John Denham – “The English challenge Labour must meet to win again”

John Denham is a former Cabinet Minister and now Director of the English Labour Network. These are his remarks from the recent English Labour Network event in Parliament on “The Politics of England”…

Labour lost 48 seats in England, but if we look at it in terms of people’s national identities in England, it’s quite stark. Most people who live in England are English or British and often a mixture of the two. There’s about 10% who don’t subscribe to one of those. Roughly speaking, about 30% of the people who live in England say they’re more English than British. About 40% say they’re equally English and British, and about 20% say they’re more British than English. This usually comes as a surprise in Labour Party meetings, and in London, where everyone tends to assume that everyone identifies as British and fewer as English, when it’s actually the other way around.

The crucial thing to understand is that the Tory advance that led to the election victory has taken place entirely amongst the more English than British. 33% of the Tory vote came from that group in 2015. 37% of their vote in 2017 and 40% of their vote in 2019. In terms of votes, that means the Tories gained an extra 1.65 million voters who are more English than British over that four year period. This is all set out in the English Labour Network’s new report.

The Labour Party over that four years, although it increased its national vote by over a million, it actually polled 100,000 fewer more English than British over that period of time. In 2019, the Labour Party actually won, still, just, amongst the more British than English voters and very much so amongst the people who weren’t English or British, but it was amongst English-identifiers where the election was lost. In terms of our share of the vote, we are very dependent on the more British than English. Although only 20% of the population is more British than English, 36% of our vote came from them in 2015 and 40% in 2019.

The reasons why and what we do about it I’m going to leave to the other speakers because I’ve been banging on about this stuff for too long and it’s time we had some other answers, but the simple point is Labour cannot win in England unless it can do far better amongst that roughly a third of the population that describe themselves as more English than British. That’s a mathematical issue not a political question. It’s how you do that that is part of the central issue.

We’ll be posting more articles throughout this week from speakers at our 3 March event, to mark St George’s Day on 23 April.

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