Book Review: A Small Man’s England // Tommy Sissons


The cover of A Small Man’s England features a man, hunched over, with the St George’s flag over his back. He’s desperate, lost, and isolated. He bears a symbol with great cultural weight which has
contributed to great harm – yet is part of his identity. In A Small Man’s England, Sissons
sympathetically explores this figure and offers solutions to the indoctrination of white working-
class English men by the right and the far-right. He is perceptive and wide-ranging, addressing the
romanticisation of working-class identities within universities (while imposter syndrome, financial
pressure and a lower level of cultural capital limit the participation of working-class students),
alongside the Jeremy Kyle Show – designed to feed voyeurism and outrage – and the long-term
impact of Thatcherism.

Sissons’ attempt to balance essays with brief fictional segments (often linked – subtly or in a more
ham-fisted manner – to the subjects discussed within the essays) can create a (perhaps deliberate)
sense of unease. A tangled web of theory and practicality emerges. However, at their best, the
segments allow for Sissons’ poetic prowess to shine through, enlivening the text and adding a sense
of humanity which is often lost in discussions of identity.

This is particularly evident in his depiction of one man aiding in the search for Shannon Matthews,
who instead encounters a parade of primary school children. They age before him into haggard
creatures, “the mud on their faces drawing aged lines around their eyes and mouths”. Sissons sets
this against a quote from Craig Meehan: “Shannon Matthews has been missing for nearly three
weeks, and apart from her neighbours no one seems to give a toss. Not the right profile, you see, not
the right class”. This is then excellently balanced with a more academic exploration of the tabloid
media’s representation of Shannon Matthews’ kidnapping which reinforced a ‘chav’ caricature and
ignored the community efforts made to find Shannon. Here, A Small Man’s England is sensitive and
thoughtful, considering the need for class consciousness within neoliberal, hyper-capitalist Britain
and calling for multicultural solidarity amongst the working class.

Sissons brings similar sensitivity to more theoretical discussions of class and masculinity. Rather than
simply damning those who are enticed by Jordan Peterson’s insidious claims about the nature of
manliness, he acknowledges how these visions of power may be appealing – especially to those who
do not face institutional prejudice. Meanwhile, he acknowledges the very real, painful impact of
following these philosophies while accepting the lack of popular alternatives which have empathy
and nuance. Instead, he calls for a brotherhood of positive masculinity to be forged – where
encouragement, rather than purely critique, is the aim. The implementation of such communities
would require structural change which goes beyond the scope of the text. However, Sissons raises
the need for wider class consciousness and the collaboration of all marginalised and oppressed

A Small Man’s England is a nuanced and sensitive exploration of white working-class masculinity,
addressing structures of hierarchy and opposition which prevent wider change and, instead,
presenting an alternative vision of solidarity which could lead to justice and equality.

Words by Abigail Howe

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