EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Towards a Civic English Nationalism
DATE: 1:00 pm-2:00 pm, 7 August 2019
VENUE: Millbank Tower
SPEAKERS: John Denham, Tom Slater
EVENT CHAIR: Dr. Rakib Ehsan
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
So ladies and gentlemen let’s make a start. First of all I’d like to thank you all for attending today’s event here at Henry Jackson Society, Towards a Civic English Nationalism. This promises to be an interesting discussion where we will discuss the findings of a study by the Centre for English Identity and Politics which found that only a slender minority of the English public now frame English identity in more exclusivist, racial ancestral terms, with a healthy majority feeling that integral parts of Englishness involve paying your taxes in England and making positive contributions to English society. For me personally these findings are to be welcomed. Being of Bangladeshi and Indian origin I’ve always strongly identified as English, living in Hammersmith, raised in Luton and further educated in the Surrey village-town of Egham and closely following both England’s football and cricket national teams- naturally gutted by the dismal result in the first Ashes test up in Edgbaston. I feel that the idea that fellow English people are framing concepts of Englishness more based on values, principles, actions is something to be welcomed, particularly from a personal perspective. Of course these findings give rise to a number of important and very interesting questions. Is there serious potential to cultivate and develop an English identity which is based on values, principles? If so, what sort of values and principles should underpin the cultivation of an inclusive, English identity? And what role should our politicians play in cultivating this inclusive identity, this concept of Englishness? And why may they be reluctant to do so? And what is the future of democratic political governance in England? Does more power need to be decentralised, shifted away from the Westminster centre and given to the regions? To help answer all these interesting questions, I’m delighted to welcome Professor John Denham, from the Centre for English Identity and Politics and media commentator and good friend Tom Slater from Spiked. Professor John Denham was the Labour MP for Southampton Itchen from 1992 until he stood down in the 2015 election. He’s been a visiting professor at Winchester University and is the director for the Centre English Identity and Politics which has now been moved to Southampton beginning September 2019. And he is also the director of the Southern Policy Centre and the Policy Centre for Southern England. He has also established the English Labour Network. Tom Slater is the deputy editor of Spiked, a magazine that wants to change the world as well as report on it. He’s 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 all matters relating to Brexit, British politics and a particular emphasis on free speech. So, without further ado we can move on to comments from Professor John Denham.
Ok, well thank you very much indeed, thank you for inviting me. Is it ok if I speak sitting down rather than use the platform? Yeah, ok. Well at least in response to the opening remarks there’s some cricket followers in the room and even those who are not are probably aware not so long ago England won a very exciting world cup final at Lords’. If you didn’t actually watch it you may not have spotted one of the interesting subtexts of that afternoon was the number of people at Lords’ of visibly South Asian appearance wearing India replica kit and waving St George crosses and in some cases having St George crosses face-painted on their cheeks. I’m not aware that anyone’s actually done a proper study of that but the reasonable surmise that people have made was that these are people who bought their tickets when it looked like India would be in the final, they’re almost certainly people who if you asked them about their national identity they would say they were British, they had wanted to support India but given that India had been knocked out they were perfectly happy to support England which goes to show that the answers to Norman Tebbit’s cricket test about which team do migrants support turns out to be a more complicated question than Norman Tebbit thought when he first posed it.
I say all that just to make the point that national identities and identities are nested and complex, they’re not simple for most people. And when you’re talking about English identity, we need to understand a number of things and many of you will be familiar with all of this but let’s just get through it. Firstly, not everybody who lives in England does identify as English. Commentators frequently make the mistake of assuming that everybody must be English because they live in England and so Mark Easter at the BBC made a classic mistake when the BBC did their big survey last year and said ‘Wow, 10% of people in England are embarrassed to be English’ but when you look at the details of the survey they are the 10% who are not English. So it becomes less surprising that people who are actually quite hostile to the idea of Englishness would be embarrassed to be thought of as English. If you ask people to name simply one national identity of the two major ones in England, you’d have about 50% saying English, 50% saying British. If you ask people whether they’re proud of, how strongly- rather- they feel an identity, about 80% say they are strongly English and about 80% say they are strongly British. If you ask them on a scale which goes from English-not-British to British-not-English you get, including the don’t noes, you get about 35% saying they are equally English and British, about 35% saying they are more English than British and about 25% saying they are more British than English. So we are weighted towards the English end of the spectrum. But it’s worth saying that much of the discussion about the English identity is dominated by people in the media who do not identify as English. That does skew the way that Englishness is talked about. If we look at values, people who are familiar with the Schwartz Model dividing people into prospectors, settlers and pioneers we find that in the English and the British people tend to be the people who are the settlers, that’s the people who are socially conservative, and the prospectors, not so much the liberal pioneers. And if we ask political salience, we find that those who emphasise their English identity were much more likely to vote Leave and those who emphasise their British identity were much more likely to vote Remain.
