Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

9 June 2009

Labour election and government disaster – in England (and Cornwall)

It’s interesting how comment on Labour’s disastrous (for it) performance at the polls in the European elections has tended to focus on the story in Scotland and Wales: coming a poor second to the SNP and losing to the Tories for the first time since 1918 respectively. The truth of the matter is that Labour’s results in those countries were relatively good: 20.8% of the vote in Scotland and 20.3% in Wales. In reality, Labour’s abysmally low watermark of 15.7% across Great Britain (i.e. excluding Northern Ireland) was due mainly to its rejection by voters in England, where Labour polled only 15.1% by my calculations (I had to calculate it myself, as the BBC website didn’t give any separate figures for England as a whole).

In some of the English Euro-regions, Labour’s performance amounted almost to a complete wipe-out. In my own region of the East of England (not much discussed in media analysis), the party finished in fourth place with only 10.5% of votes: down 5.8% on 2005. In the South West, Labour came fifth with a mere 7.7% (down 6.8%). I note that, in Cornwall, the UK’s governing party landed up in sixth place behind the Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow – congratulations to you guys! I note also that the Lib Dems, who performed relatively poorly in Scotland and Wales, gained a 14.1% share of the vote in England: just 1% behind Labour, compared with the 2% margin separating the parties across Great Britain as a whole. This lends some credence to the idea that the Liberal Democrats could overtake Labour as the second-largest party at a general election: in England, that is.

This makes the ‘performance’ of the Parliamentary Labour Party this evening in giving Gordon Brown their ringing endorsement all the more farcical and galling. Look at some of the ridiculously unconvincing expressions of support they came out with after their meeting tonight where they once again bottled it and failed to mount a campaign to get rid of Brown, despite the fact that it’s well known that many of them just wish he would disappear! The choicest passage in the BBC report is the following: “Loyalist Lord Foulkes said there had been ‘great support for Gordon’ and when Mr Clarke spoke ‘no-one even put their hands together'”. Hmm, no one applauded the accused men in the Stalinist show trials, either!

Do they never learn? Don’t they understand that no one believes such blandishments and these expressions of ‘strong support’ for the PM any more, if they ever did: that it’s all about a party the voters have rejected rallying round and yielding to a forcible manifestation of party discipline in a context in which, if MPs are not voted out in constituencies across England, they risk being booted out by the party apparatus under the pretext of expenses-related sanctions? But this unrepresentative body that has appointed itself as entitled to choose England’s and Britain’s political leader doesn’t care about what the voters in England actually think about them and what they want, which is Brown out and a proper, accountable government for England. But hey, guys, don’t you think there’s a lesson for you, there: the lesson from the European and local elections – that you’ve got to start paying attention to the concerns and wishes of the English people? And the same applies to the analysis of why the BNP won two seats and improved its share of the vote in England: this is down to traditional Labour supporters turning away from the party because it has not taken heed of their concerns about housing, jobs and immigration.

Earlier in the day, these issues, together with public services, were signalled by the Labour backbencher Jon Cruddas as areas where Labour was lacking in clear vision and distinct policies. In the BBC article referred to above, Cruddas is further reported as saying that Labour’s problem is not so much one of leadership as policies. I agree with him on one level: there is a vacuum in what Brown himself, after his cabinet reshuffle last Friday, described as the ‘domestic’ policy area – one of three main focuses of his remaining premiership, the others being the economy and so-called constitutional reform. But this vacuum is also a leadership issue: Brown cannot display, and has not displayed, leadership on domestic issues because so many of them relate to England only, not the ‘better Britain’ that Brown invoked last week as the goal he aimed to begin to achieve before the next election.

Why can’t Brown display leadership in domestic English matters? Because he knows, viscerally perhaps, that his leadership is simply not accepted by the English people; that he has no mandate in England: even less of a mandate than in Britain as a whole, that is; and because he can’t even bring himself to acknowledge the name and identity of the country – England – that is crying out for leadership, vision and strong policy direction from a prime minister or first minister that is actually answerable to it. As opposed to being answerable only to the morally bankrupt and politically moribund Parliamentary Labour Party.

