Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

5 February 2011

Ed Miliband: England is a promise politicians haven’t even made let alone broken

I was struck by the following phrase in the BBC’s account of Ed Miliband’s speech in Gateshead yesterday on the so-called ‘Promise of Britain’: “He argued that policies such as nearly trebling the cap on student tuition fees in England and scrapping the educational maintenance allowance would ‘take away the ladders’ for young people and have a profound impact on the country’s future.”

Could it really be, I wondered, that English Ed had actually referred to an England-only government policy as taking effect “in England”? I felt I had to check against delivery, as they say, so I had a look at the transcript of Ed’s speech on the Labour Party website. Sadly, I couldn’t find a single use of the word ‘England’, but I did see the following phrase: “they are cutting away the ladders, destroying the chances of children and young people, and undermine [sic] Britain’s future in a profound way”.

Oh well, I suppose in a speech on the Promise of Britain – distinct echoes of last year’s commemorations of the Battle of Britain with Miliband’s reminiscences on his parents’ flight from war-torn Belgium – it would be too much to expect England to get a mention. Instead, ‘Britain’ featured 18 times, and ‘this country’ or ‘our country’ appeared nine times.

Except, of course, that most of the coalition government’s measures that are supposedly cutting away the ladders of opportunity for young British people actually affect only young people living in England: the hike in tuition fees (originally introduced for England only by New Labour, of course); the Education Maintenance Allowance (being scrapped in England only but retained in Scotland and Wales); Sure Start; the alleged scrapping of a guaranteed apprenticeship place for 17- and 18-year-olds in the current Education Bill (not 100% sure that doesn’t also apply to Wales, but it definitely doesn’t apply in Scotland); etc.

Does it actually matter, on one level, if the Labour leader doesn’t make clear that the UK-government measures he’s criticising affect only one part of Britain – England – not the whole of it? Possibly not, in the sense that the cuts will affect English youngsters in the same way whether you call them English or British cuts. Plus Miliband is making a broader point about declining economic and educational opportunity for all young people in Britain as it is affected by factors common to all the UK’s nations, such as reduced social mobility, growing income inequality, increasingly stretched family budgets, lack of job opportunities and impossibly high house prices.

But it does matter that Ed does not refer to England if English young people are being sold a ‘Promise of Britain’ that New Labour itself broke: the promise of equal and fair support from the state and public services to all British youngsters as they start out in life. The Labour Party broke this promise in its devolution settlement coupled with an unfair funding mechanism that ensures that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish young people obtain more state support and subsidies than their English counterparts.

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Ed Miliband and / or his speech writers perpetuated the taboo on pronouncing the ‘E’ word in this speech, especially given the recent attempts by some in his party to develop a distinct message and policy agenda for England. Is Miliband’s speech a sign that Labour is in fact going to carry on down the Brownite path of eulogising ‘Britain’ and deceitfully framing all its policies as applying uniformly to Britain, even when they relate to England alone?

How can anyone believe in Miliband’s ‘Promise of Britain’ when it was not only New Labour that broke it in the first place, but when this promise is dishonest in its very concept: the idea of a ‘Britain Fair For All’ (as Labour’s 2010 election manifesto, written by Ed Miliband put it) that Labour has had neither the will nor the means to actually bring about?

Labour should stop going on about a ‘Promise of Britain’ it cannot keep, and should start making realistic and honest commitments to the next generation in England. At least, if Labour returned to government, it would actually have the power to keep those promises. But would it have the will?

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9 Comments »

  1. Labour don’t care about England. All Miliband is doing is trying to tap into the public mood by opposing everything the coalition do, knowing full well Labour would have done the same thing regarding tuition fees. Labour will never recognise, let alone address the discrimination against England because they know to do so, they would lose their Scottish vote which could see them in the wilderness in England for ever. It’s the Conservatives who are letting England down – they are the party put there by the English afterall and what’s more if England had it’s own parliament, they would now be governing with a majority. After writing three times to Downing St. in the last few months asking if the PM thinks the discrimination against English students is fair and what Mr. Cameron proposes to do, if anything, about the English Question, the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula, I received a reply yesterday from his office – a two page letter explaining why it was ‘necessary’ to put fees up but disgracefully, not once was the word England mentioned or any reference made regarding the English Question, West Lothian Question or Barnett Formula. It would seem our ‘UK’ MPs are all as bad as one another – don’t mention the word ENGLAND and the problem will go away. In fact, don’t mention the word ENGLAND, there is no problem. They should be ashamed of themselves.

