This book provides a digest of the debates about England and Englishness, as well as a unique perspective on those debates. Not only does it provide readers with ready access to and interpretation of the significant literature on ‘The English Question’, but it also enables them to make sense of the political, historical and cultural factors which constitute that question, addressing the condition of England in three interrelated parts. The first part looks at traditional narratives of the English polity and reads them as legends of political Englishness, of England as the exemplary exception, exceptional in its constitutional tradition and exemplary in its political stability. The second part considers how the decay of that legend has encouraged anxieties about English political identity, of how English identity can be recognised within the new complexity of British governance. The third part revisits these legends and anxieties, examining them in terms of the actual and metaphorical ‘locations’ of Englishness: regionalism, Europeanism and Britishness.
This book focuses on the idea of the nation in Conservative Party politics. It represents an attempt to make sense of the way in which flows of sympathy from the past help to shape the changing patterns of Conservatism in the present; it does so by examining one of the party's preoccupations: its claim to be the 'national party'. The first three chapters are concerned mainly with flows of sympathy within Conservatism, the currents of which can still be traced today. The character (or political culture) of the Conservative Party is explored and the significance of the nation in its self-understanding is discussed. The book considers the interconnection of party and patriotism by revisiting one of the key texts for a previous generation, Andrew Gamble's The Conservative Nation. Andrew Gamble believed that Conservative leaders have always been uneasily aware of the fragility of the political raft upon they sail on democratic waters. The book assesses the changing influence on party competition of class and nation, especially how this influences the Conservative Party's electoral identity. It also reflects the impact on the Conservative nation of the British, English and European Questions. A postscript considers the impact of the 2017 general election and makes some final reflections on the party.
This chapter looks at the ‘necessary context’ of Europe, in which many of the arguments about English identity are now being discussed. It explains that those who support the integration of England into the European Union believe that the process is historically inevitable, while those against the integration argued that it is politically undesirable. Despite their very different objectives, however, both pro-European and anti-European arguments have shared a common thesis of inevitability. The chapter also discusses aspects of English divergence in Europe, and suggests that the European Union is of value only so long as it ditches the unwarranted presumption to tell people that they are European and that they must act in a prescribed manner.
This chapter reconsiders the Britishness of England given that the United Kingdom is still the political location for the continuing legends and anxieties of Englishness. It suggests that the notion of Britishness as a way of life implied sentiments of loyalty much deeper than legalistic arrangements, and explains that conversational tension between citizenship and patriotism is one of the dominant themes of British public discourse. The chapter also discusses the argument which suggests an increasing sense of English self-consciousness and highlights the claim that while the other nations within the United Kingdom had retained their distinctive identities, the English had found it more difficult to do so.
This chapter sums up the key findings of this study on the politics, legends and anxieties of Englishness. It comments on the public display of English flags in the 2002 World Cup and suggests that the ubiquity of the Cross of St. George has diluted any partisan political intent. The chapter contrasts the English case with that of Northern Ireland, where flags are used either to demarcate territory by the proclamation of allegiance or to intimidate and deter outsiders. It contends that the idiom of English politics and the legends of Englishness have been modified and will continue to be modified. What England has thought of itself has induced not only complacency but also anxiety, and these complacencies and anxieties have informed the tone in which the national conversation has been conducted and will continue to be conducted.
This introductory chapter discusses the theme of this book, which is about the English question and the politics of Englishness. The book is divided into three sections, the first of which looks at traditional narratives of the English polity and considers them as legends of political Englishness. The second section focuses on the anxieties of Englishness and the recent debates about English political identity, while the final section re-examines the legends and anxieties of Englishness in terms of the actual and metaphorical ‘locations’ of Englishness that cut across the usual patterns of political partisanship.
This chapter considers a legend of integration, a narrative that may be said to constitute the English answer to problems of stable governance. It comments on Krishnan Kumar's The Making of English National Identity, in which he claimed that there are virtually no expressions of English nationalism and no native tradition of reflection on English national identity. The chapter suggests that the link between the history of a people and its political institutions was a key feature of English reflection on the modern state, and that the lack of an overtly defined nationalism did not and does not mean the absence of a profound sense of nationality or even a certain idea of England. It also discusses the English claim of exceptionalism.
This chapter provides an account of the historic strengths and weaknesses of what is called the English idiom, based on E.P. Thompson's essay ‘The Peculiarities of the English’. It explains Thompson's argument that England is unlikely to capitulate before a Marxism which cannot at least engage in a dialogue in the English idiom. The chapter contends that there are powerful survivals of self-understanding in the case of Englishness which continue to inform contemporary national identity, and that they have a future as well as a past. It suggests that it is the interpenetration of changing circumstances and idiomatic continuity which sets the tone of contemporary understanding of Englishness.
This chapter examines the legend of disintegration, one of the most politically influential expressions of the notion of political Englishness, which charts England's loss of supposed self-possession. It traces the influence of this legend in the debate about English identity and explains that this narrative synthesises two apparently contradictory developments: nationalism; and a new, post-imperial, global framework for politics. The wide appeal of this legend can be attributed to the fact that it provided a compelling explanation of British circumstances in the late twentieth century. In this legend, the English idiom represented nothing but the suffocation of political and cultural possibilities.
This chapter considers the imaginative effect of the post-war experience and identifies the anxieties of Englishness, commenting on historian George Kitson Clark's argument that the English had been English before they were British and that English identity could be found behind or beyond the institutions of the United Kingdom. It also discusses a recent interpretation of British history indicating that the diminishing authority of the old institutions has indeed provoked the present re-assessment of Englishness. The chapter argues that the question of English identity today is bound up with the new complexity of British governance and with the new uncertainty of how England fits into it. It describes several anxieties of English, which include the anxiety of absence, the anxiety of silence and the anxiety of anticipation.