The "Stain" of separatism, Cameron picks up Gordon's gauntlet

10 December 2007

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): An important day in our immediate history. The Prime Minister touches down in Basra to announce the end of combat duties in Iraq, his key strategic separation from Blair, and then goes on to back the long haul in Afghanistan. At home Ed Balls prepares the roll out of his education strategy designed to show the Blairites how to deliver change. But this double advance of the government's distinction has the headlines stolen from them by a dramatic speech in Edinburgh from the leader of the opposition. Cameron takes up Brown's challenge on Britishness. Already, at Conservative Home there is important coverage of the direction being taken and those interested must also look at comments on it which honestly reveal the waterfront of Tory tension on this issue of issues. A relieved Tory MSP is quoted as saying that the prospect of real power had finally inspired the party's leader into grasping what it means to be the representative of British power:

"We were worried that Cameron might have risked the Union when the party's opinion poll rating was so weak. There was a strong temptation to go for the English vote and play the Scottish card against Brown. That temptation has faded as the Tory opinion poll rating has risen. We now believe that Cameron's Unionism is coming back to the fore and that is a huge relief."

In his Edinburgh speech Cameron denounces the "stain" of separatism. He blasts Gordon Brown's approach to Britishness and sets out his passion for unionism. He mocks Brown's call for flags in every garden, US style, and what he sees as a ham-fisted version of corporate re-branding, pointing out that on their own abstract "values" like fairness do not a nation make and he points out (as others have on this blog), that it is institutions that are defining (This on the day that Jack Straw, constitutional affairs minister Michael Wills and Keith Vaz and Patricia Hewitt go to Leicester for the pilot regional consultation on the "values" part of Brown's Green paper). The institutions Cameron lists are ones that make Brown nervous - Crown, Parliament (he does mention the Lords), the Army itself, and the rule of law. Anyone interested should read the whole speech, it does not take long, here is a taste:

I believe that we are stronger together.

Stronger together: Scotland and England……more, much more than the sum of our parts.

And in every part of these islands I want people to hear me when I say this.

That if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I choose our United Kingdom.

Better an imperfect union than a broken one.

Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce.

One part of the challenge to our Union is the need the people feel today for a clear identity. You see it all over Europe, all over the world.

But in this search for identity, here in Great Britain we have the best possible start.

Not just English; not just Scottish; not just Welsh; not just any regional or religious identity.

But British.

That is because being British is one of the most successful examples of inclusive civic nationalism in the world. We are a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-national society can and should be.

And the challenge now is to renew that sense of belonging by creating a positive vision of a British society that really stands for something and makes people want to be part of it.

A society in which we are held together by a strong sense of shared history and common values and institutions we cherish.

There is another twist to the day. Two capital letters of the alphabet are missing from Cameron's speech, EU. It is that union which is both threatening to dissolve the Kingdom's and which opens out the prospect for Scotland (why does no one in the main press seem to mention Wales?) joining rather than separating from its neighbours with independence. But here, it seems, the life has gone out of the balloon. Again a frank account is set out in Conservative Home drawing on Iain Martin's Sunday Telegraph lament that the campaign against the Treaty has died and Brown has won. I am surprised as I thought that the Treaty would be a defining issue for the Tories to undermine the Prime Minister's claim on 'trust'. But it seems that the official Conservative view now is that it is all over. Cameron's eulogy to a British future needs to be put against this unspoken sadness about the reality of its European government.

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