There was another instance of GB’s [Gordon Brown’s] almost pathological aversion for the word ‘England’ yesterday: a policy speech on education in England, supposedly, in which he said ‘Britain’ 17 times, ‘this country’ once, ‘the country’ twice, ‘our country’ three times – but ‘England’ not once.
I’ve commented on this elsewhere so won’t belabour the point here. But it’s not just GB who can’t bring himself to utter the ‘E’ word: not one of the Labour Party’s major policy statements even mentions England. I checked on their website and looked through all of the pages detailing individual policy areas. You can find the list in a fixed frame that appears at the bottom of every page view.
Not even the devolved areas such as health and education refer to England. But, you guessed it, there are heaps of mentions of Britain. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that GB wrote it all himself! There’s also a link to a page on the devolved governments. ‘Ha!’, I said to myself naively, ‘there’s bound to be something there about the impact of devolution on England’. ‘Stupid boy!’: there’s one link to information on Scottish devolved matters and the Scottish Labour Party; one link to the equivalent for Wales; and one link to . . . London and the London Labour Party. Not a single dicky bird on England.
But there’s a serious point to all this. If Labour can’t talk about England or even mention the name of the country in passing in policy documents many of which are about England alone, and others which involve a balance of English and UK matters, does this mean that they have any view or ‘vision’ – in GB-speak – at all about England’s specific needs and about policy solutions that are adapted to them? I’m sorry, I’m a literal-minded chap, and the English too are famed for their love of straight talking. If you mean England, why don’t you say it and then we can come to a proper judgement about whether you actually have England’s best interests at heart? But if you don’t mean ‘England’, what are your intentions, plans and vision for England? I can’t tell from your policy statements.
In this respect, Labour is in gross dereliction of its duty of care for England. By this, I mean that now so many crucial, strategic areas of government have been devolved to Scotland and Wales, then – in the absence of devolved government for England – the UK government has a particular duty to attend, and to be seen to attend, to the specific needs of England, as it’s the only national body that does have responsibility for England. But if the party that is in power can’t even so much as talk about England in their policy statements, do they care about England at all?