So bully for Brown tonight. But it’s simply delaying the inevitable demise of the undemocratic Labour government. And continuing to deny the people of England the right to choose their own leader.

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10 Comments »

  1. Oh I do hope somebody is listening – but sadly I doubt it.

    Comment by Michele — 9 June 2009 @ 2.07 am | Reply

  2. Britology:

    Looking at the areas where Labour got more than 20% it seems to have retreated to it’s “heartlands” rather than just to Scotland and Wales. The only area outside Scotland, Wales and the North of England where Labour got more than 20% was London.

    London 21.3%
    North East England 25.0%
    North West England 20.4%
    Scotland 20.8%
    Wales 20.3%

    I would say that Labour was rejected in England but the rejection was much greater in the South of England, excluding London.

    The reason the party has rallied round Brown is simple, they do not want to go to the country with the Labour Party at an all time low in the polls and no alternative leader on the horizon. I’m not sure how the Euro results match what would happen in a FPTP General Election but if the UKIP support goes to the Conservatives then they could be as high as 44% across the country. A huge number of Labour MP’s would be looking at unemployment in that scenario.

    Brown doesn’t display leadership in domestic matters because he’s never displayed leadership in any matters. Brown is reactive to events and his skills are in controlling the Labour Party which does not translate to any skill at all in running the country.

    Brown’s “English” problem is based on a few simple facts. Brown doesn’t want to acknowledge the hated SNP in Scotland by confining his authority to England, a trait which is compounded by the fact that he is an obsessive and his current obsession is with a unitary Britain.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 9 June 2009 @ 9.53 am | Reply

  3. Oh, and also Brown hates England. Don’t forget that. You don’t let things like health apartheid happen if you LIKE and CARE about country. Remember Brown swiped £2bn from the English NHS (reported in the FT) in his last act as Chancellor, whilst ensuring that Scotland and Wales, who should have felt the pain via the Barnett rules, were unaffected.

    Of course, Scots Nats do like to play down Gordy’s vehement dislike of the UK Rump nation. Everything’s about Scotland, isn’t it, folks? And you must dominate all the comments threads to show it is you Scots who are hard done by?

    Decades of squawking have made it thus.

    Comment by Maria — 9 June 2009 @ 11.31 am | Reply

  4. Of course, Scots Nats do like to play down Gordy’s vehement dislike of the UK Rump nation.

    I’m a little lost here Maria, speaking as a Scottish Nationalist I can vouch quite happily for the fact that Mr. Brown is as much of a hate figure for nationalists in Scotland as he appears to be for those who dislike him in England. You seem to exhibit the rather common failure among many posters from England in your belief that Scottish Nationalists actually like Mr. Brown because he is a Scot and that Labour and the SNP are brothers in arms. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do, I must admit, concentrate more on Mr. Brown’s dislike of a distinct Scottish identity than on his dislike of a distinct English identity but since we’re Scots that’s simply natural. His shameless adoption of Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland as his favourite goal in a vain attempt to try and ingratiate himself with voters south of the border and his description of himself as “North British” on a US news show simply sealed his fate with the Scots who still have a backbone.

    Everything’s about Scotland, isn’t it, folks? And you must dominate all the comments threads to show it is you Scots who are hard done by?

    Britology brought up the disparity between the election results in Scotland, Wales and England for the Euro elections and therefore not mentioning Scotland in my comment was a little difficult. If Britology would rather I stopped posting here I’m quite happy to stop, it is a personal blog after all. Though I do get the distinct impression that the philosophy of your quote is that Scots should be seen but not heard.

    Decades of squawking have made it thus.

    Reserve that comment for the unionists in Scotland. Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems. Nationalists want the UK to disappear and to make the question of who gets most out of Westminster or who bleats the most about how hard done by they are in the UK simply irrelevant.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 9 June 2009 @ 1.30 pm | Reply

    • You’re right, Dougthedug, that there seems also to be a divide in the polling pattern between the north and south of England (apart from London), with Labour doing better in its heartlands.

