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Englishness

Stiff Upper Lip

Wogan:

Question: what defines "Englishness"? A nice cuppa tea? Royal Ascot? Henley Regatta? Fish 'n' chips?

A thousand examples spring to mind, but a listener came up with the ultimate story that separates this island race from Johnny Foreigner.

Some years ago, the great English cricket captain Ted Dexter was interviewed on a gantry at Lord's during a break in play, caused by a thunderstorm cracking overhead.

Ted was holding a black umbrella which was touching the steel roof above. Peter West, of blessed memory, asked: "What do you make of the game, Ted?"

Ted was strangely stiff and made no reply. Then, after a moment, he said: "I must apologise, Peter, but I've just been struck by lightning."

Tell me they're still making them like that.

I think that Shearer, Owen or Rooney, in such circumstances, would throw themselves to the ground screaming and keep writhing in agony until they were absolutely sure that everyone had seen them.

John Denham: Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!': Celebrating England and Englishness

Tonight I want to discuss England and Englishness.

And how we develop and celebrate a modern English identity.

And I want to do this from a particular point of view: from a political centre-left perspective.

It’s quite a long time, thank goodness, since it was the discussion of identity was outside polite political debate on the left.

But still important to set the context in which we look at identity.

Because I do think that the centre left should have a particular view on the nature and importance of identity; and I do think there are particular reasons why the centre left should take the issue seriously.

Politics is very much about who we are – as individuals, families and a society.

For all the effort poured into dividing lines about this or that piece of detailed or technical policy, the next election will be determined by which party has the most convincing story about our society and our country.

Who has the most convincing tale about where we have come from: and the most positive and optimistic story about where we go next.

These stories work because we have a sense of who we are; what our society represents.

Put a different way, people ask politicians to pass the ‘people like us’ test. Would this person, in power, and faced with an unexpected decision do what I would want them to do.

Again, in part the answer will be determined by voter’s sense of their character, and their policy instincts. But in part by their sense of identity. Is this someone I can identify with?

So the politics of identity is central to politics itself.

Any politics which does not concern itself with who we think we are is not likely to be as successful as it could be.

At its worst, though, the politics of identity can be collapsed into crude flag wrapping. Politician cloaking themselves in a national banner. Or to identify themselves as representing the national interest. We saw a particularly uncomfortable and unsettling version of that in Brighton on Sunday,

For the left, this can never do. A deep sense of patriotism and national allegiance does not and cannot blind us to the ambiguities we find in many national stories. A sense of Britishness derived solely from attitudes which were widely held in the British past would make uncomfortable reading today. National pride was intertwined with a sense of racial superiority which no decent person would contemplate today.

This recognition tends to divide left from right. The right tends to see national identity as a historical given; something to be discovered in our history.

The left, by contrast, prefers a sense of national identity which is constantly being told and re-told for changing times. One in which each generation can make its own new contribution.

That process, for us, is not only inevitable; it is desirable and necessary.

It does not reject history, Indeed it draws heavily on it. But it is inclusive, bringing in the history of all of those who now wish to share this identity. It understand that common identity is best developed through shared experience. It strengthens and brings cohesion to our society. Allowing us to enjoy the strength which comes from sharing a common story.

Two of the most potent stories in our history are of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. They speak deeply of two traits in both the British and the English national stories – the heroic national defeat; and standing alone against the world.

They are not, in my view, undermined by the more recent recognition that 2 and half million volunteers from the Indian Sub-Continent fought and were prepared to die in the Imperial armed forces in the Second World War. Rather, they are a new addition to the story of how our current freedom was won. It makes the family history many of today’s British Asian population a personal part of the national history in a new and richer way that many had realised before.

So for the left, the process of developing and celebrating a national identity is not passive; it is not one of research and discovery. But a living process; one which can be consciously shaped. One in which there are choices to be made.

As I shall argue a little later, the English national identity is the most neglected of the national identities of these islands. Less developed, and having had less effort invested in it, not only that of the national stories – most recently of Wales and Scotland – but also in the nationally focussed or nationally derived identities many of Britain’s newer communities.

This neglect is increasingly becoming a point of contention. One which we need to address.

But before developing that point, there are a couple of other diversions I want to make on this rather discursive preamble to Englishness itself.

You may have noticed that in the last few paragraphs I have referred both to British and English stories, and to nationally focused stories – like say British Bangladeshis – enjoyed by newer minority communities.

What this emphasises, of course, is that most of us are comfortable with multiple identities. It is quite possible to be English and British, to be a British Bangladeshi, or, as with my colleague Shahid Malik, a British Pakistani whose primary identity is English.

For the centre-left, identity is not about forcing a choice between competing identities, but enabling and encouraging people to be comfortable with a number of different identities if that’s how we chose to identify ourselves.

Of equal importance for the centre-left is our insistence on recognising people’s right to enjoy the identity people chose for themselves. We do not impose a ‘cricket test’.

Is there a contradiction here? Between recognising, encouraging and allowing multiple identities and the idea of a conscious, activist programme of developing a national identity – whether English or British?

Some would argue that once you recognise multiple identities, you enter a world of identity relativism – where because all identities are allowed, none should in any way be promoted or implicitly or explicitly favoured.

I don’t agree. That identity relativism turned out to the Achilles heel of one of Britain’s great social innovations, a real achievement – multiculturalism - which we, nonetheless, now have to re-assess. The problem of multi-culturalism was not its insistence on respect for those of different cultures, or of their freedoms to express themselves as they wish: it was the neglect of the glue that binds us together; it was the failure to recognise a multi-cultural society can only work if there is equal engagement and activity in building and developing shared values and the framework of a shared identity which enables us to be multicultural within a cohesive society.

So being relaxed about multiple identities, and multiple national identities, does not mean that it is not important to invest energy in developing a shared story of Britishness; and for those within England, a shared English identity. Not required, not compulsory, but shared as widely as possible.

My final diversion is to consider the role that national identities play in progressive politics.

As Gordon Brown has frequently said ‘This is a progressive era’.

Not that our era is automatically progressive; that people will unquestionably turn to progressive politics.

But that the challenges we face today, with global economic instability, climate change, the impact on personal risk and insecurity, the need for personal opportunity – all these factors require the a progressive philosophy an progressive policies.

In particular recognition that pursing the common good, working with active government is the only was to achieve what we need.

The art of turning the need for progressive politics into popular politics depends in embedding the progressive case in a particular time and case.

In other words, the case for progressive politics means very little as an abstract argument about values. It takes roots- indeed it only comes to life – if rooted in a story about how people with a common identity understand their history and their future.

Labour’s case for progressive politics must be more than simply saying – we are progressive, we have the right answers, choose us.

Labour’s case for progressive politics must be a way of saying that we are a vehicle through which the people of this country choose to take their country in a progressive direction.

