Jeremy Corbyn's promise to give Scottish Labour more autonomy has reinvigorated the campaign to create an English wing of the left-wing party. John Denham, a former Labour minister, is leading the charge for the federalisation of Labour and claims such a move could help the party reconnect with lost voters.
The ex-Southampton Itchen MP told IBTimes UK that his party should respond to the growing sense of Englishness among the country's electorate.
"Year-on-year the proportion of people in England who identify themselves as English grows," he said. "Labour has had no English identity to respond to that. Clearly, the more autonomous Scotland becomes, the more untenable it becomes that there is no English Labour Party."
Denham's comments come after Corbyn signed a "statement of intent" with Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to give the party more say on policy, candidate selection and control of the group's membership. The move comes after Labour were reduced to just one MP in Scotland after the general election and before the 2016 Holyrood elections in May.
Denham would like to see a similar devolution of powers to Welsh Labour and the yet to be established English Labour Party. "There's been a whole history of Welsh and Scottish politicians not really understanding what Labour in England needs," he argued.
Corbyn turns silent on English wing
Denham claimed this alleged ignorance of Englishness played its part in white working-class voters turning to Ukip at the general election. The former MP saw a surge to the Eurosceptics in his old seat as Ukip's candidate increased the party's share of the vote by a significant 9% when compared to 2010. The surge helped the Conservatives take the constituency and beat Labour's candidate, Rowenna Davis.
"Labour failed to win back a section of white working-class voters, who went to Ukip, [at the election]. That's what cost us those seats," Denham said. "From national surveys, those Ukip-leaning white working-class voters are mostly likely to describe themselves as English. It goes some way to explain why we didn't do better than we did."
Ukip campaigned heavily on an anti-mass immigration platform throughout the campaign, calling for an Australian-style points system. But Denham argued Labour's policy on the issue did not let the party down, instead it had a perception problem.
"The crucial issue about immigration was that people who were concerned about immigration actually didn't think we understood the reasons for their concerns," he said. "There's a lot of things you could do in policy terms, but the problem was that we were perceived as not understanding why some perfectly reasonable people were concerned about changes in their communities."
As for actually establishing an English Labour Party, Denham points to Corbyn's response to a letter signed by Jon Cruddas, Chuka Umunna and other party figures calling for such a wing during the Labour leadership campaign. "Good idea and support. I think we, in opposition, should hold a constitutional convention and allow a serious discussion on national, regions, House of Lords, voting etc," Corbyn said.
But the Labour leader has gone quiet on the issue since securing power. A spokesman for Corbyn told IBTimes UK that he was "not able" to comment on the establishment of an English Labour Party at the moment. Elsewhere, a Labour source claimed the proposal would be a tough one to get past the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) because the members may have to give away some of their own powers.