Tom Shakespeare

Last night in Norwich, at the third Dragon Hall Debate of the year, John Denham, Iain Dale and Ulrike Theuerkauf discussed ‘What it means to be English’ in front of nearly 100 folk from the city.  And what a wonderful evening it was, the same day that the royal engagement was announced – we suspected that this Englishman marrying a foreigner would not have to wait the usual 3 years to bring his spouse home to live in the UK.

Flag of St George

Former Labour MP and cabinet minister John Denham talked about his life in Southampton, about the history that resonates through his neighbourhood as he goes on his run – radical history, migrant history, stories of Spitfires piloted by Poles, and labour movement heroism.   John described how all the big industries that had employed tens of thousands in his constituency had gone – some of them enticed to Turkey by the very EU which everyone was getting protective about.

Tory blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale talked about Brexit, and what the metropolitan elite didn’t get about people who want to celebrate their Englishness – without being racist about it.   People like the ones who rang his LBC radio show daily.   The audience enjoyed  his condemnation of the Daily Mail, for spreading fear and hatred.

Political science researcher Ulrik Theuerkauf (born in Bavaria, resident in UK for the last 10 years) brought in some of the academic theory underlying how people think and identify, as well as telling stories from the communities where she had researched in Great Yarmouth – not far from Norwich, but very different in feel and outlook.  Her team had talked both to locally-born people, but also to migrants, some of whom had experienced violent racial attacks.

bring together some interesting people, and an engaged audience, and talk calmly and communally about the problems and maybe offer some solutions

After the break, the audience came back with their questions, their stories, and their perspectives.  What images can we draw on, the panel was asked, what shared symbols.  How can people learn the nuances of a culture, the details which everyone who lives there may know, but which are so hard for incomers to pick up.  One person wanted to talk about DNA, and the instinctive opposition to the outsider. Another highlighted the role of poverty – surely it was austerity which drove xenophobia and the desire to leave the EU.  Dozens of people asked questions and contributed their thoughts, and our panel fielded each set of issues with intelligence and precision.

It was a great evening, another vindication for the Dragon Hall Debates model – bring together some interesting people, and an engaged audience, and talk calmly and communally about the problems and maybe offer some solutions.  People went away happy, as well they might.  Dragon Hall Debates are back at The Forum in January, February and March… details on the UEA event page, book now before the places are snapped up!  All free, all welcome.