"The people of England deserve no less than the same choice as the peoples of Wales and Scotland: a referendum on whether they want a parliament of their own." - David Davis MP
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Launch of the Blueprint for ‘Scotland’s Future’: A Red-Letter Day for England?

English Commonwealth - Wed, 11/27/2013 - 18:29

Yesterday saw the launch of ‘Scotland’s Future’: the Scottish Government’s white paper on Scottish independence, billed as the blueprint for the country’s future. English Commonwealth looks forward to the publication of the UK government’s blueprint for the future of the United Kingdom, and particularly England’s place within it.

We could be waiting for a very long time. The sad truth is that the British government appears to have no coherent long-term vision for the Union, for the relations between its constituent countries and for its systems of government – let alone any vision for England.

In the specific context of the Scottish-independence referendum, this presents the No campaign – Better Together – with something of a quandary: they have no positive vision for the future of the Union, and of Scotland within it, to set against the blueprint for an independent Scotland set out in the white paper. There simply is no such positive plan for the Union. Any alternative ideas they might come up with would be pure ‘fiction’, as the Better Together leader Alastair Darling described ‘Scotland’s Future’ yesterday.

Better Together can’t even outline a detailed set of proposals about how devolution might be extended in Scotland in the event of a No vote, for instance by giving the Scottish government control over most of the taxes raised in Scotland. They can’t do this because no commitment to ‘devo more’ or ‘devo max’ exists on the part of the Westminster government, let alone any overall policy framework setting out the maximum degree to which devolution could be rolled out to all of the constituent nations of the UK – including England – and the constitutional ramifications of so doing.

Better Together can’t even speak with any authority about what the stance of the UK government would be on a whole range of issues were it to find itself in the position of negotiating an independence settlement with Scotland following a Yes vote in the referendum. These issues include things like the currency; Scotland’s EU and NATO membership; the UK’s nuclear deterrent, currently based in the Scottish port of Faslane; and other security issues such as naval shipbuilding, dividing up the armed forces and border controls.

On the face of it, there appears to be no contingency planning for this eventuality on the part of the UK government, which is perhaps over-confident that the No’s will win. If there is any contingency planning, then it certainly hasn’t been revealed to the pro-Union campaigners, because free and fair election rules preclude the government from disclosing valuable inside information to only one side in the referendum, and because this information would in any case no doubt be classified as a state secret.

But over and above contingency planning, there appears to be no plan at all for what the constitutional and governance framework of the ‘rest of the UK’ (rUK) would look like if Scotland departs from or breaks up the Union. So Better Together simply cannot predict anything sensible or coherent about what the eventual Scottish-independence settlement would look like, because nobody in the UK government has articulated any ideas whatsoever about what rUK would look like: about which elements of the present UK it would insist on retaining and what it would be willing to share with Scotland in a continuing social and economic union. Following a Yes vote, we’d be in a completely different political and constitutional ball game, and no one has yet proposed let alone established what the rules of the game would be.

This leaves England potentially in a massive constitutional limbo. Let’s put it this way: there’s no plan for a continuing Union including Scotland, even less of a plan for rUK, and even less for the status and governance of England within rUK.

Never mind Scotland: England needs a plan B. That’s why, more than ever, we need a Constitutional Convention for England. If the government won’t direct its thoughts to the shape of a continuing UK with or without Scottish independence, and England’s place within it, then the people of England must do so in its place. English Commonwealth urges its readers to support our petition for just such a constitutional convention. So far, as I write, our petition has generated a mere 37 online signatures out of a target of 1 million.

Come on, men and women of England: don’t let England’s future and very existence be decided by default by the people of Scotland and by a UK government that couldn’t care less about our country. Let’s make the day the blueprint for Scotland’s future was published a red-letter day for England!

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Time for a festival of Englishness

English Commonwealth - Fri, 10/18/2013 - 13:33

Ahead of ‘England, my England: A festival of Englishness‘ on Saturday, British Future have trailed some of the results of an ICM survey into Englishness.

Saint George may have beaten the dragon, but he is in danger of being vanquished by Saint Patrick in his English backyard, according to a new poll. Two-thirds (66%) of people in England feel that the Irish saint’s day is more widely-celebrated in Britain than St George’s Day with only 7% believing that St George gets more attention.

The result is that a large proportion (60%) of people in England don’t even know when St George’s Day is. ICM’s poll for national identity thinktank British Future found that only 40% of English respondents know St George’s Day is on 23 April, compared to 71% who can name US Independence Day on 4 July and 42% who know that St Patrick’s Day is on 17 March.

The English, however, want to celebrate their national identity. Three quarters (76%) want St George’s Day celebrated more or at least as much as St Patrick’s Day. Just under two thirds (61%) feel the flag of St George should be flown more widely across England. A day off would also help, with four in ten (41%) citing the lack of a Bank Holiday when asked why St George’s Day isn’t celebrated more. Less than one in three (29%) thought it was because people didn’t care.

The Independent informs us that the ICM poll names Boris Johnson as England’s most patriotic politician, chosen by 39% of people. A staggering 38% of us thought that “nobody” spoke for England, a figure which lends weight to IPPR’s earlier revelation that 62% have little confidence that the UK Government can be trusted to work in the long-term interests of England.

John Redwood, writing in the Spectator, indulges in a What England Means to Me type article to argue that it is time England asserted it’s modern national identity. A modern English identity that, unlike all other modern national identities the world over, has no need of a national democratic voice:

England is strong enough to keep her identity without a national Parliament, and with her identity and power partly shared with the rest of the United Kingdom. As Scotland has made more moves to assert its own identity, so more have waved English flags and have thought more lovingly of tea at four.

One wonders whether John Redwood believes that the United Kingdom would be strong enough to keep its identity without a parliament; and why, even if England is strong enough, we should forgo representation when our partners in union do not.

