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Re-imagining England

Originally delivered as a public lecture at the University of Winchester on Thursday 9th October, 2014, John Denham reflects on the future of England and "Englishness."

Is UKIP's star fading?

As UKIP seeks to instil discipline amongst its cadres, it finds itself walking a thin line between maintaining the populist rhetoric that harnessed its appeal to the “left-behind” and building a more polished, mainstream image.

State of the Union

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Gareth Young points us to the FT where John Lloyd provides an overview of the emerging balance between unionism and nationalism across the UK:

This might be the high tide of nationalism, before the turn, and the beginning of a neo-Unionism no longer afraid to speak its name – for fear of appearing bigoted, or imperialist, or simply out of touch with the zeitgeist. In the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords, where huge murals of great British military encounters – by the Irish painter Daniel Maclise – blaze forth from the walls, David Trimble, former first minister of Northern Ireland and the progenitor of the Stormont Assembly, dismissed SNP successes as more a matter of Labour unpopularity than nationalist support. “The presence of devolved government in the UK greatly reduces the main nationalists’ argument – that a Westminster government of a different stripe gives the central government no mandate,” he said. “There will be friction – but that is in the nature of such arrangements. The Union remains.” 

This weekend's events in Belfast perhaps underlined the resilience of unionism in that part of the UK, albeit a unionism that retains more of the old imperial pattern than Lloyd allows.

A Beijing Boost for Britishness

Tom Griffin (London, OK): 'One World, One Dream' is the official slogan of the Beijing Olympics, reflecting "the common wishes of people all over the world, inspired by the Olympic ideals, to strive for a bright future of Mankind. In spite of the differences in colors, languages and races, we share the charm and joy of the Olympic Games, and together we seek for the ideal of Mankind for peace."

It has long been argued, (classically by George Orwell), that such lofty ideals only serve to conceal the close relationship between nationalism and the sporting spirit.

A St Andrew's Day Referendum

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon):November 30, 2010 is the day to mark in your diary, according to the Sunday Times. Kenneth Gibson, the MSP for Cunninghame North has apparently let slip details of the SNP's heavily symbolic timetable for Scottish independence.

The plan calls for a referendum bill to be introduced on 25 January, Burns Day, ahead of a vote in November on St Andrews Day.

That will only happen, of course, if the SNP minority government can get a majority for the bill. The outcome of the current Labour and Liberal Democrat leadership debates may tell us a lot about how likely that is.

Endism - A flawed vision of the future

Arthur Aughey: (University of Ulster): When I finished the manuscript of my book Nationalism, Devolution and the United Kingdom State (Pluto 2001) I did so with what I thought was not only a literary flourish but also a political warning. 

The literary flourish was intended to engage with Tom Nairn’s polemic against ‘UKania’ in After Britain (Granta 2000) where he had employed the Kakanian metaphor of Robert Musil’s novel The Man without Qualities. Nairn argued that just as the fond hope of Austro-Marxists that they could save the integrity of the Habsburg Empire from nationalist challenge came to nothing so too Labour's constitutional activism merely replayed the old Austrian saying - 'es muss etwas geschehen' (something must be done). However, the fatalistic end was implied in that action - 'es ist passiert' (it just happened). And what will just happen, is already happening, is the dissolution of the United Kingdom. It was like the old Austrian lament of 1916 we find in Strong (History of European Ideas 1984, p. 305): 

What are we fighting for? Libertarians and nationalists must make common cause

David (Cambridge, Britology Watch): There has been much discussion recently – including on Britology Watch – about whether English nationalism can be reconciled with progressive politics; and whether progressives need to espouse the nationalist cause, associate it with left-of-centre values, and thereby prevent it from falling into the hands of the far right.

Why we need English nationalism: a reply to Peter Facey

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.

Can you have the good without the bad?

Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): There has been lots of discussion on this blog about nationalism, patriotism, identity and even how the centre left should become more nationalist.

I have always been interested in identity, nations and nationalism. I have a strong personal identity and am attracted to the way nation or community identity can bind people together across economic and religious divides.

Billy Bragg returns to the fray

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Thanks to a tip from Gareth Young in the vigorous comments section on his OK post about The way forward for the Campaign for an English Parliament, I've just read Bill Bragg here in CiF. Billy defends his call for an English patriotism and makes a lot of what is happening in Scotland to prove his case that progressive politics and civic nationalism can go together. He's right. Two things strike me. Billy makes an explicitly socialist case - from a socialist addressed to socialists - saying internationalism and patriotism are not incompatible and the right should not be permitted a free ride on England. But the SNP have never been a socialist or an explicitly social-democratic party - even if this is what their government is turning out to be. So we have to ask the question: why is it that the most left-wing government in the United Kingdom is not from the Labour or socialist tradition?

