Englishness: The political force transforming Britain
Oxford University Press, $67.95 hb, 256 pp
This book addresses one fundamental question: is nationalism a transformative force in politics? Nationalism is usually seen as an offshoot of ‘identity politics’, which in turn is the product of long-term social change, notably access to higher education. Such an analysis can be found in David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The new tribes shaping British politics (2017) and Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford’s Brexitland: Identity, diversity and the reshaping of British politics (2020). There is of course merit to such positions, but it is unusual for any research-based analysis to see nationalism as the driver of political change: it is the symptom rather than the cause.
Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones’s monograph takes a different tack: their research convinces them that it is a politicised Englishness that is transforming British politics. Brexit was the most profound result of this transformation. Whatever caused Brexit and whatever its consequences may be, one thing is for certain: Brexit was a misnomer. Henderson and Wyn Jones mapped voting intentions onto survey respondents’ self-described identities and found that, in England, the more British you saw yourself, the more likely you were to vote to remain in the European Union. In other words, Brexit was not a moment of British nationalism.