Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

16 September 2008

GB’s Dilemma: A Lack Of Vision

No unkindness to the blind-in-one-eye PM intended: I’m using ‘vision’ in the metaphorical sense here. One of the main criticisms that is currently being directed to GB [Gordon Brown], including by his own party, is that he has failed to set out his ‘vision’ for ‘the country’. This is true. But why has he failed so abjectly?

One reason that is not often discussed in the so-called national media is that GB has a problem with respect to the identity of ‘the country’ for which he is supposed to have a vision. As UK PM, he is effectively the leader of two countries: ‘Britain’ in retained matters; and England in matters that have been devolved to the governmental bodies of Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, and where the UK government’s remit is now limited to England. These matters represent the majority of government business and also relate to fundamental traditional areas of Labour policy and social concern: education, health, social care, social services, planning, transport, etc.

Any Labour ‘vision’ for these things that is articulated purely as if it affected Britain as a whole is fundamentally flawed, indeed false: it involves hoodwinking the English public into thinking that Labour has a mandate to make and carry out policy in these areas because they are applied across the UK, which Labour was elected to govern; whereas, of course, the policies apply only to England, where Labour was not endorsed by the electorate in the 2005 elections, as more English people voted Tory than Labour.

There are additional, particular reasons why GB can articulate his ‘vision’ only in terms of ‘Britain’. Firstly, he actually appears to believe in Britain, i.e. that Britain exists as ‘the nation’ which he was elected to serve, and that people can / will buy in to a vision for that nation. Well, maybe he believed people would embrace this vision at the beginning of his premiership. But I doubt whether he believes that now after over a year of questioning of the legitimacy of a Scottish-elected PM making laws for a country to whose electorate he is not accountable; along with the perpetual chipping away at the Union’s credibility, aided and abetted by the adroit operator that is the Scottish First Minister.

Consequently, if it has become more and more difficult to set out any credible or acceptable vision for ‘Britain’ (when most of it relates to England only), this makes it more and more imperative to set out a credible vision specifically for England. That’s what Labour needs: the acknowledgement that most of what the UK government does directly affects England only, and a new vision addressing the English people as the English people, and setting out goals and priorities for England – and rectifying the inequalities of public expenditure and public-service provision between England and the other countries of the UK would be a good start.

But Labour, and GB in particular, can’t do this. GB can’t admit to being the de facto English First Minister precisely because of the issue of lack of democratic legitimacy: he’s not accountable, as a Scottish MP, to the people of England. And also, he doesn’t believe in England but only in Britain: not just because this justifies his political power, but – I believe – out of genuine adherence to an idea that Britain is the only true nation of this island; a credo which requires that England is not a distinct nation but only a part of the territory and nation of Britain. Maybe GB, like David Cameron, simply doesn’t want to be a PM for England only and is losing his enthusiasm for the job, which involves just that.

So the tragedy of GB’s premiership is not just that, having coveted the post for so long, he found that the trends in politics and economics undermined his credibility and support from the moment he took office; but that he found that the country he thought he was going to lead actually didn’t exist anymore – and the real country he was in charge of (England) rejected his attempts to subsume it into a Nation of Britain.

So, GB ‘really’ is blind in one eye: he has a vision only for Britain but fails to see England looming into view on his blind side. Or perhaps he does now; but he just can’t and won’t articulate what he sees.



  1. Part of Gordon Brown’s problem relates directly to the nature of New Labour. Blair and Brown between them drove a coach and horses through the concept of Cabinet Government and Cabinet responsibility.

    Why Gordon Brown couldn’t see that a Scottish PM post devolution would need the legitimacy of Cabinet Government does indeed show a lack of vision. The only explanation is that he couldn’t see much further than his own duopoly with Blair.

    His obsession with promoting ‘Britishness’ as opposed to, say, the more neutral ‘citizenship’ is rather mystifying. I agree with you that it must have deeper roots than merely a desire to shroud the fact that he is a Scottish PM post devolution.

    Comment by Hendre — 16 September 2008 @ 11.19 am | Reply

  2. Brown’s British vision is more of a vision of England “rebranded” than anything else. It’s not an accident that most of the measures to impose that vision apply only to England and that whenever English culture is included it is included only as “British” not English, Anglo-British, or British-English e.g. Morris dancing in Byrne’s risible list of suggestions for “British Day”.

    The Scots and the Welsh greeted their Olympic heroes with their national flags. England greeted its with British flags handed out by Olympic/government officials eager to hide the red and white behind the red, white, and blue.

    It’s not working though. At the beginning of the summer (before the summer was drowned) I noticed many more people turning up to see us (I’m a Morris dancer) than over the past few years despite the pubs we dance at dying on their feet. Their comments are usually along the lines of “It’s great to see someone doing something English”.

    Okay, it’s trivial and silly diversion but there is no “Folk revival” to explain that interest away and these aren’t the kind of people who would ever really describe themselves as English Nationalists. Just ordinary people taking an interest in a tiny but very visible part of their cultural heritage. A sign that people aren’t interested in being “British” but instead are rediscovering their Englishness.

    Brown’s on a loser with this one.

    Comment by Mike — 17 September 2008 @ 9.56 am | Reply

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