There’s a solution to coronavirus confusion – just use the ‘E’ word
Ifan Morgan Jones
Some of us who take a great deal of interest in Welsh politics have long been worried about the lack of public understanding of what is devolved and what isn’t.
For example, a BBC/ICM poll in 2014 suggested that fewer than 50% of respondents understood that the Welsh Government runs the Welsh NHS.
This doesn’t usually matter that much beyond a lack of democratic accountability, but clearly during a pandemic when actions taken by different governments differ the public need to understand who is doing what.
Some anti-devolution campaigns have tried to rather cynically exploit the confusion to argue that at a time of crisis powers over health and other matters should be taken back by Westminster altogether.
This is a poor argument because there is no evidence that the Welsh Government has done a worse job than Westminster in handling the pandemic – in fact on some issues of public concern such as testing NHS staff they’ve actually been much more proactive.
On the other end of the constitutional political spectrum, it has been suggested that the only answer to this conundrum is to devolve broadcasting – or even declare independence.
As a stop-gap, I’d like to suggest a rather less dramatic and costly answer to this public confusion. That is for the UK Government, BBC and others to start using the ‘E’ word.
Yes, that’s ‘England’.
This may not seem like a particularly big ask. But you would imagine that ‘England’ was a swear word such is the reticence to use it at an institutional level.
Even in sport, we have a Football Association of Wales and a Scottish Football Association and a… The Football Association.
We have a Welsh Rugby Union and a Scottish Rugby Union and a … The Rugby Football Union.
So too do we have an NHS Wales and an NHS Scotland and… The NHS.
If you have watched the television over the last few days you will even have seen adverts featuring the Welsh Chief Medical Officer and the… Chief Medical Officer.
In fact, the only major institution I could find with England in its name is the Bank of England. Which paradoxically isn’t an England-only institution at all.
England in the English language seems to exist decontextualized in the gaps where Wales and Scotland aren’t. And this rather than devolution is at the root of much audience confusion about which government does what in the UK.
Because when people hear talk of ‘The NHS’ and ‘The Chief Medical Officer’ they naturally assume that the media and UK Government are discussing their NHS and their Chief Medical Officer.
Little do they know that the nation here knows as ‘The’ is actually the one next door, England.
To make matters worse, very often in their daily press conferences the Westminster Government will segue from matters that do concern the whole UK to ones that only concern England’s NHS without any kind of indication that they are doing so.
Whereas, if the public heard one government say ‘NHS England is doing this’ and another saying ‘NHS Wales is doing this’ – and either saying ‘this is being done across the UK’ – they are not going to have any trouble understanding which statements apply to them.
People aren’t stupid but they’re not civil servants clued up on the intricacies of the Wales Act 2017 either. Either politicians make it clear what they’re talking about, or people are not going to know.
The BBC and other news platforms have room to improve on this front as well. Adding ‘England’ to a chyron or an introduction is not a big ask but it is something many journalists seem to find impossible to achieve.
Combined the population of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland make up 16% of the population of the UK. That’s a large chunk of your audience to be misleading by not being specific enough.
Ultimately, the reasons for this omission comes back to the over-centralised nature of the UK and the fact that the ‘peripheral regions’ are too often an afterthought to those that spend their time in London’s corridors of power. The NHS is The NHS because for too many of the politicians and journalists who dominate our screens, it is The NHS.
But they can do better. Journalists at the BBC, in particular, have reported this pandemic with such meticulous accuracy and detail that they have over the course a single month largely renewed the public’s flagging faith in public service broadcasting.
Why not take that commitment to accuracy and audience understanding one step further and introduce a new best practice – to use the ‘E’ word so that the largest nation in the UK is no longer the unmentionable default alongside Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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Totally agree. This failing/blindspot by all English authorities has been symbolized by the farce (and this is putting it politely) for many years of the England rugby and football teams playing the UK national anthem at the start of matches against other home nations!!!
The English are welcome to keep that particular anthem. I look forward to the day that Wales is a republic.
An enthusiastic Hear Hear from me.
