Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Which nation?

An English Labour party is an inevitability

Englishness is too important to leave to Tommy Robinson. The tropes of Englishness are barely understood or even witnessed by our metropolitan elite, yet they shape the lives of millions of people. This elite, with their Danish au pairs, Umbrian holiday homes, and homemade focaccia, stare without comprehension at the flags of St George painted on the faces, and planted in the gardens, of their countrymen. Like the Normans, or the Romans before them, the metropolitan elite is worldly, travelled, cultural, and looks down on the rough Anglo-Saxons in its midst. Our elites do not know England, nor do they want to. In the words of WS Gilbert, they are ‘the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own.’

The metropolitan left is not beyond culpability. Martin Pugh’s history of the Labour party recounts a conversation between Hugh Dalton and GDH Cole in 1945. Dalton, the hard-headed politician, tells Cole, the utopian intellectual, that Labour can only win the election by winning the votes of the football crowds. Cole, noted Dalton, ‘shuddered and turned away’. Modern-day leftists see English patriots as dupes to a scam they themselves have cleverly seen through. How they scoff at the lager-drinking, fish and chips-eating masses – do they not know lager is German, and fish and chips is a mongrel mix of Jewish and Huguenot street food? Do they not know patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel? Left elitism is worse than right elitism, because of its utter hypocrisy.

There are some honorable exceptions. Jon Cruddas has sought to reframe Englishness through the lens of the English radical tradition, from Lilburne to Lovell. Billy Bragg has taken on the mantel of the ‘progressive patriot’. The tiny enclave of blue Labourites has wrapped itself in the flag of St George. Even Stuart Hall, doyen of the intellectual left, told the New Statesman last August, ‘I do think Englishness is something we need to talk about.’

Ed Miliband’s speech on Englishness, delivered a year ago at the Royal Festival Hall, was the classic metropolitan appeal for multipolar identities and integration. He said the UK’s ‘essential strength comes from our ability to embrace multiple identities’. He cited himself as an example: the son of asylum seekers, proud to be a Jewish Londoner, representing a Yorkshire constituency, married to a girl from Nottingham. Jewish. English. British. Robin Cook did something similar when he pointed out the national dish is chicken tikka masala.

There is a point, and it is coming soon, when Englishness ceases to be the stuff of Fabian seminars or cultural studies reading lists. The likely success of the United Kingdom Independence party in the European elections next year is not the least of it. A ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014 would spark a titanic constitutional crisis, not seen since the abdication. At this point, talk of Englishness ceases to be about culture and identity, about tea, queuing and cricket, but about institutions, borders, armies and constitutions. Already, as IPPR has shown, English opinion is shifting against the current devolution settlement, with nearly half of English voters saying Scotland gets more than its fair share. An English polity is being born.

And where is the Labour party? At the moment, it is more with Cole than Dalton, more with the intellectual elites than the football crowds. Independent newspaper columnist Owen Jones reacted to Miliband’s attempts to talk about Englishness by quoting, approvingly, from the Communist Manifesto, that ‘the workers have no country’ and stating that Englishness does not exist. That view is shared across the ever-encroaching leftwing of the Labour party.

Labour has no answer to the English question. Yet what if Scottish MPs no longer sat in the UK parliament? Scottish independence would turf them out, of course, but so would David Cameron’s plan for ‘English votes for English MPs’. That would force the Labour party to develop an English Labour identity, with an English conference, an English head office, and an English general secretary, just as in Wales and Scotland. It would force Labour politicians to address issues of English city-regions, regional democracy, and cultural signifiers such as an English national anthem. It would mean Labour’s values, ethos and programme would reflect the views of people in Basingstoke and Chorleywood. It would be a Labour party anchored on its English traditions and antecedents – the Tolpuddle Martyrs (Dorset), the Diggers (Surrey) and the Chartist settlements (Buckinghamshire) – as much as Tredegar or the Clyde.

For too long the Labour party has relied on battalions of Scottish and Welsh MPs to troop to Westminster to support their beleaguered English comrades. That has meant Labour has never had to confront the question of its own Englishness. Soon, that will have to change.

Ed Miliband, the first English-born Labour leader for 30 years, talks of ‘one nation’. But the question now is which nation does he mean?


Photo: rdh

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  • That first paragraph is a cracker. Spot on. Great article all round.

    Did you notice that Ed Miliband’s English local election speech mentioned ‘England’ not once but mentioned ‘Britain’ 14 times?,2013-04-08

    Reading it makes you realise just how out of touch the metropolitan elite are. Most working class English people have no problem mentioning England, many would even say ‘England’ when they mean ‘Britain’. But our political class say Britain when they mean England or use more nebulous terms like ‘this country’ or ‘our country’ – anything to avoid mentioning England!

    I think part of it comes from a nervousness about the nature of Englishness but that doesn’t completely explain it. We’ve heard enough politicians talk about ‘reclaiming the English flag’ but they fail to do even the most simple thing which is to use the word ‘England’. What we really need is for them to normalise English politics by talking of, to, and for England. A manifesto for England wouldn’t be a bad idea. Presently England is a nation unimagined because our politicians won’t utter its name (unless it’s to complain, moronically, about the far-right hijacking the politics of England and English patriotism).

