"A very short piece - c. 1000 words in a special issue of the British Politics Review on Britishness. It contains short essays by Paul Ward • Arthur Aughey • Christopher Bryant • Vron Ware
Espen Kallevik • Dana Arnold • Kristin M. Haugevik"
Espen Kallevik • Dana Arnold • Kristin M. Haugevik"
More Info: Published in "British Politics Review" (Norway), 2009
British Politics Review
Journal of the British Politics Society, Norway
Volume 4 | No. 3 | Summer 2009
The Britishness debate
Identity issues in a contested United Kingdom
Paul Ward • Arthur Aughey • Christopher Bryant • Vron WareEspen Kallevik • Dana Arnold • Kristin M. Haugevik
British Politics Review
Volume 4 | No. 3 | Summer 2009
British Politics Review
is a quarterlynewsletter issued by the British PoliticsSociety, Norway. With contributionsfrom academic and journalistic sour-ces, the
British Politics Review
is aimedat everyone with a general interest inpolitical developments in Britain.
British Politics Society, Norway
ispolitically neutral and has no col-lective agenda apart from raising theinterest and knowledge of Britishpolitics among the informed Norwe-gian public.
Øivind Bratberg [Editor]Kristin M. Haugevik [Associate Editor]Atle L. Wold [Scholarly Responsible] John-Ivar S. Olsen [Secretary]
P.O. Box 6 BlindernN-0313 Oslo, Norway
Reprosentralen, Oslo, Norway
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[Photograph: Neil Rickards. Published underCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 License]
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Identity in an age of uncertainty
Questioning national identity is a sign of our times. Throughout Europe, nationstates are grappling with the challenges of subnational autonomy, globalisation,European integration and multiculturalism. Hardly anywhere, however, arethese questions more prevalent than in Britain, where openness to internationaltrade and migration has often been accompanied by caution and restraint whenit comes to displays of national unity. British patriotism was con
rmed by theSecond World War, so it is said: hardly a suf
cient platform for a national unity
t for the twenty-
rst century.Arriving in England, wrote George Orwell in “The Lion and the Unicorn”,
“youhave immediately the sensation of breathing a different air… The beer is bitterer, the coinsare heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in thebig towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd.”
While Britons may still be a particular breed, they are alsoasserting separate national identities to the extent that the future of the UnitedKingdom is in question, as discussed in the spring issue of
British Politics Review
.This is also the challenge for Gordon Brown, a Scot yet a British prime minister,whose advocacy of Britishness and a shared national credo has expanded overthe last few years. Brown’s version of Britishness defends a historical set of values,summarised in his British Council annual lecture of 2004 as “a passion for
anchored in a sense of
and an intrinsic commitment to
tolerance and fair play
”.The Prime Minister’s efforts to create a united British football team for the 2012London Olympics re
ect a wish to popularise this perception of unity.The Prime Minister has an arduous task in de
ning Britishness acrossgeographical and political divides. His Conservative predecessor, John Major,met with criticism for championing the white middle classes of southernEngland, his reference to “the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warmbeer, invincible green suburbs”
nding little resonance in other parts of thepopulation. A shared vision of Britishness today carries even greater dif
culties.The recent announcement on the planned introduction of ID cards for Britishcitizens illustrated the problem, seeing the Union Jack removed from the card tothe bene
t of a
oral pattern of shamrock, daffodil, thistle and rose, signifyingthe four nations of the UK.The present issue of
British Politics Review
discusses Britishness in light of themultiple identities of Britain today. Our
ne team of guest contributors includePaul Ward, Arthur Aughey, Christopher Bryant, Vron Ware, Espen Kallevik andDana Arnold. Together, they show the many dimensions of the debate todayas well as its historical antecedents. Resolving identity in a multi-national andmulticultural ”nation of nations” will be vital for the future of the British state.Can Britishness provide the answer?
Øivind Bratberg and Kristin M. Haugevik, Editors
The end of Britishness? A historicalperspective
p. 3What is Britain for?
pp. 4-5The British question
pp. 6-7Chasing Britishness: a post-colonialproject
p. 8Britishness, multiculturalism and ethnicity
p. 9The architectural aesthetic of Britishness
pp. 10-11Britishness and the international dimension
Kristin M. Haugevik
Revival of a debate.
