January 15, 2006

Brown's vision for Britain

Back in October 2005 I published an article on Gordon Brown’s desperate need to inculcate a renewed sense of Britishness. It met with mixed reactions with one commenter stating that ‘Frankly, none of this matters’. But it does matter. Gordon Brown’s latest attempt to wrap himself in the robes of Britannia, has been deservedly ridiculed by the British press and has succeeded only in dividing a divided Britain still further along north south lines. In Scotland Brown was accused of denying his own roots, whilst in England his speech was viewed as little more than a transparent and cynical attempt to overcome his electoral handicap of being a Scottish MP.

The Guardian: In an impassioned speech, he made the case for recapturing the union flag as a 'British symbol of unity, tolerance and inclusion'. But despite his best intentions, it is not supranational identities which Britons want to cling to, rather, the more particular identities of Wales, Scotland and, increasingly, England.

Calling for Labour Party to feel pride in a British patriotism and patriotic purpose Brown conveniently overlooks the fact that his Labour Party have done more than any other organisation to destroy the concept of Britain. Brown does have a few suggestions as to how British pride can be restored:

  • Britons should reclaim the Union Flag from the far-right, and ape the Americans by flying our national flag proudly in our gardens
  • The left-wing in Britain has traditionally demonized anyone that is overtly patriotic. Most, if not all, Labour Party members would rather commit suicide than sing Land of Hope and Glory. And if it wasn’t for the Left routinely accusing anyone that unfurled the Union Flag of fascism there would be no need now for this vulgar British introspection. Furthermore if Brown believes that his own constituents in Dunfermline are going to take down the Scottish flag and hoist a Union Flag he is mistaken, quite, quite mistaken - in fact he’s farther detached from reality than anyone could have previously imagined.

  • British history should be given more prominence in our schools, "not just dates places and names, nor just a set of unnconnected facts, but a narrative that encompasses our history"
  • Under Labour the teaching of British history has been all but erased from the national curriculum. Besides, as UK Prime Minister Brown would have no say in the Scottish national curriculum or just what history is taught to his own child up in Scotland.

  • Create a British national day, a British equivalent of the 4th of July
  • Britons would much rather celebrate English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish days than a British national day. Brown’s suggestion that Remembrance Day should be turned from a day of solemn reflection into a flag waving jamboree is frankly distasteful.

  • Demand a new constitutional settlement
  • The British constitution and British institutions have been systematically vandalised by New Labour. The concept of a unitary state has all but disappeared, we are no longer one people, and the sovereignty of Parliament has been undermined by the handing away of powers to the EU and devolved legislatures. The only constitutional settlement that will give Brown the moral authority to govern Britain is a federal Britain.

  • Take citizenship seriously
  • Under a Brown government students that volunteer for community work will have their tuition fees waived by the Government. This measure, believes Brown, will encourage "strong modern patriotism" and "an agreed British national purpose". The rather glaring problem with this policy is that such a measure would not apply to Brown's own constituents in Scotland, it would only apply to English students, the only group directly affected by the UK Government's legislation on education. Quite why English students should volunteer for community work in the cause of building an agreed British national purpose when their Scottish counterparts do not have to pay those tuition fees, and when it was Scottish MPs voting in the UK Parliament that imposed those fees upon them (by overturning the collective will of English MPs who were opposed to tuition fees), is beyond me.

Some will see Gordon Brown’s vision for Britain as laudable, others laughable. Perhaps most laughable is his appropriation of English acheivements - Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights - for Britain (the Bill of Rights was never even incorporated into Scottish Law):

"So there is, a golden thread which runs through British history - that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King"

Despite the air of desperation that Brown exudes, and the abject ridicule that he has courted, his speech will certainly assure his place in history, not as the Prime Minister of the UK but as the man who finally awakened the English. Prior to 1997, and devolution to Wales and Scotland, for most English people English and British identity were coterminous. Not so any longer, the English genie is out of the bottle and its existence threatens Brown's succession to Blair's throne.

Of course Brown must have expected the English backlash and presumably the Brown camp formulated a game plan to counter it; for the sake of the Union I hope that his vision for Britain wasn't it.

Posted by Gareth at January 15, 2006 04:38 PM

What the hell is "strong modern patriotism"?

I have said all along that Gordon Brown's huffy glower and lowering presence masked a tiny frightened brain. The man's a chippy third-rater.

