Muted Englishness

English national identity has, by the evidence of recent surveys (see following discussion), shown some recent signs of increasing at the expense of Britishness. But it remains muted or partially masked by the fusion of English and British identities. This fusion and the absence of a state, or even a substate, called England has not only muted English identity but also masked any emergence of an English nationalism as a distinctive force. Another way of viewing this is to regard British and English nationalism as much the same thing. Since the English view Britain and Britishness as part of themselves, they may view national or nationalist sentiments about Britain or the UK as scarcely different from an English nationalism. As Wellings puts it, speaking of British imperial discourses, ‘such discourses largely “hid” what one might now understand as “English nationalism” within a British discourse of empire’ (Wellings 2002: 95). So an ‘imperial British nationalism’ did not so much ‘submerge Englishness as feed into it’ (Wellings 2002: 95). English national pride was expressed through ‘Britishness’ in part because English nationalism could not be a national ideology in a multinational state as long as the non-English nations retained their national distinctiveness. Further, Wellings sees this as part of a pattern in imperial states where the core country (Russia and England being the two examples) suppresses its nationalism inside an imperial idea (see also Kumar 2000). As we know, in the former Soviet Union, not only did former satellites, for example the Baltic States and Georgia, soon develop a nationalism to secure their newly gained or regained independence, but the core state Russia also developed a nationalism which had been out of view during the Soviet empire period (Tishkov 1997).

From the end of the Second World War, England-Britain experienced both the end of empire (the external one in Kumar’s terms) and a significant reconstruction of the British state itself, most marked by the return of a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly following the election of a Labour government for the UK in 1997. As well as being dogged by a mood of decline nationally, reflecting the end of empire, a weaker economy and fading world influence, there were also some indications that the UK itself was weakened. In addition to these changes were two others: the first was the ‘sharing’ or ‘diminution’ of British sovereignty as the UK joined the European Community, later the European Union; the second was the growth of ethnic diversity within the population of the kingdom, which did not begin with, but was markedly punctuated by, the arrival of ‘colonial’ immigrants from India, Africa and the British Caribbean and the reaction to this of the white British.

 
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