The Left, “Englishness” and voting conservative

Speaking up for an English identity should form part of Labour’s new conservative narrative.

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Two things caught my eye last week: Ed Miliband’s speech on Englishness and a comment piece in The Guardian explaining why the working class vote conservative. Both are connected.

ed-miliband-englishnessLast Thursday, Miliband put the left on nervy terrain by using the Queen’s diamond jubilee to talk about English identity.

Perhaps not the best occasion, considering this was a celebration of a British, not English, monarch, with all of Britain decked out in union jack flags and stirrings of British pride coming to the surface.

Yet with the fight for Scottish independence now under way, Miliband banked on this being the perfect time to speak up for those south of the border, increasingly calling for their own distinct voice.

As he rightly pointed out:

This debate about nationhood and identity should not simply be confined to one part of our country.”

He went on to talk about the left’s uneasiness in addressing this issue:

“We in the Labour Party have been too reluctant to talk about England in recent years. We’ve concentrated on shaping a new politics for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

We should embrace a positive, outward looking version of English identity. Finally, we should also proudly talk the language of patriotism.”

This shouldn’t be difficult to talk about, but for a number of reasons the left has tied itself in knots trying to (not) deal with it. On identity, it has mistakenly sought to (over)intellectualise, where the right have effortlessly made overtures to the non-quantifiables; human instincts such as loyalty and patriotism.

For too long, the left’s hesitation, its half-hearted commitment, partly borne out of a never-ending battle with Empire guilt and partly down to not wanting to give oxygen to the far right (which we ended up doing anyway), has allowed the right to colonise (so to speak) this issue.

Whether exaggerated or not (in particular, in the early days of New Labour), every time someone felt they were being denied the right to fly the St George’s cross (a story always gleefully picked up by the right wing press), or express their love for being English, simply nudged them further to the right, and into the arms of the less desirables. Usually, but certainly not exclusively, the case for working class Labour voters.


See also:

Ed Miliband: The future of the UK is ‘too important’ to be decided only by Scotland 7 Jun 2012

Momentum builds for Scotland’s ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign 28 May 2012


Which brings me on to Jonathan Haidt’s column in The Guardian about the way the working class vote. Author of the recently published ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion’, he uses this comment piece to explain why the political right (from all over the world) have managed to cleverly convince blue-collar voters to ally themselves with them even when it appears to be against their own interests.

For Haidt, this represents a victory for the right in its appeal to heart over head. Whilst the left monopolises care, compassion and welfare, the right have gone straight for the gut. For them, politics is all about:

“A moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left.”

In some respects, the right have (over) simplified politics. There’s no need for detailed explanation when you have symbols and powerful rhetoric, steeped in a sense of morality:

One reason the left has such difficulty forging a lasting connection with voters is that the right has a built-in advantage – conservatives have a broader moral palate than the liberals (as we call leftists in the US)

The right are comfortable enough to weigh in on cultural issues, such as identity, with the left playing catch up.

Whilst national identity isn’t as much of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic (proving your patriotism is par for the course for any American politician), it seems to be in constant flux over here. This is no doubt due to historical and cultural reasons more than anything else but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid concern for some.

Economic uncertainty, spending cuts, downsizing the welfare state, which Labour admits it would have had to do (at some point) itself, mean less tangible issues come to the fore.

People are scared, they feel vulnerable. They want a sense of unified purpose, a feeling of belonging. This is why Ed Miliband has chosen to tackle English identity a full three years before the general election. He knows that the left is more trusted on the NHS and in looking after society’s most needy, but the fact that 4-5 million working class voters have abandoned the party since 1997 proves that this isn’t enough.

A rediscovery of its conservatism – family, order and community – as articulated by one commentator; ‘rescuing conservatism from the conservatives’, according to another:

“Many people harbour deeply conservative views on matters of value, but not on matters of justice – [this] represents both an intellectual challenge, and a political opportunity, for left-wing parties.”

Speaking up for an English identity should form part of Labour’s new conservative narrative. You can do all this whilst also standing up for a strong, nurturing, state. In the words of one writer, time for a “nostalgia of the left, based on community, social solidarity and public service”.


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77 Responses to “The Left, “Englishness” and voting conservative”

  1. Anonymous

    And in Wales, for instance, fran? It’s hardly something the actual left – not the PLP – have not championed is it? There’s plenty more of the Scottish left who don’t want independence, but have voted for the SNP because of their broadly left policies – but won’t support independence.

    (After all, who else will they vote for who is broadly left? Not Labour outside Wales these days…)

  2. Peter Dow

    “Dissent” I believe in. Being unjustly arrested, tortured and jailed by an enemy royalist state I don’t believe in.

    The Kingdom isn’t “society”. It is an anti-social imposition upon society.

    Your defence of the kingdom is the right wing here.

  3. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Left, "Englishness" and voting conservative, by @BMitchellwrites: #NewsClub

  4. Peter Dow

    Not at all. A president makes sure the law and especially the constitution is upheld.

    The beauty of the law is that it can be read by anyone who can read. If the law says “black” but the judge says “white” then all men who can read can strike the judge down, in their mind, if not as it effects deeds on the ground so to speak.

