My Speech to the Convention on Modern Liberty

Transcript of my speech to the Convention on Modern Liberty, 28 February 2009

“I think almost every question that we have to deal with about the future of Britain revolves around what we mean by Britishness, whether it is asylum or immigration, the future of the constitution, our relationship with Europe or terrorism. Who we are, what we stand for, what we are fighting for, is crucial to any nation’s future in the modern world.”

Those are not my words, they are the words of Gordon Brown, speaking in 2005. But how true are they?

I certainly don’t view almost every political question through the prism of Britishness, I tend to view these questions on many levels, and one of those levels is as an Englishman. The Scottish Government, led by Alex Salmond, have their own ideas about immigration, the economy, their relationship with Europe and the constitution (which includes civil liberties). In Scotland they have thought about these issues as Scots and as they pertain to Scotland. It is perhaps because of this that Privacy International can praise Scotland for its civil liberties record while condemning the British Government for turning England and Wales into “endemic surveillance societies”. In England we are unlike Scotland because we allow the British state to retain the DNA profiles of innocent children, we have a national database of children and English kids are fingerprinted at school without their parents’ knowledge. This is not the England I want, these things are being done to England by a political class for whom the word England means absolutely nothing.

Gordon Brown continues:

“I want to have this debate…about whether Scotland has a different view of tolerance to England, or whether Scotland has a different view of the stiff upper lip and so on—I want to debate these things in far more detail.”

What has happened to that debate? We cannot have a debate on the ideological and political differences between England and Scotland because we are denied a debate about England and what it means to be English. The Government presses ahead with its Governance of Britain project, to define our values, and in Scotland there is a National Conversation (and Calman Commission), in Wales there’s a public debate called the All Wales Convention and in Northern Ireland a Human Rights Commission and an Assembly Road Show. For England there is nothing but denial. A point blank refusal by our politicians to mention the elephant in the room.

Gordon Brown tells us that Britain is based on a covenant that binds England, Wales and Scotland together and that there is no distinction between being proud to be British and being proud to be Scottish or Welsh because devolution acknowledges dual identity.

Well, if you’re Scottish or Welsh devolution does more than just acknowledge ‘dual identity’. Devolution is an act of national liberation, it is recognition of political and cultural difference, it’s a hiving off of political and moral authority, and it’s a division of those things that has occurred along national boundaries.

I would like to try a small experiment. I’d like everyone in the room to ask themselves three questions. Ask yourself:

1.What is my ethnic identity?
2.What is my national identity?
3.What is my state identity, my citizenship?

I’m ethnically English, my national identity is English (it’s England that has my allegiance, I feel that I belong to England and England belongs to me), and my state identity is British. My wife, on the other hand, is a Canadian citizen and her national identity is Canadian, so there is a marriage between her national identity and her citizenship – her national identity is formally recognised.

Now. This is not a test, national identity is a personal thing, and subjective, so don’t worry you’re not going to be judged on this. But can I have a show of hands to see who in the room considers their national identity to be British? (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown puts up her hand). And who considers their national identity to be Scottish? (Gerry Hassan puts up his hand)

The question that we should ask ourselves is why Yasmin and Gerry’s national identities should have constitutional recognition and political expression, but not mine?

In a speech to Guy’s IPPR in March 2008 Michael Wills went to great length to elaborate on why Britishness, and articulating our idea of Britishness, was so important, and he made great play on Britain’s tolerant and plural nature. British identity, he said, was different from English identity because it was “inherently inclusive”.

He then went on to reveal some IPSOS Mori polling (commissioned by the Ministry of Justice) that demonstrated that both whites and visible ethnic minorities have a greater sense of belonging to England than they do Britain.

To feel a sense of belonging to England is different to feeling comfortable describing yourself as English. Asians in Scotland, for instance, are much more likely to describe themselves as Scottish than English Asians are to describe themselves as English. The thought that I would like you to take away from this session is whether, in concentrating on building up Britishness, are we ignoring to our detriment the case for building an inclusive civic English national identity.

Before I came here I looked up liberty in the dictionary. There were a few definitions but the two that seemed most apt for this session on the national question were “the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges” and “the power of choice”.

