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Englandexit June 20, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Not a bad analysis here from Fintan O’Toole (albeit with echoes of Benedict Anderson) on how English nationalism is the motor driving Brexit. And he’s particularly good at pointing up the contradictions.

The sense of grievance is undeniably powerful. It’s also highly contrary: it is rooted in the shrinking of British social democracy, but the outcome of Brexit will be an even firmer embrace of the unfettered neoliberalism that is causing that shrinkage. There is a weird mismatch between the grievance and the solution.

I think he’s particularly onto something in relation to how a ‘British’ narrative has managed to subsume, albeit incompletely and again with contradiction an English narrative (and I’m half English myself by family so I get some of the resonances here).

….take immigrants out of English culture and what do you have left? From The Smiths to Zadie Smith, from the Brontës to Simon Schama, it is very hard to imagine an “English” culture that is not also Afro-Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and so on.
Is there a shared narrative of the English past that functions even as a useful collective invention? Good luck with trying to integrate the past of John Ball and the Levellers, of Mary Wollstonecraft and Tom Paine, with that of monarchs, generals and imperial governors.

Oddly, I suppose there’s an argument that if the EU, or more accurately, the EEC was a project to in large part contain German nationalism (and perhaps French to a lesser degree) in some ways the UK has been one that has sought – perhaps unconsciously or even merely as a byproduct, to contain English nationalism (though no consolation that is to those who are locked into the containment process). That may be no bad thing, (and I tend to like contained or contingent or diluted nationalisms, they work better in Republics) – for while there are many things that are admirable about England, well there are other aspects that are less attractive. A lot less attractive.

Funny to see the following, though the sentiment is correct:

There is no attempt to articulate any set of social principles by which the new England might govern itself. As the English social critic Johnny Rotten put it once, “There is no future in England’s dreaming.”

Of course said social critic Rotten was Lydon and famously Irish by family.

If they do go it alone, what is it going to be like? O’Toole writes;

The English are as entitled to their nationalism as anyone else. But nationalism, when it comes down to it, is about them and us. The Brexiters seem pretty clear about them: Brussels bureaucrats and immigrants. It’s just the us bit that they haven’t quite worked out yet. To be ready for self-government they might need to have given that a little more thought.

I worry.


1. Michael Carley - June 20, 2016

It’s a nationalism that has always defined itself in terms of domination over others and that’s dangerous when it’s not reconciled to its lost power.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2016

That rings very true to me. Again, it comes back to your point last week that there’s a blindness about the power disparities between large and small states. Large states develop narratives that consciously or not place them at odds with smaller states. They have to to justify the domination you speak of. What a mess.

Liked by 1 person

2. EWI - June 20, 2016

I’m reminded of a decade-old American documentary series called ‘Carrier’, following one such supercarrier on a voyage (which included a tour in the Iraq war).

One episode focused on the multitude of cultures present in a community which numbered several thousand people. There was mention (by one or more interviewees) of the various designated months to show respect for the different ethnicities, and the sharp comment was made that there was none for ‘whites’, because ‘every month’ of the year is really white month.

The UK is as it has always been, an English hegemony.


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2016

Very much so.


3. Pól - June 20, 2016

Whilst there is, of course, a distinction between the strains of ‘nationalism’ within colonised as opposed to colonising entities, it is not one that Fintan wishes to make, presumably because even he is aware that it does’t jibe with his rabid anti-republicanism (in an Irish sense).

One doesn’t have to be eminently perceptive to note that the offical Leave EU campaign, and apparently the majority of its popular support, is based upon ugly sentiment; nevertheless, ‘but the outcome of Brexit will be an even firmer embrace of the unfettered neoliberalism that is causing that [social democratic] shrinkage.’ is merely the aspiration of most of the Leave campaigners, not an inevitability, and it is fatuous speculation to state otherwise.

Fintan does have a nice straw-man line about the othering of Brussels bureaucrats, conflating it with that of immigrants, without bothering to point out that bureaucratic control (Brussels-based or otherwise) cannot be justified without resorting to reactionary arguments about the necessary negation of popular sovereignty.

Still, impressive he’d the chutzpah to liken to hard time given to ‘Eurocrats’ by the British media to that confronted by people desperately dying on the Mediterrean attempting to sneak-for-their-lives into ‘Fortress’ Europe..


Pól - June 20, 2016

Although my last paragraph may seem unfair given that O’Toole’s article does not specify a particular group of ‘immigrants’, there is not doubt that the rhetoric during this campaign regarding immigration has implicitly referred to the most recent refugee crisis involving those coming from Libya and Syria, and anyone writin of the role that the supposed spedtre that ‘the immigrant’ has become during this campaign cannot be unaware of the particular resonance of the term attempt the present moment.

No, the hate isn’t really about Eastern Europeans not even Turks; it’s about Arabs, and the attempt to bracket bigotry of them with the dislike of EU bureaucracy, as though one was as irrational as the other, is cheap (to be generous).


WorldbyStorm - June 20, 2016

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of FOT. But I thought his points about English nationalism were well worth exploring (I agree entirely, his own blindness and aversion to Irish republicanism means that there are significant flaws in his overall analysis).

That said having been in and out of the UK very regularly for years now I think that there very distinctly is deep antagonism to eastern european immigrants from some and has been for quite some time, and Turkey is the bogey man in the debates too. The rhetoric over Polish carpenters, etc taking peoples jobs didn’t spring up yesterday and there’s a significant edge to that rhetoric (though I take your point re the bureaucracy).


Starkadder - June 20, 2016

” the outcome of Brexit will be an even firmer embrace of the unfettered neoliberalism that is causing that [social democratic] shrinkage.”

Whether this actually happens or note, we mustn’t forget that “an even firmer embrace of [the] unfettered neoliberalism” is exactly what Farage & co. believe Brexit will cause. Note how the UKIP leader is fond of invoking “the market” and “laws of supply and demand” in his speeches:



4. Gewerkschaftler - June 21, 2016

I often wonder whether some of the English anxiety is not related to their own fear of disintegration or federalisation. After all the local economics and interests of the cancer that is ‘London and the South East’ and, say, Cornwall or Cumberland are quite different.

It’s tempting to generalise that ressentiments about loss of national significance in the world, projected onto groups of immigrants, are stronger in ex-imperial countries than elsewhere. But then look at the cases of Poland and Hungary, where the right encourages the myth of the ‘last bastion against the Oriental (read currently Muslim) hordes. Or the relative absence of racist xenophobic parties on the Iberian peninsula.

So different. But equally mixing the tedious with the dangerous.


5. sonofstan - June 21, 2016

There was a lone ‘Ramain’ canvasser at arrivals in Birmingham airport this morning (very early….). I haven’t seen that many on either side, but the Remain ones I have seen have all been young, and a mix of male and female and ethnically varied. The Leave ones have, with one exception, been older white men. The exception was the ‘lady wife’ of one.


6. paulculloty82 - June 21, 2016

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