Sunder Katwala – the Director of British Future – informs us that it is time for England to be more than a ’90 minute nation’:

Englishness finds a confident voice in sport, but has little cultural or political voice or presence beyond the football, cricket and rugby teams. A “Festival of Englishness” in London this Saturday will look at sport and national identity, but will also ask what comedy, culture and politics need to contribute to English identity today too. This extends to major cultural institutions like the National Theatre. There is a Scottish National Theatre and a Welsh National Theatre, while English theatre-goers are left without: the London institution still thinks of itself as having a British remit.

This sort of statement sails dangerously close to my treatise on English Civic Nationalism in 2006:

Without any form of civic nationalism the English seem only to be able to express themselves through sporting tribalism and xenophobia. That is a sweeping statement, but it seems to be the widely held opinion of what Orwell referred to as English intellectuals, particularly those on the left. The Government’s steadfast refusal to allow or build any form of English civic nationalism has created a situation where English pride is exhibited in moments of pure tribalism; St George’s Day and sporting victories are the only times that England’s flag can be waved without accusations of racism. This is wrong, the English flag should fly above the English National Library, the English National Museum, the English Portrait Gallery and, YES, the English Parliament and Executive. Only in that way can we build a civic nationalism for England in which all can take pride.

I knew that if I hung around for long enough my views would become mainstream.

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Peter Black AM facing two ways at once

English Commonwealth - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 13:33

Peter Black, Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Member for South Wales West, has told the Backbencher that:

Welsh Liberal Democrats focus only on Wales and Welsh policy, meaning that we can produce what we see as the best policies for Wales and our constituents.

Having established that Welsh Lib Dems focus only on Wales and Welsh policy, he then goes on to make the case for Welsh Lib Dems focusing on England and English policy:

In my opinion, it’s impractical to stop Welsh MPs voting on cross-border issues. Look at tuition fees for example: there is a lot of cross-border transfer between students, with Welsh students going to English Universities and vice-versa. How then could English MPs vote only on this issue, when it affects Welsh students?

The idea that the Scots and Welsh should decide their own policies but continue to have a say on English policies is just laughable. Jog on, Peter.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: England without Scotland would be a small, shrunken, shrivelled place

English Commonwealth - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 02:10

William Rees-Mogg in the Times (The Battle for England, 9th May, 2005)

Labour has rejected the rule of equality and, even more unwisely, has discriminated against the largest, most powerful and richest nation of the United Kingdom. The English in America did not accept such discrimination in 1776. They will want equality now, so that they, like the Scots and the Welsh, can run their own affairs.

William’s son, Jacob Rees-Mogg, at the Conservative Party Conference, 2013:

“We should argue back to [English supporters of Scottish independence] that the view of the nation that they take becomes narrow if it’s purely English, makes us such a small, shrunken, shrivelled place that we need to accept that the cost of the Union is this over-representation of the smaller parts that come into it.

Perhaps, Jacob, it’s not so much the over-representation of the smaller nations that bothers us; perhaps, instead, it is the complete absence of any English representation that bothers us. If we had a federal system in which an English parliament was one component, then maybe we could tolerate the over-representation of the Scots, Welsh and Irish in the federal parliament.

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Can Ed Miliband Speak for England

English Commonwealth - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 00:14

Anthony Barnett has written a very thought-provoking piece for the New Statesman (a longer version is available on Our Kingdom) in which he likens England to Gromit.

If Britain is represented by Wallace and his knitted pullover, Gromit is England: smart, practical, brave, shrewd, utterly loyal though often enraged by the stupidity of his master and . . . speechless. He literally has no mouth. Gromit sees it all and even reads the papers, but he is without a voice.
By extension, we English want our tongue and vocal cords. The political class will object in their familiar way. Why graft a mouth on to Gromit and ruin the special relationship with Wallace, when comic ineptitudes and the overcoming of adversity depend on the mutual relationship of a master and a loyal, loving dog who knows everything but cannot talk?

Indeed, perhaps Gromit would vote to stay speechless. What is needed is not a policy that says England must have its own parliament, but a call to trust the English to decide for themselves.

The call to trust the English to decide for themselves is what English Commonwealth advocates.

Sadly, however, it looks as though Barnett is barking up the wrong tree if he’s looking to Miliband to do anything for England.  Miliband’s conference speech, delivered on the same day that Barnett’s article was published, contained 60 instances of the word ‘Britain’ but only mentioned the word ‘England’ twice (and both times it was a geographical reference to the North East of England).  What’s particularly annoying is the fact that Miliband could easily have mentioned England but chose not to.  As David Cornock points out, Miliband’s proposed housing policy is limited to England:

The policy of building 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 – helped by planning changes to require private developers to use land they own or lose it – appears to be confined to the one nation of England.  The offer of wrap-around childcare in primary schools is also England-only…

Yet, despite the fact that this policy is about England not Britain, Miliband is setting up a Rebuilding Britain Commission to free up land for development in England.  As if to emphasise that this should correctly be titled the ‘Rebuilding  England Commission’, the Scottish Labour Party announced that they would look at Miliband’s proposals with a view to including something similar in their 2016 manifesto.

As has been noted before on English Commonwealth, the Labour leader is a man who doesn’t know the date of St George’s Day and whose 2013 local election campaign launch speech, delivered in Ipswich to mark the beginning of Labour’s English local election campaign, contained 14 mentions of the word ‘Britain’ and not one mention of the word ‘England’.

On the evidence presented, one has to conclude that Ed Miliband is unable to speak for England.  Don’t hold your breath Mr Barnett.

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Nick Clegg’s Geopolitical Fruit Kebab

English Commonwealth - Mon, 09/23/2013 - 00:19

At the Liberal Democrat party conference in Scotland, Nick Clegg announced that all English state school pupils would get free school meals at ages five, six and seven. Clegg chose to publicise this by eating fruit kebabs at Lairdsland Primary School near Glasgow with Scottish schoolchildren who, by virtue of being Scottish, are unaffected by his announcement.

