It keeps the egos of politicians and celebrities in check and can even, on a good day, hold fundamentalism at bay. Rousing speeches that might be the start of something in other countries would be laughed at here.
The downside to that same characteristic, if national characteristics really exist, reveals itself whenever we try to do something big. It’s then that the British nation excites itself in the anticipation of failure.
Sometimes — I’m thinking of the Millennium Dome here — our cynicism is entirely appropriate, but not always. The London Olympics were successful on a global scale and, to be honest, that’s often the way the rest of the world sees us. While we don’t expect to succeed, they don’t expect us to fail.
When we get on and do something right, letting the creativity flow rather than taking the safe route and appointing a committee to do the job, then we do it well.
The rest of the world tells us we are the gardening nation, that our parks, gardens and open spaces are the best in the world. When I hear that I usually swell with British cynicism and say it’s all a myth. We have a few good gardens but the average isn’t that special. We have a few good parks but there are a good few poor ones too. But that’s true of everything. The fact is that we are good, very good, at green spaces when we try.
All political parties agree that we need more housing and that garden cities will provide a chunk of what we need. The phrase "garden city" wakes the cynic in me, but it shouldn’t. Ebenezer Howard came up with the idea more than 100 years ago and still no one does it better than us at our best.
Left to committee, done on the cheap and done without real commitment to the fundamental ideal, it would be done badly. But with the right energy behind it there’s nowhere in the world it could be done better.
Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries