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On politicians, patriotism and dog whistles

TristramHunt with St Georges flagTristram Hunt MP thinks that to gain a majority in England Labour needs to “more obviously show its affection” for the country. In an Observer article of 15 May he argues that the Labour Party has lost contact with its working class constituency. Its former working class voters have gone to UKIP, he says, because Labour has not sufficiently demonstrated its love for England and Englishness.

However, nowhere in his 1300-word case that Labour should embrace “Englishness” are we given any idea what he understands by the term.

He never asks if the the way discontent is expressed necessarily targets its underlying causes. Political history is full of examples of anger and frustration being directed at the wrong target. This is reason enough for not taking treating popular feelings as some kind of unquestionable bedrock for developing our political programmes.

Discussing Englishness

What is Englishness? To answer this with any clarity it would be necessary to show in what ways it is distinct from Welshness and Scottishness (and other nationalities more generally). Given that the cultures of all three countries massively overlap with more in common than there are differences this is a task which is likely to dampen the spirit of the most ardent English nationalist if undertaken seriously.

It is a mistake to discuss England as if it represented the same thing for everyone and of Englishness (insofar as there is such a thing) as if it were a single entity. By so doing we place ourselves in the frame not of thoughtful appreciation of our national culture but of nationalistic prejudice. Tristram Hunt shows no sign of wanting to move outside that frame.

Cultures are complex and contradictory

No culture is is a monolithic bloc. All are diverse and interact massively with other cultures. All have varied and, and often mutually incompatible, trends within them. Talk of embracing Englishness without any examination of what aspects of Englishness are bein spoken of is the discourse of the political snake-oil salesman.

In his forthcoming book (Labour’s Identity Crisis) Hunt explores “how Labour can more obviously show its affection for England“. But what exactly is he arguing that we should have affection for? He gets no closer than a quote from George Orwell castigating the left for sniggering at “horse racing” and “suet puddings”.

The problem is not that Labour did not embrace “Englishness” (whatever that is taken to mean). Rather it is that, in their headlong rush into neo-liberal politics, New Labour governments showed scant interest in its working class constituency. De-industrialisation continued and house building remained at crisis-generating levels. Disdain for the working class was starkly demonstrated with Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax band. The lack of genuine concern for country was shown in encouragement of community-splitting faith schools (supported by Tristram Hunt). All these policies were opposed by the left. Wherefore affection for England?

The majority of us have feelings of affection for the places and people in which we grew up and/or with which we have become very familiar. Generally that means that there are things we want to keep and others we want to change. Of course those of us who live in England (whether we consider ourselves English or not) have bonds with our surroundings. And, as with any rich culture developed over hundreds of years and through many social changes, the picture is complex. There is much that should be treasured, preserved and developed and much that should consigned to the dustbin of history. Views of what should be kept and what should be dumped will vary according to individual and class contexts.

Cultural versus civic nationalism

The SNP has been much more astute than Tristram Hunt in basing its arguments on what it calls “civic nationalism” i.e. a nationalism that is based on political considerations and which does not need a phoney  vaunting of alleged shared cultural values. But then it has been blessed with thinkers like Tom Nairn who have done serious analytical work on the concept of nationalism. I don’t support the SNP, and behind the civic nationalism there are less sophisticated undercurrents as with all nationalisms, but their arguments have been considerably more substantial than those offered by Tristram Hunt.

A modern democratic nation cannot found itself on ethnic exclusivity. There must be a sense of cohesion but this has to come overwhelmingly from acting together irrespective of background and not on the basis of cultural homogeneity. Cultures evolve and blend all the time. Politics should provide a framework in which that evolution and blending can take place in a way that enhances the lives of everyone. There are also strong regional sub-cultures (e.g. in Yorkshire and Cornwall) and these need to be allowed to flourish as well. Cultures not only evolve but are also incredibly diverse. The last thing we need is politicians trying to direct our affections for our country.
Maybe, as Hunt suggests, there should be an English parliament, or maybe we need regional parliaments instead. This all needs a proper debate as do the many possible forms of devolution to our cities and counties. If that is to be done democratically it must be based on clear civic considerations and should not be based such an ill-defined concept as Englishness. It must appeal to all citizens irrespective of background.

Appreciating cultures critically

I accept the charge that the left in general, and the Labour left in particular, has been weak on issues of national and cultural identity. We have tended to support the nationalism of small nations oppressed by more powerful ones and to dismiss national sentiments of the oppressing nations as a form of chauvinism. This simplistic view is not without some truth but it is also confused because it treats cultures as single static entities rather than as evolving expressions of different interests.

It is true, nevertheless, that there is a difference between affection for the familiar circumstances in which we conduct our lives and a nationalism that asserts superiority over others. It is also a fact that it is more difficult to disentangle these in the case of dominant or once dominant nations. Cultural sensitivity requires an awareness of this fact. England football supporters dressing up in mock-crusader uniforms might seem to some to be “just a bit of fun” but such lack of awareness of the significance of the symbolism for others is a typical result of the failure to disentangle these different currents.

