The Lib Dem leadership campaign appears to present the chance for a breath of fresh air: an English leader for one of the UK’s big-three political parties, for a change. But are Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne English? They certainly seem incapable of acknowledging this openly.
Here’s how Nick Clegg describes his national background: “Son of a Dutch mother and half-Russian father”. Does that mean ‘half-English’ as well? I think you’re meant to just take it as read that he is English, and I’m certainly not of the view that you have to have pure English ancestry to count as English: I’ve got a half-Irish / half-English father, if you want to be technical, and my mother’s Welsh – but I’m still proud to be English, born and bred. Is Nick Clegg proud to be English, or is he more focused on his internationalism than his ‘nationality’?
What about Huhne? I can’t find any information about his parents’ nationality anywhere on the web: not on Wikipedia, not on Huhne’s two websites (his general one and his leadership campaign one), not on Google, not in the blogosphere. Perhaps I haven’t searched hard enough. However, it’s clear that this is something Huhne doesn’t want to be aired publicly, which is fair enough on one level; but he’s a politician who could (unlikely but not impossible) even be a prime minister.
His Wikipedia entry does tag him as English by means of a Flag of St. George icon; and he would certainly qualify as English by my and most people’s criteria: born and brought up in England. So does it matter that he can’t avow his national background? Well, it matters for the same reason as it matters for Clegg: we need to know whether being English is important for the two men; and whether their commitment to European integration and to regional / local devolution, and their apparent contempt for the Middle England voter in Huhne’s case (see previous post), mean that they disregard the English Question and any consideration of English nationhood and English-national political institutions.
And apart from anything else, I’m just curious to know where the name ‘Huhne’ comes from. It appears to be German: ‘Huhn’ meaning ‘chicken’ – admittedly not a good thing for a politician to be known as! So is he the son of German-Jewish refugees? Or, if not that, does he have some other German or Dutch ancestry? Certainly nothing to be ashamed of, in either case. The problem comes when you’re not prepared to be open about it, maybe because you’re afraid that the English people will reject you or distrust your commitment to England? Or that the British people, including Scots and Welsh, won’t vote for you if you talk up (or even mention) your Englishness.
Better just foreground the Russian and Dutch antecedence, in Clegg’s case, and keep whatever non-English ancestry there might be firmly in the background, in Huhne’s case. That way, we can be British and we won’t have to bother about the English Question or even about being English, whatever that might mean.