IPPR have a short paper on Identity, Politics and Public Policy that touches upon the English Question.
This brings us to the question of Englishness and how it has evolved in the context of a multicultural Britain. ippr’s previous research has found a growing popularity of English as opposed to British national identity (Stone and Muir 2006, Lodge and Kenny forthcoming). In part this is a consequence of devolution and the rise of Scottish and Welsh national sentiment. In many realms, such as football or cricket, Englishness is given a largely civic rather than ethnic cast. However, it is also true that Englishness is a much more ethnicised national category than Britishness and that many people are articulating a sense of ethnic disadvantage through the prism of Englishness. There is a danger that for some, English national identity could morph into a kind of ‘Alamo identity’, a badge of resistance to a perceived elite-driven ‘multiculturalism’.
Or, a badge of resistance against Britain itself; or the elite themselves, in particular the governing Labour Party (see Billy Bragg: Fighting for England's soul?).
given the rise in various problematic forms of identity politics, whether this be radical forms of political Islamism or highly ethnicised understandings of English identity, it has become increasingly difficult to argue that the state should leave this question for others. For example, as ippr will argue in a forthcoming report on the place of England in a devolved UK, by remaining silent on questions of English national identity, politicians may have created a vacuum in which ‘Englishness’ can increasingly be defined as ‘whiteness' and as a social identity that is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be disadvantaged in relation to others (see Lodge and Kenny, forthcoming).
That's music to my ears because I've been warning about the ethnicisation of English identity for ages. Some take this to mean that I am opposed to the ethnic English or to the idea of English ethnicity, as the recent comments from ethnic English nationalists demonstrate. But that is not so, I just recognise that English national identity needs to be - should be and increasingly is - wider than ethnic English identity, even if it is to the ethnic English that England owes its existence.
Before his speech to the CEP's Future of England debate at Westminster, Paul Kingsnorth told the audience an anecdote about a conversation with a friend on the growing phenomena of English flags flying over roadside burger vans. Those flags were, Paul believed, a statement of intent, a V-sign against a state that does not recognise English identity. Paul's friend offered the opinion that the closest analogy that he could think of was when he had been in the southern United States and seen the Confederate flag flying. Peter Facey, who spoke next, agreed with Paul, and told us that there was something of "a red neck quality about saying 'I am English'", and he said that he found it interesting that the burger van that he passed everyday on the way to the train station alternated between the English flag and the Confederate flag, as if to reinforce the Alamo identity of England alluded to by Paul's friend.
Last night's leaders' debate will not have done much to assauge the idea that English identity is an identity under seige. The ITV debate was the first of three televised debates, each with a different theme: Domestic Affairs, International Affairs and Economic Affairs. So this first debate on 'domestic affairs' was ostensibly about England, primarily about policy areas that apply only to England - Health, Education, Crime and Policing. Yet the word 'England' was not mentioned once by any of the prime ministerial candidates, nor by Alistair Stewart who chaired the debate. Towards the end of the debate David Cameron had the opportunity to contrast Labour's record on care of the elderly in England with that enjoyed by Gordon Brown's own constituents in Scotland. But Cameron passed up the opportunity to highlight the asymmetry and lack of equality of Labour's New Britain. None of the three contenders can speak of England, none of the three will speak for England, and all three seem content for the English to be a 'secret people' - the unmentionables in the UK's family of nations. I would have enjoyed it very much if Cameron had questioned why Gordon Brown was answering questions on English domestic policy when he is elected by Scots who have control of their own domestic policy, but I was disappointed. I was also disappointed that despite the fact that the CEP had tried to get the English Question raised, and despite the fact that Power2010 had tried to get the West Lothian Question raised, the issue of English governance was left unasked and unanswered.
Clegg was by far the most convincing of these three British contenders, but given that none of them contend for England, it is for me a case of "A plague on both your houses - the Commons and the Lords".