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The University of Southampton
Centre for English Identity and Politics

Eric Kaufman

“English issues in the 2015 general election”

18 January 2016

University of Winchester

Prof Eric Kaufmann, Birkbeck College, University of London


This is a corrected transcript of talks given at the ‘English issues in the 2015 general election’ seminar held at the University of Winchester on 18 January 2016.  Please do not quote without seeking permission from the speaker.

OK so this is really going to be about the links between class, Englishness and UKIP, I’ll be focusing mainly on UKIP. 

Next slide.  So I’m just going to begin with some qualitative work that others have done, the ethnographies where people have gone out and interviewed people about their English identity.  And some of the things that qualitative researchers like those listed will have found include the fact for example that English is more of an ethnic national identity whereas British is more of a civic or inclusive political kind of national identity.  Englishness is much stronger amongst the kind of people that Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin talk about - the left behind - so no qualifications, low education, poorer, working class.  English identifiers as opposed to British identifiers are more likely to oppose immigration and be in favour of exiting the European Union, and English identifiers are more likely to vote UKIP.  Now I want to say that all of these sort of qualitative findings are very much borne out in some of the quantitative data I’m going to show you.  So it’s a nice… just nice to see the qualitative and the quantitative speaking to each other pretty strongly.  

OK next slide.  So here are some quotes of the kinds of things that ethnographers have found, according to Lawler quote "the working class are the bearers of a problematic whiteness disavowed by liberal middle classes."  In Steve Garner’s work here’s one working class respondent saying "if you’re English or you state you’re English it flags up to some people, a lot of the people I work with, that you’ve got some sort of racism going on, and I don’t see that."  Whereas the middle-class respondent interviewed in Fenton’s work says, "there’s nothing very positive about being English, I think that’s the problem and it’s associated with violence, buggery and racism." So those are the kind of two stereotypes that are reflected in some of that on-the-street ethnographic work.  

OK next slide.  So what I’ve done - and I know there’s a lot on this slide - is to ask what is it that predicts whether an individual in England and Wales is going to say they’re English or British.  And so I’ve taken a one percent sample of the Census, from the ONS Longitudinal Study that’s approximately three hundred and fifty thousand white British people from the Census in 2011.  So it’s a huge sample so these are very robust results, and what really jumps out if you look at the top left there is education. So people with no qualifications are really off the scale English.  But anyone who doesn’t have a degree, if you stopped your education at O level or A level or you were an apprentice, in all those cases people are much more English than British.  Similarly, if you are in social housing compared to being a homeowner you’re more likely to be English.  Now here is one of the few differences between predictors of Englishness and supporting UKIP. Whereas UKIP supporters tend to be homeowners more than social renters, English identifiers are less likely to be homeowners. Likewise, if we were to look at those who say they’re British rather than English it’s a pretty similar story: professionals and managers off the scale British as opposed to English.  But a few other things to make note of: one is age and gender, both things that Rob and Matt have talked about [with regard to UKIP], so younger people and women are more likely to say they’re British than English.  There’s also a last factor which is maybe not as dramatic but I think is important to mention, and that is a higher share of ethnic minorities in your local area, so more ethnic minorities in your local area means that as a white British person you’re more likely to say you are English when we control for everything else: class, age, etcetera.  So that I think is suggesting that the presence of minorities problematises one’s identity and makes one turn more towards Englishness, perhaps as a way of stating what you are in ethnic terms. 

OK next slide.  And here it’s just looking at it in aggregate. Here are all the constituencies in England and Wales. As we approach 40% with no qualifications the ratio of people saying they’re English on the Census to British is 80/20.  Whereas down there where it’s only 10% no qualifications it’s more like 50/50, so there’s a very tight relationship between proportion no qualifications and proportion of white British people saying they are English rather than British.  

OK next slide. If we look at the aggregate analysis the strongest predictor of saying you’re English is again no qualifications, but also importantly a higher proportion of minorities in your ward (that’s populations of about 6,500) means there is a greater chance that you’ll say you’re English and not British.  OK next.  I know I’m whipping through here and I’m happy to answer questions on any of this stuff.  What about voting, and I just want to turn to UKIP here, and this is from the 2015 election results.  Down here it’s the percentage of the white British people who are saying they’re English rather than British or Scottish or whatever.  So as the proportion English identifiers approaches a very high level you tend to get a higher UKIP vote, something in the 20-30% range in the most English constituencies.  So I think that pretty much echoes what was said in the last session. Places like Clacton, Boston, Thurrock and so forth are all highly English, with about 80% of White British people calling themselves English. 

OK next slide.  And a similar relationship holds for local elections. This is UKIP performance in the 2012 local elections, and these are results from electoral wards, a much smaller unit (around 6,500 people) than the constituency which has something like 100,000 people. In that smaller unit the more English those wards are the more likely they are to vote UKIP.  So again, that relationship between Englishness and the UKIP vote.  

Next slide.  The next thing I just want to look at a little bit are some geographic patterns.  

Next slide please.  So based on this issue of how English are the white British people in an area we can see that there’s the eastern part of England as well as if you like a kind of northern middle belt which tend to be the most English. Particularly areas such as Essex and the Thames Gateway, as well as East Anglia. And what we see is that if you look at the 2014 European election vote normalised that by the share of white British you can see there’s a correspondence, the eastern part of England is both a stronger UKIP belt and a stronger English belt.  Now there are exceptions, so you can clearly see that the north west, which is strongly English in its identity, did not go strongly for UKIP.  So there are other things at work including, I think, the Catholicism of the north west. This is one of the things I would argue is reducing UKIP support.  

Go ahead to the next slide.  OK so just a few slides here on the relationship between Englishness and particular issues, particularly the immigration issue and the Europe issue.  This comes from the British election study waves one and two, they ask a question how English do you feel, one equals not at all, seven equals very English.  And over on the vertical axis it’s the probability of saying immigration undermines cultural life, which is the most anti-immigration position on a 7-point scale.  The probability of saying that rises to almost 30% amongst those who say they’re very English, drops to about 10% for those who are not at all, that’s a three times higher response on the immigration question.   

Next slide.  And it’s something very similar in terms of voting intention in the in/out referendum for Europe. Brexit support is 25% amongst those who don’t feel at all English. But over 50% of those who say they’re very English say that they would vote to leave the European Union.  So again, a pretty big divide there although it’s two times as big, not three times as with the immigration question.  

Next slide.  And not surprisingly those who say they feel very English are much more likely to have voted UKIP in the 2014 European election than those who don't feel very English. OK go ahead.  So just to conclude then. What have I first of all said is that Englishness is much stronger amongst those with low education who identify as working class or deprived if you like, the classic 'left behind' profile that Rob and Matt have talked about.  English is more of an ethnic kind of national identity than a civic identity, so it’s more about ancestry and culture than it is about political traditions, land and so on.  English identifiers are more likely to vote UKIP.  Immigration, which is a classic issue for ethnic nationalists, is very prominent amongst those who say they are English.  And the last question we might ask is why is it then that Englishness seems to be a much more ethnically defined national identity than say Scottishness.  And I think it’s not that tricky to understand why. In Scotland the issue of independence is a sovereignty issue, it’s a political issue, and so a political definition of identity is going to be much stronger. In England, with a much higher share of immigrants and ethnic minorities where sovereignty is much less of an issue, clearly the pressure is on the ethnic boundaries of identity so you’re going to get a more ethnically defined Englishness than Scottishness.  

And I’ll just stop there.

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