Tristram Hunt and England

Declarations of attachment to Englishness with no analysis of what this means is, at best, vacuous nationalism. At worst, it risks taking Labour down the road of wrapping ourselves in the flag of St George and the Union Jack to prove that UKIP and the Tories don’t have a monopoly on national pride.

HuntAndElitism2

We  should instead subvert this discourse by pointing out that real affection for our country means ending gross and corrosive inequality, seeking to ensure that everyone can earn their living, building enough homes so that everyone has decent accommodation and providing good local schools for all. It is when those things are not done that people feel forgotten and start to reject what they see as establishment parties.

Real concern for one’s country is best expressed by trying to solve its pressing problems in the interests of the great majority. The talk of cultural nationalism, national pride, and love of country as political hooks to bring in the disaffected working class are forms of dog whistle politics based on appeal to presumed feelings rather than on programmes to satisfy proven needs. If we challenge UKIP on its own terms we will lose. Tristram Hunt’s call for Labour to embrace some undefined Englishness to try to win back the working class vote can only be a dead end for Labour

37 Comments

  1. John Penney says:

    Hunt’s “patriotism” really is the version that Dr Johnson memorably referred to as the “last refuge of the scoundrel”.

    He is really just chasing the same cheap votes as UKIP , with ‘dog whistle’ references to ‘identity’ which is all about racism , not any serious attempt to define ” Englishness” (if such a thing were possible without defending into the most crass ‘John Majorish ‘ clichés ).

    The still neoloberism obsessed Labour Right are now utterly out of real ideas, to combat the rapid rise of radical Left keynsian reformism , ie, ” Corbynism”.

    Ironically it is only under a radical Left government ‘s comprehensive National economic Plan that a focus on ensuring full employment from domestic labour resources , before drawing upon external labour supplies, could ever be pursued. All promises to reduce the current unlimited labour supply , either by staying in, or leaving,the EU, from all other political persuasions, from UKIP, To the Labour Right, to Cameron, are entirely bogus – because UK business wants an unlimited labour supply – and ALL the those political factions are firmly in the pockets of the business/capitalist class.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree and I think that asking about conditions required to achieve full employment exposes the achilles heel of both the Labour left and right (either in or out of the EU, as you say). We are still a long way from a critique of modern capitalism. Tristram Hunt offers instead his feeble version of identity politics.

  2. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    It’s really all down to policies, those that have none fall back on nationalism.

    Hunt believed in free schools, until the Swedish model started to fail, then changed his mind.

    Dopey people like him are all image and no substance, policies matter especially if like him you keep choosing the wrong ones.

    Finally I think he is just an elitist buffoon.

  3. I think you guys misunderstand both Tristram Hunt and Samuel Johnson. Patriotism may well be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but that doesn’t mean all patriots are scoundrels.

    Words can mean different things. Patriotism means love of country. But that doesn’t have to mean hatred of other countries. If we love our family, that can mean we’re more likely to empathise with others, rather than less.

    Englishness can have an ugly meaning, just watch an English Defense League march, but it can have positive meanings too. It can mean tolerance, concern for others feelings, generosity of spirit.

    If someone from England is proud that we give 0.7% of GDP in overseas aid, that doesn’t have to mean they are doing down the Scots and Welsh. If they celebrate our stand against fascism in the second world war, they can also celebrate the liberal democracy that exists in Germany today.

    Shouldn’t we all want to reclaim the word English from fascists and xenophobes?

    Many in England have a vague and poorly defined concept of Englishness, but that patriotism is important to them nonetheless. As Tristram Hunt has pointed out, Englishness is a word that matters to many people in England, more now think of themselves as English than British. If he is trying to redirect that love of England towards good liberal values, shouldn’t we be applauding him?

    And isn’t he saying much the same as Owen Jones did back in 2011?
    https://www.leftfutures.org/2011/01/patriotism-and-the-left/

    1. John Penney says:

      Do you seriously think Tristram Hunt uses the concept of “patriotism” in a progressive way ? Nothing the man has ever said indicates that his use of slippery concepts like “Englishness” is anything other than a cynical distractive cover for his neoliberal political agenda , and his profound elitism. Hunt is offering only divisive little Englander racism – but no criticisms of TTIP for instance, which really does aim to destroy the Democratic sovereignty of all the component national groupings in the UK.

      So spare us your excuses for Tristram Hunt’s transparently cynical cod- patriotism – to be a progressive patriot (of the entire multi-nation UK) today you have to be prepared to denounce multinational Big Business’s corruption, tax dodging, and abuse of power, and oppose Austerity, and support a radical Left political agenda. Creatures of Big Business like Hunt will never do this – because he, and his bought Blairite friends are exactly what Dr Johnson said – Scoundrels.

      1. Hi John,

        Thanks for your comment.

        From chatting to Tristram Hunt for the first time a little while back, I don’t think he’s cynical at all. If he were only interested in helping the rich, he’d have gone and joined the Tories.

        I’m a little puzzled by you describing him as a neoliberal. I’ve never really understood the way the term is used today, in that it seems to lump together the real rightwingers who are only interested in becoming richer at the expense of those in poverty, with others who seem to be genuinely trying to reduce poverty.

