In the past I've been highly critical of the BBC's sloppy coverage of devolved issues. But today I would like to heap praise on them because in all their coverage of Cameron's 'Troubled Families' speech - whether on radio, TV or the internet, the BBC has specified that it pertains to England. For example:
David Cameron says he is determined to "get to grips" with tackling England's most troubled families by pledging a network of troubleshooters.
Unfortunately, in order to correctly convey the territorial extent of this Government initiative to the public, the BBC has been factually incorrect because Cameron did not specify that it was troubled families in England that he was determined to "get to grips" with. True to form Cameron was unable to utter the word 'England' and instead fell back on the ambiguous term 'the country'.
A casual reader of 'The Official Site of the British Prime Minister's Office' might expect references to 'the country' to be shorthand for the whole of Britain. But no, for Cameron, and for the sake of expediency, 'the country' is England, and England is the country. He even trails his speech with the byline "We need a social recovery in Britain every bit as much as we need an economic one", irrespective of the fact the 'nationwide task' that he goes on to trumpet is only nationwide in respect to England.
Anyway, thank you BBC for providing political clarity where none was intended.
Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) writing in the Huffington Post:
As the inspirational Michael Kaiser wrote, UK arts organisations have traditionally had "a reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it."
No he didn't. What he said was:
The English reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it, is beginning to evaporate.
He also said:
At the invitation of England's Minister of Culture, Ed Vaizey, I recently visited that country for a teaching tour of six cities. As part of its austerity measures, the English government has recently had to cut its funding to the arts very substantially; most organizations have seen their subsidies reduced and others have had their grants eliminated altogether.
The six cities that Michael Kaiser visited were Newcastle/Gateshead, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol, all English. And Kaiser closed his article by saying "Times are challenging for the arts in England but coordinated efforts are being made to build a better future."
Michael Kaiser wrote an article specifically about England and the Government's cuts to Arts funding in England. Not Scotland. Not Wales. Not Northern Ireland. Jeremy Hunt may not like the fact that Michael Kaiser refers to 'England's Minister of Culture' and 'the English government' but that's no reason to misquote him. Besides which, as far as the Arts are concerned, the UK Government - having devolved responsibility for the Arts - is the English government; and Ed Vaisey is, to all intents and purposes, England's Minister of Culture.
Perhaps Jeremy Hunt should take a look at his own departmental website:
DCMS provides funding for the arts in England, sets arts policy and supports arts based initiatives, often in partnership with other government departments.
DCMS funding is distributed through Arts Council England, the development agency for the arts in England. Arts Council England make all funding decisions at ‘arm’s length’ (independent of, following guidance criteria) from Government.
In England is the country, and the country is England I suggested that English ears now substitute the word 'England' for ambiguous phases like 'the country' and 'this country', and, given that fact, politicians would be well advised to put emphasis on 'England' when it is England of which they speak.
So I was delighted to read Liz Kendall referring to the English NHS.
This is a complicated set of amendments and I will explain what I believe they really seek to achieve. The amendments give the board or, as I will now call it, NHS England more freedom to spend its money how it wants, but they give consortia, or clinical commissioning groups, less freedom to spend the money how they want. They also take away the Secretary of State’s ability to specify for the board and individual consortia how much they may spend on admin costs. That is my understanding of the amendments.
Amendment 85 deletes the current clause in the Bill that gives the Secretary of State the power to tell the board and consortia how much they may spend on administrative costs. Instead, it gives an overall limit, which gives the board the power to shift money around, including resources for admin costs.
A pattern is emerging. The commissioning board, or NHS England, will end up being a super-quango that can spend as much money as it wants on admin costs with far greater power over clinical commissioning groups. I think that GPs and others who were enthusiastic about the Government’s plans will see, step by step in the post-pause Bill, their power and influence taken away by the board in ever more centralised control.
