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One Nation, Many Roots


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Speaker(s): John Denham MP, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Sunder Katwala
Chair: Professor Conor Gearty

Recorded on 9 July 2013 in Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building.

Britain as "One Nation" is an idea that originated with the Conservative Party, in particular its Victorian leader Benjamin Disraeli who saw Britain divided into two nations, the rich and the poor. Disraeli defined "One Nation" politics as the practices necessary to, "maintain the institutions of the realm and elevate the condition of the people".

In his 2012 conference speech the Labour leader Ed Miliband defined his party as "One Nation" Labour, and in so doing directly and consciously challenged the Tory ownership of this important political ideal. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have always seen themselves as a faction-free party – neither capital nor labour – and in this sense inherently "One Nation".

In a period of economic crisis and with the loss of public trust in the ability of politicians to renew our institutions and elevate the condition of the people, who now speaks for "One Nation"?

John Denham is the Labour MP for Southampton, Itchen. John was first elected as member of Parliament in 1992. John served as a government minister in various departments, resigning in 2003 from his post in at the Home Office in protest at the Iraq war. In June 2000 he was appointed by the Queen as a Privy Councillor and during a period on the backbenches he chaired the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee. John returned to government in Gordon Brown’s first cabinet as secretary of state for Innovation, Universities and Skills and subsequently became secretary of state for Communities and Local Government until May 2010. In Opposition, John remains a key figure in Labour’s campaign against the Government’s cuts. John became shadow secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010. He later went on to become PPS to Ed Miliband, before standing down from frontline politics to spend more time in his constituency. John has decided to stand down at the next General Election, which is expected to take place in 2015.

Dublin-born Ruth Dudley Edwards, who describes herself as ‘a religion-friendly atheist’, was a teacher, marketing executive and civil servant before becoming a freelance writer. She is a journalist, broadcaster and prize-winning historian, whose non-fiction includes biographies of Irish revolutionaries, the left-wing publisher and controversialist Victor Gollancz and two titans of Fleet Street, Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King, as well as the history of The Economist, a book about the Orangemen of Ulster and, most recently, Aftermath: the Omagh bombing and the families’ pursuit of justice. Her twelve crime novels satirise fashionable academic values and - above all - political correctness. The latest, award-winning Killing the Emperors, trashes the world of conceptual art.

Sunder Katwala is the director of British Future. He has previously worked as a journalist. He was general secretary of the Fabian Society thinktank from 2003 to 2011, and was previously a leading writer and internet editor at the Observer, a research director of the Foreign Policy Centre and commissioning editor for politics and economics at the publisher Macmillan.

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