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plain english

The devolving of power to Scottish and Welsh parliaments was the cue for architect Chris Nickerson to launch the English Independence Party, in a bid to halt the march of globalization and recreate a sense of Englishness. by austin williams. photograph by

When architect Chris Nickerson says that England is in a state he is not just stating the obvious. As a defender of independence for 'the English nation from the British state' he has founded the English Independence Party, which argues that the 'English nation and the state should be congruent'.

Nickerson seems to have an interesting analysis of the political scene, but he doesn't quite know what it is yet.He is still reading a new book, An English Nationalism by Tony Linsell, which is providing much of the theoretical basis for his party; 'the only book on the subject of English nationalism that there is', he says, being casually dismissive of the relevance of Jeremy Paxman's bestselling tome. 'We need to unlearn Britishness and relearn Englishness', he says.

'(Linsell's) book provides a lot of the answers. Paxman's book was spread too thin and lacked analysis.'

Nickerson turned up for our interview carrying with him a couple of sheets of foolscap outlining his thoughts on his party's programme. (Maybe this is how the Whigs first started. ) 'Back in 1991', he read, 'I realized with a shock that there was no English equivalent of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. No one championed the specific interests of England and the English'.

My dulcet Welsh brogue endeared him to me, until I told him that I didn't give any political credence to an accident of birth and that Welsh national status was an aberration. After that we stuck to the English.

Even though he admits to having 'almost totally contracted out of taking an interest in national architecture', he uses his dislike of globalization for an attack on Richard Rogers, the 'globalist, who would be happy to see a world of dull anonymity which the slavish application of technology brings'.

Instead, he believes that 'architecture should help to create the unique identity of a locality, a region and a nation'.

He adds: 'Art for me is a painting of a bowl of fruit or a bunch of flowers.'

Nickerson recognizes that it is all too easy to portray nationalism as a threatening or racist political programme, but this he rejects by suggesting that nationalism is a belief in 'the independence, identity and unity of all nations' - an English monde des patries. It is a belief that all the world should be a patchwork quilt of separate and distinct nations, not a featureless global community'. Inevitably, he is against what he sees as the direction of the EU towards 'super-statehood'.

For the English Independence Party, nationalism is a defensive reaction to the fragmentation of the existing British state; a sense of powerlessness as the Welsh and Scottish parliaments succeed while they see England subsidising the provinces and ceding influence.

Nickerson says that here is a real opportunity for peaceful co-existence resulting from a harmonious network of nations. 'Nationalism is not imperialism, ' he says, 'although the boundaries will have to be defended.'

The logic of his nationalism has some progressive edges though, reiterating a belief in the rights of all nations to selfdetermination. 'There is not a single reason for a single person to be killed in Yugoslavia, ' he says. 'The nationalist principle is that territories should be allowed their liberty to determine their own destiny.' Clearly, intervention across boundaries is against the nationalist critique (although he backtracks when I ask whether NATO forces should be pulled out).

Nickerson admits that for most of his life he has not been politically active. From a working-class background in Kilburn, London, he left grammar school at 16 to work in a small architects practice and from there he attended Regent Street College.

Spending many hours as a student in the '60s, arguing in the pub with friends, was the limit of his political engagement until he joined the Conservative party in the heady days of Margaret Thatcher.

'Looking back', he says, 'I was arguing New Labour politics even then.' He has moved on to being 'not a Tory, but a critic of Labour'.What he calls as 'the middle way'.

His party has recently made the decision not to stand in the general election because of the cost. Instead, it pins its hopes on the SNP pushing for devolution and separating from England. 'A good result for the Scottish Nationalists would push us further down the road of success, ' he says. When I ask whether this would be a hollow victory - independence by the back door - he agrees, but is happy to accept any vicarious support.

Allied to the Campaign for an English parliament, Nickerson's patriotism is implicit, although it is a little vague what it is he is patriotic for.He talks emotively about a 'sense of country', of history and heritage, suggesting that people will die for their country if they feel under attack, even though they can't explain why. 'The English have a real sense of place, ' he says, 'unlike the Canadians in their vast land mass, who have no specifics, no easily identifiable location.'

He describes Englishness as a 'sense of being' engendered by experience and loyalties. Visitors to other nations, he says, carry their nationhood with them. They either stay aloof and remain foreign nationals or they assimilate into the host nation. Unfortunately, this simply sounds like a middle way between liberal cultural diversity and Norman Tebbit's cricket test.

But if nationality is so spontaneous and emotional, why do we have to relearn it? If it is so widely known what our 'English heritage' is, why do so few people know their Picts from their Angles? Apart from repeating that it is an instinctive process, he is not sure. To be fair, he hasn't finished the book yet.

At the end of our meeting, for all our disagreements, it was refreshing to meet a man, in today's political climate, who is devoid of platitudes and committed to the idea that politics is important.

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