Empire at Sunset

British Identity Crumbles

Campaign placards placed on seats, ahead of a speech by Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband on health, at a campaign event in Leeds, northern England, April 23 , 2015. Phil Noble / Reuters

The United Kingdom’s electorate is headed to the polls after the country’s coalition government missed most of its targets for deficit and debt reduction, managing only to provide a return to prosperity for London and southeast England. The election looks thoroughly European, with a true plurality of parties emerging, making the possibility of another coalition or minority government inevitable. Gone are the days of the two-party system. Disparate portions of the country, once held together by collective achievements such as the National Health Service (NHS), nationalized industries, and the welfare state, are drifting. Nationalist parties such as the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru, and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are rushing to capitalize on the change in ways which are only now becoming apparent. British and, perhaps surprisingly, English identity is at stake.

On the surface, the rise of nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales has been matched by the rise of UKIP in England, with some calling for English votes for English laws and others adopting caricatures of English cultural identity which may not have historically  existed. Many UKIP voters come from traditionally working-class backgrounds and feel alienated by a “professional” political establishment with which they feel little shared identity and which they feel has ignored their interests, with regard to immigration in particular. Bizarrely, this alienation has led them to identify with Nigel Farage, a Thatcherite investment banker and current Member of the European Parliament who in any other context would come to exemplify the elite. His placing himself as a political outsider who drinks, smokes, and opposes immigration has placed him as an antiestablishment candidate. Although anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric may sound appealing to the party’s base, UKIP’s laissez-faire economic policies are precisely those that have undermined the interests of their working-class supporters. The need for cheap and flexible labor has undermined traditional industries and created the need for immigration, the desire to privatize national assets and deregulate the economy has undermined job

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