Any relationship should be ‘reciprocal”, or ‘two-way’ for it to work and that principle should also apply to a political party and its relationship with a country. The 2015 general election highlighted grave relationship problems in England between Labour and its traditional support. Many mentioned after the election that they thought Labour had stopped loving them. But has Labour ever loved England?
It is important to note that we are not talking how England is governed but are looking at Labour’s interaction with England as a nation and at its relationship with the people it wants to represent in England. Those people for ‘better or worse’ are called the ‘English’ or if you prefer, the people of England. Come what may, those people need to vote for Labour if it wants to return to power. So what has Labour got to do if it wants to show that it loves the English?
The initial point has got to be that Labour supporters believe that Labour did care about them at one time. This should be easy for Labour to show as its history began in the dissenting tradition of English culture and threads through the radical movement of the Chartists and the valiant stand of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Chartists wanted political reform and the Tolpuddle Martyrs were fighting for their employment rights. Both groups were non-conformists and from different backgrounds but they were fighting for a common cause which was to stop the suppression of the English working class. The love of country and belief united them.
Those dissenting voices received wide support across England because they expressed the feelings of the working class who were suffering. It did not matter if those individuals were rich or of a different class because they stood ‘for the good old cause!’.
The individuals involved in those radical movements were English, often Methodist or from other non-conformist stock. This is why the English Labour movement is basically very different from the European socialist movement because it is rooted in establishing employment rights. Its origins stem out of the ‘craft’ trade unions and not of Marxist ideological tradition.
The non-conformist strand of Englishness knitted together through its struggle a national pact and was able to create a common ideology that became the majority view within England. Labour’s love of England was obvious when it spoke for that suppressed majority. So English Labour needs to understand that for them national identity is vital if social change is to occur.
English socialism is again at odds with internationalist socialism which stands opposed to the idea of the nation-state. If the Labour party follows those internationalist views it will not gain the majority following it needs for power. That surely means that the time has come for an independent English Labour movement to establish itself.
Labour in recent years has been seen as scornful and sneering of England and unfortunately you only need to listen to Gordon Brown’s speech at the Edinburgh festival last weekend, to clearly see Labour’s problem. He is at odds with a significant portion of the party when he states that English nationalism is ‘dangerous’ because a significant portion of his party’s supporters are English and will have been offended by his comments.
Labour needs to embrace English identity and political fairness just as the Chartists did. This will allow the working class in England to once again unite within Labour’s English dissenting tradition.
Labour needs to listen to the heartfelt messages of this group of traditional labour supporters who believe that the United Kingdom Labour party has deserted them. That group are saying ‘we are here, waiting for you to rekindle your love of England. Stop grieving after Scotland, it is damaging your relationship with the English. Pick up the dissenting tradition. Help us fight for better employment rights and leave the Marxist ideology’.
Eddie Bone is campaign director of the Campaign for an English Parliament
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