I came across a very interesting lecture by Prof John Denham, former Labour MP in Speaker’s House at the House of Commons on June 27th. Having read the complete transcript let me suggest it is certainly worth a read – links below of video & transcript. The lecture itself is quite long for me to comment on each element, suffice to say there are areas of agreement and quite a few points I completely disagree with. So I will summaries based on my understanding the main takeaways from from this lecture, then I’ll be briefly comment on these elements and people can make their own judgement;
- Prof. Denham suggests that there is big difference between being English vs. the being British and how we perceive ourselves as belonging more to one more than the other; one’s that are more inclined to socially conservative values (English) and the other more inclined to cosmopolitan values (British). He then draws a conclusion from this division as to why some voted for BREXIT, the marginalised English who live away from cosmopolitan areas and who have seen the effects of EU membership; mainly jobs being lost, factories closed and communities weakened due to rapid migration, while the other British group saw that with EU membership came opportunity and “personal” success.
- Prof. Denham then goes into details of how the English have been marginalised by their government through centralised power, and flawed devolution mechanisms as with Labour’s regionalism, “designed primarily to co-opt and engage local stakeholders in the flexible delivery of Whitehall priorities and not intended to transfer the ability to set different policy priorities, or accountability for public money to a more local level”. This as opposed to more effective Welsh and Scottish model of devolution.
These 2 points are the thrust of this lecture as I understand, so here are comments;
- As an immigrant myself I can tell you that I see myself as British/English. I do not make the distinction other than considering the geographically aspect. I see Britain as Great Britain which includes Wales and Scotland (for now) and I see no differences between the regions in terms of culture and/or values or at least I do NOT see these differences to be a major factor that warrants this separation.
- I also happen to believe that believing in the European Identity does not diminish in any way shape or form my British identity because for me it is both about shared values as well as a practical benefit at many levels to be part of the EU. There are pro’s and con’s obviously, but being part of the EU that we helped shape we can make the necessary reforms needed – and that was the plan, remember? However, if you look at it from the narrow nationalist view – and no negative connotations here at all – of course you win every time, but please remember you need to prioritise based on what’s best for Britain on a practical/pragmatic level irrespective of prejudices. What concerns me in your piece is the suggestion that voting to Remain is more about “personal success” rather than allegiance to this country – and some have/continue to make this argument. I can tell you that this is an absolutely false perception – in my case it is based on what I believe to best for Britain period. As a matter of fact if you take the time to browse the posts on this site you’ll see that I am no proponent of EXIT BREXIT campaign nor the EXIT at any cost campaign; what I am advocating is a proper process NOT the flawed referendum that we’ve had; to allow us to make the right choice for this country based on facts – and as they say (let the chips fall where they may). Of course with the divisive politics that we have now I know what you’re assumptions may be but these views of mine can also be challenged for authenticity.
- The fact that you choose to focus on “Identity” for this lecture as one of the main factors that influenced the BREXIT vote – which I do agree with in part – is an indication of how the BREXIT campaign was/continues to be framed; spanning a spectrum of purely nationalist views at one end to extremist/xenophobic prejudices at the other. This is NOT unique to this country and has/continues to be used to right wing parties throughout Europe as reason to exit the EU; France is a good example of this; I get that part, I understand it. This however does not translate – at least in mind – that people with nationalist views are by definition xenophobes, absolutely not. Rather this is a clear reflection of our own failures in balancing Migration with Integration, and granted it also reflects on flawed policies within the EU on migration policies – and here I am NOT referring to internal migration within the EU rather migration from outside the EU. As for internal EU migration I do NOT see much negative impact there though there may be areas where these also need some level of control, something that can be debated/agreed upon between members.
- To suggest that Britain has been in decline for over 40 years ever since the UK became member of the EEC in early 70’s is in my view not a very accurate proposition; let me suggest that if that were the case we’d have been off that cliff a long time ago both economically & politically. In actual fact we didn’t do too bad at all as member in the EU. Yes, there have been failures in terms of wealth distribution as we all the negatives effects of Globalisation but one can argue these same effects are not confined to Britain, the EU or Europe as a whole for that matter, these are trends you’ll find pretty much all over the world. Just to give one relevant example of the flawed internal policies that have contributed to our economic vulnerability we suffer from is the shrinking of our core Industrial base which has been sold to multinational & foreign firms/individuals. This is just one of the the major issues we face today due to governments allowing market forces to shape our economy with little/no constraints.
- In terms of the minority “British” identifiers that you feel have no allegiance to this nation and who now have political power; well you need to identify those individuals and make the case before putting info out there that gives wrong perceptions as to how/why they voted in the BREXIT referendum otherwise you’re muddying the water based purely on personal assumptions.
- Finally on the question of devolution and failures to effectively devolve policy formulation and funding to local authorities I cannot agree with you more. As a matter of fact this can be seen as the main driver for the BREXIT vote in my view; which is a combination the feeling of marginalisation due to centralised power, kickbacks from a Globalisation that’s gone wild as well as flawed immigration policy. That much I get pretty well; and as an indication note that while I was member of the LibDems until a couple of years ago I was suggesting more decentralised policy formulation through local/regional party branches rather than the top-down approach adopted by most political parties. I am also very very keen on protecting our western values along with our Christian tradition as an integral part of our identity. The difference here is that I do NOT blame the EU for our failures in these areas but lay the blame squarely on failures of successive British governments in addressing these issues.
Anyway I am more than happy to engage privately or publicly on such an important topic which is one that is very close to my heart and I believe I do have interesting suggestions, well I would say that wouldn’t I? 🙂
Hope this helps
PS: I may choose to add/change contents of this post if I come up with further thoughts. Thanks
English Identity Lecture – John Denham
A nation divided? The identities, politics and governance of England