Discussion of Britishnessnow seems endless.Googling “Britishness”returns hundreds ofthousands results for thelast month alone. Almostany event relatingto sport, politics andculture seems to provokecommentators to raisethe spectre of the crisis ofBritishness. There havebeen newspaper andmagazine articles, radioand TV programmes,and a stream of blogsdiscussing what it meansto ”be British”. Withouta doubt, Britishness isbeing discussed at unprecedented levels.It is too often the case, though, that thisdiscussion is taken to mean that Britishnessis at its end. It has been widely assumedthat the discussion of national identities inthe UK is relatively recent, beginning withTom Nairn’s
The Break-Up of Britain
in 1977.Nairn suggested that it was only a matterof time until Britain and Britishness was nomore. The articulation of arguments aboutBritishness have therefore been taken toimply its demise. It is necessary, however,to take a historical perspective on currentdiscussions of national identity in theUK – viewing them in their historicalcontext rather than as containing someessential truth about the future of Britain.Debates about Britishness have occurredfrequently in the past – hence the volumeof historical discussion in the last 20years or so. Much of this, like that ofNairn, focuses on the contemporary UK,and the recent past, but it possible to citebooks and articles that push discussionback and back through history. Thereis a substantial number of works onBritishness in the twentieth century,including my own
Britishness since 1870
(2004) and Richard Weight’s
(2002),which argue very different positions. Forthe nineteenth century, Keith Robbins’work should be mentioned, and LindaColley’s
(1992) is probably themost cited book on Britishness. Colleyargues that Britishness emerged outProtestantism in the eighteenth century,while Britain was engaged in a series ofwars against the French Catholic ”other”.The early modern period is now also wellcovered by historians such Steven Ellis,Sarah Barber and John Morril. Historianssuch as J.G.A. Pocock and Hugh Kearneyhave emphasised just how important itis to consider the history of the Atlanticarchipelago in its Britannic context, as ahistory consisting of unity and integrationas well as disunity and disintegration.This array of historical examinationsuggests that current debates are part of acontinuum rather than a break with the past.And these historians are exploringdiscourses contemporary to their periods.Some of these, without doubt, are discourseschallenging Britain and Britishness. From thevery beginning of the union between the UKand Ireland in 1801 there have been multiplevoices opposing the imposition of Britishness.The outcome in the early1920s was the
rst contractionin the size of the UK forsome centuries with theestablishment of the IrishFree State, later the Republicof Ireland. However, not allnon-English commentators onBritishness in the period beforethe 1970s were seeking to undermine it. Ithas not been easy for the Scots, Welsh andNorthern Irish living in a UK dominatedby the interminably insensitive English.But outer Britain has been part of Britainwhile cultivating cultural belongings remotefrom any centrally imposed uniformity.Underway, there has been a constantdialogue about what it means to beBritish. In the last hundred years alone itis possible to name David Lloyd George, James Ramsay MacDonald, and AndrewBonar Law among prime ministers whohave not been English and who haveaddressed the multi-national nature ofthe UK. All of them found themselvesat the centre of power, foreshadowingGordon Brown and his emphasis onBritishness in the twenty-
rst century.Alongside these discussions of the territorialaspects of Britishness there have beenequally persistent discussions of ethnicityand Britishness. It is well to remember thatthe Irish were frequently considered raciallydifferent in the nineteenth century, andfrom the 1880s to 1930s Jewishimmigration drew attentionto the multi-ethnic natureof the UK, enriched also bypockets of black settlement inBritish port cities. In the earlytwentieth century, some Jewstried to train others on howto be English in the JewishLads’ Brigade, and black seafarers in theBritish merchant marine used the phrase“British justice” in their demands forimproved working conditions. In the 1930s, Jewish sportsmen wore the star of Davidand the Union Jack. In the 1940s, Jewishex-servicemen battled British fascists. Thepost-1948 immigration of West Indians andSouth Asians was on a different scale toprevious waves of immigration but manyof the discussions of what it had meantto be non-white and British that wouldfollow had already been pre-
gured.Britishness has therefore never been a
xed entity that would shatter if wasdiscussed or challenged but has been
uidand contested for centuries. Sometimesthis has resulted in crisis – Catholic andnationalist Ireland’s war against the Britishbetween 1916 and 1921 certainly warrantsthe description of revolution, and the crisisof Britishness was played out globally inthe end of the British Empire. But despitethese traumas, substantial numbers inthe UK continue to consider themselvesto share something that amounts toBritishness. These shared institutionsand values include Parliament, themonarchy, the British Army, the BBC,and the National Health Service. Noneof them are unanimously popular andunchallenged, but they do provide a corearound which discussion of Britishnesscontinues. When that discussion stops,then so too will Britishness. But so far,people are still talking, as Google shows.
