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Home Rule For England, English Nationalism, and Edwardian Debates About Constitutional Reform

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2017

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The body of recent historical explorations of Englishness and Britishness can seem practically interminable. To some, this work is more a cause than a product of the dynamic underlying recent constitutional changes in the United Kingdom. Linda Colley, in particular, is singled out for vituperation by right-wing commentators for an alleged attempt to depict the United Kingdom as “an artificial creation, built from opposition to Frenchmen and Catholics and lacking any form of coherent cultural core,” thus preparing the ground for its wilful destruction by the Blair government. Yet others have suggested that Colley overstated the hegemony of the idea of Britishness among the nations of the United Kingdom. It is contended that British identity penetrated in England to a unique degree, a process which has produced long-term imbalance and instability in the United Kingdom. Tom Nairn thus blamed English arrogance for this instability. For other commentators the historical absence of a tangible demand for English self-government is to be problematized and regarded as an indication of “backwardness.” As Bernard Crick wrote: “England is the problem. Because English nationalism is suppressed and not explicit, it is soured, not wholly in control of its own reactions and is difficult to deal with by the other nations.”

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Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 2003

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31 Kendle, Federal Britain, p. 70.

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34 The case for devolution, ed. Hythe, pp. 21-22. Garvin also fell foul of this problem: see Peatling, British opinion, p. 129: Gollin, Garvin, pp. 216-18, 229-30.

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42 “Mr. Churchill’s speeches,” The Times (13 Sept. 1912): 5c: “The new statesmanship,” The Times (14 Sept. 1912): 7c: “Mr. Churchill and federation all round,” The Times (17 Sept. 1912): 5c. This interpretation has been echoed by some subsequent historians: Kendle, Ireland and the federal solution, p. 154: Jalland, Liberals and Ireland, pp. 104-05.

43 “The new Machiavelli,” Pall Mall Gazette (14 Sept. 1912): 6.

44 “The paternal instinct,” Pall Mall Gazette (18 Sept. 1912): 7.

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54 Though omitting Cornwall and the Northeast, for instance.

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60 Morton, Unionist-nationalism, passim (the concept is defined on p. 183).

61 Ibid, pp. 14, 17, 175, 181-82, 200. Also see Finlay, “Popular imperialism,” pp. 13-21: David S. Forsyth, “Empire and Union: imperial and national identity in nineteenth century Scotland,” Scottish Geographical Magazine 113 (Mar. 1997): 6-12. Significantly, a constituent of this Scottish Unionist-nationalism was the deployment of icons of the Scottish ethnie—the same icons more recently associated with modern Scottish Nationalism. See Morton, , Unionist-nationalism, p. 199 Google Scholar: Marinell Ash, “William Wallace and Robert the Bruce: the life and death of a national myth,” in The myths we live by, ed. Raphael Samuel and Paul Thompson (London, 1990), p. 92: Raphael Samuel, Island stories, pp. 12, 14, 43.

62 For instance, in 1916, with home rule apparently imminent, John Redmond called upon nationalist Ireland “to prove that this concession of liberty would have the same effect in our country as it has had in every other portion of the Empire, and that henceforth Ireland would be a strength instead of a weakness”: quoted in Keith Jeffery, “The Irish military tradition and the British empire,” in “An Irish empire”? Aspects of Ireland and the British empire, ed. Keith Jeffery (Manchester, 1996), p. 109.

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65 On the centrality of myths to national identity see Smith, Myths and memories, pp. 9, 13-15, 19: Smith, National identity, pp. 19-22.

66 On the issue of Irish representation at Westminster and successive Home Rule Bills, see Alan O’Day, Irish home rule, 1867-1921 (Manchester, 1998), pp. 109-10, 112, 161-63, 248, 250. The Daily News argued: “British politics cannot become normal without Home Rule. The Irish question has distracted the public life of England for thirty years, and would continue to do so if it were not settled”: Daily News (14 Feb. 1912): 4: Chesterton, G. K., “The release of England,” Daily News (20 Apr. 1912): 468.Google Scholar

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68 Howe, Ireland and empire, p. 67.

69 Jalland, Liberals and Ireland, p. 94.

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79 See for instance the Daily News (2 Mar. 1912): 4b-c: “Equality of citizenship and self-government may claim to be the specifically English contribution to the art of government.” This idea that Englishness/Britishness was marked by a unique tolerance is a myth, though, as with most national myths, a myth for which selective evidence could be found: Samuel, Raphael, “Continuous national history,” in Patriotism: the making and unmaking of British national identity, ed. Samuel, Raphael, 3 vols. (London, 1989), 1: 9:Google Scholar Howe, Ireland and empire, p. 230: Crick, “The English and the British,” p. 93.

80 Peatling, British opinion, pp. 133^14, 149-51, 159, 161-62, 178-79: Fraser, T. G., “Partitioning Ireland, India and Palestine,” in Nationalism and unionism: conflict in Ireland, ed. Collins, Peter (Belfast, 1994), pp. 17786 Google Scholar. This suggestion is consistent with some historians’ intimation that the dynamic behind the partition of Ireland came from within Ireland itself: see for instance Paul Bew, “Moderate nationalism and the Irish revolution, 1916-1923,” Historical Journal 42 (Sept. 1999): 729-49.

81 Finlay, Peter, “Popular imperialism,” p. 18 Google Scholar: Colley, , Britons, p. 130 Google Scholar: Cunningham, “Conservative party,” p. 294.

