Fluid English identity
There is a headlong rush to the sunlit uplands where easy answers lay. One route is being blazed by the Corbynistas. Abler comrades than I can contribute to Progress to slay that particular dragon.
Another is for a reawakening of an English identity.
There are two sides to this, an organisational move to an English Labour Party to rescue one kind of civic nationalism after another was spectacularly botched – and the slightly more emotional raising of the flag of St George and an assertion of an English identity.
As a party of government Labour’s structures largely reflect those of how our country is run. There’s a separate Welsh Labour party because its leader should also be the leader of the Assembly of Wales.
A British regional settlement may require us to rethink organising in Greater Manchester around council boundaries and a mayoral office. It is also, I may say, where the roots of a new identity and future thinking about the transcendence of cities may lie, but it does not now.
In his contribution to this debate Eddie Bone from the campaign for an English parliament says rightly that ‘many traditional Labour voters in England as not only being out of touch with them but as disliking them.’
Only in England? We lost seats to the Tories in Wales too. But then he wrongly deduces that this is because Labour ‘ignored the need for English self-governance while overly focusing on Scottish and Welsh interests for too long.’
I see no evidence, appetite or longing for that. I see no emotional identity that cries for it, just one for fairness and better governance.
We are in danger of occasionally conflating surging identity with a quest for better governance and a fairer economy.
For many that English-only identity is inadequate. I could, but won’t, evoke the Liverpool football supporters and their ‘Scouse not English’ trumpeting, or the flags at Old Trafford for the ‘Republic of Mancunia’. But I will mention them anyway.
Instead I’ll play my own card – I was born in England to a Welsh father and a second generation Irish mother. My wife’s parents moved to Lancashire from Dublin in the 1960s.
The Emily Thornberry tweet was not offensive to me just for the England flag, or even the West Ham one, but for the snooty view of a white van – my Dad’s pick up truck is black now, but he has driven white ones too.
Identities are far more fluid, far more complex and multi-faceted than ever. To play the English card in parts of the North of England will not butter any local grown parsnips in the fields of Lancashire. The bucolic view of England begs a question not this England, but which England?
Apart from the fact that I have not given up on the Union, I fear this rush to secure our claim to an English identity before something more toxic does the job instead. And by the way, Glasgow needs a city deal to free itself from the suffocating centralising of Holyrood as much as Bristol and Leeds do from Westminster.
The more federal Britain I crave, and the greater devolution for Greater Manchester I support, is not an emotional pull because of the will of the Mancs, but because our London-centred economy and our ridiculously centralised governance makes bad decisions based on a view through a particular lens.
An English parliament will no more address this than it will further stoke resentment of who gets the better deal.
Michael Taylor is former parliamentary candidate for Hazel Grove
England, English parliament, Englishness, federalism, Labour, Manchester, Scotland, Scottish Labour, Wales, Welsh Labour