Seen like this the 1997 election victory was not about Labour winning but about the people of Britain choosing to put behind them the selfishness, the neglect of the public realm, the abandonment of the public good which had characterised the Tories: and the people of Britain choosing to prioritise public services, the common good, the idea that we and our families would all do better in a society in which we all looked out for each other.

Seen like this, the choice for the next election is not about choosing Labour against the Tories, but about whether the people of this country choose to again to defend and recreate the public realm.

Whether we the people choose to put our national effort into re-shaping our economy. To rebuild consciously and deliberately an economy for the 21st century that is better balanced than in the past.

Whether we the people want to ensure that fairness will govern hard choices.

And whether we the people want to be confident that the internationalisms which is essential in the modern world is rooted in our national interest.

Labour’s message will work to the extent to which it is seen as the expression of a progressive politics, yes. But of a progressive politics which is at the same time, national, progressive and patriotic. About us and about the sort of country we want to be.

So identity politics will be one part of that national progressive and patriotic message for the coming general election.

But if it is, who is the ‘we’ that is the focus of a national progressive and patriotic politics.

At the most obvious, it is the people of Britain, the British people.

That umbrella identity is key to Labour’s view of Britain’s future. And there are many ways in which Britain, the Britishness, British values, British history and Britain’s future are the best way of expressing a national, progressive and patriotic message.

But it is not enough.

Labour introduced the devolution settlement because we recognised that within our commitment to the union and our commitment to Britain, it was right, desirable and necessary, to give real constitutional expression to the people of Wales and Scotland. Not because we wanted to undermine the union but because we believed that the union would be strengthened if national identity and national autonomy were recognised within the union.

That has been shown to be the right judgement.

But it leaves the question of where England and Englishness sits within any progressive, national and patriotic politics.

The case for Scottish and Welsh devolution recognised the positing of smaller nations within a political system which through sheer size England dominates within the overall politics of an unresolved union. That size means that there is no constitutional imperative for similar constitutional change.

But it does leave unresolved whether and how Englishness can and should be expressed within our national politics

The 2008 British Social Attitudes report found that people in England are substantially less likely to define themselves as British and more likely to assert an English identity than 15 years ago.

The British Social Attitudes survey has also asked people how they feel about the cross of St George.

Four out of five of the English population say that they feel a strong sense of belonging to England.

A wide range of surveys have found that people in England are more likely to see themselves as English than British – with many identifying as both.

Indeed, in recent years, I think we can point to three main trends in the development of interest in – and in the meaning of – Englishness.

First, there has been the rise in interest in Englishness itself.

I think there are two drivers of this.

The first is undoubtedly the success of the devolution settlement. Having spent almost my entire live living within a mile or two of the south coast of England I have never sought to pontificate on matters Scottish – though I do welcome the signs of the powerful support in Scotland for Labour’s belief that the best settlement is strong devolution within a strong union, and a rejection of separatism.

But I do know how things seem south of the border, or east of Wales. There is, beyond doubt, some envy for those who are able to express both their British identity and their Welsh or Scottish identity. Those who feel English ask increasingly whether their dual identity has a similar legitimacy.

The second driver is the recognition that some members of ethnic minority communities also express confidence in their dual identity, British and an identity of their community, related to the country of origin of them or increasingly their parents and grandparents. Where they ask, does this leave those who want to say we are English?

But if these have been the drivers of interest in Englishness, there have also been other significant changes. Not least in the idea – politically and culturally – of what it means to be English.

This summer during the World Cup, many English people of all ethnic origins will fly the St George’s Cross with pride. It was not always the case.

As Morrissey sang in Irish Blood, English heart ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful: to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial’.

In the 1970s and 1980s many English people did not want to fly the flag for fear of being identified as a white nationalist racist. It is generally agreed that it was during the Euro 96 football tournament that this changed. That the flag was regained for everyone. This did not just happen, there was a concerted effort to regain our national flag for all our support and value our nation.

Today, few people who support our national teams in football, rugby, cricket, hockey or numerous other sports either expect or want to support an all white team. Today, Englishness is no longer a statement of ethnic identity but a shared identity of all those who feel English, whatever their identity and want to express their support for it.

In truth, of course, this change in public attitude is no more than bringing sentiment into line with history. Throughout the centuries, the English have been a polyglot nation, forever refreshed and developed through new people and new influences. We love our history, but we know it is not pure. Of the millions in the West Midlands who proudly want the Mercian treasure hoard to stay there, how many could honestly claim a pure Mercian ancestry. It doesn’t really matter.

This is all good news for those who want Englishness to be a progressive national identity.

But there is a discernable third trend which we cannot dismiss or ignore. As Britishness has become established as a genuinely multi-ethnic identity, there are some who now seen an ethnic Englishness as the best way of resisting our diverse modern society.

In the last year we have seen the viciously anti Islamic English Defence League play to that idea. No one who has read my public statements about the EDL will be in any doubt about my rejection of their politics. It is though interesting that in their public statements – albeit entirely denied by their public actions – that they claim to represent a non-racist view of Englishness. A forced concession to the wider changes that have taken place.

The fear must be, however, that without positive action designed to promote a positive, modern and inclusive notion of Englishness, the idea of Englishness could once again slip back into a racist and ethnically defined view of what it is to be English.

Pride in Englishness is shared widely across English society, in all social classes. The story of English identity over the past 20 years has been predominantly positive and forward looking.

But in my work at CLG I have highlighted in the past year the position of some of the established white working class communities who have seen great social and economic change, including in some areas the impact of significant migration, who do ask who speaks for us. Despite the demonstrable investment in public services, housing and neighbourhood improvement in ‘those areas, there is a still disconnect between what those of us in government believe we have delivered and the extent to which they feel they have a voice, or that their concerns are being addressed. The £20m a year connecting communities initiative is working with local authorities to ensure that these communities do not remain feeling that there are not listened to. But this is not a short term fix but something that needs to be sustained for years to come.

One thing that could undermine this work is a retreat into a narrow and defensive view of ‘the rights of the English.’

I said earlier, that the notion of Englishness is the least well-developed of our national identities. I think the pressing challenge is to promote actively a positive English cultural identity.

As Billy Bragg has written ‘what we lack is a confidence, not so much about who we are, more about whether it’s OK to celebrate being English. We need to stop being embarrassed about our home and find a way to celebrate the things about it we love – both to respect the locals and to build bridges with newcomers’.

To do this, we need to generate powerful new ways of bringing people together to celebrate their Englishness.

Ways which go beyond the purely historical. Too often, celebrations of Englishness are entirely rooted in history and focus wholly on the past.

