openDemocracyUK

Home Rule for England – St George’s day 2010

What are the agendas, ghosts and demons lurking behind the call for an English Parliament?
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
23 April 2010

I have just seen Jerusalem, the hit play that takes place on St George’s day in Wiltshire. It summons up the spirits of England to return to the aid of a forsaken land of suburbia and regulation. It got a standing ovation. It’s Dionysian central character, an outsider living on the inside of a lost identity. Its wonderful assortment of the young. Its broken, rural self-confidence. Its rendition of the slavishly imported yet at the same time ‘up yours’ defiance of life here. It’s confident use of Shakespearian violence.  All suggested it is a play for an epoch – with a future energy just being released.

On this St George’s day, Our Kingdom carries a statement from Mark Perryman in praise of modern England and a marvelous projection of the Cross of St George onto the Houses of Parliament by Power2010, who are now encouraging people to ask their candidates for their views on ‘the English Question’, so far unaddressed in this election - you can ask yours here.

Look at the two words under the projected image: Home Rule.

The call for an English parliament seems unexceptional. I support it and want the idea to be put to a referendum. But it has an odd feeling about it. It looks simple but it isn’t, what are the agendas and ghosts and demons lurking in it? 

Why is this? Why can’t the English just roll out what the Scots did with their parliament, what’s so odd or wrong about that?

A number of things. The English parliament was and is the Houses of  Commons and the Lords.

Nor are there national institutions like the Scottish Church and Trade Union movement that can help convene a national convention. Like our parliament itself, the English equivalents are also British. They are the object and can’t be the subject of the process of federalism (or is it independence).

There is something else. It’s a bit late in the day for parliaments. What the public wants now is government. They no longer believe in parliaments and debating chambers and MPs. What the English public feels, mostly at the edge of its mind, is that it is unfair is that the Scots have a government which speaks up for their interests in the UK and Europe and we English don’t. So the issue is not so much a 'debating chamber' as an executive - a leader if you will to speak out for us, like Boris Johnson (who I once tabbed as the first Prime Minister of England)  or Ken Livingston.

But if the meaning of an English parliament is to have an English First Minister, or it is nothing, this must change the nature of Britain. It can’t be simply added to or subtracted from the existing Anglo-British administration. So the challenge of an English parliament is awkward not reasonable - and that’s before we discuss what it means in terms of Europe.

So I think the use of the term Home Rule is inspired. It has always been a demand made by other countries against rule by Westminster. It summons up the notion (did Tony Benn say it first?) that England is the last colony of the British Empire. It steps around an abstract debate on federalism. Above all, it calls for self-government in a way anyone can understand and not a chamber of blather.

"Home Rule for England". Now it’s been said it’s bound to happen.

US election: what's going on in Trump's must-win states?

Our editor-in-chief, Mary Fitzgerald, is on the ground in key US battleground states – follow her on Twitter @maryftz for live updates.

There's never been more at stake. But the pandemic has kept many foreign journalists away. Hundreds of international observers who normally oversee US elections aren't there.

Can we trust the polls? What's the blanket media coverage not telling us? Hear Mary describe what she's seeing and hearing across the country, from regular citizens to social justice activists to right-wing militias arming themselves for election day.

Plus: get the inside scoop openDemocracy's big 'follow-the-money' investigation – breaking soon – which lifts the lid on how Trump-linked groups are going global with their culture wars.

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 29 October, 5pm UK time/1pm EDT.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData