The Progressive Patriot: A Search for Belonging

Billy Bragg
Black Swan, paperback, £7.99

Reviewed by Alison Cornmell

'What does it mean to be English?', the blurb on the back cover of Billy Bragg’s book asks. How do we define ourselves as English? In a society that seems to be undergoing an identity crisis, Bragg explores the issue of what it is to be English, whilst highlighting why we should be proud of our England.

Bragg’s novel comes at a time when there is a widespread dialogue questioning what it means to be English. The answer to this can often descend into a rose tinted view of a by-gone England. However, Bragg has succeeded in writing an intelligent, considered and in many ways endearing answer to these questions, without giving in to nostalgia.

Throughout the book, two versions of patriotism are cleverly juxtaposed, accounts of extreme right wing views of patriotism run parallel to Bragg’s ancestral version of patriotism. Bragg comes from a tradition of forefathers who in their own small way petitioned for and contributed to tolerance and freedom for themselves and their country. However this discussion of Bragg’s grandfather and great-grandfather is not a self indulgent examination of his genealogy, the Bragg family tree is a symbol for an English society that defines itself in terms of its ‘opposition to absolute power’. England has a history of strong citizens who will fight and demonstrate in order to be heard and to make a difference, and that is something to be proud of.

Through his reasoned and expressive novel Bragg describes an England that should be admired and respected for its history, its multiculturalism and its spirit. And although the author is painfully aware of an archaic notion of patriotism that is still prevalent today this emotive novel will inspire the Progressive Patriot in all of us.

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