Now, that’s just to give you the complex picture, it slightly depends which question you ask. There are two things that are often said about Englishness, one of which is the subject of my survey, but just to mention the other one, people often say that the trouble with Englishness is it is not a homogeneous identity, people say quite rightly that Scouses are not the same as Geordies, are not the same as the Cornish and so on. And they often use that to say ‘Well English isn’t a real national identity’, but they never say the same about Scottish identity. And yet nobody would suggest that Highland Scottish and Lowland Scottish are the same thing, that Western Scotland, that industrial Scotland is the same, let alone that Scottish Protestants and Scottish Catholics get on like a house on fire. And it’s the same in Wales, deep Wales and the north Welsh-speaking Wales is not the same as what we used to call but perhaps no longer Labour Wales in valleys, let alone the English Wales in which the by-election took place last week. But people still talk about a Welsh identity so if you apply the same test to Englishness, yes it is there, undoubtedly as a national identity. But the other thing that is often thrown at Englishness is this idea that it is ethnically and racially exclusive and that’s what I wanted to do in the survey that we published recently. We repeated quite deliberately, in the exact same format, a survey which had been done by British Future seven years ago. And the headline is this: in the survey seven years ago that British Future did, the number of people who said you have to be white to be English was one in five. These were English respondents. In our survey conducted in June of this year, almost at exactly the same time and with samples half the size, it was one in ten. So it has actually fallen by- it’s halved in just seven years. And even if you break that down a bit and you look at the people who say they are more English and the people who say they are more British, you also find that although the people that emphasise their English identity tend to have a higher ethnicity idea of it, that is now down to 17%, it is fallen from nearly 30% seven years ago so even amongst the people who emphasise their English identity, things have been moving in the same direction. And quite interestingly the largest share is the found in the older population, we can’t track the sample by cohort but there’s been a bigger change, actually, statistically, amongst older people, middle-aged people than there has been among young people. And we have to allow for the possibility that there may be a sort of resilient hard core including amongst the young with a highly ethnicised view of English identity but it’s a significant change over a relatively short period of time.
But what is also in the survey is quite interesting as well because although attitudes have shifted a bit, they have shifted far less on what we might call ideas of rootedness. So there’s idea that being English is very much associated with being born here, being born here much more than your parents being born here is very strong as is paying taxes, as is contributing to society. So it would appear that we are moving from a test, if you like, of this national identity which is much less based on race and ethnicity and much more in a sense of contribution to society. Well, I don’t want to go on for too long but just let me throw out a few thoughts to help in the further discussion if I might. The first is that this change which has taken place over a seven-year period of time really blows out of the water, I think, the idea that Brexit was fuelled by an ethnically exclusive push for English identity. Because Brexit voters were the people who emphasised their English identity who were much more likely to vote Leave, it was taking place at a time when ideas of Englishness were becoming more inclusive, not less inclusive. You don’t have to go very far in much of the media to see people, politicians, politics still blaming this exclusive ethnic idea of Englishness as behind the Brexit vote. The number just don’t add up to make any sense. So this was taking place at a time when notions of Englishness were changing in a more inclusive way.
What is interesting and I don’t have more time to go into, in other research that was part of the same survey which we’ve released more recently is the extent to which the English identifiers have a very strong democratic agenda. They want political parties to represent the interests of England, they want to have MPs collected from England, some of them but not all of them want to have an English parliament, people identify issues that are distinctively English as opposed to the Union as a whole. What is quite interesting is that those who focus on the ethnic-wide dimension of Englishness actually tend to ignore entirely the very strong evidence that there’s a democratic sense of Englishness and English aspirations. The second thing is that what is certainly true in other data is that these English identifiers have a higher cultural fear of immigration than of the British end of the spectrum. But- and there’s no doubt and I’ll come back to this in a moment- that racism plays a part in resistance to immigration. But it’s also the case that English identity is quite strongly associated with these measures of rootedness. Not just the things that were in this survey about being born here, about contribution to society but people’s association with a particular place, location. When you understand that it is understandable that in a sense identities aren’t more challenged, more disturbed by certain rapid demographic changes when your identity is very much rooted in the idea of a certain community. Some people, and I’ll throw this up for discussion, see the emphasis that’s still in this data about being born here as a measure of Englishness as a problem and it’s certainly visible that Englishness is not as readily available to the brand new migrant as Britishness which can exist purely as a citizenship. On the other hand, and this is a view taken by the collaborators like someone like [inaudible], it’s actually potentially positive. It becomes a thing of birth right, not a thing of ethnicity. But the one thing you can say is that everybody who’s been born here can call themselves English, whatever their background may be. We have to be very careful not to assume that the data is a measure of the degree of racism in our society. You know Raheem Sterling’s picture in the football that was used to illustrate quite a few of the articles about this particular data- and he, I’ve met him, I imagine he’s quite pleased to be regarded as one of England’s best footballers but we all know that he’s had an awful time with the racist abuse from the section of football fans here and abroad. So this doesn’t mean that racism has gone at all.
