the English Question and immigration are intricately linked in two significant respects. Both issues are still no go areas for most major British politicians. Both issues feed the BNP vote.
According to Frank, not only should the democratic unfairness be addressed, but action is also required because "the English Question is being taken up seriously by the BNP". As regular readers will know I have been warning about the BNP's attempts to leap aboard the English bandwagon for a considerable time, and as my recent post on the English Democrats showed my concerns in this direction don't appear to have been shared by all. In fact the English Democrats appear to see a benefit in the far-right joining the English cause.
Over at the British Democracy Forum, English Democrat, Steve Uncles, states that "I think it's great [that] 3 Different Flavours of English Nationalists are Standing in Elections this year", whatever flavour of English Nationalism they represent. One of the flavours to which he refers is the distinctly racial England First Party, with whom Steve Uncles has met, and whose policies include:
- Repatriation of all immigrants to their lands of ancestral origin
- Capital punishment for all murderers
- Restoration of the gibbet, stocks and whipping post for serious violent offenders, paedophiles, sex pests and drug dealers.
- The abolition of the Islamic faith and demolition of all mosques
When questioned as to whether he supports the restoration of the gibbet Steve Uncles jokes, "It's a printing error, I believe they want to still be able to get their giblets so they can make Chicken Soup!".
It's not just the England First Party, Steve Uncles also invites British National Party members over to English nationalist forums for the purpose of debate. Debate about what exactly? The answer may be revealed by the breathless excitement with which another English Democrat, David Lane, announces that the BNP are discussing a name change to the English National Party (ironically a name registered to the EDP themselves):
Both UKIP and the BNP are debating changing their names on their respective web sites.
THIS IS A QUOTE FROM A BNP FORUM
"Controversy is not the purpose of this thread.
For several reasons I think the BNP should change the Party's name to the English National Partry.
Scots, Irish and Welsh quite rightly have their own Nationalist Parties which are acceptable, even to the Establishment. But these Nationals are also British. Whenever anyone mentions British Nationalism it is as though the Black Death has returned. I have no idea why Scots, Welsh or Irish Nationalism is ok but not 'British'. For much the same reasons I think we should have an English Parliament. The 'other' Brits can sit in our Parliament but not vice versa. It would not only ruff the collars of those politiciams who hate the English, it may also be attractive to voters. Also, in an English Parliament, 'British' people would not be able to sit in it."
Looks like British is out and ENGLISH is in, both UKIP and BNP are now debating name changes !!!!!!!!
In case you missed it I draw your attention to:
"Also, in an English Parliament, 'British' people would not be able to sit in it."
As I have highlighted previously, it is the belief of the BNP that an English parliament should contain only the ethnic English, hence the quotes around the word British.
In an article on the English Democrats News blog Steve Uncles recognises that the BNP are adopting English nationalism for pragmatic reasons and suggests that a change of name and loyalty would be beneficial to them:
The failing BNP along with failing UKIP realise the English Nationalism is the only viable alternative political view point.
The problem these Unionist parties have is that they don't have England or English in their name - the English Democrats is the only way forward.
After all, you could claim that you have "fallen out" with the English Demcorats, as we don't have a policy of English Independence.
You may also be able to vote out/demand their silly immigration policy is scraped, as a reason for joining, and then vote to merge with the English Democrats after this is achieved.
It would then give us an angle on what is going on, with a possiblity of neutralising them.
I guess that Martin, and Alan may also be interested.
(English Democrats special forces?)
We may have our different views, but we are all trying our best for England.
The silly immigration policy to which Steve refers is the encouraged repatriation of "post-WW2 non-European mass immigrants to return to their countries of origin, culture and extended families" to "restore a SINGLE, EXCLUSIVE ENGLISH CULTURE as a basis for government policy". Silly indeed, but why would he want to incorporate these people into the English Democrats Party; is support for an English parliament his only criteria?
In addition the EDP have also written to England's Parliamentary Party to suggest a merger, and they are completely obsessed with both UKIP and Veritas, with their one notable scalp being the defection of the West Dorset UKIP branch to the EDP. An obsession that led Dr Richard North to observe that:
English Democrats, by the way - superficially attractive - is, inter alia a sink hole for little Englanders. Some of the names I recognise as trouble-makers from UKIP days, people whom UKIP was fortunate to lose when they deserted to Veritas and who have since found refuge in their final bolt-hole as the Kilroy party falls apart.
The EDP will doubtless take pride in such an attack from a unionist political opponent (even if he is, like them, Eurosceptic). But what if North has a point, what if all this courting of fringe parties is populating the English Democrats with a load of undesirables, with dubious motives, from the fringes? And what if the perception that the English movement is populated with such people is preventing it from becoming a mainstream movement?
Recruitment for recruitment's sake appears to be the raison d'être. One English Democrat correspondent on Political Betting even boasts that he has "converted many BNP voters into supporters of an independent English Parliament and English Democrat voters". He then hopefully adds, "Race does not enter our politics". I'm sorry to be a party-pooper, but if you recruit from the BNP then race will enter your politics.
