More than 300 years ago, Napoleon said that England is “a nation of shopkeepers”. If he was speaking today, he’d probably say we are “the nation of the White Van Man”.
Both times he would have been right – though not in the way he meant. His shopkeeper comment in 1794 was a jibe, just as remarks about White Van Man today are often meant as a sneer.
But both views, then and now, dangerously misunderstand and underestimate what those roles say about the British and their character.
For the greatest strengths of the British are their abilities of hard graft, individualism, endeavour, willingness to work all hours to provide for their families, resilience, and responsibility.
As Napoleon discovered when he dismissed us as those mere shopkeepers, these traits make us very hard to beat down or defeat.
Those traits are epitomised by White Van Man. Mocked by comedians, sneered at by Lefties, immortalised by The Sun, White Van Man (and Woman) has by dint of sheer bloody hard work and determination helped lead Britain out of Recession.
Back in 2007, the AA estimated that White Van Man added a massive £35 billion credit to the UK every year, with a turnover in excess of £230 billion.
In the recovery since Gordon Brown’s Great Crash of 2009, some experts estimate that those figures have now almost doubled.
Those record falls in unemployment we keep reading about reflect how White Van Man has in his millions – to paraphrase Norman Tebbit – “got on his bike”, started up their own small or micro businesses, bought that small white van, and bloody well got out there and carved themselves a living. There’s almost 5 million of them now, working on one-man micro-businesses or companies with less than nine employees.
Builders, couriers, decorators, plumbers, electricians, shopkeepers, deliverymen… those white vans are – thankfully – everywhere.
Incidentally, one in three of the drivers is a woman. And only a third of the vans are actually white.
In many ways, White Van Man has proved to be the true heir to Margaret Thatcher: hard-working, self-reliant and decent, simply wanting to be left alone by the busybodies of the State to get on and build their lives.
Not in the slightest party political, in the traditional sense, White Van Man simply wants more of less. Less rules, regulations and red tape; less interference by town halls, Whitehall and Brussels; less taxes so they can expand their one-man businesses, and take home more to their families; less of the fuel duty that is unfairly imposed simply to fund government profligacy elsewhere.
Tory MP Robert Halfon of Harlow – prime White Van Man territory – has even called on Prime Minister David Cameron to pursue what he has dubbed “White Van Conservatism”, based around those values. He believes that they are the backbone of this country; that their “work hard, save hard, better yourself” instincts must be encouraged and nurtured; that the more that white vans are enabled to roar round our roads the better. He’s right.
And he’s also right that White Van Men want an “Aspiration Nation”. For instance, they’ve no time for the “Benefits Culture”. These owners and drivers believe everyone should get off their backsides like they have, and work to pay their own way and improve the lives of themselves and their families.
They’re willing to pay their fair share of tax, and believe passionately in education and the NHS – but hate to see those basic pillars of our society used and abused, and the waste that too often goes hand-in-hand with it.
Napoleon under-estimated our “shopkeepers” all those centuries ago and met his Waterloo. Any politician who wants to avoid the same fate today should make sure they don’t make the same mistake and ignore the power and importance of White Van Man.