Brown the key to the final British question?

Interesting thoughts on the nature of Britishness, and why, when it’s been a muddy concept, at least in terms of entry, it needs clipping and re-defining. But, asks Tony Wright, what about the English Question:

Since the eighteenth century a light top dressing of Britishness has served to keep the muddle going, much to our advantage, and with luck and cultivation may continue to do so. It is now becoming clear though that this will need at least some constitutional tidying up. Lop-sided devolution has made this inevitable. Those who warned that devolution to Scotland and Wales would trigger the break-up of Britain have turned out to be emphatically wrong. Those who argued for devolution as a means of keeping the British project up and running have been no less emphatically vindicated. Yet it has, ineluctably, also created the English Question, and it is to this that attention now has to turn. The future of Britain, and of Britishness, may well depend on whether we can find a convincing answer to it.

And he may have found the very question that could make future Gordon Brown premiership a success with England:

There is a huge political and intellectual challenge here, which it will be difficult to evade for much longer. If we still had royal commissions, we should put one to work on the English Question. It would explore the implications for England of the devolution settlement, in both its aspects. It would take up where Gladstone left off and offer a modern version of Home Rule All Round. It would devolve power to England, and within England.

This is where Gordon Brown comes in. He wants to be a constitutional reformer. His ambition to strengthen Britishness will require him at some point to attend to the matter of England. Not only would it be fitting if it was a Scottish prime minister who brought devolution to England, it would also be politically astute. Flying the flag for Britain is the easy bit. Now speak for England, Gordon.


  • smcgiff

    Very interesting – not sure if your average Tommy cares if a few Scots/Welsh/N Irish MPs vote on English matters. He’s other things to occupy him, like who England are going to have to partner Rooney in the upcoming WC.

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all, I think britain has a problem. There is a rise of ‘englishness” coming out in england. The english democrats party recently got 10.3% of the vote in Cumbria. The english democrats want the english flag of the Cross of St. George to be flown to show ‘englishness’. The issue of immigrants in england will add to the rise of the feeling of ‘englishness’ and I really see the english flag going to be seen far more than the union jack to have those people in england who are english identify with it.

  • PHIL


    “Very interesting – not sure if your average Tommy cares if a few Scots/Welsh/N Irish MPs vote on English matters.”

    Oh really? Every time that English legislation is passed with the votes of Irish, Scots and Welsh MP’s, more and more english people get pissed off.

    Kathy C

    You are right about the English flag becoming more popular amonst the English than the British emblem. The British state encourages immigrants to identify with Britain whilst demonising all things English as racist. The reality is that anyone living in England can be English no matter what their ethnic background but England lacks the civic institutions to encourage this and I think that the British state is quite happy to keep the status quo and wait for the inevitable backlash.

  • I can’t see Brown going for any form of English devolution that addresses the Westlothian Question. It would hollow out too much of his own power. It will happen eventually though. The current democratic anomaly is too great.

    The votes of Scottish MPs were decisive in introducing top-up fees and foundation hospitals. Yet the English tax-payer subsidises higher health and education spending for Scotland, which has introduced neither policy.

    This situation cannot last. That it has come about at all, is perhaps a classic example of the master/slave dialectic.

  • PHIL


    I Can’t see a Scots/Welsh dominated Labour administration contemplating home rule for England as that would be akin to turkeys voting for Christmas. The nettle needs to be grasped by the Tories or the LibDems. Charles Kennedy was openly hostile towards England and his successor seems to prefer England’s partition into nine regional administrations (as do Labour) whilst the Conservatives prefer their half-baked “English votes on English laws” legislation that would be totally unworkable. The Tories would appear to be the party with most to gain from English home rule or independance, but they don’t seem willing or able to drag themselves away from unionism, even though that seems to win them few votes outside England. At present there seems to be little hope of England becoming a nation again, but it will be amazing how quickly the tide will turn once politicians realise that there are votes to be won.

  • I think there are some interesting stirrings going on in all the parties.

    The Lib Dem reaction to Lord Falconer’s speech was particularly interesting.

    No English Parliament – Falconer