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Thursday, 28 October 2010

David Blunkett warns uneven cuts risk rise of English nationalism (UK)

Former home secretary predicts draconian spending cuts could fracture unity and breed resentment of south of England.

England faces the rise of virulent nationalism outside the south-east as a result of the government's draconian spending cuts, David Blunkett, the former home secretary, warned tonight.

Predicting that the English Defence League (EDL) was more of a threat than the British National party, he said a new form of English colonialism was emerging during a period when the fabric of society outside the south-east was threatened.

Plans to replace regional development agencies with 40 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), and to withdraw funding from schemes designed to lessen the impact of immigration on public services, could fracture England's unity and breed resentment of the south of England, he said in a speech at Sheffield University.

Speaking to the Guardian, Blunkett added that the EDL, which has carried out a series of rallies this year, was trying to exploit the way in which Wales and Scotland received far more in government subsidies than regions such as Yorkshire.

In his speech at the centenary celebrations of Sheffield's Cambrian Society – which came before a speech tomorrow by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, promoting economic development in the regions – Blunkett said the abolition of regional bodies will lead to the "Balkanisation" of England, and end the ability of regions outside London to fight global market forces.

He said: "Our civil society – the glue that holds us together and the driving force for being able to assist each other in times of need – will be unable to respond as the years go by.

"It is the fracturing, the tearing, of the social fabric that concerns me most. The fact that we are likely to see a disintegration of the acceptance of responsibility, of the obligations and duties we owe to each other.

"The denial that there is such a thing as regional identity pulls the centrifugal force of England into London and alienates those who are hardest hit by the cuts.

"London retains a development agency and demands more resources – and, in capital funding, gets it – as the scarce resources available are pulled like a magnet into the developments for and around the Olympic Games."

The government has spoken of a need to rebalance the economy, but Blunkett claimed the bodies capable of helping that process were being systematically shut.

He claimed many of the engines of regional growth were being dismantled. The business secretary, Vince Cable, confirmed this week that LEPs will have no independent funding. Blunkett told the Guardian: "It is a formula for disaster, a tearing of the social fabric and either a return to the riots of 1981, or the growth of rightwing English nationalism."

He said he was concerned that Labour had, with the exception of Tony Blair, not found a language to address the concerns and anti-statism of the English. He said: "Through the Midlands, the south, the east, and the south-west, the 'anti-state' nature of individualism and an innate conservatism is a powerful force. Outside the culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city of London, the south and east returned just 10 Labour MPs out of over 200 constituencies on 6 May this year."

The Guardian