And then the final point I’ll make is this, what has happened- sorry final two points- one of the interesting things here is how Englishness has evolved without any engagement from the state or the political elite. This is very different from the evolution of Scottish identity and British identity which are often contrasted with Englishness as being more inclusive and seen as being more inclusive. But of course in Scotland, although going back to the 1930s there were some fairly unpleasant people involved in scatters of Scottish nationalism associated with the European far-right. Modern Scottish nationalism of the 1960s onwards really hasn’t had that thing but one of the things that had to be answered by nationalists of the 1960s and devolutionists after that was ‘Who are the Scottish?’ and they came to the only possible conclusion, it was all the people who lived in Scotland. And that has been very actively promoted by all the parties and the Scottish government after the Scottish government was formed and one of the effects of that is that BAME community members are much more likely to identify with Scotland than they are, without disrespecting our host here, to identify as English in English because there has been this very powerful message from the top on the measures that we’ve talked about here on whether you have to be white to be English and white to be Scottish, there’s very little difference between England and Scotland. So it’s largely been a state and elite message. Similarly also Britishness, multiculturalism explicitly set out to create an idea of Britishness that was inclusive and actually in spite of the fact that David Cameron said it’s state-sponsored multiculturalism [inaudible] he missed the point about the remarkable successes of multiculturalism had been to induce an inclusive idea of Britishness. So one of the questions going forward is, should Englishness just be left to find its own way or would it benefit from a greater involvement by politicians, by the state and so on. Very final point I promise you now, to just throw out for discussion: assuming, as I do but you may disagree, that the situation I described at the World Cup final is a perfectly happy and great situation to be in where people have these different identities and can express them in different ways and forums, the question will raise itself, is what is the position of long-term residents of England in terms of their ability to have that cultural identity as do those Indian-British-English fans at the World Cup final. And will there be a place for that within our ideas of Englishness in the future. I’ll leave that one hanging in the air. Ok?
Thank you very much everyone. Thanks for inviting me today Rakib, it’s great to be here with John who’s done so much interesting work on this topic, so I’m just going to try to throw out a couple of observations, just a couple of frameworks that we’re trying to understand, this question of Englishness. Because I think the really fascinating thing about Englishness is the fact that Englishness, English national identity is so uncomfortable to some people to so many people in the media and the political elite precisely at the time when as John has pointed out, it’s becoming far more inclusive, far more benign, far more positive in so many different measures that in 2019 sitting in the very tolerant and very open country that we are sitting in, there is suspicion of Englishness and the English. So the question that I want to look at briefly is: why does it unsettle people so much? As John has outlined in relation to his survey and his earlier work, Englishness is not necessarily this narrow identity, that not only maps on neatly to a broader British identity, most people who in the UK consider themselves English and British, but of course as the most recent survey demonstrates that in a very short space of time Englishness has come to be considered a largely post-racial identity. We still have a long way to go but I think it’s fair to say that we do live in a multiracial society that is increasingly at ease with itself. You see that in everything, in sport, in music icons that young people associate themselves with but, and almost most strikingly I think, that so much of this change has not been the result, as some might have thought of just the bad old days dying off and the bad old people that seemed to be kind of impression for so long given, as John has mentioned, how quick the shift in attitudes has been in the over-65s in particular. And I thought it was also interesting, there was a YouGov poll in the wake of the Windrush scandal that found that actually the age group that was most concerned about this and most felt that the children of the Windrush generation deserved their rights and had been mistreated were the over 65s. And incidentally, it was so interesting to find that the region that that though this the most was not even London, it was actually the rest of the South of England so there’s a lot of interesting stereotypes that are found in this discussion that are not actually necessarily borne out by what’s actually going on.
But nevertheless, despite all this background Englishness is still seen as suspect by that thin layer of society that I think John has already talked about and every once in a while it does bubble up to the surface. One example that many people will be familiar with was when Emily Thornberry, Labour MP was forced to step down from the Shadow Cabinet in 2014. She was campaigning in Rochester by-election, snapped this picture of this semi-detached house draped in the England, white van outside. To this day it isn’t entirely clear what she was trying to achieve by this photo, there was kind of a comment on it, but it very quickly became a symbol for people of a kind of Westminster political establishment who increasingly saw English identity, particularly working-class English identity as something between like a museum piece, like an exotic specimen or something to kind of marvel at and to be a little wary of. More recently we’ve seen people make those kinds of arguments over the last year Afua Hirsch, who’s a broadcaster, wrote a book called British on her own experiences of identity in this country as the child of migrants. She made the point that Englishness for most English people was a tribal white identity, so this impression, I think, is still very much a very mainstream one amongst an influential section of society.
