Englandism, "a regular
irritant at Comment is Free and elsewhere", asks why being pro-England isn’t more of a mainstream political position.
Is it nasty? Is mentioning the English Votes for English Laws venturing into what both Jack Straw and Des Browne describe as dangerous territory where ferocious monsters lurk ready to destroy the Union? Can the call for an equitable English settlement ever sit comfortably with Conservatism? I suggest that it can and that it could help win the next election.
JS Mill’s description of Conservatives as inherently dimwitted and irredeemably nasty is a favourite default, copy and paste, kneejerk riposte for the progressively smug and English ‘nationalism’ is, clearly, seen as both dimwitted and nasty. Current Conservative policy is to tread lightly toward whatever Gordon Brown determines to be the centre ground and, therefore, English aspiration must be firmly suppressed because acknowledging that the English democratic deficit exists might be seen as a lurch to the right.
Why to the right? Why is the just settlement of the English question so readily equated with all things nasty, xenophobic, racist and BNP shaped? The Scottish and Welsh versions of nationalism are celebrated as a legitimate expression of cultural identity and tradition and, in the Scottish case, a progressive and enlightened march toward some distant but heroically achievable socialist utopia.
Is the distaste for the English variant, a variant which I believe to be equally legitimate, informed by intellectual snobbery? All of those nasty little red and white flags flapping from the windows of pimped up Citroen Saxos and dilapidated white vans driven by blinged up chavs dressed in dayglo burberry chanting Ing-ger-land and generally frightening the horses and disrupting the perfection of multi-cultural Britain plc. I would suggest that celebrating being English encompasses a broad church reaching across regional, social and, yes, ethnic divide and is a progressive force for good in that it provides a sense of shared identity. Not Gordon Brown’s cynical and tactical appeal to ‘Britishness’ but a genuine sense of shared identity and sense of self. A sense of self worth that might help address Cameron’s perception of anarchy in the UK.
The broad Church. So far we have seen Frank Field, John Major, Boris Johnson and ultra-Tory, Billy Bragg, call for an acceptance of an English identity and a couple of them have tilted toward the inevitability of an English parliament. This sense of English identity had neither need for meaning nor expression ten years ago and is the direct, and accountable, consequence of the Labour party’s constitutional cynicism.
The Labour government can be held directly accountable for the democratic deficit imposed upon England and, through design or incompetence, the clear social injustice that has emerged since the devolutionary settlement. From the provision of fee free higher education, through the iniquity of the nursing profession’s pay settlement and access to NHS prescription drugs to subsidised care for the elderly, the English would seem to be financing the Labour party’s desire to establish a permanent electoral hegemony in Scotland and Wales in return for not one single identifiable benefit for the English whatsoever.
And here lies another opportunity. Labour has failed in its attempt to guarantee a rock solid foundation of Labour support as evidenced in the rise of the SNP and Plaid to power in the devolved governments and has left itself wide open to a triumphant Alex Salmond and his populist broadsides.
Cardiff and Edinburgh will demand more and more and all that Gordon Brown can do is waffle on about a shared British identity that only seems to find any resonance in the Unionist outpost of a devolved Northern Ireland where the Labour party is utterly irrelevant. Labour has failed to achieve the desired electoral outcome in its natural constituency and has managed to create outright hostility in its critical constituency: England.
An England that Labour has systematically reduced to an EU friendly conglomeration of unelected regional assemblies in the face of explicit electoral opposition in the only region, the North East, where the English electorate has ever been the granted permission to express an opinion about the constitutional future of England as a national entity. By stealth, not by consultation, England’s sense of national identity has been eroded and denied as the Labour party has remodelled over a thousand years of nation building into a soulless administrative association of historically meaningless regions.
It is anecdotal but in my experience of running a reasonably successful website and the networking and correspondence that has followed I can see a mainstream opportunity for the Conservative party to champion the cause of equity for England.