Whatever the Minister says in his description of the financial changes, they are not technical amendments; they are amendments that will shape and drive how the NHS is run, giving NHS England greater control, commissioning groups less control and, overall, taxpayers less control over how admin costs are spent.
In light of this I wonder if the Commissioning Board will change its name or slip the word 'England' into its published remit.
Role of the NHS Commissioning Board
Nationally accountable for the outcomes achieved by the NHS, the NHS Commissioning Board will provide leadership for the new commissioning system. It will provide the support and direction necessary to improve quality and patient outcomes and safeguard the core values of the NHS.
The NHS Commissioning Board has overall responsibility for a budget of £80bn, of which it will allocate £60bn directly to GP consortia. It will directly commission a range of services including primary care and specialised services and have a key role in improving broader public health outcomes.
The Board’s central role is to drive improvement in outcomes for patients, ensuring a fair and comprehensive service across the country. It will also promote the NHS Constitution and champion the interests of patients, using choice and information to empower people to improve services.
Accountable to the Secretary of State via an annual mandate, the NHS Commissioning Board will be an independent, statutory body, free to determine its own organisational shape, structure and ways of working.
Over the past few days, following on from David Cameron's speech, you may have noticed the occasional news report or opinion piece on the Big Society and the 'Big Society Bank' that will fund it. You would be excused for thinking that this affected the entire UK, after all there was nothing in Cameron's speech to indicate otherwise, and nothing in the BBC report either. But as I have pointed out before, it is limited to England.
You have to hunt pretty hard to come by this information, but news of the territorial extent of this policy has leaked out to the public:
A Big Lottery Fund spokesperson said:
“We look forward to discussing with Government the precise nature of BIG’s role in using England’s share of dormant accounts funding to support the Big Society Bank. We understand the government will shortly issue the Big Lottery Fund with the formal directions we need to take this work forward.
So if it's just England's dormant bank accounts that are being plundered by Government, why doesn't Cameron say so in his speech?
In Cameron's speech there were no utterances of the words 'England' or 'English', there were six mentions of the phrase 'our country', three mentions of the phrase 'the country', and the usual references to 'our public services', 'our communities', etc.
When listening to Cameron, we must assume that "England is the country, and the country is England", and that anything he says relates to England unless he explicitly states otherwise (as is the case with the Conservative website, which is by default English).
"We've got David Cameron as Prime Minister now. A wet lipped buffoon who looks like he should be playing a trombone in a fucking Lurpak butter advert!" - Frankie Boyle
Yesterday David Cameron gave a speech on public services in England without once mentioning the word 'England'. Instead we were treated to 18 instances of the phrase 'our public services', 4 instances of 'our country' and 2 mentions of 'our schools' (not to mention 'our schools and hospitals', 'our universities', 'our teaching hospitals and universities', 'our children', 'our health outcomes', 'our society', 'public services in our country' and 'our Foundation hospitals'). He managed to mention the word 'Britain' 4 times but to his credit he spared us the moralising guff about 'Britishness' and 'British values' that would have cluttered up a Gordon Brown speech.
So, Mr Cameron, instead of this:
Some of our Foundation hospitals are bringing the very best care to the people who need it most.
City Technology Colleges and Academies are transforming education results in some of our poorest communities.
Why not say this:
Foundation hospitals in England are bringing the very best care to the people who need it most.
City Technology Colleges and Academies are transforming education results in some of England's poorest communities.
Would it be so very fucking difficult to mention England when it is England of which you speak?
My pick of the articles that appeared while I was away in Canada is this one from Matthew Parris:
The presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was doing a quick round-up of the weather on a freezing December morning, just before signing off at 9 a.m. Very cold all over Britain, he said. Later there would be ‘snow in the north of the country’. ‘Which country?’ I thought.
It was an immediate and unconsidered reaction; and of course on reflection context often does make clear. But not in this case. I still don’t know which country Today meant. If the country they were referring to was Great Britain then they must have meant snow in Scotland. If it was England they were talking about then we in the north Midlands were due for snow too.