So why is it the case that Englishness is seen as so suspect? In one sense it’s obvious that there is a bit of a hangover with Englishness, the St George flag is associated with the National Front, English Defence League and Tommy Robinson. I think it’s fair to say it’s very easy to forget how far we’ve come and how quickly because if you are a black Briton or Asian you don’t even have to have been around for that long to know that England wasn’t only not at one point, not particularly inclusive but also deeply racist in many respects but I think it’s deeply striking that we do have this core contradiction that at a time when Englishness is becoming far more inclusive it’s still being very much seen as un-fashionable and -admirable. I think on one level you could say that Englishness has become a new casualty of this culture war we find ourselves in, the kind of image of this caricature, racist English person, kind of [inaudible] in the new logo is something of a spectre that [inaudible] society can posture themselves against. But I think more deeply this kind of culture against Englishness expresses something a little bit deeper which, among the opinion forming sections of society as well as the political elite, and I think that’s bound up with their dislike not only necessarily of Englishness but of majoritarianism in general, of democratic society in general, of mass society in general. The two I think often become very much intertwined and we saw that perfectly, I think, in reaction to the Brexit vote in particular because, to adapt a quote from Will Self, ‘Not every metropolitan elitist was a Remain voter but all metropolitan elitists voted Remain’ and I think in the reaction to the Brexit vote you did see a sense in which Englishness and this horrendous thing that had just happened, supposedly, were very much put together. England became a by-word and an embodiment of this horrendous backwards step that the nation had supposedly just taken. Now the reasons for this are quite obvious, England voted to leave, Northern Ireland voted to stay, England backed Leave at a higher margin in the national average. Every region outside of London in England voted for Brexit and anti-Brexit anger soon became mixed up with a kind of anti-Englishness. There was a very interesting quote from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the New European, no less. She characterised Brexit as a ‘mix of arrogance and ignorance, a very English amalgam’. She made the point that the Brexit vote now damned us to dull, small island life, grey inwards with the shops full of pies and chips and blue passports in our bags. And even though that’s rather at the more extreme end of the reactions I think it did capture something.
But my point I think is that something that informs this anti-Englishness is that it’s bound up with a kind of anti-majoritarianism, an anti-democratic inclination by part of the people in politics and the media. England is not only obviously the biggest block in the UK, I think it’s also the block which particularly from the perspective of the liberal-left has been casually painted as the most wrong-headed and backward. People have talked for a very long time about the Labour Party’s problem in the south, its southern discomfort as a Fabian society pamphlet once put it. And for the best part of three decades the southern working-class were seen as a kind of write off, that they’d been bought off by factories and that they were culturally conservative and they were not for dealing with. But in the intervening years we’ve also seen that distance between the Labour Party grow in many of its northern heartlands as well. In the wake of the 2010 election Professor Philip Cowley made the point that it’s no longer southern discomfort, it’s universal discomfort with the working-class and the English working-classes and I think again, Brexit brought that to the fore where you have regions like the West Midlands, the East Midlands and the North-East voting Leave by huge margins, in some cases edging up to 60%. Meanwhile in the parliamentary Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn’s own views notwithstanding almost 90% of MPs actually backed Remain. So somewhere along the line due to some of these political shifts the English have become, for some, a sort of by-word for all that is wrong with politics. There’s this discomfort, I think, in general with national identity among some people and I think that’s something we could talk about but I think it’s also interesting that you do have this suspicion of Englishness and you also have things like Scottish nationalism or Welsh nationalism getting much more of a fair hearing among some sections of the liberal media. In fact, I think you find Scottish independence and that cause in particular has some got some measure of support from some sections of the English Left in part because I think it expresses a kind of anti-majoritarian impulse, you know. Scotland, as Nicola Sturgeon would put it, is the tail that can’t wag the Tory dog, there’s this kind of idea that England is lost to the forces of reaction and I think that it’s quite interesting that over the weekend you saw in an interview Nicola Sturgeon suggest that English voters who were upset with Boris and Brexit should move to Scotland. There’s this kind of sense in which it’s this haven in an otherwise heartless isle.
But enough on Scotland. To sum up, I think the liberal left discomfort with England is in some ways an expression of their discomfort with democracy. I think the liberal-left discomfort with English identity is an expression of their distance from ordinary people outside of London effectively. Turning, finally, to the question of fostering a civic English nationalism or building a more inclusive English national identity, that’s the part of the discussion I find a little bit more trouble with as I don’t think there’s any grand scheme or any way in which national cultures develop is very much in the doing of it, in societies existing and coexisting and working together. I also think that while national identity is not something that we should demonise insofar as it can actually offer a more inclusive and broad framework in which various different groups can come together into a collective whole, I also don’t think that we should necessarily fetishize it either, treat English identity as something which needs to be either recovered or built from the ground up, I don’t think that’s necessarily how society works. But one thing that I would advocate for going forward is for certain principles to inform, whether it’s an English national identity or any other democratic polity, principles of democracy, of freedom, of universalism, and I think defending the nation-state is the one construct we have in which you can effectively make those principles real in any meaningful way which we have available to us at the moment because I think it is those principles of democracy, of freedom and universalism are the things which have been caught in the cross-fire in this kind of anti-English culture. I think that those should be things that we put at the centre of discussion of English identity, of democracy in this country.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you for your comments Tom. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll now be opening the floor for discussion, we will be taking questions in batches of three. If I could kindly ask before asking your question, if you could state your name and formal affiliation please? Gentleman at the front, thank you.
Edward Benley, no affiliation. My question really is whether either of you have an insight into why this change has happened in the past seven years?
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you. Mr Grant?
