Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Big Clunking Fist?

Gordon Brown has somehow achieved a reputation for being a 'serious' thinker but his column for the Telegraph is another example of how he has failed to live up to that billing. His article is about the importance of Britishness but what are his proposed solutions?

More emphasis on British history; I'm pretty certain your average Tory four year old could have come up with this. An Institute for Britishness; isn't the "lets have an institute" approach always indicative of a lack of ideas? A permanent display of important British documents; doesn't the British Library already do this? And, finally, let's do something about the flag; no idea what.

Of course, if this article were a masterful exposition of the problems facing Britishness then a lack of a solution might be acceptable. There aren't any tried and tested routes to increasing national unity and not every article needs to answer that question. However, this piece was even more facile when dealing with the causes of a breakdown in Unionism. He decided to blame "some Conservative writers" who "now embrace anti-Unionist positions, from independence to "English votes for English laws" – a Trojan horse for separation". English votes for English laws is a, fairly moderate, response to the constitutional inequities of a system his government introduced and the idea of blaming conservatives for this is, as Iain points out, rather unimpressive. But shouldn't Brown be asking why conservatism, a movement which has been pro-Union through thick and thin for hundreds of years, is now reconsidering that position?

The answer would seem to be that the English are feeling put out. When looking at devolution they see the Celtic fringe gaining more autonomy while England gets attempts to fracture it into component parts. When looking at the public finances it sees public money raised in England flowing to the Celts. When looking at Westminster representation it sees English votes counting for less than those of the Scots or Welsh. The English also know that, despite all this subsidy and inequity in favour of the others, the other nations still regard the English as a yoke. A reaction of 'good riddance' is understandable.

English opinion feeds eventually into conservative opinion. That the Conservative party and the conservative commentariat are still almost uniformly unionist despite the English being 56% in favour of Scottish independence is a testament to how loyal to the unionist cause the movement is. Blaming that party and movement for the decline of Unionism is shallow and unimpressive.

Perhaps having been near the top of British politics for so long has meant that people had to look for qualities in Brown to explain his success despite a lack of charisma. I think that substance may have been assumed to fill this gap in our ability to explain a success that was probably more about being in the right place at the right time, both in inheriting a superb economic legacy and coming of political age when Blair led the Labour party to electoral sucess. It seems clearer and clearer he will be a dismal Prime Minister.

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