On 8 March 2016, in the Boothroyd room of the House of Commons, Jim McMahon, member of parliament for Oldham West and Royton, called upon Jeremy Corbyn to create a minister for England, while Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, reaffirmed his call for an English parliament.
These suggestions followed Toby Perkins MP’s private member’s bill that called for an English national anthem on the 13 January and Tristram Hunt’s call for an English referendum to find a solution to the English question on 4 February in Winchester.
Is this the beginning of a culture change within the Labour party? How will Corbyn respond to these Labour MPs who are trying to improve the representation of England?
It appears that these Labour MPs have realised that Labour needs to rediscover its national pride in England. The Labour leadership needs to listen to these MPs and they would do well to change their approach. We cannot have any more situations of Labour MPs saying, ‘there’s no such nationality as English’. The people of England need a political expression. The question is: will that expression be Labour? The writing is on the wall: regionalism is not stronger than Englishness. It will never supersede it.
Many thought that the United Kingdom Independence party’s opposition to regionalism would mean that it would take on Englishness, but this has stalled due to the ultra-Conservative, English regionalist, Thatcherite takeover of Ukip by Douglas Carswell and his clan. Labour needs to seize this opportunity and it needs to urgently start sounding convincing when it talks about England. If it does not, the angry white English working class, the traditional Labour voter, will march off into another political party that does express their English patriotism. Before dismissing this, contemplate the research undertaken by IPPR, the Centre for Constitutional Change and a 2014 article in the Guardian entitled ‘How Labour is failing to grasp Ukip’s appeal to angry white voters’.
For Labour to sound convincing it needs actions not just words. McMahon and Umunna both appeared to understand this as they talked about actions being needed. If Labour moves quickly then we could regain the initiative in England. Just imagine a shadow Labour English minister talking about saving the NHS in England? The Conservatives would not know what to do!
Creating a shadow Labour English minister would be the dramatic action needed to show the Labour leadership is sincere about England. Symbolism is important – you only need to look at the huge support that Toby Perkins’ bill for an English National anthem has received.
Corbyn should remember that Labour supporters in England are not going to apologise for who they are. They are English and either the Labour leadership takes the advice of McMahon and Umunna or they will be left out of the debate and out of power, perhaps forever.
Eddie Bone is campaign director of the Campaign for an English Parliament
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