Theresa May has given part of the answer to Mick, they’ll both be glad to hear.
Richard Wynne Jones, a highly respected friend , has an important part of the story. We Celts ( if I can call us that), are still more programmed for identity politics than the English. See also Fintan O’Toole. But we should remember that while the big dog of English nationalism has growled a bit, it hasn’t yet bitten us, its smaller neighbours. Quite the contrary as far as fair shares are concerned – unless you’re Welsh.
From Richard’s survey it strikes me that the proportions of “English rather than British”, regarded as a key indicator of nationalism are comparatively small. No doubt there is potential for growth. The small Conservative majority in the Commons has not yet risen to the bait of 50- odd SNP MPs. The referendum campaign overshadowed Evel for the moment at least. Brexit may indeed strengthen it as argued by former Labour minister John Denham who heads the Centre for English Identity and Politics. The Northern Powerhouse idea is not yet very developed nor very popular. A new generation of elected mayors with more powers may prove more successful than the first tranche.
So what had Theresa to say about all this? A new Leader’s first major speech has to impart a vision of national unity Early metro- comment has generally ignored this, being fixed on her re-positioning at traditional Labour’s and Ukip’s expense. In advance she skewered them:
Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public. They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to your job security inconvenient.
In this speech, Theresa May hung her hat on a version of the referendum verdict designed to appeal to what she uncomfortably called “ ordinary working people.” It sounded pretty effective to me.
…in June people voted for change. And a change is going to come.
Change has got to come because as we leave the European Union and take control of our own destiny, the task of tackling some of Britain’s long-standing challenges – like how to train enough people to do the jobs of the future – becomes ever more urgent.
But change has got to come too because of the quiet revolution that took place in our country just three months ago – a revolution in which millions of our fellow citizens stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored anymore.
Because this is a turning point for our country.
A once-in-a-generation chance to change the direction of our nation for good.
To step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.
For the referendum was not just a vote to withdraw from the EU. It was about something broader – something that the European Union had come to represent.
It was about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.
It was a vote not just to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.
Knock on almost any door in almost any part of the country, and you will find the roots of the revolution laid bare…..
Our democracy should work for everyone, but if you’ve been trying to say things need to change for years and your complaints fall on deaf ears, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
And the roots of the revolution run deep. Because it wasn’t the wealthy who made the biggest sacrifices after the financial crash, but ordinary, working class families.
And if you’re one of those people who lost their job, who stayed in work but on reduced hours, took a pay cut as household bills rocketed, or – and I know a lot of people don’t like to admit this – someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn’t seem fair.
It feels like your dreams have been sacrificed in the service of others.
So change has got to come.
Because if we don’t respond – if we don’t take this opportunity to deliver the change people want – resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched.
And that would be a disaster for Britain.
Because the lesson of Britain is that we are a country built on the bonds of family, community, citizenship.
Of strong institutions and a strong society.
The country of my parents who instilled in me a sense of public service and of public servants everywhere who want to give something back.
The parent who works hard all week but takes time out to coach the kids football team at the weekend.
The local family business in my constituency that’s been serving the community for more than 50 years.
The servicemen and women I met last week who wear their uniform proudly at home and serve our nation with honour abroad.
A country of decency, fairness and quiet resolve.
And a successful country – small in size but large in stature – that with less than 1% of the world’s population boasts more Nobel Laureates than any country outside the United States… with three more added again just yesterday – two of whom worked here in this great city.
A country that boasts three of the top ten universities in the world. The world’s leading financial capital. And institutions like the NHS and BBC whose reputations echo in some of the farthest corners of the globe.
All possible because we are one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and I will always fight to preserve our proud, historic Union and will never let divisive nationalists drive us apart.
Yet within our society today, we see division and unfairness all around. Between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation. Between the wealth of London and the rest of the country.
But perhaps most of all, between the rich, the successful and the powerful – and their fellow citizens.
Now don’t get me wrong. We applaud success. We want people to get on.
But we also value something else: the spirit of citizenship.
They find the fact that more than seventeen million voters decided to leave the European Union simply bewildering.
But a change has got to come. It’s time to remember the good that government can do.
Time for a new approach that says while government does not have all the answers, government can and should be a force for good..
This is conference rhetoric, to be sure. But it does not bang the drum of English nationalism. The traditional self image of British fair play and social justice is invoked. She did not reveal any sensitivity whatsoever towards those pesky nationalists. That could cause trouble in the future. For now she leans towards calling Nicola’s bluff. But calling bluff is not appropriate for the problem of the Irish border. While the tone will sometimes grate, essential post- GFA courtesies will be observed. There will be no return to reflexive identification with Ulster Unionism, even for tight votes in the Commons.
In the end she pins her faith on fine tuning ideas of fairness during austerity and her hopes on growing prosperity.
And she’s right. If she fails over Brexit and the rest:
“– if we don’t take this opportunity to deliver the change people want – resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched.
Over to Nicola, the swivelled-eyed English nationalists and God knows who in Ireland.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London