The England effect, if it does happen, needs to be a cross-party, mainstream and pluralist campaign for English national emancipation; it will not come about from an unholy alliance of ethnic nationalists, eurosceptics and disaffected British nationalists, and it will not benefit from people that are in it for purely pragmatic reasons.
The Campaign for an English Parliament, who will have stalls at the Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences, tend to focus their attention on persuading the centre-ground of the benefits of a political Englishness. For me it is the CEP's policy that represents the way forward, but regrettably the actions of other English nationalist groups have held the CEP back in that respect.
Frank Field is correct, the English Question and Immigration are linked, but not only in the two ways that he describes. They are also linked in a third way because there is an overlap between civic English nationalists, campaigning for a constitutional Englishness, and ethnic English nationalists primarily concerned with what England can do for them; an overlap that is reinforced by the EDP's attempt to tap into the pool of ethnic nationalism and British nationalism to garner support for their goal of an English parliament. In doing so they make a strategic and ethical mistake.
I reiterate my previous advice to the English Democrats:
There’s a huge centre-ground of people who vote Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, and it’s those people that the English Democrats need to attract. This won’t be achieved from a position in the gutter. The EDP have never taken my advice on anything (which is why I reluctantly write this article), and perhaps they won’t now, but for what it’s worth here’s my advice: Stop meeting with racists, instead you should fight them; differentiate yourselves from ethnic nationalists in the minds of the public, help show that English nationalism is not soft white nationalism; move yourself out from the fringes, focus on the mainstream; stop poaching from other parties, recruit from your own ranks, and; for all our sakes start preaching the progressive nationalist values that I think you believe in, make those your main focus and people will find common ground with you.
Since this unseemly business was cleared up Steve Uncles has ended his silence and popped up on the British Democracy Forum to announce his belief that it's time for all English parties to "put aside their differences to agree a common strategy and campaign for the European 2009 Elections." It sounds reasonable enough until you realise that one of the parties Uncles is talking about is the England First Party. For me, and all the English nationalists that I know, such differences are impossible to put aside.
Sadly it was no great surprise to read that Matt O'Connor had accused the English Democrats Party of involvement with the far-right:
“I realised the English Democrats were working with ‘England First’ and had no choice other than to resign there and then.
“They try to present themselves as respectable ‘Middle England’ with leading members being solicitors and housewives.
“But the reality is something far different.
No great surprise, but still a disappointment because four years previously I had contacted the English Democrats over this very issue to warn them about their association with Third Way and, specifically, The Freedom Party through their English Lobby. Due to my naming of specific individuals the English Democrats accused me of being a member of Searchlight, but having assured them that I was not I eventually received the following reply from them:
----- Original Message -----
From: "Steven Uncles"
Cc: Christine Constable; Robin Tilbrook
Sent: Sunday, October 03, 2004 3:52 AM
Subject: English Democrats - 'Partner Parties
Just to respond to your question about 'English Democrats Party - Partner Parties'
The English Lobby was set up by Christine Constable, and included
All parties (I understand) had differing policies, but they shared the desire to have an English Parliament.
Christine has since been told that the some members of the Freedom Party are former National Front, and also they seem to be having some internal squabbles so it has been difficult to communicate with them.
Therefore the English Lobby is now officially just
I have personally had conversations with the following parties
Senior Citizens Party
English Independence Party
New England Party
The Senior Citizens Party is led by a founder CEP member, so they are in favour of an English Parliament, but also in favour of Regional Assemblies.
England First is led by Mark Cotterill [link added by Toque], who has a history of White Nationalism, however (he says) that some of his members are far more moderate in terms of racism - before you totally dismiss them, then I would suggest you have a meeting, after all most of their agenda is pro-English.
We communicate with England First, to ensure that we don't put up candidates against each other in the same election - I am sure you would agree that this is tactically sensible.
Countryside Party - we are trying to make them aware of the English Constitutional mess we are in.
Liberal Party - we have manage to convince the Liberals that English issues need to be addressed.
We speak and lobby a large number of parties, including UKIP, Conservatives, and Labour and Liberals.
We also try to speak to Scottish and Welsh Nationalists.
We do not have any formal channels with the BNP.
There are only four active English Nationalist Parties that I am aware of.
English Democrats (Non-Racist)
New England Party (Non-Racist)
English Independence Party (Some Racist views)
English First Party (Some Racist views)
I am not personally a racist, however I do not think that this should stop me (and anyone from the English Democrats Party) talking to other English Parties, who may have some racist views - for a start you may be able to 'convert' them if you talk to them !!!!!!
As for the ECC, this is 'open' to all those interested in the future of England, so we can't really shut people out of this.
Steve Radford, Chairman of the Liberal Party is openly 'gay' but I think you would agree that this should not stop the Liberals taking part in the ECC.
The Countryside Party, want to chase foxes, again, does this preclude these people from debating the future of England ?
The Senior Citizens Party, as I see it is prejudice against people under the age of 50, again this is not something I agree with, but should it preclude them from taking part in the ECC ????
Both the England First Party, and the English Nationalist Party, are suggesting policies of voluntary repatriation, well again, this is not something that I think they should have in their policies, but again does this preclude them from discussing the future of England ??????
