Englishness –

The Political Force Transforming Britain

By Ailsa Henderson & Richard Wyn Jones

Oxford University Press – £30.00

It is not difficult to find the view that England, formerly the land of deference, order, tradition, and squeamish aversion to national excess, has somehow been transformed into a land of right-wing, racist, past-obsessed misanthropes, hellbent on pulling the UK out of a successful economic and political union to satisfy some sort of imperial wanderlust […]. All of this might suggest that we are currently bearing witness to the emergence of a militant Englishness that is irredeemably reactionary.

(‘The English World View’)

The results show that English identifiers are more likely to cite sacrifices in world wars, the countryside, and the Queen, whereas British identifiers are more likely to be proud of openness to other cultures and faiths, as well as shared institutions such as the NHS.

(‘On Englishness and Britishness’)

A mere twelve weeks into the appalling disaster that is Brexit, and it does seem that a menagerie of outmoded and utterly misguided morons are now beginning to feel the economic heat. No surprises there of course, as to varying degrees, a country’s well-being has always invariably been anchored to that of its GDP.

Hence the term, ‘it’s the economy stupid.’

And the UK’s economy has taken such an astronomic nose-dive since January 1st, that even the most the selfish of myopic, racist bigots, are now beginning to realise that they may well have made a terrible, terrible mistake in voting to leave the European Union in 2016.

And lest we remind ourselves that this is just the beginning.

The beginning of what many consider to be an exceedingly bleak and catastrophic period in British cultural and economic history; for which we have the appalling likes of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Nigel Farage to systematically thank.

Not that the country was not forewarned mind, as this politically grounded and most meticulous of well-researched books wholly substantiates throughout its 215 pages (excluding List of Figures, List of Tables, Bibliography and Index). Indeed, Englishness – The Political Force Transforming Britain is remarkably coherent, factual and on occasion, severely to the point: If ‘Who will speak for England?’ was probably the best-known Leave supporting headline, then the highest-profile and best-known Leave campaign slogan was, with a shadow of a doubt, ‘Take back control.’ Apparently devised by Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the officially designated Vote Leave campaign, ‘Take back control’ was pitch perfect. It managed to span the two key themes of the Leave campaign – namely, sovereignty and immigration – doing so in a way that evoked a sense of national history that resonates particularly strongly with those who identify as English. Restoring the ‘sovereignty of parliament’ and restoring the state’s borders in order to stop ‘uncontrolled’ immigration: these are both tropes whose undoubted power resides in a quintessentially English nostalgia for a glorious past in which the monarch in parliament was sovereign and in which the United Kingdom was more ethnically homogenous.’’

One cannot help but wonder – especially with food banks on the increase and the cleavage betwixt the haves and have-not growing exponentially – whether or not ‘‘sovereignty of parliament’’ will eventually begin to count for very little.

If not (almost) nothing at all.

That said, both authors Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones emphatically state that: ‘’Englishness is here and here to stay’’ (‘On Englishness and Britishness’).

Hmm, are we to take this as suave benevolence? Or a solace or sorts?

Apart from the fact that there may be one or two many tables and graphs depicting facts and figures and yet more facts and figures, Englishness makes for vitally important, if not compulsive reading.

David Marx

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