Revealing what is at the heart of change in modern UK politics
Granskad i Storbritannien den 20 augusti 2021
The title of this book, Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain, gives an indication as to what it is about. A major thesis of the book is that “the rise of Englishness, and its impact on British constitutional politics, has for too long been an under-explored, semi-secret, phenomenon.” The book’s purpose can be seen, therefore, to be an exploration of what “Englishness” means, from where has it arisen, what are its manifestations, as well as its past, present, and future consequences - for both England and the wider United Kingdom.
The co-authors of the book are a Scot, Ailsa Henderson, and a Welshman, Richard Wyn Jones. It may be thought by some readers of this book that it merely presents a Celtic analysis of the phenomenon known as “Englishness”. However, in mitigation, it needs to be said that the sources used by the writers cross many national boundaries, contain evidence from a variety of disciplines, and has many references that would deflect criticisms suggesting bias, prejudice, and the presence of “fake news”.
Henderson and Wyn Jones are of the view that, “despite the central role the phenomenon has played in recent British history, including the possibility that its reality is reshaping the nature of the British state and its place in the world, Englishness remains poorly understood.” This book is a major contribution to explicating this understanding.
A major source of data for the book is The Future of England Survey (originally published in 2011 and republished many times since). This is a specially commissioned public attitudes survey programme exploring the political implications of English identity. The use of this data and contributions from many writers and commentators, demonstrates that, for Henderson and Wyn Jones, Englishness has its basis in English nationalism; the reverse could also be stated.
It needs to be understood, however, this is not a nationalism that categorically rejects Britain and Britishness. It is, rather, “a nationalism that combines a sense of grievance about England’s place in the United Kingdom with a fierce commitment to a particular vision of Britain’s past, present, and future.” Indeed, the juxtaposition between England and Britain in this book - what has been termed its “Janus-faced nature” - is, according to the book’s authors, the “key to understanding not only English nationalism, but also to understanding the ways in which it is transforming British politics.”
This book is invaluable in helping the reader to understand why it was that the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Indeed, one commentator has said that, notwithstanding the Brexit vote, this book should “be read by anyone - and especially every politician - who wishes to understand the forces driving British politics to its current febrile, fractured, state.” Therefore, Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain, joins books by Stephen Haseler, Dennis MacShane, David Edgerton, Gavin Exler, and others, who have recently written on the nature of the transformation that has occurred in both English and UK politics in contemporary times, as well as the place and role of the UK in modern global affairs.
For those who may not be confident about pouring over statistics and evaluating data, this book would provide satisfaction in being read for its important statements, both singular and multiple, summary passages, and conclusions. These are to be found throughout the book, but essentially in the concluding pages.
This reviewer found the closing paragraph of Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain to be most apposite and instructive. Start by reading this conclusion, and then read the book with an appreciation of its goal; or begin at page one and deepen and widen an understanding of a thesis which determines the conclusion of the book.
In this hardback edition, it is not an inordinately long book (215 readable pages); neither does it come with a budget price tag. However, it will repay attentive reading and thoughtful consideration. Highly recommended, and not only for students of politics.
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