It’s akin to Alex Salmond taking part in a photocall at the Leicester Royal Infirmary to announce free prescriptions for all Scots.

English spending decisions such as this should be made in Parliament, not up in Scotland, as Rhodri Morgan points out:

The policy was given the traditional TV Age launch by Nick and his wife Miriam going to a local infant school in Glasgow and getting down with the little nippers munching on little fruit kebabs.

What’s wrong with any of that?

Well although Nick Clegg’s speech doesn’t mention it, his announcement was for England only.

The press tried to explain that the Free School Dinners would not actually apply to the wee bairns in the shots with Nick and Miriam.

It could do so, of course but that would depend on “the generosity of Alex Salmond”, ran the bizarre explanation. The same would apply to Wales.

If the statement had been made properly to Parliament, the first question Welsh and Scottish MPs would ask the Deputy Prime Minister would be: “Are these free dinners in England resourced by new money and what extra funds will flow through as a result to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly via the Barnett Formula?”

More to the point, Rhodri, shouldn’t MPs elected in England be given the opportunity to question the Deputy Prime Minister? The Scots and Welsh can always debate the announcement in their own parliaments, a luxury that the English do not have.

Ideally English policy announcements should be made by cabinet ministers in an English government who’re elected on an English manifesto to an English parliament. The announcement should be made in England to an English parliament. Democratic accountability isn’t rocket science.

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One Year to Go

English Commonwealth - Wed, 09/18/2013 - 12:51
Scottish English independence: one year to go

It is one year until the Scottish people yet again are able to choose how they wish to be governed, in their referendum on independence. English Commonwealth celebrates the fact that, in prime minister David Cameron’s words, “Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands”. Indeed, we believe that the only way Scotland can ensure that its future remains in its own hands is to vote for independence. Do the people of Scotland really think that the iron grip of UK-parliamentary sovereignty will not reassert itself if Scotland spurns this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take its own destiny fully out of the UK’s hands?

By contrast, English Commonwealth regrets the fact that the same courtesy of determining its own future and the mode of government best suited to its needs is not extended to England. Indeed, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all had multiple referendums on devolved government – and now full independence, in Scotland’s case – England has had precisely none. In fact, it is highly questionable whether, in the prime minister’s mind, ‘England’ would even have the same degree of existence that Scotland has as a sovereign nation capable of determining its own future.

In this light, David Cameron’s claim that the UK is a “unique union of nations” and a “family of nations” is completely bogus, at least in respect of being a ‘union of equals’. In the prime minister’s mind, and that of the British establishment, England has no existence as a nation independent of the UK, let alone any right or need to determine whether it wishes to be politically independent from the UK. And yet, all the evidence from recent polling (here and here) is that there is as much if not more support in England for English independence than there is support in Scotland for Scottish independence, and that support for Scottish independence in England is also on the rise.

These two trends are of course related because, by default, it may well be Scottish independence that procures the independence of England, in the absence of any vote on the matter in England itself. The British political and media establishment likes to say that, even in the event of Scottish independence, ‘the UK’ will continue to exist as the state over which the Westminster parliament exercises sovereignty. In terms of constitutional law, no doubt, ‘the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ will indeed be the successor state. However, Scottish independence will signal the end of ‘Britain’ as a political nation and, in all practical reality, the new UK state will embody a renascent England as a source of political identity and citizenship in its own right. Nobody in their right mind would pretend that a UK minus Scotland would be anything other than an English state in all but name, plus two small outlying provinces that arguably have more in common with Scotland than with England.

The referendum on Scottish independence cannot by itself completely destroy the union between our two nations: the ties – cultural, social and familial – between Scotland and England are too strong and too numerous. Nor can a ‘no’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence strengthen the Union between all four of the UK’s nations unless the opportunity is seized to explore a more multi-national understanding of Union: one in which England, too, is recognised.

The Union is a multi-lateral agreement that requires the consent of all of its nations: of England just as much as Scotland. English Commonwealth will spend the year up to Scotland’s referendum arguing that England, like Scotland, has the same right to either endorse the Union or pursue its own destiny. It would be a matter of some regret to English Commonwealth if England were effectively to become a nation again, not in a form of its choosing, nor through a vote of her own people, but by the voice of the Scottish people affirming that country’s own nationhood and autonomy.

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Scottish Lib Dem MPs are of a high calibre says Clegg

English Commonwealth - Wed, 09/11/2013 - 11:02

Nick Clegg:

The party has, historically, produced brilliant parliamentarians from Scotland including former party leaders Grimond, Kennedy and Campbell. The fact that out of our 11 Scottish MPs nearly half of them are ministers says a lot about their calibre. The Lib Dems in coalition have brought a strong Scottish voice to the table, for example, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore steered us through the Edinburgh Agreement, providing a mature and democratic way of responding to the SNP election mandate for a referendum.

Or could it be that Scottish Lib Dem MPs are the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, promoted to ministerial positions on account of their Scottishness in order to bring a strong Scottish voice to an almost entirely English Conservative led coalition?

In his account of the coalition negotiations, 22 Days in May, David Laws recalls that dropping the policy of English votes on English laws was the very first concession made by the Conservative negotiating team. The Tories needed the Scottish Lib Dem MPs as equal members of Parliament and Cabinet in order to disguise their own lack of a Scottish mandate, so they kicked English Votes on English Laws – a policy they’d promised for over a decade – straight into the long grass.

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Congratulations to the UK and Scotland

English Commonwealth - Wed, 09/11/2013 - 10:04

English Commonwealth would like to congratulate the United Kingdom and Scotland on the quality of their universities. The BBC reports that six of the world’s top universities are in the UK and that three Scottish universities have climbed up the world rankings.

