'Another England is possible'

Steve Eason
Review of 'Another England: how to reclaim our national story' by Caroline Lucas.

Public opinion favours public ownership, and resources for environment, climate, health and education.

Caroline Lucas, the current MP for Brighton Pavilion and a former Green party leader, expresses hope that a positive and liberal English identity can be retrieved from the present major political parties, news media, education system and overall existing contemporary culture in her new book, Another England: how to reclaim our national story.

Another England is a very well-researched contribution to a growing literature on whether an English national identity is possible without the horrors of right-wing values and ideas. But hers is no small ask. And she blames the Left for skirting around the issue of a 'positive nationalism' for England, over the past decades. 

It is certainly true that historically recent processes in England have done much to divide society: Thatcherism and intensifying inequality; Tony Blair’s seven wars maintaining the militaristic aspects of British history; the systematic undermining of public services since 2010. 


Caroline is at pains throughout Another England to emphasise the scale of the challenge left behind by the Conservatives. However, she also observes that the multiple identities of current England are not serving long-term Conservative dominance. 

Public opinion favours public ownership, and resources for environment, climate, health and education, and are therefore closer to Green party policies than to the offer from the Conservative and Labour leadership of the present. 

The dominance of Westminster, and the highly centralised British state sustained by the first past the post voting system, has been only been tweaked and tinkered with by successive governments of the period who have only grudgingly ceded minimal powers and resources to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Lucas's belief that Blake’s Jerusalem would make a better national anthem than the existing one is commendable, but highly optimistic despite the decline in support for the monarchy after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. We have a concentrated and conservative range of major media outlets, after all.  


She writes about the strong current of environmentalism in English culture. The sections of this book focused on the literature of an England are informative. She references the fictional and factual works bemoaning the decline of our environment since 1945 particularly. 

Many people’s exposure to some areas of English literature declines precipitously after their schooling. Many people have other cultural backgrounds which form part of their identity alongside their British citizenship. As Caroline notes, this group is expanding steadily despite Brexit: ‘British’ TV still has a substantial American flavour, despite the contributions from elsewhere such as Nordic Noir.  

Imagined Communities, by Benedict Anderson, is both a useful starting place for re-imagining England and an exemplary work in which the shadow of the past – borrowing from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – remains vigorous and even dominant. 

Public opinion favours public ownership, and resources for environment, climate, health and education.

This applies certainly in the present England. However, remaking Englishness is not purely a cultural effort, it requires system change in a country which is more diverse than ever and not notable for throwing off political passivity even in the face of very inadequate and unpopular governments. 

Further, the reader may be tempted to wonder how well an improved version of Englishness might cross class boundaries. The word ‘progressive’ is used too freely in Another England as if it were uncontentious and perhaps even unproblematic. And neoliberal conservative values now are to be found entrenched in the leadership tiers of both of England’s largest political parties. 


So, it can be argued that neither of the two leading parties is actually part of a ‘progressive’ England in the making, only the residue of past failures. Neither of those parties looks promising for a role in remaking Englishness to incorporate the shared diversity of England’s communities.  

As Lucas argues, the UK needs a written constitution to rein in the excesses of centralisation. The courts have been forced to protect human rights against the depredations of the government. Proportional representation could transform politics at every levels, starting with an elected House of Lords. Land value taxation could replace council tax and business rates to attack concentrations of wealth. 

But is an English Parliament, sitting under a UK Parliament, an appropriate part of democratising England? Regional differences in identity do exist, and were beginning to be served by regional institutions when the UK was in the EU. An English Parliament may be popular, but both Labour and Conservative parties have a long track record of ignoring public opinion on many topics.  


Having both an English Parliament and a UK Parliament does sound top-heavy before details are agreed. Perhaps the author should have considered Localisation by Colin Hines and The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr? 

Without going into the theses of these works, we can agree with Caroline that London dominates England. It does this with concentrated employment, resources, and powers and in the way proximate settlements are so often commuter communities serving the capital city of the UK. 

Caroline is well aware of this. But delivering powers that are noticeably changing the political experience of people throughout England means having a lot less power and resources based in London; an English Parliament, wherever situated, could be a weak echo of the centralisation already blighting our political culture. 


I do love the idea of a culture in which the Kinks, the Beatles, and the positive examples of those who work for this country in public services and in our vast ‘third sector’ of interest groups and campaigns, small and large, is replicated by enabling institutions at the centre. 

Restoration of nature and playing our part in retaining a liveable climate could well be part of a reborn Englishness which could be very popular, like the public reception to the Lionesses winning the UEFA championship in 2022. 

But the unmentioned issue of rejoining the EU is, in Another England, an unresolved aspect of English nationalism. Public support for rejoin is now at over 60 per cent in polls. 

Caroline explicitly recognises that ‘anglocentric British nationalism’ needs a ‘political response.’ However, it needs more than one response and I believe rejoining the EU is a critical part of defeating the far-right nationalists, whose hold on the Conservative Party fringes has only grown since 2010. 

So, whatever unity might be obtainable across the political spectrum for re-empowering England, its regions and localities, the right's values and Brexit need to be shown to be defeated, discredited and marginalised. Something for Caroline’s next book, perhaps.

This Author 

Steve Dawe is a retired interdisciplinary social science lecturer. He writes for the West England Bylines and elsewhere, with strong emphases on the climate and ecological emergencies.