      Of course, I don’t want you to stop commenting here; you’re very welcome. I think Maria’s reaction is understandable, however, although I’d rather we didn’t resort to Anglo-Scots point scoring. There are many reasons why the Labour government favours Scotland and Wales over England via the Barnett Formula, that electoral logic being one of them.

      I don’t actually think Brown hates England as such; in fact, as ‘Britain’, he even appears to love it. The trouble is he can’t perceive and recognise an England that is distinct from Britain. Of course, this provides him with a raison d’etre for his political life and role. But this non-differentiation between England and Britain is quite common among Scots – even in yourself, Doug, judging from previous comments of yours. This means you tend to see Brown’s English problem as that of an Anglo-Brit trying to deny the break-up of a unitary (England-)Britain brought about by devolution and potentially completed by Scots independence. This is indeed an important part of the picture. But the flipside of this is the suppression of any separate identity or political status for England for fear that the British establishment will implode from within, given that it relies on English people also not making any distinction between England and Britain. So while Brown, as an Anglo-Brit, wants to deny a distinct Scottish identity, as a British Brit (a British establishmentarian), he seeks to deny the very existence of England as a nation distinct from Britain.

      So it’s more a pathological refusal to accept that England is not Britain: like a possessive, authoritarian father who’d rather disown his first-born son altogether than allow him to lead an independent life based on principles and rules other than his own.

      Comment by David — 9 June 2009 @ 2.56 pm | Reply

  5. But this non-differentiation between England and Britain is quite common among Scots – even in yourself, Doug, judging from previous comments of yours.

    I have to take issue with you on that one David. As a Scot, I can say that the British is English is British confusion by the Government and media has been rankling in Scotland for decades and not just for the last few years as it has been in England. I’m well aware of the distinctions between England and Britain and have been for a long time.

    What I have said in previous posts is that the distinction between England and Britain is simply not there in the minds of the Political Establishment and that when you look at facts on the ground it is also hard to make a distinction. The Union wasn’t a political federation but two nations coming together to form a new larger nation which used the Parliament and Governmental systems of England as the new Parliament and Governmental Systems of Britain. Simply on the grounds of population size, wealth and power Britain and England were synonyms for the same state at that time and that’s the way both the population of England and the ruling establishment thought about it. As the population discrepancy between Scotland and England has grown that difference between England and Britain has shrunk and the calls for the government to recognise Englishness as distinct from Britishness is a new phenomenon.

    As you say, the fiction of Britain as a nation not a union and the appropriation of English history as British history relies on a fuzzy boundary between England and Britain. A distinction between England and Britain destroys that illusion and that’s why not only Brown but also Cameron and Clegg want to avoid any differentiation between the two.

    The idea of Britain and England as exactly the same thing is behind the current problem with English Devolution which in fact is an oxymoron under the current system. The architects of devolution looked on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish provinces as devolving from England and not as three out of four devolving from Britain. Looking back over your posts I saw one which could be used to illustrate why devolution for England was never considered. In Britain: The Self-Undermining Nation-State you have two diagrams. In the second which is labelled “Nation of Britain” if you replace “United Kingdom/Britain” by “England” and place the small circles labelled, “Scotland”, “Wales” and “N. Ireland” directly into it then that is the model of devolution used. From that it becomes easy to see why the idea of a devolved England is a non-starter and the idea of more circles inside the English circle labelled with names like, “North-West”, “Eastern Region” and so on becomes easy to visualise. That is your “Nations and Regions” devolution model in one easy diagram. Brown and the rest may label the outer circle “Britain” but they think of that as indivisible from England.

    Going back to the election results, the biggest difference between Scotland and England is that in England UKIP, a party which is hostile to the current devolution setup and wants to roll back a lot of its powers, came second in competition with the established big three. In Scotland a party which wants to break up the UK came top with close to 30% and beat all three UK established parties. The results were more mixed in Wales but PC came close to 20% and UKIP did not perform so well as in England.