Yeah, thank you, Euan Grant, former law enforcement, intelligence analyst. My question is really based on your last, the sort of closing remarks, are there any indications that we need to- that the tiny slither of society, the metropolitan elite and the media, are starting to address engaging with English nationalism outside London. I certainly do think Yasmin Alibhai-Brown needs to get out a bit more. I’m Scottish, I don’t think English nationalism is too bad actually, provided certain steps are taken to make sure it stays that way.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you Mr Grant. And the gentleman next to Mr Grant
John Lloyd from the FT, you’ll have seen the remarks from the Shadow Chancellor on the weekend where he said that for the next referendum it will be up to the Scots themselves and not up to what he called the English Parliament. You think that reflects a shift, a political shift on the Left towards accommodation and acquiescence in Scots independence and how far is an English identity actually wish for the Scots to go away.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you for your question. So John firstly, discussing more about this shift in the survey results over the last seven years, what would you say are driving those developments?
Any answer to this is speculative, ok, because I’m not aware of hard evidence and the reality is that if you work in this field we know a lot more about polling data than about what people have in their minds as narratives when they say that they’re English or British. The body of sociological work about Englishness is very, very weak and what is there has almost entirely focused on the really most unpleasant forms. So if you want to go off somewhere and find an English Nazi you can do, you can spend your time, you can write your PhD researching him but it’s not really giving you a picture of that four out of five people who say that they are strongly English so we don’t know. I would suggest two things. One is a natural consequence of the fact that if you tend to think of Englishness not as a citizenship but something that comes from being born here, far more of the people who you know who are born here are not white anymore. They’ve met that criteria because actually you’ve grown up in the same community, they’ve been your friends, they’re people you do sports with, they’re people you work with so it becomes a perfectly natural process, you haven’t actually necessarily shifted your criteria at all, it’s just the number of people who fit that criteria by being born here has grown up and obviously, there is certainly some sociological work that suggests that what matters to people beyond contributing to taxes and society is how you live, do you bring your children up properly, do you keep your front garden clean. Well actually that’s not exclusive by ethnicity. Some white people are really untidy and so you know, that sense of actually people belonging because they behave according to the broader norms of society, I think that’s one thing. The second thing is I think the simple visible representations of Englishness and they, in the absence of a lot of cultural stuff sport is very important. You know, Moeen Ali who, actually, when he plays does not play in the next Ashes game, but anyway you know, he’s a very prominent English sportsman. The football team, Gareth Southgate described the football team last summer as representing a modern English identity, which talking about the elite, the Guardian wrote up as ‘Southgate says team represents modern British identity’. Classic way in which people won’t say if you work for the Guardian. So I think it’s partly a natural tendency and it’s partly it’s the fact that the physical representations of Englishness are there.
On the tiny slither question, very, very few. There are far more people like Will Hatton who say we should have a People’s Vote, talk about how we should have a popular front against English nationalism than there are people like Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who is one of the people who seriously has tried to engage, from very much a liberal cosmopolitan starting point, has actually been out talking to people, trying to understand their perspectives. It’s still the exception rather than the norm which in my view- I was a Remainer, a very strong Remainer in the referendum- one the main reasons that People’s Vote has actually so failed to shift the dialogue significantly on the question of Europe has been the rejection of this group of people who voted leave rather than an attempt to engage with them and of course to go back on that particular issue, it’s notable that while the Remain campaign in Scotland is Scotland stronger in Europe, in Wales it’s Wales Stronger in Europe, in England and only England it was Britain Stronger in Europe. They weren’t even talking to the people they had most difficulty getting onto their side. Goodness knows about the Shadow Chancellor, my personal view is that I would like to see the Union continue but it can only continue as a reformed union of nations because it can make sense for the 21st century and not because it made sense for the 19th and 20th century and at the moment we are in danger of, instead of being imaginative about the future, of throwing away what we’ve got at the moment through an act of carelessness apart from anything else.
Yeah sure, just want to talk on a couple of things. I think on the question of ‘Have the media class, politicians, woken up and tried to address the, kind of, gap between themselves and English people, English identifiers?’ I definitely think no, as John has outlined if anything a lot of people have gone the other way and doubled down which I think is fascinating. But also I think even when there is an attempt to approach, I think it can often take quite a paternalistic form, you see this argument what these regions need is investment, that’s the only reason that they voted to leave, that really this is just a question of them feeling brutalised by austerity and therefore they did it almost without thinking, this is the kind of cry for help reading of the referendum result. And I think that doesn’t really capture not only the depth of Eurosceptic feeling in this country, in England in particular, for a very long time. But also I think people wanted something new, they wanted a more democratic society and they saw this as the means through which to do that. What was interesting was in the 2017 election what you saw was, not exclusively, but in some working-class seats, some of the places most hit by austerity you saw a lot of movement towards the Conservatives and I’m sure that wasn’t on the issue of public services, it was obviously on the issue of Brexit. So I think this kind of left-behind narrative, even though it does have its uses, doesn’t necessarily capture what these people are interested in and I think if anything, these appeals to say ‘Look, we’re just going to bung lots of money and therefore you’ll come to your senses’ is not necessarily going to work in the long run. It can only really reinforce the quite top-down relationship that a lot of people feel in relation to the political class. Just very quickly on the question of the Left and the Labour Left’s interest shift being, if not necessarily supportive of Scottish independence, being I think quite ambivalent about it, I think it is interesting. There’s always been this suspicion with Corbyn and McDonnell in particular that they have this idea that Scottish independence is like anti-imperialism or anti-colonialism which is obviously historically illiterate. But I think broadly speaking Scotland and its elite being quite happy participants in all of those projects [inaudible] but nevertheless on the broader picture there is a kind of sense I think bred out of this desperation and this growing gap between the Labour Party, particularly the Labour Left and the English working-classes, is this idea that the prospect of Scottish independence therefore becomes somewhat more interesting, I think for a long time the only thing that stopped them being more interested and enthusiastic about it was the fact the bloc of Labour MPs in Scotland was so important to underpinning Labour’s presence in the House of Commons. As soon as that went I think their interest in it kind of only grew and grew. But going back to the point I made earlier, more than anything it expresses this kind of anti-majoritarian sentiment that vast swathes of this country are lost to progressive politics and a refusal to work out how, rather than bringing people around you should just go to Scotland and say look, you guys have a better shot at it, I think you can go it alone.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you Tom. We’ll have the next set of questions please. Mr Conway?
