The Left's Oppositional Attitude Towards England

Gareth Young
8 July 2010

If you want to understand the Left's antagonistic attitude towards England and English identity then I recommend that you listen to this talk by Charlie Kimber and thediscussion which followed. They would rather steal from the poor box than embrace their English identity. For them Englishness is a repository of all that is bad, racist, imperialist, conservative, white, reactionary and capitalist about Britain. The sluice gate marked Englishness is what they can open to purge Britishness of anything negative. As one woman put it: "It doesn't matter how many times your wash the English flag you will never wash away the blood of Empire".

During their thirteen years of power the Labour party promoted Britain and Britishness, and Scottishness and Welshness, but did absolutely nothing for England (except attempt to balkanise it into regions against England's will and milk the English taxpayer like a cash cow). But having deservedly lost English votes at the general election there are signs that they are waking up the debate on the English Question.John Denham has recently given us his views on reclaiming St George's Day, the English flag and promoting a progressive idea of English identity. David Miliband has arbitrarily dismissed the idea of an English parliament and - quite selfishly - suggested that Labour should be leading the national conversation on England that they have studiously ignored for so long in order to win back votes.

On Radio 4's Broadcasting House on 4th July, listeners were treated to Michael Rosen, a popular author and voice of the far-left, informing the audience that England did not even exist.

"We're not giving them the grass roots support but I don't think that's why England failed. England fails because if you think you are a high paid footballer playing anywhere in the world, why would you want to play for this thing called England? It isn't even a nation. Great Britain is the nation. Why would you want to? Let's say you're Rooney, let's say you're Terry - you beat it out for nine months against each other where everything matters day by day, then suddenly you're sent away to a weird camp for three weeks to play for an entity that doesn't really exist. I mean, I'm not blaming them, but why would you want to do it?"

And today Rick Muir of IPPR treats us to the ludicrously titled "The English left needs to reclaim English identity". As if to suggest that English identity was once the property of the left. Rick informs us that "Scottish and Welsh national identity have managed to become inclusive civic identities precisely because those countries have political institutions with which all citizens can identify" and then goes on to argue against an English parliament. His pearls of his wisdom include:

  • There is no comparable crisis [of democratic legitimacy] in England.
  • the West Lothian question is an anomoly, but does anyone really care?
  • There is very little support for this [a solution to the West Lothian Question].
  • An English parliament would likely exacerbate [the weakness of local government].
  • Federalism in a state dominated by one component (England) would likely lead to separation.
  • by trying to solve a tiny anomoly (West Lothian) you end up creating a series of even worse problems.

The usual unsubstantiated rhetoric about the deleterious effects that an English parliament would have on democracy and Britain, it's the sort of thing that we're more used to hearing from politicians like Lord Falconer rather than someone purporting to be a serious academic. I've asked Rick whether he supports the right of the English to decide how we are governed.

Why doesn't the left ask the people that they are supposed to represent what they want rather than arbitrarily ruling out an English parliament. Where's the democratic left?

How do you hope to reclaim Englishness from a position of dictating to the English on what's best for them?

Rick has declined to answer. But in Rick's stead some joker named Peter Jukes has popped up to state: "I don't want popular sovereignty for England." That says it all. I welcome the Labour's attempt to discuss the English Question, even if it is for purely selfish and partisan reasons, but in doing so they are going to run up against the problem of exposing their general antipathy towards England, and highlighting a significant constituency of left-wingers that are vehemently anti-English and opposed to the very idea of England itself. They have ignored the English Question for years for fear of exposing the dark racist underbelly of the Labour Party, but now they have to discuss England because their failure to connect with England has caused Labour to lose touch with their traditional supporters, the majority of whom are very happy to be English.

All is not lost. There are people on the left that do love England and are not hamstrung by irrational anglophobia. People like Frank FieldDavid Dyke and Andy Newman will keep chipping away at left-wing anti-English prejudice. Whether or not their common sense attitude prevails will determine whether or not the left manage to reconnect with England.

Cross-posted from Toque.

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