One Nation: Unanswered questions…

I’ve just come out of the inaugural event of the LSE’s new Institute of Public Affairs – ‘who owns the ‘One Nation’ and what does it stand for?’ It was a debate of sorts – between Michael Gove and Lord Glasman – ably chaired by the excellent Conor Gearty.

Both Glasman and Gove spoke eloquently, intelligently, amusingly and interestingly – poking fun at each other and dissecting each other’s ideas and attitudes. And yet the main impression I left with was that most of the big questions, specifically questions about the ‘One Nation’ idea, remained unanswered. As Fiona Miller, asking a question from the audience suggested, it seemed very much a ‘boys club’ kind of debate. The similarities between Gove and Glasman were far, far greater than their differences.

What I had been hoping for was some kind of explanation of how the idea of ‘one nation’ could be reconciled with the current ‘strivers vs skivers’ agenda. And yet there was none of this. Poverty, though central to Disraeli’s original feeling for a need for ‘one nation’ barely got a look in. When Fiona Miller asked where women fitted in either of their visions of ‘one nation’ Gove got very nervous, almost tongue-tied. People with disabilities didn’t get mentioned – I doubt either speaker even thought about mentioning them. Ethnic minorities? Barely a whisper of them in the speeches of either Gove or Glasman.

Indeed, the ‘one nation’ seemed very one-dimensional. It was all about one kind of person, though others got the odd name check it was little more than lip service. When Gove mentioned poverty he hinted at it all being caused by the ‘character’ of the families involved. One nation, just so long as that nation consists of good little workers doing what they’re told….

Glasman represents Blue Labour – and though I found myself liking him as a person, if Labour remains Blue I think we’re all in trouble. We need a new vision – ‘One Nation’ may be a good idea, but it has to include many more of us, and not just on the terms that are set by the old boys club. The current vision, as set out by both Glasman and Gove, effectively only allows people to be included on terms that actually exclude them. It can’t work – and the way that they both either avoided or misunderstood the questions that challenged those terms made that very clear.

Something needs to change – and I don’t think we can even hope for change from the existing people at the top.

10 thoughts on “One Nation: Unanswered questions…

  1. Did either speaker address the issue of how the concept of ‘One Nation’ fits the United Kingdom which is not a nation state but rather a union of different nations?,

      1. This is a rather fundamental omission. The concept of One Nation is based on the idea that shared culture, traditions practices etc bind society together in a way that overrides differences eg of class.and presumably of gender although that apparently didn’t get much of an airing. .What is its relevance therefore where there are no shared culture or traditions? is it simply an English thing with nothing to say to, for example, the Welsh speaking hill farmer in Gwynedd, or the Catholic family in Derry some of whom travel abroad on the Irish passports to which they are entitled? From an English perspective even Orange loyalism looks a strange and alien beast. , The future of the Union, of the state we grew up in, is up for grabs and these debates have nothing to say to those living on the periphery of that state, the people who must ultimately decide whether it continues to exist. .

      2. Yes, it’s a significant problem both conceptually and practically. I didn’t hear any answers, or even hints of answers, in yesterday’s session.

  2. I think you are being overly hopeful. Current problems are systemic and few politicians, even if their heart is in the right place, have the political will to challenge the circumstance they are surrounded by. Think about it. The last time a prime minister had the nerve to challenge a big systemic problem such as a financial & banking system out of control was 1844, or imagine a modern politician with the vision and willingness to engage in a huge infrastructure project such as construction of the Victorian sewers, just because it was a good idea to eradicate most contagious diseases of the time. We don’t live in a time of politics that urges progress. We live in a time of political desperation where the only allowed narrow political view is preserving any remaining status quo and the only allowed action is PR. No deviation allowed. There can not be any forward momentum, just stagnation. It is all amazingly weird and self fulfilling, because say if by some odd miracle Cameron or another did take on the real forces at play, he would most likely become the most popular PM in modern history, But no, he prefers, like the rest, the short term and align with the forces that be. A nice cushy gravy train. The way the status quo wins is by absorption. It takes nerve to resist that and few emerge with the potential, now that the pipeline has evolved a self cleaning mechanism that removes any ‘offensive’ guts.

  3. I think you are in danger of falling into the trap of identity politics that both Glasman and Gove are trying to get away from. Glasman spoke about communities, regions and ‘one nation’ in which all are invited to participate on the basis of responsibility and reciprocity. The pursuit of identity politics leads the left to the situation that has developed in the United States. Democrats can cobble together an election victory, but not a governing majority based on a dominant philosophy. That’s why progressives in America are trying to figure out why 60% of white, working-class voters choose the Republican party.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean – can you explain? The way I see it, both Gove and Glasman are actually quite close to pursuing identity politics – but the identity whose self-interest and benefit they’re supporting is such a dominant one that it doesn’t look like identity politics. Their politics supports that dominant position, and doesn’t allow for any other. Personally, I’m looking for the converse – something genuinely inclusive.

      When you (and they) talk about reciprocity, for example, they seem to mean reciprocity on their terms: contribution through labour, for example, and generally on a conventional, full time basis (see the workfare programmes supported by both). That immediately excludes many people who cannot (or do not want to) labour in the way that they expect. It excludes people with disabilities. It excludes people who spend time and energy as carers. Do you see what I mean?

      Finding that sort of thing a problem is not identity politics, at least not as I understand it. It’s inclusiveness. It’s taking a human rather than a instrumental approach to people – and it’s not making so many assumptions.

  4. If you’re interested in reading about some more fleshed-out ideas concerning how everyone can get involved with ‘One Nation’ politics, may I suggest you pick up the excellent Fabian pamphlet called ‘Letting Go’ – which is about citizens taking ownership of strong local institutions.

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