A very local perspective on this English Labour Network business.
Bear with me. I can’t help seeing it, and the issue of identity, in very local sense.
I’m currently involved in a thread in an Oldham Heritage Facebook group where people are getting their knickers in a twist (once again) as to whether Oldham is in the Historic County of Lancashire or the Administrative County of Greater Manchester. It’s legitimately in both and the Post Office doesn’t care providing you use the right post code.
And the angst generated within Oldham itself is just as tense even though the local government reform which created the Metropolitan County and Metropolitan Boroughs is over 40 years ago, the myth pervades that the Oldham County Borough “took over” the six surrounding Urban Districts even if collectively they enjoyed more representation on the new borough council. There are even among those who have only lived in the metropolitan borough who will tell you things were better when each district was its own council without any personal experience and without any understanding that some major services were provided by an even more distant county council.
The sense that the heritage of the township where one lives is important in the fabric of one’s identity is very real and in seeking to engender more civic pride in the concept of a metropolitan Oldham, it’s been a particular thrust of a Labour controlled Oldham, particularly under Jim McMahon, to value the local pride in the townships. This is after a period of LibDem exploitation, even to the extent of two short bursts of LibDem control, that was very much based on the deconstructionist myths of things being better pre 1974.
As with township identity, so with county identity. Tell someone in Oldham that they are not in the Red Rose County any more and you deserve what you get (not to mention the Saddleworth problem. An Urban District rescued from being in Yorkshire in 1974 and placed in Oldham, Greater Manchester).
And as with county identity, within the context of the United Kingdom, so with the issue of English identity, particularly as Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland can be regarded as having been treated favourably because of the recognition of their identity and their devolved powers. Indeed even the perception of London, an alien place, may be heading that way.
The recognition of Englishness is as important as the recognition of, say, Chaddertonness within Oldham or of the right to say one is a Lancastrian rather than a Greater Mancunian.
I despair when I hear Left-wing puritans trying to tell me, and they have, that Labour cannot espouse Englishness without becoming a replica of the fetid nationalism of the right.
It’s possible for a Welsh born to be proud of his/her Welshness without being a member of Plaid Cymru. It’s possible for a Scot to be proud of his/her Scottishness without being a member of the SNP. That I am proud of my Englishness doesn’t mean I’m a member of the BNP. (Indeed I had the pleasure of beating Nick Griffin when he stood against me in 2003).
I have no doubt in my own mind that Labour espousing Englishness and recognising identity should be a cornerstone of any future success.