The fact that England has four universities in the top ten is apparently not worthy of comment from the BBC. One has to wonder why the organisation feels the need to create a Scotland-specific story but not an England-specific story when the data on which the articles are based (the QS World University Rankings) count both English and Scottish Universities as British.

A cynic might think that the BBC was promoting a sense of Scottishness in Scotland and a sense of Britishness in England.

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The Rise of the Little Englander

English Commonwealth - Sat, 08/31/2013 - 12:08

“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. And I considered how much I disliked Big Englanders, whom I saw as red-faced, staring, loud-voiced fellows, wanting to go and boss everybody about all over the world, and being surprised and pained and saying ‘Bad show!’ if some blighters refused to fag for them. They are patriots to a man. I wish their patriotism began at home.”
— J.B. Priestley
English Journey, 1934

“Disgrace, you’re a disgrace” shouted Michael Gove at the Tory and Lib Dem rebels who refused to fag for David Cameron by supporting the Government motion on Syria. The rebels were, however, merely reflecting public opinion in England and the UK as a whole. Tory attack dogs on Twitter have denounced them as ‘Little Englanders’ and ‘Pacifists’ – as if those were a bad things – and opined that Britain’s standing in the World has been damaged.

In actual fact those Little Englander rebels may have helped save Britain. Scottish MPs overwhelmingly voted against the Government motion and it is highly probable that the Yes Campaign would have benefited if Scotland had been dragooned into a war by English MPs.

One anonymous senior minister, quoted by Mark D’Arcy, reacted by claiming that “The Commons has decided it wants this country to be Belgium,” blaming a rise in UKIP-style Little Englandism (but not ‘Little Scotlandism’). George Osborne worried that the vote could put a strain on Britain’s special relationship with the US and suggested we might search our souls:

“I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that a big open and trading nation that I’d like us to be or whether we turn our back on that. I understand the deep scepticism that my colleagues in parliament and many members of the public have about British involvement in Syria. I hope this doesn’t become the moment where we turn our back on the world’s problems.”

Paddy Ashdown said that the rebellion “diminishes our country hugely” and has “smashed our relationship with the United States”.

I could quote more in a similar vain from red-faced, loud-voiced fellows who’re worried about Britain’s standing in the World, but you get the general drift. David Cameron has now been written off as broken, weakened and lacking authority but let’s give him credit for arguing his case before Parliament, attempting to build consensus but accepting Parliament’s decision and the mood of the people with magnanimity:

“It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.”

The ability of Britain to continue to “punch above its weight” on the World stage rests not only on the will of Parliament but also on the continued existence of Britain. The rebels may be the advance guard of a Little England populism that mirrors the non-interventionist instincts of Scottish and Welsh nationalism. If so then it is an irony that this Little England-English nationalism has prevented Big Englanders from bombing Syria against the will of Scottish MPs and in doing so saved the Union.

Little England will watch from a side-lined, diminished Britain as America and France strut the world stage. Our Prime Minister will beat the drum over Gibraltar and reaffirm the ‘special relationship’ but there will be no disguising the fact that one of the supposed raison d’etres of the Union – the ability to punch above our weight – will have taken a rabbit punch.

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My England

English Commonwealth - Thu, 08/29/2013 - 10:37

Poem I wrote on England.
It may be good, or it may not, but hopefully it conveys how I feel about England.

My England, the place I was born,
My allegiance forever sworn,
The land from which I will never be torn,
But the plight of England makes me forlorn.

As I watch what happens it makes me sad,
The politicians make me mad,
The leaders who desecrate the land,
Trying to ruin my beautiful England.

They take our taxes they hoard ,
And give it to undeserved folk abroad,
Take all that we save,
Even when we are in our grave.

Well the people are turning,
And government will be burning,
With the shame that’s deserved,
And our land it will be preserved.

Hang the flags from poles and window sills,
Shout it out from mountains and hills,
Forests, Fields, towns, and the city,
Those fools in government deserve no pity,

The people of England are starting to awake,
And all for our children’s sake,
England will once more have glory,
And herald in a brand new story.

A new leader will arise from our land,
Without the pomposity and marching band,
The only music you will hear,
Is Jerusalem, sung with cheer.

English people make no mistake,
We can never concede or forsake,
Our heritage, history and our plight,
And how we always won that fight.

People are starting to see the mess,
The leaders buckling under stress,
The politicians that stole,
The big deficit hole.

Now is the time to unite,
Bring us back in our fight,
To the England we all need,
With love, passion and no more greed,

Our politicians will listen once more,
To the peoples roar,
We want the same as the rest,
Why should they get all the best.

Equal treatment for everyone,
English law the only one,
Quangos and PC on the decrease,
And common sense on the increase.

Once more we will be strong,
And all this hopefully wont be long,
Get voting people with all your might,
Give your vote and give it right.

Our land will be great once more,
And will never spiral into folklore,
Strength in numbers, change is in the air,
Our treatment once more will be fair.

So people stop sleeping and snoring,
And let me hear the Lion roaring,
From land to shifting sand,
Put the heart back in England.

England is the land for me,
Mountains rolling into the sea,
Roses in the garden on the rise,
England is my paradise.

And when its all over and I die,
In England’s land I will lie,
And With England I will be,
As in life England was in me.

My home, my land,

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The Nationality Lottery strikes again

English Commonwealth - Mon, 08/26/2013 - 19:43

It’s a well known fact that the British government distributes our taxes unfairly, subsidising Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at England’s expense but that sort of thing wouldn’t happen with charity would it?  The answer, of course, is yes.

Figures released by the Big Lottery Fund show that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive significantly more funding than England – as much as three times more if you live in Northern Ireland.

The average lottery funding per head in England is just £9.46 compared to £13.49 in Wales, £25.27 in Scotland and £31.33 per head in Northern Ireland.  There is a Big Lottery budget for the UK as a whole as well but no figures have been released for this fund so it’s not currently possible to tell whether this disparity is replicated in the UK-wide budget.

