Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

10 June 2011

The head of the Anglican Communion criticises the government’s English policies without saying ‘England’

“A democracy going beyond populism or majoritarianism but also beyond a Balkanised focus on the local that fixed in stone a variety of postcode lotteries; a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity: any takers?”

These are the words with which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, concluded his article in the New Statesman yesterday criticising key coalition government policies on social services and welfare as being without a proper mandate.

My answer to this question would be, ‘how about an English democracy?’

The Archbishop rightly and powerfully articulates some of the central problems about the government’s social agenda with respect to the lack of any real democratic debate, scrutiny and consensus they may have received. Elsewhere in the article, Dr Williams writes: “With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted”.

It is indeed true that the government’s policies in areas such as education, health, localism and the Big Society were not set out clearly and in detail in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos at the last election, nor were they explained or debated openly and vigorously throughout the election campaign. And there was one very good reason for that: these policies are English policies.

At the election, none of the three major parties openly acknowledged and explained that their policies for education, health, communities and social services – all of which are devolved matters – related to England alone; indeed, their manifestos contained barely any mention of England (as I analysed at the time here, here and here). And as we know, almost the very raison d’être of the British government and establishment is to suppress the existence of any sort of English-national polity in which policies and laws intended for England are openly and honestly discussed as relating to England.

Accordingly, there’s a very good reason, Dr Williams, why neither the government nor the opposition are adequately explaining the thinking and priorities behind their radical policies, nor explaining what their likely impact will be on the ‘nation’ as a whole. That’s because they can’t even acknowledge the very name of the nation for which those policies are intended. Indeed, the policies themselves – in their actual content – express the drive to abolish any form of English civic nationhood in that they pass on the responsibility for the civic life of, and public services for, the English nation to the private realm: to individuals, small groups, communities, and not-for-profit or for-profit organisations that are now meant to take responsibility for education, health care, local services and amenities, and social services without any overarching national plan and vision.

There’s no national plan or vision because the nation that is being privatised and, as it were, ‘de-nationised’ is completely invisible: England.

And yes, these policies have not been voted for. And that’s not just because they weren’t adequately explained at the election but, more fundamentally, because they were not presented either to or for the nation in which they were to be implemented: no English-national electorate was either addressed or invoked during the election; nor was any English nation acknowledged for which these policies might represent any sort of blueprint for the future. No one voted for these policies, and they weren’t adequately explained, because to do so implies the existence of some sort of national political life in which those policies are a part of the public debate, and a nation for which those policies are intended. But none of that applies to these policies, because they’re English, and England was absent from the election, and is absent from government and the political process in the present.

So the answer to the Archbishop’s question at the end of his article is that these policies will be subjected to the scrutiny they demand, and a more participative democracy holding politicians to account will be brought about, and a positive vision for society and the common good will be developed, only when the nation for which those policies are intended is brought into the process and a vigorous, healthy English polity comes into being.

Why, therefore, did the Archbishop himself not mention the name of the country – England – where these policies are being implemented? Why is even the spiritual head of the Church of England not standing up for ‘England’ as such even where he makes such an impassioned plea for the creation of a more genuinely participative, democratic life in which English policies can be subjected to the scrutiny of the nation as a whole?

England is the great lack and absence at or from the centre of it all. And while politicians, media and archbishops cannot bring themselves to say ‘England’, none of them by definition can ever articulate a shared vision for England.

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12 Comments »

  1. Maybe you should email this article to Rowan Williams.

    http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/pages/contact.html

    Comment by Toque — 10 June 2011 @ 8.23 am | Reply

    • Good idea – I was thinking of tweeting him, but I’m not sure he does Twitter. Email is less likely to be overlooked anyway.

      Comment by David — 10 June 2011 @ 9.03 am | Reply

  2. Why, therefore, did the Archbishop himself not mention the name of the country – England – where these policies are being implemented? Why is even the spiritual head of the Church of England not standing up for ‘England’.

    maybe because he is welsh and like so many mp`s, have no roots in england.

    Comment by harry — 10 June 2011 @ 9.49 am | Reply

  3. Williams is a Welshman and a socialist. It’s no wonder he doesn’t mention England. He hates our guts. Williams and others like him are the reason why so many people are completely apathetic (if not worse) about the Church of Anywhere But England. The only reason I can think why Williams went into a job to which he is so unsuited is the same reason why so many people join the political/media classes – it beats having to work for a living.

    Comment by Geoff, Worcester, England — 10 June 2011 @ 11.07 am | Reply

  4. I think Rowan Williams is Welsh, and no fan of England. Wasn’t he put in place as part of New Labour’s “eradicating England” project?

    Comment by Maria — 10 June 2011 @ 1.47 pm | Reply

    • I don’t think of him as particularly anti-English. In fact, I think he’s more England-aware than most politicians and many other senior churchmen. I think he does see his role as being the leader of the Church in England and as having the responsibility to speak out on matters of social concern for England specifically.

      I’m not sure why he omits ‘England’ entirely from his article, when everything he writes about and the question he asks at the end cry out for the word ‘England’ to be supplied. I think he’s conscious of his role as the most senior churchman in the UK as well as England, and perhaps he’s adopted the discourse of the political establishment, partly because the Church is an integral part of that establishment. But equally, perhaps he feels that to speak to the establishment, he has to speak in the same terms that it would use. In other words, maybe he feels he’ll be listened to more if he speaks the language of those he criticises.

      Don’t know. But I’ve emailed Lambeth Palace with a link to this article, so maybe he’ll read it and respond himself.

      Comment by David — 10 June 2011 @ 7.26 pm | Reply

      • With four church settlements is it possible for any cleric to be described as the ‘most senior’ in the UK?

        Comment by Hendre — 13 June 2011 @ 12.00 pm

      • Quite! To do so is a classic instance of the Anglo-British conflation of England and Britain.

        Comment by David — 13 June 2011 @ 2.46 pm

  5. I agree with David, there is nothing anti-English here – in fact we should be grateful to the Welsh Archbishop for standing up for England and we should be ashamed that NO English politicians are standing up for England. If we get a Parliament in England it will be largely through the efforts of Celtic nationalists who are working hard to change the United Kingdom and not through the efforts of British Unionists or most English nationalists e.g. the English Democrats who are frankly still a joke. Sad but true

    Comment by Englander — 10 June 2011 @ 7.30 pm | Reply

    • I can’t see that Dr Williams is standing up for England but I agree with the rest of what you say.

      Comment by zoomhoody — 11 June 2011 @ 6.43 pm | Reply

  6. Like david cameron the head of the church of england managed to get through a whole speech concerning ENGLAND without one saying the word england, that in itself tells you what they and anyone else who cannot say this countries great name think of her—no loyalty to england at all.

    Comment by harry — 12 June 2011 @ 6.56 am | Reply

  7. Well what do you expect from a Welsh Communist?.

    Comment by Ste — 23 June 2011 @ 1.39 pm | Reply


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