Who Died and Made Gordon Brown Legal Guardian of English Democracy?


Mattanza M Fedora

Author’s Note: Please observe the sources as referenced in the footnotes, as we encourage critical thinking practices from every person reading An Anglian’s Musings.

What is the Brown Commission?

Nearly fourteen years after leaving office, Gordon Brown remains unwilling to let go of his political legacy.

Despite a relative lack of any actual position of authority and a reputation that is – to be kind – mixed at best, Mr Brown is still adamant about trying to cement his legacy as a politician. With a reputation now significantly diminished, and no formal authority, his latest attempt to shape England’s future has garnered fresh criticism from the CEP. His most recent scheme in doing so was the Brown Report, in which he once again is dedicated to projecting his visions of how England should look on a map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. He has a long track record of referring to the whole of the UK by the term “The Nations and the Regions” – the latter of which he means all nine former EU Constituencies within England -and once again, he’s discussing an issue which he appears to be woefully unqualified to talk about.

The CEP has long criticised Mr Brown for his alleged fixation on breaking up England into smaller regions without considering the desires of the English people. Simply put, Mr Brown, as a retired politician from Scotland, lacks the mandate to decide on the future of England and its governance structure. Not the least because of the facts that:

  • Lack of Referendum:

The CEP criticises the absence of an English devolution referendum. The English people never received the chance to express their views on equal devolved powers.

  • Insulting Vision:

The CEP finds Brown’s UK vision insulting to both Scots and English. It disregards their unique identities and undermines their sense of nationhood.

  • Equal Autonomy:

The CEP vehemently argues for equal domestic autonomy for Scotland, England, and Wales. They advocate for a fair approach that respects each nation’s identity and aspirations.

What are Brown’s views, where do they stem from, and what do they mean for Anglia?

He’s not too dissimilar – in some ways – from how Nigel Farage, with the latter’s career as a presenter on LBC and GB News, has failed to move on from politics as one might expect a former representative of anywhere in parliament.

Both figures contain voices of influence within their respective circles, and both could easily be assumed to take on the role of a spin doctor, influencing policies behind the scenes. In Mr Brown’s case, he has long campaigned for the idea of a vision of Britain where he’s frequently referred to the entire UK under the moniker of “the Nations and Regions”, and this has only led to a further sense of discontentment in England for the system, as well as the former Labour Prime Minister from Giffnock.

More often than not, Gordon Brown’s fixation on a “stronger sense of Britishness” is seen through the lens of a stranglehold over any semblance of Scottish, English or Welsh identity that is unattached to the Unionist view of each nation. The impact of such a mentality only serves to hurt the cause of remaining part of the United Kingdom in general, as all of us are impacted in some ways by this, and without an English equivalent in Holyrood somewhere like Winchester, Carlisle, Colchester or York; England continually looks like nothing more than another term for Britain/The UK as-a-whole.

Back in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, Brown was posed the question of whether England should have a parliament, to which his reply was, “I don’t think people want an English Parliament.” When the interviewer pressed forward with, “Then how can there be balance?” and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (& later Prime Minister)’s response could not have been more ironic, stating that “Because the United Kingdom Parliament has got 85% of its representation is from England and at any point, the English representation has power to deliver within the United Kingdom Parliament.”

When asked if “Scots MPs should duck out of Westminster for English only matters?” Brown replied with, “I don’t think that Scottish MPs should leave the United Kingdom Parliament at any time-” Again, the interviewer specifies, “For English votes?” he continued with “I don’t think they should leave, and I think that there are ways in which we could recognise the sensitivities of every part of the United Kingdom.” Yet he never goes into detail about how to achieve it. Clearly, Brown had not seen any prior data such as a YouGov poll for The Jury Team in September 2009 found 58% of those surveyed in England supported establishing an English Parliament, while only 20% were opposed.” And when we ran a poll on the subject via the ICM, surveying 1006 GB adults if England should have its parliament or assembly similar to structures established for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 67% responded, “For an English Parliament” while only 25% said “Against an English Parliament”. Since then, we have seen both the implementation and the abolition of English Votes on English Laws (EVEL), but it was abolished due to:

Complex and opaque procedures: EVEL has been criticised for being unduly complex and opaque. The procedures have generated administrative work for Commons officials and created disruption to Commons proceedings. The rules are little understood by many MPs and close observers of Westminster, and EVEL was never seen as a meaningful answer to the wider question of English representation within the UK’s legislative process.

Limited impact on legislative outcomes: Despite the introduction of EVEL, research has shown that in no case did English MPs vote differently from UK-wide MPs. This is primarily because of Conservative governments, since 2015 and have consistently had a larger majority of seats in England than across the whole House. The original purpose of EVEL was to have an impact when the UK government lacks a majority in England, but this situation has not arisen since its implementation.

Brown’s views on Scottish MPs voting on solely English affairs likely stem from his views as a Scottish Unionist keeping him up at night, hoping to find a way to combat the rising tide of Scottish Nationalism. However, any fellow Scots, who would otherwise recognise certain advantages to being part of the Union that they’d otherwise objectively assess on their own merit compared with independence, would thus develop a sentimental resistance to all ideas of a Union with England based on the way it seems their identity would come at the expense of a warped understanding of England’s own. 

In short, it’s Gordon Brown’s very ideology and reasoning (or lack thereof) that is destroying the Union he claims to love so much, as he doesn’t seem to recognise that his policies serve to feed into a view of the union dominated by “English voices”, even when said voices can’t speak for the majority of their own constituents.