Jefferson would not have been Salmond's ally

Normal Mouth (Rhondda, blogger): Alex Salmond has been in the USA this week quoting Thomas Jefferson. Fortunately for English sensibilities he did not invoke the great man’s suggestion that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” but chose instead the rather more anodyne “we are a people capable of self-government, and worthy of it.”

Tom Nairn on Scotland as pioneer of the new globalisation

Anthony Barnett (Edinburgh, OK): I'm up in Edinburgh where I went to hear Tom Nairn deliver last night's 16th Edinburgh Lecture Globalization and Nationalism: The New Deal? (Republished in openDemocracy.) He was introduced by the government's First Minister Alex Salmond who hosted a reception afterwards. Here is a picture of the two of them, the First Minister is just sitting down after lauding the speaker. I think I need a new camera but it is the only picture there is.

Can we create a new national belonging? by Ben Rogers and Rick Muir, ippr

Jon Bright reviews: The Power of Belonging: Identity, citizenship and community cohesion by Ben Rogers and Rick Muir of ippr.

Ben Rogers and Rick Muir examine our nation's collective identities - what might be lost as they change or thin out, and what could be done to stregthen them.

Sport, sectarianism, and the future of the GAA

Conn Corrigan (New York, Columbia School of Journalism): Edwin Poots, the DUP minister for arts, culture and leisure, attended his first Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) game last Wednesday, in yet another sign of the normalization of political life in Northern Ireland. A few years ago, the odds of catching a senior DUP politician at a game of hurling or Gaelic football would have been as likely as the Queen formally inviting Gerry Adams to come watch England play cricket at Lords.

Welsh 'performance' will end in an independent nation

Bethan Jenkins (Neath, Plaid AM): "Now, please tell me on a scale of 1 to 5, how British are you? To explain, the closer to 5 in your definition, the more British you feel.""1."

"Sorry, do you mean 5? Did you understand correctly...?"

I start to interrupt her.

"Yes, I'm a 1. In fact, I don't define myself as British at all."

EU gives new meaning to the idea of nationalism

Jon Bright (London, OK): Picked up this Al-Jazeera report from Tartan Hero - "to see ourselves as others see us" he calls it - AJ's take on the rise of support for Scottish independence.


I always love watching international news reports on domestic issues because you get a fresh pair of eyes looking at an old problem. And what comes out, for me, from both Margot MacDonald and Alex Salmond, who were interviewed for the piece, is how important the existence of the EU is in framing the context of the debate on 'independence'. MacDonald made the point that other 'small' nations also exist happily in the EU. Salmond emphasised that Scotland wanted to represent itself in institutions like this. When it is explained again, from first principles, it is the existence of this larger statelike structure that is always lurking in the background in the SNP's desire to break away from the original (albeit far more developed / centralised /powerful) British superstate. Would calls for Scottish independence be conceivable without the EU? If not, what does that say about the existence and future of the significance of the word 'nationalism'? Is the entropy being felt in the UK part of the inevitable destruction needed for the creation of something new - and what might that be?

Football divisions, national loyalties

Jon Bright (London, OK): OurKingdom lost a chance at a hatfull of easy metaphors for Salmond's rise and Brown's fall on Saturday when the football results went against Scotland and for England. (Of course Brown is Scottish - but the politician who once declared Paul Gascoigne's goal against Scotland in Euro 96 his greatest footballing moment will know that, politically speaking, it pays for him to support England).

What happened in May

David Marquand (Oxford): The real significance of the May elections has to do with the dog that didn’t bark. We are now seeing an extraordinary change in the political culture of the British state, corresponding to the institutional changes carried through in Blair’s first term. Both in Wales and Scotland there is now a distinct political will, expressed in an through distinct legislative bodies. The emergence of such a will was always likely, but thanks to the unpopularity of the now utterly discredited Blair Government it has happened much more quickly than I expected. It is not a question of ‘nationalism’, still less of ‘separatism’. It’s a question of nationhood, which is a quite different thing. There is no reason of principle why the Labour parties of Wales and Scotland cannot be the vehicles of Welsh and Scottish nations. But to allow that to happen, the UK Labour Party would have to undergo a profound cultural and institutional revolution of its own. Failing that, ostensibly ‘nationalist’ parties have filled the vacuum.

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