The importance of England

April 23, 2012 9:47 am

Today is St George’s Day, which will pass most English people by. But it will also mean a number of inevitable things will happen. Some people will talk about Shakespeare’s (rather convenient) birthday, and some other people will lament that St Patrick’s Day is a big celebration whilst St George’s Day isn’t.*

But beneath all of the chaff and probably some low grade jingoism, there’s an important question – what does it mean to be English?

That’s a very important issue, and one that Anthony Painter and others have tackled here in the past.

But why should it matter to Labour? We’re the British party, right? We’re the only party which has significant support in Wales, Scotland AND England. What need have we for the English identity crisis?

That attitude might have been understandable (though unacceptable) in the past, but if we stick with it now, we’ll be toast in 2015. The Scottish Labour Party has been rocked by an SNP surge that could wipe out even Glasgow (the heartiest of out heartlands). In Wales, the party is stronger, but is about to lose a huge chunk of parliamentary seats – hurting us most.

It has always been the case that England – as the largest constituent part of the union – is where Westminster elections are decided, but that will be even truer in 2015 than it has been for years. We can no longer rely on our strength in Scotland and Wales to help us overcome (ignore?) our difficulties in the South West, South East and East.

It is still possible though, despite acute weakness in large parts of England, for Labour to position itself as “The Party of England”. The Tories will scoff, but when they lay claim to the mantle themselves, they ignore the fact that the Tories are almost completely incapable of winning seats in huge sections of the North. Their Northern problem is as acute as Labour’s Southern problem. The difference is that Labour has – in the not so distant past – been able to win in Southern seats, making inroads into Tory heartlands.

One of the major reasons why Cameron didn’t win outright in 2010 is that he didn’t convince the voters of the North. A one nation Tory party might have made such inroads – but Cameron’s two nation Tory Party (advocating, for example, divisive regional pay) doesn’t stand a chance.

The battleground in 2015 is set, and it is England. The challenge for Cameron is to remember that a world exists outside the Home Counties. For Miliband, the challenge is just as acute – he must show the South that Labour understands it.

Whichever man is successful will be Prime Minister in just over 3 years. That’s the importance of England.

Happy St George’s Day.

* – if anything the success of St Patrick’s Day is a testament to the brilliance of the Guinness advertising department. Come on Carling – the gauntlet has been thrown.

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  • JC

    So what does it mean to be English? Do we accentuate the negative as has been done for the last 50 years (colonialism, slavery etc.), or do we focus on the positive such as a welcoming refuge for the persecuted, long history of democracy etc?

    • treborc1

      Yes but sadly the refugees that have come to the UK under New Labour ended up in detention camps, even children born here according to New labour were not part of the UK, some welcome.

  • Davidch1

    – if anything the success of St George’s Day is a testament to the
    brilliance of the Guinness advertising department. Come on Carling – the
    gauntlet has been thrown.

    St Patrick’s  day  surely ?

    • treborc1

      Carling Canadian to make an advert for the UK.

  • Mark Reilly

    The Tories & English nationalists should be careful what they wish for.
    England has not existed in a singular form while our modern democratic make up has developed.
    The UK or GB has developed a botched of a system that works. Parties with 42% of the vote have landslides, but it isn’t permanent.
    There is a great divide between Southern & Rural (Tory) and Northern & Urban (labour). To win both sides need to make inroads so Blair win the smaller southern towns and got a landslide. Cameron failed to get support in the Northern cities and failed to run.

    If / when Scotland breaks the union, and Wales and NI follow, they will be fine as they have a well defined national identity and were a two party system won’t develop, eg NI they have a solid constitutional agreement.
    But England? The North Urban vote would be in a permanent minority, always faced with a Tory landslide. Unless major constitutional changes were made England would eventually fragment with the North pushing for autonomy, and London pushing for city state status as it would be too big for little England to handle

    • GuyM

      England has 84% of UK population, it can handle having London as part of a more independent England very easily, not least as “London” in reality includes a large chunk of the SE and East as so many commute into London each day.

      “Little” accurately describes Scotland and Wales population wise, who have more seats than they ought to have and in the case of Scotland where MPs vote on purely English matters.

      You warn of the dangers of the Labour voting areas in the north of England being in “permanent minority”, but how about the alternative of the South, East and SW of England permanently voting for Tory governments but not being allowed them because of worries over a “minority” (presumably meaning they should be given undue weighting).

      My area votes over 50% Tory yet for 13 years had a Labour administration led by Scots governing them, I don’t think there will be much sympathy if that situation reverses.

      • Mark Reilly

        Yes but that’s my point within Britain we have a balance and Labour only won in 97 because Blair won over the Southern small urban areas Harlow Dover etc.
        Also my point concerning London is you have around 7 million people who are politically and culturally very different from the rest of the SE. If England were to fragment they would not fit easily with the rural south, in the same way as the rural north is very different to the Northern Cities.

        Main point being that the breakup of the union may present England with more problems than solutions.

        • GuyM

          I think you need to take a long look at “London” as an electorate.

          The outer ring or “doughnut” of boroughs is largely pro Tory and fits in very well with Sussex, Surrey and such areas a little further out.

          Part of the inner London section i.e. Hounslow, Tower Hamlets, Camden etc. are definitely very different from the SE.

          Personally I’d be more than happy to see “London” from an administration point of view culled down with the outer boroughs being seperated from the centre.

          I have no desire for any Labour mayor to govern my little bit of London, just as the Islingtonistas and population of certain high ethnic sections of Inner London won’t want Boris. Forcing one or other group to be very unhappy seems quite sadistic.

          A reduced London could happily get on with things ringed by a vast area of SE, SW, East and southern midlands sea of blue.

    • treborc1

       I think you will not get Wales  asking to leave the Union for many many moons.

  • Hamish

    I wish a happy St George’s day to the people of England.
    In the past the English, the French and the Chinese all had valid claims to be the most civilised nation on earth.  All three countries have seen happier days but are now beset by difficulties of various kinds, some political.
    As an impartial Scot, I think England still edges it.

  • derek

    Is there a particular English dish which the English serve on St George’s day?

    Pig on a stick…….

    • treborc1

       Osborne will not task that nice

  • Daggsat

    If you wish to win an election it’s simple. Pledge (and really mean it) to remove the democratic defecit foisted upon England by the half-baked devolution policy of Blair. By the creation of an English Parliament, with all four nations of the currently (dis)United Kingdom under a Federal government.

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