This isn’t true of celebrations of St Andrew or St Patrick’s Day – they are about what it means to be Irish or Scottish in today’s world – and are celebrations that people around the world want to join in with.

I would suggest that the starting point should be to develop the festival of St Georges Day itself.

Actually bit by bit, this has been developing in cities, towns and villages across the country.

And nothing I’m saying today means that I think people need to be told to celebrate Englishness, let alone been given permission to do so. Patently y they don’t.

But there are ways in which government could work with the grain of what English people are already doing. Helping give a shape and focus to a national day of celebrations.

It would St George’s Day a celebration of a modern inclusive Englishness within the wider Britain.

This would give us an opportunity to mark key developments in our culture as well as our history and heritage, and to promote its international identity and contribution.

But more importantly it would give us the opportunity to promote a sense of unity and belonging – a sense of English identity which can be claimed by the majority who want to be welcoming, neighbourly and friendly.

A chance to celebrate what we can be proud of and what we have in common, enriched by our differences as well as shared values and shared experiences.

There are many aspects of Englishness which we should be proud of. The English language and our great writers. Our tradition of philanthropy and past and present campaigners for social change. Our role in inventing or codifying much of modern sport and our national sporting heroes who come from all communities and all parts of the world.

And the strand of radicalism in English thought – I will return to this later.

Above all, these celebrations will need to be inclusive. Inclusive in terms of age, interests and accessibility of course. But also inclusive in terms of ethnicity.

Take the Out of Many – One England Festival in Sparkbrook Birmingham, held to celebrate St Georges Day and which brought together people from across of minority ethnic and white British communities and from rural and urban England.

Leicester plans to run a three day festival over St Georges Day weekend which looks at England’s contribution to literature: in later years they may look at sport, science of politics.

I have not been able to identify another country in the world which does not have a day to celebrate its national identity. Some have a national holiday, others a body to run a national festival or celebration.

Some countries encourage schools to participate, or recognise the achievements of its citizens. All encourage the use of symbols – flag flying, the use of national colours or the wearing of national emblems.

Many have parades, national sporting or musical events, celebrations of national writers and literature and other cultural events.

I believe it is time to looks seriously at what we in England can learn and take from these international examples. Not all will be appropriate for our particular context, and local areas should be the ones to take decisions about how St George’s Day is celebrated.

I think we have the model. Last year we supported a highly successful Inter-Faith Week. Again, people of faith don’t need government to tell them to be faithful, nor to work together. But by supporting a national steering group and a couple of major national events, and by supporting similar approaches at regional level, we provided the framework for an astonishing and diverse range of local and national activities.

We could do the same for St George’s Day.

And we probably should not stop there. Ben Bradshaw and I have been talking about the World Cup and the possibility of a wider cultural festival celebrating Englishness at a time when the nation will focus on our football team. And perhaps we should look ahead – to other sporting events – like the Rugby World cup – and coming cultural events to se the opportunities to celebrate a diminish of Englishness.

And let me end on one last thought about why this should be a project for the centre-left.

Our English history is not all maypoles and Morris dancers. Nor is it simply the somewhat Eeyoorish observation of George Orwell that it is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays.

It is the history of English radicalism too. The Making of the English Working Class shaped many a student radical of my generation. My part of the country gave birth to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Captain Swing. It is the history of the cooperative movement. Our English history is the history of a people who embraced and defended and married migrants as often as we resisted them.

If we need a national progressive and patriotic politics today, we should not be shy of making our history an ally.

Smith Institute Election 2010 Lecture by John Denham MP, delivered 2nd March 2010 in Committee Room 8, at the House of Commons.

David Blunkett: Cambrian Society Lecture

Part of a series of four lectures covering Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England; in which Mr Blunkett discusses Englishness, citizenship and identity and the implications of current and past political thinking for the English nation

It will shortly be a hundred years since the Encyclopaedia Britannica made the most terrible faux pas. Scholars who looked up Wales were greeted simply with the injunction: “See England”.

Those days have long gone. Wales now has its own National Assembly, has revitalised the Welsh language and has long put behind it the burning of cottages and the bitterness from a handful of zealots against the ‘incomers’. It also has – at least temporarily – the most senior Labour politician in office in the UK in the form of the First Minister, Carwyn Jones – in coalition with Plaid Cymru, of all things, which could never have been envisaged 20 years ago.

In this lecture, I want to examine those things which we have and still hold in common between Wales and England and Wales and Yorkshire – particularly here in South Yorkshire and my home city of Sheffield.

I want to identify the particular nature of Englishness. I wish to examine the political differences which exist in England compared with the rest of the United Kingdom; and why Labour has some historic and continuing lessons to learn about the innate conservatism of very substantial parts of England.

In addition, there are ramifications for Yorkshire which form an interesting backcloth – and I shall ask the question, perhaps tongue in cheek, of whether it is time for Yorkshire to consider its own ‘independence’ – or, more accurately, devolution – whilst remaining a key part of the UK!

Finally, I shall explore why the present Government and their economic policies, their ideology and what for some is a ‘scorched earth’ approach to our public services could undermine the union of the UK and, at the same time, fracture the nation of England. I will highlight the inherent London-centric nature of decision-taking and the differential impact of policy which retains power at the centre and decentralises the pain.

What we hold in common

There are some clear and obvious areas, particularly between South Wales and South Yorkshire, that are common to the recent history of our people: the emphasis on steel and mining; the propensity to grumble – particularly about London and southern England; and an undeserved reputation for penny-pinching. We even have strange dialects which are different between the north and south of both Wales and Yorkshire; and, if we don’t quite have a language, then for some south of Nottingham, it’s difficult to always understand broad Yorkshire!

In North Yorkshire and North Wales we have the rural beauty; the hills – in Yorkshire’s case, the Dales – to walk in; the special things to eat; and the rawness of the coastline. In Yorkshire as a whole, as with Wales, we have the poetry, the music and, yes, the folk heritage to draw down on – everyone from Ian McMillan and Simon Armitage to Alan Bennett and the music of Delius, not to mention the historic ballads and brass bands from the mining and wool industries of the past.

In substantial part, we also have solidarity and a sense of mutuality. We have a pride in being different which can sometimes be irritating to others and can appear aloof or even arrogant; but, even with the Yorkshire tendency not to suffer fools gladly, it adds up to being something different to the Anglo-Saxon individualism which is the hallmark of England as a whole.

Englishness

The English are more difficult to define. As I spelt out in an essay I wrote for the ippr in March 2005, there is a mixture of confidence and internationalism borne of the outreach of the English language; the development of empire; the reliance on trade; and the stability of being part of ‘this island race’. There is, too, the self-belief that comes from a thousand years of defending Britain from invasion and our overseas military successes; and the endurance of institutions like the Anglican Church, the ‘Church of England’, which, whilst in attendance it may not have the significance of years gone by, still remains a symbol of the cultural differences that can be seen within the UK.

