In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion of the Witch and the Wardrobe four siblings come across a magical world that has been plunged into an eternal winter.
This dead, stagnant world was meant as a Christian allegory but as a metaphor, it’s also quite apt as Labour survey the artic political landscape following their worst electoral results since 1935.
The first step towards releasing themselves from this icy prison, in the minds of many Labour supporters, is to find a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn.
The competition has already begun with Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey the two early contenders for Labour’s own Aslan-like saviour.
An early feature of this race has been that words such as ‘the country’ and ‘patriotism’ (and Labour’s need to embrace it) have been uncritically banded around.
This is understandable because key to Labour’s ability to bring back their own glorious political summer is solving the thorny question of national identity.
However, when the prospective English-only candidates for the Labour leadership talk about country and patriotism in such an ill-defined way, one can’t help but feel that they mean England.
This is a problem for Labour because key to their difficulties is that Britain / UK is not a single patria, a country or a nation, but an amalgam of four nations which are very quickly going their own way.
When asked to designate their nationality in the 2011 census the majority of individuals in the mainland UK chose English, Scottish or Welsh solely as opposed to just British or British and English, Scottish and Welsh – 60%, 62%, 58% respectively.
The ‘Welsh only’ percentage leaps to 65% amongst under 17-year-olds, suggesting that this tendency to identify with one’s nation rather than Britain is increasing not decreasing.
A look at the election results demonstrates that Labour’s problems are starkly different in each of the nations of the UK.
|Conservative vote||Labour vote|
Of the four nations that make up the UK, Labour’s only remaining political bastion is Wales. Here, despite shrinking support for Labour, the party still won a majority of seats; 22 out of 40, with Plaid Cymru winning four and the Conservatives on 14.
For visual confirmation of the political differences between England and the rest of the UK just look at the colours on the constituency map of Wales produced following the election results:
If this pattern had been reflected in England Labour would have won 293 seats, the Conservatives 187 and ‘others’ 53.
Unfortunately for Labour of course Wales’ MPs only make up 6% of the UK’s total.
And in Scotland the Labour party is dead as a political force, down to one MP. Because of this, the country’s 59 constituencies will not be able to deliver the large numbers of Labour MPs which tended in the past to bail out Labour in England.
This means that the only route to a Labour government is for England to vote Labour. If England doesn’t vote Labour, then Wales does not get a Labour government at Westminster.
And it seems likely that Johnson may push for constituency changes which further damage Labour’s chances there.
What Labour in Wales now needs to get to grips with is that it is highly unlikely that England, by itself, will vote in a majority Labour government in the foreseeable future – if ever.
As a result, it is beginning to dawn on some Labour members in both Scotland and Wales that the only way for the Scots and the Welsh to have a government which reflects their political leanings as separate peoples is to opt for independence.
Nationalism in Wales and Scotland does not have the right-wing connotations it has in England (e.g. no one with any grasp of reality could accuse Adam Price or Leanne Wood, his predecessor, of being right-wing). In fact, Welsh and Scottish nationalism defines itself in opposition to right-wing British nationalism.
This reality is a very sad state of affairs if you happen to be a left-leaning English voter, but the Welsh and the Scots should not be treated as cannon fodder in England’s continuing class war. Had the Labour party forcefully embraced the concept of a federal UK (as put forward by figures such as Lords Hain and Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister) then I suspect that many of those who advocate independence for Scotland and Wales would have been happy with that.
But following the big Conservative victory at this election that’s never likely to be on offer. Indeed, there are signs that the Conservatives may try to undermine even the current level of devolution, bringing those nations even further under the control of a government they did not vote for.
So the choice for Labour supporters in Scotland and Wales is quite stark. Vote for the current unionist Labour Party in the slight hope that once in a blue moon it will win enough seats in England to enable it to form a minority government supported by the SNP and ‘others’ (i.e. Plaid, Lib Dems, Greens).
Or embrace independence (as Labour supporters) and have left of centre governments in Scotland and Wales able to deliver policies which fit much closer to the aspirations of its peoples than will be possible under the likely scenario of perpetual Anglo-centric Conservative governments based in Westminster.
If Scottish and Welsh Labour continue to stick to the unionist line they should at least be honest about the consequences of that choice for their supporters in these two countries.
It’ll be like choosing to live in Narnia under the White Witch – always winter but never Christmas.