Owen Smith explains why he set about developing a philosophy for ‘One Nation’ Britain.
It is now a year since Ed Miliband’s speech at Labour Party Conference in Manchester, in which he audaciously stole a phrase previously associated with Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservative Party and applied it to a Labour Party hoping to return to government after just one term in opposition.
In the year since that speech, much has been written about One Nation: what it means as a political concept; how it translates into concrete policies; how it works in an era of devolution and possible separation of the nations of the United Kingdom.
I’ve written elsewhere about what One Nation means for Wales. For me it remains a crystal clear description of Labour’s mission under Ed Miliband’s leadership: unity between different groups in society, not division and fear; a fair share of the nation’s wealth for all nations and regions; opportunities for all those who play by the rules, instead of unearned rewards for a few at the top.
As well as developing policies that help us deliver this vision, Labour must also tell a story about our values, and how our political programme is anchored in people’s everyday lives and aspirations. With that in mind, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves and I embarked on a project to bring together a group of newly-elected Labour MPs to write about what One Nation means to us. The resulting book One Nation: Power, Hope, Community consciously does not set out a policy platform. It is a collection of essays in which the authors describe their communities, their personal stories, their motivations and their fears.
The contributions are diverse, but they share a number of common themes. Principle among these is that the resilient and resourceful people of Britain are ready, and impatient, to play their part in rebuilding our country as One Nation. The authors accept that government doesn’t have all the answers (whatever the right-wing press would have us believe about Labour’s return to seventies-style socialism) but they describe the invidious effects of inequality, exclusion and powerlessness. All have lessons that policymakers and politicians, in Wales as well as the rest of the UK, can learn from and be inspired by.
In my own chapter, I reflect on my experiences in the three years since I was elected as MP for Pontypridd. I describe how, in a town where politics flows through the community like the railway that once ran coal to Barry docks, there is now diminished trust and faith in politics. They’ve been replaced by a nagging sense of loss, apathy and sometimes anger. It is a town with a proud past, where the elegant buildings, bandstands and the lido stand testament to the efforts of the friendly societies, the co-op, the Fed and the unions. But these institutions, and the collective creed they recall, are much reduced in size and influence, as economic decline and a culture of consumerism took hold.
Yet despite the unique history of the south Wales valleys, the solutions to this crisis are the same in Ponty as elsewhere. We need to get back a sense that change is worth fighting for, that people can have control over their communities once more. Community organising is one tool for achieving this, through organisations such as Movement for Change, which is driving forward its work in Wales with the Home Sweet Home campaign to improve conditions for people renting a home. And the soon to be formed Pontypridd Citizens, modelled on similar approaches across Britain, which will bring together churches and parties, unions and residents, to determine local need and empower local leaders.
But as well as these projects, we need to fundamentally change the way we do politics. This means not just opening up political parties, but rethinking local and national government. As former council leader and now MP Steve Reed describes in his chapter, giving individual estates control over their own destiny can be transformative.
To get back that enthusiasm and belief in the power of progress, we also need action from the top, from politicians. It is our job to design the policies that speak to people’s real experiences. That’s why Labour’s focus on the cost of living crisis is so powerful. Instead of doing what George Osborne has done and congratulating ourselves at the first sign of an economic recovery, Labour is asking whether people feel the recovery in their pockets and purses. Since prices have risen faster than wages in 38 out of 39 months since David Cameron became Prime Minister, it is hardly surprising that they don’t.
We therefore need an activist state that recognises that government’s job is to intervene where markets fail, and to reshape the economy in the interests of all the people, not just a privileged few. That’s why the policies set out over the last week at Labour Party conference will speak directly to families up and down Britain. Freezing energy bills from the general election until 2017, building 200,000 houses a year, strengthening the minimum wage, providing more childcare for working parents and help for small businesses – these are the issues that people talk about in communities across the country and we are showing that Labour has the answers.
As conference season ends for another year, in the Labour Party we know we must build on these announcements and sustain the momentum right through until 2015. The book lays bare the extent of that challenge. We must refuse to accept false choices between aspiration and equality, credibility and radicalism, leadership and grass-roots reform. We know it is no small task, but One Nation Labour can and must deliver all of these.
13 thoughts on “Wales’ plural national identity”
Why is the article called ‘Wales’ plural national identity’ when there is absolutely no discussion whatsoever of either the identity of Wales or the multinational nature of the UK? The idea of ‘One Nation’ was cobbled together by London-based hacks without the slightest regard for any of the above and it’s now the job of the likes of Owen Smith to churn out boilerplate to support such a misconceived slogan. Smith writes that “in my own chapter, I reflect on my experiences in the three years since I was elected as MP for Pontypridd. I describe how, in a town where politics flows through the community like the railway that once ran coal to Barry docks, there is now diminished trust and faith in politics. They’ve been replaced by a nagging sense of loss, apathy and sometimes anger.” Smith here reflect the typical lack of self awareness to be found among Labour types and is seemingly oblivious to the role of a decades-long Labour hegemony in these parts in creating that sense ‘loss, apathy and sometimes anger’. Labour’s refusal to even participate in a televised debate on the crisis in the Welsh NHS (run by Labour continuously since 1997) is symptomatic of this.