I’d be interested in the views of the two speakers as to what extent it’s necessary and desirable that the state should still endeavour to strive to introduce a certain kind of traditional culture. Whether or not the United Kingdom breaks up and England just remains as a self-standing state or the United Kingdom still remains we have nationality which begins, which many in increasing [inaudible] would regard as being antithetical to their own cultural outlook, God Save the Queen in particular. Also, for example there still is the case that the Act of Succession precludes a Roman Catholic from ascending to the throne. I’d be interested in the views of the speakers as to what extent they think it’s necessary and desirable that changes to that kind of institution and that kind of cultivation of a certain kind of traditional identity which TS Eliot, for example, in his definition of culture makes religion an integral part of culture and therefore Christianity an integral part of the national identity. I’d just be interested in their views.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you Mr Conway. Gentleman here in the yellow top thank you.
[inaudible] I’m Australian born and bred, I have spent over half of my life in this country and almost right from the beginning I was shocked to discover that the Welsh hate the English, the English hate the Irish and it goes on. And I was also surprised to understand that the House of Lords is not really, it’s not an elected house so it’s a unicameral system of government in this country and if there was a bicameral system of government, so each of the states had equal representation in some House, then it wouldn’t all be provincial in hating each other but would be British first and then maybe, as part of these multiple layers of identity, British-English, Manchester United or whatever, etc. etc. And this is where the big problem is, that we’re all talking about being English or whatever and we should all be talking about being British as part of our identity. Can you comment on that?
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you. Gentleman here.
[Inaudible] so just to follow on from this question on social blocs, so the aversion to English national identity, on the Left, seems to have accelerated with, I like to call it, the gentrification of the Labour Party who seems to be quite opposite to the democratic socialism that it came with in 1945 for example. What trouble do you guys think that there is, on the Left, by ignoring issues of social class?
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you. John would you like to address those?
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Quite an interesting set of questions there.
I worry about, I have an ambiguous feeling about the question about traditional culture. National identities are always changing and it always includes all the people who have most recently joined your national culture so that you cannot go back in English history and find a place where there was real Englishness that was the tradition. And therefore if there’s an English identity in 30 or 40 years’ time it is going to include not just the stories of people like me with a name like Denham which probably means an ancestor of mine 700 years ago was living in a village which had been named for the Anglo-Saxon for ‘village in a clearing’ and Rahib’s going to be part of that story too but his story will not be the same as my story and so the national identity will be all of those stories created together. So we have to sort of, I think we can’t fix the national identity and say this is the real thing that everyone is going to join, it is always going to change. Otherwise it is a dead identity, it’s not a national identity. There is not a national identity anywhere that hasn’t changed over time. On the other hand, it is of course the case that someone like me, who’s a non-believer, my knowledge of Bible stories, the language I use, the language of Shakespeare, is an inherited cultural tradition which none of us in this room can actually speak in English without actually reflecting a whole load of underlying stuff which has to be respected because they’re part of the story. So I think the challenge is, how do you respect that inheritance whilst not trying to say ‘This is what defines us’ and that’s I think the challenge in going forward.