One thing for sure, he doesn't understand the British (or English, as you would have it). Why? Because he has never been interested. He cleaves, no matter that he has now realised he'd better hide it - and quickly - to The Internationale.

Posted by: Verity at January 15, 2006 04:57 PM

He has correctly noted some symptoms, but he hasn't amde a credible diagnosis, and certainly not a prescription for treatment anyone would take.

Still, if people can take the treatment of the NHS, perhaps they can endure more than supposed.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at January 15, 2006 07:13 PM

This must be the first time that England's so called national press have collectivly taken umbrage to what is on offer.I can hear Hague's 'drums of English Nationalism' well and truly now.The political parties are addled at what to do next. I suggest a referendum. Let the MP's for and against put their arguments to the people and let the people decide.

Posted by: gadgie at January 16, 2006 01:57 AM

Brown is to be commended whatever his motives. If both the Conservatives and Labor acknowledge there is value and content to the British national idea it will marginalize the far right parties even further and add to the ability of Britain to resist assimilation into a European super state. When your opponant starts agreeing with you stop arguing with him. In America, people with a strong regional identification, Texans for instance, fly both the Lone Star flag and the Stars and Stripes. The Scots were a strong componant of united Britain all the 19th and most of the last century and its not impossible that it could be so again.

Posted by: John J. Vecchione at January 16, 2006 10:53 AM

Brown wants to be PM. That's it. His wife is having another baby, too. Cute, huh? But anyone with even a medium term memory will recall that Tony Blair did a bit of wrapping of the flag round himself in 1997. Brown is doing exactly the same. Why anyone should fall for it I cannot even begin to imagine.

Posted by: Helen at January 16, 2006 01:02 PM

On the other hand, what's so bad about the Union breaking up? Especially when so few people care about maintaining it?

It's hard to imagine Scotland and England going to war against each other again. Maybe Parliament *should* "bite the bullet" and repeal the Act of Union.

I'm not sure what would become of Northern Ireland, though....

Posted by: Hale Adams at January 16, 2006 05:51 PM

Helen - My thoughts exactly. The socialists do this all the time. Who can forget late middle ager Cherie Blair popping a kid at a convenient time for Tone just around the time of the criminally insane Millennium Dome? Amazing, really. Lots of mileage in that kid whose name he had engraved on a coffee mug which he absently-mindedly took out onto the steps of Downing St for an 'impromptu' press conference. Oh, pulleeeze! Somebody give me a break!

Why would anyone the hell care about the domestic life of the Munsters? Another thing I've noticed is, every time Tony and/or Gordon slump in the charts, female journalists are mysteriously motivated to write gag-o-rama pieces about how "sexy" they are and how they dream about them. When Gordon Brown slumped - well, there's a piece of news - one of these "journalists" wrote a piece about how she fantasised about an encounter with Gordon Brown on the Orient Express. I mean, how low do your expectations have to be?

But it ran in a national paper. Paid advertising? Just asking.

Or they write that Tony 'n' Cher are so much in luuurrve. This, even if true, is a qualification for running a First World country? A Third World country?

I have noticed these crude tactics - socialists have that dull determination - again and again since Toneboy and Her Cherieness got into the Petit Trianon formerly known as No 10 Downing St.

Brown's married to arch-communist writer Eric Hogsbawm (or similar spelling)'s daughter. They're communists.

Posted by: Verity at January 16, 2006 07:07 PM

The tactic in this case is to point out the obvious next steps of his policy and put him on the spot to follow through.

if he does, h starts contradicting his party's policy on Europe. if he backs down, he makes his opportunism obvious to people not as perceptive as Helen and Verity.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 16, 2006 07:25 PM

It's not that there is anything inherently wrong with Brown promoting nationalism it's just that he's chosen the wrong nationalism, and much too late.

Brown cannot be UK Prime Minister without sparking a constitutional crisis. His mandate is from his constituents in Scotland who elect him on matters that are reserved by the UK legislature, they do not elect him on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament (health, education, transport, culture, sport etc).

On all the policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland he has no mandate to govern England because he is unaccountable to the people that he seeks to govern.

Labour has a majority of 67 which is dependent on their Scottish and Welsh MPs. The English will not stand for a democratically unaccountable Prime Minister using Scottish and Welsh MPs to legislate for England whilst English MPs have no say in the concommitant legislation in outwith England.