I have a personal rule that I always meet people before making a judgement on what they are, or what they have supposed to have done.
I would strongly suggest that the CEP sends someone to meet with England First before you jump to conclusions, and demand that they take links off of their site, as these sort of communications will cause bad feeling - there are enough people to fight, without creating a few more!!!!!!!!
Focus on what you have in common with people, rather then what you have that is different - that's my advice anyway.
Hope this helps
It is deeply worrying that the English Democrats think you can 'convert' racists into English nationalists by talking to them. Not only does it display an astonishing naivety, but one also has to ask "Why?". As an avowedly civic nationalist party the English Democrats ought to be putting up candidates against racist ethnic nationalists and fighting them on the doorsteps with an inclusive brand of English nationalism. Trying to convert right-wing goons, or negotiating a strategic alliance with them, is not only morally repugnant but also down-right stupid and self-defeating.
That racists can be converted into English nationalists appears to be beyond doubt if the EDP website is to be believed. In this article Alan Winder (who according to some sources has links with the National Front, BNP and Combat18) describes his journey from white nationalism to British nationalism to English nationalism, as if it's a quite natural progression; English nationalism as a position of convenience when political reality has extinguished the political potency of other nationalisms. Frankly I'm appalled by it because that's not how I arrived at English nationalism, and I have no desire to be associated with such people. But unfortunately - as an English nationalist - I am associated with it because of the contacts the EDP forge and the drivel that they publish on their website.
|The EDP's Alan Winder article even hotlinks to now removed images on the England First Party website|
Due to a recent acrimonious party split, in which two national council members left the English Democrats, it was revealed that the EngDems had yet again been meeting with the England First Party, which is presumably the source of Matt O'Connor's accusations. Naturally I was horrified. Steve Uncles confirmed to me that two meetings had taken place with the England First Party, one in 2003 and one in 2007, and went on to reveal his strategy: "it is highly unlikely that he will get elected if two English parties stand in the same area". But a different story emerged from the English Democrats Communications Officer, Ed Abrams, who told me that "NO meeting was ever agreed to or sanctioned by the NC of our party", and "if a meeting did take place then it was down to that individual and nothing to do with the party"..
The obsession that the EngDems have with minor fringe players is, in my opinion, damaging to the cause of civic nationalists like me. As well as these various little English parties they've also tried to poach the likes of Winston McKenzie and Robert Kilroy-Silk from Veritas, and then came their one notable success: Matt O'Connor.
There's a huge centre-ground of people who vote Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, and it's those people that the English Democrats need to attract. This won't be achieved from a position in the gutter. The EDP have never taken my advice on anything (which is why I reluctantly write this article), and perhaps they won't now, but for what it's worth here's my advice: Stop meeting with racists, instead you should fight them; differentiate yourselves from ethnic nationalists in the minds of the public, help show that English nationalism is not soft white nationalism; move yourself out from the fringes, focus on the mainstream; stop poaching from other parties, recruit from your own ranks, and; for all our sakes start preaching the progressive nationalist values that I think you believe in, make those your main focus and people will find common ground with you.
UPDATE: See The English effect is happening!
The Labour Party have responded to concern about the rise of the BNP (expressed by Frank Field and Gary Younge amongst others) with a press release entitled "Newcomers must earn the right to stay in the UK":
"The public overwhelmingly supports the idea of newcomers earning their right to stay. Today we show how we'll make these ideas law, hand in hand with our new points system for selective migration, like the one that's worked so well in Australia."
That would be a points system as previously advocated by the EDP and UKIP would it?
For once though this is a joined up approach to government from New Labour. Not only will immigrants have to earn the right to abode, they - both political refugees and economic migrants - will be discouraged from coming here in the first place by a skilfully engineered downturn in the economy and an erosion of civil liberties to match the totalitarianism of the third world that they traditionally fled from.
The Chancellor’s Lecture given at The University of Hertfordshire on the 3rd June 2008 by The Rt. Hon. Frank Field MP
English voters are awakening from the great slumber into which they fell when Parliament passed its first devolution measure establishing a Scottish Parliament.
The Act of Devolution cannot be a final settlement. Indeed the Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, registered as much when she recently called for an early referendum on independence. Yet her plea was couched as though it was an exclusively Scottish matter. For reasons I am about to detail any referendum needs to be UK wide. The English, Welsh and citizens of Northern Ireland have as much interest and as much a right to be consulted over the break up of the Kingdom, and on what terms, as do the Scots themselves.
Pressures have been building up to revisit the devolution settlement. The English feel that the settlement is unfair both constitutionally and financially. Scottish Members vote on legislation that does not affect their constituents but it does mine. Likewise, the fiscal disadvantages devolution places on my constituents compared with Scottish and Welsh voters, will also ensure that there is inevitably a second great Devolution Act. The fiscal discriminations cover, for example:
- frail citizens in Scotland not facing residential care home fees as they do in England;
- Scottish citizens being treated with the Lucentis drug for macular degeneration of the eye while English citizens simply lose their sight awaiting action from NICE;
- Scottish students going to University not paying top-up fees of £3,000.00 per year as do English students going to University; and,
- most English citizens paying prescription charges while none face such charges in Wales.
