Englishness de rigeur at the Labour Party Conference
Upon second reading of Madeline Bunting's Guardian piece on Englishness and Britishness, I noticed an important little snippet that I missed the first time around (my bold).
Britishness also distracts from another identity question, and this was what the audience at the fringe most wanted to discuss: Englishness. What did it mean now? Was this the identity "which dare not speak its name", suggested one questioner. Has Englishness got so lost, so attenuated that it no longer means anything? And what happens to England, as Scotland and Wales become more assertive?
How fascinating. Labour Party delegates wanted to discuss Englishness! Has the Earth flipped on its axis?
The main thrust of Madeline's attack was focussed on the new Culture Secretary for England, Andy Burnham, who wittered on about "Great British values in sport - Great British values in broadcasting - Labour values." in his speech to conference.
But when it came to actual policy, it was just England-only initiatives that Burnham could trumpet, underlining his English, not British, ministerial remit:
From next April, swimming will be free for under-16s and over-60s in nearly 85 per cent of councils in England.
A million free tickets to the major subsidised theatres in every part of England from next February - filling them with new audiences, life and laughter.
Madeline's parting advice to Burnham is one that he would do well to heed:
So my suggestion to Andy Burnham is that he picks up where David Blunkett left off when he gave a thoughtful speech on Englishness a few years ago. Steer clear of huge investments into a Museum of British History, which runs the risk of Millennium Dome hubris and endless squabbles with existing museums which own the iconic objects which tell the story of Britain. Instead invest in the small museums, which tell the local stories that enable people to feel a sense of connection to where they live and the communities to which they belong.
How refreshing it would be for the English Department of Culture (in all but designation) to turn its attention to Englishness. If he looked to the north or west Burnham would notice that his counterparts in Scotland and Wales don't miss a beat in pounding the drum for Scotland and Wales. With the UK Government playing catch-up with the more progressive Scottish and Welsh administrations in other policy areas, perhaps it is time for Andy Burnham to do likewise at the DCMS.