There is also, of course, a pessimism that ensures that certain branches of the English media will jump immediately on bad news. Take the recently-published ‘Prosperity Index’, which hardly anybody had heard of until it told us that we had ‘slipped’ to 13th in the so-called ‘league of happiness’! This is, of course, reflected in the headlines of the London-based newspapers on a daily basis.

Today, the benefits of the English language and the historic outreach of trade are reflected in new forms of communication, from satellite and the internet to mobile phones – and the consequent downplaying of the need to adopt and understand other languages and cultures.

This form of internationalism has both pluses and minuses. Free trade has been a feature of the ‘English’ political debate for 300 years. This has inevitably created a different sense of identity and of our place in the world, which has both reinforced that arrogant self-confidence on the one hand and diluted a sense of identity and belonging on the other.

Inward migration has both benefited and disquieted the English – more so than in Scotland or in Wales – and is now the subject, once again, of political controversy. What Daniel Defoe described four centuries ago as ‘this mongrel race’ likes to think of itself as anything but!

Individualism, philosophically and instinctively, is much more an English trait than it is Welsh or Scots. Rousseau and David Hume may have walked the hills of South Derbyshire and North Staffordshire, but it was John Stuart Mill who articulated and affected the psyche of the English.

Roger Scruton and David Starkey believe that Englishness is dead. But theirs is an Englishness of a bygone, ‘Wessex’ version of the English nation.

The Scots may cry in their whisky, the Irish may grow melancholic over Guinness, the Welsh may sip at their Under Milk Wood beer; the English simply love to wallow in a nostalgia for a never-present lost era as they sip an indifferent Bordeaux borne of Aquitaine, rather than the missed opportunity of an alliance with the Burgundians.

For some, therefore, the John Major, 1993-version of Orwell’s reminiscences of a mythical English scene constitute the backcloth from which the world is viewed. Linda Colley, with her interesting reflections on nationhood and identity, looks at changes towards the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries, with the retreat of Bonnie Prince Charley and the paranoia invoked by Napoleon. Somehow, the concept of Britishness and an emerging English identity started to emerge.

Others – including Krishan Kumar – believe that it was at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the appalling experiences of young men in the First World War – men who had previously never been further than the local market town – that created a particular version of Englishness. This is underpinned by the endearing reflections latterly in Upstairs, Downstairs and currently in Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey on ITV.

By contrast, the Welsh had a cultural sense of identity – as well as grievance – going back to medieval times, when their own moral and legal code was retained whilst their bigger and more militaristic neighbour sought to suppress their independence. Scotland, with its own legal and judicial system and with its own connections and contact with the continent, was able to retain a much greater sense of its own identity – but a greater bitterness towards the English.

Sharing a sense of belonging, of shared identity, at local level and through nationhood, matters more at a time of flux and change than in periods of economic prosperity and peace. Aneurin Bevan – an example of the Welsh predilection for the use of language to invoke emotion – rightly described that what we had to fear was fear itself. Yet for a nation to be outward-looking, inclusive and internationalist, it is necessary to reinforce that sense of security through a strong individual and collective sense of ourselves, our history and our current place in the world.

That is why, as so often, the opportunity to debate these issues as part of the development of the so-called Defence Review and military expenditure has once again been missed.

It is fair to say that Englishness has been welcoming, avoided the worst of bigotry and has been strong and certain, not weak, defensive and prejudiced. The English have been outward-looking as a naval power and a trading nation, which is why the use of fear and prejudice by the British National Party and the English Defence League are so worrying.

That kind of nationalism is equated with the far-right, with resentment, deep-seated fear of change and a particular form of individualism which has a dangerous attraction – as can be seen from the election of the English Democrat Mayor of Doncaster and his son, the right-wing Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies. The economic meltdown and the Government’s response reinforce the political view that, far from ‘all being in it together’, we fend for ourselves, we reject the social wage, we undermine that feeling of solidarity which comes ‘from each according to his means, to each according to their need’.

Of course, change brings instability. Rapid change brings gross uncertainty and worry; and that brings the desire for something to hold on to – a rock, a shelter, some certainty in a world of insecurity. This can pose its own dangers, undermining any sense of wider place; of city, county or regional identity. The danger, therefore, is of evoking a reaction from the little Englanders who, in running our country today, have transformed one-nation Conservatism into a reflection of just one nation – or rather, just a part of one nation – of the union of the United Kingdom.

This raises the danger of a new form of English colonialism, with power drawn to the centre, with the abolition of regional development agencies and regional government offices, with the power of local government to raise its own finance restricted still further and with the distributive nature of public expenditure curtailed.

More of that shortly, for I want first to explore the disconnection between my own party and the individualism, the small ‘c’ conservatism, which makes up part of the English nation.

Labour

Please indulge me for a moment. I need to explore how social democratic politics responds to the nature of a specifically English nuance, a voting pattern which has historically been small ‘c’ conservative.

There are exceptions across England; places where mutuality and solidarity are seen as part of a local culture, mirroring that of Scotland and Wales. It is reflected at times in the history of our northern cities and towns and, of course, in our mining communities; and yet, within them, we see the seeds of the artificial disconnect between reciprocity on the one hand and mercantile enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship on the other.

We delude ourselves if we forget that, until recently, Liverpool was controlled by the Liberal Democrats, Leeds and Bradford often revolved into Conservative/Liberal administration, Newcastle is under the control of the Lib Dems and, of course, currently – but not for long – so is the city of Sheffield.

But through the Midlands, the south, the east and south-west, the ‘anti-state’ nature of individualism and that innate conservatism I have spoken about is a powerful force. In large cities such as Birmingham and Bristol, Labour has struggled over the decades to hold the hegemony which popular myth within the party would have us believe exists across the major urban conurbations of England.

Outside the culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city of London, the south and east returned just ten Labour Members of Parliament out of over 200 constituencies on 6 May this year. Current opinion polling shows voters broadly still in support of the draconian cuts in public expenditure.

Yet self-reliance, entrepreneurship, enterprise and innovation are a feature of Britain as a whole and of those areas of England where solidarity has remained from time immemorial. Sheffield is an example of the tremendous gains that have been made in research, in hands-on and imaginative industrial and craft skills. Still, the city historically has had a reputation for left-of-centre politics.

So what conclusions can we draw? At least in part, that England and Englishness has an overriding suspicion of big government – an Anglo-Saxon aversion to being herded or being told what to do. At the same time, it has a natural caring and generous spirit, which nevertheless is not automatically turned into socialised or collective generosity. As can be seen in many of the right-wing states of the US, a willingness to give, to support, to be a good neighbour is not always translated into voting for reciprocity writ large or mutuality in political institutions.