These advantages would be entirely acceptable if they were funded by Scottish and Welsh taxpayers. Yet the Scottish Parliament has resolutely refused to use any of its fundraising powers and, of course, the Welsh Assembly has no such powers to employ.
The choice is not whether there will be a second devolution measure. That will occur. The choice is now about who will lead the change – whether it will be Gordon Brown or David Cameron. No one is better placed than the Prime Minister, representing a Scottish constituency, to deliver justice to English voters. The political rewards of doing so could be considerable.
The dangers for Labour of failing to lead the debate are perhaps even greater. That conclusion may come about not simply by the Tories being generally accepted by voters as the English Party. An even worse outcome would be for Labour to concede to the BNP yet another issue – along with immigration – with which to appeal to Labour’s core voters. If this was allowed to happen we would then begin to witness what a future historian might call The Unnecessary Death of Labour England?
I begin by thanking Lord Salisbury for a further act of friendship by inviting me to give the Chancellor’s Lecture. I remain grateful to him and Lady Salisbury for the many acts of kindness they have extended to me over three decades of much valued friendship.
Walter Bagehot may not be as well known to many of you as he is to your Chancellor. But if I had been standing here a hundred and forty years ago this would not have been so. Bagehot was one of a small group of Victorians who had what is called today ‘name recognition’. Not a recognition, to be sure, like that of Mr Gladstone who was Prime Minister and superstar rolled into one. Bagehot was not quite in that league. But among a significant proportion of the population his was a name with which to conjure.
Bagehot was a journalist of great distinction. He edited The Economist, the weekly magazine that now sells a record 1.2 million copies worldwide each week. But it is not for his editorial skills that Bagehot is now best remembered. His fame primarily comes from his study which he entitled: The English Constitution.
Political power on the move
This volume is a monument to Bagehot at his best. It reveals him to be one of the most original political observers of his day. Bagehot was less interested in the persons who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and, as Shakespeare tells us, are then heard no more – although it is doubtful whether he could have written his great book without this day to day contact with political action.
When Bagehot came to write his Magnum Opus he wasn’t much interested in the doings of those who exercised political power. Much more important, Bagehot thought, was the recording of those institutions through which power was exercised, how the hierarchy of institutional importance had changed, was changing, and would continue to change. If politicians as a class want to exercise power they have to be ready over time to indulge in a never ending game of musical chairs, moving as power moves from one political institution to another.
So why is Bagehot important to us today? Bagehot has an obvious attraction for the historian of ideas. He was the first writer with wide appeal to focus exclusively on how power within the British constitution had moved from the monarchy, to the great landed interests represented in the Lords, only for the Lords to see power shift to the Commons as the country moved to a universal franchise. Other writers had, of course, described this turn of events, but only as part of a much larger scene. Bagehot made the transference of power between institutions the canvas on which he painted his whole study.
But it is not as an historian of political ideas that Bagehot is relevant today. One of Bagehot’s other books was on the relationship between physics and politics. Here lies the key. Physics, as you know, is a term for those sciences which deal with natural phenomena such as motion, force, light and sound. Bagehot rightly saw political power as a force which was similarly almost impossible to contain in one place, let alone in one institution, on a permanent basis. Politics are never static. That is why the picture Bagehot painted, of political power on the move between the great institutions of state, was an accurate one. The institutions through which power was exercised had changed, was changing and would continue to change.
When I was an undergraduate a gifted labour politician, R H Crossman, wrote a new introduction to The English Constitution and this is the edition I read. Here Crossman brought up to date Bagehot’s story of power on the move. The Commons had lost out to the Executive. Later, Crossman as a reforming leader of the House of Commons during Harold Wilson’s Governments, tried to introduce a new range of Committees through which, he hoped, MPs would claw back some of the power they had lost to the Executive.
This story, it is true, was also told by other politicians who had the gift of observation. Quentin Hogg, who later became Lord Hailsham, only to revert back to his Quentin Hogg status, and then yet again to become Lord Hailsham, in a futile attempt to gain the power of the premiership, is a story in itself of a person moving between Lords and Commons twice over. Yet there is so much more to Lord Hailsham than his vain attempt to gain the keys to Number 10. Lord Hailsham was also a great craftsman of the English language, erudite, and an astute political observer. Even if he did not coin the phrase of an ‘elected dictatorship’, he certainly popularised it. Power had moved from the Commons to the Executive and Parliament had failed to develop counter balancing forces.
Power moves from London
If Bagehot were standing here before you today I believe he would radically change the framework within which he would now audit power. In Bagehot’s day much economic and most political power was exercised in London. As this is no longer so I believe his eye would have led him to open new chapters of his book. Since Bagehot wrote, political power has moved from London. That shift has primarily been to Brussels. More relevant for this address, it has also moved from London into the newly established Parliaments and Assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am also confident that Bagehot would stress the adjective in his title The English Constitution.
The German Parliament has recently issued a report detailing how the vast majority of legislation going through the Bundestag is not now initiated directly by the German Government, or by German members of Parliament, but on the direction of Brussels. If that is a correct figure for Germany then similar figures must relate to all other member countries of the European Union.
