In support of patriotism

Wayne David MP

Traditionally, the left has been reticent about engaging with national identity. Patriotism has often been seen by social democrats as inimical to progressive politics; an emotional sentiment which is the natural preserve of the right.

This has to change, and indeed things are changing. Ed Miliband was quite right a few months ago when he addressed the issue of identity in a major speech, and the potency of a progressive depiction of national identity was powerfully demonstrated by Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to the Olympic Games. In a breathtaking and brilliant way, Boyle succeeded in developing and projecting an idea of British national identity which undoubtedly struck a powerful chord with the British people. His idea of Britishness was a million miles away from the archetypal, empire celebrating, class ridden, neo-xenophobic image of Britain pedalled by the right. Instead, we saw a Britain which looked outward to the world, which celebrated diversity and achievement, which drew inspiration from the struggle for social justice, and which acknowledged the NHS as a powerful collective expression of the values of modern Britain.

Boyle expressed a Britain which people throughout the length and breadth of the country could relate to. It is a country to which they really belong. And it is a country which Labour as a party is in tune with. One of the central tasks which Labour faces is to accurately identify itself with the British ‘national interest’. But to celebrate Britishness should not imply a denial of, or a lesser regard for the other national identities which make-up modern Britain. In fact, a central part of modern British identity is its ability to create the framework for an enduring partnership, thus enabling other identities to develop and flourish in a complementary way.

In this respect, the example of Wales is worth examining. Here the overwhelming majority of Welsh people (myself included) tend to see themselves these days as Welsh and British, in that order, but the idea of being Welsh instead of being British is anathema. The opinion polls in Wales demonstrate clearly that not only is Plaid Cymru – the so-called Party of Wales – largely an irrelevance but that Labour, or more accurately Welsh Labour, is the ‘natural’ party of the country. This is the national ‘common-sense’. Welsh Labour reflects both the vision and aspirations of the Welsh people, even if it has done so more through an unconscious process rather than as a deliberate strategy.

Scotland is of course very different to Wales. In Scotland, the SNP believes that the Scottish national interest can only be truly secured through separation from the rest of the UK. But Johann Lamont, the Leader of Scottish Labour, and the Better Together campaign have, in a relatively short space of time, effectively challenged this, and the process has began of forging a Scottish Labour party which truly reflects the identity of the Scottish people.

In Scotland and Wales, devolution has been the handmaiden of national awareness. But devolution is not only about giving tangible expression to national identities, it should also be about bringing decision-making closer to the people of all parts of Britain because that is the way to increase democracy. One of the ironies of the last Labour government is that while devolution occurred to Wales and Scotland, and Northern Ireland, there was increased centralisation within England. That is why it is important to stress that the process of decentralisation must now take place within England, and this needs to be central to Labour’s programme for Britain.

As we move closer to the general election, it is now becoming clearer what the main themes of Labour’s offer to the people of Britain will be. One of those themes needs to be greater democracy. The idea of a centralised state belongs to the past. Labour needs to develop a vision for Britain which has as its cornerstones the decentralisation of decision-making and the empowerment of people.  This is a vision which is truly patriotic.

8 Comments:

  1. Stephen Gash

    Devolution was never about empowering Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland, it was, and still is, only about erasing England and expunging all things English.

    Reply
  2. DougtheDug

    “But Johann Lamont, the Leader of Scottish Labour, and the Better Together campaign have, in a relatively short space of time, effectively challenged this, and the process has began of forging a Scottish Labour party which truly reflects the identity of the Scottish people.”

    I’ve rewritten the sentences above to reflect reality in Scotland.

    But Johann Lamont, the putative leader of Labour in Scotland and a cog in the Better Together alliance of Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour, has in a relatively short space of time effectively killed Labour in Scotland by calling for the means testing of benefits and forged an alliance of the Scottish left against her and her party.

    Reply
  3. Terry

    One of the ironies of the last Labour government is that while devolution occurred at the national level in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it was denied to England.
    That is why it is important to stress that the process of devolution must now take place with England, and this needs to be central to Labour’s programme for Britain.

    Reply
  4. James Allan

    I concur with the previous comments. We need an English parliament and devolution through that to county level.

    We do not need the Left breaking England up to suit their own narrow part political interests.

    Cheers,

    Reply
  5. Qld Albion

    England must have it’s own parliament. Just as the other nations of this (dis United kingdom have. Nothing less will do.

    Reply
  6. E Justice

    Alex , you have hit the nail on the head, the “decentralisation” word is trundled out every time England gets a mention another name for “Balkanisation” The thought of leaving England in one piece and giving her a Parliament must give them all nightmares! I think Prescott still gets them.

    Reply
  7. Alex Asher

    Even the IPPR couldn’t muster more than 10% support for the balkanisation of England. Rather unsurprisingly the English don’t want their proud historic nation cut up into competing regions that have zero historic basis.

    Remember Prescott’s “NE” referendum?

    England already has ‘regions’ perfect for devolving/decentralising power – they’re called counties. The buildings and infrastructure already exist. They’re identified with and even loved.

    What would be a vote winner would be for Labour to create an English Labour Party to go along with Scottish and Welsh Labour parties. And how about an English manifesto that put English interests first?

    Another vote winner would be to ask the English how they want to be governed – instead of the likes of the Labour Party of the Fabians telling us how we should be governed?

    I suggest consultation (as given to the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish) followed by a referendum including the option of re-establishing an English parliament to work in the English interest (which consistently polls considerable support in surveys http://toque.co.uk/english-parliament-opinion-polls).

    Reply
    • Terry

      Don’t forget the rejection of the Tories’ City Mayors.
      Regionalism for England has been soundly rejected twice

      Reply
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