How, therefore, to convert this innate and instinctive decency into a social and political reciprocity has to be the question for the English – or at least for those of us on the social democratic left, if we ever hope to return to government in Westminster and to build a politics in England which would draw on the earned entitlement, the ‘something-for-something’ attitude, which the New Labour era endeavoured to inculcate into Labour thinking.

This brings me to Yorkshire.

Yorkshire

In Yorkshire, we represent a mix of both the mutual and the stolid ‘no nonsense’ type of individualism. Yes, an emphasis on self-reliance, on knowing what’s best; but then being prepared to join in moving from individual caring to collective action.

In political terms, this is almost a mix of the more ‘English’, anti-authority conservatism and the more collective reciprocal commitment to each other.

Economically, we are innovative, inventive and hard-working. But a century ago it was the workers of Sheffield who gave their pennies to create a major contribution to the development of this university, with what in today’s money would be £15 million, literally volunteered from the weekly wage packet of Sheffield workers.

But unlike Scotland and Wales, we are not self-determining in our political structures. Our own destiny does not lie in Yorkshire. We cannot deal with the spending reductions, the social consequences and the reinvestment of growth in our own way.

The population of Wales is 3 million, Scotland’s just over 5 million and Yorkshire’s 5.2 million. Using what is known as the Barnett formula for distributing UK-wide government income, we could expect a tremendous advantage in having what in Wales is known as the Central Fund and in Scotland the Block Grant. Wales – the best comparator – will receive £14.5 billion for Assembly purposes in 2011-12. Rounded up for Yorkshire, this would be £24 billion.

Like London, we could then have our own development agency; draw down on and match European funding; ensure that we were able to reach out for inward investment and build up the capacity for our own knowledge-based economy. We could set our priorities, share across departmental budgets and charge others for the use of our facilities.

It may well be tongue in cheek; but, instead of a projected 82,000 job losses, independence for Yorkshire could have ensured the raising of loans for Sheffield Forgemasters, using all the resources of that part of HBOS which used to be the Halifax and taking our share of the Higher Education Funding Council money to make our priorities work for the people of our area.

Above all, we could reinforce our identity, develop the pride and motivation needed, restore our own form of Englishness and assert that important combination of bluff independence with caring mutuality.

We could include parts of the North Midlands, if they chose to do so. With the power stations, the military installations from RAF Menwith Hill to Catterick Garrison and with nine members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet – including the Leader of the Opposition – Yorkshire would be well-placed to be the driving force of economic recovery outside the south-east of England!

Even better, we wouldn’t have to put up with the Deputy Prime Minister – the man who, on 19 March in a question and answer session organised by the Yorkshire Post, let it be known that he was horrified by the idea of a Conservative Government who would “slash public spending by a third”. Nor would we need a Prime Minister who on the one hand cuts investment to companies involved with the Advanced Manufacturing Park and describes the centre and the work done from this university with the private sector as cutting edge – while at the same time pulling the plug on the innovation and enterprise that goes alongside it.

The union

So, back to immediate reality!

What are the political voices of the south of England doing to the union? What is happening to our sense of ourselves – to our identity? Are we really going back to the ‘I’m alright, Jack’ or ‘It’s down to you’ view of the 1980s – overlaid by the so-called ‘Big Society’, when it is literally ‘down to you’?

From a governmental point of view, it’s very clever. If the State does not accept responsibility for the actions it is taking, how can it then accept the blame?

If we don’t respond adequately, if we don’t deal with our own problems in our own way, if we don’t play our part in the Big Society … it becomes our fault.

The actions that the Government have taken are making it more difficult to reinforce that sense of belonging which, even in the face of draconian cuts in essential services, can hold the fabric of society together. It is the fracturing, the tearing of that fabric, that concerns me most. The fact that we are likely to see a disintegration of the acceptance of responsibility, of the obligations and duties we owe to each other, as well as the imperative of fending for ourselves.

Examples are stark. Some of them are very small, but important.

The abolition of the Migrant Impact Fund reduces the chance of ensuring proper integration and building on the citizenship programmes and the teaching of the English language which has been so important to me over the years.

The demolition of specific funding for special and deep-seated needs – the Area Based Grant to local government and other ring-fenced funding – is deeply damaging. It is paraded as giving ‘freedom’ to decide. In reality, the decision already made – to change and to withdraw funding specifically directed to the most disadvantaged – is of course to take that money away from those very people.

Self-evidently, you have the choice of spreading the resources away from the greatest need and hence to protect the not-so-unfortunate from the impact of cuts. Sheffield City Council, under the Liberal Democrats, practices this policy already with devastating results – as shown by Professor Danny Dorling and his colleagues at the Department of Human Geography right here at this university.

Both the spending cuts themselves and the architecture of the British constitutional settlement now set London and the devolved administrations apart from England. The Balkanised nature of England affects us economically, in terms of determining our infrastructure and planning. Local Enterprise Partnerships – all 40 of them – cut regions into pieces, funding streams into smaller and less viable applications. Funding cut by two-thirds already is then fragmented even further; and, with the centralised governmental structures and the abolition of what is dismissively described as ‘quangos’, the influence over real decision-taking has been dramatically centralised.

Even in budgets that are superficially protected – the core schools budget and health – top-slicing means that demographic expansion will put more, not less, money into the south-east of England.

The denial that there is such a thing as regional identity and the failure to continue the previous Government’s emphasis on Core City development pulls the centrifugal force of England into London and alienates those who are hardest hit by the cuts. London retains a development agency and demands more resources – and in capital funding, gets it – as the scarce resources available are pulled like a magnet into the developments for and around the Olympic Games.

Preaching decentralisation and practicing metropolitan hegemony is undermining the union of the UK and a common sense of belonging and identity for England itself. Given the disparity of expenditure and the lack of flexibility within England, it is quite likely that Scotland and Wales – as well as Northern Ireland – will be able to protect services to a degree that will prove impossible in fragmented England. The improvements that have been wrought in public services could easily slip backwards as they are forced to make cuts and to switch services into an increasingly uncertain marketplace – just at the time when stability and reforms were beginning to bear fruit.

What’s more, our civil society – the glue that holds us together and the driving force for being able to assist each other in times of need – will be unable to respond as the years go by. Self-help is only possible when we pull together and support each other at times of greatest need.

Conclusion

Historically, a fear of patriotism as being jingoistic has run through thinking from the Stoics, Kant and Marx to modern thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum. Particularly on the left of politics in England, celebrating and applauding other people’s heritage and national pride – particularly the Irish – has been much more acceptable than identifying with and developing a sense of belonging from our own, English roots.