I do not now want to use Bagehot’s eyes to develop this geographical movement of political power from London to Brussels. It was quite clear when we had the debate over the new European Constitution, which the Government prefers to call a Treaty, that voters rightly wished to have a say on whether that constitution should be adopted. Yet, while British voters are by a large margin against any further loss of political power to Brussels, they are far from clear, if the polls are to be believed, on how they might regain some of their lost sovereignty.
Rather, I wish to turn Bagehot’s eyes to the second and less remarked upon geographical movement of power within the United Kingdom: the establishment of a Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and what will inevitably flow from these initial changes.
The Government seeks to present devolution as a process that is now complete. They could not be more mistaken. Devolution currently is a process, not a destination. That destination will inevitably be the establishment of Parliaments or Assemblies which treat the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. A UK Parliament will then deal only with those matters that have not been delegated to each of the four country-based Parliaments.
The West Lothian Question
Sometimes political change is brought about by the sheer force of argument. More often, the political landscape begins to shift as a result of those people with enough power to bring about change beginning to flex their muscles. In the early days of devolution the then Member for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, posed what has since become known as the West Lothian Question. Once some power has been conceded to a Scottish Parliament how could Scottish Members of Parliament continue to vote on issues from which their constituents were exempt? That was the question Tam posed and for which he, and now a growing body of us amongst the English electorate, are waiting for an answer.
The question initially carried little weight because, prior to establishing a Scottish Parliament, devolution could only be discussed at a purely theoretical level, and the English in particular have never been much interested in theory. In stark contrast, today, the debate is about the practical results of the first stage of devolution and those practical consequences are seen, in part, in the inequitable treatment between my constituents and the constituents of Scottish MPs.
I have constituents going blind through the macular degeneration of their eyes. The policy in England is that the Lucentis drug has yet to be formally licensed by NICE. Of those of my constituents in this position, one has a relative in Scotland suffering the same degeneration of his eyes as himself. His relative’s sight is being saved. For in Scotland, unlike in England, there are no restrictions on the use of this drug. My constituent, however, continues his downward path into blindness already so developed that, when I met him recently in Liverpool, he did not recognise me until I spoke.
The cost of personalised care in a person’s home or in residential accommodation is another growing bone of contention. Constituents of Scottish MPs do not face these charges although some of my correspondents from north of the border tell me the policy is not applied as universally as the English media reports. What is certain is that my constituents gain help on a means tested basis. They see their home for which they saved all their lives, and capital which they hoped to pass onto their children, being eaten away by the payment of fees their Scottish counterparts do not face. The Government has just published a consultation paper on how the English and Welsh should pay for the long term care. In stark contrast and without any consultation papers, the Scots receive free care.
There is a discussion to be had on whether housing capital is a form of savings which should be drawn down in weekly income to supplement a pension, or to meet nursing home bills. But that is a debate for another day. What is becoming centre stage is the birth of what can simply be called the politics or the question of England. That debate is beginning to focus around the objection English voters have to Scottish MPs voting on matters that do not apply to Scotland. The debate is also beginning to centre on the fiscal discrimination currently being experienced by the English, Northern Irish and Welsh people. My constituents do not believe it is fair that they should face a constitutional discrimination as well as meeting additional costs which identical people in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales, do not face. This, in a sentence, is the English Question.
My third example is one which will probably strike a more immediate note with many younger people. Students attending University in this country will have to pay top-up fees of £3000 per year to the University towards the cost of their degree, to say nothing of the additional living costs while you study. In Scotland, higher education is provided completely free of charge and consequently Scottish students do not leave college with a huge debt as they do in England. Instead once Scottish students graduate they pay an endowment equivalent to less than one years worth of fees in England.
It is not, however, solely Scottish citizens that are enjoying such financial advantages. My last example concerns a decision that was made by the Welsh Assembly earlier this year. As of the 1st April all Welsh citizens ceased paying prescription charges for their medication.
English taxpayers stump up
There might be a case for allowing different levels of provision within the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom if those areas claiming favourable treatment paid themselves for those additional services. However, that is not what is happening. With respect to prescriptions, residential care, and student fees, Scottish and Welsh citizens are treated more favourably than English constituents and, furthermore, these differences are not financed by any additional revenue from Scottish or Welsh voters.
Wendy Alexander, the leader of the Labour opposition in the Scottish Parliament, has gone on record to advise the English to stop whingeing about Scottish cash. Figures from the Scottish executive show that, on average, the UK Government spends £1,236 more on every person in Scotland than it does in England. The Scottish Labour leader went on to say that “it does not come down to numbers. Every part of the UK outside London is a net beneficiary from the Exchequer, and Scotland does not get a uniquely good deal”.
But that is what it does come down to. Numbers are, after all, the only means we have of measurement, and indeed the Labour leader in Scotland is wrong to assert that every region bar London is a net beneficiary from the Exchequer. Three regions are net contributors and they are all in England.