“One Nation” politics means what it says. The same as it has always meant; “England only” Britain.
It has always meant suppression of the very existance of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish nations. It means imposing England and “Englishness” on us all. A very fascist, narrow-minded, concept. Item number one on the BNP book of its values.
Remember, the BNP (Ex British Union of Fascists) came out of the Labour Party.
Reading Smith’s article above, one would think that it’s been decades since the Labour party had been in power so that we now see “a nagging sense of loss, apathy and sometimes anger.” In reality, it’s only a matter of months as opposed to years since they formed the UK government. Even Smith calculates Cameron’s reign above in months! In Wales, Labour have had uninterrupted control since the birth of Welsh devolution some 15 years ago. You Mr Smith, and your ‘One Nation’ Britain are part of the problem rather than the solution.
To be fair to Labour RTG they did send a union rep to that health debate who appeared to have been fully briefed by the Welsh Labour press team.
“Ed Miliband’s speech at Labour Party Conference in Manchester, in which he audaciously stole a phrase previously associated with Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservative Party and applied it to a Labour Party hoping to return to government after just one term in opposition.”
A “phrase” which is well over 100 years old no less. Says it all really doesn’t it? Saw this man when he failed to win Blaenau Gwent. A career politician if ever there was one.
I’m none the wiser on what even Owen Smith thinks ”one nation Britain” means. Good luck selling the brand to a disenfranchised public.
Wales has 40 MPs (of the House of Commons’ 650 seats). England’s 532 MPs ensure that Wales’ interests are of no importance to the One Nation (i.e. English) state.
What One Nation means for Wales “… a fair share of the nation’s wealth for all nations and regions” really means taking Wales’ natural resources for England’s benefit. Just another con-trick to assimilate us into the English system, peddled by the Uncle Toms of the London-based parties.
The interesting question is why did Owen Smith bother to write this piece and publish it on Clickonwales. He’s an intelligent man; he must know how this kind of unsubtle cliche-laden political advertising goes over these days. Did he expect to change a single mind? What was the point? Are our politicians so locked into their bubble of formulaic party point-scoring that they can’t help replaying the boring trite and empty old tunes even when they know the public is indifferent or contemptuous. Say something real Owen or let us sleep on.
I rather admire Owen Smith as a very bright and personable Labour politician, but I am not at all sure why he wrote this article. It has only come about because of a rather bizarre ‘One Nation Britain’ slogan that his UK boss has come up with, so he finds himself in this very curious article trying to explain it.The elephant on the doorstep for Labour is the dreaded ‘English’ question, a topic they avoid at every opportunity. By talking up Britain, they believe that they are avoiding it in England but of course in the other nations, it creates issues.
I have read this article several times and am frankly none the wiser.
This article by David Marquand in the New Statesman last week would fit the title better:
‘The possibility of Britain’s exit from the EU raises important questions about our competing national identities – and the answers might even force England finally to come to terms with reality.’
Of course, how silly of us. There is no England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. There is no 4 nation UK. There is no Union State consisting of three countries and a province. There’s no need for a modern federal constitution that reflects that reality.
Just a mythical non-existant country called Britain.
Check the results of the 2011 census Mr Smith. It’ll make for sobering reading!
‘One Nation’ sounds like a poor man’s version of ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’… But I guess having a father originally called Adolphe would make ‘One people, one nation, one leader’ look a bit uncool…
Yes I know Reich translates to empire but I’m sure all you Scottish and Welsh nats view the UK as the English empire anyway… Even though the Irish, Scots and Welsh did put a lot of effort into helping to build it.
But, Ed Miliband doesn’t look anything like a leader either and his recent mutterings about crippling the energy companies for passing on the exhorbitant cost of red-green energy policies that he and David helped to create, and intervening in the economy in general, make him sound more and more like his radical Marxist father… I wonder if anybody has bothered to tell Comrade Ed that the tractor production figures are going to be pretty poor without electricity?
If we had the old CEGB, electricity production would have been planned into the future. We would almost certainly have too much generating capacity but we wouldn’t have too little and there’d be no risk of the lights going out. The market has failed in this regard and we are now contracting energy supply from the nationalised industries of other countries – like EDF. If Ed Miliband is groping to get away from the idolatrous market-worship of Thatcher’s children, so uncritically swallowed by John Walker, more power to his elbow. However don’t tell the Welsh Government. They still make the opposite mistake of being suspicious of any use of market mechanisms at all. Somewhere between Edwina Hart and George Osborne there is a golden mean. It would be nice if Ed found it.
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