Labour can no longer rely on Scotland to govern England

Tom Griffin
28 July 2008

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Former Europe Minister Denis McShane made a particularly interesting contribution to the post-mortem on Glasgow East in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday:

"After Glasgow," he wrote, "Labour has to do more than debate its leadership and see off excited calls by union leaders for challenges to Gordon Brown. Instead the party has to confront an existential problem of its own making: the question of England."

Of course, if this is an issue of principle it is one with profound personal implications for Gordon Brown and his fellow Scottish Labour MPs.

As a recently elected MP in the run-up to the 1997 election I was in awe at how Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar, George Robertson, John Reid, Helen Liddell, Alistair Darling as well as the Edinburgh-educated Tony Blair and bagpipe-playing Alastair Campbell worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week to make Labour fit for purpose and power.

The sheer talent of this remarkable political generation obscured the extent to which Labour's English political leadership was vitiated. Today, there are no cabinet ministers born and bred in the great English cities, representing them in parliament, and making the case for Labour back home in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Labour's comparative weakness in England made its dominance in Scotland seem all the more important to many on the left. Such thinking was well exemplified by Jonathan Freedland two years ago:

First, a separate England could well be a Tory one-party state for decades to come. English votes for English laws could see a Conservative grip on the English public realm that will be near-impossible to loosen. English progressives have relied on the Scots and Welsh as a taming, civilising force. Without them, England could march ever rightward.

The rise of the SNP has exposed the poverty of this strategy. The people of Glasgow East did not reject the left, but chose a vision for the left that was about empowering ordinary people in Scotland, rather than patronising and sidelining ordinary people in England.

For Freedland's English progressives, the lesson from the collapse of the Scottish Labour elite is clear. opportunist unionism is no longer enough. Until the left can articulate a positive vision for England, it will not win and it will not deserve to win.The future of the left in England depends not on fighting the SNP but on learning from them.

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