        For example, some billionaires are giving the vast majority of their personal wealth to developing world charities. Also, there are economists who believe in a market system, but moderated by a social democrat system of government which provides free health-care, education, and other services for those without.

        John Maynard Keynes was obviously not a neoliberal, but how do his opinions differ from many of those who today are called neoliberals?

        Best wishes.
        George

        1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

          George to avoid any confusion this is a definition of Neo_liberalism:

          The main points of neo-liberalism include:

          1.THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.

          2.CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.

          3.DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminsh profits, including protecting the environmentand safety on the job.

          4.PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.

          5.ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

          1. Hi Mervyn,

            Thanks, that looks like an excellent definition of neoliberalism. The problem I have, is it doesn’t seem to fit with how people use the term.

            ‘Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes’

            That would imply removing health and safety, minimum wage provision, and many other provisions. The last Labour governmnet is often accused of being neoliberal, but it did the opposite of the above. Indeed, it introduced the minimum wages for the first time.

            Similarly on public spending. Public spending increased significantly during the thirteen years of Labour government.

            As for neoliberalism being about eliminating the concept of the public good, my impression of Tristram Hunt is that his views are the exact opposite of that. Indeed, the group he is part of is called “Labour for the common good”.

          2. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

            George:

            “Labour governmnet is often accused of being neoliberal, but it did the opposite of the above. Indeed, it introduced the minimum wages for the first time.”

            The minimum wage hid the inequality that exists and had to be supplemented by family tax credit, that supplement was a state aided wage packet, which meant that the jobs were either not viable or like the people claiming it at the last place I worked, the company was reputed to be offshoring it’s profits and refusing to pay real wages.

            “Similarly on public spending. Public spending increased significantly during the thirteen years of Labour government.”

            New Labour increased spending on the NHS where the bulk of that money went in to reorganising it into Trusts, they also created the internal market which the Tories used to build their legislation on.

            Finally:

            George Brown’s 2006 Mansion House speech clearly identifies Ed Balls and himself as the deregulators of the banking and financial system
            and that they had trudged around Europe for two years convincing them at what a good idea it was, then of course we had the crash.

          3. I know you have a different opinion to the 1997 Labour government. They feared a higher minimum wage would lead to unemployment among those with low skills, so they supplemented it with tax credits.

            You think they were wrong. But even if you’re sure they were, can’t you concede the possibility that they thought they were right? And if they really thought that a higher minimum wage would lead to the misery of unemployment, weren’t they right to to do what they thought was best, even if they were mistaken?

            Whether right or wrong, the combination of minimum wage and tax credits meant that private enterprise was forced at times to pay more than it wanted, and also forced to pay taxes which were then used to fund those tax credits. By your definition, isn’t that the opposite of neoliberalism?

          4. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

            George, the clear and obvious facts are that Thatcher’s Neo-Liberal theories were supposed to raise our standard of living, she continually told people that she would put money into their pockets and the country at large bought into it, what is now evident and was at the time Blair entered office, that, that did not materialise, and instead of changing the paradigm chose to prop up a system that was clearly failing.

            Your friend Tristram Hunt of course is guilty of the same Neo-Liberal agenda, he supported free schools right up to the point where they started to fail in Sweden, then rapidly reversed to just supporting the Academies which the teaching profession reject and only work with it from imposition, even that now has turned into mass protest forcing the numskull Tories to publicly retreat, although they will secretly use the inspectors to rig the system, where good schools are deemed poor by their diktat.

            Having seen this sort of thing first hand as a governor in a comprehensive school.

            Finally George, I think you fully understand that the Neo-Liberal wing of the party are not Labour and probably never were, Tristram Hunt is a perfect example.

          5. C MacMackin says:

            The argument of those of us on here is not that Blair did NOTHING good or progressive but that, on balance, he was still neoliberal. Yes, there are differences between the centre-left neoliberals such as Blair or Hunt and the right-wing ones such as Thatcher or Cameron. However, they all accept the fundamental logic of the market. Blair claimed that we could ride it to achieve social good, whereas Thatcher claimed that there was no such thing as society, but both rejected the idea that the state (or, worse yet, the masses) should play a role in shaping the economy as a whole.

            Also, while you can quote some progressive policies under Blair, I can quote back a bunch of neoliberal ones: dental fees, tuition fees, PFI, the internal market in the NHS, academies, deregulating energy prices, partial privatization of air traffic control, opening post to competition, privatizing tube maintenance, eliminating the 10% tax band… There were also numerous neoliberal policies which he could have reversed fairly easily but didn’t: rail privatization, anti-union laws, bank deregulation, and bus deregulation, for example.

          6. @C MacMackin
            Thank you. It seems we’ve found as little common ground, and that’s good. However, I still have a problem with the way you describe neoliberalism.

            If neoliberalism is, among other things, is about reducing government regulation to protect safety, then isn’t everyone neoliberal to some extent?

            Most things we do in life, whether in work or leisure, involve some degree of risk. Working without a hard hat in a building site is fairly dangerous, and I’d agree with that regulation. But wearing a hard hat in other situations might be safer, but the risk might be so low as to make it a silly regulation.

