Labour needs to remember England

by Renie Anjeh

Just over a week ago was St George’s Day. Crowds of people displayed their love of England with pride in the knowledge that the general election was just a fortnight away. All the polls presage another hung parliament. Few pundits are brave enough to predict the result. One thing is clear and that is that the outcome will be unclear.

It is very likely that the parliamentary instability which will ensue which may even lead to an election in the autumn.

The reason why the country is on the verge of political pandemonium is because the election result will not be decided in the land of St George but the land of St Andrew.

Since the referendum, the SNP has upended the political landscape north of border, placing them in pole position to be the kingmakers at this election.

2015 could be the first time that nationalists have held the balance of power in over a hundred years. As Jonathan Todd pointed out, the reason for this political earthquake is because the Scots are thinking about “who will get the best deal for Scotland?” rather than “who is best to lead the UK?”

Obviously this is catastrophic for the Labour party. Labour has always had a close affinity with Scotland. Keir Hardie was a Scot. Many of Labour’s greatest big beasts came from Scotland: Donald Dewar, Robin Cook, Alistair Darling, George Robertson, Gordon Brown, John Reid and John Smith.

Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader, was born in Edinburgh and educated at Fettes College. However, Labour has not had the same relationship with England.

Whenever issues regarding the West Lothian Question or the Barnett Formula have been raised, Labour has used constitutional conservatism as an excuse not to address a perceived unfairness.

Many English people fear that Labour treats English identity with suspicion at best, derision at worst even though it has no qualms about Scottish or Welsh identity. Labour has not always been the natural home for suburban and rural areas in England. The result of our long-term problem in England has not been great. 2001 was the last time that Labour won the most votes in England.

In 2010, Labour faced a near wipe out in the South and the party is not competitive in some of the seats that it held from 1997 to 2005. However, tackling this problem has not always been a priority for the party because it has been able to rely on Scotland. Judging by the polls (one has put the SNP at 54%), that certainly will not be the case in 2015 but if Labour is not careful, the situation could get a whole lot worse.

Although much of the commentary during this election has been about the possibility of a Labour-SNP deal, some commentators from both the right and the left have (rightly) raised the possibility of some kind of rapprochement between the Tories and the SNP. Many would argue that this is unthinkable seeing as Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out “propping up a Tory government” but Sturgeon is no idiot, she knows full well that the internal politics of the Labour Party would preclude a Labour-SNP deal. She also knows that it is possible that Cameron could give her full fiscal autonomy and a second referendum should Britain leave the European Union.

In return, the SNP would have to support English Votes for English Laws and boundary reforms without having to vote for a Tory Budget or Queen’s Speech therefore avoiding the charge of being “Tory stooges”.

For Cameron, such arrangement could be popular in England and would guarantee Conservative hegemony for years. For Sturgeon, it would take Scotland further down the journey towards independence which is what her most ardent supporters want. The Labour Party, their common enemy, would be condemned to permanent obsolescence and irrelevance.  That is why Labour must talk to England: it’s not an option, it’s an imperative.

Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour has made a fine start by promising a huge devolution of power from Whitehall to English cities and counties but in future we will have to go a lot further. Left-wing fiscal conservatism will have to remain a permanent feature in Labour politics, not just something for a manifesto launch.

Labour will have to build a strong rapport with aspirational voters in the south and blue-collar workers, who often feel passed over in favour of special interest groups.

An English Grand Committee, double-majority voting for English laws and a department for England (replacing some existing departments) will have to be explored. Labour will have to set out a progressive version of English patriotism to challenge the ugly, white ethnic nationalism of the EDL.

We should be the standard bearers of English radicalism – a proud tradition expressed in Magna Carta and has been championed by George Lansbury, William Blake, Thomas Paine and the Levellers. Why can’t we have a manifesto for England in future elections?

Should there be an affiliated English Labour Party that could stand in some elections? Should Labour call for St George’s Day to be a national holiday?

These are the kind of conversations that Labour will have to have.  Whatever happens after May 7th, Labour could have a bright future as the new party of England.

Renie Anjeh is a Labour party activist

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17 Responses to “Labour needs to remember England”

  1. Tafia says:

    2015 could be the first time that nationalists have held the balance of power in over a hundred years.

    Not strictly true. Callaghan’s minority government of the late 1970s relied on the SNP, and Asquith’s government of the 1920s relied on the IPP.

  2. Gareth Young says:

    I can’t see why Ed Miliband would want a deal with the SNP (even on a vote by vote basis) unless Labour had the plurailty of English seats.

    It looks increasingly likely that the Tories will have an English majority but will lack a UK majority and the coalition partners to form a government. So step forward a minority Labour government which relies on SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs for support. I don’t have any problem with that Labour government legislating on UK issues by using Scottish and Welsh MPs but they will have no mandate to legislate for England.

