Changing ideas of statecraft in an ever loosening Union

23 June 2014, 12pm


SPEAKER: Professor Michael Kenny

VENUE: Alison Richard Building, Room S3

DATE: 12pm - 2pm, Monday 23 June 2014

Professor Michael Kenny, CSaP's second Visiting Research Fellow, is Professor of Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He is on leave as a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellow from September 2012 to August 2014, working on a research project examining 'The Politics of English Nationhood'.

In this seminar, Professor Kenny will address how both the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence and the intensification of debates about the UK’s membership of the European Union (as well the growing likelihood of a referendum on this question) have helped catalyse a gathering focus in public discourse and politics upon issues of territory, nationhood and governance.

Whereas questions of national sentiment and identity have typically emerged over the last two centuries in the context of the UK’s peripheral territories, they are now bubbling to the surface in its national heartland – England. Growing regional economic inequalities undergird a rising hostility to a model of governance and economic system which reflect the concentrations of wealth and power in London and the South East. Meanwhile a cocktail of socio-economic changes and heightened cultural anxiety have underpinned a significant rise in the salience of English identity in the last twenty years. The rise of UKIP, and its employment of an Anglocentric discourse of decline, have highlighted the potential for political parties and wider social forces to harvest a palpable mood of English disenchantment.

Relatively little attention, however, has been directed to the impact of these shifts, and of the system of devolution introduced by the first Blair government in 1999, upon the self-understandings and governing outlook of members of the UK’s policy community. And it is their implications for UK-level statecraft that is the primary focus of this paper.

What now is the value of some of the most familiar traditions and ideas that framed the development and operations of the British state – in the context of a highly asymmetrical, multi-tiered polity, founded upon a tacit assumption about the enduring consent of the English to be governed by British institutions. Does the Westminster model of parliamentary government, and ideas about the functional division of responsibilities institutionalised in Whitehall, help or inhibit state-level policy-makers in this context? Does the emergence of service Departments with very different territorial remits -- including some (eg Health) that are de facto focused almost entirely upon England – represent a challenge to the articulation of a new state-wide understanding of UK governance? How might a state which has fostered a brand of patriotism – Britishness – that is aligned with the governing institutions and laws of the UK come to see itself as a multi-national and multi-levelled entity? And, in policy terms, what connections might now be traced between debates about the constitutional reconfiguration of the UK (whatever the Scottish referendum) and the current focus upon devolving more powers to regions, city-regions and cities within England?