    If UKIP get a grip on some seats in the General Election and do well in percentage terms it will put more strain on the current devolution set up.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 9 June 2009 @ 5.58 pm | Reply

    • Dougthedug, I broadly agree with your account of devolution and pretty much said the same in one of my earliest posts.

      I suppose where I take issue with you is in one superficially minor distinction, but one whose ramifications are immense. You say, with respect to one of the diagrams in my Britain: The Self-Undermining Nation-State post, that “Brown and the rest may label the outer circle ‘Britain’ but they think of that as indivisible from England”. I would say that Brown and the Britologists precisely do not think of Britain as indivisible from England; they think of Britain only, not England: England is suppressed and censored from their thinking and language, because it has become Britain and has been replaced by Britain. It’s a case not so much of Britain being indivisible from England but of England becoming indivisible from Britain: conceptually, in the first instance; but that conceptual indivisibility serves to make the idea of political separation between England and Britain unthinkable, in both senses. And it’s this sort of logic that makes the establishment think that if England had a parliament with responsibilities similar to those of the Scottish Parliament, it would be ‘duplicating’ the British Parliament, which of course it wouldn’t, because the British Parliament would have greatly reduced responsibilities. But they think this because a separate England is thought of as a sort of doppelganger of Britain, rather than as a distinct nation within a federation (known as ‘Britain’).

      In short, I think the ‘England is Britain is England’ paradigm certainly prevailed before devolution, and still does so in the minds of many English people (perhaps the majority). And the establishment, post-devolution, exploits this identification in the service of a new paradigm, which could be put as: ‘England’ [very important apostrophes] is indivisible from Britain of which ‘the nations’ are a part [and apart].

      Comment by David — 10 June 2009 @ 3.13 am | Reply

  6. Britology said:
    The truth of the matter is that Labour’s results in those countries were relatively good: 20.8% of the vote in Scotland and 20.3% in Wales.

    The fact is that they were pretty appalling in most of Scotland. In the Higlands and Islands, rural North-East Scotland, The Scottish Borders, Labour got 10% of the vote or less (Eilean Siar being the only exception at 18%). In Edinburgh, Labour got 17%. It is only in Glasgow and the areas that immediately surround it (North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire) that Labour did well and this pushed the Scottish average up to 20%. Scotland is not a homogeneous bloc. Like England there are huge regional variations in culture, language and voting patterns. And as DougtheDug rightly points out, in response to Maria, the vast majority of Scots have the same opinion as Jeremy Clarkson when it comes to Gordon Brown.

    I am no expert on Welsh politics, but I believe that the Labour vote there is concentrated in one small area, the Valleys in the South East.

    Comment by Aberdeen Angus — 9 June 2009 @ 6.54 pm | Reply

  7. Re the Labour vote in Wales, as Vaughan Roderick of BBC Wales has pointed out the Tory 21.2% share of the vote is less than the percentage polled by them in Wales in the wipe-out Westminister elections of 1997 and 2001. (There was obviously an element of tactical voting under FPTP in 1997.) The real story is the collapse of the Welsh Labour vote – down 12%. Should some of the UKIP vote transfer to the Tories at a Westminster election and former Welsh Labour supporters stay at home or cast votes elsewhere, well, the London media are going to have to start finding some new Welsh stereotypes.

    Comment by Hendre — 10 June 2009 @ 1.04 pm | Reply

  8. In fact Mebyon Kernow beat Labour in both the Council elections to the new Unitary authority (they now have three elected members) and the EP elections in The Duchy.

    Equally the Greens attracted a fair few votes. They of course support Cornish devolution.

    Finally the new administration of the Council for Cornwall contains a number of Independents who often campaign on Cornish nationalist issues ie Census tick box, devolution, language etc.

    Comment by cornubian — 30 June 2009 @ 6.34 pm | Reply


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