Nationalism in England is not just a rightwing nostalgia trip


Over the past three years the spectre of a rampant English nationalism has gripped the imagination of the liberal left. The rise of a racist, backward-looking, imperialistic and xenophobic political force has been conjured up by politicians and commentators alike, serving as a convenient whipping boy for Brexit chaos and other travails.

English discontent certainly does lie at the root of much recent turmoil. In 2015 fears that the SNP would dominate a weak minority Labour government helped give David Cameron his surprise majority (John McDonnell’s courting of the SNP on the subject of a second independence vote suggests that Jeremy Corbyn may face the same “Scottish question” very soon). In 2016 the bulk of the leave vote was provided by voters more likely to emphasise their English rather than their British identity. And it was Conservatism’s appeal to working-class English voters with a similar profile that denied Labour a majority in 2017.

If we are to understand the dynamics of our times then, we need to understand Englishness. But our research at the Centre for English Identity and Politics suggests that this is not the virulent nationalism of liberal nightmares. This nationalism has no political party or programme. Nor does it boast public intellectuals, cultural expressions or social institutions. Party activists knocking on doors rarely meet voters who express explicitly English political demands. The worst they might come across is a despairing “you’re not even allowed to say you are English any more”.

Of course, not everyone who lives in England says they think of themselves as primarily English. The research found that while most citizens identify as both English and British, around a third prioritise their English identity (“I’m more English than British”). It is among this group, and those considering themselves “equally English and British”, that English interests are most strongly expressed.

These are not, by and large, the people who hold power in England. They tend to live outside the cities and didn’t go to university. They include working-class voters important to Labour heartlands and those from the world of small business; people who see themselves as embodying an ethos of hard work and public service, shaped in an era when banks had managers based in the high street rather than tower blocks in Canary Wharf. If both these groups are nostalgic, it is less for empire than for the place they once held at the centre of national life. Power in England now lies with the graduates, with those who lead corporate business and hold sway in culture and the arts, and in much of the media and academia. Influential positions are more likely to become held with the small group who think about themselves “British not English” than from the self-identifying “English not British”.

English-identifying voters are the minimum satisfied with their particular political rendering and are improbable to really feel Westminster knows them. They need English laws and regulations made by British MPs, and lots of would like the parliament meant for England. These types of English identifiers resent the particular Barnett method that gives starving English areas less community spending for each head compared to Scotland. Numerous see the NHS, university costs, social treatment and education and learning – however, EU plus immigration – as problems where the The english language interest is certainly distinct from your UK in general. Far from getting “Greater Britain” unionists they will place very little store at the union because they do for the EU. 9 out of ten think it is critical that a politics party compares for The english language interests, yet nearly fifty percent can’t determine one that will.

Rather than in thrall in order to Boris Johnson’s “Greater Britain” unionism, these types of citizens discover both associated with England’s unions – the uk and the EUROPEAN UNION – since working contrary to the interests from the particular Britain they observe as omitted from strength. This conflict between the “establishment” and the British is about dreams for energy, representation plus democracy that might be taken for granted in different other country; it’s nor necessarily regressive nor innately rightwing. Certainly, it might nicely have shaped the program of a logical and democratic political task. But with out clear connection or management, the British interest continues to be inchoate: a strong yet risky and unforeseen force. Definitely, if the partnership is to endure, English voters need to be certain of its contemporary relevance as much as voters in Scotland, Wales plus Northern Ireland in europe.

The guru of the depart campaign had been to connect the unapproachability of Brussels with the marginalisation felt from the English in your own home, and with the drop of their general public services. Issue about migration was essential,: Englishness is really a national identification deeply grounded in the details of nearby places plus it was undoubtedly disrupted from the rapid effect of unpredicted levels of immigration. Racism performed a part, however it was in no way the whole tale. The number of individuals claiming you need to be white to become English provides halved in the last seven yrs – in order to 10% – undermining states that Brexit was powered by ethnically exclusive British nationalism. It had been being told that will EU migration couldn’t (or shouldn’t) become controlled that actually rankled.

The particular caricaturing associated with English nationalism as innately reactionary plus xenophobic made the still left and center reluctant to know what the The english language really want. It is one reason the People’s Vote advertising campaign has discovered it very hard to really change the call on European countries despite the pending threat associated with no offer.

Labour is unsucssesful to establish the commanding vote lead one of the same voters despite contending with an unpopular and inexperienced government. Actually electoral reformers and democracy campaigners run away from identifying English dreams to enjoy exactly the same level of democracy as Wales, Scotland plus Northern Ireland in europe. No popular party is usually willing to talk directly to Britain.

Many English-identifying voters desire left-of-centre plans on the economic climate, public possession, redistribution as well as the welfare condition, but progressives’ reluctance to interact with their The english language agenda leaves them within the hands associated with Brexiteers of just one shade yet another. Promises associated with more policing, NHS investing and migration controls, since Brexit harnesses, suggest that Manley and his advisor Dominic Cummings know which usually buttons in order to press. However the Brexiteer-English connections is in no way secure. Making aside the problem of in fact delivering, the particular inescapable reasoning of Brexit is to generate global marketplace forces more deeply to the very organizations desperate for defense against them.

It is late within the day, yet “remain plus reform” campaigners could recognize that England’s governance requirements every bit just as much reform since that of the particular EU. Work could decide a eyesight for the British nation inside the union. Perceptive Liberal Democrats should realize that the voters who empty them for that Tories within 2015 had been driven by English curiosity. If England’s democratic dreams were recognized, the The english language could once more become area of the mainstream politics conversation that they have been omitted for a long time. Misplaced anxieties of British nationalism might be put back within the box.

• John Denham is a previous Labour cupboard minister. They are director from the Centre to get English Identification and National politics and the British Labour System

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