Miliband and Cruddas’ English nationalism could be a stroke of genius

Nik Darlington 11.58am

The Telegraph's chief Labour party cheerleader, Mary Riddell, heralded his appointment as one to make David Cameron feel very nervous. The Indy's political editor, Andrew Grice, wrote that it was the act of an “emboldened” Ed Miliband. Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer, asked if his radical thinking could be the key to getting his party re-elected.

Jon Cruddas, the enigmatic MP for Dagenham & Rainham, assumed his new role as Labour’s policy chief burdened with heavy expectations and high praise from left, right and centre.

Cruddas’ intellect is undoubted, though his ideology is hard to pin down. Very much a man of the ‘Left’ and of the union movement, and a regular rebel against New Labour, he still managed to maintain a close relationship with the Blair camp and was a prominent supporter of David Miliband’s leadership bid. Though his own thinking is typically more restrained than Lord Glasman’s, he is seen as a torch bearer for ‘Blue Labour’. He has advocated a referendum on EU membership.

He is also frustrated, passionately so, by the emasculation of Labour’s traditional working-class vote, above all in England. And this theme is writ large across Ed Miliband’s speech today on the subject of Scottish independence and the Union.

"We in the Labour Party have been too reluctant to talk about England in recent years. We’ve concentrated on shaping a new politics for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"But some people in England felt Labour’s attention had turned away. That something was holding us back from celebrating England too. That we were too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. Connecting it to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease…

"Now more than ever, as we make the case for the United Kingdom throughout the United Kingdom, we must talk about England."

It might at first glance seem a peculiar strategy, to try to win over the Scots by championing English nationalism. Yet though the independence referendum will take place in Scotland, the most profound battle could be fought south of the border, in English hearts and minds. Polling regularly suggests the English are more open to Scottish separation than the Scots themselves.

It is saying to people in England that the Union is worth campaigning for. That all corners of the United Kingdom have something to gain from being together, rather than apart.

I have always been one of those people, as Mr Miliband describes today, who has found English nationalism a touch unsavoury. On any questionnaire, in particular on immigration cards, I stubbornly insist on being ‘British’, rather than ‘English’ or even from the ‘UK’. As someone with something of a mongrel heritage (aren’t we all?), of English, Scottish, Irish (even Czech) descent, the catch-all convenience of being British has always felt more natural and proud.

But I also believe in the local, the small, and the distinctive. The United Kingdom is nothing if it is not able to celebrate unique histories, cultures, flags and faiths. That includes the English.

Ed Miliband’s speech today is smart on two levels. First, it starts a debate about what it means to be in the Union from an English perspective, for if the English can’t be bothered with it, why should the Scots? Second, it is an attempt by Labour to re-connect with its soul.

And it has Jon Cruddas’ fingerprints all over it. The man isn’t hanging about.

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