It can't be allowed to happen, and it won't. The Conservatives and Lib Dems won't allow it, and there are a fair few of Brown's English colleagues opposed too.

If he wants to lead the UK then Brown has to become an English nationalist and promote English self-governance. Only by removing from his remit those legislative areas that he is unaccountable to the electorate on, and placing them in the hands of an English government, can he avoid a total breakdown in government.

Simply trying to convince the English that he, and we, should all be British fails to address the democratic deficit. And that is why his attempt to do so has been viewed with utter contempt by large sections of the English public.

Posted by: Gareth Young at January 16, 2006 07:30 PM

My take - Gareth Young is correct. I don't know how Helen sees this. But I think there will be a general resistance to the idea of Gordon Brown, from a Scottish constituency, running England, which is the machine of Great Britain, without an English mandate. (I will not use the term, imposed by the EU, UK. We are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is the name of our country.)

With poisonous pleasure, I cannot imagine the English voting for someone who has no mandate in England. Yes, they did with Blair, because he sounds so English, if rather hissy, and people hadn't caught on at that point. Now, they have.

Posted by: Verity at January 16, 2006 07:51 PM

Don't be so rude about the Munsters, Verity. Or the Addams family. They are both splendid groups of people with real conservative values. Plus they are funny. You cannot possibly say that about the Blair or the Brown families.

Posted by: Helen at January 17, 2006 10:20 AM

I'm an American, so I am unsure of British law regarding the eligibility requirements for being Prime Minister. Why would Brown be considered democratically unaccountable? The PM is not directly elected by the people of the United Kingdom, he is elected by the Members of Parliament. I suppose the precise formulation is that he is selected by the monarch as the leader of the majority party, he forms a Cabinet, and the choice is then ratified by Parliament. The PM is democratically accountable to the MPs (who are each accountable to their constituents), and to his party according to whatever rules it has for electing its leader.

Now, the issue of having a Scot making decisions for the English but not the Scots might be an interesting one to raise in the English constituencies by Tory candidates running against Labor MPs. But I don't see how Brown would have any less legitimacy as Prime Minister than any other MP.

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 10:25 AM

The probelm is one of accountability Simon. Prior to 1997 the UK was effectively a unitary state, there were still a few anomalies but essentially everyone was equally affected by what legislation the UK Government instituted on (for example) health.

Now, however, some nations of the UK have home rule whilst others, most notably England, do not. Whilst we have a PM that is elected by English voters it is not much of a problem, but Gordon Brown sits in a Scottish seat and is elected by Scottish votes. Those voters in Scotland that vote for Brown are asking to be represented by him on matters that are reserved by the UK Executive (national security, immigration, foreign policy etc.) When it comes to voting for someone to represent them on devolved matters (health, education, transport, culture etc.) they elect a representative to the Scottish parliament.

Gordon Brown, as a Scot, hopes to lead a UK government that has complete legislative control over England. But unfortunately (for him) he is democratically unaccountable to the people. We English cannot vote for or against him because he is elected in Scotland. The people in Scotland that elect him are not affected by his decisions on health, education and transport in England; effectively Brown is absolutely unaccountable to anyone over areas that he seeks to legislate for in England. Not a single voter in the UK votes for him on the basis of health, education or transport manifesto pledges.

I wouldn't suggest that he lacks the moral authority to legislate for the UK as a whole, just that he has no business legislating for England in areas that are devolved to Scotland. We need a federal system in order for there ever to be a Scottish PM of Britain.

If we do not have such a system then the English will quite correctly tell any such Scottish incumbent to bugger off and legislate for your own constituents in your own (Scottish) parliament.

Brown's succession will provoke a constitutional crisis, of that I'm sure. I look forward to it.

I expect that it is difficult for an American to understand. But bear in mind that we do not have a presidential system. We elect parties, and parties elect leaders. Brown will most likely become PM because Tony Blair says so, not because the people have voted for him in a leadership campaign.

Posted by: Gareth at January 17, 2006 11:47 AM

It's a moot point but nevertheless worth pointing out that Labour govern England in its entirety despite not having the plurality of the English vote - the Conservative received more votes in England.

Labour have gerrymandered the constitution to acheive permanent majorities in Scotland and Wales, whilst still exercising control of England by dint of their Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on English legislation. And English Conservative MPs have no say in the concommitant legislation passed by the Labour regimes in Scotland and Wales.

