Liberal Democrat Vincent Cable has upset the folks over at the Campaign for an English Parliament with a remark in his new Demos pamphlet, Multiple Identities: Living with the New Politics of Identity.
The threat to harmonious social relations in Britain comes from those who insist that multiple identity, including Britishness, is not possible: white supremacists, English nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists. This is the opposition and they have to be confronted.
An important element in that confrontation is the assertion of a sense of Britishness. British patriotism went out of fashion with people of more liberal disposition when it was associated with imperial arrogance and racial superiority. Those days have long gone and there is now an important national component of our identity, within an open and diverse society, in which we should take pride. (Demos)
The CEP’s Gareth responds:
I am an English nationalist and I don’t much like being lumped into the same bracket as white supremacists and Islamic fundamentalists. I call myself a nationalist because I want to see an English parliament and government. An important part of recognising the multiple identities of the British Isles is in recognising England’s right to the political self-determination afforded to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Why does Mr Cable level the accusation at English nationalists and not Scottish or Welsh nationalists?
Mr Cable would do well to address his own prejudices before casting stones. (CEP)
Interestingly, Mr Cable’s definition of English nationalism seems to be slightly different to Gareth’s.
In the UK, hostility to asylum seekers and other immigrants, and suspicion of the EU, have a powerful appeal to English nationalists. In two successive general elections the Conservatives have chosen to focus on these issues rather than the traditional right-wing agenda of tax cutting and privatisation.While it has not paid them much by way of political dividends, they undoubtedly identified grievances which had troubled many voters. Indeed, the future of British politics may well revolve around the question of whether these expressions of identity come to dominate the traditional Right, the Conservatives, or are channelled through parties like UKIP or the BNP.
So English nationalism means the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP, all avowedly British parties. Indeed, the philosophy Cable describes is if anything the identical to the ‘imperial arrogance and racial superiority’ which he says was once associated with Britishness.
So why label this kind of chauvinism as exclusively English? English identity it seems is the scapegoat for Britain’s imperial legacy. This allows Cable to avoid the deeper questions about whether British institutions has sloughed off that legacy sufficiently to provide a sound basis for modern democratic citizenship.