Being One Nation doesn’t mean we should stand on the sidelines of Europe

November 16, 2012 9:45 am

By Colin Crouch

‘One nation’ makes simple sense as the 19th Conservative slogan it originally was: an appeal to lower classes to maintain their loyalty to the national elite despite their deprivations; and to the elite itself to make some sacrifices to earn that loyalty. As a centre-left slogan for the early 21st century, when large parts of the elite have moved themselves fiscally offshore, it is more complex. There is no point in the Labour Party appealing directly to that elite. However, it does make political sense to shame its political representatives, who still need the nation, by pointing to the ways in which today’s privileged groups escape national responsibilities while expecting the country to rally round them when they are in difficulties. The ‘one nation’ slogan needs to have bite in it to achieve that.

But how is the mass of the population meant to respond to the call to believe in ‘one nation’? It can include Labour’s normal appeal to middle-class people to support the welfare state as an act of compassion towards less fortunate members of the nation. That raises some tricky problems around immigrants and recently settled ethnic minorities who are not yet widely accepted as being part of the ‘British nation’. The call to national solidarity has always been an important component of the politics of the welfare state, and it could accommodate small minorities. When these minorities become large there is a tricky path that has to be found between sacrificing the power of that call or lurching towards xenophobic exclusion. Finding that path is now an important task.

However, it is also necessary and entirely possible to move beyond seeing social policy as compassion towards the unfortunate, in two different ways.

First is the old social democratic argument, in danger of being lost when discussion of social policy focuses on efficiency and effectiveness: the universal benefits of the welfare state are a badge of national citizenship. We all have an interest in them, and this is shared across the nation. It may well be accompanied with acceptance of the obligations of citizenship, such as to work and to pay taxes. But this vital concept has been disappearing as successive governments have seen social policy in terms of measures to target efficiently on the poor, with all parties using the language of individual consumerism rather than citizenship to describe our relationship to the welfare state. The one nation concept could be useful in reversing this drift.

Second, many elements of social and other public policy serve a general national interest by equipping an advanced workforce and economy. Active labour market policy, education, childcare, infrastructure spending and other components of the social investment welfare state all contribute in this way.

This idea of nation as a shared social citizenship fits well with a social democratic vision, but ‘nation’ also presents problems. Inevitably, national election campaigns in which parties stress their attractiveness to as many voters as possible lead all to engage in patriotic bombast. During this age of globalization, when the corporate interests that are creating problems for the mass of citizens operate across borders, playing governments off against each other, the illusion of an autonomous national politics is dangerous. Labour would only be able to create an acceptable international economic environment if it played its part as one of the leading countries of the European Union, using the Union to achieve positive goals.

At present Labour stands alongside the Conservatives with an approach to the EU that just says ‘hands off our nation’ and little more. This is fine for neoliberal Tories, who do not want any institution to have the political competence to challenge global capital. It is of no use to Labour. If we are dissatisfied with current EU policies, as we should be, the answer is to join with allied parties across Europe to change them, not to sulk on the sidelines muttering about vetoes and opt-outs.

This cannot be one of those policies achieved by stealth, keeping up a heady separatist rhetoric while co-operating behind the scenes. Britain’s national interests need to be understood as gaining power by being pursued alongside colleagues within Europe. It is possible for voters to understand that, but they can only do so if political leaders turn them in that direction. So far not only has no start been made on that task; it is running in reverse.

Colin Crouch is Professor Emeritus of the University of Warwick Business School. He is the author of Post-Democracy (2003) and The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism (2011)

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

Latest

  • News Cameron to make Tory party donor a peer

    Cameron to make Tory party donor a peer

    The Times (£) have reported that next month, David Cameron will make a donor to the Tory party a peer in the house of Lords. This appointment will be made alongside a dozen of others in August, including political peers but also “working peers” such as   party donors. A senior Conservative source said said that including donors on the list  would “complicate” the way it’s perceived by the public. Downing Street, hoping to avoid controversy over this, have yet to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The Commonwealth is a good not just a games

    The Commonwealth is a good not just a games

    The Right hate the Left pointing out the achievements that we have brought to any moment of national unity.  Just remember Tory MP Aiden Burley’s horror at a telling of our national story at an Olympic opening ceremony that was warm, inclusive and celebrated both our capitalistic and socialistic achievements. The Commonwealth games organisers had an incredibly difficult balance to strike last night, finding the political balance between being proud of Scotland without that pride seeming to make a statement […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour will bring back two hours of sport for primary school children

    Labour will bring back two hours of sport for primary school children

    Harriet Harman will today announce plans to reintroduce a minimum two hours of sport a week for primary school children. The policy was first introduced by the last Labour Government, but a study last summer showed that the number of children receiving at least two hours of sport education a week had halved under the Coalition. Harman’s speech, which coincides with the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow today, will be given at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in […]

    Read more →
  • News Seats and Selections AWS row – Might Ann Clwyd cancel her retirement from parliament and stand in 2015?

    AWS row – Might Ann Clwyd cancel her retirement from parliament and stand in 2015?

    Despite announcing that she was stepping down as MP for Cynon Valley earlier this year, Ann Clwyd might have had a change of heart – she’s said she might stand again in the General Election. Speaking to Wales Online, 76 year old Clwyd – who’s been the MP for Cynon Valley for 30 years – confirmed rumours that local constituents had been asking for her to run as the Labour candidate next May. She said “I have received many letters from […]

    Read more →
  • News Douglas Alexander calls for “an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza

    Douglas Alexander calls for “an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza

    Violence in Gaza has continued to increase in recent days. The most current stage of fighting in the conflict between Israel and Palestine began 15 days ago and officials say at least  649 Palestinians and 31 Israelis have been killed. International leaders have urged both Hamas and the Israeli government to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, and last week Ed Miliband also encouraged both sides to “return to the negotiating table.” Today, Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, has released a statement […]

    Read more →