Labour have totally ourmanouvred the Tories but there are signs that it is coming to an end

Posted by: Gareth at January 17, 2006 11:56 AM

Simon Oliver Lockwood - The Monarch has absolutely nothing to do with our elections! The leader of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are selected by those parties - that is, party members. Labour and the Tories being the two largest parties, when one of them is in government, ie. Her Majesty's Government, the other is in Opposition - ie, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. The Monarch is the head of state. The prime minister is the head of government. But the Queen is in no way involved in elections and certainly doesn't "ratify" party leaders! It's none of her business who we choose. She has to live with it.

The Opposition gets tax money to function as a shadow government. So the leader of the Tories shadows the Prime Minister - in other words, has the same brief. The Shadow Foreign Secretary shadows Jack Straw. This is our ancient way of trying to keep the blighters honest. A tragic failure in the current instance.

(Gareth, the Labour membership will definitely have a leadership contest that Labour Party members vote on when Blair finally goes. I expect it will be hotly contested. If Brown gets it, I think Labour will lose the election. Not only will the electorate not want to be governed by a Scot, but Gordon Brown is a terribly unappealing person.)

Posted by: Verity at January 17, 2006 01:05 PM

Do the Unions still get to cast a block vote on behalf of their members? If so then I imagine that Brown will be relying on that.

He is a horribly dull man but that might go in his favour after enduring years of Blair's cheesy grin and 'just a regular kinda guy' pub banter.

Posted by: Gareth at January 17, 2006 01:55 PM

Gareth –

Brown's accountability as an MP is to the voters of his district in Fife. His (or that of any Scottish MP’s) accountability vis a vis a Leadership or Ministerial position is to his Party Leadership / Caucus. If the issue of giving Scots MPs the authority over portfolios that only affect England matters to voters in England, they can use it as part of their decision whether to vote for Labor or not.

Even if you're English, you can't vote specifically for or against Tony Blair unless you live in the constituency of Sedgefield. Likewise, only those Scots who actually live in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeth have the opportunity to vote for or against Gordon Brown. You can vote for or against the Labor Party candidate no matter where you live. Since (it’s my understanding) that most voters vote for their MP based upon which party they want to form the Government—rather than how good they are at constituent service—the issue of, “Should a Scot govern England?” might resonate with enough voters to swing a few districts.

If your argument is that there should be a devolved English Parliament for the same issues that the Scottish Parliament has jurisdiction over, I can sympathize. Likewise, I can also understand the argument that Scottish MPs shouldn't vote on legislation that affects those issues. But this is a different issue.

Verity –
I know that Queen Elizabeth has no power to “decide” who becomes PM. I didn’t mean that she chooses who the party leader is going to be. But isn’t the formulation still, the Queen “invites” the leader of the party with the most MPs to form a government? And then, said Government must receive the approval of a majority of MPs.

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 02:09 PM

"But this is a different issue."

On the contrary, it is the same issue. We will have a PM that has no moral right to vote upon the legislation of his own Government. The British style of cabinet government, based on the principle of collective responsibility, means that Brown will pick ministers that will conform to his views or face the sack, and his mandate for imposing those views on England will come from Scotland. It will be nothing more than an electoral dictatorship.

Posted by: Gareth at January 17, 2006 02:24 PM

And those English MPs who vote to sustain a Brown Government will be accountable to their English constituencies.

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 02:45 PM

So why can't the Conservatives get any traction in Scotland? I don't understand why the people who invented modern capitalism are so overwhelmingly socialist. Of course over here, the descendants of slaves vote for the party of slavery and Jim Crow, so the situation is far from unique.

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 02:55 PM

Simon Oliver Lockwood - Yes, the party that won the election is then "invited" by the head of state, Queen Elizabeth, to form a government. But she can't not "invite" them. It's got nothing to do with her personally. And she doesn't "ratify" them. They won the election. They're in government.

And "then the said government must receive the approval of a majority of MPs"? I've never heard of that. The party that won the most votes wins the election. End of story. Obviously, the winning party will have the most MPs but I've never heard that they then have to "approve" of themselves winning the election. That sounds a bit fanciful to me.

Anyway, if they run Gordon Brown, I think he will lose the election for them. The English don't want to be governed by another Scot, especially such a humourless, self-righteous lump of blubber as Gordon Brown. He really is repellent.