That is why I spent so much energy developing citizenship in schools. The Government’s proposals to abolish the curriculum will take us back to a belief that acquiring information without acquiring the means to use it will be sufficient for the future. Uniquely within the Midlands and the south of England, the politics of the right have asserted a narrow definition – a Home Counties view – of thinking in relation to Englishness, at once patronising and pessimistic at the same time.

Of course, some have said that ‘Britishness’ was invented by the English to assert cultural dominance throughout the UK. Well, it clearly hasn’t worked – but the English are still wary of the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown can attest to this.

So I am advocating today that we rebuild confidence. Not in nationalism built on grievance; but on embracing an inclusive form of togetherness.

In our civil society and in helping each other to survive the years ahead, we will need to reinforce that reciprocity. We will need to ensure that people feel that independence of spirit, self-determination in daily life and self-reliance in economic survival can come together with that care and compassion that builds from the family into the neighbourhood and community. We can reunite our nation by acting collaboratively and collectively.

Today we are more mobile, we communicate more, we absorb through the immediacy of satellite television what is happening across the world. The fear of terrorism, the shock of conflict, the globalisation of economic activity – all bring an underlying sense of change, rapid change which is out of our hands and out of our control.

Rooting back into community and into nationhood a sense of ourselves can help us to find a way forward in what will be the uncertain world of the decades ahead.

David Blunkett, Speech to Sheffield's Cambrian Society, 27 October 2010

What is it to be English, today?

"What is it to be English, today?", asks Rachel Shields in the Independent on Sunday.

To be English today is to be represented by a political class who dare not mention England or the English for fear of raising questions that they cannot answer and emotions that they cannot contain, emotions that may threaten Britishness, social cohesion and their precious Union; where once our leaders spoke of England when they meant Britain, they now speak of Britain when they mean England.

To be English today is to have no official recognition of your national day. Instead of a day of celebration St George's Day is a day on which it has become a tradition for left-wing politicians and academics to deconstruct Englishness, lament the exclusivity of English identity, question the appropriateness of St George as a national icon (ironically because he is foreign), and then preach about dangers of a resurgent English identity; instead of a day of national celebration the 23rd of April is a day for anti-democratic groups to exploit the democratic vacuum in which England exists, a space vacated by the self-absorbed and apologetic British political class.

Yes, there is an emerging Englishness which is still thought to be slightly incorrect. Something is bursting to come out. But sadly, the English intelligentsia, or the liberal English middle class, which ought to be leading political developments, ought to be taking over this emerging feeling—saying yes, let's make a democratic, tolerant, forward-looking nation—is just sitting back and saying: "English nationalism, awful, horrible, leave it to the yobs." - Neil Ascherson

To be English today is to be obligated by the past, expected to carry the can for Empire and colonialism, and expected to be financially and politically disadvantaged within our own internal Empire of the United Kingdom. These sacrifices we make for the sake of camaraderie with the ungrateful Scots, Welsh and Irish, and the immigrant communities (who are told by the politicians that they are British, but never English) who are sometimes as disconnected from England as the Scots, Welsh and Irish.

To be English today is to be part of the only nation of the United Kingdom that is expected to participate fully in the Government's Britishness project, with no political recognition of our nationhood, no democratic English voice; for the sake of Britain it is contingent upon us to repress our Englishness for fear of upsetting the Union applecart. Besides which we wouldn't want to be branded a chav, a yob or a Little Englander. These rules do not apply to expressions of Scottish, Welsh or British identity - for those identities are healthy, class-neutral and inclusive, and promoted as such by their respective governments.

But it's not all doom and gloom.

To be English today is to stand on the shoulders of giants, to be aware of our magnificent cultural pedigree, the inheritors of an unrivalled heritage of scientific, social, democratic and literary achievements. To be English today is to be proud of that heritage but slightly ashamed that despite our capacity for greatness Jerusalem remains unbuilt. To our shame our past out-shines our future, an English future that is unimagined and left off the political agenda - it is perhaps that embarrassment that accounts for our modesty, self-deprecation and lack of nationalism, hampering our ability to address our future.

Rachel gets one thing spot on: It is Britishness, rather than Englishness, that is in crisis.

A "crisis of Britishness" is prompting growing numbers of people to redefine themselves as "English", raising troubling questions about national identity and the extremes of home-grown Islamic radicals and the far right.

As England strives to define its modern self and looks forward to an English future - in conjunction with parallel developments in Scotland and Wales - it will be the political role of Britain and the social role of Britishness that becomes more uncertain. At present our political leaders are engaged in an attempt to refashion Britain, conscious of Scottish and Welsh national identity but in denial of England and the English. That's a big mistake.

See also: What Is Englishness? | The Campaign for an English Parliament

Labour's Anglocentrism

Labour List's 'National Identity Day' (which I mentioned previously) also offers us a post by Paul Richards entitled "England: I would die for it".

It's worth bearing in mind, before you embark on reading what is to follow, that the idea of 'shared values' that Labour tried to encourage were 'shared British values' (you may remember that funny looking Scottish bloke called Gordon banging on about Britishness) rather than 'shared English values'.

Are there common threads of nationality which bind us? Labour, when in government, tried to encourage the idea of ‘shared values’. There’s something in this. We are attached to our creaking old system of democracy, like the owner of a beat-up old car. We love our British institutions, from the army and the BBC, to the NHS and the local pub. We tut when people cut to the front of a queue. We enjoy a curry on a Friday and a roast on a Sunday. We get behind whichever lamentable team is representing us in international sport. We share a literature, a language and a popular culture. We can cheer when the Prime Minister in Love Actually stands up for the England of William Shakespeare, Harry Potter, The Beatles and David Beckham’s right foot (and Beckham’s left foot, come to that.) It’s not the England of the Last Night of the Proms and Royal Ascot, although there’s room for that. It’s the England of Brick Lane and the Glastonbury festival, of Marks & Spencer and the FA Cup. It’s a national identity that shifts through time, but is built on elemental decencies and kindnesses. It’s about being kind to animals, and talking to strangers on the bus, anywhere but London, naturally.

I'm not sure if Paul Richards is talking of England when he means Britain (as Orwell and Churchill sometimes did) or whether he's shifting the terms of reference from Britain to England in order to try and make Labour's 'shared values' idea coherent. It's a very confused piece.

It reminded me of something Tony Blair said a few years ago (Daily Express, 3rd January 1996).

Britain is a great nation. A country where we can watch the most exciting sport - Wimbledon, the FA Cup, Test Cricket. Where you can listen to the best pop music - the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red.

You can listen to the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red anywhere in the world if you have a iPod, and you can watch Wimbledon, the FA Cup, Test Cricket pretty much anywhere too. But they're English bands and English sporting events rather than British.