            Ultimately, there’s a balance. In my opinion, we should have health and safety regulations up to a certain level, and after that the safety measures should be voluntary. Where the threshold is betweeen the two is a matter of opinion.

            Some might think I believe in regulations that are too restrictive. I might disagree with them. But I’d be very wary of calling them neoliberal. After all, if I call them neoliberal, I can hardly complain if someone else calls me neoliberal for similar reasons.

            The same applies to each of the five neoliberal definitions that Mervyn provided. In each case there is a continuum, with individual freedom at one extreme, and equality and safety at the other. I think we’re all somewhere on that continuum. Where the right place to be is a matter of opinion.

          7. Hi Mervyn,

            I’ve campaigned in elections against Thatcher’s party since 1981, so I’m not going to defend her now.

            I do, however, disagree with you about the 1997 government. Through a variety of measures, such as in-work benefits, they raised the standard of living of many of those working on low incomes.

            A lot of things didn’t go as planned, but that’s the norm for any government. My impression is that the changes brought about by a globalised trading system and more automation and computerisation have affected every developed country. In my opinion, some have handled it better than others.

            If I were to point to the kind of country I would like the UK to emulate, it would probably be one of the north european social democracies. Social democratic, in the sense of a good welfare system combined with an effective free market economy.

            The trouble with your attacks on neoliberalism, is I can’t think of any country that has successfully sustained the kind of policies you seem to be advocating. Perhaps you could point me to one.

            Regarding Tristram Hunt, I know relatively little about education, and even less about his position on education, so it’s probably best I don’t comment.

            What I am confused about, however, is how you can criticise Tristram Hunt for his writing on patriotism, when Owen Jones seemed to say something very similar back in 2011. Or would you criticise Owen’s thinking in the same terms?
            See https://www.leftfutures.org/2011/01/patriotism-and-the-left/

            But perhaps I’ve misunderstood Owen Jones piece. If there’s a crucial difference, please let me know.

          8. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

            “If I were to point to the kind of country I would like the UK to emulate, it would probably be one of the north european social democracies. Social democratic, in the sense of a good welfare system combined with an effective free market economy.”

            To understand why Europe and the rest of the world is falling apart you need to understand Neo-Liberalism and it’s origins, you also need to know about Margaret Thatcher’s secret 1982 Cabinet papers “the longer term options” and why she said her greatest political achievement was Tony Blair.

            Once you understand all that it becomes obvious what has happened over the last forty years and where these politicians have come from.

            Fundamentally they are not Labour.

          9. C MacMackin says:

            Well, like all political categories, “neoliberalism” can be somewhat vague at times, but that doesn’t negate its usefulness. If someone wants to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy, I think we can agree that they are a socialist. However, there will be other socialists who won’t want to stop at the commanding heights, or disagree on what constitutes the commanding heights, or disagree on the form which nationalisation should take. Despite variations, we’re all socialists (although people love insinuating that those who disagree with them aren’t).

            On the specific question of health and safety law, there is of course a spectrum and a tradeoff. However, some things would be clearly neoliberal (e.g. requiring workers to pay more into injury compensation schemes) while others clearly would not (requiring companies to provide adequate safety training). We might disagree on where exactly a line is drawn between neoliberal and non-neoliberal, but that doesn’t mean that some policies aren’t neoliberal and shouldn’t be called that.

            You mention that no country has been able to sustain the policies which we propose, due to changing global economic trends. I would assert that part of the reason some of these changes have occurred in the global economy is to make it more difficult for states to institute even old-fashioned social democratic policies. An example of this would be flexible supply chains, which mean that if one country raises corporate tax or the workers unionise at one factory, a company can switch to another as a supplier. I don’t mean to imply that this was simply a case of corporations escaping states’ control either–the state was actively involved. It is the state that signs free trade agreements, not corporations, after all. It won’t be easy, but many of these trends can be reversed or, with sufficient international cooperation, prevented from being a tool against left politics.

            Why did states do this? Well, because traditional post-war social democracy had run its course. Worker militancy, bolstered by the strong welfare state, meant that demands for wage increases were pushing profits and causing high inflation. In that situation, companies aren’t going to invest, causing economic crisis and meaning that it was now harder to fund the welfare state. This was the crisis of the 70s. Under those conditions, there were two options: roll back the post-war gains to restore profitability and reduce inflation (Thatcher), or begin to take control over investment decisions away from capital (Benn). Of course, it was the former which won out in all cases. However, in Sweden and France, it looked for awhile like the latter might succeed.

            You describe the Nordic countries as your ideal. However, you are ignoring the fact that they too have seen neoliberalism. Union density is falling, inequality is increasing, the welfare state has been eroded, etc. In Sweden, in particular, public services which were once high quality and used by everyone are now becoming the substandard fallback for the poor. Norway has largely withstood this but only thanks to having lots of oil (in which, incidentally, the state holds a majority share). An excellent history of Swedish politics, going into detail about what I’ve outline in the last few paragraphs, can be found here: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/sweden-socialism-welfare-state-trade-union/

            The policies which we on here advocate are no doubt ambitious and, in many cases, have not yet been implemented anywhere successfully. But, while they may not be possible, something like the Nordic welfare state at its height is certainly impossible without them. Will we ever achieve them? I don’t know. However, in the 1820s, much of the same could have been said about democracy. We never will achieve anything new if we don’t try and don’t hope.