    The difference with a president is that he has an army at his command to take down judges who are violating the constitution and the law.

    No royalist, calling someone “nuts” is your comfort zone. Saves you admitting you have run out of arguments.

  5. Anonymous

    I see, so having your own power in place to overthrow and judge which might threaten you is fair now is it?

    You’re arguing against the entire basis of common law.

    Dare rule against the King? OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!

  6. Anonymous

    So basically, you’re NOT British, you class it as an enemy state. Thanks for that clarification.

  7. Peter Dow

    The people institute republican states to overthrow judges who threaten constitutional rights, such as freedom of expression. Yes it is fair. Everyone gets the same basic constitutional rights. It’s the president’s job to enforce those rights and it’s the people’s job to impeach and remove a president who fails to do his / her job.

    I am arguing against the people remaining powerless and at the mercy of a royalist judicial dictatorship, the status quo in this kingdom.

    Here in Scotland, only the lawyers and their political lackeys believe in “Scots law” the phrase they prefer to “common law”.

    However, there is no “Scots law” and I suspect there is no “English common law” either but I will leave the English to argue that one out.

    What there is, in Scotland, is an anti-Scottish Queen’s law, which oppresses the people here in Scotland and the equivalent in England, an anti-English Queen’s law which oppresses the people.

    By this I mean, even laws which the words of the statute read, are laws which appear to defend the people can’t be relied upon because the courts defy the law, misinterpret, ignore or turn upside down the meaning of the law when it suits them, or whoever is paying their fees.

    Of course, the rotten laws, willingly given royal assent, which would violate any democratic constitution, such as the libel and defamation laws, and the contempt of court laws, are enthusiastically implemented by the judges because such bad laws give the judges power to impose a dictatorship.

    It is time to repeat Cromwell’s action and “off with the monarch’s head” – that is, if the royals don’t go quietly into exile or come to another peace with republicans.

  8. Peter Dow

    I AM British. I have made that clear.

    I ask again. Did you not listen to me speaking in this radio phone in to the BBC Radio Scotland where I support the flying of the union flag and state that I consider myself both Scottish and British?

    Peter Dow (on radio) re: Union flag in Scotland

    So basically, you can’t be arsed listening?

    Also my website is a Scottish National Standard Bearer website but I do have one pro-British page,

    Welshman Bryn Terfel sings Rule Britannia broadcast by the BBC from the Royal Albert Hall and simultaneously heard by crowds at Hyde Park, Glasgow Green and Singleton Park on the Last Night of the Proms.

    Shirley Bassey singing James Bond theme songs. What more do you want?

    More? OK, I run these channels on YouTube.

    British Flag Bearer
    British Republican
    Pro-American Briton

    I am a British REPUBLICAN. I am also Scottish and also a Scottish republican.

    This means I oppose the ANTI-BRITISH United Kingdom state.

    The UK is the enemy state which opposes our democratic rights as Britons to elect our own head of state, a British President of a British republic.

    The UK is not Britain. The UK is the United Kingdom, it is the enemy of Britain.

    I am British. What I am not, and what you appear to be, is “UK-ish”.

  9. Anonymous

    No, I don’t listen to BNC rallies either, without tactical reasons to do so.

    You’re advocating the violent overthrow of the state. You’re an enemy of Great Britain.

  10. Anonymous

    Scots law is a unique legal tradition which blends elements of common and civil law. But hey, don’t let reality stop you.

    You are, as usual, trying to criminalize dissent from your viewpoint, and threatening violence or “exile” against the majority in your crusade.

  11. Peter Dow

    Well it is a recording of part of a radio programme broadcast by the BBC. But please yourself. Only don’t blame me if you can’t remember that I am British.

    I am not “right” wing. I am left wing.
    I am not a “fanatic”. I am a democrat.

    Only in a kingdom or a fascist, communist or other dictatorship could a democrat be seen as a “fanatic”.

    I am no more violent than the police are. If you are against all police violence and you want them to never arrest someone then say so.

    The reason to study me is to try to understand what democracy, socialism and republicanism are all about. This will help the politics of your country, whatever country that may be.

    One must use violence if one is to overthrow a violent state. If the UK states abandons violence against republicans then we would have no need to use violence to overthrow the state.

    I am not an enemy of Great Britain. I am a British patriot and a British nationalist. This means I support the British people against all enemies foreign and domestic.

    The biggest domestic enemy of the British people is the United Kingdom.

    All those who support the UK state against democratic republicans seeking to establish democratic republics to defend the British people against the enemy UK state, are traitors to the British people.

    This is your (meaning “our” the British people’s) victory. Victory of the cause of freedom in every land. (Including Great Britain).

  12. Anonymous

    Ah yes, redefining words to suit you. Millions dead is not a “victory”, it’s a bloodbath for your gods of death.

    You’re a typical terrorist advocate. If I study you, it’ll be to ensure you end up in jail.

    My philosophy EXPLICITLY rejects any kind of revolutionary ideology, even if you succeed, revolutions eat their children.

