An England for Labour?

Tom Griffin
17 June 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon):
The gradual emergence of a distinct English nationalism in the wake of devolution has proven problematic for all the main Westminster parties, but perhaps none more so than the Labour Party. It was interesting therefore that last weekend's Compass Conference featured a seminar entitled An England for All: Can a progressive patriotism ever be inclusive?

It proved to be a lively and well-attended session. In the chair was Mark Perryman, editor of the new anthology Imagined Nation: England after Britain, reviewed below by Arthur Aughey.

"This debate is not being driven by the English," Perryman lamented. "We now live de facto in a disunited kingdom."

OK's Anthony Barnett suggested that the debate has moved beyond technical issues like the West Lothian Question, arguing that "the English as a people must have the opportunity of being offered their own Parliament.

Historian Richard Weight called for a progressive nationalism that emphasised the hybridity of English identity, noting that "there's a hyphen in Anglo-Saxon."

Kingston University lecturer Rupa Huq, like Weight a contributor to Imagined Nation, discussed the role of suburbia in shaping Englishness.

Plaid Cymru assembly member Leanne Wood argued that nationalism can be a positive force, placing Welsh nationalism in the tradition of anti-colonialism opposed to 'imperial' Britishness.

Interestingly, the contributions from the floor saw only one staunch defence of a recognisably Brownite view of British identity, while Wood's contribution was reinforced rather than challenged by a Welsh Labour party member who predicted an 'ever increasing level of devolution.'

A self-selecting audience maybe, but on this evidence there is a significant constituency for progressive English nationalism in the Labour Party.

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