So I think if you ask me about the state, the state has a role in trying to foster that discussion, to create the spaces where that takes place and [inaudible] in the sense of art’s councils and things of that sort, not to fix it. Britishness, the bad news about Britishness and this is clear from the Future of England survey which was across the four nations, is there is no unifying sense of Britishness. If you are British in England you almost certainly or it is very likely that you voted Remain, you were much more likely to vote Remain. If you were British in Scotland, you were more likely to vote Leave. If you were British in Northern Ireland, you were more likely to vote Leave. Lots of people say they are British but the meaning they attach to Britishness varies considerably from one nation to another. So that’s why I come back to the idea of the Union being re-founded on the basis of its component parts, of finding something, finding what we share as the most viable way forward. Social class, I mean there’s two elements, I think to this exist in my party. One is, even before the EU membership became a big problem, the Labour Party membership was much more British in its national identity than the population as a whole anyway. So it has that set of associated values with that. And secondly, and probably more importantly, there is a very explicit part of the neo-Marxism of people like Paul Mason which actually writes off the working-class outside major as a historically progressive force. So the historically progressive force are, according to Mason, essentially the graduates who live in the big cities who are really happy with the modern technology, the network world. So for people who come from that intellectual tradition where you want to see whose side of history you’re on, they say history is going to be made by those people, not by the people in really small towns who used to have industries and all the rest of it. Now, I’m not sure you can say that you’d find in the Labour Party member but I think it’s interesting that people who are really influential round the leadership explicitly write off those voters. The don’t write them off as people without rights or, it comes back to your point really Tom, they’re written off as a democratic force, as people who have to be empowered in their own right. They’re people who deserve to have more money spent on them and all the rest of it but they’re not where the action is. So you have a combination in a sense of where the middle-class membership of the Labour Party, which is much more British than English so it doesn’t feel particularly English, and I go round Labour Party meetings and I always do the Moreno Scale test to ask people where they are. And secondly an explicit type of politics in the Labour Party which actually says these people are no longer a historical force for change.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you John. Tom?
Yes, so just on the question of, firstly, social class and the Labour Party in particular, I think it is interesting because the various, kind of shifts around the Labour Party and the Left suggest that if anything they’re just trying, as John was arguing, to kind of define the working-class differently or at least not have to deal with them. I think Paul Mason’s definition of the working-class nowadays is just people who tend to agree with him, he’s written it about everyone who’s anyone worth actually engaging with. You see this kind of discussion bobbing around Labour circles these days to kind of redefine working-class as the kind of urban precariat, that’s kind of who they see themselves representing. And I think just shows the fact that they’re not even listening to a lot of the messages, not just Brexit but a couple of the previous elections have already said very clearly and we are, it’s worth remembering, the last election was the first election ever effectively, at least in the modern period, in which social class claimed no role in being a clear indicator of who someone voted, you know, how to place them. It was geography, the age fold, it wasn’t class and I think that’s a really significant shift and I think at the same time, you have at least a kind of younger, trendier Left who are really suspicious of national identity but love identity politics which I don’t think, which I think is a toxic mix of trying to reconnect with large sections of society and I think is actually quite a negative turn for the Left anyway, as far as I said earlier I think national identity when done properly can actually be far more expansive and inclusive than these kind of little packaged boxes of identities that on the Left seem to be all the rage nowadays.
On the question of how does one foster some sort of Englishness, is there a role for the institutions, is it a question of the monarchy, is it a question of the state? I’m always, one thing that I think is a danger in this discussion is I think assuming that our notion of national identity is always going to be necessarily a kind of conservative one. As you were saying I think George Orwell said in the Lion and the Unicorn that to be a patriot is to be the opposite of being a conservative because you’re part of something that’s always changing. And I think that’s also really worth remembering and also looking back in history, some of the nations that have been formed and some of the national identities, if you think of America or if you think of France, these were forged out of huge social changes, a huge aspiration to create an entirely different society. You know Thomas Payne saying in his treatise kind of like, fanning the flames of the American Revolution that we have it within our power to begin the world over again. I think it’s a bit of a danger in this discussion that you not only see, in relation to people who want to sneer at Englishness but also the people who want to make a kind of sympathetic is to treat it as something fixed, is to treat it as something conservative and whilst we shouldn’t, as I say, only sneer at kind of English national identity as it’s currently constituted I don’t think that should necessarily be a reason to think that it’s always going to be thus and it’s just about finding neat ways to keep it, sort of maintain a sense, we can build, we can send it in a new, progressive direction. And I think the interesting thing about Brexit is even though it’s often thought of as this kind of regressive step or a backwards step by people who want to drag us back to the 1950s, I think there was a big aspect of it that was people who wanted something different, people who wanted change and I think the danger at the moment, particularly from the Union’s point of the view is the fact that that sentiment isn’t necessarily shared on the EU question across the whole country. How we sort that out, I don’t know but I think nevertheless it’s quite clear that there is on the one hand, a sense of cultural isolation, people with more traditional views not being listened to. I think there’s also an appetite from something different, which could also be cultivated.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you Tom. Could we have our final three questions please? Lady there, near the middle.
[inaudible] kind alluded to the importance, and I’d mention, of whiteness in Englishness, and I was thinking it seems quite problematic for whiteness, because it seems, for instance, that a Polish person or a German person automatically would be considered English which I think would be sort of, I don’t think someone English, necessarily, would agree with that. And I was thinking, instead of having whiteness as the [inaudible] it could be something like ethnic English which someone like I could be ethnically, [inaudible] so couldn’t there be a distinction between being ethnic Englishness and [inaudible]?
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you. The gentleman.
[inaudible] I want to discuss whether this Englishness provides a common feeling, to provide public services and redistribution
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Whether it cultivates social trust, essentially. Could we have our final question? Lady there at the back, yes.