    And would Ed Miliband really want the poisoned chalice of trying to legislate for England using the votes of Scottish and Welsh nationalists? It would provoke a constitutional crisis. Yes, I can see the attraction of ganging together with the SNP & Plaid Cymri to vote down a Tory Queen’s Speech, but what then?

    Are Labour going to tell the English people that ‘we denied you English Votes for English Laws’ or ‘told you that you didn’t need an English parliament’, ‘but now we’re going to vote through our legislative agenda (that you didn’t vote for) using Scottish and Welsh nationalists’?

    I just can’t see how that would work and if I was Miliband I wouldn’t attempt it.

    To let the Tories into government might destroy Labour even further in Scotland but if the alternative is being destroyed in England because you’re governing at the whim of SNP/PC, then I don’t think he has much choice. Better for Miliband to let a minority Tory government fail and try to force another election.

  3. Madasafish says:

    The English phrase most apt for this article is:

    “Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

  4. Gareth Young says:

    PS I completely support your call for Labour to champion an inclusive English identity. If Labour leave English identity to UKIP and the EDL then they lose the right to complain about it as far as I’m concerned. English identity needs legitimate democratic expression.

  5. Tafia says:

    And would Ed Miliband really want the poisoned chalice of trying to legislate for England using the votes of Scottish and Welsh nationalists? It would provoke a constitutional crisis.

    That is complete rubbish for several reasons.

    Firstly, we do not have a constitution – so it is impossible to have a constitutional crisis.

    Secondly, the right of nationalist parties to vote on matters pertaining to England is law. An MP is an elected representative to Parliament and all MPs have the legal right to vote on all matters brought before the House. The SDLP – a nationalist Northern Ireland party have voted on England only issues and in the past so have Plaid, the SNP and further back in the 20th century when all of Ireland was part of the UK so did the IPP. Come next Friday there could very well be no Co-Operative Party MPs north of Hadrians Wall – so are you saying the remainder must not vote on matters that affect Scotland? And what if Labour lose all their seats in Scotland?

    Incidentally, both Plaid Cymru and the SNP vociferously support the campaign for devolution for England and it having it’s own Parliament/Assembly. It’s Labour that opposes it (which is a bit bizarre being as they gave Scotland Wales and NI their devolution.)

    because you’re governing at the whim of SNP Happened under Callaghan 77-79. There was no problem with it then and there won’t be now either.

  6. ydoethur says:

    ‘Asquith’s government of the 1920s relied on the IPP.’

    Asquith’s government did indeed rely on the Irish Nationalist Party. But it collapsed in 1915 and he had to form a new coalition with the Unionists. Therefore 100 years is correct. No government in the 1920s had any nationalist MPs to rely on – this was before the days of the SNP and Plaid and after the Irish Free State was founded. Labour, in government, were propped up by the Liberals.

    ‘Callaghan’s minority government of the late 1970s relied on the SNP.’

    It relied on the Liberals. Although it had a looser arrangement with Plaid Cymru and the SNP, it was the Liberal vote that was crucial in keeping it in power from 1977-78, and Thatcher’s unwillingness to precipitate an election before the more favourable spring weather that kept him in power after that.

    As to the substance, I agree with Gareth Young. It would be incredible folly for Miliband to try and recover the irrevocable in Scotland by alienating all his support in England south of the Humber. That could well be the end of the Labour party. Far better to let Cameron be for 2-3 years and try to destabilise the SNP from opposition.

  7. Bob McMahon says:

    Re: Tafia’s post (4:32 pm, May 2). Yes, it is the law that all MPs, regardless of which specific nation their seats are in have the right to vote in the House of Commons, BUT (and it’s a very significant but) all MPs should have the same degree of accountability to their constituents on all business in the House. From the moment the devolution process began, the Commons has failed this fundamental test miserably. Once again, it’s made clear to all who have eyes and ears that this kingdom needs to become a federation, with all national (sub-UK level) parliaments having identical powers and responsibilities and relationships to each other as well as to the federal centre. By the way, it isn’t just Labour that opposes an English parliament. All the Westminster parties do. If only the Commons had a few hundred MPs with the foresight, imagination and integrity of Frank Field (and one or two others) on this matter. Then again, if the Blair administration had created a federal system as wiser people are advocating, there wouldn’t be talk of the Union ending, because hardly any of us would feel the need to end it.

  8. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Should Labour call for St George’s Day to be a national holiday?

    Nah! Renie, Nige is suggessting that. We should be the standard bearers of English radicalism. Wales could embrace it too – don’t forget the 82% of English only speakers here.

    Welsh Labour is so corrupt it can’t last forever. It may suffer a slow death but it will die into history like Scottish Labour.

    Let the English Labour Party create a Britannia day. A bank holiday throughout Britain and NI. If any of the “home nations” don.t want to paricipate….so be it.

    PS…We definitely are now in an ideologigal war with the SNP and Plaid Cymru successionists.