A spokesperson for the Big Lottery Fund has tried to justify spending so much more on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by saying that grants are given based on population and deprivation.  England’s population is 5 times that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined and parts of England are the most deprived in the whole UK but England received just a third of the funding Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland got.  They also cite a one-off award for £49m to the Life Changes Trust as a reason for the disparity in funding this year but previous years’ figures show that England has always received less funding per head that the rest of the UK.

Some will no doubt point to the money the British government took from the lottery to pay for the London Olympics and claim that it was lottery money given to England but the Olympics weren’t English and the lottery money has to be paid back (eventually) by a corporation owned by the Mayor of London.  It was an expropriation of Lottery funds by the British government, not a grant by the Big Lottery Fund.

The Big Lottery isn’t the only charity to unfairly allocate extra funding to the other member states of the UK.  The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal diverts funding to Scotland whilst allowing Poppyscotland, who it merged with, to keep all the money it raises for itself, for example.  There are many other charities that have Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and British arms but that’s a topic for future discussion.

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We can’t resist privatisation unless we reinstate the national

English Commonwealth - Mon, 08/19/2013 - 08:45

Cross-posted with thanks from Our Kingdom.

I write this partly in response to Rachel Graham’s excellent article in Our Kingdom on 5 August 2013, in which she discusses the formation of a new single-issue campaign, We Own It, dedicated to resisting and reversing the present government’s – and previous governments’ – systematic programme of privatising public services and assets. This is a great idea, and I wish it every success.

Rachel Graham asks, “So why the drive for privatisation? Perhaps following the money gives an answer”. Clearly, private financial interests, including those of politicians, play a major part. At least equally as important, I would argue, is a drive to erase England as a, or rather the, nation affected. I say this because the services and assets being privatised are overwhelmingly restricted to England, or to England and Wales in policy areas such as justice in which Wales is effectively tacked on to England, administratively and legislatively.

The two recent examples of privatisation cited by Rachel Graham – the NHS and 111 service, and electronic tagging of prisoners on probation – are limited to England (+ Wales for the latter). To this we might add proposed or ongoing privatisations in areas such as:

  • schools (i.e. free schools and academies – England only)
  • higher education (tertiary education, in England only, has increasingly become a private market)
  • blood plasma (whether the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK affects England only or is a UK-wide issue is still not fully clear to me, because this part of the story hasn’t been adequately reported – see further discussion below)
  • local services (e.g. libraries, leisure and sports facilities, or even the entire ‘portfolio’ of a council’s services in the case of the London Borough of Barnet, with surely more councils to follow – in England only)
  • the Courts Service (of England and Wales)
  • policing (increasing involvement by private security firms such as G4S – England and Wales)
  • legal aid, including the proposed transfer of the whole (and diminishing) criminal English (and Welsh) legal aid budget into the hands of a few corporate providers of solicitor services
  • the Probation Service (of England and Wales)
  • road building and maintenance (proposed extension of the toll-road network, i.e. private roads – England and (I think) Wales)
  • and the would-have-been privatisation of England’s forests and woodlands.

But let’s not forget also our former PM Gordon Brown’s fire sale of English assets.

One purely functional explanation of why these privatisations are mainly limited to England is that, in the aftermath of devolution, the UK government’s remit in these areas is restricted to England (and sometimes Wales). Therefore, if the government is going to have a policy bias towards privatisation, this is inevitably going to involve mostly English services and assets. An alternative way of putting this is that it is only in England that the government can get away with it because, unlike in the devolved nations, there isn’t a strong national, English voice – such as might be provided by a national parliament – to stand up in defence of what belongs to the nation, i.e. England.

The counterweight to ‘the private’ is ‘the public’ or ‘the commons’ – yes – but it is also ‘the national’. Therefore, if the state wishes to get away with systematically privatising public services, and publicly owned and managed social assets and natural resources, it is essential that the state first undermines the public’s consciousness that it – the public, that is – is a nation to whom those services and assets belong. Let’s put it this way: ‘we’ cannot defend ‘our’ NHS unless we come to realise who we are – or indeed who ‘we’ is. We are the nation referenced in the very name of the National Health Service. And the nation in this instance, as in so many of the other examples, is England. We, the NHS and England define – or should define – each other: we and the NHS should together be defining of what England as a nation means.

The message I’m attempting to convey here is very stark and simple: privatising English services involves privatising, and by that very token abolishing, England itself as a public, as a commons and as a civic nation. A precondition of that English asset stripping has been to exile England from the public square: suppressing any national English voice or consciousness, and even banishing from public discourse any concept of ‘England’’s ownership of the services that are being taken from it.

This is inscribed into the very detail of language used to discuss privatisation measures and policy in general. Government departments, politicians and ‘national’ media do everything they can to be as geographically non-specific as possible about policies and legislation that affect England only or England mainly. This involves avoiding the use of words such as ‘England’ and ‘English’, even or especially if the policies in question affect England alone. Instead, phrases and words such as ‘our country’ or ‘the country’, ‘our NHS’ (as in the above example), or even ‘Britain’ and ‘the UK’ are used. The tendency to replace ‘England’ with ‘Britain’ is especially prevalent in ‘national’ news, current affairs or factual programming, including programmes of a more topical nature where the subject matter is England-only but the media in question (e.g. BBC, ITV or Sky) feels it has to pass it off as pertaining to Britain as a whole because the programme is going out across the UK.

It is for this reason that, when the story broke, I was not sure (and am still not sure) whether the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK – the Department of Health-owned blood-plasma service – will affect only English services or those of the devolved nations as well. The mainstream media simply didn’t report on this aspect of the story, because it was carelessly – or deliberately – portrayed as a UK-wide issue, whether or not it actually is. And I would have to say that Our Kingdom’s superb, in-depth article on this particular privatisation measure also didn’t help to clarify its ‘geographical extent’, as the legislators term it, as the article never once indicated whether Plasma Resources UK sells its products into the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish health services – although it did indicate that it supplies around 30% of the UK ‘market’ for blood-plasma products. So does this effectively mean the ‘English market’, or are PRUK’s products simply hawked on the open market and, presumably, purchased by the devolved nations’ NHSs as well?

