless, subhuman race, unlike, say, his own noble, native, spirited Scots. All this is written without nuance or anything much in the way of evidence. In the course of this racist manure he ignores... well, some of what he ignores is there in Lott's letter, eg.
First, he writes: "Thatcher is said to have been genuinely shocked by the ease with which England rolled over ... England lost its unions and nationalised industries without a blink." This ignores - for a start - the miners' strike, the Wapping strike, the Brixton riots and the Toxteth riots. It also ignores an array of other protest responses, such as the alternative comedy revolution, pop music from the Smiths to the Beat ("Stand Down Margaret") and the vast numbers of working-class people who voted against Thatcher.
Second, he writes: "The English working class are far ahead of every other European lower class in the sheer energy of their indifference." Any kind of supporting evidence for such an extraordinarily sweeping statement might have made this more convincing.
Third: "The statistics show that English football fans abroad will still turn to violence faster and more regularly than any other football fans in the world." Which statistics are these? Incidentally, the English have a lot to learn from the Scots about violence - a United Nations report in 2005 showed Scotland to be the "most violent country in the developed world".
Fourth, he writes: "Orwell would have rolled into the towns of England on a Saturday night to examine why people were so quiescent, demoralised, so fearful of outsiders, so drawn to fantasy and spite and so lacking in purpose as a social group." Orwell would probably have produced some kind of factual observation to back up such an assertion.
Fifth: "Depression among children of the poor is recorded as the worst in Europe." O'Hagan doesn't cite the source, but he presumably has in mind the Centre for Economic Performance report published recently - which refers to British, not English, children.
Sixth: "The underclass is the most conservative force in Britain." Is there any evidence for this - from a breakdown of voting rolls, for instance?
Seventh, he writes that "in some quarters" the English working class is "fascistic". Is it really so uniquely full of "spite" as O'Hagan asserts? In 2007, police figures were published for 2005-06 that showed 5,124 racist crimes in Scotland. Given that the population of the rest of the UK is 10 times greater and contains five times as large a proportion of ethnic minorities, this is proportionately a far higher figure than in England. Incidentally, extreme religious sectarianism of the sort that scars the Scottish working class is more or less unknown among the English white working class outside of a few areas of Liverpool. Also, according to figures cited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one in four gay people have suffered violence in Scotland.
Eighth, he writes: "As we have seen in the banking crisis, the English people call for sedation, not sedition." As opposed to the anti-capitalist rioting that took place on the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff?
He refers to "the English arrogance which resides in the view that they are naturally dominant in the British Isles". But the English are naturally dominant - 84% of the British Isles is English, 8.5% Scots. It is Scottish arrogance that finds this simple - and neutral - fact so painful to acknowledge.
Speaking with my Hungarian hat on, if O'Hagan had talked about any other class or nation that way nobody would think him anything but a simple racist. The test for loathsome aspects of racism / sexism / any other -ism ? Try replacing the object of speech with another group.