21 October 2013

What’s the future for England?

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The final panel at our Festival of Englishness with IPPR looked to England’s future and concluded with a positive vision for the nation, writes Steve Ballinger.

ITV Daybreak’s Anne Alexander chaired the session, with ConservativeHome’s Peter Hoskin, Labour MP John Denham, academics Michael Kenny  and Mary Joannou and Ivo Dawnay, director for London at the National Trust.

Denham stressed the importance of the Englishness question next year. There will be a “raging debate” in 2014 about national identity, he said, prompted by the Scottish independence referendum. His concern is that, unless the left engages with it more fully, it will be almost entirely shaped by the right.

Kenny echoed this sense that the English question cannot remain unaddressed. Ignoring it, he stressed, could lead to it becoming associated predominantly with a politics of grievance.

ConHome’s Hoskin thought the audience might be surprised to hear that he supported Gordon Brown’s attempt to wrestle with the question of national identity, even if he was less enthusiastic about the results. But he echoed the sentiments of others on the panel when he said that “nasty elements” could occupy a vacuum left by mainstream politicians if they did not engage with the question of Englishness.

Such engagement must be done with sensitivity, though: both Hoskin and Joannou stressed that they do not want politicians telling them what to do or how to feel when it comes to their sense of national identity.

Meanwhile, Dawnay stressed that “only” English MPs should vote on English legislation, with it being “absurd”, for example, that Scottish MPs voted in English education. Dawnay also questioned whether England really needs a new constitutional settlement.

Kenny added that politicians must recognise that the debate looks very different once one gets out of London, something the Festival of Englishness will address with events in Manchester and Newcastle next month.

The day rounded off with panelists offering a brief and upbeat vision for the future of England. Kenny  envisioned an England that is more culturally confident, politically recognised and connected with both other nations and its own traditions. Denham identified the potential for Englishness to be unifying force, something that can bring communities together. A fittingly positive end for a Festival of Englishness.

You can see a discussion from our first panel with John Redwood MP and Jon Cruddas MP chaired by Suzanne Moore here

 Steve Ballinger is director of communications at British Future. 

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