I’m just very concerned, and I’m English, my parents are English and with all this multiculturalism, I feel that my culture, my ethnicity is being stolen. And to me, the idea that if we make English, being English what you said [inaudible] but the inclusive part of the United Kingdom should be Britishness.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
So you know, if we make the English ethnicity available to all, inclusive you’ll take away what being English is.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Ok, thank you very much for your point. John would you like to?
Yeah, very, very quickly, I mean I, on your first point and I have interchangeably used race and ethnicity when they are not actually identical things, when they are separate and it’s actually where a lot of common discussion takes place. I have to say two things. The question we put is much more complex than you can put into a YouGov poll. And one of the reasons for posing the questions the way we did is because we were directly repeating without any change whatsoever a poll that had been done seven years later and you know that if you make even quite small changes to the wording involved you invalidate the comparison. But the second thing would be a more casual observation, is that the experience, I think, would be that, certainly in later generations there’s always been much less content about whether people are white. So for example in Southampton where I was an MP there’s a post-war Polish generation who are entirely seen as an English, white, part of the population, albeit of Polish heritage. So I think it’s a fair question but you’re right to say it’s not a perfect question under those circumstances. I think it’s good enough for our purposes. Let me jump from that to our second question. I sort of alluded to this at the end because I think it’s an issue that I don’t entirely know the answer to but if, as I said, we’re actually happy with a situation where we call a British person who is a supporter of the Indian cricket team except when they’ve been knocked out and they become an English team member we’re very happy to have them cheering the English team, and that is a type of identity where people are able to value their own heritage as well as being part of wider identity whether that’s British or English. The question is, is there a place, how do you express the heritage of someone like you who says ‘Well actually I know where I come from and where my family comes from and that is something which has a value in its own right just as much as Rahib’s Bangladeshi background or the Indian background’? And I think we have to find a way of saying yes, as long as that’s not an exclusivist basis there can be a way of understanding your heritage which doesn’t mean you’ve got to say ‘I’m the only one that can be English’ but you can have your experience of Englishness, your history of Englishness as part of the wider picture.
Now I don’t think we know how to do that well at the moment and it’s almost been a forbidden territory to get into that discussion but I think it’s something that’s really well worth looking at because it cannot be that only some people are allowed multiple identities in a society that’s going to work and you’ll find, you’re absolutely right, I mean, certainly you can have a very individualistic society but if you want a society which is prepared to pay taxes, and supporting social solidarity then there has to be some basis of a sense of belonging and at the moment there isn’t one that lies outside the idea of a national identity within the nation-state. The attempt to build supranational identities has not yet worked, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to criticise anybody who wants them to but they haven’t yet worked. And it always used to worry me post-referendum when people started saying ‘Well London should be a city-state’ even if it was half tongue in cheek. Because to me a Londoner who doesn’t care about what happens in Stoke-on-Trent is a bit of a problem. Ok, if we don’t have that sense of social solidarity how do you get redistribution, how do you have a regional policy and all the rest of it? And so that’s why I don’t think you can just say ‘I’d rather not talk about national identity’. It actually becomes crucial to the shared values which go with national identity, to the ability of building what I would regard as a progressive society.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you John. Tom?
Sure, so quickly on the question on, is kind of English ethnic identity somewhat under threat. This is something which I think relates to what John said. The main point for me, I think, in relation to this and I think a lot of those kind of, social anxieties that I think English people might feel about sense of identity being lost or at least not being celebrated is the fact that it’s so relentlessly sneered at and I think there’s a huge element by which, for instance, embracing national identity by someone who’s of an immigrant background is something that’s seen as really warm and cosy, you know, it’s something that people can really get behind, whereas on the other hand as soon as someone sees an English flag in front of a house in Rochester on the street they immediately assume the worst and I think that unfortunately creates a kind of tension even within Englishness itself between people who might have been here for generations and people who are new arrivals and I think a lot of that will be ameliorated not by trying to fetishize or cast in iron English national identity because I don’t think that’s a positive thing but just to stop relentlessly demonising it even when it’s expressions are benign and not necessarily a thing to worry about. I think that’s something that gets us some of the way towards solving some of these problems.
On the question of national identity in England and welfare states and social solidarity I think all of that is true and I think a lot of research bears this out, is that people feel that that is a crucial element in relation to public services etc. But I think the other thing that national identity can play a role in or at least is related to is thinking about ourselves as a kind of demos in general, thinking about ourselves as kind of one democratic unity which is why I think questions of national identity and questions of democratising the country broadly do go hand in hand. Because whenever you’re taking about public services, what we should do about immigration, what sort of industrial policy we can have or don’t have, all of these questions are really premised on the idea that there is a ‘we’ that we refer to when we use the word ‘we’ and we’re here to make decisions for the benefit of everyone else. And I think again, coming off the Brexit vote in particular, I think there is, particularly if anyone actually saw the opportunity to seize it, a way in which to take that and to channel it genuinely in progressive directions if anyone wants to take it up.
DR RAKIB EHSAN:
Thank you Tom. Ladies and gentleman, sadly we are all out of time. I would like to thank you all for attending today’s event, please show your appreciation for our guest speakers, thank you very, very much.