England itself has the problem that politics and the MSM come to a juddering halt at the central reservation of the M25. Many of those inside that barrier do not themselves understand devolution in any way, shape or form. Westminster was very canny in extending mayoral fiefdoms without devolving democratic accountability any more than necessary and the very idea of any investment outside the circle is horrifying to those inside. Many years ago, even before Plaid really got going, nationalists had a slogan we need to adopt today; Home Rule for the Home Counties. Home Rule All Round still has… Read more »
been a huge bugbear of mine for years glad you raised the issue. Times like these show how important this is and that it needs to be sorted asap.
I quite agree. I have been saying this for sometime now and this current situation has only made the issue more obvious and has led to real confusion.
For the 16%, the news could be termed as FAKE news!
Those in authority have sidelined the ‘E’ word and refrained from particularising England in order to promote ‘British’. This is a blatantly political position. Likewise the media, and for the same reasons: a few years ago, a Newport family coming back from abroad were described in the London press as ”a British family”. During the ist World War, in contrast, the Prime Minister of Canada, a man of Scottish descent, could urge his fellow-Canadians to rally to help ‘England’, and presumably he saw that as including the other member-countries of the UK. No Westminster poltician would do that today, because… Read more »
It seems to me that the establishments “Britishness” actually involves the easy interchange of Britain / England and British / English (I believe that they now don’t realise that they are different), right up until there is any success involved. Then it becomes England / English and then the other 3 nations become Britain / British.
Hopefully, the 50% have become fairly aware of the dogs breakfast Mr J. and his Brexichums have been making of things .
Taking over things like test kit distribution,, is one way to blurr final English, Scottish and Welsh performance figures.
Scotland in particular has, until now, performed better than Johnson’s Gov. even with one hand tied behind its back.
I think you have forgotten the ECB
The England and Wales Cricket Board,
Agree generally. Furthermore,the term British is synonymous with England. Europeans use the term Britain; frequently England for all of the nations of Britain. What a mess !
The peripheral nations are peripheral in more ways than one.
Gareth A. L. Ap-Sion
There is some small progress on this issue, and it’s been demonstrated as the current crisis has evolved: for instance, we’ve got used to hearing routine reference to ‘Public Health England’ and even ‘NHS England’. I suppose, in the context of the huge disparity of population, that we hear a good deal less of ‘Public Health Wales’ and ‘NHS Wales’, but a start in terms of accurate nomenclature does seem to have been made.
But it’s a very small start, and Mr Morgan Jones’s point is well made.
Ifan – you missed out Public Health England, which together with Public Health Scotland and Public Health Wales succeeded the Health Protection Agency.
The Irish have long seen the Brits as their oppressors. Unfortunately the Welsh were largely complicit or at best ambivalent.
You ask a wealthy merchant with a renowned brand of fish from 3 streams (Wales, England, Scotland) flowing into 1 larger river to change his brand and allow these 3 streams to compete with 1 another, potentially losing his brand monopoly, prestige and commerce.
No sensible merchant will voluntarily yield to competition in a river he owns exclusive commercial rights over.
Indy is not only (mainly?) about ‘having our own…’, it is about where we see as the starting point for decision making – here and in a wider world. It affects how we decide and how we collaborate. Where Westminster / British/ Colonial is the norm, everything else becomes anomalous … an irritating ripple in the tablecloth. Indy is about becoming aware that it is not the norm. The extent of powers devolved needs to be matched with how deeply they are held. Whatever happened with Roche, I can’t imagine the same happening to Denmark or Ireland. Devolution is inherently… Read more »
I often wish every one of us could spend five or so years in Europe. This really does give one a different picture.
Some of the pomp looks truly strange. like those old Danny Kaye films that drive you out of the Odean and to the chip shop.
good article imj, have for many years felt that shallow elitism prefixed by ‘the’ sets england apart. such a self serving power base enables the uk government to prioritise all things english to the detriment of wales, n.ireland & scotland. horrible values , especially when they pump out the mantra of one nation