The Left's Oppositional Attitude Towards England

If you want to understand the Left's antagonistic attitude towards England and English identity then I recommend that you listen to this talk by Charlie Kimber and the discussion which followed. They would rather steal from the poor box than embrace their English identity. For them Englishness is a repository of all that is bad, racist, imperialist, conservative, white, reactionary and capitalist about Britain. The sluice gate marked Englishness is what they can open to purge Britishness of anything negative. As one woman put it: "It doesn't matter how many times you wash the English flag you will never wash away the blood of Empire".

During their thirteen years of power the Labour party promoted Britain and Britishness, and Scottishness and Welshness, but did absolutely nothing for England (except attempt to balkanise it into regions against England's will and milk the English taxpayer like a cash cow). But having deservedly lost English votes at the general election there are signs that they are waking up to the debate on the English Question. John Denham has recently given us his views on reclaiming St George's Day, the English flag and promoting a progressive idea of English identity. David Miliband has arbitrarily dismissed the idea of an English parliament and - quite selfishly - suggested that Labour should be leading the national conversation on England that they have studiously ignored for so long in order to win back votes.

On Radio 4's Broadcasting House on 4th July, listeners were treated to Michael Rosen, a popular author and voice of the far-left, informing the audience that England did not even exist.

"We're not giving them the grass roots support but I don't think that's why England failed. England fails because if you think you are a high paid footballer playing anywhere in the world, why would you want to play for this thing called England? It isn't even a nation. Great Britain is the nation. Why would you want to? Let's say you're Rooney, let's say you're Terry - you beat it out for nine months against each other where everything matters day by day, then suddenly you're sent away to a weird camp for three weeks to play for an entity that doesn't really exist. I mean, I'm not blaming them, but why would you want to do it?"

And today Rick Muir of IPPR treats us to the ludicrously titled "The English left needs to reclaim English identity". As if to suggest that English identity was once the property of the left. Rick informs us that "Scottish and Welsh national identity have managed to become inclusive civic identities precisely because those countries have political institutions with which all citizens can identify" and then goes on to argue against an English parliament. His pearls of his wisdom include:

  • There is no comparable crisis [of democratic legitimacy] in England.
  • the West Lothian question is an anomoly, but does anyone really care?
  • There is very little support for this [a solution to the West Lothian Question].
  • An English parliament would likely exacerbate [the weakness of local government].
  • Federalism in a state dominated by one component (England) would likely lead to separation.
  • by trying to solve a tiny anomoly (West Lothian) you end up creating a series of even worse problems.

The usual unsubstantiated rhetoric about the deleterious effects that an English parliament would have on democracy and Britain, it's the sort of thing that we're more used to hearing from politicians like Lord Falconer rather than someone purporting to be a serious academic. I've asked Rick whether he supports the right of the English to decide how we are governed.

Why doesn't the left ask the people that they are supposed to represent what they want rather than arbitrarily ruling out an English parliament. Where's the democratic left?

How do you hope to reclaim Englishness from a position of dictating to the English on what's best for them?

Rick has declined to answer. But in Rick's stead some joker named Peter Jukes has popped up to state: "I don't want popular sovereignty for England". That says it all. I welcome Labour's attempt to discuss the English Question, even if it is for purely selfish and partisan reasons, but in doing so they are going to run up against the problem of exposing their general antipathy towards England, and highlighting a significant constituency of left-wingers that are vehemently anti-English and opposed to the very idea of England itself. They have ignored the English Question for years for fear of exposing the dark racist underbelly of the Labour Party, but now they have to discuss England because their failure to connect with England has caused Labour to lose touch with their traditional supporters, the majority of whom are very happy to be English.

All is not lost. There are people on the left that do love England and are not hamstrung by irrational anglophobia. People like Frank Field, David Dyke and Andy Newman will keep chipping away at left-wing anti-English prejudice. Whether or not their common sense attitude prevails will determine whether or not the left manage to reconnect with England.

Links to Labour List's 'National Identity Day':

Tristram Hunt for Stoke

It's interesting to read that Tristram Hunt is standing as a Labour candidate for Stoke-on-Trent.

Tristram is well-known scholar of English history, and has previously written about Labour's awkwardness when it comes to English national identity:

Who now on the Labour frontbench, as Leo Amery once famously demanded, speaks for England? On this highly symbolic St George's Day, which marks the 1,700th anniversary of the beatified soldier's martyrdom at the hands of the Emperor Diocletian, who in government stands willing to speak to a coherent conception of Englishness?

For it is a curious irony of New Labour's rhetoric that its affection for the mythical, Tolkien-like "Middle England" is not matched by any great ardour for the reality of the English nation. While Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour happily proclaim their patriotism, English ministers are reticent. In part, this is attributable to a hangover from the original iconography of New Labour: Fitz the Bulldog; "Why I Love the Pound" articles for the Sun; the stealthy alliance with "Cool Britannia" - which was determinedly British in its symbolism. England seemed unmodern.

At the same time there remains within Labour circles a strand of faddish, metropolitan hostility uncomfortable with the historic imperial and class connotations of "England". Unfortunately, England's de facto cabinet minister, the consciously unmetropolitan John Prescott, shares those instinctive reservations. His passionately held regional ambitions are anti-pathetical to any unitary idea of English nationhood. A pick and choose system of regional self-government fits perfectly with a "Europe of the regions", but specifically avoids any appeal to Englishness.

If England needs a champion on the Labour benches, one with the intelligence and influence to articulate a positive left-wing vision for England, then maybe Tristram Hunt, who will have the negativity of the BNP in Stoke as his foil, is that champion. Of all the Labour Party candidates at the next election (given that Derek Wyatt and Andrew Mackinlay are resigning) it is only Tristram Hunt and Frank Field to whom I will wish good luck.

Civic Nationalism is not "stupid"

The English Independence Party is an ethnic nationalist party set up after, or possibly during, the fall of the civic nationalist Free England Party. It joins the growing ranks* of other ethno-nationalist groups ranging from the England First Party, white nationalists; The BNP, British but in favour of an English 'Volk parliament'; United England Patriots and English Shieldwall, Anglo-Saxon revivalists, and; Steadfast and the English Lobby, both supporters of majority rights for the ethnic English.

There is overlap between these groups but ideologically speaking they are a somewhat disparate collection of ethno-nationalists. Some might be more correctly termed white-nationalists and others cultural-nationalists, but even the more culturally orientated delve into areas of race. The English Lobby, for example, has recently launched a petition to "preserve the White English ethnic group identity".

The other common link that these ethnic nationalists share is a dislike of, or lack of trust for, civic nationalists. So it's perhaps no surprise that new English Independence Party launched into an attack on English civic nationalism with one of the first posts to the English Independence Party blog (originally publically available but now hidden from view).

