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Opinion

Abolish England!

04 Jun 2023 7 minute read
Mark Drakeford picture by Ben Birchall / PA Wire.

Ben Wildsmith

I’m not going to lie, I sorta low-key like Mark Drakeford. I mean I haven’t got a tattoo of him or anything and I wouldn’t want him turning up on a night out (can you imagine?), the way he talks sets my teeth on edge and I won’t be voting for him, but he’s OK, isn’t he?

This week has seen the re-emergence of the blonde unflushable as, predictably, he attempts to use the Covid enquiry as a vehicle to ram-raid his successor in Number 10.

We are collectively traumatised by the pandemic. The clearest tell for this is that nobody can remember the order in which various lockdowns, fatality spikes, and new variants occurred.

A fractured timeline is typical of traumatic memories and a key reason why abuse victims are often seen as unreliable witnesses by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Whilst we often see abusers using their trial to re-traumatise their victims, I can’t recall one turning up at an inquest to gaslight bereaved relatives.

Boris Johnson’s behaviour this week demonstrates yet again that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of UK citizens on his watch has registered as no more than a political inconvenience in what he imagines is the great sweep of his career.

Grudging respect

In my own jumbled memories of the pandemic, Drakeford stands out for a number of reasons.

Firstly, living in his shed to protect his family was leadership by example of a sort I thought was lost to UK politics. It bought the FM enough grudging respect to insist on restrictions that were crafted in his own, cautious image.

Now, that was a pain in the backside at the time and history may yet record that his measures were ineffective, but during those terrifying days, most people in Wales felt that our interests were being served by a FM whose motives were unquestioned.

The contrast with Westminster chaos was stark and whilst Nicola Sturgeon’s performance was assured, Drakeford managed to avoid the impression that the pandemic was a political opportunity.

He dished out restrictions and warnings calmly, seemingly unconcerned whether we liked him or not. It was schoolmasterly when, in truth, we all felt infantilised by a threat we could not counter.

‘A load of auld pish’

But that was then, wasn’t it? The Drakester is approaching the final furlong of his run in public life and, like all retiring politicos, his focus has shifted to ‘legacy’.

This seems to be a particularly Labour obsession; exiting Tories shed the responsibility of government like a despised work suit and tootle off to roll around in mountains of cash with their City pals.

It’s obscene, but at least we don’t have to watch it.

Labourites, however, have managed to convince themselves that they are the inheritors of a grand, radical tradition and, as such, duty-bound to leave their philosophical mark for future generations to pore over alongside Rousseau, Roosevelt, and Stevens

The absolute king of cut-price elder statesmen is Gordon Brown.

Let’s recap his achievements: spent 10 years being gamed by Tony Blair during which time he transferred responsibility for decent wages from corporations to the taxpayer, flogged off the UK gold reserves when the market was at its lowest, and failed to regulate the banks.

On assuming the premiership, he dodged a winnable election just in time to see his unregulated banks tank the economy and send him into the political netherworld after calling an old lady a bigot on tape.

Since then, however, he has grown his hair out as a sure signifier that he is above the squalid dogfighting of the political class and now projecting himself as a Merlinesque purveyor of philosophical insight into world affairs.

It was in this capacity that he swept into Scotland on the eve of its independence referendum to promise last-minute concessions from the Cameron government that ensured a no vote would trigger the federalisation of the UK.

As we know, this turned out to be what Brown’s fellow Kirkcaldy-based free-marketeer Adam Smith might have described as ‘a load of auld pish.’

Relevance-hungry has-beens

It is to Brown that Mark Drakeford has hitched his wagon in a late bid to lend his career some constitutional significance.

The duo are joined by Anas Sarwar, Andy Burnham and Tracy Brabin in the latest bid to persuade unionists and separatists that a third way is possible.

First off, having Brown head this up is like handing Phil Mitchell the keys to the Vic in the expectation that he’ll turn it into a vegan chai house. Cut Gordon open and he’d bleed green leather and order papers, he is a Westminster politician to his marrow.

The opening statement from the ‘Alliance for Radical Democratic Change’ (!) falls apart on contact with the air. In paragraph one they seek to, ‘devolve effective economic and social powers to the regions and nations.’

Just two paragraphs later the relevance-hungry has-beens reckon they can deliver ‘a union which offers strong devolution for all parts of the UK; a union where all four nations are treated as equals.’

Domination

Now, I’m not a mathematician, but given that the population of England is 56 million whilst there are 3.1 million of us here in Wales, I’d conclude that any federal arrangement that leaves England intact as a political entity has domination of the smaller nations baked into it.

As someone who grew up in Birmingham, I’d like to help them out with their evident confusion.

England doesn’t exist in any meaningful way and should be abolished.

If you travel to the Black Country, or Yorkshire, Lancashire, Devon, East Anglia, or anywhere else that labours under the false cloak of Englishness, you’ll find distinct accents, dialects, food, senses of humour, ways of greeting and socio-political mores that denote the existence of living, breathing cultures.

It is impossible not to be charmed by the absurdist humour you find in Dudley, or the spectacular delicacies of Lancashire, or the always-great music in Manchester.

These cultures thrive in the words and deeds of living humans whose joys and sorrows find expression through them.

Unjust rule

What, on the other hand, is Englishness? It is impossible to conceive of it without deferring to a received history that paid attention only to the ruling class.