Posted by: Verity at January 17, 2006 03:10 PM

If an election results in no single party having a majority, doesn't the ensuing coalition have to receive the approval of a majority of MPs?

Is there a formal vote?

Or is the coalition formed by the plurality party assumed to have the confidence of Parliament unless major legislation is actually defeated or a no confidence motion actually passed?

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 03:57 PM

"And those English MPs who vote to sustain a Brown Government will be accountable to their English constituencies."

And the Scottish MPs that also help sustain a Brown Government will be accountable to?

Posted by: Gareth at January 17, 2006 03:58 PM

Simon Oliver Lockwood - I cannot imagine any circumstance where the two major parties would receive an identical number of votes! The only time that I know of that Britain has had a coalition government was during WWII, and that was because it was felt it wise to get the best brains onto the cabinet, no matter the party. But that was just the cabinet.

I suppose there could be a hung Parliament - with both parties holding an identical number of seats. I don't know who would be the governing party at that point, but the Lib Dems would get taken out to lunch a lot.

Gareth - Yes, MPs representing English constituencies will be responsible to their constituencies, of course. But the PM can appoint other Scots to the Cabinet, causing Britain to be governed by a Scottish junta. Or, as Jeremy Paxman put it so cleverly, a Scottish Raj.

The English do not want to be governed by a very weak socialist economy. I don't know why the Scots are so socialist. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make it a weird phenomenon. Maybe the further north you go, the more collectivist you become. Look at Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

Posted by: Verity at January 17, 2006 04:22 PM

I happen to have a picture of Gordon in Union Jack pants...says it all...


Posted by: Gavin Corder at January 17, 2006 05:37 PM

For the benefit of non-UK readers, it might be wise to distinguish racist objections to Scots from logical objections to MPs who sit for Scottish constituencies. And ditto for England.

Posted by: dearieme at January 17, 2006 07:58 PM

Verity - How long would such a "Scottish Raj" retain the confidence of the House? Would the English Laborites really go along with it? Wouldn't part of the negotiations leading toward a Scottish party leader likely include making sure that English MPs get the portfolios most sensitive to England?

As far as hung Parliaments and coalitions are concerned, I remember from my reading of Lady Thatcher's memoirs at least a couple of elections in the 70s that resulted in minority Governments. Wasn't Callaghan's Government a Labor-Liberal coalition?

Posted by: Simon Oliver Lockwood at January 17, 2006 10:03 PM

Well, Blair's been at the head of the Scottish Raj for eight years now. The second most powerful person in government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is Gordon Brown, also a Scot.

I wasn't in England during the 70s so don't remember much of what happened, except in a vague way.

There aren't any portfolios "more sensitive to England". They're national. Blair has made a dog's breakfast of Great Britain.

Posted by: Verity at January 18, 2006 08:19 AM

A federal UK would be the best answer - I tend to believe that federations are generally more stable & free because power is not concentrated.

The problem for the UK is that a federation in which one state was England with nearly 90% of the population would be difficult - it would be handy if the English were to want to be 3 or 4 federal units but so far they don't. I also think that an electoral system which does not produce proportionate results enhances differences, as in the elimination of the Tories Scots MPs while they retain about 20% of the vote in the Scots PR Parliament.

Posted by: Neil Craig at January 19, 2006 06:26 AM

"a tiny frightened brain. The man's a chippy third-rater." Verity, I knew him thirty years ago, and he was an able chap then. Silly political beliefs, of course, but not dim. (Blair, I suspect, is dim.)

Posted by: dearieme at January 19, 2006 07:37 PM

"The problem for the UK is that a federation in which one state was England with nearly 90% of the population would be difficult."

That is a problem, but not for the English. The Scots and Welsh wanted devolution so they must live with the consequences or vote for independence. My view is that the consequences would be quite small, political differences that would exist between the federal unit of England and the federal units of Scotland and Wales exist now as tensions between Westminster and the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales. The difference in size between our nations cannot be overcome, we either live with it or go our separate ways. At least a federal solution would offer some stability. And as it is a rule that parliament cannot bind its successors the federal option would have to be the settled will of all the British people delivered through a referendum. Part of the problem now is that devolution is 'rolling' so we don't know where we stand in relation to each other or the centre.

Posted by: Gareth at January 20, 2006 12:36 AM