Tuesday 23 April 2024

For St George and England?


It’s possible that the Guardian has got this story wrong, and that the words “in England” have inadvertently been omitted from the sentence “Keir Starmer has written to all of Labour’s general election candidates urging them to mark St George’s Day “with enthusiasm” and to “fly the flag” across the country”. The paper is not unknown for an occasional error, although they are generally more about spelling than facts. It’s also possible that the newspaper and/or Keir Starmer are intentionally referring only to England when they talk about ‘the country’, although failing to understand the difference between England and the UK is not exactly unheard of. But, coupled with this story – also from the Guardian – in which Starmer refers to his “pride and gratitude” at being English and is directly quoted as saying, “To be proudly English means to be proudly ourselves, to hold firm to our convictions and be able to speak our mind – and be civil when others speak theirs. No, Labour is the patriotic party now.”, it somehow seems more likely that we should take the words at face value. Labour is going full English nationalist, and unashamedly so.

Presumably, sone focus group or other has told them that it’s a good way of targeting voters in those parts of England that they need to win. Given Labour’s rock solid support in Wales, support which seems impervious to anything they do or say, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference here, however much some of us will react negatively to it. I can’t help but wonder, though, how even Labour’s general election candidates in Scotland (never mind the voters) will react to the apparent suggestion that they should be flying the flag of St George today.

Conflating ‘England’, ‘the country’, and ‘the UK’ isn’t unique to Labour, of course. It’s something which seems to come entirely naturally to English politicians of all stripes, and they seem incapable of understanding why anyone might object, or feel uncomfortable. Whilst institutions don’t exactly drive political instincts, they can and do reinforce them, and part of the problem is that Labour, like the Tories, cling to the pretence that it is rational and logical for Westminster to be simultaneously an English parliament and a UK parliament, and that the cabinet can be a mix of UK ministers, England-only ministers, and ministers who are sometimes responsible for the UK and sometimes only for England with a dividing line which is at best fuzzy. It’s no wonder their brains get addled. The logic of a devolved UK is that a clear distinction between English institutions and UK institutions would necessarily clarify the dividing lines in terms of powers, and create a political space in which English nationalism could play out.

If Starmer really wants to play the English patriotism card on the day of his country’s patron saint, he could argue for the establishment of an English parliament, and for consistency in terms of what is devolved to the constituent parts of the UK and what is not. He won’t, of course – doing so would be an admission that devolution is here to stay as a core part of the UK’s constitution. And that brings us back to the heart of the problem with all mention of any sort of federalism: it necessarily means letting go of the idea that ultimate power always resides in Westminster. For an English nationalist like Starmer, England must always remain the first, and the top dog, among unequals.


Anonymous said...

He could call for a bank holiday on St George's Day..... but then he might find it hard not to allow us to have a bank holiday on St David's day.

John Dixon said...

Maybe. But I suspect that it's more likely that he'd expect us all to celebrate George, so why would we need another day?