I choose England.


UPDATE

I republish this speech because it asks a fundamental question about why some national identities should have formal recognition while others do not, but also because I want to make a point about nationalism and separatism. I call myself an English nationalist (despite the dirt that gets thrown at me for doing so) because I would like England to enjoy a discrete political identity and for English identity to form the basis of citizenship. We should celebrate an English national day, sing an English anthem, and elect an English government. I think there are benefits to be had from constitutional and cultural recognition of our society as a collective English demos. Does this mean that I am a separatist who wants to see an independent England? Not necessarily. The fact that my English identity goes unrecognised does not mean that I desire to put those who feel British-only or primarily British in my shoes – lacking political representation. I would much rather that the English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish AND British were represented. The fact that this wish seems unfathomable, unachievable or undesirable to the British political class (and to many Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English nationalists) does not dissuade me from the belief that a reformed union of nations would be the most desirable outcome.

Seven out of Ten Back English Parliament as Power2010 Project ‘Home Rule’ onto Westminster

Originally published 22nd April 2010

Guerilla-style projection brands Westminster the English Parliament for St George’s Day
Two thirds of voters (68%) in England believe England should have its own Parliament with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament, according to a new ICM poll for the Rowntree-backed democracy campaign group POWER2010 published on St George’s Day.

The findings come as POWER2010 stage a huge guerrilla-style projection of the St George’s flag with the words ‘Home Rule’ onto the Palace of Westminster to brand it English for a day.

The ICM poll shows a large majority (70%) of voters say that laws for England should be made by the House of Commons but only MPs representing English constituencies should be able to vote on them. English Votes on English Laws (EVoEL) is one of the five changes to fix politics backed by over 100,000 votes which now forms the POWER Pledge being put to all candidates standing in the General Election.

The poll of 1033 people across England also shows that less than a quarter (23%) of people in England feels either “more English than British” or “English not British”. Almost half – or 46% – of those questioned in the poll say they feel “equally British and English”. 24% of those questioned said they feel either “British not English” or “more British than English”, according to the poll. POWER2010 says this means that the fairness of decision-making matters more to people than Englishness.

Director of POWER2010, Pam Giddy, said today:

“England was not mentioned once in the leaders’ debate and has not featured at all during this campaign so far. Yet we now know people want a fairer way of making decisions that affect England.

“It suddenly feels like we are on the cusp of seismic changes to the way our politics is done. But so long as the unfair system we have at the moment persists it can only play into the hands of undemocratic voices like the BNP. With all the talk of reform in the air politicians should not duck the English question, but use the opportunity of St George’s day to say where they stand.

The Bogdanor-isation of Politics

Originally published 25th November 2009

I was reading this Guardian article about which of the Miliband brothers is least obnoxious when I got bored and scrolled down to the comments. And the comments alerted me to a very interesting fact: Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University is responsible for much of our failed political class.

You could hold a Labour leadership election from people with PPE degrees from Oxford.

David Miliband (PPE, Oxford)
Ed Miliband (PPE, Oxford)
James Purnell (PPE, Oxford)
Ed Balls (PPE, Oxford)
Jacqui Smith (PPE, Oxford)
Yvette Cooper (PPE, Oxford)
Ruth Kelly (PPE, Oxford)

You could put together a mini shadow cabinet.

Alan Duncan (PPE, Oxford)
Ann Widdecombe (PPE, Oxford)
Damian Green (PPE, Oxford)
David Cameron (PPE, Oxford)
David Willetts (PPE, Oxford)
George Young (PPE, Oxford)
William Hague (PPE, Oxford)

And you could interview the whole sodding lot using journalists with PPEs from Oxford.

Christopher Hitchens (PPE, Oxford)
David Dimbleby (PPE, Oxford)
Evan Davis (PPE, Oxford)
Jackie Ashley (PPE, Oxford)
John Sergeant (PPE, Oxford)
Lance Price (PPE, Oxford)
Michael Crick (PPE, Oxford)
Nick Robinson (PPE, Oxford)
Zeinab Badawi (PPE, Oxford)

And to think people complain about Eton.

UPDATE: the Oxford degree that runs Britain