If we are to appear like a government-in-waiting we must offer positive answers to the issues that the public care about. We cannot simply vacate the ground that the mainstream right seek to monopolise, and the far-right seek to exploit because we find it difficult. It is in these moments that we are seen as out-of-touch, or worse, sneering at values of national pride.
To be proud of one’s nation doesn’t essentially denote conservatism. The Union and St. George flags are not symbols of the blind reactionary. The conditions which played a part in constituting who we are and give us the ability to fight for social justice are not ones we created ourselves, but were fought for by those before us. The St. George flag is a symbol of what constituted us. A symbol of the justices that were fought for, and the injustices we seek to rectify. We should not be afraid to talk about patriotism, we have a story to tell and we must not be afraid to tell it.
The BBC and the NHS are two key institutions of what it means to be British, and to be English. They have been a key part of public life since their inceptions. But they face constant ideological attacks from a Conservative party hell bent on undermining the public organisations that are so close to the heart of our nation. Here the so-called ‘patriotic’ right are for the taking. We must put forward the patriotic, as well as the practical, case for protecting our national institutions. This can be the beginning of challenging our perceived lack of comfort with Englishness.
What’s more, Labour should not be afraid of the prospect of an English Parliament. In fact proposing one could be a large step in claiming the mantle of Englishness. In opposing English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) we seemed afraid to aspire to a majority of English seats, afraid of English voters. Following the result of the Scottish Parliament elections it is clear that if Labour is to rule again within the next decade it must win a majority in England. An English Parliament would not only settle the constitutional issues that arose from devolution and EVEL, but prove our aspiration to once again be a voice for the majority of England, as well as the United Kingdom.
Moreover devolution should not stop at an English Parliament. Localism will bring power closer to the home of every Briton and promote engaged, empowered citizenship rather than the relationship of a distant consumer in a centralised state. Labour must re-claim the mantle of devolution. A truly federal UK will leave us far better disposed not only to speak to Englishness, but the distinct issues and sympathies of every region.
Whether it is in protecting the institutions that are central to British life or creating new ones, enhancing our democracy or fighting for social justice we have an opportunity to take the initiative on the patriotic cause. We must not turn up our noses to a sense of national pride, but emphasise that it is a love for our country that inspires us to drive injustice from it.