          10. @C McMackin (May 25, 2.30pm)

            Sorry for the delay in replying to your courteous post.

            I agree, all political terms are hard to tie down. Socialism is one of the better defined terms. But socialism is sometimes described as “the means of production regulated by the community as a whole”. Rubbish! Even Thatcher did that!

            For myself, full-blooded socialism has bad associations. I have personal memories of, for example, a council systematically failed to pay housing benefit, and this threatened tenants in private accommodation with eviction. When I rang the (leftwing) leader of the council, even he was in despair about fixing it. I know it’s unfair to associate socialism with public sector at its very worst, but I’m afraid it’s what instinctively comes to mind for me, and probably does for many.

            I self-describe as social democrat, and define that as being less ideological, and more outcome oriented. Trying to follow the principle of doing whatever results in the best services for the public.

            It sounds to me that most people use the word neoliberal slightly differently to how you’ve used it: That a neoliberal is someone who believes that markets are useful in allocating resources. That would mean Keynes was, in part, a neoliberal (he believed in a mixed economy). Indeed anyone who doesn’t believe in 100% ownership of everything by the state. Frankly, if Keynes is being described as a neoliberal, it’s not a useful word. I’d prefer to use words that are understood a little better, like socialism, social democrat, or social liberal.

            It’s honest of you to acknowledge that there are no countries that model the kind of policies you propose. Thank you.

            Are you saying that your policies could only be properly tested if there was a world-wide government implementing them? Or have I mistunderstood you?

            Where we agree is that the new globalised world does make full social democracy harder. Countries with generous welfare systems are under pressure, because of the competitive advantages for companies in operating in countries where there are no worker rights or political rights, minimal pay, and appalling environmental standards.

            However, I don’t think it is as bad as you suggest. Democracies tend to lead to welfare systems. That may make them marginally less competitive. However, democracies with good welfare systems have significant countervailing advantages. They tend to be less corrupt, have less crime, better infrastructure and a better educated workforce. They also tend to be nicer places to live: many wealthy people do not enjoy living in rightwing dystopias, so are willing to pay a higher rate of tax for the privilege of living in a social democracy. And those tax proceeds can be used to fund the welfare system.

            No one knows the future, but, while I see globalisation as a challenge to social democracy, it is not an existential challenge. It has meant a lot of factories in the developing world with awful conditions. However, from what I’ve read, those conditions are often less bad than for subsistence farmers trying to feed their families off small plots of land. Statistics, such as from https://ourworldindata.org/ indicate that extreme poverty is falling. If that’s true, it’s not something I would like to see reversed.

            We went through a similar period of horrible urban conditions in the Victorian times. My hope is that, over the coming decades, poverty reduction will accelerate to a point where across the developing world children no longer suffer from malnutrition, mothers no longer die in child birth, and, not just primary, but secondary education is available to all.

            The challenge for social democrats is to allow that to happen, without seeing the low paid in our own countries suffer. The backlash against immigration is in part because we’ve struggled to do this. It’s easy to criticise, but this isn’t easy, and I fear more radical proposals would make things worse.

            In my opinion, the best way to respond is with small changes. For example, by designing trade agreements that demand basic trades unions rights in countries like Vietnam, that gradually improve labour conditions, but not to impose such onerous conditions that the jobs will all return to the industrialised west. That would just be Trumpist protectionism disguised with a leftwing veneer.

            We need to have a balance between edging up the conditions of the developing world, without strangling their ability to compete.

            And, in the UK, and other advanced economies, we need to work harder at education and training, not just in school, but looking for ways to give better second chances to those who didn’t succeed at school, and to encourage genuine lifelong learning.

            Regarding the Nordic countries, I wasn’t sufficiently clear. When I said north European social democracies, I meant to include Holland and Germany. I am not convinced the Nordic model is the best. All have their faults. I suspect the UK can learn from all of them.

            I imagine you think the Nordic model would be improved by socialist policies. I am sceptical of socialism. I can’t see examples where it has had sustained success. Each time it has been attempted, popular short-term policies seem to be followed by corruption, deficits and economic failure. It may be that, in all those cases, failure was because of serious failings of leadership, which need not necessarily be repeated. But I’d be very reluctant to bet the future of the UK on an experiment which might leave us with some of the problems that Venuzuela is now facing. I’d also be reluctant to see the return of inefficient public services, like the housing department I mention above.

            Government is difficult. Just as businessmen and women are flawed people, who do things we would rightly criticise, so too with administrators and politicians. My impression is that socialism only amplifies those flaws by being too inflexible, and relying too much on ordinary people to adopt the optimal solution for the community. In practice, too often, they adopt the expedient solution for themselves. Somehow, we need a system and culture where that happens less. At present, I think north European social democracies give the best example of this.

        2. John Penney says:

          I can only assume your credulity regarding Tristram Hunt’s political ideology and personal motivations for being a career politician on the Right wing of Labour , are faux naivete , George. As with your apparent ignorance of the key features of neoliberals. A bit of Right trolling here perhaps ?

