The actions of a mindless few aside, it is hard to argue that England’s march to the cusp of footballing glory at Euro 2020 was anything other than a huge step forward for our nation after a challenging and divisive period. Leading from the front, Gareth Southgate spoke the language of an inclusive Englishness that echoed throughout the team, and then across the nation in the days after Bukayo Saka’s penalty so cruelly came back off the Italian goalkeeper.
Public support for the England players taking the knee increased to 60% and opposition decreased to 32%. As the New Statesman editor put it, Southgate had shown that English identity “need not be a choice between taking the knee and loving our country… or between diversity or tradition.” And as Keir Starmer rightly wrote; “the England team showed the best of our country”.
British Future’s important #EnglandTogether campaign – which the English Labour Network is proud to support – ran with the slogan “Football’s coming home – and it is a home we all share”, with a nod to a survey ahead of the tournament showing how the vast majority of all sections of the English population feel that Englishness is a civic rather than an ethnic identity.
Meanwhile, a growing number of commentators and MPs are now understanding the importance of Englishness, while long-term advocates have had their voices heard:
- After years of resisting, David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times that he has changed his mind and that Englishness is important.
- The Guardian’s Julian Coman wrote that Gareth Southgate has defined a notion of Englishness, both traditional and radical.
- Labour MP Jess Phillips wrote in the Independent that England wants hope and unity, not fear and division.
- British Future’s Sunder Katwala wrote in the Guardian that Gareth Southgate should not remain the main public champion of an inclusive Englishness going forward. “Politicians should join in”, he told Newsnight.
- Now even progressives must embrace an English identity, wrote David Goodhart in the Telegraph.
- John Denham’s appeared in front of a House of Lords committee, and the Guardian’s published an editorial response – “We need to talk about England“.
- “England is the forgotten nation that has remade the UK”, writes John Denham for Prospect – who explains here how English voters shifted to the Conservatives.
But a woefully out of touch Tory government is never quite enough to get Labour into power. And a football tournament won’t solve every challenge England faces.
So, join us at Labour conference to look beyond the football, and discuss what more Labour can do to connect culturally and politically with English voters. ***HOLD THE DATE for ‘Winning England’ , in partnership with Public First – 12.30pm at the Ship Inn, Brighton on Sunday 26 September.***