Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

6 May 2015

Vote UKIP: the English national party in British-nationalist clothes

Let me put one thing straight: I don’t think UKIP is an English-nationalist party, by any stretch of the imagination.

Page 61 of the party’s 2015 general election manifesto, for instance, makes it abundantly clear that it is British-nationalist. This page talks of Britain as a “strong, proud, independent, sovereign nation” – in its own right, that is, rather than as a union of nations. It commits the party to promoting a “unifying British culture, open to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain and British values”, which in practice always tends to mean denigrating Englishness and subordinating it to Britishness. And it states support for “a chronological understanding of British history and achievements in the National Curriculum, which should place due emphasis on the unique influence Britain has had in shaping the modern world” – not caring to mention that this curriculum and Britain-centric version of history would apply to English schools alone.

That said, I would still maintain that UKIP should be viewed as an ‘English national’ party and as the default choice for English nationalists at this election. By this, I mean that UKIP speaks to a culturally English, British patriotism: an England-centric imagining of ‘Britain’ that is virtually indistinguishable to the great majority of English people from what is understood by ‘England’ itself. Most ordinary English people, I would say, are still stuck in this traditional Anglo-British mindset, and would talk of ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ as fully interchangeable terms. To put it in fancy psycho-babble, the ‘Symbolic’ (formal discourse or language) used by UKIP might be British, but its ‘Imaginary’ (imaginative and emotional associations) is English: UKIP talks British but speaks to the English.

Indeed, I would argue that the explanation for UKIP’s rise to the level of support it enjoys today (consistently polling around 12% or 13% UK-wide – higher in England) is that it has tapped in to the groundswell of English nationalism and the increasing identification as English of those living in England. UKIP is the default English national party, in the same way that the SNP is the Scottish national party and Plaid Cymru is the party of Wales. That is to say, it places the concerns of those who wish to preserve the integrity of England as a nation and defend the interests of English people at the heart of its policies, even if they are couched in British terms.

There are many examples of pro-English policies in their manifesto, which most actual English nationalists would readily agree with, such as:

• the demand for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, and support for withdrawal, or ‘BREXIT’

• insistence on much tougher limits on immigration, including via proper border controls (made possible by BREXIT) and an Australian-style points system; reducing the access of foreign nationals to public services and social housing

• reduction of the UK’s overseas aid budget – reinvesting the money in English public services

• focus on building houses in brownfield sites, as opposed to concreting over England’s green and pleasant land with unsuitable and unwanted development

• scrapping the Barnett Formula and allocating spending on a genuine needs basis, which in reality means less money for Scotland and more for deprived English areas

• scrapping HS2, which is a vanity project driven by EU dreams of a pan-European high-speed rail network, and which threatens to devastate vast swathes of precious English countryside

• resisting the Labour and Lib Dem push for various forms of unwanted local or regional devolution in England

• improving social care provision in England

• preserving the English NHS as a publicly funded service, free at the point of use; using the redistributed Barnett funds to abolish parking charges in English hospitals

• reintroducing grammar and technical schools in England to improve the prospects of bright students from poorer areas, and to enhance vocational training.

However, one area where the UKIP manifesto is seriously deficient is the question of an English parliament: the manifesto doesn’t raise this at all. The only commitment that is made towards enhancing English-national democracy is that of English votes on English laws, despite the fact that this is an unworkable policy. For instance, after the election, it’s quite possible that there could be completely different English and UK parliamentary majorities: the Tories winning a majority in England, while the only workable UK-wide majority would be formed by Labour in partnership – formal or informal – with the Lib Dems and the other ‘progressive’ parties, including the SNP.

The answer, obviously, is separate UK and English parliaments; but UKIP are unwilling or unable to acknowledge this elephant in the room. This may be because they are still intent on positioning themselves as a party for the whole UK, rather than an overtly England-centric party or – heaven forbid – and English-nationalist one. But England-centric they undoubtedly are: addressing priorities and grievances that are either solely or primarily those of the English.

It is for this reason that I am recommending that all English nationalists vote UKIP at the election tomorrow. Sadly, owing to our First Past the Post voting system, a vote for the English Democrats is a wasted vote – assuming they’re standing in your constituency at all: they’re not in mine. Many would say that voting for UKIP is also a waste; and indeed, because of the electoral system UKIP are generally not expected to win any extra seats at the election, despite being the third-largest party in terms of share of the vote.

However, in reality, there is only a minority of seats where people’s votes make any difference at all, i.e. the marginal seats that might actually change hands. The constituency where I live is a very safe Conservative seat, so voting UKIP won’t make any difference in terms of the overall election result. The point of doing so is merely to register support for the types of English national policies I’ve outlined above.

