Dr Crawford Gribben, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, has written an article for the Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad (Reformational Newspaper).
The article is a pretty good explanation of what is wrong with the Labour Stazi and the Ignorant Jock becoming Prime Minister but is spoilt by it’s conclusion that it has given rise to petty English nationalism.
This week, the UK’s governing Labour party has been meeting in Manchester for its annual conference. I am writing this column on Monday, before the main debates test the cabinet’s resolution to focus on policies, not personalities, amid ongoing rows over the timing of Tony Blair’s departure from office and the choice of his successor. One thing, however, is clear. The path to the premiership demands different qualities now than it did when New Labour won their landslide victory in 1997.
Nine years and three general elections later, the United Kingdom has made significant progress in realising the constitutional revolution imagined by New Labour. The Bank of England has enjoyed over a decade of autonomous decision-making. The House of Lords has been substantially reformed. Most crucially of all, Wales, Scotland and, intermittently, Northern Ireland have been granted regional parliaments. England is now the only part of the United Kingdom to lack a regional parliament – and English resentment is growing.
Ironically, that resentment may be most troubling to the party that has done most to support these constitutional changes. The old Labour party, solidly of the left, depended for much of its support on the strongly working-class industrial areas of Scotland and Wales. This trend underscored the democratic deficit at the end of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Scottish voters opted overwhelmingly for a Labour government, but ended up being ruled by Conservatives, who had successfully mobilised their southern base. Labour has always depended upon that Scottish support, even as it appealed to swing voters and disillusioned Conservatives in the run-up to the 1997 election. The ’Scottishness’ of Labour support was a mainstay of that Labour victory. Nine years later, the ’Scottishness’ of front-bench politicians has become a major electoral problem.
Middle England’s suspicion of ’Scottishness’ has been illustrated in several recent polls about the suitability of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to become the next Prime Minister. Brown has impeccable credentials. As the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister, he entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 16 and left several years later with a PhD in History and a network of useful political contacts. His early politics were clearly leftist, combining the Scottish labour movement’s class instincts with its traditionally Christian concerns. These early convictions have evolved. Brown has moved with New Labour towards the political centre. But he may now become the victim of English nationalist sentiments stirred up by his government’s preference for devolution.
The last few months have seen the collapse of the famed discipline of New Labour. Brownites and Blairites have briefed and counter-briefed. Old friends and enemies have released statements that seem designed to feed the controversy rather than move toward its resolution. But across New Labour’s political spectrum, activists agree that this is not the political landscape they inherited from Margaret Thatcher. Too much has changed. Scottish devolution has released the genie of England’s petty nationalisms.
The author is lecturer in Renaissance literature and culture at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.