          Taking your defence ofHunt seriously for a moment , when has Hunt ever supported a progressive Left policy ? His entire political “steer” has been to simply mimic the policies of the Tories , from Academisation, to all that pernicious ” Labour is all about supporting the aspirational” bollocks that has lost Labour white chunk of its core working class votersupport over the last ten years ( and most of it in Scotland specifically – after decades of Scottish Labour pursuing policies far to the Right of the SNP).

          Hunt is an elitist public school toff career politician , with an ideology essentially identical to the Tories. He,like them, sees career politics as a game , with self advancement as the sole aim – secured through offering whatever short-term policy gimmick the electorate can be conned into swallowing, as long as this doesn’t endanger the interests of the Big Business backers who will always offer Labour politicians, like Tory ones, highly remunerative sinecure jobs after they leave office, for services rendered.If you think this is slander – just have a look at the directorships and roles now occupied by the Blaire era Labour cabinet ministers. Hunt’s dodgy dog whistle little Englander cod patriotism is simply the cynical “jumping on a new divisive bandwagon” by a career politician looking for the main chance.

          1. John Penney says:

            Oops, not sure why the words “white chunk” appeared in my piece , I meant to say ” lost Labour a
            whole chunk of its working class voter support”.

          2. Hi John,

            I realise you’ve probably been pestered by trolls in the past, so I’m grateful that my comments have been allowed through moderation.

            I am not, as you’ll have gathered, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, but I haven’t come with false naivete. I am genuinely puzzled how obviously intelligent people like yourselves, can use words like neoliberal in what seem to me to be such inconsistent ways.

            I believe, where possible, in honest dialogue, and people of different opinions having respectful conversations. Often, those conversations won’t lead to anyone changing their minds. But, at their best, they lead both sides of the conversation to adapt their thinking a little, and perhaps learn a little more tolerance and understanding for those they disagree with.

            I’ve been a strong critic of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, but it struck me that I was being inconsistent in not making an effort to engage with you guys.

            So, I’m sorry if you feel I’m here for mischievous reasons, but I’m not.

            Partly, I would like you to understand the point of view of people like me better. But also, I would genuinely like to understand your point of view better, because I find it hard to believe it is the caricatured set of beliefs that I have interpreted from past confrontational discussions on social media.

          3. Hi John,

            Don’t worry about the typo. There have probably been some in my posts on this thread. And if not, apologies in advance for the mistakes I will make in future.

        3. John Penney says:

          I’m afraid your posts are simply heaping
          factual error on factual error, George – with no attempt to actually justify what you like about Tristram Hunt’s political positions.

          You obviously have no conception of the “Big Picture” cumulative significance of the last 30 years of implementation of a very wide raft of anti trades union laws, tax loopholes, unrestricted capital flow, privatisation of state owned utilities, radical deregulation of the previous essential limitations on Big Business, particularly the financial sector to rip us all off, all of which together can be summarised as the capitalist “neoliberal offensive”.

          Instead of proving you understand the issies at all ,you are attempting to nit pick , like a 5th form debater, about isolated abstract issues of “health and safety regulation” but with no evidence you understand how capitalism works at all.

          I don’t think it is the job of this discussion forum to do a seminar for you on neoliberalism. Look it up on Wikipedia – and then come back if you want, with some real arguments to justify your so far non-existent defence of the “Tory in Labour clothing” career opportunist, Tristram Hunt (who is the topic here – not your lack of understanding of what neoliberalism is).

          1. I’m sorry you think I’m nitpicking.

            In my opinion, a lot of political disagreement is because of a misunderstanding of terms. I had already read the Wikipedia article and discussed neoliberalism with many people before I came here, and it’s clear that people use it in many different ways.

            I’ve joined this discussion in the hope that we can improve our understanding of each others positions. If no one wants to do that, and so doesn’t respond to my posts, don’t worry, I’ll move on.

            But I think it could still be useful. If folk agree with me that what you describe as neoliberalism is a continuum, with some people totally neoliberal, some people totally not, but most people somewhere between the two, it’d be interesting to discuss that further.

          2. John Penney says:

            Ok, George, your inability to grasp what “neoliberalism” is at all forces me to give you a short seminar;

