'A decisive effort is necessary': heritage, Brexit and the British state

Soundings - ISSN 1362-6620
Volume 2020 Number 76

'A decisive effort is necessary': heritage, Brexit and the British state
Gerry Hassan, Patrick Wright pages -
DOI: 10.3898/SOUN.76.07.2020


The starting point of this discussion is Wright’s On Living in an Old Country (1985), which sought to understand how a selective idea of national tradition had been mobilised by Thatcher for a disruptive political project that was fundamentally destructive of tradition. This is a rhetorical strategy that is extremely widespread today, alongside the notion that there is one, singular, version of history to be told. In the 1980s the postwar social-democratic settlement was portrayed by the right as a betrayal of the noble sacrifices made in the war, and the case for Brexit relies on a similar appeal to an allegedly interrupted national past. The left has been much less successful in mobilising such stories of national history, and tends to avoid questions of Britishness and Englishness. Given an increasingly disunited kingdom, however, the question of Englishness has become ever more pressing. This does not mean that it is a good time to adopt an unreflected idea of English ‘patriotism’. Rather, the left should seek to foster a new, less beleaguered and resentful, more generous and more various experience of cultural identity within England: its ambition should be for a much broader cultural and political transformation. For the conditions into which the Conservative Party has led the British nations may not prove to be enduring. Things can shift suddenly. Nevertheless, as a slogan for the sugar harvest in Castro’s Cuba once proclaimed: ‘A Decisive Effort is Necessary’.

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To cite this article
Gerry Hassan, Patrick Wright (2020) 'A decisive effort is necessary': heritage, Brexit and the British state, Soundings, 2020(76), -. https://doi.org/10.3898/SOUN.76.07.2020

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