    Comment by JoolsB — 5 February 2011 @ 9.54 am | Reply

    • I agree. All the politicians seem to take a leaf out of former Lord Chancellor Derry Irving’s book when he said the best answer to the West Lothian Question was not to ask it. In other words, pretend England doesn’t exist, and you don’t have an English Question. I would, however, just take issue with you on one point: if England had its own parliament, it would have to be elected using some sort of PR, such as the AMS system used for the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly. On that basis, the Tories would have been unlikely to win an overall majority based on 2010 voting patterns.

      Comment by David — 5 February 2011 @ 10.13 am | Reply

      • Hi David, might be wrong but don’t see why England has to have PR or AMS just because Scotland and Wales have it. Surely that would be the whole point of an English parliament, we could choose whatever system we want. In fact the Conservatives have said they are against the AV system which is being put to us in the forthcoming referendum and support first past the post. First past the post gave Cameron a healthy majority in England in 2010.

        Comment by JoolsB — 5 February 2011 @ 10.31 am

      • Yes, sure, we wouldn’t have to have PR, strictly speaking, and it would in theory be down to the English people to decide which system to adopt. But I don’t think we would choose either FPTP or AV if we were allowed to have a proper, informed debate about the options. FPTP and AV both unfairly favour the larger parties. But I’d like to think they wouldn’t be controlling the agenda for an English parliament, and that they wouldn’t be allowed to dictate a choice between only FPTP and AV as in the planned referendum regarding the voting system for UK-parliamentary elections in May.

        Comment by David — 6 February 2011 @ 3.46 am

  2. Great Britain today is remeniscent of South Africa pre 1994. We have a form of APARTHEID. But not discriminatory against Black people. Against the English!! Us!! We who pay the most in tax and are discriminated against by the Government. We subsidise Scotland. We and only we pay to be educated. What else would you call such a system?

    Comment by Nicholas Pope — 5 February 2011 @ 4.57 pm | Reply

  3. And the BBC lies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12364729

    “He argued that policies such as nearly trebling the cap on student tuition fees in England and scrapping the educational maintenance allowance would “take away the ladders” for young people and have a profound impact on the country’s future.”

    Comment by Wyrdtimes — 6 February 2011 @ 2.08 am | Reply

  4. Doh that was your point I missed the link – apologies. Must not post when pissed! So it’s another complaint going to the BBC not that they even bother to reply these days.

    Comment by Wyrdtimes — 6 February 2011 @ 1.14 pm | Reply

  5. Nicholas – “We subsidise Scotland”

    You have been reading too many “British” Newspapers for that one! In Scotland we consigned that old fairy story to the bin a long time ago!

    http://www.newsnetscotland.com/economy/861-world-renowned-economist-says-scotland-subsidising-rest-of-uk

    Comment by Watta Tadger — 8 February 2011 @ 8.04 pm | Reply

  6. England subsidises Scotland…..you have to wonder why Cons, Labour and Lib-Dems are so set against Fiscal Autonomy don’t you? Could it be because (according to GERSS) Scotland has been in surplus for 20 years even if you don’t include the oil?
    The Barnett Formula appears to make a funding advantage for Scotland, but actually the Barnett Formula is based on ‘indentifiable’ public spending, so the enormous advantage received by the south east in the way of location of government offices and the military is not taken into account. The most heavily subsidised part of the UK is the part surrounded by the M25, followed closely by the Hampshire/Wiltshire area which depends on a ludicrous concentration of military establishments.
    In Scotland the same parties tell the voters that Scotland benfits from a ‘Union Dividend’……..In Denmark there’s a mass of export industry – butter, lager, butter, bacon, butter, bacon, lager….did I mention the butter? In Scotland there’s only engineering, fishing, world-class education, tourism, whisky, life-sciences, financial sevices,surprisingly strong manufacturing, coal, serious export agriculture, electronics, textiles….and Scotland exports more beer than Denmark….and there’s gas and oil which apprawently are worth a few bob. Clearly the benefit on the Union Dividend is to make Scots less wealthy than Danes.

    Comment by uglyfatbloke — 27 June 2011 @ 9.35 am | Reply


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