            “In a widely reported speech at an elite investor conference in 2006 to his fellow billionaires, (actually ,fruitlessly, warning them of the dire social consequences of ever increasing wealth inequality, to be fair ) one of the richest men in the world, American uber capitalist ,Warren Buffet bluntly said “ There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”. Indeed it is ; over the last 30 years or so the particularly malign form of unregulated , speculation-fueled , financialised , capitalism, called by the Left “Neoliberalism” has triumphed worldwide. This has been on the back of a series of historically important defeats for the global working class , particularly what historically has been the most privileged section of that class , the UK /European and US working classes , interconnected to radical global and domestic restructurings of the work processes to break up the “big battalions” of organised labour in the core capitalist “heartland” states. This has been combined with ever harsher laws against collective trades union action, and the use of mass unemployment, globalised outsourcing, and casualization to reduce trades union bargaining power .
            Neoliberal capitalism in action has meant rolling back with increasing rapidity all the very real post WW2 gains in living standards and collective bargaining and political power made by the working classes. These gains , admittedly, were particularly focussed on conditions in the richer “First World” economies of world capitalism , ie , Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA . The Neoliberal success has resulted in an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the majority of the populations of these states, to their numerically tiny, but hugely influential, superrich capitalist class. The harsh reality of Neoliberalism is a world of chaotic unbridled competition between giant multinational corporations ,and unregulated , reckless , speculation by an out of control, parasitic, financial sector. And in the previously relatively privileged old core capitalist societies of Britain/Europe in particular , the privatisation of former state services and “mixed economy” state assets, the accelerating destruction of the socialised, free, welfare services originating from the post 1945 “mixed economy” period, and the now perpetual pushing down of wage levels , working conditions, and collective bargaining rights for the majority of citizens, combined with massive tax avoidance by the superrich and multinationals.
            Where is Neoliberalism taking us ?
            If the trajectory of Britain’s economic decline continues on its current Neoliberal track over the next 15 to 20 years, our social and economic structure will look like this :
            • Little or no social security support system for the unemployed, disabled or poor.
            • No “free at the point of need” national health service . An entirely privatised system.
            • Permanent mass unemployment – alongside a preponderance of low skill, low wage, “zero hour contract” type insecure jobs .
            • Ever more restrictive legislation makes the operation of trades union bargaining practices virtually impossible.
            • A continuing reduction of regions outside the London economic zone to deindustrialised wastelands.
            • An entirely privatised delivery of “public” services, from roads to prisons to pensions to education – with access dictated by ability to pay. Having signed up to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership no British government will legally be able to defend its public services from unlimited privatisation.
            • London becoming ever more a separate economic zone to the rest of Britain, inhabited mainly by the rich of the ever expanding, financial services sector, and foreign oligarchs – sucking the financial resources out of the rest of Britain.
            • The unstable, destructively speculative, financial services sector continue to displace the manufacturing sector, and stunting the growth of high tech manufacturing (including digital and knowledge-based and new “Green Deal industries” products) , leaving the majority of the population to work in temporary low skilled service industry or basic assembly plant jobs.
            • The superrich and big corporations continue to control the political system via bribes, lobbying and party donations, and the civil service via the “revolving door” movement of top officials from the key positions in the state and back to plum jobs in the private sector .
            • The government tax revenues continue to fall as the superrich and big corporations cease paying any taxes at all – leaving no money to pay for basic social infrastructure.
            • The resulting widespread poverty amongst the mass of the population leads to ever greater loss of social cohesion, minority scapegoating, and crime and social unrest.
            • An ever deteriorating environment, from nationwide fracking and general industrial pollution.”

            Try to get it into your head , George – “neoliberalism” is a major global historical phenomena of competing class forces. The “neoliberal offensive” since the 1980’s has secured huge financial gains for the superrich class as against the rest of us. It isn’t an issue of individual attitudes or preferences at all. Try to grasp this and you wont embarrass yourself further with your naïve posts.

  4. Peter Rowlands says:

    The question of Englishness is I think not one to be pursued at the level of culture, where apart from obviously different literary traditions based on language, it would be difficult to delineate a distinctive English culture,as opposed to that of Wales or Scotland, particularly given regional differences and loyalties within England.
    But the flowering of UKIP represents the growth of a particular strain of English nationalism which is inherently reactionary. Its origins lie in the 1960s, with the loss of empire, Powellism, Little Englandism, opposition to immigration, the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism and opposition to the EEC as it then was. Migration from the EU and the rise of Scottish nationalism have fuelled its growth in recent years, but it is daft to think that there can be any accommodation with it. That is not to say that those who support English nationalism/UKIP do not have legitimate grievances, but those can only be resolved by what the left has to offer. There are manyLabour voters who have turned to UKIP, and we must try to win them back, but not in the way Hunt suggests. He has proved himself a political moron.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree that it would be difficult to delineate a distinctive English culture as opposed to that of Wales or Scotland. It should be added, though, that this is an argument that works both ways and I am inclined to think that it would be easier to make a case for British culture even if that is an idea that some nationalists might find difficult to accept.

      The UKIP type of English nationalism is largely motivated not by a desire to preserve some “English culture” but to express opposition to what is perceived as a foreign presence in the form of immigration. Hunt is, in effect, playing up to that.

      My point is, and I think we agree, that Hunt’s appeal to Labour to show affection for some undefined Englishness cannot avoid reducing the Party debasing itself in an effort to prove the strength of its love of country. John Penney is right about the “last refuge”.

      I think that there is a political upshot to this. Labour needs to clearly avoid pandering to identity politics. It also needs a proper debate about so-called “British values”. There is nothing specifically British about any of those recommended for our schools. It is, in my view, to present as British what we share with other countries across Europe and more widely. Values are not enhanced by pretending that they are specific to us, on the contrary that undermines them.

      1. Bobby says:

        I agree that Labour needs to avoid identity politics. This includes indulging in minority identity politics, especially religious identity politics, which are deeply problematic in their own right.