I would have to say that I would reproach Rachel Graham’s article in Our Kingdom, which was my starting point in the present article, with the same failing: not one reference to ‘England’ throughout a discussion in which many of the examples of the deleterious effects of privatisation relate to England only, or are aggravated in England compared with the UK’s other nations because the decisions that affect England are taken by a UK government that is not directly accountable to English voters. An example alluded to by the author is the awarding of rail franchises, resulting in situations such as the East Coast Mainline fiasco and significantly larger price hikes for English rail users than for their Welsh and Scottish counterparts.

Rachel Graham discusses the results of the Survation poll of respondents in England, Wales and Scotland commissioned by We Own It, which found significant support for public-sector provision of essential services. One key finding was that 79% of respondents felt that “the public should be consulted before a service is privatised or outsourced”. However, there was no discussion of the form such consultation should take. Surely, one of the reasons why there is such high demand in England for direct democracy on issues such as this is that, in England, the elected government is so unaccountable and out of touch with voters. Of course, I say ‘in England’ advisedly, because the same Survation poll found significantly less support for direct consultation of this sort in Scotland: only 60% (see p. 7 of the poll). Clearly, one of the reasons for this discrepancy is that, in Scotland, people feel they have an elected government which more closely represents their views on this topic, i.e. one that has not in fact carried out any privatisation of Scottish services.

So in order to resist and campaign against the UK government’s relentless privatisation drive, it is essential, in my view, to foreground the England (and Wales)-specific scope of most of the ongoing initiatives. This is not just a practical and tactical point, i.e. that it will be more effective in raising public awareness and mobilising protest if people are informed of the increasing divergence of policy between England and the devolved nations. Ironically, apart from effectively discriminating against the people of England, the UK government is also undermining its own case for why ‘we’re better together’ as a union state, in England perhaps even more strongly than in Scotland.

More fundamentally, however, I would return to my main point: that the most effective way to asset-strip a nation is for the nation to forget it is a nation. No English nation, no national, public English services.

This overriding concern – that England itself is being wished out of existence, let alone English public services – is one of the reason that a group of like-minded civic English-nationalist bloggers (myself included) have set up a new web campaign called ‘English Commonwealth’. This is intended mainly to raise the kind of awareness of England-specific issues, and of English nationhood, that this article has discussed, initially through a few selected campaigns that we hope people will rally round. One of these is a campaign to encourage, indeed to demand, the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ in circumstances where issues of national importance to England (and usually to England only) are being debated in England’s market square (as opposed to public square).

The challenge to ‘say England’ when you mean it is addressed not just to British-establishment politicians and media, but – and perhaps especially – to those on the left of politics who do wish to protest against the privatisation of English services. With what vision do they wish to oppose such a theft of the nation’s – England’s – assets? It’s simply no good, indeed it is absurd, to talk of a new ‘One Nation’ British settlement, because – as a result of Labour’s own actions when last in government – we simply are no longer one nation.

Unless, of course, that nation is to be England.

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An England with Europe on its borders

English Commonwealth - Sun, 08/18/2013 - 18:58

Imagine a scenario in which the people of Scotland vote for independence in 2014. A few years later, the people of Ireland – North and South – decide to re-establish a United Ireland: the idea of remaining attached to a rump-GB of England and Wales would clearly be an unattractive proposition to many Northern Irish, even some Unionists.

Contrary to the scare stories propagated by Scottish Unionist campaigners, the newly independent Scotland then retains its present EU membership, but at a high price (for some): it has to commit to using the euro. Ireland already uses the euro, of course, so the former Northern Ireland also switches to the EU currency as part of a United Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Tories’ promised in / out referendum on the (rump-)UK’s membership of the EU never materialises, for the simple reason that the Conservatives fail to win the 2015 general election. The Labour-Lib Dem coalition that comes into office during that year is opposed to holding a referendum while Scotland’s exit from the UK – eventually completed in 2017 – is being sorted out, and while arrangements are being made for the Irish-reunification referendum. (So, once again, no referendum in England on how England should be governed, but further referendums and choices for the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland.)

But what of Wales? How long would the people of that country wish to go on being governed by Westminster and dominated by an England heading increasingly for the EU exit? At this point in time (say, around 2020), opposition to the EU in England – now being encroached upon by the EU as never before in the shape of Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s adoption of the euro – reaches its highest-ever level. Meanwhile, in a Wales anxious to avoid being dragged out of Europe by England, there is a small majority in favour of remaining in the EU.

Eventually, the crunch has to come. Maybe this comes in the form of an in / out referendum, in which the people of England vote to leave the EU while Wales votes to stay in. Perhaps the EU might then make Wales an offer: ‘if you want to separate from England and stay in the EU, you can do so. Then, regardless of the EU’s political future, we will let you retain your nation status and even your monarchy’ – albeit that the latter would increasingly have a purely symbolic status. Oh yes, and Wales would have to adopt the euro, too.

The reference to the EU’s political future above is an acknowledgement of the fact that, while the UK is breaking up, and all the non-English parts of it are developing closer ties to the EU at the same time as England pulls away, the EU itself is steadily evolving into a federal super-state. (We’re talking circa 2025 here.) Even at the present time – in 2013 – the Eurozone countries have committed themselves to fiscal union. And eventually, closer political integration will be required to give greater legitimacy to that fiscal union. In any case, the EU as an institution is set up ideologically and designed constitutionally in such a way that it abrogates more and more sovereign powers from its member states and gradually assumes the character of a sovereign state in its own right, which it largely has already – in 2013 – in all but name.

