After an election that saw Labour almost expunged from England, the desperate attempts to claim ownership over the English ’cause’ begin in earnest. One does not need to be well versed in Labour’s recent history to see the transparency of the rank hypocrisy of this move.
This, after all was a party that had shamelessly compromised its core values and core voters to court ‘Middle England’ and its voters to win power. (It is worth noting that as recently as 2008, the party’s supporters demonstrated their contempt for this same ‘Middle England’ by asking if it (whatever this quasi-mythical ‘place’ actually was/is) ‘cared about equality’. Thus, with one swift move, it demonised the English middle class as arrogant and selfish, declared them implicitly racist, and attempted to co-opt them still further into their disturbing leftist social experiment.)
Simultaneously, however, the key figures in the New Labour project decried English nationalism as a ‘threat to the nation’. (The irony of this sentiment when considering Labour’s hatchet job of devolution is almost unbearable.) The temerity of Jack Straw in blithely describing the English as “potentially very aggressive, very violent” and fretting over English people “increasingly articulat[ing] their Englishness following devolution” has not been forgotten. Predictably enough for a party with no coherent moral message and no value system other than satiating its unquenchable thirst for power, now it is confronted with this new articulation of Englishness, it has shifted its entire focus to attempt to pander to this populist movement.
David Miliband, always the most savvy of the Labour leadership candidates, has written a lengthy piece of Newspeak in the New Statesman about Labour’s need to ‘reconnect with England’. He is, of course, not wrong; however, his attempt to simultaneously channel the World Cup hysteria in the public mood and appropriate the complex ideals about England is unconvincing at best.
Starting his article, as he does, with the quote
“World Cup time means a conversation about England”
suggests that Mr Miliband is entirely ignorant of the cross-spectrum discussion on England during the early stages of the election campaign, or the frequent discussions on St George’s Day, or even that discussion raged when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. Undeterred- or blissfully unaware- he continues:
“Almost nine in every ten voters Labour lost between 1997 and 2010 are in England. That’s over four million lost English voters and 137 lost English MPs. If Labour is to avoid becoming a regional or sectional party, we need to confront the task of winning back our support among working-class and middle-income voters across England.”
So the following discussion is nothing about England, Englishness, English issues or the people of England, it is merely David Miliband thinking out loud about how Labour can snare back the voters it needs to continue a failed social experiment that has precisely nothing to do with England. Revealing indeed. And then, as if from nowhere…
“Tony Blair’s connection with “Middle England” was a profound electoral attribute. It is less well remembered that early on Tony made the patriotic case for strengthening the bonds of community.”
So, in this example, Miliband sees a connection with ‘Middle England’ as an ‘electoral attribute’. Could his intentions be more transparent? England to Miliband is something to talk about when it’s popular with the sole aim of… being popular. Leopards and spots.
Miliband unwittingly goes on to provide a well-worded insight into the true outcome of Blair’s efforts to ‘strengthen the bonds of community’, as he mentions that
“in many core Labour communities, a disdain for tradition and enthusiasm for hyper-modernity, constant change and all the glittering wonders of globalisation cost us votes and in some cases the BNP benefited.”
As if from nowhere: clarity! The BNP only benefited because thanks to Labour, English people saw their communities being fragmented and changed without their consent and most importantly, their opinions resented by a distant elite. We all know the outcome of that one. And anyway, did traditional Labour heartlands really want to see other Labour ‘achievements’ like the mass-spawning of the glass-and-steel architecture that dominates every scrap of ground or the smoking ban? It is unlikely at best.
And now for the most bizarre paragraph in the entire piece.
“Labour needs a revived politics of Englishness rooted in a radical and democratic account of nationhood. We need to draw upon a specifically English story that points to the battle for social justice born of a proud tradition of personal liberty and independence – as resentful of corporate elites as meddling bureaucracy.”
Aside from the fact that this stanza is so banal and asinine as to inspire drowsiness in the reader, it is entirely meaningless. If any kind reader wishes to explain what a ‘radical and democratic account of nationhood is’, then I should be pleased to know. And anyway, how much more radically would Labour like to alter England? In another missed irony, Miliband’s suggested resentment of ‘corporate elites’ and ‘meddling bureaucracy’ is precisely the reason why so many English people have tried so diligently to vote Labour out of power.
So. What, if anything, does Mr Miliband actually have to say on English matters?
“An “English Parliament” is not the answer. We must strengthen the civic pride and economic resilience of English towns and cities. This is how the sense of identity, belonging and place of the many Englands can be better embedded and expressed. Labour needs to work with the grain of local and institutional affiliations – from army regiments to hospitals, from fire services to local authorities.”
An English Parliament isn’t the answer? Do Labour plan to sweep away the decentralised regional assemblies that it worked so hard to implement? Oh. So it plans to continue to inhibit the right of the English to have a say on their own affairs. Not much in the way of ‘change’ there, eh Dave?
Strengthening the civic pride of English towns? Remarkably, it seems Miliband and his party still have little or no concept of what this actually constitutes. Strengthening the civic pride of towns that, thanks to Labour, have become forcibly multicultural and economically more stratified than ever is an utterly impossible task. I can say with absolute certainty that the Sharia courts of the North of England and the gated communities of affluent Surrey will want precisely nothing to do with such a concept. Surely, this is nothing other than a thinly-veiled desire for more City Mayors; the darlings of Labour’s slow regionalisation of England. And are these the same army regiments betrayed by pointless wars and lack of investment and hospitals, fire services and local authorities bracing themselves for cuts and job losses thanks to more than a decade of Labour’s careless spending?
I think Mr Milband needs to do a lot, lot more than consider this vacuous, meaningless pseudo-patriotism. He needs to step outside of his champagne-socialist cabal and undertake a thorough, meaningful investigation of how Labour got it so wrong for so long.
And there’s no guarantee then that the English will want them back.