It is true that regions like Merseyside, part of which I represent in the Commons, are net beneficiaries of funds over the South East, but I come back to the examples I have already given. The different levels of funding do not result in different levels of services between the different regions of England. Yet my constituents suffering from degeneration of the eye are treated differently and less favourably from Ms Alexander’s. Similarly students going to University from my constituency are treated differently and more unfavourably than students going to University from her constituency. Likewise frail elderly constituents going into residential care in my constituency, or having personal care delivered to them in their own homes, are treated differently and more unfavourably than constituents in her constituency. Moreover, it is noticeable that there has never been a hint that Scotland should pay for its advantages by asking Scottish voters to pay directly for them.
A sign that the present settlement cannot continue came quite recently. As a prelude to her becoming the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Wendy Alexander conceded that the Barnett Formula – the fiscal settlement that entrenches the monetary advantage given to Scotland – should at least be up for debate. The new Labour leader is to be congratulated on acknowledging that the first Devolution Act has not delivered a final settlement in stone.
There are other pressures for change in addition to these inequalities. Four other events will bring the English question centre stage. The first came from the first speech from the throne which Gordon Brown wrote for the monarch. The content of the home affairs section of this Queen’s Speech applied in its entirety to my constituents. The same was not true for the constituents of the Rt. Hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. I concede that that need not be of immediate concern to the life of the Government. Its majority is assured in the Commons. But we need to think beyond the life of this parliament. How will these issues play in a General Election? I would hazard a guess that the debate in the country is likely to begin a new turn and will become less friendly to Labour in England.
The second event which will itself begin to engender change will be the Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, himself sitting for a Scottish constituency, published the pre-budget statement along with the much delayed deliberations on public expenditure levels for 2008-09 to 2010-11. These publications offer an opportunity to begin discussing in earnest the Barnett Formula. I am anxious to seek ways in which all public expenditure announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be defended on need, and not simply by historic accident. People on lower income levels in Scotland and Wales should continue to be supported but not to a greater extent than people living on the same level of income in my constituency.
The inequities in the present system are not defensible and should be addressed. But there is for Labour a real threat which could all too easily have a catastrophic impact on the party’s ability to challenge for power in England.
The Blair Governments stubbornly refused to face the English Question somehow believing that, if it recited enough times the word ‘British’, the English would become confused enough to let current matters rest. But polls suggest otherwise. During the last Scottish Parliamentary elections, for example, those polls that addressed the devolution question to the English found that there was a higher proportion of voters in England in favour of greater independence for England than there were Scottish voters wanting that independence for their country.
The English Question, that slumbering giant in British politics, is beginning to stir. Either Labour can complete that process of awakening by seeking a radically new settlement. Or that debate will inevitably be initiated by those who will be less friendly to Labour’s interest. Failure to act may not simply benefit the Conservative Party. Further inaction could provide the BNP with another political bridgehead into the core Labour vote.
Gordon Brown is ideally placed to lead this initiative. Just as it was conventional wisdom that the Tories were best placed to enact decolonisation so, similarly, will a Scottish Prime Minister be best placed to resolve the English question.
By initiating a debate, and admitting that at this stage no one quite knows where the process will lead, Gordon Brown would both set some of the parameters as well as the speed of the debate. More importantly, the new devolution settlement would be one upon which Labour can put its imprint. And most of us know how first impressions are often decisive.
The Prime Minister does not have much time if he is to be seen to be the instigator, rather than simply reacting to the next wave of devolution. Since drafting this lecture Wendy Alexander is showing a strong political will where Scottish Labour interests are put before the equivalent UK interests. It shows how strong the myths of political parties are that David Cameron is so blinded by the Unionist part of the Conservative Party’s logo that he doesn’t see that he leads in all but name an exclusively English Party. The Tories are hard-pressed to win a single seat north of the border or across the Irish Sea. All their seats bar four come from English constituencies.
England is in resentful mood. It believes that the settlement made during the first round of devolution was unfair and remains so unfair that it is becoming one of the festering sores in English politics.
A further advantage of Gordon Brown beginning a debate on an English Parliament would be that he would hopefully extend the agenda to cover the voting system as well as the powers of an English Parliament, although it was noticeable that the biggest constitutional question facing the country was omitted from the terms of reference for the Speaker’s Conference the Prime Minister intends calling.
It should also set new parameters to the debate on House of Lords reform. The second chamber should become a vocal point where UK interests are debated and settled. A regional elected Lords would have the authority to do this, although such a turn of events, with the second chamber gaining new key powers, would excite Bagehot, amongst others.
Anyone who has heard the Prime Minister in private realises that his views on devolution are set by the need to protect minorities in an island dominated by the English. This may be an argument that wins through in the end, but it won’t if Britain slides resentfully into a new political arrangement after little meaningful debate.
But that is an issue to be fully debated in the round. The question is not whether there is going to be a new debate leading inevitably to a new devolution settlement, but who will lead that debate. Will it be Brown or Cameron?
Pressure for change may come from a third force. Alex Salmond has played a pretty faultless hand since becoming First Minister in Scotland. In his White Paper on Scottish Independence he has made it plain that he sees the monarch as continuing to be the head of an independent Scotland. That statement alone neutralises one of the political cards which Alex Salmond might have found being played against him. But it does so in a way that begins to lay down how the four independent countries of the UK would continue to work together on those political issues which cannot be settled by each country’s constituent Parliament.
