Why we need English nationalism: a reply to Peter Facey

ourKingdom editors
14 May 2008

Paul Kingsnorth (Oxford, author Real England): Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy has posed an interesting personal question. He feels the issues of identity but draws back for fear of having to embrace the bad with the good and asks isn't nationalism always going to be about airing grievances? An interesting question. I have only recently begun to refer to myself as an 'English nationalist', and not without some reservations. When I see idiots like the English Democrats doing their anti-Scottish thing, or engage in blog arguments with bigots from both England and Scotland who seem to think that the purpose of their nationalism is to allow them to each blame the other for their political plights, or engage in personal attacks, it makes me want to give up and go home.

The answer to Peter's question, in my view, is that any sort of intelligent nationalism needs to be predicated not on attacking others but on righting wrongs within your own nation. I call myself an 'English nationalist' because two things about England bother me. Firstly, I believe the country is becoming 'decultured' - losing touch with its heritage, folk culture, identity and history, and that this matters. Secondly, I see clear political injustices in the current constitution. Both are covered in an interesting and even radical way in OK. But these are problems that need to be righted not just written about.

And perhaps also there is a third reason. England is the only nation within the UK with no serious, centrist nationalist movement. New Labour unleashed Scottish and Welsh nationalism with devolution. Irish nationalism was unleashed a long time ago. Only England remains. So perhaps a new English nationalism is needed as a balancing force. Certainly it is the only force I can see capable of doing what I think needs to be done.

But we have a clear choice. We can keep up the jock-baiting, narrow, bitter variant which has been a minority taste for so long, or we can reach out to all English people of all backgrounds and ask them to join us in a campaign to improve England from within. In an increasingly divided nation - divided along class, ethnic, religious and political lines - I think this kind of unity may be our only hope. I also think that English nationalism is coming whether you like it or not. Best to get involved and shape it in the right way, so it really doesn't become something nasty.

I would make two final points. One: I regularly read stuff from 'progressives', who, while agreeing to some extent with the political and cultural case, hang back and say that English nationalism is 'not for them' because it's not 'progressive' enough.My response: it won't change unless more people get involved. What are you waiting for?

Two: I was recently in Scotland, and discovered that there are still some dodgy, hostile and unpleasant strains within Scots nationalism, which focus on 'indigenity' , ethnic identity and blaming the English for everything. As with Irish nationalism, this stuff exists, and has had to be worked through, with the help of people from all sides of the debate. If Scottish nationalism is now 'moderating its language' it's because moderate people got involved and helped it do so. The same will be true in England. So my answer to Peter is the good can trump the bad but only if those who think like you join us.

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