Labour Party Conference: Fringe meeting - Essex man Straw makes a plea for value of Englishness

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A STRENGTHENED English identity will help to fight off the threat of Britain breaking up after devolution, Jack Straw said last night.

The Home Secretary said he hoped all "layers of society" and people from all backgrounds would in future be proud to be English, so that devolution could be counterbalanced in a positive way and not give way to nationalism.

Speaking at The Independent's "Great Britain" debate, Mr Straw said a sign of the "English nervousness" over their identity was that recent immigrants from the Caribbean or Bangladesh had decided to define themselves as British and not English. "I cannot imagine new immigrants describing themselves as Black English," he said. "I was born in Essex and you can say that I am a self-confessed Essex man and proud of it, but I am also proud to be English.

"We have to strengthen our identity as British but also, importantly, our identity as English to strengthen the Union," he told the fringe meeting. He added that it was impossible to imagine thousands of English expatriates walking the streets in New York on St George's Day as the Irish did on St Patrick's Day. "What would the expat English community wear? Imagine them walking the streets with bowler hats, tweed suits, singing Chas and Dave songs, drinking warm sherry."

Mr Straw said the failure of the Conservative Party to appreciate the strength of Scottish and Welsh feelings for their own identity had led to "social divisions" that fuelled calls for independence. He went on to dismiss recent calls by the Tory leader, William Hague, to strip Scottish MPs of their voting rights at Westminster. Such moves would serve to destabilise Britain and, moreover, they had a right to vote on English matters because funding decisions indirectly affected them as well, Mr Straw said.

"We do not want two classes of MPs. Scottish MPs have a right to vote on English matters because if money is spent, frankly it could mean less money for them. They have had a different judicial and education system, even a different church for centuries, so different priorities are not new."