    The future is bright and fun! We are now in the era of Brave new politics.

    Fellow Britains unite!!!!

    Mr Akira Origami

  9. Tafia says:

    Akira Origami

    Christ on a rubber cross. You can’t keep a neo-fascist down can you.

    You don’t even realise you are promoting both imperialism and colonialism.

    It is blatantly obvious that you are at the very least on the far-Right of UKIP, in the cross-over zone with the BNP.

    What a tosser.

    (PS – By the way, UKIP party workers here on Ynys Mon are persisting that they support devolution and support the bilingual policy and expansion of it {as do all the others – which actually puts you firmly in the scum BNP camp] )

  10. Tafia says:

    Oh, and it’s Britons not Britains. If you want to play an ethnic game at least get it right.

    Double tosser

  11. Mr Akira Origami says:

    People in Britain have a right to call themselves British, be proud of the British flag, pull together in unity. Until you sucessionists in Scotland and Wales get a succesful referendum result, stop intimadating British folk. I put myself down as British in the last census. Thats my ethnic origin. Have you a problem with that?

    PS…..and my language is English – great language too.

  12. Tony Evans says:

    Mr Origami: the word is ‘sEcessionists’, not ‘sUcessionists’. You’re right about the English language. Shame you can’t use it properly.

  13. Mr Akira Origami says:

    I apologise to the great English language.

    Dyslecksicks and Britons unite!

  14. Mr Akira Origami says:

    British folk have transformed the Anglo-Saxon lingo into the global language it is today.

    Ler’s rename it the “British” language.

  15. Richard T says:

    ” Oh, and it’s Britons not Britains.”

    This would come more convincingly from someone who hadn’t just used the term “north of Hadrians Wall” as a synonym for Scotland.

  16. shaunthebrummie says:

    in english eyes…labour are a anti terrorist..paedo friendly party…the tories should just keep on hammering them with rotherham..janner..p.i.e…..rather a tory toff..than a labour pimp

  17. mr mcboatface says:

    shaunthebrummie is totally correct-as a life long labour supporter I have given up all hope in labour and so has all the labour supporters of old -im 53.
    as shaunthebrummie say in English eyes labour are seen as anti-English and pro terrorist and paedo friendly -I would add to that and say they hate white and English and they hate anyone outside of London and Manchester and the hate males and they hate the working class and the poor and the unskilled.
    they also hate freedom of speech and egalitarianism and democracy.
    they love unions and strikes and feminists and immigrants and terrorists and criminals and paedophiles and tax avoiders and religion and faith schools and sharia courts and open borders and non contributory benefits and rights and housing and pensions and secrecy-as blair and brown have many secrets they need kept secret-so up went the d notice to 100 years and being as many of them are masons -they also like masonic secrecy too.
    does any of that help the English? who are primarily white and working class or poor and half are males and most are not religious and are egalitarian and law abiding -no nothing about labour is pro English or pro working class.
    thay also love scots and welsh and Barnett formula victimisation of the English poor -just as uncontrolled immigration hurts the poorest the most-but as labour is a London party and London is about the least English occupied location in England it is hardly suprising -almost all traditional labour voters are seeing labour as the enemy of the English and the white and the working class and as this is the majority of the population -labour are no longer a national party and not even an English centric party.
    the idiots who have made labour even worse-are not left wing as the media and the labour party like to claim-to be feminists and to think all men should be castrated at birth as ms greer states and to be pro faith schools is not left wing and to supress freedom of speech and thrive in murky secrecy and be anti contributory and anti poor and and anti English and anti -white is not left wing-they are champagne socialists and wish to exploit England even further to advantage London even more .
    to be pro trident is not left wing and to be pro eu is not left wing-Jeremy corbyn was correct his entire political carrer and longer-then when he became leader he sold out and caved in to the right wing champagne socialists of London-labour has never been less pro English or less pro working class-most of the country now have no one to defend their interests -ukip come closest and the trend is obvious and it will continue and how could it ever be different ? I wish it were not so as a life long labour voter but the party is beyond hope-it is infected with evil minority groups with vested interests in hate and prejudice and who use secrecy and political correctness as their tools of the trade.
    the white working class were never the enemies of labour but if you treat them as second class citizens they will see you as their enemy and rightly so-and this is not fixable.
    from what I read on here-there are very few working class and pro English voices.
    I am not nor have I ever been nationalistic -I hate the anthem and the royals and lords and flags and everything traditionally patriotic-so im not a little Englander like someone on here states people who are not champagne socialists are-I used to be a nationalist and a plo supporter and was actively anti racist and pro immigration- but labour proved to me and half the country that all of that is anti democratic-and I have always been pro democratic -as labour are not we have had to part ways-labour will never return to power-not even in 20 years-except through a coalition and even then their share will still continue to fall-if every party ignores the majority of the electorate on the main issues of concern then this is what will happen and what is happening as we speak.

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