No matter their politics, in 2019, no-one feels like a winner. How is it that everybody can be feeling beaten at once?by Gaby Hinsliff / January 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
It is a mild January morning in Winchester, beneath the shadow of the cathedral. Middle-aged women walk small dogs down cobbled streets, square-jawed boys pour out of the nearby public school, and American tourists pause to study the blue plaque on the house where Jane Austen died. Meanwhile, a group of academics gathers in a room next door to the cathedral tea shop, to discuss Englishness in this most English of settings.
Or to be precise, the “cultural eradication” of Englishness, at least according to Colin Copus, a professor at Leicester’s De Montfort University. What is happening, the shirt-sleeved professor tells the audience, is a modern-day equivalent of what the Normans did in 1066. A conquering elite is deliberately suppressing a national identity, although what he calls the “neo-Normans” (roughly defined as the sort of middle class, Remain-voting, establishment types who proudly describe themselves as British or even European in spirit rather than English) come armed more with dinner party chatter than William the Conqueror’s bows and arrows.
The evidence that he provides for Englishness being unmentionable in polite society ranges from his inability to find so much as a fridge magnet bearing the flag of St George in the gift shops in Winchester, to the way our national broadcaster brands itself as BBC Scotland or BBC Wales in the relevant places but in England as the plain old BBC. The English may be the dominant power in the union, he argues, but they’re losing their identity.
That same day, a few hundred of those he might call neo-Normans are gathering a few streets away from parliament for The Convention, an emergency conference arranged by groups demanding a second referendum on Brexit. It’s designed to be uplifting and hopeful, with energetic young campaigners taking the stage to discuss how 20-somethings could be mobilised. But the audience is chiefly older, and deeply frustrated. Many are angry that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to be listening to them. When the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole suggests that a speech by the Green leader Caroline Lucas urging a full-throated defence of the EU is the one Jeremy Corbyn should have made, a great primal roar of approval goes up.
How many in the audience are Labour voters, someone asks? Hands shoot up everywhere, although…