82 Pittock, Inventing and resisting Britain, pp. 173, 175: Colley, Britons, p. 162: Pearling, British opinion, p. 119.

83 Dicey, A. V., England’s case against home rule, 3rd ed. (London, 1887), pp. 1516 Google Scholar, 283: Lecky, W. E. H., “Some aspects of home rule,” Contemporary Review 63 (1893): 63637 Google Scholar. Cf. Dicey, A. V., Lectures on the relations between law & public opinion in England during the nineteenth century, 2nd ed. (London, 1914), pp. 45556 Google Scholar, where Dicey interrupts his analysis of law and public opinion in England with a panegyric on the British empire.

84 Dicey, A. V., “The due representation of England,” National Review 38 (Nov. 1901): 35982 Google Scholar.

85 Witness the “Englishness” of the critique of the British government’s really rather moderate counter-terror in nationalist Ireland in 1920-21: Peatling, British opinion, pp. 92-93, 180-81. This idea of the self-penalizing potential of expressions of national identity has been influenced by Craig Calhoun’s notion of nationalism as a discursive formation (Calhoun, Nationalism, p. 3), and by Michel Foucault’s intimation of the possibility of a “discourse” exercising autonomy from the interests of ruling classes and groups (Foucault, Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison, trans. Alan Sheridan [London, 1977], pp. 26-27).

86 Observer (20 Mar. 1932): 16b. The assumption that England can lead the world in doing without national identity altogether, though most often found on the “internationalist” English left, can thus be seen as a curious hangover of the British empire: see Michael Bywater, “Englishness: who cares?,” New Statesman (3 Apr. 2000): 11-2.

87 Parris, Matthew, “Opinion—once the Scots have their own parliament, English nationalists will turn nasty—and against Tony Blair,” The Times (27 May 1996), p.14.Google Scholar It is significant, as Loughlin points out, that in the 1910-14 period, English Unionist antipathy to and suspicion of the “Celtic fringe” tended to find its most dogmatic expressions in private: Loughlin, Ulster Unionism, pp. 55-56.

88 An attitude apparently most common amongst English radicals, whose efforts at political pluralism, though noisy, were often fundamentally half-hearted: See Daily News (8 May 1916): 44-8.

89 Morgan, Hiram, “An unwelcome heritage: Ireland’s role in British empire-building,” History of European Ideas 19 (July 1994): 61925 Google Scholar: Holmes, Michael, “The Irish and India: imperialism, nationalism and internationalism,” in The Irish diaspora, ed. Andy Bielenberg (Harlow, 2000), pp. 23550 Google Scholar: Howe, Ireland and empire, pp. 43-56: Charles James O’Donnell and Brendan Clifford, Ireland in the Great war: the Irish insurrection of 1916 set in the context of the world war (Belfast, 1992), ch. 1.

90 This fallacious argument seems to be shared by Murray Pittock (Celtic identity and the British image [Manchester, 1999], p. 106, and idem, Inventing and resisting Britain, pp. 173-75) and Clark, J. C. D. (“The history of Britain: a composite state in a Europe des Patries?,” in Ideas and politics in modern Britain, ed.Clark, J. C. D. (Basingstoke, 1990), pp. 3249)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, though they offer wildly different estimates of the beneficence of this supposed English hegemony.

91 Marquand, David, “How united is the modern United Kingdom?,” p. 288 Google Scholar.

92 Scruton, Roger, England: an elegy (London, 2000)Google Scholar: Redwood, John, The death of Britain? the UK’s constitutional crisis (Basingstoke, 1999):Google Scholar Hitchens, Abolition of Britain: Correlli Barnett, The lost victory: British dreams. British realities, J945-1950 (London, 1995), p.xiii: Barnett, The verdict of peace: Britain between her yesterday and the future (London, 2001).

93 Peathng, British opinion, p. 118.

94 Note however that Gladstone’s Scottish connections lead him to be claimed by some Scots: Forsyth, “Empire and Union,” p. 9.

95 Lecky, “Some aspects of home rule,” pp. 636-37. Jonathan Parry observes that Gladstone’s championing of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, which incurred Lecky’s ire, “generated more distrust of him in England, especially among those most anxious for Great Britain to play a forceful international role.” While this is a substantially accurate observation, it begs many questions: Parry, Jonathan, The rise and fall of Liberal government in Victorian Britain (New Haven, 1993), p. 306.Google Scholar

96 “Marginal men and micks on the make: the uses of Irish exile, c.1840-1922,” in Foster, Roy, Paddy & Mr. Punch: connections in Irish and English history (London, 1993), pp. 304, 283, 284, 282, 291 Google Scholar.

97 Peatling, British opinion, pp. 117-18: Daily News (19 Jan. 1914): 4d-e.

98 Notes on nationalism,” in George Orwell, Decline of the English murder and other essays (Harmondsworth, 1965), pp. 164, 163. In his defense, Orwell is not just talking here about nationalism as modern observers would understand it, but two attitudes which have been associated with it by some scholars: “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’,” and, more fundamentally, “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests” (pp. 156, 155).

99 Jeffery, Keith, “Introduction,” in An “Irish” Empire?, ed. Jeffery, p. 17.Google Scholar

100 Billig, , Banal nationalism, pp. 13236, 139, 146.Google Scholar

101 Smith, , Nationalism and modernism: a critical survey of recent theories of nations and nationalism (London, 1998), pp. 20405 Google Scholar.

102 On which see Eastwood, David, Government and community in the English provinces, 1700-1870 (Basingstoke, 1997), pp. 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

103 Kearney, Richard, Postnationalist Ireland: politics, literature, philosophy (London, 1997), p. 168. It can be suggested that Kearney's own pursuit of this agenda is however not single-minded: see Howe, Ireland and empire, p. 143.Google Scholar

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