An award-winning British journalist offers a straightforward view of the rise of English nationalism since World War II.
While Britain shared in the war victory and avoided becoming Germany’s colony, it lost an empire.Meanwhile, former Axis powers and the countries that had been invaded were thriving. All those countries moved on after WWII, but England never did, writes O’Toole (Judging Shaw: The Radicalism of GBS, 2017, etc.), a winner of the Orwell Prize and the European Press Prize. The desperate fear of Europeanization and loss of Englishness called for “Empire 2.0,” built on an Anglosphere incorporating Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Caribbean. As the concept of political correctness took over, a new scapegoat presented itself in the form of the EU. The threats posed to national health and public housing were invented, causing unreasoned yet omnipresent fear and encouraging vociferous nationalism, which eventually led to the Brexit decision. The grievances it was supposed to address never existed. “The great upheaval of 2016 was never really about Europe,” writes the author. “Those who have caused it turned out to have very little interest in…the EU itself….They had no plan for how the UK would relate to the EU after Brexit, largely because that relationship was not the real focus of their obsessions. They were concerned…with Britain’s relationship to itself and its own self-image. Their desire was to exit a condition of ordinariness which, they had succeeded in convincing themselves, is an unnatural and oppressive imposition on an extraordinary country.” As the author shows, Brexit trivializes the serious and takes the trivial seriously. Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson spout lies and invent enemies and insults, which leads to chaos and long-lasting consequences. “Whatever happens with Brexit,” writes O’Toole in this deft assessment, “this toxic sludge will be in England’s political groundwater for a long time.”
A solid combination of candor, clever turns of phrase, and clear insight into the English psyche.