Stand by for English Ed

Written By: Dan Hodges
Published: November 7, 2010 Last modified: November 4, 2010

Ed Miliband is a trendsetter: Labour’s youngest leader since the Second World War, Labour’s first Jewish leader and Labour’s first unmarried leader. His age, ethnicity and living arrangements have all generated comment – or, in the case of the Daily Mail, a puritanical spasm.

But not his nationality, which is surprising, given that the Labour Party has elected its first English leader for quarter of a century and its first English leader to represent an English parliamentary constituency since Harold Wilson. “English Ed.” Does it matter? Should it matter?

For an answer, it’s worth looking at some recent history. Gordon Brown wasn’t concerned about his nationality. He was totally paranoid about it.

I remember discussing a list of major policy priorities with a Brownite advisor just before the transition from Tony Blair. What, I asked, had the incoming Prime Minister identified as the key issues. “An English parliament”,
was the response. “You’re joking”, I said.

“No. Gordon thinks David Cameron is going to outflank us on it. It’ll be a major issue at the election.”
He didn’t. And it wasn’t.

“Gordon was obsessed”, recalls one former Government advisor. “He used to ring up the Department for Culture, Media and Sport every month demanding they sort out some photo call or press stunt with the England football team. He was convinced that, if he got enough photos of him next to Wayne Rooney, people would think he was English”.

Some of Brown’s efforts to downplay his Scottishness were comical, such as his fond remembrance of watching Paul Gascoigne score for England against Scotland in the 1996 European Championship. Other forays into nationalistic terrain were less amusing. His infamous boast of “British jobs for British workers” was a more toxic strand of the same strategy.

In fairness to Gordon Brown, his paranoia didn’t mean that people weren’t out to get him – quite the opposite. His Scottish origins were constantly deployed for negative effect by his enemies. “Dour Scot Gordon Brown” gained such wide currency that one frustrated aide said his boss was considering adopting “DSGB” as his initials.

Tony Blair also made a conscious, although less overt, attempt to conceal his Scottish origins. Before the 1997 general election, Robin Cook caused a mild kerfuffle by agreeing that the Shadow Cabinet was unbalanced in favour of the Scots. Unwisely, he included Blair among their number, resulting in an immediate call to his advisor. “Why’s Robin going round saying Tony is Scottish”. “Er, because he is?” “We know he is. But we don’t want everyone finding out”, came the frosty reply.

Sensitivity over the Labour leaders’ nationality can be traced back to Neil Kinnock’s  “Welsh windbag” moniker. Some claim that Kinnock’s Welshness was a significant factor in Labour’s defeat at both the 1987 and 1992 elections. Others think a legacy of unilateralism in nuclear disarmament and a pledge to end the cap on National Insurance contributions may also have had something to do with it. These may be moot points now, but an impression formed that the nationality of political leaders matters.

And that view is about gain significant currency. Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice have just published Southern Discomfort Again, an analysis of the political cleansing of Labour from southern England at the 2010 general election. It makes for sober reading. In the south-east, south-west and eastern regions, Labour won only 10 out of 197 seats. In the south of England and the Midlands as a whole, Labour now holds only 49 out of 302 seats.
The Diamond and Radice study does not focus directly on nationality and specifically that of the Labour Party leader. But its examination of the defeat touches on a number of related themes: the backlash on immigration backlash, empathy for “typical voter” Gillian Duffy, a loss of identity and an inability to relate to Gordon Brown.

These issues will find echoes on the left, as well as the right. “We have a Welsh Labour, we have a Scottish Labour, we don’t have an English Labour”,  Jon Cruddas pointed out at a recent Fabian Society meeting entitled “Can Labour Speak To England?” He said the party is facing “a distinctly English crisis – that Labour must now respond to by learning from our own comparative history. We are obliged to re-anchor Labour in the ordinary, mainstream culture of the country.”

So we are likely to be hearing quite a bit from “ English Ed” over the next few months. It will be his unique brand of Englishness. He will not arrive at Prime Minister’s Questions draped in a St George’s flag and challenge the Tory benches to come and have a go if they think they’re hard enough – well, at least not unless the opinion polls get really bad.

But we can expect much talk of diversity, tolerance and typical English fair play. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, benign nationalism is the first destination of the Labour politician seeking an answer to his party’s painful predicament.