If past form is anything to go by, Alex Salmond will be a very proactive player in this debate which is another reason why I would plead with the Prime Minister to act quickly. One move I would expect the Leader of the Scottish Parliament to make shortly would be to agree with the nationalist parties in Wales, and Northern Ireland that no nationalist Members who normally attend Westminster will in the future vote in the UK Parliament on those issues which have been devolved to each country’s constituent Parliament or Assembly. There is no single move which would highlight more clearly the role Scottish Labour Members of Parliament play in voting through laws which only apply to England. Gordon Brown needs to act to prevent the English question erupting in the run up to a general election. At that stage it will be too late for the Government to save its face in many of its English seats.
Power moving between political parties
There is also a fourth and final force at work making for a new Devolution Bill and this relates also to Bagehot’s analysis pinpointing the mobility of political power. Bagehot lived during the establishment of two recognisable political parties that began competing for power from a growing electorate. Part of his brilliance was to notice that, as these parties were establishing themselves to act as the agents through which our ideas of representative and responsible government would operate, political power was also on the move between the institutions through which these political parties would exercise power.
Great as Bagehot’s powers were they did not extend to futurology. It was decades after his death political power moved again, but this time not just between the great institutions of state, but by the replacement of Liberal Party by the Labour Party.
That fate was determined by the failure of the Liberal Party to come to terms fully with a growing enfranchisement to the working class. Reluctantly Labour leaders responded to this failure by the Liberal Party to represent more fully the Labour interest by forming their own political party that significantly went under the banner of the Labour Representation Committee.
Parties that consistently fail to represent their core vote are liable to die. The fate of the Liberal Party was summed up in George Dangerfield’s book The Strange Death of Liberal England.
Labour stands poised at a similar juncture to that occupied by the Liberals prior to 1918. Labour has failed to represent its core vote on two issues which these voters put towards the top of their agenda. It has allowed uncontrolled immigration with its impact not just on earnings but more generally on housing, schools and other public services, to the disadvantage of working class English voters, both white and black.
Here is another opening for the BNP. Just as Labour voters have been prepared to support the BNP as a means of registering their wish to see the number of new arrivals to this country controlled, even more maybe prepared to look around to find a party that will assert their English identity.
I hope I have succeeded in demonstrating that Bagehot’s approach to studying English politics is as relevant today as ever. While spin may settle the daily political account it ignores those long term changes which prove fundamental to the kind of nation we are. I believe Bagehot would today suggest that we need to understand how power has moved from the UK Parliament in a way that damages English voters. It is an issue which, I believe, will come to dominate politics. I hope this might lead some of the students here to borrow a copy of Bagehot’s The English Constitution from the library. Perhaps others of you might buy a paperback edition which is still in print - a sure indication that publishers, if not all politicians, believe that Bagehot’s ideas are once again likely to become highly relevant. I hope above all that I have persuaded at least some of you to read this great classic as I did when I went up to University.
Let me in this conclusion move the debate further into today’s politics as I am sure Bagehot would have done. The two issues of immigration and Englishness have been denied a legitimate role in our parliamentary representative system. Speaker Weatherill was fond of asserting that, if parliament refused to discuss issues of great importance to voters, voters might try and settle these issues on the streets.
Speaker Weatherill did not see the role the BNP might play in keeping these issues largely off the streets by taking them back into the council chamber and then, if we fail to act, into parliament itself. Bagehot would have appreciated how new forms of representation might come about, and that a new political party would work through, instead of outside our political institutions.
The failure to act decisively to protect our borders accounts in part for the widespread disillusionment with Labour and, in particular by our core working class supporters. Failure to embrace the English Question will account for more than a political double whammy. It may act as the final straw for many families who have been Labour ever since we became a political force. To allow another party to embrace and steer the debate on the English Question harbours a danger that could threaten our existence as a major political force.
Too many voters have already thought the unthinkable on immigration and then acted by voting BNP. Labour voters are increasingly footloose and will vote against us at the General Election if they believe we have sold them short on both immigration and the English Question.
70 years ago what became a best selling book was written by George Dangerfield and published under the title The Strange Death of Liberal England. To concede the English Question to others because, in the short-term, that is the easiest course of action, could lead a future historian to write The Unnecessary Death of Labour England. We must act to keep such a book firmly in the realms of fantasy
Tom Nairn, After Britain (2000):
Blair’s Project makes it likely that England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities. Croaking tabloids, saloon-bar resentment and back-bench populism are likely to attend the birth and to have their say. Democracy is constitutional or nothing. Without a systematic form, its ugly cousins will be tempted to move in and demand their rights – their nation, the one always sat upon and then at last betrayed by an elite of faint hearts, half-breeds and alien interests.
