England, Their England

England, Their England

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

We talk to the historians Robert Tombs and Robert Saunders about the history of England and the future of the Union. Is the size and complexity of England the real problem in holding the UK together? What can England's past teach us about the present state of British politics? Does England have a 'Northern Question' to go with its 'Scottish Question' and 'Irish Question'? This is the final episode in our series about the constituent parts of the UK. Find the others - on Scotland, NI, Wales - at https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/

Talking Points: 

Is the island of Britain a natural seat of government?

England is not an island; and the English are not an island people.The Norman conquest attached England to the continent; leaving Scotland outside.As a maritime power, it was useful for England to move its borders to the sea. The strategic arguments for the existence of the UK are perhaps weaker in an era of more diffuse and global security threats and frameworks.

Most people probably don’t know that the Union was a Scottish creation.

The lack of interest in developing ‘Britishness’ at the English center has had consequences. England is now more dominant in the Union than it used to be.

Governance of the Union has changed: the leadership of both major parties in Westminster is now almost exclusively English and they compete for almost exclusively English votes. 

There is a separate leadership class in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The electoral politics of asymmetrical devolution lead to intense secessionist pressure from Scotland.No government in Westminster can govern without English support, but it is possible to govern while being insensitive to Scottish or Welsh opinion.The dynamics of the Union incline toward Conservative power in Westminster and SNP power in Scotland. This is an unstable dynamic.

The English don’t really have a story about before the Union in part because the English have never really seen the Acts of Union as dividing lines in English history.

Is the ‘Northern question’ a perennial question in English politics? Right now, this is the heart of the electoral conflict.In every part of England that isn’t London, you can find anti-London sentiment. There’s a lot of resentment toward the Union in England, but the Union is a pretty good deal for England.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Talking … WalesTalking … Northern IrelandTalking… ScotlandThe English and their History, Robert TombsThe Making of English National Identity, Krishan Kumar

Further Learning: 

This Sovereign Isle, Robert TombsTim Shippey on Alfred the...
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