  13. Peter Dow

    The reality of “the law” in Scotland is that the Queen’s judges do whatever the hell they want to anyone they don’t like, just so long as the police will carry out their orders which they usually do without protest. There is no “law” as such. There is a judicial dictatorship.

    I have not tried to criminalize dissent. I have supported the right to dissent from my viewpoint, from any viewpoint.

    I seek to remove the royal family. This is a family of a dozen or so people. This is not a majority of the people. Clearly even if the royals had departed for overseas if there remains a kingdom state which tries to put me or other republicans in one of Her Majesty’s Prisons, or tortures or kills us, we would be forced to defend ourselves, though in the absence of a republican army that defence consists of mostly avoiding trouble and getting a good lawyer if trouble cannot be avoided.

    It is not a “crusade”. It would be a republican revolution.

  14. Anonymous

    You seek to slaughter, as usual for the far right, anyone who stands in your way so you can appoint your dictator. It’s absolutely a fanatic’s crusade.

    Calling for absolute immunity from the law for you and your followers is an extreme twist even for your kind, mind you.

  15. Peter Dow

    Do I understand you to oppose the defence of Britain against Nazi Germany?

    I would have sided with those who fought against those who sought to enslave or exterminate all the people of Europe including those on this island.

    If you would not, if you are pacifist or neutralist then I say it is you then who is clearly against the freedom of the British people, you will will not stand up to our enemies.

    The terror is imposed by the kingdom. If I or other citizens try to do their duty to inform the public about mismanagement we are terrorised by legal threats into silence. It is the terrorist UK state which is the enemy of the people.

    I have been in jail but I got out again. Sorry to disappoint you.

    Ah, so you would have opposed the Cromwell revolution to overthrow the absolute monarchy and the counter revolution to re-impose a constitutional monarchy?

    So you would only really have been happy with the continuation of the divine right of kings, imposed both here and in the American colonies?

    I do not see the American citizens of the United States of America being eaten by their revolution.

    Many reasonably democratic republics exist in the world and the citizens are not generally being eaten.

    Undemocratic revolutions which impose dictatorships are different of course. I do not advocate an undemocratic revolution nor the imposition of an even worse dictatorship than the one we currently live under.

  16. Peter Dow

    Not at all. I seek to avoid slaughter such as at Dunblane Primary School massacre and the many other deaths and disasters caused by the reckless incompetent mismanagement of this kingdom. I offer violence only where violence is offered to me.

    I am not of the right, far or near. I am a democratic republican socialist. I am a moderate left-winger by world standards.

    I oppose dictatorship.
    It is not a crusade.
    I am not a fanatic.

    I call for immunity from the Queen’s law. Republicans should be trusted to establish republican courts to uphold republican laws. We don’t need the Queen’s forces to govern ourselves. Thanks but no thanks.

  17. Anonymous

    Right, you’re out to overthrow the GOVERNMENT. Thanks for that. You call for immunity from the LAW, only being subject to internal discipline, like any good far right secret police.

    Crusade. Fanatic. Zealot. Far Right.

  18. Anonymous

    You want to do a takeover styled almost exactly like the Nazis, funny that. As a Jew, of course I’ll oppose you!

    Anyone who is pro-neutrality or not willing to commit violence is part of your little list to purge, I see.

  19. Selohesra

    Seriously Botty I think you, me & LB all oppose BNP because we abhor their racism – hence the desire by most reasonable people and yourself to disassociate ourselves from them. However if you look at BNPs other positions – banker bashing, trade barriers to protect British jobs, higher taxes on the rich and business to redistribute to the poor, nationalisation of utilities and other key businesses etc – they would seem to me designed to appeal to the left and the working class. Racism does not equate to right wing ( except in BBC definition where right means anything bad) left and right both have their fair share of racists

  20. wg

    @Peter Dow

    I understand your reluctance to be ruled by the monarchy – it would seem to be a majority position on the left and your point is consistently argued.

    The strange thing is that a large proportion of working class people seem very much for the present arrangement.

    I also understand the need to be left alone by unelected judges – I have come to that state of mind myself regarding our subservience to the European Union.

    I am also, most probably like you, not in the majority and am not winning the argument at the moment – arguing for our respective positions but in a state of active political withdrawal.

    I’m of a different opinion than you on our Monarchy, but I can not fault your logical arguments – I wish you the best of luck with what you believe.

    But, it has to be done democratically!

  21. fran

    I said socially not sexually ! Good luck with your quest. You’ve obviously been socially conservative for far too long and just because your a republican doesn’t mean you can’t have your own dynasty.

  22. Anonymous

    The entire mindset of “The Other Is Evil” is very much from the right. Yes, there are other reasons for racism, but that’s by far the most widespread.

    Moreover, no, there is no validity to the isolationist, anti-trade position the BNP take, their taxes would hammer growth and are poorly structured (would primarily fall on the middle class), I am AGAINST forced renationalisation in most cases (mutualise them, or in the case of trains don’t renew the TOC’s)…

    Banker Bashing I’ll giver you, but unfortunately trying for the sort of punishments I feel appropriate would be purely vengeful at this remove. And that’s rather a bad idea.

    I’d point out that the BNP don’t WANT, for that matter, to appeal to the left.

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