Lamentably, it seems David Miliband’s recent New Statesman article has led to a myriad of poorly composed soundalike pieces surfacing. All, as is the way with New Labour, seek to expand on Miliband’s sentiments in their typically ‘follow the leader’ format while simultaneously offering nothing new, and continuing the occupation of English identity for their own cynical political ends.
The first of these is a blog entry on Left Futures. In spite of its politically seductive title of ‘Nationalism, Unionism and Englishness’, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a cynically chosen misnomer. The article discusses none of the aforementioned issues, and instead, occupies itself by fretting over the fact that
“…in Scotland and Wales at least, [the Labour Party] can no longer assume that it is the sole, mainstream pole of attraction for social democratic voters.”
How fitting, and how very New Labour, that in an article that purports to discuss ‘Englishness’, the very notion is subjugated by discussion over Scotland and Wales. The article goes on to trumpet Labour’s successes in England over the past century…
“It is worth pointing out that in fact Labour received more votes than the Conservatives in English parliamentary constituencies in 1945, 1950, 1951, 1964, 1966, Oct 1974, 1997 and 2001, and only received 0.25% less than the Tories in England in 2005. So the myth of a naturally and permanently Tory England is false. When Labour has inspired English voters, then Labour has won in England.”
Such swaggering braggadocio is testament to the fact that like Miliband, the Labour Party consider England as a mere political pawn used to carry out whichever mandate they were persuing at that point in time. English voters, it seems, are simply votes to be ‘inspired’ by whichever falsehoods Labour promise. This in itself begs the question: why are Scotland and Wales, two countries with only a slightly larger combined population of that of London, such a threat to Labour? Why are Labour not concerned about the power of a blue map of England to remove them from Government? Could it be the intensely vocal minority dictating the state of affairs in both nations? An interesting point for consideration.
Meanwhile, over at LabourList (a ‘version’ of Conservative Home, one imagines), they have been good enough- out of the kindness of their hearts- to offer us their diktats on who we are by means of a ‘National Identity Day’. This yielded a number of interesting blogs, firstly from Rick Muir, who as Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, is well versed in appropriating history and fabricating ‘cohesion’.
He has decided to claim that ‘The English left needs to reclaim English identity’. Immediately, one wonders which particular ‘left’ Muir is alluding to. Is it the Socialist Worker left, whose banners and placards adorn every leftist rally in England? The Socialist Worker that protests so vehemently against the concept of the nation itself, let alone England and symbols of Englishness? Is this the left of Robert Blatchford and his ‘Merrie England’, now disavowed by ‘modern socialists’? Or is it the ‘new Left’ of Socialist Unity? Hopefully, Muir’s article will provide an insight for us…
“The English left needs to reclaim English identity – otherwise there is a dangerous vacuum in which all sorts of resentments over devolution, and immigration get channelled through the prism of a reactionary and belligerent Englishness.”
Ah. So. The left must try to cover the tracks left by… you’ve guessed it… Labour! Heaven forbid the English should resent having had even less say in their own politics for the past 12 or so years since devolution! We mustn’t let those politically-aware Englishmen comment on the fundamental change in the fabric of their country! As for the ‘belligerent Englishness’ comment; I can hear the patronising tones of Jack Straw resonating still.
Paul Richards delves even further into the realms of remaking history for political gain. The deliberately provocative title of his blog ‘England: I would die for it’ belies the reality of his intent. Focusing on two key political figures of the 20th Century, Winston Churchill and George Orwell, he attempts to dissect the diversity inherent in pre-Windrush England:
“Orwell and Churchill are two sides of the same coin. Both patriots, but each with an ideal of Britishness at variance with the other. Orwell wanted to see ‘the real England’ – the England of the new model army, the co-op, and the chartists. For Churchill, it was the England of Blenheim Palace, Dundee cake, and Fox of St James. This dichotomy between the real and imagined, between different interpretations of the past, and different visions of the future has been played out in our politics and culture since the Second World War.”
