Ed Miliband has warned that Labour needs to get more in touch with the English national identity in a speech on Thursday, saying that Labour has focused for too long on the devolved nations at the expense of England.
The speech contained a dig at English people who would welcome Scottish independence, with Jeremy Clarkson singled out for derision.
The Labour leader said: "We’ve concentrated on shaping a new politics for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. But some people in England felt Labour’s attention had turned away. That something was holding us back from celebrating England too. That we were too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. Connecting it to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease."
The speech, given in central London on Thursday morning, is the latest in a series by Ed Miliband clearly geared towards reconnecting with traditional Labour supporters. It is the first by the Labour leader to clearly bear the hallmark of Jon Cruddas, who Miliband drafted in last month to lead Labour's policy review.
A briefing sent out by Labour ahead of the speech suggested a London venue was chosen to emphasise the view that unionism needed to be encouraged among the English, too; Miliband will attack “people like Jeremy Clarkson who shrug their shoulders at the prospect of the break-up of the Union."
Miliband said: "There may be a temptation on the part of others to conjure a view of Englishness which does not represent our nation, a mirror image of the worst aspects of Scottish nationalism: hostile to outsiders; anti-Scottish; England somehow cut off from the rest of Britain, cut off from the outside world; fearful what is beyond our borders; our best days behind us. I don’t think like that...
"Getting through tough times requires a common spirit; that a better tomorrow will be built on the solid foundations of our past.”
The Labour leader's personal standing has improved considerably in recent polls. Despite Labour having a healthy lead over the Tories of around 10 points in the opinion polls Ed Miliband himself had struggled personally. That trend was reversed last month when David Cameron's personal popularity dipped below Miliband's for the first time.
And although last month saw the BNP almost erased from English councils in the local elections, senior thinkers within Labour have long worried that the party has been unwilling to engage on the subject of English identity for fear of being associated with the far-right.
Miliband's speech also comes ahead of the formal launch later this month of the No campaign on the referendum for Scottish independence, to be headed by former Labour chancellor Alastair Darling. This follows a better-than-expected performance by Labour in the Scottish local elections; Labour had been predicted to lose Glasgow council to the SNP but actually ended up gaining seats.
In the ongoing rows between London and Edinburgh over when and how the Scottish independence referendum should be held, David Cameron last month signalled a climbdown by claiming he was "not fussed" about the date of the poll, now widely expected to be held now in October 2014.
Politicians in England and Scotland are still split over the wording of the question on the ballot paper; the SNP want the wording to be: ""Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
But MPs in London believe that question would be biased in favour of a Yes vote, and there are still ongoing discussions about whether a second question - asking if Scots would like more devolution in the event they reject full independence - should be included.
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