If, on the other hand, you live in a constituency where your vote could help swing the result, I would argue that you should vote in such a way as to minimise the chance of a Labour-controlled government. This is because Labour, of all the parties, is most committed to local / city / regional devolution in England – whether or not the people affected have voted for it. Labour’s manifesto avoids almost any reference to ‘England’ other than in the sections where it discusses its wish to see devolution to so-called ‘county regions’ (whatever they are) and a Senate of the Nations and Regions (and you know what that means) to replace the present House of Lords. Labour is also, of course, obsessed with avoiding a referendum on the EU and can be relied upon to do nothing whatsoever about immigration, other than perhaps to increase it.

Accordingly, if you live in a Tory-Labour marginal, I’d say vote Tory. If you live in a Labour-Lib Dem marginal (like the Cambridge constituency near my home), I’d say gird your loins and vote Lib Dem, to prevent Labour from amassing the seats it may need to form a government.

But ultimately, if your vote, like mine, will make very little difference – or if you have no truck with the sort of tactical voting scenarios I’ve just described – vote UKIP: the English national party in British-nationalist clothes.

5 May 2011

The mountain above or the town below: the choice for England

Not wanting to come across as too Martin Luther King, I did have a peculiar dream this morning. I dreamt that I was taking on the challenge of climbing a remote mountain in somewhere like Iceland. This involved jumping off a cliff into an icy fjord, swimming across it (braving the fish, which, I was told, liked to take a bite out of swimmers), and then climbing up the wooded slopes of the mountain on the other side, inhabited by wild animals such as wolves and wild boar that I might need to defend myself against. However, as I had started to climb the steep forest path, I turned to my right to look down at the view and found to my astonishment that there was a town immediately below. Indeed, one fork in the path before me led straight into a rather attractive road in the town, which was clearly a historic city somewhat like Oxford (or Reykjavik, to continue with the Iceland theme). A more modern, red-bricked building on the left-hand side of the road reminded me of a civic building such as a court house, university library or even a prison.

Coming at the start of the day when the first UK-wide referendum I’ve been eligible to vote in is taking place, this dream seemed rather allegorical to me. In brief, it seemed to pose the question: do I continue to take the potentially hard, isolated (‘Iceland’ = ‘isolation’) and dangerous road of no compromise with the British political system, and continue to climb my own particular mountain in the hope that I will eventually reach the sunlit uplands where the vision of a new English nation will become visible to all, rather like the figure of Christ in Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ transfiguring England’s green mountains and pleasant pastures with the radiance of his divine countenance? Or do I take the route of society and the polis (the city state): one of civilised debate and compromise between the red brick to the left and the blue sea I expected to see to my right? Participating in the referendum seems just like this choice: accept what the polity and what society is offering; choose between the rock of AV or the hard place of FPTP; and walk down the middle of the road of urban conformity. Or was the choice, rather, an impossible one between the ‘rock’ of the lonely path up the mountain to a new England, or the hard place of compromise with Britain?

Both choices are ambiguous: the lonely path is, on the one hand, a warning against vanity, obsession and solipsism, dangers which I personally could all too easily succumb to. But, on the other hand, it is potentially a spiritual path inviting me to rise to the challenge, confront my demons and follow my destiny. Similarly, the urban path could be that of ‘easy street’ and of a cop-out: being prepared to play the political game, and climb not a mountain but the various ladders and greasy poles that society offers to one: career, housing, political and personal advancement. But also, the social route is perhaps one of belonging, contentment, security and sociability: not making oneself out to be different from or better than one’s peers, and being prepared to go along with the consensus and majority view.

What route should I take? I’ve already forcefully advocated non-participation in today’s referendum elsewhere on the grounds that it contemptuously ignores England’s claims to self-determination. I couldn’t now ‘climb down’ and say, well, it’s OK to vote for AV (which I do think is marginally better than FPTP) and play the British game. In reality, though, there is a ‘third way’ and a third option in the referendum that is not the middle-of-the-road compromise that is AV, and enables you to choose England while participating in the British political process. You can do your civic duty and turn up to vote; but simply not vote for either AV or FPTP, and spoil your ballot paper by writing nothing on it or, alternatively, writing your demand for an English parliament or a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The real alternative vote here is not to accept either of the alternatives on offer but to demand a different choice: a choice for England.

In reality, the choice between the mountain above and the town below is not as extreme as my dream depicted it. Every day, we make little choices that determine the course of our lives as individuals and as nations: sometimes leading us along a path of isolation, and sometimes binding us closer to the community of our peers and to the community of nations. Sometimes, it’s better to take the lonely path, and sometimes it’s better to go with the mainstream. Both are alternative options, depending on circumstances, for advancing the cause of English self-determination.

In any case, which is a more isolated view, and which is the more commonly held perception, today? The number of non-voters – including those who spoil their ballots – could well exceed that of either the Yes or No sides in the referendum. In which case, England will have spoken by its unwillingness to choose between two means to disenfranchise her. Sometimes the lonely path is the road well trodden.

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