I have to confess to mixed impressions about Billy Bragg. Sometimes his sense of Englishness, shot through with a certain class consciousness seems to veer off into a kind of nationalism and he seem unaware of how necessary caution is when playing with national feelings in a country which has had its national consciousness shaped by centuries of slavery, exploitation, imperial plunder and colonial wars.
The struggle to assert a progressive sense of English nationhood occupied the Communist Party for a good few post war years and was reflected in serious attempts to devise a history that drew upon resistance to feudal oppression, Leveller opposition to Cromwell’s bourgeois project, trade union struggles, Chartism and the movements against slavery, colonial oppression and war.
It has to be said that as a counter hegemonic project it wilted under the onslaught of the Cold War.
Odd then to hear the older Billy Bragg on BBC radio’s Question Time programme today in which he did a creditable job in defending Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge to the neoliberal consensus but also mobilised that discreditable Cold war trope about not wishing to live under an “East German” regime.
In his youth he was quite prepared to play to an enthusiastic audience of young citizens of the German Democratic Republic at the Free German Youth summer festival.
Enjoy his music and speeches.