A small confusion, and slight enough. But faintly it troubled me. As an Englishman, and as 2010 drew to a close, I was experiencing for the first time the thought that, when directed towards a predominantly English audience, the ordinary and natural meaning of ‘the country’ might now be England.
Read it in full here.
This is a subject close to my heart. Regular readers of this blog will know about my 'say England' campaign in which I nag politicians to say 'England' when it is England to which they refer. Politicians often prefer to use the word 'Britain' to falsely convey the impression that they have a vision and mandate for the whole of Britain; or they may use more nebulous terms like 'our country' or 'this country', leaving the un-enquiring mind to assume that they're referring to stories that apply to the entire UK, which, post-devolution, is very rarely the case.
As far as I am concerned our politicians do not mention England because they want to give the impression that the UK is still united, to all intents and purposes a unitary state, and that they and their pronouncements, policies and initiatives are still relevant and of interest to the entire UK. They also have no desire for England to start viewing itself as a distinct national, political and economic community, an idea that constant utterances of 'England' and 'English' might impress upon their audience. Until very recently the Media, who also like to portray themselves as British and who offer no specifically English news portals, have been in connivance with the political class, but that is changing and as Matthew Parris notes Scotland is fast becoming a foreign country to the extent that English ears now substitute 'England' for 'this country' and 'our country'.
Many Scots and Welsh will say 'it was always thus', that for them England was always 'the country'; but according to Roger Scruton the territorial ambiguity of Westminster politicians is a tradition that flows from a wider ill-defined sense of self.
Vague notions of 'kith and kin' animated the builders of empire; but who was included and why remained uncertain. When politicians appealed for support, they addressed not the nation or the kingdom but 'the country' - meaning all those people who were represented in the Parliament of Westminster. But what these people had in common, and what brought them together under a single crown remained wholly obscure. - Roger Scruton, England: An Elegy
If the ambiguity is removed and 'the country' now means 'England' - or 'Scotland' or 'Wales' depending on your nationality - then politicians are going to have to be more specific about when they are discussing England, and they'll need to do this for the sake of Britain because it is 'England' not 'Britain' that is now the ordinary and natural meaning of ‘the country’ in whatever part of Britain you reside in.
Arthur Aughey has referenced this blog post in a lecture at Hull University.
If you spot a politician or media source engaging in a spot of territorial ambiguity, please report it to the CEP. Here's a letter (a polite one for me) that I rattled off to Caroline Flint earlier.
Which country are you referring to when you say "Many people up and down the country will feel let down by this deeply unfair settlement"?
In this age of devolved politics I think it is important for politicians to specify which country they are talking about because voters may not always be aware of the territorial extent of the legislation or policy under discussion.
Many people up and down 'the country' feel let down by the inability of British politicians to refer to their country by its name.
From Nick Clegg's "vision for political reform".
Britain’s proudest political tradition is our capacity to modernise and our constitution’s history is punctuated by distinct periods of swift and dramatic change. Moments in which we have radically updated our political practices so that they make sense in our changing world.
It happened in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when Parliament asserted its power over the monarchy to bring about the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights.
OK, so it's nowhere near as retarded as Gordon Brown's 'golden thread of liberty' quote.
"So there is, a golden thread which runs through British history - that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King"
But can you imagine Clegg or Brown claiming that the Scottish Claim of Right Act (1689) was part of Britain’s proud political tradition? No, prior to Union it's only English achievements that are lauded as British.
Needless to say, Clegg did not bother to mention England or the West Lothian Question.
Dear Mr Hurd,
In the recent joint press release on the Big Society Agenda (issued by yourself and Francis Maude) you stated the following:
As initial funding, a Conservative government will use the majority of the future annual revenue from the estimated £160m FutureBuilders Loan Book to provide grants to neighbourhood groups, social enterprises and charities in the poorest areas of Britain.
