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English Nationalism and Euroscepticism

Losing the Peace


Ben Wellings

This book seeks out the origins of contemporary English nationalism. Whilst much academic and political attention has been given to England’s place within the United Kingdom since devolution, the author argues that recent English nationalism actually derives from Britain’s troubled relationship with European integration. Drawing on political evidence from the former Empire, the debates surrounding EEC accession and the United Kingdom’s ongoing membership in the European Union, the author identifies the foundations of contemporary English nationalism. In doing so, he adds an important corrective to the debate about nationalism in England, pulling our gaze out from the United Kingdom itself and onto a wider field. Far from being ‘absent’, English nationalism as we know it today has been driven by resistance to European integration since the end of Empire in the 1960s.


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Chapter 5 - Thatcherism and English Nationalism 149


Chapter 5 Thatcherism and English Nationalism When the Conservative Party was voted into of fice on 3 May 1979, the Tories could very plausibly be described as the ‘party of Europe’. Their former leader, Edward Heath, had been instrumental in the United Kingdom’s accession to the EEC in 1973; their current leader, Margaret Thatcher had played a prominent role in the Yes campaign during the referendum; and the Labour Party continued to be divided on the issue of Europe. As Labour moved leftward under the leadership of Michael Foot it became even more anti-Common Market than it had been back in 1975. Indeed the 1983 Labour Party manifesto quite explicitly stated that the Labour Party would withdraw from the EEC if Labour came to power. However, by 1997 the issue of European integration – its extent, speed and final destination – had driven a deep rift within the Conservative Party and contributed to its worst defeat at the polls for almost a cen- tury. Conservative travails over the issue of Europe in the 1990s are well documented. But what is less well explored is the way that the period laid the intellectual foundations for contemporary English nationalism. Consequently, this chapter looks at the role that Thatcherite Conservatism, and what would come to be known as ‘Euroscepticism’, played in the foun- dations of contemporary English nationalism. It will argue that whilst the politics of European integration of the 1970s helped lay the foundations of a populist and anti-European English nationalism, the politics of...

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