I have, many many times in the past, echoed Tom's warning that English nationalism could become a sinister force if England's constitutional disadvantage was not addressed by the Government:
...in England we are seeing an identity gulf opening up between the white and non-white sections of society; the whites adopting Englishness, and the non-whites/ethnic minorities adopting Britishness. This is a dangerous development...The Government must start building an inclusive civic national identity for England or face a ticking racial timebomb that the BNP will be only too quick to capitalise on. It will happen, mark my words (CEP News)
See English Civic Nationalism for further discussion on this. As it turns out Tom's words of warning (and mine and those of many others) have proved prophetic. Following is an extract from an article in support of an English Parliament from Identity: Magazine of the British National Party (Issue 73, Dec 2006):
...there is already a huge and growing groundswell of support for greater recognition of and rights for England and Englishness. Whether we approve of this or not will make no difference to this trend, but it will make a huge difference to our chance of coming to power. Any England-based readers who don't understand the head of steam this still incoherent movement already has, should stop ten white teenagers at random in the streets of a local town and ask if they regard themselves as European, British, or English...we cannot stand against the tide, and are far better advised to use it to propel our own advance. Someone is going to harness the power of English nationalism, and a large majority at last month's conference confirmed that we have the will to make it the BNP.
That the BNP seek to hijack English nationalism to further their own goals is hardly surprising, and neither is it a particularly new development:
Please prioritise bringing St. George and flags of the British Isles featuring crosses, such as the Flag of Saint Andrew. These flags should take priority over Union Flags at this demo.
What is new is the naked opportunism that they display in doing so. Quite clearly they have identified English nationalism as a growing force and brazenly seek to utilise it to achieve their ends. You can hardly blame them for doing so. If I were in their shoes I would do the same because the politics of English identity is a political void into which the three main political parties are afraid to tread. And now the fools rush in.
The full BNP article can be read here.
As many of you know, in addition to this blog, I also host the Witanagemot Club - a news aggregator and blog ring for English nationalist bloggers. The Witan site makes it clear that it is a single-issue campaign and that membership is open to all, regardless of ethnicity and regardless of party affiliation. It would be true to say that the majority of the blogs that are members are of a Conservative centre-right bent but I am proud to say that we have left-wing, right-wing, green, liberal, libertarian and foreign bloggers among our number; we truly are a cross-party and pluralist group with one uniting belief - that England should have its own parliament.
Recently, especially within the last month, many BNP bloggers have started applying for membership of the Witanagemot Club - a phenomenon that I couldn't understand until yesterday when I was emailed the BNP article on 'The Need for an English Parliament'. Naturally these Johny-come-lately English nationalist bloggers have been rather peeved when I have refused their application for membership, and understandably so given that we are supposed to be a cross-party, non-partisan, community. But I have very good reasons for refusing them, some of which came as a surprise to the BNP bloggers themselves who did not realise that the party's abhorrent views on an English parliament are completely and utterly in contradiction to the aims of the Witanagemot Club.
These are the views of Lee Barnes, Director of the BNP’s legal department, as expressed on the CEP News blog:
only the ethnic english would be allowed to register and vote
Everyone will have the right to vote in the British elections regardless of ethnicity - only indigenous Scots, English and Welsh will have the right to vote in their respective parliaments.
The welsh and scots parliament should also be ethno-specific parliaments to represent the indigenous peoples of those lands.
And from Lee Barnes column on the BNP website we have this:
The BNP manifesto states that we will set up an English Parliament for the indigenous Anglo-Saxon people. But this will be an English Parliament of the English People as opposed to an imaginary pseudo-English parliament composed of asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, Zulus, Kurds, Innuit, Iraqis, Tutsis, Somalis etc etc.
And in case you are in any doubt Lee Barnes would require you to undergo genetic tests in order to determine that you are eligible to vote in the indigenous parliaments of England, Scotland and Wales. It all makes New Labour’s biometric ID cards look rather tame by comparison.
The BNP's vision for England is an anathema to everything that I believe that England stands for, and what I believe England stands for is summed up very well by fellow Witanagemot member An Englishman's Castle:
...the England I believe in is a Taurean, placid, tolerant place - bucolic and green; but when tweaked capable of violence and rage. Not a nation founded on race but on a common culture, respects and language. Not constrained by geography, creed, breeding or birth - open to all who wish to belong. Feared and despised by many but a benefactor to most.
I'm sure that 'open to all who wish to belong' will be pounced upon by BNP members as literal rather than figurative; a function of my bourgeoisie, solipsistic, navel gazing, pseudo-English nationalism. But so be it. The comments are open.
So how should we pluralists respond to the BNP's communialist racial and religious nationalism? Well, I don't think that our rage should be directed at the BNP; why waste our breath? The people that we should be furious at are the Establishment politicians - Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem - whose English manifesto (or rather lack of) has allowed the BNP to jump on the populist bandwagon to try and appropriate English nationalism for their own. The BNP have not yet succeeded but who amongst the great and the good at Westminster will be willing to espouse a civic alternative to the BNP's ethnic English nationalism? David Blunkett's A New England: An English identity within Britain (pdf) was high on sentiment but devoid of political solutions, Gordon Brown's Britishness simply enrages England (and the Scots), and the Tories' English Votes on English Matters is a complete constitutional abortion.
All those politicians that are fannying about and prevaricating over Englishness should see this as a warning shot across their bows. Constitutionalists and political thinkers who toy with solutions that are anything less than national governance for the nation of England should also take heed. If they don't take heed then they should not be surprised by the announcement of the returning officer for Barking and Dagenham.