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.