New Labour Discovers England

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband – now the leading candidate in the Labour Party’s leadership election – is basing his campaign on the assertion that Labour needs to reconnect with England.

He points out that since New Labour’s 1997 landslide victory the party has lost more than four million votes in England.

David Miliband seeks to re-invent his political image as an unlikely champion of English political identity
Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband seeks to re-invent his political image as an unlikely champion of English political identity

While claiming that his mentor Tony Blair had “made the patriotic case for strengthening the bonds of community,” Miliband acknowledges that “over time, he failed to take sufficient account and respond fast enough to the real struggles that many communities faced in confronting the impacts of globalisation – migration, low wages and public services under strain.”

Miliband goes further, suggesting that New Labour did not demonstrate “enough concern for the ties of belonging and place, which constitute so much of what makes life worth living. In many core Labour communities, a disdain for tradition and enthusiasm for hyper-modernity, constant change and all the glittering wonders of globalisation cost us votes and in some cases the BNP benefited.”

brown-blair-shadowThen he specifically addresses the issue of English as opposed to British identity. According to Miliband, Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced particular problems as a Scot in dealing with Englishness. Yet Miliband ignores the question of whether Blair was any more comfortable with traditional English norms. After all, Tony Blair was also born in Scotland. His father had been brought up a Scot by adoptive parents in Glasgow (though born illegitimate in Yorkshire to itinerant thespians), while his mother was Irish (though Protestant).

Tony Blair therefore has only the most tenuous English roots. Born in Edinburgh, he lived as a child in Adelaide and Glasgow. The only English component of his upbringing was between the ages of 8 and 13, when he attended the Chorister School in Durham while his father was a law lecturer at Durham University.

Blair then attended Scotland’s leading public school Fettes College, near Edinburgh. Up to the age of 18 both Blair and Brown were Scots with nothing English about them. The big difference was that Blair had a cosmopolitan upbringing and education, while Brown (son of a Church of Scotland minister) attended a state school in Kirkcaldy.

This difference was accentuated after they left school. Blair spent a year in London trying to be a pop music promoter before heading for St. John’s College, Oxford. Brown spent a year having operations to save his sight after a rugby accident, before heading for Glasgow University. Blair entered politics as MP for a North-East England constituency via a brief career at the London Bar, assisted by his wife’s Labour connections, having no Labour Party ties himself. Brown was from the outset a high-flyer in Labour’s Scottish establishment: a student activist, Rector of his University, politics lecturer, television journalist, then MP for a constituency near his childhood home.

Partly as a consequence of this background Blair had a natural affinity with a particular type of Englishman – liberal, cosmopolitan, materialistic, shallow, pro-gay, pro-immigrant, pro-capitalist. This initially gave him an appeal unique among Labour Party leaders to that type of voter, heavily concentrated in the semi-affluent, South East English constituencies that his party had once seemed unlikely ever to win again. But he had as little affinity with the traditions of his own party (whether working class trade unionist or middle class socialist) as he had with any form of racially or culturally conscious English identity.

David Miliband's grandfather Sam (left) and father Ralph were illegal Jewish Communist immigrants

David Miliband's grandfather Sam (left) and father Ralph were illegal Jewish Communist immigrants

David Miliband is similarly out of touch with most of these, but unlike Blair he does at least have an umbilical link with part of the ‘English’ middle class socialist tradition, for Miliband of course is not really English at all. Both sides of his family are from the European Jewish-Marxist diaspora. His father Ralph and paternal grandfather Sam Miliband fled to London as illegal immigrants from wartime Belgium. Grandfather Sam had earlier fled from his Warsaw birthplace after betraying his own country to fight alongside Trotsky’s invading Red Army during 1920. Meanwhile David’s Polish-Jewish mother Marion Kozak has been presented as a “Holocaust survivor”, even though the Sunday Telegraph article retelling this story is remarkable mostly for the way it documents the extreme uncertainty over the historical fate of Poland’s Jews.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given his own background, that David Miliband’s preferred solution to Labour’s struggle with concepts of English identity is to make only the most cursory nod in the direction of a tighter immigration policy, to reject an English Parliament, and to emphasise instead the “many Englands” rooted in local traditions and civic pride.

The problem is that these local traditions have been swamped by the immigrant tide, while civic pride was linked in most of England’s towns and cities with our long gone industrial heritage.

Miliband’s conclusion – that “the people of England demand that we not simply be subject to the logic of the global economy, but shape its possibilities for the common good” – shows breathtaking hypocrisy, or what the Miliband family would doubtless term chutzpah, given that David Miliband himself was a key player in the New Labour team that tied Britain more closely than ever before to the puppeteers strings of global finance capital.

Like the rest of the New Labour gang now seeking to bid for English working class support, David Miliband is part of the problem not the solution.

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