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Does England matter?

Dear Member and Supporter
The CEP attended this debate and also attended the 2nd debate discussing Labour and England this week.
I would like to point you to this paragraph in the article below:
But some Labour people still struggle with England
Just days before the seminar, Deputy Leader Tom Watson opposed an English Parliament on the grounds that Scottish Unionists did not want it. Whether or not you support an English Parliament, the idea that England’s governance should be determined by Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and not by the English, is surely no longer tenable? If the Union can only be sustained at England’s expense it will not last too long.
That comment made by John Denham is significant and appreciated.
We will be writing a summary of this weeks events over the next couple of days. Of particular interest is Jim Mcmahon MP calling for a Minister for England and chuka Umunna reaffirming his support for an English Parliament
Best Eddie
These are my reflectionson the first seminar in the England and Labour seminar series organised by the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University, supported by Prof Mike Kenny, Mary Riddell, and Jonathan Rutherford. The seminar was held on 9th February at the House of Commons. The opening speakers were Prof Mike Kenny, Cllr Sarah Hayward (Leader, Camden Council), Lisa Nandy MP.
John Denham
The ‘English issue’ has been bouncing around Labour’s fringe for some time without any particular direction or conclusions. The significance of this first seminar in the ‘England and Labour’ series is that the debate is attracting people from across the party, and people who want to discuss how Labour speaks to England, not whether we should.
Everyone takes different things from such meetings, but, for me, there were a dozen significant themes
England does matter to Labour electorally, culturally and politically
Lewis Baston’s background paper set out starkly that it now looks easier for Labour to win an English majority than a UK majority (unless there is an unexpected upturn in Labour’s fortunes in Scotland). This reality means that Labour will be forced to confront how it can win that majority but how, also, it could then reflect that majority in the governance of England. Yet, it is also possible to question how much Labour in England is really a national English party, when many towns, villages and regions have little Labour presence or representation. Responding to these challenges starts with:
Being willing to talk about who were are and where we come from
So much of standard political life is about policy, political position and technocratic analysis that it is still something of a culture shock to hear many speakers rooting their remarks in the experiences of communities they come from and their own personal and family histories. Surveys tell us about the rise in numbers identifying as ‘English’ but little about what that ‘English’ is. Our contributions not only underlined Mike Kenny’s observation that there a many ways of talking about England, but reinforced the second constant theme:
This debate is not about defining Englishness from the top down
Rather it is finding the stories that explain who we are, how we got here and where we are going; what sort out nation we want to be. The Englishness that was being described is, on the one hand, sufficiently coherent to claim a growing political identity – one that needs to be reflected in the political debates, decision-making and structures of England. On the other, it is unlikely to be a single Englishness but rather one that allows for multiple identities and local, regional and ethnic expressions. But at the same time:
A strength of our national identity however, is as the carrier of fundamental and progressive values like fairness
in some ways, people have turned to their national sense of identity when such they have felt that those basic values were being violated by public policy – when welfare policy no longer reflected responsibilities and contribution for example. This ability to convey and carry key values is important, but:
The Englishness we need is not always the Englishness we have
Englishness can be expressed as defensive, as of powerlessness, and often of men. All our contributors were concerned that Englishness develops as an identity that is genuinely civic and not ethnic, as open to women as to men. This means that Labour needs to be thinking about the cultural politics that helps to shape Englishness, not just reflecting what people say about it today. At the same time, cultural politics does not exist in a vacuum. In addition to the impetus to English identity provided by the retreat of Empire and the weakening idea of the Union, many suggested that:
The rise in English identity is being strongly influenced by the influence of economic changes, globalisation and migration, an impact exacerbated by neo-liberal economic policy. This isn’t a reductionist argument that says tackle austerity and identity issues will go away, but it does recognise that identity politics grows in response to economic and social insecurity and the loss of collective working class institutions. And it does mean that:
Practical and policy responses are needed, as well as cultural recognition
It was suggested that Labour had been perceived as unpatriotic, failing to raise the obvious problems of the Barnett formula, losing the plot on English devolution and having no coherent response to English Votes for English Laws, and generally allowing other parties to set the agenda.
From my point of view, practical national policy has also to embrace social and economic policy. No too much discussion of this at the first seminar but, hopefully, more to follow later in the series.
And a number of other points were well made
Who speaks for England in the EU referendum?
Britain is Stronger in Europe campaigns as Scotland is Stronger in Europe in Scotland, Wales is Stronger in Europe in Wales, and ……Britain is Stronger in Europe in England. Why, when England is more Eurosceptic than the rest of the UK, is no case being made that England might be stronger in Europe?
London is important
Some manifestations of Englishness are defined against London and the power and culture it represents, yet others suggested that many aspects of London – its openness, its diversity, its outward facing character, its ambition – had many elements of the Englishness we would like to see. There’s more work to be done on London which is, after all, a great global, a great British, and a great English city.
Lets call it England
One practical change in political language would simply be to call things English when they are English political decisions. The high fees system is for English Universities and is an English fees system. Our health policy is for the English NHS. It simple, but simply allowing England to exist in our political language would make a huge difference.
Most of our contributors also wanted this to be an Englishness within the Union
Few were prepared to give up on Britishness as one of our shared identities, not on the Union itself, but all wanted clearer expression for England and the English.
But some Labour people still struggle with England
Just days before the seminar, Deputy Leader Tom Watson opposed an English Parliament on the grounds that Scottish Unionists did not want it. Whether or not you support an English Parliament, the idea that England’s governance should be determined by Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and not by the English, is surely no longer tenable? If the Union can only be sustained at England’s expense it will not last too long.

 

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