For Allan Bennett, as for Kate Fox, one of the defining characteristics of the English is our hypocrisy (YAY!). Recording a programme The best of British for BBC Radio 4, he muses with a political passion that is seldom far below the surface (Keeping on keeping on, Diaries, 2015):
26 February. […] I think, why not Swaledale or medieval churches or even, with all its shortcomings, the National Trust. But what I think we are best at in England… I do not say Britain… what I think we are best at, better than all the rest, is hypocrisy.
Take London. We extol its beauty and its dignity while at the same time we are happy to sell it off to the highest bidder… or the highest builder.
We glory in Shakespeare yet we close our public libraries.
A substantial minority of our children receive a better education than the rest because of the social situation of their parents. Then we wonder why things at the top do not change or society improve. But we know why. It’s because we are hypocrites.
Our policemen are wonderful provided you’re white and middle-class and don’t take to the streets. And dying in custody is what happens in South America. It doesn’t happen here.
And it gets into the language. We think irony very English and are very proud of it but in literary terms it’s how we have it both ways, a refined hypocrisy. And in language these days words which start off as good and meaningful… terms like environment and energy-saving… rapidly lose any credence because converted into political or PR slogans, ending up the clichéd stuff of an estate agent’s brochure… a manual for hypocrisy. […]
And before you scamper for the Basildon Bond or rather skitter for the Twitter I would say that I don’t exempt myself from these strictures. How should I? I am English. I am a hypocrite.