Nation and Resentment: What Our Respondents Said About Their Lives, the Places They Lived and 'the Country'

Much of what we have said in the foregoing sections of this book sets the scene for an exploration of present-day dispositions towards ‘nation’ as expressed by our interviewees (Mann and Fenton nation and class project; see ch 1, p. 25). In a sense we are seeking to uncover ‘structures of feeling’ in contemporary Britain-England, about the nation in which people do—or do not—feel to be engaged. We shall see that there are indications of the expectations of ‘country’, established in post-war Britain, which Williamson has described as creating a sense of popular national inclusion. Older interviewees and younger ones influenced by memories of the postwar mood refer directly to the war itself and the sense of national purpose and to great national institutions of the period—above all empire and industry. The social memory reflected in their responses also recalls pride in country, neighbourliness, respect, civility and manners.

Some of our interviewees (Mann and Fenton research; see ch. 1, p. 25), for example, spoke about the loss of the great industries that had, for a period, been one of the markers of British or English ‘greatness’. Their reflections on the decline of British industrial production were connected to comments about ‘self-reliance’, meaning the self-reliance of a nation which produced much of what it needed for itself. So the England or Britain that was lost was a sturdier one, a more disciplined and resourceful society, and one where predictable and secure employment provided the basis of ‘decent lives’ and stable communities. Our interviewees presented a variety of views about ‘empire’, but perhaps most common was a mixed view which blended a regret of ‘trampling on other peoples’ lives’ and a pride in the achievements in ‘modernising’ and ‘developing’ other countries and subsequently leaving them with a minimum of rancour. On balance people spoke with enthusiasm about an empire which had been, in their view, a rightful source of pride. It was, especially, a source of pride which was no more. (These interviews were carried out with an ‘ethnic majority’ sample.) Among younger respondents the empire was mentioned less frequently or spoken of in neutral or less approving ways. Some of them—as we shall see in what follows—saw little that made them proud of empire or indeed of nation and country at all.

‘Industry’ and ‘empire’ form a significant part of people’s view of a great past, a past society and nation of which to be proud. Two other themes will appear in this chapter as elements of our respondents’ views of ‘this country’ and of their identification with it. One is a set of views about neighbourhoods, local security and civility in interpersonal relations. People talked about whether it was safe to walk about in their neighbourhood, about everyday ‘good manners’ in passing people in the street or in encounters in shops. The second is respondents’ views of ‘multicultural Britain’ and immigration. They answered questions about multicultural Britain as being about increased diversity, local population changes or the ‘message’ of multiculturalism. Responses ranged from a set of tolerant multicultural and progressive attitudes to outright anger at ‘too many immigrants’ and ‘people expecting us to change’ in our own country.

To summarise, the first set of views are about industry and empire as markers of English or British greatness and as reasons for national pride. Often these views are expressed in several dimensions and not just as ‘these were things to be proud of”. They are spoken of as representing a

‘former world’ in which values now decayed were at their height—selfreliance, hard work and the skills of workers and scientists. The second set of views is about ‘civility’ and the very decent reasonableness of everyday life, expressed in such phrases as ‘this was a nicer world’. The third set is about modes of accommodating to ‘multicultural Britain’ and to what are seen by many as high levels of immigration, which are transforming the country.

 
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