This morning Ed Miliband delivered a speech at the Royal Festival Hall, ostensibly addressing the question of England and its relationship to the United Kingdom, even touching upon the nature of English identity whilst predictably recoiling from recognising the English as a distinct people. Naturally, the fate of the United Kingdom is of rather more than theoretical concern to the Labour Party, for if Scotland were to become independent, it would remove a large tranche of Labour MPs from Westminster, perhaps depriving the party of the chance to again form a government in a truncated union or England.
That Miliband has bothered to mention England and the English highlights growing Labour concern that the party has lost touch with the English working class, and must be seen as in all likelihood prompted by Jon Cruddas who is working on a policy review intended to renew Labour’s appeal to its traditional support base. Whereas Miliband’s speech was not billed as such, its content could thus be viewed as presaging the tentative introduction of the ‘Blue Labour’ concept (although 'Blue Labour' is said to have been "effectively disbanded" in July 2011, the party would be wise to heed its recommendations with respect to immigration and its critique of neoliberalism) of which Cruddas is said to be one of the leading exponents, occupying to a certain extent the territory claimed by the ‘Red Tory’ idea. Although both seek to capitalise upon a sense of English alienation from mainstream political parties generated by the latter’s promotion of globalisation and mass immigration, the ‘Blue Labour’ and ‘Red Tory’ approaches affect concern about these issues, whilst neither tackling them nor wishing to do so. Each is fashioned so as to present a reassuring message to the electorate, an anodyne for the dying English patient which is being ushered out of existence to make way for new blood from overseas.
Returning to the ‘substance’ of Ed Miliband’s speech, he emphasised how he believes that “multiple allegiances” are stronger than single ones and that the “debate about nationhood and identity can’t be left to one part of the United Kingdom.” As ever, although this speech was billed as being about England and Englishness, Miliband could not restrain his enthusiasm for globalist internationalism from breaking through, referring to the need “to embrace a positive outward looking version of English identity” and an outward looking patriotism. Heaven forbid that the English should for a moment reflect and perceive themselves to be a distinct nation and people bound by common ties of culture, history, language and descent!
Miliband, as in previous speeches, employed the parental refugee theme, outlining his parents’ flight from Nazism and subsequent settlement in England, which whilst offering them “a new home . . . allowed them to stay true to who they were.” In this way, he underscored his belief in multiculturalism: “Britain is a country where you can have more than one identity; more than one home.” Yes, that is the case, but it does not strike me as desirable for swathes of the population here not only to self-identify as Pakistanis, but to also possess Pakistani passports, Pakistani attitudes and a Pakistani animus towards the English. “Multiple allegiances” in this case are no “source of strength”, but rather one of discord and weakness.
One of the most striking aspects of Miliband’s speech was that he repeatedly referred to the Scots, the Welsh and the English and the “false choice” that was proffered between these various identities and Britishness. Of course, in this respect he is correct, for we are all native peoples of the island of Britain and thus by definition simultaneously a member of one of these three peoples and British, but it did seem to be telling that he did not acknowledge the real problems that can arise from cleft identities nurtured by multiculturalism such as ‘British’-Somali or ‘British’-Pakistani, etc.
In mentioning English culture, Miliband emphasised that musicians, artists and scientists were characterised by their “constantly moving across national boundaries”, and his speech was peppered with references to being “outward looking” and “internationalist”. In other words, whilst purporting to address and acknowledge the importance of England and Englishness, Miliband was simultaneously reducing England to a territorial expression and Englishness to a bloodless malleable cultural construct essentially devoid of substance, continuity and distinctiveness. By adopting such a vapid approach to the question of England and Englishness, Miliband was thereby able to talk about “English identity [which for the Labour Party] has tended to be a completely closed book that people have shied away from.” Although Miliband may today have opened a book whose cover displayed the Cross of St George, its contents consisted of the same old Labour globalist internationalism. Whilst those such as Miliband may think that Englishness consists of nothing more than a flag and a bit of bunting, the English themselves know this not to be the case.