Posted by: secretperson | February 25, 2008

IPPR Supports Constitutional Review II – on Englishness

This follows on from my previous post on the IPPR’s latest findings. Here I address the second report, dealing with the nature of Englishness.

The report clearly recognises a growing sense of Englishness and wonders how ‘progressives’ should deal with it. Three threads are discussed.

The first ism Englishness as a reaction to devolution, and therefore replacing Britishness under which the English identity had been subsumed, but with Britishness also dominated by Englishness. The report finds these ideas contradictory but I don’t. Surely it is easier for one identity to be replaced by another if they share a core. It is a smaller step to feel British not English, if you feel they are one and the same. The report points to a rising sense of Englishness pre-devolution and the lack of awareness or importance placed on devolutional inequalities as evidence that this is not the whole story. Though it may point to Englishness being important in future political debates.

It recongnises a reluctance amongst UK politicians to engage with English identity and English political nationalism, as many see this as a big threat to the Union, or (Jack Straw) are just ignorant anti-English self hating bigots. Ok that’s my opinion.

The discussion of Englishness as a cultural identity follows. Attempts to analyse the growing sense of Englishness by the likes of Paxman and interest in English history are noted. The ‘progressive’ think tank bemoans English identity as nostalgic. Our national myth of an Island race fighting of outside foes (Napoleon and Hitler) is apparently unhelpful and unsuited to the 21st century in a multi-national state. On the other hand they also say Englishness should not be dismissed as inherently imperialistic or reactionary, and should be engaged with, which is nice.

The third theme is that of Englishness as a threat to Britishness, both the British institutions and the values they represent. It allows that the Conservative and Unionist party has been replaced by the Labour Party as the party of the Union, and that many on the left feel Britishness is more inclusive than Englishness. Part of this is represented by a desire to teach a historical or ‘citizenship’ British story in schools, to provide a sense of belonging. It concludes in this section that Englishness need not be opposed to Britishness.

In the conclusion to the report, it is pointed out that a constitutional review which ignores 85% of the population is bizarre. Ignoring the English question carries as many risks as the solutions to it, and engaging with, rather than condemning a growing sense of Englishness is the way forward. A progressive Englishness can be forged, avoiding the ‘dangers’ of leaving Englishness to the right, as a complimentary idea with the existence of a United Kingdom.

My Comments on Both Reports
Although I fall on the centre right politically, it is encouraging that those on the left are beginning to see that English identity cannot be ignored any more. The vision of the English as oppressors who don’t deserve recognition is coming to an end. The IPPR are very influential in the Labour Party and anything that makes Gordon and chums address the English question must be welcomed.

However, there are also problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a ‘progressive’ Englishness (although I hate the word progressive). But a government decided idea of what should constitute people’s identity (English or British) will never work. Identities occur naturally through a complex interaction of outside forces and must be understood, not imposed.

And running through both threads the underlying assumption that preserving the Union is the be all and end all. The English question must only be addressed, not because it is the right and democratic thing to do, but to save the English from the right, or to save the Union from things that might break it up. If thoughts of saving the Union mean the government acts to make those in the Union happy, that is good. But surely it is better to put the well being of people and the representation of their opinions first, not an abstract institution. If the institutions do a good job then people will live with them, emotional attachment or not, as the report correctly surmises. Scottish people feel more considerably more Scottish than British, hence there desire for some self-rule. But they support the Union as they feel they would be better off under it. A successful government will do more for the UK than an invented Britishness.



  1. […] I analyse the second paper here. […]

  2. […] The English Question – IPPR authors in the Guardian Richard Hayton and Michael Kenny write here about their recent report for the IPPR (I blogged previously about it). […]

  3. “…many on the left feel Britishness is more inclusive than Englishness.”

    Oh do they?

    “New labour is the party of union”?

    Oh is it?

    “The ‘progressive’ think tank bemoans English identity as nostalgic. Our national myth of an Island race fighting of outside foes (Napoleon and Hitler) is apparently unhelpful and unsuited to the 21st century in a multi-national state.

    “Nostalgic”? Hmmm? What rot. Of course it’s nostalgic. Talk about stating the obvious. Scottish people looking back towards the Picts is ALSO nostalgic. According to the stupid self appointed, self rightous IPPR wankers “logic” (if you can call it that) the scots nostalgia about William Wallace must also be “unhelpful” and “unsuited” in the C21st to then? I dont see the IPPR slagging the scots off though!!
    As usual, the English are the demons.
    Who is labelling me a demon? Here are some of the people who work at the IPPR.

    Lisa Harker

    Lisa’s career has included two years at the BBC as a Social Affairs Specialist.

    Alos worked at the Day Care Trust.

    More recently she was appointed as the Government’s child poverty tsar at the Department for Work and Pensions.

    Working jointly as independent consultants, Lisa and Carey have worked at the Treasury, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

    Carey Oppenheim

    Carey was a Senior Policy Adviser to Prime Minster Tony Blair, working on welfare and employment, poverty, children and equalities.

    Developed the Child Trust Fund and the Government’s agenda on flexible working and maternity pay.

    Worked Chair of the London Child Poverty Commission.

    Kate Stanley

    Prior to joining ippr, Kate worked in the Policy and Research Unit of the England programme of Save the Children UK where she specialised in refugee issues, children’s rights and child poverty.

    Children, young people and family policy
    Disability and work
    Welfare reform
    Volunteering and civic service

    Now! Who thinks that these people will be able to relate to us? I don’t! They appear to be working for women, children and refugees and that’s it. They no doubt view us as useless men.

    These so-called progressives are anything but progressive.
    Oh aint it sweet. It must make some think tank plonker very warm to think he/she invented some idiotic word to replace the old cliched worn out word liberal with. What bollocks!

    Firstly, not so very many years ago “the left” thought the union flag was the devil’s very own creation. Unionism was viewed as anachronistic!
    Now they think it’s inclusive? What utter rot they speak. They have suddenly realised that
    the English nation are all for leaving the union. About time seeing as weve been telling them for long enough. This britishness bullshit is an attempt at repairing what they have wrecked. Too late! Too late!

    Secondly, if new labour are the party of union how come in the not to distant past, they would not let people from Northern Ireland become labour party members?
    How come they have wrecked the union by promoting devolution?
    Party of union my fackin’ arse.

    How can any English person trust the IPPR? They are liars. Read below.

    “English national identity: the most recent survey (2006) found that when English people are asked to select one national identity for themselves 47 per cent chose English up from 31 per cent in 1992. The main shift took place between 1997 and 1999, and so predates devolution.”

    That is on the IPPR website. It tries to make it sound like devolution IS NOT responsible for the huge surge towards Englishness. This is a downright lie!

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