One can never truly understand if Brown’s inability to see things from an English point of view is the result of stubbornness or if he’s simply too obtuse to comprehend the damage of his ideological opposition to England’s people getting what statistical evidence shows undeniable support for.

Regardless of whether or not he truly believes that he’s right about our country, his former colleague and deputy leader during the time of Tony Blair’s Premiership, John Prescott – a Welsh identifier who was once infamously quoted as saying, “There is no such Nationality as English” -, accepted that he could not force his preference for regionalism on any one part of England. In the wake of the 2004 North-East Regional Devolution Referendum, 78% of the population voted against the Blairites’ plans to slice England along the lines of (now abolished) EU Parliamentary Constituencies. That four out of every five Northumbrians said ‘Nay’ to having a political barrier encasing them between the walls of the Rivers Humber and Tweed, the North Sea and the Pennine Way.

Mr Prescott, at the time, stated: “The North-East public have answered in an emphatic way. I am a democrat and I accept that.”

A very British (Unionist) problem.

Of course, whilst I am primarily focusing on Gordon Brown’s personal motives, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that he’s only part of a broader concern within the Labour Party and British Politics as a whole. Prescott is merely the tip of that iceberg. Some of whom – notably within the Conservative Party – appear to be opposed to English devolution for no other reason other than that they don’t like the idea of losing a hold on 85% of the population of the UK, or they’ve too much of a romanticised view of the Heptarchy to recognise we’re not living in the Dark Ages, and the wars between Wessex and the Danelaw died all the way back in the 10th Century.

In the case of the Tories, Dan Hannan seems to want to take regionalism to an even more illogical by suggesting we only devolve power to counties and cities, effectively turning places like London into a city-state, creating yet more of a tribal sense of division within the largest nation of the United Kingdom. The CEP’s approach, meanwhile, is to approach the subject of devolution from the perspective of a single, unicameral English parliament for all national issues and grant more power – if required – and, more importantly still, funding to pre-existing local governments so as not to exacerbate pointless division within England’s North, Midlands and South. Regardless, Mr Hannan is an outlier, whereas most of his party are centralists who made it their business to oppose devolution as a matter of principle.

In the case of the Labour Party members, it seems a tough call to decide on whether it might be the latter of those two issues or, if they’re part of a minority faction themselves that has no statistical evidence to back up their views, but like a crowd of angry football hooligans, delude themselves that they’re in the majority for no other reason than they’re the only one speaking about them at public gatherings.

Whether they be from Cornwall, Liverpool, or even Yorkshire, these types are all the same. There is no substantial basis for their sense of “exceptionalism” that fuels a bias in favour of their home counties/cities and oversimplifies the ever-complex issues of what it means to be proud of where you come from.

Whether it’s Gordon Brown’s views of a sense of “Britishness first, and above all else” or the likes of Andy Burnham’s perpetuating the myth that all Liverpudlians identify as “Scouse, not English.” (In the latter case, it has been debunked by the likes of Dr David Jeffery from the University of Liverpool.) It’s the same self-centred ideology that is rooted in the sense of isolationist xenophobia and self-contradicting ideas about what it means to be any of those things.

Nobody should have to feel like they have to sacrifice one layer of identity to fit another, especially if it means relying on a warped cognitive dissonance to deny the people of said population a say on whether they should ask for a devolved parliament for their country.

As a member of the Labour Party myself and a proud Englishman of Irish, Scots and Welsh ancestry, I feel like my party has single-handedly betrayed its very raison d’etre as a Democratic Socialist party by refusing to acknowledge the expressed wishes of the people of England on the subject of devolution. And Mr Brown wonders why the people of his own country feel like leaving the UK… He frequently reminds me of one of those overbearing parental figures who insist on knowing their children “better than they know themselves”. It’s hard to imagine if he truly believes he knows what’s best or if he simply doesn’t care about anything but his own views on life, claiming that if they don’t work out for us, then that’s our problem, not his. There is no accountability for one’s own mistakes; just mindless browbeating and blatant neglect of the views of those who should always have a say in the matters that affect them most.

In any case, the obvious question is, who died and made Gordon Brown our legal guardian? He’s in no position to tell the people of England what they themselves feel or “should feel” about any given policy than the people of our own country can do for him or any other Scots about the same issues across the border.

Suppose he insists on such double standards being prevalent. In that case, he’ll only seek to sour his relationship with the public in either nation to a greater degree than his economic policies ever did.

Personally, I’d sooner welcome a far more radical approach for the Labour Party in which we have a new codified constitution that guarantees all three of our countries would have equal levels of domestic autonomy over their own affairs as part of a federal republic; the late great Tony Benn’s Commonwealth of Britain Bill. Co-written with Andrew Hood as part of their book Common Sense: A New Constitution For Britain and supported by Jeremy Corbyn when presented to Parliament for a debate, Mr Benn’s Bill was about Democratising Britain in a way that Mr Brown’s Commission couldn’t begin to imagine, as it moves heavily away from all sentimental attachment of the quasi-feudal system that this multinational state operates under.

Regardless of how Britain may look over the next ten to twenty years, the clear and sustained voice of millions of English citizenry has underscored their desire for equitable self-governance through an English parliament. As democratic peers of our fellow UK nations, the people of England rightfully call upon their representatives to establish a national referendum as the final arbiter of consent. Only through such a vote can the settled will and distinct identity of England be respected within a modern, democratic union.