The University of Hudders
eld has setup its own
Academy for the Study ofBritishness
. Established in 2008, the Academy coordinates research on citizenship,nationhood and identity across a broad rangeof academic disciplines. For more informationsee http://www2.hud.ac.uk/asb/index.php
The end of Britishness? A historical perspective
By Paul Ward
Paul Ward is a Profes-sor at the School of Music, Humanitiesand Media, Universityof Hudders
eld. His publications include
Unionism in theUnited Kingdom,1918-74
(Palgrave, 2005) and
”Britishness hasnever been a
xed entity [...]but has been
uidand contested forcenturies.
Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Dublin 1916
. Unitywithin the UK and the British Empire has been challengedon a number of occasions before, under different and harshercircumstances.
Photograph: public domain
The expectation ofan end.
At a recentconference in Cardiffon the theme:
Smallcountries and the globalcrisis: challenges andopportunities?
I was askedto present a paper on:”Can Britishness resistthe economic crisis?”. Theonly other paper whichhad an interrogative titlewas concerned not witha negative (resistance)but with a positive, howWales could turn its smallsize to advantage in theglobal economic crisis.Since this was aconference without anynationalist intent clearlythe British questioninvolved a number of assumptionsand these assumptions can be said toconstitute a current fashion in academicinterpretation. When speaking andwriting of Britishness it is often assumed
rst, that it is
; second, that it is
; third, that it has a distinctively
; and fourth, that thereis an
expectation of an end
– the expectation,in short, that the modi
cation of the UnitedKingdom which goes under the nameof devolution must mean its dissolution.In the United Kingdom, this expectationof the end has an ideological in
ection,or ”endism”, a wished-for outcome whichis synonymous with the varieties ofnationalism in the United Kingdom. Whatgives endism its own distinctive characteris the third assumption, the instrumentalpurpose of being British, and it is withthis assumption that this article deals.In the indispensible studies of devolutionby Alan Trench it is possible to track theemergence – rather, re-emergence – ofthis assumption. Inthe introduction to
State of the Nations
(2008), Trench askedthe key functionalquestion (one whichwas implicit in thequestion I was askedto address in Cardiff):“What is the UnitedKingdom
in the21st century?” Whydid Trench thinkthis was an urgentquestion? Becausehe thought that theUnited Kingdomhas “reached thepoint where theinstrumentalunderpinningof the Union has started to dissipate,and to the extent that it remains itdoes not attract support for the UK”.This judgement suggests the imminenceof that venerable prophecy of Tom Nairnabout the break-up of Britain and Nairnrecently gave the United Kingdom abrief “extinction lag” of only a few moreyears. Certainly Trench is no nationalistor ‘endist’ but his warning complementsthe resent thesis of McLean and McMillanin their
State of the Union
(2006). Theymade the distinction between primordialunionism which believes in Britishness asan end in itself and instrumental unionismwhich is British as a means to an end suchas, for example, welfare. Asthey provocatively argued,a primordial attachment tothe United Kingdom has“always suffered from deepintellectual incoherence”though historically thatincoherence was “masked byits usefulness to politiciansand its popular appeal” (notethat they
nd it dif
cult tothink of Britishness beyondthe category of “useful”).With the exception ofNorthern Ireland and its atavistic form ofunionism which had little or no resonanceelsewhere, McLean and McMillan thoughtprimordial unionism was dead. Hencetheir fatal question: “can the union statesurvive without unionism?” Instrumentalunionism, on the other hand, means thatthe United Kingdom is good if has “goodconsequences”. It may have delivered thesegood consequences in the past but - likeTrench - McLean and McMillan believedthat it has become increasingly dif
cultnow to sell Britishness instrumentally.They seem to con
rm Napoleon’s alleged jibe that the English/British are a nationof shopkeepers, for belonging here issupposedly reckoned on a pro
t and lossbasis. Every economic crisis of consequence,like the present global
