By David Abrahams 18 June 2012
Last week I attended an excellent and thoughtful speech by Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, at the Royal Festival Hall. Ed’s speech was statesmanlike and that of a Prime Minister in waiting. It was devoted to "defending the Union in England". His key argument was that the debate over Scotland's future shouldn't be confined to Scotland and that part of the strength of the UK comes from the ability of its people to embrace multiple identities.
In what was being dubbed the first speech by a Labour leader on Englishness, Ed said: “We should embrace a positive, outward-looking version of English identity. We should also proudly talk the language of patriotism. We have been too nervous to talk of English pride and English character.” He defined Englishness as being found in “courageous communities across our land” and individuals struggling to improve their lives and the lives of others, “from those who campaigned for universal suffrage, to those who tirelessly give up hours of their spare time to organise Sunday league football”.
Ed said the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics and England's footballers competing in the European Championship showed the different allegiances of UK nationals. However, he argued it was possible to celebrate being English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish as well as being British and accused those pushing for a break-up of the union of having a "narrow view of identity”. What was most moving and powerful in his speech was when he spoke of his own background and the experience of his parents.
Ed drew on his own heritage as a son of Jewish refugee parents to argue his case. "This is who I am. The son of a Jewish refugee and Marxist academic. A Leeds supporter, from North London. If spin doctors could design a politician, I suspect he wouldn't look like me. But I know what I am proud of. I am proud to represent the people of Doncaster North. I am proud to lead the Labour Party. I am proud to be Jewish. I am proud to be English. And I am proud to be British too.”