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Labour ‘championing radical federalism’ could make it harder to win England

23 Apr 2021 2 minutes Read
England’s flag

Keir Starmer’s championing of “radical federalism” could make it harder for Labour to win in England, academics have suggested.

Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre and Professor Ailsa Henderson of the University of Edinburgh have taken aim at the Westminster leader’s “strikingly vague formulation”.

They argued in Prospect that the plan for a federal UK “appears to be aimed at regaining ground in Scotland while assuaging the Welsh Labour government”.

But they said “regionalising reform” would be needed in England to make it work, and that public opinion there is against it.

They said: “The prevailing assumption is that for better or worse, change there has been. Yet from the perspective of those interested in the ‘territorial politics’ of the state, there’s more continuity than change: most strikingly, Labour still has a giant England-shaped hole in its thinking.

“That Labour finds it difficult to talk about England is not much of a secret.

“Emily Thornberry’s defenestration during the Rochester and Strood by-election after she had tweeted a photo of a house adorned with three St George’s cross flags in 2014 remains emblematic (no pun intended) of the party’s discomfort faced with the spectre of Englishness.

‘Vague’ 

They added: “Indeed, there is every prospect that Starmer’s championing of ‘radical federalism’—a strikingly vague formulation which appears to be aimed at regaining ground in Scotland while assuaging the Welsh Labour government—could end up making matters worse.

“This is because any form of semi-federalism depends on a regionalising reform in and of England.

“And what we know about public opinion in England is that, without exception, when forced to choose between options for constitutional reforms to regionalise (however framed) and those that treat England as a single unit, the latter are always more popular.

“If Labour heads into a future election arguing for ‘radical federalism’ while continuing to ignore England itself, it will be presenting an open goal to the Tories.

“Like it or not—and of course, we know that many in the Labour Party won’t like it—there’s no avoiding England and Englishness.

“Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s only when Labour starts to engage seriously and creatively about Englishness that the party is serious about power.”

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