nancial crisis,diminishes the already decreasing valueof the United Kingdom’s political capital.To the economic crisis one could addthe political crisis following revelationsin
The Daily Telegraph
that a numberof MPs abused the allowance system,revelations which provoked popularoutrage and reduced even further thestanding of the Westminster Parliament.The thesis set out by McLean andMcMillan exhibits what may be called“project discourse” - the view ofBritishness as a ”project” which integratedthe internal cohesion of theBritish project, the stabilityof the United Kingdom,with the external object,the construction andmaintenance of Empire. Totake one example, AndrewGamble (
Between Europeand America: The Futureof British Politics
, 2003),recently adapted LindaColley’s argument aboutthe “forging” of Britain inthe 18th century againstthe “Other” (mainly)France, and claimed that the UnitedKingdom “was always a political project”.In this now familiar trope, the end ofEmpire has “meant the disappearanceof the project” which for so long de
nedBritishness; and its substitute, theAmerican Special Relationship, can do asmuch to undermine support for the UnitedKingdom as it does to strengthen it. Eventhe welfare state, symbolised by that grandBritish project of the National HealthService, no longer sustains in the mannerit once did the project of internal cohesionbecause its operation has now beenparcelled out to the devolved institutions.It should be saidthat Gamble is notadvocating thebreak up of Britainbut he evokes whatothers have calleda “crisis” of Britishpurpose precipitatedby, amongst otherthings, devolution,the disappearance ofEmpire, the problemsof the monarchy,the politicalinsigni
cance ofProtestantism and thedecline in deferencefor traditionalinstitutions.
What is Britain for?
By Arthur Aughey
Arthur Aughey is Professor of Politicsat the Universityof Ulster. He has published extensivelyon the politics of Northern Ireland and constitutionalchange in the UK,most recently as theauthor of
The Politicsof Englishness
(Man-chester University Press, 2007).
”Trench and McLean& McMillan seem toconfirm Napoleon’salleged jibe thatthe English/Britishare a nation ofshopkeepers, forbelonging hereis supposedlyreckoned on a profitand loss basis.”
Celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee on 4 June 2002, outsideBuckingham Palace.
Photograph: Michael Pead. Published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
Project discourse– especially amongstScottish and Welshnationalists but notcon
ned to them –implies that the UnitedKingdom has becomethe dispensablepolitical middle, nolonger necessary tomediate betweenpower devolvedto the nations andsovereignty cededto Europe. Multi-nationalism ofthe British sort isnow redundant.As a matter of fact,state membershipdoes involve suchfunctional, utilitarianconcerns. Thereis an inescapablycontractual elementto government andproject discoursecaptures it, but it is one-dimensionallymaterialistic and if it were
that itinvolved then the state would be no morethan Burke’s description of “a partnershipagreement in a trade of pepper andcoffee, calico, or tobacco, or someother low concern, to be taken up fora little temporary interest, and to bedissolved by the fancy of the partners”.That, of course, is how nationalists dounderstand the United Kingdom - afailed project, lacking authority and apartnership in the process of liquidation.Of course, this is an ideologically loadedview and it is possible to see thingsdifferently. Here the philosopher MichaelOakeshott’s distinction in
(1975) between enterprise andcivil association illustrates matters moresubtly than McLean and McMillan’sdistinction between primordial andinstrumental. To understand the UnitedKingdom as an
associationassumes, as does instrumental unionism,a project of
xed duration the endingof which ends the state itself. But civilassociation is a way of looking at thestate which is not concerned with anyparticular project, is not dissolved by thatproject’s ending, is not de
ned by anysubstantive outcome but is sustained bythe legitimacy of its rule. The authorityof the association continues so long asthere remains acknowledgement of itsauthenticity de
