Paul Kingsnorth proposes that the culture and identity of England is being washed away and replaced with a neutral, cloned artificial culture, created by big business and supported by governments. We are sleepwalking into a time where no individuality remains and success is judged by being able to look out of any hotel room and see the same signs advertising the same companies and services. It angers him, and yet he finds hope in the people that fill this book, people who refuse to lay down to the corporate makeover, who ‘care about the place they live in – who feel they belong to it, who understand why it matters and who are prepared to fight for it.’
Kingsnorth’s argument for the erosion of ‘Real England’ rests on three intertwined forces. First, a powerful alliance between big business and big government, where multinationals dominate almost every area of national life and laws squeeze life out of the small, independent and local. Second, the rise of a new class – the city bourgeoisie – with their well-dressed, profitable and stylised lifestyles, who conform unquestioningly to the first force. The third force compounds the problems introduced by the first two: the English are terrible at talking about who they are. If we won’t talk about what constitutes our culture, we can’t talk about its loss. Without commitment to diversity and distinctiveness, we leave ourselves open to a cloning of our entire environment.
All over England there are people fighting this to keep a sense of belonging, however.
Kingsnorth takes the reader on a journey to explore this argument through the lens of seven types of landscape and place, which in his mind are key to the character, history and essence of England. Whether traditional pubs, waterways or independent shops, he paints a picture of hope from first-hand experience of a range of perspectives in an engaging and engrossing way.
He leaves us with a choice: ‘to let real England live, or to let it die, to be surrounded by plastic or be surrounded by something real.’ With a list of contacts to empower readers to make a stand, it is ours to make.
Real England: The Battle Against the Bland by Paul Kingsnorth
(Portobello Books, £14.99 )
This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2008