As I understood it Futurebuilders was set up to provide investment to third sector organisations in England, yet you intend to use it to provide grants to organisations operating in the poorest areas of Britain. Are the funds in the Futurebuilders Loan Book available to projects across the UK, or are they only available to English projects?
Also, could you tell me whether the 'national' in your proposed "annual national Big Society Day" relates to the nation of England or the nation of Britain; and could you also tell me whether the National Citizen Service will operate across the UK or in England alone?
More generally, would it be possible for you to use unambiguous words like 'England' or 'UK' when discussing the Big Society so that members of the public such as myself can understand the territorial extent and scope of your pronouncements? Your use of the term 'the country' is confusing because it could mean 'England', 'England and Wales', 'Britain', or the entire 'United Kingdom'; and your use of the word 'Britain' is almost as ambiguous because it could mean 'England, Scotland and Wales' or it could be shorthand for 'United Kingdom'.
Sort it out please!
The writings of people like Simon Lee lead me to believe that Nick Hurd is discussing England, but frankly I'm too weary of this sort of ambiguity to even be bothered to work it out. Is it really too much to ask that it should be immediately obvious and clear about which part of the United Kingdom ministerial missives and Government policy relates to?
David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, with its commitment to a new culture of voluntarism and philanthropy, public service reform, and community empowerment, applies to England alone. Control over the resources, policies and services affected by the Big Society had already been devolved by New Labour to the Scots’ parliament and the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.
In a similar vein, the Coalition’s flagship reforms of public services, namely the cancellation of more than 700 ‘Building Schools for the Future’ projects and the creation of ‘free’ schools, coupled with the devolution of health budgets to GPs, and the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, also apply to England alone.
Simon Lee, Parliamentary Brief, 01 September 2010
Last week the United Kingdom Youth Parliament met at the House of Commons, it was only the second time in history that the House of Commons had opened its doors to non-MPs, the first time being the 2009 outing for the UKYP.
Speaker Bercow praised the diversity of the Youth Parliament.
"I have always been struck by the fact that 50% of you or thereabouts are female, approximately 20% of you are from black and minority ethnic communities and approximately 10% of you have some form of disability.
"So in terms of representing the kaleidoscope of modern society the UK Youth Parliament does it very impressively and does it in a way from which the elected House of Commons itself can learn."
What John Bercow failed to mention was that the diversity of this Parliament was less kaleidoscopic than it might have been due to one crucial factor: There were no Scottish representatives present.
There have been complaints before that the UK Youth Parliament is too English. And as if to emphasise that point Scottish MYPs chose, last week, to voluntarily absent themselves from the House of Commons, leaving a 'United Kingdom' Youth Parliament composed of only English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to discuss sex education, university tuition fees rise, youth unemployment, the Afghan war and transport.
The fact the Scottish members of the Youth Parliament chose to sit out this session of mostly devolved issues was not mentioned at all by the press.
There was much comment, not all of it good, about the constitutional ramifications of a Sinn Fein member addressing the Commons for the first time, but nothing whatsoever, not even a whisper, about the constitutional significance of the de-Scottification of the Commons.
Perhaps the press did not notice. This is how the UK Youth Parliament itself described the event:
Over 300 young people from across the country debated in the House of Commons chamber on Friday 29th October. Members of Youth Parliament, aged 11-18, debated issues including the cost of university, sex education in schools and the war in Afghanistan.
Over 300 young people from across the country meet in the House of Commons Chamber for the second time on Friday 29 October.
ePolitix.com, which like every other news outlet failed to report the absent Scots, asked the question "What do you feel Members of Parliament could learn from their counterparts in the UK Youth Parliament?"
Good question. I feel that Scottish MPs could learn a thing or two from their Scottish MYP counterparts and remain in Scotland.
Perhaps the good people at www.ukyp.org.uk feel the same way, which might explain why they have purchased the domain name www.eyp.org.uk (though perhaps 'EYP' is 'European Youth Parliament' rather than 'English Youth Parliament').