  • Yes very good article – I agree totally, we seem to have a problem with
    the English question. I think part of the problem stems from the
    leadership. It seems from the perspective of the ordinary man or woman
    in one of England’s towns and cities that the Labour Party leadership is
    made up of London policy wonks or Welsh and Scottish men: neither of
    these groups are anything like your average person in say Stockport,
    Portsmouth, Stroud, Maidstone, Wolverhampton or numerous other English
    towns and so it is no surprise if they feel no connection to the Labour

    It feels in many cases that London people are parashuted
    in with no real connection with the local people: just think of either
    of the Miliband brothers: I expect David had never been to South Shields
    before the selection meeting and I’m sure Ed knew very little of
    Doncaster either. We need to develop our people from these places so
    that they are able to compete effectively with members of the chattering
    classes from London who know how to play the game. Our leadership
    should reflect the whole country not just the Primrose Hill elite.

  • I agree with Toque on the first paragraph. It’s a near-perfect description of the middle class metro ‘liberal’ racist Anglophobic bigots who infest the political class.
    Even if Labour sets up ‘English Labour’, will any English people trust them? Let’s be blunt about Labour’s attitude to us English. It’s uncomfortably close to the BNP’s attitude to people who have the ‘wrong’ nationality or racial background. They haven’t sent us to concentration camps, but I bet some of them would like to (the loathsome Jack Straw, with his xenophobic comments that should have resulted in a prosecution for hate crimes, being possibly the worst example). I can just imagine Straw playing a Reinhard Heydrich-type role in the ‘Final Solution’ to Labour’s ‘English problem’. Considering how many Labour people come from groups that have historically or stereotypically been persecuted, they should know what happens when one group is singled out for demonization and hatred.
    In order for English Labour’s ethos and programme to reflect the views of ordinary people across England, the party would have to get out and about and ask us what we want, and ignore what pro-Labour think tanks and pressure groups want. That would be a first.
    Having said all this, I am open-minded enough to say that I am willing to be persuaded, but, given Labour’s track record, Labour faces an uphill task convincing me and others like me that they can work in the best interests of England, by which I mean all of England.
    Lastly, what would Owen Jones know about the workers? He’s just a pampered posh boy who’s probably never done a stroke of work in his life, although he’s probably pulled a few strokes in his time. Karl Marx, also middle class, clearly didn’t know his ‘beloved’ workers, if he thought that the working class aren’t patriotic.

  • It’s not just the English question the Labour party are allergic to. In Cornwall Labour have been rabidly hostile to any form of cultural recognition for the Cornish or devolution. We seem fit for nothing except New Labour clones parachuted in from England to stand in elections. Even after we collected a petition of 50,000 signatures calling for a Cornish assembly all Labour could bring themselves to do was back track on their promise to offer a referendum to any ‘region’ that showed an interest in devolution.

    Has Progress ever shown an interest in Cornish national identity? It is after all the exception in the UK. All the other national identities have some form of recognition either via ‘home nation’ status and/or via devolved government. Even if England has no parliament of its own it still has countless national cultural bodies, national sports teams and common recognition as one of the UK’s nations. Cornwall, even if its legal/constitutional status as a Duchy did give it some recognition in the past, has no status as a home nation today nor does it have any form
    of devolved government. However, and here is the exception, a significant number of people will still claim to be Cornish rather than English or British. Many more will claim to be Cornish British rather than English. You can check the various PLASC schools census and the 2011 UK census for confirmation of this. No other region without devolution or recognition as a home nation can claim the same. So does this Cornish exception interest anybody? If not why not?

  • If there is such a thing as ‘One Nation’, culturally and economically it’s not Britain and it isn’t even England!

  • Firstly, Scottish separation would also mean the demise of Labour in Scotland. The only reason Scots voted Labour in 2010 was to perpetuate the malign Scottish influence on English politics via the unquestionably Anglophobic Brown and Tony Blair and to keep jobs and cash flowing into Scotland. When their stooges failed to win a UK majority they voted SNP to extort the Tories. Unfortunately, Tories took the bait and continued throwing cash and jobs northwards, most recently £700 million of EU earmarked for England, but diverted away from England to the self-styled Celtic countries. The Scot Michael fallon had the gall to boast about this, saying it was for the sake of the Union. Of course, being a Tory, Fallon would never be voted into office in his native Scotland.

    With the Union gone, Scots have no reason to vote for either the blackmailing SNP or Anglophobic Labour.

    Secondly, the EDL and the BNP are essentially British organisations, not English. I have had some association with the EDL and none with the BNP, and from what little experience I have, those in the EDL who consider themselves to be English are, or were, Labour supporters. They are very much aware of both the democratic deficit, and the lack of benefits they endure, but the see Scots enjoy both their parliament and benefits. It is difficult to hide when most English people have a child hammered by tuition fees, or a parent who sold their home to pay for care, or they themselves pay prescription charges that the Celts do not. Having stood in elections as an English nationalist, it was made clear to me that people were fed up with devolution and Labour, but were apathetic about voting for a new party. Converting discontent into votes is very difficult, hence the alarmingly low turn-outs in England.

  • These tossers still do not see this for what it is.
    It is not a backlash, it is not delayed resentment, it is a fight for national survival. The creatures have strived hard and long over decades to kill off English culture, English identity and English religion. They have all but given England away whilst preserving the other countries of the UK. They have tried to destroy England into 9 EUSSR regions. Now they try to fob us off with English Votes on English Questions knowing full well that any matter involving money cannot be solely an English question. One of the few things that can be designated ‘English only’ is leaf clearing in Hyde Park provided it is done by unpaid English volunteers. They are lying again!
    They tried and failed and now the English want their country, culture, identity and history back and we are going to get it if we have to destroy the creatures that are trying to block the way.

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