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English Labour must copy Welsh Labour and talks about national identity to win, says former minister

23 Sep 2021 2 minutes Read
Left, England’s flag. Right, Mark Drakeford. Picture by Doubledoppler (CC BY-SA 4.0).

English Labour should copy Welsh Labour and talk about its national identity to win, according to a former Cabinet minister.

Former Communities Secretary John Denham said that the party needed to appeal to people in England on the basis of their Englishness.

He pointed to Labour’s success in Wales as an example of “fusing what is a genuinely radical and competent Labour government with the idea of Welshness”.

“Everybody in the Labour Party should be talking to Wales and trying to learn from that,” he insisted.

“They have handled questions of identity in the Labour Party much more successfully.”

His comments come as Labour party leader Keir Starmer attacked the “multi-headed hydra of nationalism” in an essay published this morning.

But John Denham said that the key to reversing the ebb in support for the party was to talk about Englishness.

He will be hosting a fringe event at the Labour conference in Brighton on Sunday to discuss the issue.

“The past 20 years is the story of Labour losing its support amongst voters who have a clear English identity,” he told the Mirror.

“They’re not English nationalists, they don’t want English independence. But they have these views about England being properly represented.”

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‘Us’

John Denham is the director of the English Labour Network, which was set up in 2017 to “bring together party activists at every level to make Labour’s case for England to English voters”.

“When I talk about the English I think about ‘we’ and ‘us’,” said Mr Denham, who was MP for Southampton Itchen until the seat was lost to the Conservatives in 2015.

“Some people in the Labour Party talk about the English as ‘they’ and ‘them’.

“Until people in the Labour Party are comfortable talking about ‘we’ and ‘us’, we are going to have a problem.

“The balance of power here is held by that group of voters who would identify as English, who are former Labour voters or are from families of former Labour voters who were in working class jobs that no longer exist,” he said.

“They have swung decisively against the Labour Party. It’s the national picture.”

People believed Labour were “not really people like us any more, you don’t speak for people like us”, he said.

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Sion Cwilt
Sion Cwilt
1 month ago

The trouble is that Starmer probably does think he’s championing an English patriotism, just as the Tories are themselves championing. For so long Britishness and Englishness have been so conflated it will be extremely difficult to change the narrative, or to reflect that the traditions being celebrated by Tories and Labour are quite different, it will be very difficult to separate them given that they both are tightly wrapped in the Union Flag, something that is anathema to many Welsh, Scots and Irish people. And even Englishness itself is tainted by association with the facism of EDL and White Van… Read more »

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Sion Cwilt

The recent book “Englishness; The Political Force Transforming Britain” makes a very decent stab stab at examining an English identity but doesn’t address some age-old basic difficulties. Why do the English have such affection for King Arthur whose claim to fame was the vast numbers of the English that he slaughtered? Are the English the rebellious Robin Hood Saxons, a myth, or the self-selecting serfs who gladly accepted Norman servitude, the reality? Are they the exclusive group who call the South East exploitative corner “Home” Counties or those in the exploited North and ravaged Midlands? Why are the English so… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

A lack of a coherent mythology of their own explains a lot of this. They abandoned the germanic cycle to stake a better claim for primacy on this island. They kept Beowulf (which happens in Denmark) but slowly abandoned the rest. Forming a network of laws, titles and systems that prove legitimacy filled the gap (Britishness), but rings hollow whilst the celts retain a sepearte identity. As for the English discovering their identity – switch the term British for English and you’ve got it.

Shan Morgain
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

Excellent Kerry. As I see it the roots go back to the grubby, primitive rabble of Saxons (not much washing compare to the early Welsh tales). They were virtually illiterate and Alfred had to import Welsh clerics to teach this monks to read and write. Their ‘literature’ is the bash it heroic variety today done with special effects. There was an early kind of local council around sharing the local plough. But not a lot to inspire pride. The Normans were also a rabble of thieves and bandits welded together by the ruthless brilliance of the b*****d. Who committed genocide… Read more »

Jack
Jack
1 month ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

self-selecting serfs who gladly accepted Norman servitude,” This is definitely not the reality. The Norman conquest was brutal and saw the Anglo-Saxons brutally and violently subjugated. Norman sources may have written that the Anglo-Saxons gladly accepted it, but the English sources wrote that the Welsh gladly accepted it. And we know that isn’t true.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack

That’s correct. The Anglo-Saxons certainly didn’t “gladly accept” Norman control, any more than the Welsh did. It’s quite possible that the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons could have learned to accept the independence of Scotland and the Welsh kingdoms if the Norman invasion had failed. The Norman impact on England has been disastrous.

Grayham Jones
1 month ago

The Labour Party is a English party nothing to do with wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 A Free Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 get the people in your town’s out voting for new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Dave
Dave
1 month ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

actually the Labour Party was initially Scottish

Shan Morgain
1 month ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

Welsh Labour is very different to Westminster Labour.

Shan Morgain
1 month ago

John Denham is right that cultivating a (healthy) pride in Englishnness – not snob, not empire acid trips, but good honest local pride, that would help. But Westminster Labour won’t do that. It’s signed up under Starmer as a Tory bandwagon and is busily dismantling the recent gains in party democracy and grassroots concerns. They’re politically irrelevant now except as Tory poodles, and badly behaved ones at that.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
29 days ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

Yes, Denham’s right, but Starmer can’t bring himself to even acknowledge Englishness because he would then have to acknowledge Welshness and Scottishness. Like Johnson, and Gordon Brown, his discourse is all about Britishness, hence his ridiculous “analysis” of patriotism and nationalism. His essay could equally well have come out of Tory Central Office.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

The UK is changing, the people in the UK’s different countries (including England) have began to see themselves as more than just British. Devolution has pushed this view but also the introdution of political units such as city mayors. Labour has to represent this diversity and change if it is to regain power in Westminster. Labour must realise that devolution right down to community level in England and a British Isles composed of closely co-operating independent countries is the way to achieve equality and fairness for everyone, Westminster centralisation must end.

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

Nation states often cobbled together. In the European Union we see the chance for small countries to cast off the past.
Large countries may still be first. But first among equals?

Last edited 1 month ago by j humphrys
j humphrys
j humphrys
1 month ago

Mission impossible for English Labour, unless they unite with Libs and others to
achieve power, then legislate for PR.
Starmer kind of bent mirror image to Drakeford?

Last edited 1 month ago by j humphrys

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