Five and a half years after the referendum, the Brexit arguments are still capable of spoiling your Christmas lunch. But at least the questions it rekindled – about national identity and the future of the UK – have put some of our best writers to the test. Julian Hoppit’s The Dreadful Monster and its Poor Relations (Allen Lane, £ 25) traces essential historical context, from 1707 to the present day, not only to the debate over Scottish nationalism and independence, but also to the arguments over leveling the within the English regions. The “dreadful monster” is the taxing state, whose uneven impact has caused endless conflict between the four parts of the UK and within England itself.
But in modern times, the historian is giving way to the sociologist. There have been so many inquiries that one can only sympathize with the angry interviewee who hoped that ‘Scotland would hurry up and become independent so that everyone just shut up and people stop doing all this research. stupid about bloody national identity ”.
Yet we have to find out what the English want, and Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones are looking to find out in English (OUP, £ 30). They show all that can be done with the social scientist’s toolkit – but maybe the UK is more likely to survive if we don’t think about it too much. After all, too much self-awareness is as bad for a nation as it is for an individual.
Questions of national identity seem to be of little concern to the left-behind, the heroes of Broken hearts by Sebastian Payne (Macmillan, £ 20), a book reminiscent of Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. But Payne, educated in Gateshead and Newcastle, is no old Atonian slum among the poor. He paints a grim picture of the victims of social and economic change, ignored and sponsored by Labor, and ends up with a visceral dislike – and even fear – of Jeremy Corbyn, who, like all but one of the last five Labor leaders, is from Islington. .
It’s not just hearts that are broken. So, fortunately, is the old establishment. Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary, whose career was ruined when he was wrongly accused, he insists, of calling the Downing Street police “plebs”, wrote the political brief of the year, Beyond a Fringe: Tales from a Reformed Establishment Lackey (Biteback, £ 20). With its cast of sadistic and pedophile prep school principals, Cambridge Union students debating whether “a woman’s place is in the harem,” and conservative whips – all male, of course – with screws wheel for rebels and honors for toads, it reads like something from Evelyn Waugh.