There was much rolling of eyes from English nationalists over this question: After losing Scotland, can Labour be the party for England?. But, if the views of Maurice Glasman - Ed Miliband's policy guru - are a pointer to the future, why not?
The following is an extract from The Times interview with Maurice Glasman: Next Election is ours, says the patriotic voice of 'blue Labour', 14th May 2011.
"There is a great space for Labour to be the patriotic party, to say this is a great country. It's England - and now we have England back....
"England is a beautiful country. We should have a love of the land, its people and customs. I hate morris dancing but I have no problem with fox hunting. The chuch is still part of our society. I want the mutualisation of football clubs so they are not just tradeable commodities but owned by fans. I don't want post offices and pubs but the renewal of the body politic."
He wants an English parliament. "You can't have Scotland with a self-governing parliament and England not. England has a great history...
"Under New Labour, immigration was used as a de facto wages policy - it kept wages down at the bottom end."
Good to see Glasman confirming what I believed to be the case.
The main rationale behind the massive and unprecedented immigration into England is the economy, stupid. It’s all about economics. Immigration means cheap labour and an increase in GDP (proudly heralded as Gordon Brown's economic miracle) due to the larger workforce. Immigrants get to do the jobs that we don’t want to, and best of all they do it for cheap, and the extra competition for low skilled work drives down wages at the lower end of the scale. ‘You’ve never had it so good’ claim the Government, and to an extent they’re right, the anti-inflationary effect of immigration benefits us all by driving down the costs of service industries, agriculture and labour..
Glasman's words don't, of course, undo the damage of New Labour's years in government. But the fact that at least one influential figure in Miliband's (Blue?) Labour Party has identified the problems and is prepared to discuss them openly, and in the patriotic language of England, is hugely encouraging.
In yesterday's St George's Day and St David's Day debate, Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, said "We in this party do strongly support celebrating English and Welsh national identities. We are proud that we helped reclaim the Cross of St George from the British National Party, and I think it is true to say that now when we see it flying on our streets all English hearts can swell with pride..."
Truth be told, this is wishful thinking from Chi Onwurah. New Labour vigourously opposed any expression of English national identity; they opposed any political expression of Englishness, whether through English votes on English laws or an English parliament; Labour councils up and down the land had issues with flying the Cross of St George, even on St George's Day; and Gordon Brown actually prevented a debate on St George's Day, and never gave a St George's Day address, despite giving addresses on St Andrews' Day and St David's Day, and even for celebrations like Eid, Ramadan and Hanukkah. So there's a hell of a long way to go, but let's have more please Lord Glasman.
England is an ‘imagined community’ left unimagined by Labour. Labour must articlulate a vision of England’s future or stop complaining when others put forward a vision with which they disagree. It’s time to play to Little England.
Scottish historian David McCrone made an important observation about Scottish politics, it is an observation that should inform Labour's approach to winning back England:
In an important sense, Scotland’s politicians are all nationalists - David McCrone, Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Nation; 2001.
This is not to say that all Scotland's politicians are separatists, they clearly are not. But all Scottish politicians, from Michael Forsyth to Alex Salmond, make appeals to the nation of Scotland, the Scottish people, and, whenever possible, they parade their Scottish credentials with natural pride. They are nationalists. The Scottish Labour Party itself is proudly Scottish and never shies away from displaying the Saltaire and liberally peppering its literature with the words 'Scottish' and 'Scotland'. All Scottish politicians and parties compete to out Scottish the rest.
Ten years after McCrone made his observation on Scottish politics he would be hard pushed to observe that "England’s politicians are all nationalists". Quite the reverse in fact, English politicians would rather be caught fiddling their expense accounts than put England's Cross of St George on their election literature, yet ironically that doesn't stop them engaging in the annual round of hand-wrining about the far-right's ownership of English national symbols that occurs every St George's Day. It's not just England’s national symbols that our politicians leave to the far-right, it's appeals to English nationhood and the very language of politics itself, rarely are the words 'England' or 'English' used when another word will do.
David Cameron recently delivered a speech on public service reform and the Big Society. It was a speech that contained 18 instances of the phrase “our public services”, four instances of “our country” and two mentions of “our schools” (not to mention “our schools and hospitals”, “our universities”, “our teaching hospitals and universities”, “our children”, “our health outcomes”, “our society”, “public services in our country” and “our Foundation hospitals”). Britain was mentioned four times and Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Poland, Germany, France, New York and Shanghai were all mentioned once. Yet there was no mention of England, the country directly affected by Cameron’s Big Society and his reforms to public services.