Its claimed characteristics: the ‘stiff upper lip’, stoicism, and deference are the virtues of serfs whose obligation is to keep quiet in the face of unjust rule.

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, as those T-shirts bearing the crown urge.

The flag of St George has magical powers. The regions east of Wales have birthed a universe of radical ideas, inventions, and art but once draped in the red cross all of that is silenced in a way that the Union Flag could never mute the Celtic nations.

The shameful scenes attached to England football supporters over the years speak of an ugly nationalism that is rooted in insecurity and a childlike craving for discipline.

Englishness diminishes a diverse group of people to a powerless mob whose status is defined from above. Regional identities sing in their own voices, Englishness bellows its masters’ orders.

Grotesquely overpowered

So, Mr. Drakeford, if you are serious about federalisation, let’s get real about what that entails.

There can be no equality of nations if one of them is an artificial superstate with a fabricated culture that serves solely to preserve the political status quo.

Unless the people of the regions of England wake up to their own disadvantage within it then the English ‘nation’ will remain grotesquely overpowered in any federal settlement.

As I began writing this piece, news came through that the popular Mayor of North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, has been barred by Keir Starmer’s Labour from running for the expanded role of North East Mayor that will replace his office.

Anybody placing faith in the Labour Party to decentralise the UK shouldn’t hold their breath.

You can find more of The Shrewd View and the rest of Ben’s writing on Nation.Cymru by following his links on this map


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
8 months ago

Never did the word ‘insight’ mean so much. Whilst the people on this island rage about why everything is c••p, here is the explanation and this piece should serve as an awakening to those who wish to continue rubber stamping their own demise by subserving to false masters. Probably your greatest work yet Ben but by way of a compliment in relation to all your great contributions, that’s a difficult shout. Well done.

Mawkernewek
8 months ago

Can anyone think of anything at all that is both specifically English rather than British and also relevant to all parts of England from the river Tamar to Northumberland?

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
8 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

Morris dancing.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

Exceptionalism ?

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
8 months ago

Great column, fel arfer Ben! 🙂

CapM
CapM
8 months ago

“Regional identities sing in their own voices, “
But non-of these voices sing about not wanting to be part of England.

I predict that before long that we’ll be on the receiving end of a load of bellowing from ” a powerless mob whose status is defined from above.” as they pronounce that the Britishness of England means that it has a right to Welsh water on its terms.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
8 months ago

Why worry about what happens to England. Yes, what happens to it will affect even an independent Wales but we must concentrate first on leaving the Union. The fact remains, no matter what Drakeford and Brown say – Wales will remain poorer than the rest of the UK if we stay in the Union. No amount of jiggering the system, ie some sort of federaliam, will work either.

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
8 months ago

I am getting the impression that this site only wants to stir up anti-English hatred. The attempt at increasing support for nationalism at the expense of another racial group is not new. If I get banned so be it but it needs to be said. Welsh nationalism should not be of the ugly kind!

Ben Wildsmith
Ben Wildsmith
8 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Underneath the headline you’ll find a further thousand words.

lufcwls
lufcwls
8 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Did you read any of the article?

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

I think the default position of this site is one of anti-colonialism rather than of “anti-English hatred”. Such issues are irrelevant to the subject of this article, anyway.

Last edited 8 months ago by Rhosddu
Llwarch Hen
8 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

There is a great deal of truth in your statement.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
8 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

No anti-English here mate. It’s the British establisment based in Westminster that is the focus of criticism. No one has mentioned the people living in England.

Erisian
Erisian
8 months ago

Which is why Welsh Labour must redefine its’ relationship with London Labour.

Llwarch Hen
8 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

The Labour Party carries the name but the cement that binds it has been lost and it has become a conglomerate that is losing its heartlands.

russell
russell
8 months ago

always-great music in Manchester” – explain Starsailor then

Llwarch Hen
8 months ago
Reply to  russell

Ah Manchester home of that great Mancunian Lloyd George.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
8 months ago

Athelstan has a lot to answer for.

Deio
Deio
8 months ago

No matter which party is in power in Westminster, Cymru will always be an afterthought. The sooner Labour party supporters in Cymru realise this the better so that the people of Cymru can control their own fate. Initially it might be a bit of a mess but it will be our mess and it will not be any worse than what we have now. We have enough natural resources to help us along. (Just think why England wants to hang on to Wales regardless of why it despises us). We need to have more confidence in our ability, quarrel less… Read more »

Susan Todd
Susan Todd
8 months ago
Reply to  Deio

Huh? No way is Wales an afterthought. Or despised. Ridiculous thing to say. But you are not being realistic. You’ve got just 1,372,400 tax payers, and 1,266,700 of those are basic rate payers! You’ve got 4.6 % unemployment. You are right, it would be a nasty mess in Wales if it ever become independent. Wales is getting 24bn this year from Westminster, up from 18bn last year. How would you ever replace that. Most English people don’t even know that there is this form of low level racism against them from Welsh nationalists. So I think that you should be… Read more »

Nigel
Nigel
8 months ago

I kept waiting for the author to tell me why he finds Drakeford likeable, and he never got to that point.

Trefaldwyn
Trefaldwyn
8 months ago

I will never accept any alternative to independence, but Wales and Scotland would be treated like regions if England was abolished. If federalism were to happen (god forbid), England should be made a federal entity like Wales and Scotland, but with autonomous provinces inside of it, just like SAP Vojvodina and SAP Kosovo within SR Serbia during the days of a federal Yugoslavia.

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