People in England feel alienated from the “Westminster machine” because they feel they are “not being heard”, the Bishop of Burnley has told Sky News.
Philip North, who has been bishop of the town since 2015, says Englishness is “in crisis” and has called for a strong local government.
His comments come after the Archbishop of York claimed people in England feel “left behind” by the “metropolitan elites” in London.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr North said: “I think so much of this alienation and distance from the Westminster machine is about people not being heard. And actually, a stronger Englishness will be built by stronger local government and local identity.”
He says anger about the issue was reflected in the Brexit vote.
People in England feel ‘alienated’ by the Westminster machine, the bishop said. Pic: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
“I think some of the anger expressed in the Brexit votes was because Englishness in some situations is seen as a cause of shame. If we can recover a courageous, compassionate and diverse Englishness I think people may recover some of that language with some degree of pride,” he said.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, the Church of England’s second most senior clergyman after the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised those who “patronised” people for showing pride in being English.
He called for England to “rediscover a national unity” and urged for a strengthened regional government within the country to better serve local communities.
“Many English people feel left behind by metropolitan elites in London and the South East, and by devolved governments and strengthened regional identities in Scotland and Wales,” he wrote.
“Their heartfelt cry to be heard is often disregarded, wilfully misunderstood or patronised as being backwardly xenophobic.”
On what the archbishop meant by a “metropolitan elite”, Mr North said: “I can’t tell you what the archbishop meant by it, but I think parts of the country, like Burnley, can feel very distant from the whole Westminster machine and from a government that can feel very southern and London-based.”
He added: “They’re often called left-behind communities, and I don’t like that phrase at all myself but there is a sense of dislocation via alienation, whereas Scotland and Wales have strong devolved assemblies.”
Mr North said that some parts of England “can often feel very cut-off and wonder where they are being represented”.
“I think the archbishop made some very trenchant points about what that is doing to English identity,” he said.
“I think there is a crisis of Englishness, actually, and I think English identity is of course an embarrassment to one set of people, and the far-right is stepping in another direction.”
Mr North said he believes the Church is helping to “start a whole new dialogue about what it means to be English” and is “stepping up to its responsibilities”.
“We are present, we are on the ground, we are serving. That places the Church in quite a strong place to talk about what it means to be a compassionate nation and what Englishness can be about.”
In his article, Mr Cottrell suggested that England sports teams should sing their own anthem prior to a match when playing against other UK nations, before coming together to sing the national anthem, God Save The Queen.
He said: “Then when the different nations of the United Kingdom find themselves pitched against each other on the sports field we could belt out our English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish anthems.
“Then sing our national anthem together. And love our neighbour.”