So, by 2025, we could be looking at a situation in which Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all become ‘independent’, euro-using countries while at the same time evolving into de facto provinces within a European federal state. By default, England would then also be an independent nation and the successor state to the present UK. The independent England would of course be outside of the EU, which by that stage would be known as the European Federal Republic (EFR). England would have land borders to this new European super-state, where there would be border controls.

Is this a dream ticket or a nightmare scenario? Whatever your answer to that particular question, something like this scenario is a distinct possibility if one extrapolates from the present trends whereby English people increasingly back independence and withdrawal from the EU, while the other UK nations define their destinies and identities separately from those of England and seek closer ties with continental Europe.

Maybe we in England should be careful what we wish for, or at least think through the consequences of our wishes being granted.

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Scots Boo the British and Royal Anthem at Wembley

Anthem4England - Thu, 08/15/2013 - 14:45

Did this make you proud to be English or British?

At least the booing of both the British and Scottish anthems caused some discussion.

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Why aren’t they singing the English national anthem, daddy?

English Commonwealth - Thu, 08/15/2013 - 06:29

Such might have been the question of a six-year-old watching the England v Scotland game last night when the ‘national’ anthems started up: the stirring strains of ‘Flower of Scotland’ (the Scottish national anthem) followed by . . . er . . . ‘God Save the Queen’ (the British national anthem). Where was the English one?

You might well ask, sonny boy! There isn’t an English national anthem – at least, not one they’re prepared to play at football matches – because the powers that be in government and in football don’t want people to feel proud of England as a discrete nation and source of political identity and citizenship in its own right. It’s all right to cheer England on as a football nation but not to take pride in England as a grown-up country capable of running its own affairs as Scotland is increasingly doing. So you just run along and play football, son, and don’t worry your little head about the important decisions and about being a nation: that’s Britain’s job. God save the Queen.

If you’re fed up with England being infantilised in this way, and if you think it’s time we took pride in our nationhood and not just in beating Scotland at footie, then sign our petition for an English national anthem.

Let’s stand up for England’s green and pleasant land on the hallowed turf of Wembley, and not just rehearse Britain’s vainglorious past!

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English rail users cross-subsidise the UK rail network – again

English Commonwealth - Tue, 08/13/2013 - 19:01

It was announced today that regulated train fares in England – the ones that the UK government controls – are to go up by an average of 4.1% next year: 3.1% for inflation (calculated using the retail prices index: RPI) + 1%. On some journeys in England, prices could rise by up to 9.1% (RPI + 6%), counterbalanced by lower increases or even price drops on other routes to make up the average. However, this is the average rise in fares, not the average increase in the actual cost of rail travel for consumers. Critics of the rises say that what the operating companies will do is raise prices by more than the average on the busier routes, meaning that most rail users will experience a ‘higher-than-average’ increase in the cost of travel.

As for regulated prices in Scotland – those that the Scottish government controls – peak fare rises will be capped at RPI in 2014 and 2015, while off-peak fares are frozen so long as RPI remains below 3.5%. The Northern Ireland government is not putting up prices at all, and the Welsh administration has yet to decide.

Where is this above-inflation, additional revenue, generated only from English rail users, going? Essentially, it is going to pay for improvements to the rail network for the whole UK, which is run by state-owned Network Rail, as well as to pay dividends to the shareholders of the private rail companies that operate England’s rail services, from which the UK government has consistently secured a poor deal for English consumers.

This state of affairs derives from the 2007 Labour government’s strategy – ‘Delivering a Sustainable Railway’ – which involved a plan to fund Network Rail 75% from fares and 25% from taxation, compared to a 50:50 split at the time the strategy was launched. In other words, the burden for funding the UK rail network was shifted from a relatively proportional method – general taxation – to English rail fares, as these have consistently had to rise by considerably more than inflation to offset the more typically inflation-level increases in the devolved nations. Typical New Labour: they devise a strategy that they can’t deliver other than by treating England unfairly, because – through asymmetric devolution – they’ve given away the tools to deliver the strategy in a consistent and equitable manner across the whole UK!

To give them their due, the BBC – in the two articles linked above – did make it clear that the above-inflation price hikes apply to England only. However, nobody seemed very inclined to point out that it is perhaps a tad unfair that English rail users should be expected to effectively cross-subsidise rail services in the UK’s other nations. All of the Twitter commentary I read today on the subject failed to mention that it was only England that was being burdened with the above-inflation fare increases. Indeed, one Labour blogger branded English Commonwealth as idiots for claiming that the 4.1% rise applied only to England, claiming that Scotland was also facing increases. Well, yes, it is, but – as we have seen above – these comprise only inflation-level rises for some regulated services and no increases for others.

Cue the predictable and obviously well planned demonstrations and press statements, with Labour calling for rail price-rise caps (forgetting that such a cap could apply only to England, as they’re already capped in Scotland), and others calling for rail services to be re-nationalised.

Well, Labour and the unions, there’s a problem about re-nationalising the railways, in case you’d forgotten: as a result of devolution, it’s the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that have responsibility for the rail franchises in their countries. Rail regulation is a reserved power of the UK government, so the train-operating companies could be nationalised. But that would involve stripping the devolved governments of their responsibility for rail services; and I don’t think it would go down too well in Scotland, at least, if First ScotRail were reabsorbed into a new British Rail.

In any case, if Scotland does vote for independence next year, then First ScotRail will, no doubt, ultimately be nationalised and become a state-owned national Scottish rail service. So there’s hardly any point bothering to devise a policy for rail re-nationalisation at this time – not that Labour seems very adept at articulating any coherent policies at all at the moment, at least not in England-specific matters such as rail franchises.

Well, now here’s an idea for them: as the UK government has responsibility for rail service providers in England only, how about a plan to re-nationalise the English railways? England Rail: now that has a certain ring to it!

