A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)


Austerity is for the English. The cuts will hit England hardest. Why doesn't it have its own parliament like the rest of Britain?

Here is a question for St George's Day: how should England respond to the government's austerity agenda? If it sounds like an odd question, it is only because we never ask it.

We know what we stand to lose from the ongoing public service cuts: affordable university education; state support for many higher education courses; a health service that operates in the interests of patients rather than accountants; publicly owned forests; state support for arts, cultural bodies and voluntary services; libraries and swimming pools.

But who is "we"? The answer, in all the cases named above, is the English.

Austerity will affect the whole of the UK, but most of its blows are landing on England. In Scotland, if you go to your GP – who will not be commissioning services under the Lansley plan because it doesn't apply there – and he gives you a prescription, it does not cost you the £7.40 it costs you in England; it's free. Your forests are not for sale, because Westminster does not have the power to sell them. Your libraries, schools and sports centres cannot be closed by the coalition either. If a Scottish student goes to university in Edinburgh, it's free, and the state pays for the courses. English students pay through the nose.

This looks achingly unfair. But it has happened for a reason. The reason is that the Scottish have their own government, which acts as a buffer against decisions made in Westminster. Why do the Scots have this? Because of decades of campaigning by a population determined to assert its sovereignty. A similar situation applies in Wales.

We know who speaks for Scotland and for Wales. But who speaks for England? The British prime minister, like his predecessor, won't even mention the word unless he's praising the football team. His government at Westminster speaks for and of Britain. So do the protesters who oppose him. UK Uncut never mentions the fact that much of what it opposes does not apply to the whole UK. The group 38 Degrees is campaigning to save "our NHS" when the NHS outside England is not at risk. Who speaks for England? Nobody, it seems.

There are reasons for this. For centuries, England dominated the union, and many of the English lazily assumed that England and Britain were the same thing. These days, we are being forced to wake up to the fact that this is not true, and never has been.

As we do, we wake up to grievances. Is it fair that Scottish and Welsh MPs can make our laws while we can't make theirs? That the devolution settlement has given the people of three of the four British nations a vote on their national destiny but denied it to the largest? That Scottish citizens get more money from the Treasury per head than the English? That we are the only nation in Europe without our own government or parliament?

No. None of it is fair. But if we want it to change we have to do something. We are going through a fascinating historical period, full of pain but also of opportunity. Perhaps it gives us a chance to create our own radical narrative.

I say "create", but the narrative is already there. England has a deep history of resistance to the alliance of state and property, which the radical writer William Cobbett called "the Thing". We might focus on resistance to the land thefts known as the inclosures, which forced self-sufficient rural communities into urban slums; or the peasants' revolt; or the uprising of Jack Cade; or the civil war radicals; or the anti-capitalist rebellion of the Luddites, which happened two centuries ago this year. The story is there, waiting for us.

This St George's Day, we should give some thought to writing it. We could link the current attacks by the British state on English public life with our lack of political representation. In the name of our historic freedoms, we could call for English home rule – for the return of the English parliament, lost like that of the Scots to the Act of Union. This would give us a national narrative a million miles away from the establishment tale of royal weddings and military interventions.

At heart, this is an issue of sovereignty. When the Scottish reclaimed their nationhood from Westminster, they asserted the sovereignty of their citizens. The English case is the same. Who owns the English NHS, English forests, English libraries? Not David Cameron. Not the British state: the English people.

Talking about economics and politics is never enough. If you want change, you need to speak to people about their culture; appeal to their sense of belonging and ownership. There is power in history, and in narratives of nationhood, and there can be a deep radicalism in standing up for our rights, knowing who we are, in an increasingly plastic, corporate world

the jingling geordie

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whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur