I really welcome the debate that has been led by John Denham and others, about Englishness and national identity. I am proud of where I am from, and I am about an English as it is possible to be. My grandparents were from Barnsley, Manchester, Warrington and London. I am also classically English in that if you go back a generation or two, you find Irish immigrants fleeing poverty, and Jews escaping pogroms. The language of John Milton and William Shakespeare is Anglo-Saxon, German, Latin, French, Greek, Arabic, and a mix of plenty more. We are a mongrel nation, and always have been. We are inventors, adventurers, explorers, as well as shopkeepers. We are subversive and deeply traditional, creative and conventional. We are a collection of tightknit villages, hardworking towns and stunning cities, set in beautiful countryside. Our novels, plays, music and art are loved all over the world.
Where I think we can sometimes be at risk of wandering into a quagmire is in defining national identity primarily by history. I read articles about Tolpuddle, suffragettes, match women and dockers as the basis for building our national identity. On the one hand, I agree. The recent 600-year anniversary of the Magna Carta was an opportunity to reflect on how our democracy and human rights are hard won – and progress is made because generations have fought for it.
History will always be contested. Any aspiring leader worth their salt has to have a story of how we got to where we are now. So much more important, though, is the ability to tell a story about our future.
We need to renew what we are striving for together, our version of the common good.
I do not recognise the tension between liberal democracy and the Aristotle/Aquinas/Rawls version of the common good that has been identified in Blue Labour thinking. Individualism is not the enemy. We need to be human beings with rights, our differences respected, in order to come together around a common understanding of where this nation and this country needs to go next. That is how you make sure women and ethnic minorities are written into the story, and it is how we have a respectful dialogue between all the different parts of the Britain – London, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, town, city and country.
The common good is about what we all believe in, what we want to work on together, what we are prepared to put ahead of our own personal self interest because we love our country.
I will fight for justice, democracy, the rule of law, and equality. I love Britain because we have always punched above our weight in the world, at our best we are optimistic about our power as a force for good, and we take our responsibilities seriously. I love England because of our work ethic, powerful sense of fairness and ridiculous sense of humour and style.
I am not going to crack this in a half hour, 500 word blog post – but let’s celebrate an English and British identity based in our most deeply held values, not just in our past.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.