21 November 2014

Labour needs to get over its allergy to Englishness

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Following MP Emily Thornbury’s resignation from the shadow cabinet over a tweet that was accused of being ‘sneering’ towards those who like to fly the flag of St George outside their home, the Labour Party’s struggles to address Englishness are all too apparent once again, writes Matthew Rhodes.

British Future’s new report published this week, “How to talk about immigration”, explores issues of Englishness and identity, and highlights the struggles of some politicians to come to terms with it.

An Ipsos MORI poll for British Future finds that just over half of people in England (53%) see it as a healthy expression of English pride if they see an England flag flying in someone’s home, car, shop or pub. Eleven per cent finds it a worrying expression of English nationalism.

A separate ICM poll for British Future shows that most people (61%) think that the England flag should be flown more often .

Labour needs to get over its allergy to Englishness. Too many Labour voices seem uncomfortable talking about English pride or patriotism. That’s why something as trivial as a tweet has more resonance and reminds people of Gordon Brown’s ‘Gillian Duffy moment’ back in 2010.

Labour still hasn’t found its voice on English identity, not just in the debates about Britain after devolution, but in terms of how culture, identity and Englishness are important factors in both the immigration and EU debate.

ICM polling for British Future finds that two-thirds of people (67%) think St George’s Day is less widely celebrated than St Patrick’s Day at the moment. Three-quarters of people (76%) would like to see that change, and for St George’s Day to be celebrated at least as much as St Patrick’s Day.

It’s important that people can express their sense of being English. Mainstream politicians should pay more attention to the English identity that most people hold and be clear that it’s fine to fly the England flag. Celebrating St George’s Day more and inviting everybody to the party would also be a good start.

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