Civic English Nationalism

There's little point fisking this, it doesn't need it. But as a civic nationalist I do feel the need to reply and hopefully inject a bit of reason. I have some insight into ethnic nationalist insecurities through discussions with them on this blog, when they have come to inform me that I am an idiot and to tell me that only the ethnic English can be English. Ethnic nationalists understand 'civic nationalism' to be code for multiculturalism, and they feel that a civic, plural and inclusive English national identity will render Englishness as meaningless as they feel British identity has become. I don't share that insecurity. I want people from other races, religions and cultures that make England their home to feel a sense of belonging, to feel English. In my speech to the Convention on Modern Liberty I asked the audience to ask themselves three questions:

  1. What is my ethnic identity?
  2. What is my national identity?
  3. What is my state identity, my citizenship?

Given England's constitutional status it is perfectly possible, and unfortunately probable, that second, third or fourth generation immigrants will not answer "English" to any of those three questions. That's bad for England. My civic nationalism is about allowing people who are not ethnically English to feel English by national identity, which I hope will help instill a sense of pride in England's cultural heritage and collective national identity, despite the fact - or even because of the fact - that they are not ethnically English. I want to bring us together as a nation, not by being prescriptive, but by providing a gateway into a feeling for England through civic and democratic means. By railing against English civic nationalism as "stupid" the ethnic nationalists are not only a reaction to the multiculturalism they despise, they are an integral part of it. We have arrived at the position whereby each and every ethnic group competes for their 'rights', the logical endpoint of multiculturalism as described by Paul Kingsnorth:

Britain now is a ‘cosmopolitan’ society in which no one cultural identity has pre-eminence, and in which Englishness, Polishness and Bangladeshiness must compete on equal terms. The nation’s many ‘minorities’ are not to be integrated into mainstream society (‘integrated’ is such a problematic word; and anyway, what is the mainstream?) but fenced off, theoretically if not physically: defined as ‘BMEs’, afforded ‘protection’, treated as victims, spoken for. Descended from Pakistani immigrants but born in England? Sorry, you’re still ‘Pakistani’, or ‘Asian’ or’ ‘minority ethnic’. You can be British, if you like, because Britishness has been stripped of meaning and is therefore ‘inclusive’ – but you can never be English (or, presumably, Scottish or Welsh, though this gets less attention) because Englishness is ‘racially coded’. Attempts to define it are thus potentially racist; it’s best if the English just shut up about it and get on with ‘celebrating diversity’ instead.

Is a more inclusive English national identity a threat to the cultural identity of the ethnic English? I don't think so. It may undermine the racial coding of Englishness, but that would be no bad thing, and those ethnic nationalists who are more interested in protecting the cultural inheritance of England should think about the positive benefits of an immigrant population who respect - respect not tolerate - the ethnic English on the basis of a mutual respect and a shared national identity.

* To the starting list you might also add The English Defence League, but their ideology is somewhat unclear.

Commonwealth Day

It was Commonwealth Day on Monday, a fact that passed me by completely. It's not the done thing these days to celebrate Empire.

However, the Huddersfield Examiner's Emma Davidson marked the occasion with some commentary from Huddersfield's own Dr Andrew Mycock:

Mr Mycock said: "Some countries do celebrate the day, particularly in schools, but there isn't really a common framework and people associate different meanings with the Commonwealth so different countries celebrate in different ways.

"For example, some African countries see it as a celebration of their independence from Britain. They see the Commonwealth as something founded on equality, while the Empire was founded on hierarchy.

"For some the focus is on cultural diversity and democracy and shared values.

"But while the Queen will give a formal Commonwealth Day message, the rest of our country will just carry on.

"When Empire Day was first introduced it was better celebrated, it was seen as a confirmation of the superiority of the British.

"But the Commonwealth was never really marked in the same way, because it was associated with the end of Empire and people were more reluctant to celebrate something that was seen to have failed.

"The legacy of the Empire is also so contentious. It has positive connotations like modern industry and democracy, but then the negative connotations like exploitation and slavery and the less edifying moments of the British Empire, so people tend to avoid it."

He said there was awareness of the Commonwealth in schools, but he felt people in Kirklees were more likely to find days like St George's Day and its celebration of Britishness more relevant.

Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 8th March, 2010

I'm sorry. Dr Mycock specialises in Britishness, so surely he of all people knows that St George's Day is not a celebration of Britishness. If anything its growing popularity is a reaction to Britishness.

Or perhaps not?

Sympathy for the Dragon?: Englishness and St George’s Day

A study conducted by Dr Andrew Mycock and Professor Jim McAuley in April highlighted that opinion concerning St George’s Day remains divided, though a majority of respondents to a survey of staff and students at the University indicated they would like to, or were going to, celebrate it in 2009. The research suggests that not only is there a growing recognition of St George’s Day and a preparedness to celebrate it, but that a more diverse and sophisticated conception of Englishness is emerging as debates about identity and citizenship develop in the UK.

The English language and literature, food and drink, landscape, music and history were cited to express a distinct sense of Englishness, though binge-drinking, racism and bad weather were also identified. However, many respondents felt it difficult or were unable to distinguish between English and British national identity, with many of the cultural and political values associated with Englishness overlapping. Conceptions of Britishness were articulated by the Government and others. This suggests that for many there was pride in being English and British, but with the lack of a separate British national day, St George’s Day is viewed as an opportunity to celebrate both identities.

Hmmm...Does it really suggest that, I wonder?

Andrew Marr: "Englishness has become a problem"

The people at the Independent have been adding the back catalogue to their website. This article by Andrew Marr, which dates from 1993 but only became available yesterday, is well worth a read.

Does the decline of England as a political or patriotic fact matter? It surely contributes to a sense of insecurity and unhappiness throughout much of Britain. More important, perhaps, we should bear it in mind as a potential source of political instability. Of Britain's embattled institutions some, such as the Anglican church, are avowedly English. Others, such as the House of Windsor and Parliament, are British; but perhaps their decline hurts the English patriot most. Nationalism can emerge in a foul temper when people feel their identity is threatened; and when the Maastricht rebels roar against the threat to 700 years of Parliament, we hear the authentic voice of English nationalism.

National feeling matters, and should never be underestimated or ignored. Common sense suggests that English nationalism is buried too deep to influence modern Europe. But common sense, Einstein taught us, is merely 'the deposit of prejudice laid down in the mind before the age of 18'. One day, reformers may rebuild this country in a way that allows England to re-emerge in her own right. Or they may not. Either way, this Scot has an uneasy feeling that the English have had a slightly raw deal. And it is an uneasy feeling.

Bear in mind that this was was written prior to asymmetric devolution. Marr is writing, presciently, to suggest that the confused and muted sense of English national identity (rather than the absence of political representation) will become a problem in years to come.

Gold star for Marr. It has.

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