Caroline Lucas is leaving Westminster politics. After nearly a decade and a half of ploughing what should at occasions have been a lonely and exhausting furrow as Britain’s first and thus far solely Inexperienced MP, she is standing down on the subsequent election to focus solely on local weather and nature. Her parting shot, nevertheless, is a e-book with a much wider and extra formidable purpose, sketching out an alternate imaginative and prescient of England to the jingoistic and aggressive one conjured up by tradition warfare squabbles over flags or singing Land of Hope and Glory on the Proms.

Although the concept that there are different methods to be English than getting misty-eyed concerning the white cliffs of Dover or nostalgic for the times of empire is clearly not a brand new one, within the present local weather of more and more belligerent nationalism it definitely bears repeating. What marks out Lucas’s contribution to what’s quick turning into an entire new style of books is that it’s not likely a historical past or piece of latest reportage. As a substitute, it’s extra of an armchair journey via England’s literary canon, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, the Romantic poets and Jane Austen. The lesson she takes from this numerous literary heritage is that “we don’t want a single nationwide story” however an entire vary of them; and that for each nation-building fantasy co-opted by the conservative proper, there are equally deep-rooted and genuine traditions the left may draw on to speak about what Englishness means to them.

To show it, she hyperlinks radical insurance policies embraced by the Greens – like the event of a common primary revenue, new land taxes or devolution – to concepts glimpsed beneath the floor of acquainted basic texts, whereas concurrently weaving in tales of radical reform, from the Chartists and the suffragettes to the Kinder Scout trespassers who battled wealthy landowners within the Thirties for entry to the countryside. Her level is basically that there has at all times been one other extra subversive England current alongside the established order, and whereas it might need been typically outnumbered or oppressed, it has nonetheless scored some spectacular victories. The query the e-book in the end geese is why the extra radical, egalitarian and appealingly inclusive England she depicts appears so typically to get out-competed on the poll field by a extra conservative one.

Speaking of which, its start line is Brexit, which Lucas rightly argues raised existential questions for the constitutional settlement that had for therefore lengthy held Britain’s disparate elements collectively. For all the controversy about what an unbiased Scotland or reunited Eire may appear to be if the union collapsed, she writes, there was surprisingly little thought given to what sort of England may emerge from the wreckage. Possibly, she argues, if the English had been ever pressured to develop their very own distinct and separate identification “we would simply uncover we’re far more progressive than we had been ever led to consider”. Properly, perhaps. However given England historically votes extra conservatively than left-leaning Scotland or Wales – a lot in order that many progressives concern being doomed to everlasting Tory rule in the event that they couldn’t depend on racking up sufficient seats exterior England to type a parliamentary majority – it’s a daring assertion that the e-book by no means fairly substantiates.

One or two of the political challenges she considers, in the meantime, appear slightly tenuously related to the theme of reclaiming Englishness. Within the chapter on responding to the local weather disaster, Lucas argues that as an alternative of falling again on English exceptionalism – or the complacent perception that we are able to pull off some form of miracle on the final minute – we should always as an alternative study from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein concerning the risks of hubris and of human-made creations operating uncontrolled. However when governments world wide are additionally transferring too slowly to fight the local weather disaster, does treating this nation’s political foot-dragging as in some way rooted in Englishness actually get us wherever?

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Probably the most compelling elements of the e-book cope with the connection between Englishness, nature and the land. Lucas astutely factors out that visions conjured up by prime ministers from Stanley Baldwin to John Main are typically weirdly divorced from how most individuals really dwell, evoking idyllic rural landscapes stuffed with birdsong and blacksmiths toiling at their anvils, slightly than the four-fifths of the inhabitants who really dwell in cities and cities. But the fact beneath successive governments, she says, has been the widespread despoiling of the countryside politicians declare to revere. Why shouldn’t Englishness imply defending the locations that supposedly make us who we’re? There’s lots right here for the Greens to work with, particularly in rural areas which have prior to now been deeply conservative.

And there are much-needed crumbs of hope for the longer term within the chapter overlaying the politics of immigration, the place Lucas argues that youthful generations “simply don’t see a multi-ethnic, multicultural society as one thing to concern” and will in time shift public debate accordingly. One other England is feasible? Properly, let’s hope she’s proper.

One other England: Reclaim Our Nationwide Story by Caroline Lucas is revealed by Hutchinson Heinemann (£22). To assist the Guardian and the Observer purchase a replica at Supply expenses could apply.


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