        1. David Pavett says:

          Yes, Labour has a real problem with both identity politics and religion. Most Labour politicians are afraid to oppose the corrosive and divisive nature of faith schools for fear of losing the votes of this or that religious group. In my area the Labour Council has actively connived, away from public view, with religious groups to found new faith schools thinking that it will prop up its gradually declining support from minority ethnic groups. This is politics without a vision of where we want to get to and power without principle. Tristram Hunt is a model for this approach.

  5. SimonB says:

    Hunt’s vagueness condemns him. Really thin stuff, as others have pointed out. Given England has given us both Burke and Paine, Thatcher and Scargill, all with strong traditions behind them, there’s scope for any scoundrel to choose.

    English radicalism goes back centuries and is seen today in the revitalised Labour Party. That’s good enough for me.

  6. Gareth Young says:

    There is no need to define Englishness. There is no need to define any national identity because a) what’s the point? ; b) national identities are fluid, evolving and multifaceted ; c) If the English feel that they are a nation, then that’s all that matters.

    It’s very difficult for there to be a civic nationalism in England because most of the cultural and governmental institutions are British. The British Government even tells immigrants to England that they are ‘Black-British’ or ‘British-Asian’, even though the population of England is more likely to describe itself as English. What’s wrong with ‘Black-English’ and an English citizenship ceremony?

    If we want civic nationalism in England then we need institutions like an English parliament – making everyone English through the ballot box; an English government and first minister – to speak for England in all its diversity; an English national museum and library – instead of cloaking England in Britishness.

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      Yes, perhaps, as part of a proper federal solution. The trouble with that is that five sixths of the population are in one state, an extreme imbalance.
      It could be based on the English regions,or groupings of them, but although such devolution would I think be positive, I don’t know if it would resolve the problem. And what about Cornwall, the one part of England where there is a nationalist movement, although I think they want a form of home rule.

    2. David Pavett says:

      @Gareth Young. I am sympathetic to your desire to avoid definitional debates. On the other hand I think these may be provoked by your suggestion that ” If the English feel that they are a nation, then that’s all that matters.”

      The problem is who are “the English”? One of the many twists in this tale is that many people living in England do not think of themselves as English. In particular many people from recently immigrated families (last 2/3 generations) find it easier to attach to British rather than English.

      We need to think radically and explore all solutions. Perhaps, for example, English could dissolve into separate regions. Tom Nairn’s long ago predicted “breakup of Britain” might become a “breakup of England” but with all the regions united in a greater national (British unity) something along the lines of Germany or the USA.

      It all needs to be explored without grabbing at snappy answers.

  7. Bazza says:

    Poor Tristian falls for the myth that Oxbridge are the top 1% and hence for his call to the predominantly middle class/upper class to save Labour!
    But perhaps they are the top 1% with only the best memories?
    And where were they predicting the 2008 financial crisis, preventing the Iraq War and subsequent mess and climate change!
    Funny my Englishness is the Chartists, The Peterloo Massacre, Trades Unions, the Suffragettes, the birth of Labour, 60’s pop music, reggae, Tamla, soul, rock, the Beatles, Stones, pubs and beer, fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire puds, the seaside, cities, the countryside, buses and trains plus football and Rugby League etc.
    New Labour neglected working class communities and Brown couldn’t even engage with one working class woman during his last election.
    But what some forget is that Labour is a political party and whilst people are fed garbage by the likes of The Sun and Mail we don’t have to accept people as they are and pander to any potential prejudices in what Gramsci called capitalist hegemony we should engage in political education which in the end from left wing democratic socialists in a grassroots approach would aim to inform and empower the working class/working people.
    In the UK people used to be helped to learn to read and write so they could commnicate better with their children, in Latin America they used to use the ideas of Paulo Freire so they would be helped to learn to read and write and communicate better with their children but they also learnt who owned the land.
    Tristian got it wrong, we need to politicise the masses to save us from the 1%!

  8. Carmen Malaree says:

    Tristran Hunt calls on Labour to show more love for England in order to gain a majority in England. Strangely enough the election of Sadiq Kahn as London mayor was won because of the Labour vote from cosmopolitan Londoners. Englishness sounds exclusive contrary to inclusive Britishness. His elitist call to Cambridge students sounds pompous, unrealistic and patronising.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Good point about London. I agree that his call to Cambridge students was pompous and patronising (to the rest of the population). It is, however, all to realistic within the present order of things.

  9. Bazza says:

    The problem in the UK is England makes up 80%.
    We could explore within the framework of a UK more devolved power to the North, South, East and West.
    But I don’t think people in England want another tier of regional MPs but with more regional powers existing MPs could say meet in their region for 1 week a month then 3 weeks in Parliament and meet in regional Council Chambers (so no new build) but it could offer more decentralisation and the civil service to an extent is decentralised.
    Could work with a Corbyn led Govt with state led public investment and regional big structural projects needed – just some food for thought

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes,we do need to explore a regionalised framework for the UK. We also need to stop using words like “devolution” in a normative sense (as if it were always a good thing). Sometimes devolving power is desirable and puts people more in charge of their own lives and sometimes it does the opposite (by handing power to more powerful local interests). This all needs to be discussed by getting down to details and leaving political rhetoric behind.

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