Towards a Civic English Nationalism
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Towards a Civic English Nationalism
7 August @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
A recent study by British Future and the Centre for English Identity and Politics has shown encouraging signs of growing public support for an “inclusive Englishness”. The research shows that only 10% of people believe that ethnicity is an important factor in determining “Englishness” – a drop from 20% in 2012. Meanwhile, over 70% of respondents believed that paying taxes in England and contributing to English society were integral to “being English”.
The findings of this new study raise interesting questions. Is it important to make a clear distinction between white English ethnicity and English nationhood? Is there the political will to cultivate an inclusive English nationalism? What sort of values and principles should underpin this civic English nationalism?
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to this topical and interesting event on how we can move towards a civic model of English nationalism.
John Denham was the MP for Southampton Itchen from 1992 until he stood down at the 2015 election. He was previously a city and county councillor and worked for 15 years in the third sector with, amongst others, Friends of the Earth, the British Youth Council and War on Want. He held a variety of ministerial and Cabinet posts in the last Labour Government, including as Secretaries of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and for Communities and Local Government. He chaired the Home Affairs Select Committee between 2003 and 2007.
He has been a Visiting Professor at Winchester University and Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics. He will take up a new post at Southampton University in September 2019 where the Centre will now be located. He is Director of the Southern Policy Centre, an independent think-tank and policy forum for central southern England and has also established the English Labour Network.
Tom Slater is the deputy editor of Spiked, the magazine that wants to change the world as well as report on it. He has also written about politics and culture for the Spectator, the Telegraph and Time Out, and is a regular commentator on TV and radio, focusing on Brexit, British politics and free speech.
Dr. Rakib Ehsan is a Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation & Terrorism. Rakib specialises in the socio-political behaviour and attitudes of British ethnic minorities, with a particular focus on the UK’s Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups. He holds a BA Politics & International Relations (First-Class Honours), MSc Democracy, Politics & Governance (Pass with Distinction), and a PhD in Political Science, all from Royal Holloway, University of London.
On Wednesday, 8th August, The Henry Jackson Society was pleased to welcome Professor John Denham, former MP and current Visiting Professor at Winchester University and Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics, along with Tom Slater, Deputy Editor of Spiked, for a discussion on the potential for a Civic English nationalism to develop in the UK. A fruitful and variegated discussion broached broader topics also, especially regarding the perception of English nationalism on the different sides of the political spectrum.
Following introductions, Professor Denham opened by discussing the results of his findings at the Centre for English Identity and Politics. Replicating exactly a survey 7 years ago, his centre found recently that the last 7 years have seen a halving in the number of people who identified being white with Englishness, from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10. Professor Denham noted that although identities are highly complex and shifting, nonetheless conclusions that challenge narratives can be drawn. Notably, the unfortunate link of “Englishness” with far right politics and tribalism sits poorly with a fall of a racial identification faster than the death rate of older people often stereotyped as expressing such views. Although this by no means suggests that racism is long gone in England, it does indicate that without any state backing English nationalism is organically evolving into a civic rather than an ethnic/racial political force. This force, based around a sense of “rootedness,” indeed a birthright to those born in England, now sits at a crossroads. Should the state involve itself in fostering this civic identity, or, “should Englishness find its own way?”
Speaking next, Tom Slater of Spiked pushed this challenge to narratives further by considering why English nationalism, in contrast to Welsh or Scottish, proves to be such an uncomfortable topic for many in this country. He noted the unfortunate history of symbols such as the English flag, associated first with the National Front and now with the likes of the EDL, but also the persistent belittling of English nationalism as still narrowly fitting within this paradigm. An unfortunate reaction to the recent Brexit vote has been a linking by the “metropolitan elite” of Englishness to Brexit, mocked in the recent coining of the term “gammon” to describe a middle-aged, ignorant English patriot. He further considered the links between such conceptions and the “Southern Discomfort” of the Labour Party’s persistent failure to link up with white, working class southern voters.
It was agreed by both speakers that “Englishness”, and indeed its relations with “Britishness” and the other peoples of the British Isles requires a thorough rebooting in light of recent political events. A continued discussion of English nationalism, one which goes beyond the polemic of the past and acknowledges the complexity of this constantly evolving phenomenon is necessary considering its ramifications for the future of not just England but also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The HJS was delighted to host such a fruitful consideration of a topic with continuing salience for the modern UK.
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