Labour's faltering response to Cameron's Big Society is Maurice Glasman's 'Blue Labour'. Glasman is on the right track but 'Blue Labour' is an unfortunate phrase. A far better phrase would be 'Little England', the Little England of lollypop-men, community bobbies, playing fields, libraries, local hospitals, primary schools, publicly-owned forests and arts and cultural bodies - the very things threatened by the Coalition's cuts.
I thought about patriotism. I wished I had been born early enough to have been called a Little Englander. It was a term of sneering abuse, but I should be delighted to accept it as a description of myself. That little sounds the right note of affection. It is little England I love. - J.B. Priestley
People will fight to preserve what is local to them, but to successfully oppose the Coalition Government it is to the national community that Labour needs to appeal - and mobilise. And post-devolution that nation is England, not Britain. For a brief moment Labour suddenly seemed to understand the new territorial dimension when they joined the fight to save England's forests; for a brief moment Labour appealled to English nationalism and harnessed English patriotic feeling. England will warm to Labour when Labour politicians speak of England's schools and teachers, England's hospitals and nurses, with the same English passion and English emphasis with which Ed Miliband wrote about England's forests in the Sunday Times:
This is not the big society, it is just a big sale. It is the sale of the physical heart of England, of irreplaceable national assets, enjoyed by communities for generations….The sign of a good society – big or small – is what it is prepared to protect, be that universal benefits, health or ancient woodland; public goods for the benefit of the whole nation and future generations. Unrestrained free market ideology has no place running rampant through ancient English woodlands. Jerusalem is a song we all sing. The next time that David Cameron stands up to sing it, I hope he spares a thought for what his government is doing to England’s green and pleasant land. - Ed Miliband, Sunday Times, 30th January 2011
It is time for Labour to start speaking of, to and for England with the same sense of patriotism that would be natural for Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour to use in Scotland and Wales. Some people on the left will be uncomfortable with that, but there is no need to be, because, as the late Bernard Crick advised Gordon Brown, invoking a strong national consciousness is not the same as being a separatist or Nationalistic (with a capital N):
Over many years I have fought a losing battle to impress on subeditors the use of an upper case for separatist `Nationalism' and lower case for cultural `nationalism', for strong national consciousness that is not necessarily separatist. Gordon Brown in the 2001 general election attacked fiercely, as he said, `nationalists' in the name of the advantages of the Union. I was pompously moved to write to him to suggest that he either gave the SNP its real name or firmly polemicised against `separatist nationalists'. For I humbly pointed out that, to my old English and new Scottish immigrant eyes, nearly all Scots were nationalists, in the sense of having a strong feeling of national identity: the majority were not separatists. - Bernard Crick, The Four Nations: Interrelations, The Political Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 1, January-March 2008
Yes, of course England should have its own parliament and government; yes, there should be an English Labour Party with a manifesto for England; yes, English sports fans should sing Jerusalem instead of God Save the Queen, and; yes, St George's Day should be a national day of celebration for all England's people. But baby steps first. We need to start speaking of England first, imagining a vision of England’s future, appealing to that Little England whose patriotism begins at home.
First published on Progress.
In this month's Soundings Journal, Jonathan Rutherford bangs the Blue Labour drum.
in England something more fundamental has been lost, and that is a Labour language and culture which belonged to the society it grew out of, and which enabled its immersion in the life of the people. Labour is at risk of losing large swathes of England, and it has lost the ability to renew its political hegemony within the class which gave it life.
That hegemony was about community, work, country and a sense of honour.
Rutherford goes on to say:
Labour must confront the rise of the politics of xenophobia by seizing and transforming the political terrain of English identity and belonging that Powell established as his own, and which has been held by the right ever since. It must ask the question, what in our differences do we hold in common? And it must find answers capable of holding together broad ‘national-popular’ alliances across classes and cultures. Only by speaking for a common life can Labour build the political power to take on Britain’s failing economy, the inadequacies of British democracy and the disenfranchisement of large swathes of the population.
Before they are able to confront the 'rise in politics of xenophobia' that they see in others, Labour must first address their own institutionalised anglophobia. I'd suggest that a good starting point would be to read Frank Field's 2008 Chancellor's Lecture and Maurice Glasman's England, my England! article in Prospect Magazine. The clues are there for Labourites who wish to see the truth.
Read Jonathan Rutherford's article in full here.