A new England?

A PDF file of David Blunkett’s speech on Englishness is now available from the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Much of it is very good. It’s particularly pleasing to see someone arguing for the English radical tradition as an important part of England’s heritage:

The English radical tradition is an eclectic and varied one, and aside from the seventeenth century, it has been largely reformist rather than revolutionary. I would honour writers and agitators such as John Wesley, Tom Paine, William Hazlitt, William Cobbett, the Pankhursts and George Orwell; and collective movements, such as the Levellers, the Chartists and the Matchgirl strikers. I would also reserve particular pride for the radicals of the abolitionist movement, including William Wilberforce, Robert Wedderburn and Olaudah Equiano (a major figure in Black English history of whom I confess I knew little until I began preparing this speech).

However Blunkett’s argument falls down when it comes to the political implications of English identity.

So how should Englishness be expressed in political terms? It is widely accepted that national identities are expressed and entrenched through institutions. But there is no appetite whatsoever for an English Parliament,

while the failure of the "Yes" vote in the North East confirmed to me the need to express our sense of English identity and shared values at the local rather than regional level.

That argument evoked this response from Michael Knowles of the Campaign for an English Parliament:

In other words, he does not want, or at least as yet he does not want, the people of England to have any political and constitutional recognition and acknowledgement such as the UK government gave to the other two nations of the island of Britain, the Scots and the Welsh, namely a national parliament and assembly. He does not say why not. It is difficult to make out if as yet he has become aware of the important political and constitutional problem of his own Government’s 1998 devolution settlement, namely “The English Question”.

As Knowles makes clear an serious attempt to address English identity has to address England’s democratic deficit.






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