Thursday, 7 June 2012

So does Ed Miliband really like morris dancing?


Today Ed Miliband, for reasons known only to those who advise him, has come over all English:

We in the Labour Party have been too reluctant to talk about England in recent years. We’ve concentrated on shaping a new politics for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. But some people in England felt Labour’s attention had turned away.

That something was holding us back from celebrating England too. That we were too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. Connecting it to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease.

I am pleased for Mr Miliband. Outside the Labour Party people have never stopped talking about England, have never been "too nervous" to talk of English pride and English character. We smile - with an element of rueful nostalgia - at the old Cecil Rhodes quote:

Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.

It's true, of course, but no longer in the manner that Rhodes meant it. After all, England is unsurpassingly gorgeous in both its scenery, its heritage and, on a good day, its people.  To live here is a prize worth grasping and to protect the idea of Englishness is a fight worth fighting.

I fear that Ed Miliband's Englishness is somewhat wafer thin but hope it isn't. I wonder whether we're seeing a theme - first raised in Ed's slightly worrying and protectionist, 'Blue Labour' period - of invoking nationalist sentiments, of seeking to capture the idea of English nationhood without changing the substance of English grievance.

No doubt this Englishness won't run to liking morris dancing, folk music or free speech. It will be a card played once or twice - ahead of a major football tournament in which England are competing, for example - to snaffle a little of that working class nationalism that, in truth, Ed Miliband and all around him despise.

So no Ed Miliband doesn't really like morris dancing. His Englishness is worn too lightly for that.



Durotrigan said...

Ed Miliband would seem to think that Englishness can be reduced to a flag, a bit of bunting and a full embrace of deracinated globalism. As you note, his speech today was very much in line with John Cruddas's long heralded 'Blue Labour' approach, which possesses about as much substance as Labour's previous policy initiatives: none.

Jon Campbell said...

I've just listened to him on radio 4, bigging up his jewish heritage, though he stressed that he, himself is an athiest of course.

I think they may be trying a bit of damage control, what with Livingstone buddying up to a bunch of roaring anti-semites?