Aside from the fact that the writer consciously confuses ‘England’ and ‘Britain’- sure evidence in itself of a writer who is not appropriately acquainted with the subject matter- he seems intent to decry those aspects of Englishness which he finds in some way archaic, or even those that do not apply to his clearly blinkered understanding of English history. Why, for example, is Blenheim Palace or Dundee cake somehow ‘less English’ than the new model army? One can easily detect a sense of shame in anything that falls outside his narrow political ideology. How ironic that he did not heed the famous words of Orwell himself!
“England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God save the King than of stealing from a poor box.”
As the article staggers on, the ignorance becomes more and more astonishing. While Richards notes Orwell’s admiration for ‘the diversity’ of England, such all-white diversity seems to be somehow inferior to the contemporary multi-culti, hyper-permissive society of the present. Quite how such a comparison is considered appropriate is not properly conveyed; indeed, it seems that the whole section of the article is designed to have a pop at Churchill, the ‘old racist’. Pathetic. The cringing summation of Englishness that follows is so superficial as not to warrant repeating here, but suffice to say, this author far from makes a case for an England- his narrow England, I hasten to add- worth laying one’s life down for.
So predictably, it falls now only to the potential Labour leaders to add their asinine soundbites to LabourList’s debate. The question they had to answer was ‘Do we have a national identity?’. I should like to warn those who are affected by shameless political opportunism to read the remainder of this entry with some caution…
Whilst each tired New-Labourite had their say, the answer of two candidates in particular stood out. The first, Diane Abbott…
“I represent the most multi-cultural constituency of any leadership candidate and I would say firmly that we do have a common identity in Britain. People who query that are often people who are personally challenged by a more diverse Britain. But more black and brown faces do not dilute a sense of British identity. Those of us whose parents and grandparents came here from the Commonwealth know that those elders were often more passionately British than indigenous people who had lived in Britain for generations.
To me, core British values are fairness, liberty and responding to personal crises with a nice cup of tea! But it is also worth noting that, because Britain was a colonising power, many things we think of as culturally British, like the bungalow or tea-drinking, were actually habits we acquired from countries we colonised or traded with.
I also worry that we do not know enough about British history. For instance, many people do not know how people from the colonies were not separate and apart. From the Elizabethan era onwards, black, brown and white people – together – have helped shape the Britain we know today. So our future lies in embracing the fact that we are part of Europe and in welcoming all the advantages that being a multi-cultural society gives us.”
Whilst I am usually loathe to use such an enormous block-quote, I feel that every single aspect of this answer is offensive, small-minded, asinine, entirely besides the point of the question and demonstrates the kind of self-hatred that New Labour revelled in. Abbott’s peculiar view of the nation appears to be that only the last two-hundred years of British (not English) history have any inherent value, that a lot of the things that constitute our identity are foreign (a particularly shameless demonstration of self-interest), a tendency to outward demonisation of anyone who thinks differently, and most offensively of all, that British people were self-loathing and confused prior to the ‘new identity’ brought about by waves of migration. The internal logic of this statement is so baffling as to be invisible.
Secondly, a familiar face. Somewhat predictably, it fell to David Miliband to be a sop to current events.
“The best of British means fairness, responsibility, internationalism and standing up for the underdog. It is embodied in our best national institutions, like the NHS. But also in the local identities and associations that make life worth living – like the Westoe Harton miners welfare in South Shields. I’m proud to be British, but was born in England. Britishness isn’t a mono-culture – and Labour needs to reconnect with all the distinctive strands of British identity.”
Textbook stuff, this. Every single sentence is a concession to an up-to-the-minute issue of note, perhaps the most cynical being that he was ‘born in England’. If my readers have any verifiable quotes from David Miliband on the subject of England prior to 11th June 2010, I should very much like to see it.
So, to finish this long analysis, a brief note of warning. Beware the abundance of pseudo-Englishness.