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More feel ‘English’ than ‘British’ in England

23 January 2012

RWJ - IPPR report Englishness webProfessor Richard Wyn Jones

Voters living in England have become more assertively ‘English’ and place much greater emphasis on their English rather than their British identity, according to a joint University report.

The joint report between think-tank IPPR, Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities, warns that political parties have to address ‘the English Question’ in its own right, regardless of what happens in Scotland, or risk a major backlash.

The report is based on the results of the Future of England survey – the only major survey in this area conducted in England since the formation of both a coalition government at Westminster and the election of a majority SNP administration in Holyrood.

Uniquely it compares how attitudes in England have changed over time and how they compare with other European countries.

It shows that:

  • The number of voters in England who believe that Scottish devolution has made the way Britain is governed worse (35 per cent) has doubled since 2007.
  • The English believe they get a raw-deal from the devolved settlement, with 45 per cent of voters in England saying that Scotland gets ‘more than its fair share of public spending’ – the number agreeing with this has almost doubled since 2000. Meanwhile 40 per cent of voters in England say that England gets ‘less than its fair share’ of public money.
  • More than half (52 per cent) say that Scotland’s economy benefits more than England’s from being in the UK, while less than one in four believe England and Scotland’s economies benefit equally.
  • While support for Scottish independence remains low - only 22 per cent say Scots should go it alone – the English strongly support the view that the current devolved settlement should be reformed. At fully 80 per cent, there is also overwhelming support in England for ‘devolution-max’ (full fiscal autonomy) for Scotland, with 44 per cent agreeing strongly. 79 per cent say Scottish MPs should be barred from voting on English laws, with an absolute majority agreeing strongly with that proposition.
  • The report finds that having initially been content to continue to be governed themselves by an unreformed set of UK institutions at Westminster, support for the status quo has now fallen to just 1 in 4 of the English electorate. 59 per cent say that they do not trust the UK government to work in the best long-term interests of England.
  • Voters in England appear to support introducing distinct governance arrangements for England but are currently divided between support for ‘English voters on English laws’ and an ‘English Parliament’ (combined support for these two options is 54 per cent).

The report shows that the proportion of the population that prioritise their English over their British identity (40 per cent) is now twice as large as that which prioritise their British over their English identity (16 per cent). The English are not rejecting Britishness outright and retain a dual sense of identity, but in recent years they are increasingly choosing to emphasise their English over their British identity.

This phenomenon is consistent across England's diverse regions (including London) and across all social and demographic groups – with one exception provided by ethnic minority voters. However the report also points to tentative evidence of a growth in English identification within ethnic minority communities.

Dissatisfaction with devolution and the current structures for governing England are felt more strongly among those with a strong sense of English identity, a group that represents a growing proportion of the population.

Polling presented in the report shows that English voters have little faith in the ability of the political parties to stand up for the interests of England. More felt that none of the parties stands up for the interest of England than did those supporting either of the main political parties.

  • ‘I do not think that any party stands up for the interests of England’ = 23%
  • Labour = 21%
  • Conservatives = 20%
  • Don’t know = 15%
  • UK Independence Party = 9%
  • Liberal Democrats = 4%
  • British National Party = 4%
  • English Democrats = 2%
  • Green Party = 2%

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre and co-author of the report said: "Despite the exhortations of successive governments that have focused exclusively on Britishness, it is clear that at the popular level it is Englishness that resonates most.

"Not only that, but there is strong evidence that English identity is becoming increasingly politicized. The more English a person feels the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with the way that the UK is being governed post-devolution, and the more likely they are to support the explicit recognition of an English dimension to their country’s politics.

"Even if the form that this English dimension should take has yet to fully crystallize in the electorate’s mind, this is arguably at least as much a failure on the part of the political class to lead a public debate on this increasingly important issue."

Nick Pearce, IPPR Director, said: "English identity is on the rise and it is increasingly expressed in terms that are resentful of the devolution settlement. But that doesn't mean that Englishness is not capable of an open and inclusive political and cultural voice, within a reformed United Kingdom.

"Our mainstream political parties need to embrace Englishness, take it seriously, and find new ways of giving it political expression. It is not something to be feared or abandoned to those on the margins of right wing politics.

"There are those that fear that an engagement with a debate about England and Englishness will weaken the union, but the truth is the opposite. The longer this debate is ignored, or worse, denied, the more likely we will see a backlash within England against the UK."

The IPPR’s new report –The dog that finally barked: England as an emerging political community is available to download at: http://bit.ly/IPPR8542.

The report is part of a major research collaboration between the University’s Wales the Institute of Governance at Edinburgh University and the IPPR.

Related Links

Wales Governance Centre

School of European Studies

Cardiff Law School

IPPR