Some weeks have passed since the referendum and a lot has changed in the political landscape, and also my own personal life – I got married last week. I have wondered whether or not to continue a blog at all, and if so, what it should deal with. Or perhaps I should focus on other things. I am still working things through. These are my thoughts so far:
- Name of this blog
I called this blog “Upholding English Honour” at a time when I was focused on the idea that England as a nation should deal honourably with other nations, including Scotland, with which it continues to be politically united. The rationale for this name does not obviously come across in every other context and one subscriber found the name disturbing. So I have decided to change the name to “James Campbell”. This is still a pseudonym as I don’t want personal flak. However, I feel it is a good pseudonym as it is the name I was born with, before I was adopted. So this is the last post from “Upholding English Honour”.
2. Learning lessons from the referendum
It is obviously hard to generalise but my sense is that the Scottish referendum parties were just a bit too radical and progressive for many mainstream Scots. They had pulled and inspired many in their direction but independence was one step too far, perhaps a few years too soon, into the unknown. People wanted more democracy but not too much more. Many people are not ready for the kind of radical, grassroots, participatory democracy that pro-indy activists are ready for. And so those activists still face quite a mountain in terms of working democratically with people who have had enough democracy for the time being.
It reminded me of when I was a student and I attended a conference of the National Union of Students. This was an eye-opener. I remember how radical left-wingers frequently tried to “suspend standing orders” – a procedural tactic – in order to shift the debate in their direction. In one sense, they were experts in democracy but in another, they lost me and many others who did not have their procedural knowledge, nor their chutzpah in trying to use democratic structures to get what they wanted. The analogy with the Yes campaign is a limited one but the point I am making is they need to be mindful of the pace of democratic reform they hope to achieve, as if they leave behind a large section of the population, they will in fact not be democratic. I am sure however they are realists on this point.
- Constitutional reform in England
This whole area has blown up thanks to the Scottish referendum. There are many options for reform in the frame and I am not sure which ones are worth pursuing at this time, or will be effective. The fact is that the English people are light years away from the kind of democratic engagement we have seen in Scotland. For this reason, I don’t think that whatever comes from this round of constitutional reform is really going to overhaul the Westminster system. The initiative for such reform appears mainly to lie with Conservative backbenchers who want “English Votes for English Laws”, not with the grassroots. However I have seen a couple of online campaigning groups spring up including 38 Degrees and Yes England. It remains to be seen what impact they will have.
4. Local democracy
One conclusion I have reached is that the way forward in terms of constitutional reform in England is to strengthen local democracy. Constitutional reform is about devolving powers downwards, or even more radically, claiming popular sovereignty and “evolving” powers upwards to the local level first, and then higher levels only when necessary. Thanks again to the SNP and the Yes Scotland parties for bringing this idea back into the political arena.
England is a much bigger nation in terms of population than Scotland and with much lower levels of national solidarity. For this reason, I believe we need to be exercising powers much more along the lines of natural local affiliations e.g. Yorkshire, the North East, Cornwall, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester. Other areas such as the Home Counties may lag behind but that really is their problem.
I have lived in Birmingham only for the last few months. I have resolved to take a greater interest in local politics, follow developments and take part when I can. However, Birmingham City Council has some work to do before I can be confident that it is ready to exercise more powers. Its education department recently went into special measures as a result of the “Trojan Horse” Islamic extremist influences. Its children’s services department was condemned a while back. Councils need to show they can run the services they already provide effectively before asking for more powers, or even worse, being given powers they are not ready for and haven’t asked for.
- UKIP, immigration and assimilation
We all know that UKIP are on the rise. Two Conservative MPs have joined them. They have many MEPs, including one in Scotland. I take the view that we can’t just try to crush them as enemies because of the racist tendencies of some of their supporters. UKIP are tapping into a vein of popular disenchantment with real roots which need exploring. Before I try to do this, I’d like to mention a campaigning organisation which I believe is challenging UKIP and far right extremism in the wrong way.
- “Hope not Hate” sadly going about things the wrong way
I followed “Hope not Hate” for some time until recently. Their noble aim is to challenge racism in the UK. Unfortunately, what I saw is that they reported on the activities of individual far right extremists, showing a kind of perverse fascination and, quite often, condescension. Many of the Facebook comments on these articles from their supporters were personally abusive to these people. I challenged “Hope not Hate” on this and they saw my post, but did not respond on this point. The insults and abuse continued and so I am no longer following them, or even supporting them. Many of their supporters have descended to the level of the people they oppose. There is obviously an orthodoxy among some anti-racism activists that far right extremists are sub-human and can be freely insulted. This attitude is going nowhere.
I may write a further post at some point on the importance of culture and personal balance when it comes to engaging in political debate.
- UKIP’s point that has to be dealt with : the democratic deficit on immigration and assimilation
Groups that tap into popular discontent usually do have a point which needs to be understood and handled much more carefully than those groups tend to do so themselves. It seems that there are many white working class people unhappy with the mass immigration and assimilation policies of UK governments going back decades. This group provides UKIP’s most fertile ground. I have not studied in depth the history of immigration and assimilation in the UK since the Second World War and so my thoughts are tentative. What I think though is that there is a big democratic deficit on this issue.
Britain has changed significantly and forever as a result of mass immigration. There are many parts of major cities where ethnic minorities predominate. More recently, there has been significant Eastern European immigration to smaller towns. Older people have seen the Britain they grew up in be transformed beyond recognition. There has been “white flight” and the government and the middle classes have dumped the problems of assimilation on the more traditional white working-class communities and local authorities.
Despite regular elections, I don’t believe that the people of Britain have not been consulted on the huge changes that mass immigration has brought. I will research this more at some point. It seems that immigration policy has been the preserve of Westminster and Whitehall and they have not seen fit to obtain a popular mandate on the long-term changes that mass immigration would bring. I believe this is the root cause of resentment of ethnic minorities. This needs to be exposed and the anger of the people redirected at our governments.
UKIP are now seeking to give a voice to those discontented people but in my view, are offering simplistic solutions. There needs to be a wider consensus-building exercise which acknowledges the democratic deficit over the past decades in this area but seeks a mandate from the British people, moving forward, on immigration and assimilation. This includes consulting everyone, ethnic minority groups as much as ethnic white English / British. The real-life problems of poorer white British people are pretty similar to the real-life problems of poorer ethnic minorities who often live side-by-side. Working together, they can far more effectively challenge government policy than if they stay isolated. White people and ethnic minority people need each other for our nation to work. We all need to listen to each other respectfully, especially to the elderly.
Trident review and TTIP are also going round my head but I think that’s enough for the time being!