Categories: Toque's feeds

Campaign launched for England to use an English anthem to be sung at the Rugby League World Cup

Anthem4England - Sun, 07/14/2013 - 18:10

A new campaign has been launched today calling for the English Rugby League team to sing an English anthem at the forthcoming Rugby League World Cup 2013. RLWC2013 is the first major international sporting tournament to take place in the UK since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and will see England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland competing against holders New Zealand, favourites Australia and Fiji, France, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Italy, Cook Islands, USA.

The campaign is supported by Anthem4England, who are campaigning for an English anthem for all England teams, by British Future and by rugby league fans including the Chair of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group, Greg Mulholland MP.

Rugby league fans are being urged to sign the petition, calling on the Rugby Football League to announce that England will use an English anthem, in the same way that the Commonwealth Games correctly uses an English anthem for English athletes, instead of using God Save the Queen – which should be used by UK and British teams, such as at the Olympics and also for occasions in the future when the Rugby League British and Irish Lions come together again. The petition is at http://englishanthemforrlwc2013.com/

During the World Cup, England will compete against both Scotland and Wales who will stand and sing ‘Flower of Scotland’ and ‘Land of My Fathers’ respectively so in the same way that the England team’s shirts proudly bear the English flag, the Cross of St George, they should sing an English anthem rather than using the UK anthem which equally belongs to Scotland and Wales.

Next year, the Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow and the ‘We are England’ team will be correctly using an English anthem, Jerusalem, after this was voted for in a poll before the last Commonwealth Games. See www.weareengland.org.

The campaigners are also writing to Rugby Football League Chief Executive Nigel Wood and Greg Mulholland, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group, has also tabled an Early Day Motion in support of the campaign which can be viewed here: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/391

Commenting Greg Mulholland, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group and Member of Parliament for Leeds North West, said:

“The 2013 Rugby League World Cup will be a great tournament, with the best rugby league nations coming together and in the same way that Scotland and Wales have their own anthem, the England Rugby League team needs one too”.

“As well as being a very fast, exciting sport, rugby league has always been known for being progressive and forward thinking. Now is the time for the Rugby Football League to follow the lead of the Commonwealth Games England and as well a proudly wearing the English colours and waving the English flag, using an English anthem”.

“I hope that we will see England signing an English anthem, not only when they take to the pitch in the first game of RLWC2013 at the Millennium Stadium on 26ht October , but also in the semi finals at Wembley and the final at Old Trafford and hopefully this time lifting the trophy and doing the whole of England proud”.

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“Hosting the Rugby League world Cup offers the RFL a great chance to put their sport in the spotlight by making the switch. As England Captain Kevin Sinfield is due to lead the team out for their first match in Cardiff I am sure the local audience would be pleased to see the English team recognise that being English and being British are not the same thing. There is a growing interest across all sports in having an English anthem when England take the field, with God Save The Queen used for British teams like team GB at the Olympics. Rugby League should take the lead.”

Gareth Young, of Anthem4England, said:

“The use of the British anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ by England, especially when competing against Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, smacks of imperialism. It also denies England its own discrete national identity whilst the Scots and Welsh are denied equal ownership of the British national anthem. The Cross of St George has replaced the British flag at English sporting events; it is now time to replace the British anthem with a distinctly English anthem starting with the Rugby League World Cup. Jerusalem works for me.”

Philip Davies, Conservative Member of Parliament for Shipley, said:

“I believe that it is about time that England had its own national anthem for sporting events when it is competing with the other nations within the UK. God Save the Queen in an anthem for the whole of the UK, and a separate English anthem would recognise this and also allow a greater sense of national pride in being English. I hope that the Rugby League World cup is the first tournament where this happens.”

Petition Co-ordinator Stuart Long added:

“I fully support this campaign for an English anthem to be played when England compete in Rugby League World Cup, as a nation England needs to have a unique voice like other nations of the United Kingdom like Wales & Scotland with a unique anthem.”

Categories: Toque's feeds

English National Anthem for the Rugby World Cup

Anthem4England - Fri, 07/12/2013 - 00:46

England and Wales host the Rugby League World Cup in October 2013.

Greg Mulholland MP has tabled the following EDM to persuade fellow MPs to support his call for the English team to use an English anthem instead of God Save the Queen. Please email your MP and ask them to support EDM 391 “ENGLISH NATIONAL ANTHEM FOR THE RUGBY WORLD CUP”.

That this House welcomes calls for an English anthem to be used by the England Rugby League team at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup which takes place between October and November in venues across England, Wales and France; further believes that the Rugby League World Cup 2013, which is the first major international sporting tournament played on these shores since the inspiring London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, should be the first major sporting tournament where an England team sings an English anthem; notes that the World Cup will see England, Wales and Scotland competing with the Wales team using Land of My Fathers and the Scotland team Flower of Scotland and therefore believes that England should not use the UK anthem, God Save the Queen, that equally belongs to Scotland and Wales, but should use an English anthem instead; calls on the Rugby Football League to announce that England will use an English anthem and perhaps organise a poll of England fans to decide what this should be, or use the anthem chosen for English athletes used at the Commonwealth Games; looks forward to the England Rugby League team taking to the pitch for the opening game of the Rugby League World Cup 2013 at the Millennium Stadium on 26 October and proudly singing an English anthem; and further wishes the best of luck to all the distinct home nation sides participating in the tournament and hopes that they are successful.

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English Commonwealth’s petition for an English anthem

Anthem4England - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 22:54

Please pop over to change.org to sign English Commonwealth’s petition for a distinctly English national anthem.

The sport governing bodies and associations of England: Adopt an English national anthem

The use of the British national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ as the English national anthem denies England its own discrete identity whilst the Scots and Welsh are denied equal ownership of the British national anthem. The Cross of St George has replaced the British flag at English sporting events; it is now time to replace the British anthem with a distinctly English anthem.

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