The Spectator

Welcome back, England

The Spectator welcomes England back

On 19 February 2005 The Spectator’s cover bore the arresting headline: ‘Goodbye England’, and the sombre silhouette of a lone huntsman. The issue attracted much attention, capturing, as it did, the sense of something ancestral and precious being needlessly slaughtered, as hunting with hounds finally became a criminal act. This was a feeling that spread far beyond the hunts themselves: a fear that New Labour’s bizarre fixation with a single pursuit symbolised what Roger Scruton so eloquently describes in his book England: An Elegy as ‘the forbidding of England’: the repudiation of its particular institutions, emblems and customs, usually by municipal authorities and liberal elites.

Much has changed in the last three years, however. All that was written in that issue remains true. But the political and social context has mutated with remarkable speed, to produce a new configuration of pressures and possibilities. This special issue, in celebration of St George’s Day on 23 April, explores this evolving landscape.

The most striking change has been that issues which were once debating points for constitutional theorists — the ‘West Lothian Question’ and the Barnett Formula — are now live political issues. In the 1970s, Tam Dalyell asked the highly technical question: why should a Scottish MP be able to vote on matters relating to England when an English MP cannot vote on matters relating solely to Scotland? In 2008, the English ask, more generally, why the Scots and Welsh have their own assemblies, but not the English; why the government can spend £1,500 less per head per annum on public services south of the border; why, in short, the English voters who made the New Labour electoral coalition possible in the first place in 1997 have been given such a raw deal.

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