Coleen Rooney has been warned. Her husband may well again find himself in the company of unscrupulous hangers-on. People are going to try to get their hands his Englishness.

Ed Miliband is Labour’s first English leader for a quarter of a century. And he’s probably going to start bragging about it.

14 replies to “Stand by for English Ed

  1. Anonymous says:

    Poor sod he is British, he is not socialist thats for sure. He is on a hiding to nothing by the look of it, with his brother sitting waiting to take over, two new labour brothers,.

  2. Hoot_Gibson says:

    No he is not the first Benjamin Disraeli was the first Jewish Leader of the Tories and first and only Jewish PM todate.

  3. Hoot_Gibson says:

    Well said Alfred Ed is not English but British as are the other 200 nationalities that claim that now dubious honour.
    Being English is not a state of mind but a defined racial group.
    A coalescing of Saxon, Frisian, Angle, and Scandinavian makes us a distinct northern European racial group defined by our history and language closet to Frisian a North Germanic language.
    “May I have a cup of tea”?
    “Meije ik in kop for tee”? in Frisian
    “take me there”
    “bring me der” in Frisian
    just shows how close we are to our ancestry.
    Incidentally I was born under the Raj in India and when talking to an Indian and asking him “I was born in India therefore I am an Indian”.
    I was met by the retort ” don’t be stupid you are white, a foreigner, just an Englishman born in India”
    I therefore say in complete agreement with the Indian:
    To apply his logic to our Shadow leader :
    Ed Millaband is racially Jewish from Eastern Europe certainly not English but British.

  4. Ollie says:

    Surely Miliband is the first ethnic minority as well? He is racially Jewish, is he not?

  5. Nathan says:

    Sorry, you said Ed Miliband is the first leader with an English constituency since Wilson but Sedgefield (Blair’s former constituency) is in England.

  6. Johnny says:

    They weren’t illegals or Russian, you tool.

  7. Penfold says:

    I’m not sure that Red Ed can be classified as English.
    Yes born in London, schooled in London, OxBridge an all that. BUT, forebears were illegal Russian immigrants and Jewish.
    So he can be British, but English?, never.

  8. Penfold says:

    I’m not sure that Red Ed can be classified as English.
    Yes born in London, schooled in London, OxBridge an all that. BUT, forebears were illegal Russian immigrants and Jewish.
    So he can be British, but English?, never.

  9. tomdaylight says:

    Only reason Tories didn’t get a majority is that Labour held onto so many seats in Scotland. Gordon wasn’t a negative there like he was down here. If Ed Miliband starts pushing his Englishness, those Scottish seats might go away…

  10. Anonymous says:

    ‘Songs from Northern Britain’ – remember? I don’t think they were being ironic.

  11. JDF says:

    But we can expect much talk of diversity

    Oh yes, that’s exactly what the English electorate wants more of. Say goodbye to another million votes.

  12. Concerned says:

    I am surprised you didn’t mention the notorious USA TV interview with Brown (when he was over there saving the world), in which he noted that he came from “North Britain”. The only Scot I have ever known who has forsworn the country of his birth.

    All more grist to the mill which says the man is personality disordered.

    This Ed guy? Ed who?

  13. NOT English Ed……. Just Brit-Ed as per usual….

  14. The author must have some inside information, because I’ve seen virtually no evidence that Ed Miliband is interested in focusing on England as such. Quite the contrary: his keynote speech at the conference failed to mention ‘England’ a single time – not once.Does Ed Miliband view himself as ‘English’, as the author seems to think he is? In his response to Labour List’s question to the leadership candidates, “Do we have a national identity?”, Ed’s reply tends to suggest he views himself as primarily British, and ‘the country’ as Britain: “I am proud of my country. I am proud of its tradition of tolerance that allowed my parents to take refuge here from the Nazis. I am proud of its tradition of fairness that has led to such great institutions as the NHS, our state schools and our welfare state. . . . if you are proud of something, you should be determined to help make it better. That is the way I feel about our country. So, whether it comes to the role we play in the world or the inequalities that are still too much a part of our society, I want to do my part to make sure we build on the best traditions of Britain’s past as we collectively shape the Britain of the future.”Britain Britain Britain. Same old same old.

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