ned not by identitybut by allegiance to its procedures.This is primordial not in the McLeanand McMillan sense of original orunreconstructed but in the sense ofbeing the condition for the satisfactionof individual or collective projects. ForOakeshott, political engagement, then, “isan exploration of
in terms of thedesirability of the conditions it prescribes,and this entails a relationship to
which is at once acquiescent and critical.The acquiescence is assent to its authority.Without this there can be no politics”. Thisis not because the United Kingdom is anorganic whole but because the elementswhich make up the constitution dependupon, and connect with,one another. Devolutiontook place within a staterecognized as possessingauthority and the newarrangements continueto acknowledge it.The key concept here isnot identity but allegiance.Nationalism is a politicalproject to engineer theconformity of identity and allegiance.Britishness means diverse nationalidentities within a common sovereignallegiance. For the moment, the UnitedKingdom remains the “primordial” or“civil” association within which theexploration of the desirability of theconditions takes place. And even at theinstrumental level, there are also acrossthe United Kingdom expectations amongcitizens that common standards in publicservices will be maintained. This applieseven though the delivery of those majorpublic services has been devolved since thesolidarity of the civil association continuesto be essential for their common funding.Perhaps the best way to understandBritishness isto return to aconception of itwhich can be foundin the introductionby Peter Madgwickand Richard Rose totheir jointly editedbook of 1982,
TheTerritorial Dimensionin United KingdomPolitics
. They usedthe term “
fthnation” to explainhow the UnitedKingdom was able toact as a unitary statenotwithstandingits multi-nationalcomposition.Most studies ofBritish politics,argued Madgwickand Rose, eithersubstituted thepolitics of Englandfor the politics ofthe United Kingdom or they tended toconcentrate on one of its componentparts, Scotland, Wales or NorthernIreland, while frequently neglecting therelationship between Westminster andthe nations. To express that neglectedrelationship and its ef
cient secret,they thought that “the United Kingdomis a
fth ‘nation’ in Westminster”.What the United Kingdom is
, of course,can be calculated in terms of bene
ts andservices, but continuedallegiance to it cannot beso de
ned. This requiresa sense of belongingwhich is not instrumentalbut authoritative andthe term “
fth nation”tries to capture it. Whenconsidered existentiallyit is sovereign; whenconsidered in terms ofsolidarity, it is the condition for thematerial bene
ts which British citizensstill wish to share. “Britain”, accordingto Vernon Bogdanor in The New BritishConstitution (2009), “is less of an arti
cialor imagined construct, and British loyaltyis more organic and primordial thanmany commentators have suggested”.The United Kingdom has changed, ischanging and will continue to changebut I think that judgement still holds.
The author gratefully acknowledges in theresearch and writing of this paper the financialassistance of a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, a British AcademySmall Grant and support from the SustainedStudies in Contemporary Canadian Issues.
e the waves.
How a shared British patriotism should be expressed today is a much-debatedtopic. Olympic sports represent a welcome abstraction in celebrating British success abroad. Portrayed hereis Christine Ohuruogu after her victory in the 400 meters at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Photograph: Jmex60. Published under GNU Free Documentation License.
What is Britain for? (cont.)
By Arthur Aughey
”The key concept hereis not identity but
. Britishnessmeans diverse nationalidentities within acommon sovereignallegiance.
In December 1999Linda Colley, authorof
Britons: Forgingthe Nation 1707–1837
(Yale UP, 1992), gave amillennium lecture at10 Downing Street inwhich she addressedthis question: “Sinceso many of theconstituent parts ofold-style Britishnesshave been dismantledor have ceased tofunction effectively, isit possible successfullyto re-design and re-
oat a concept ofBritishness for the 21st century?” Youcould call this the British question. Adecade later, do we have an answer?Colley thought Britain the “citizen-nation”was the possibility most worth pursuing.She advocated doing everything necessaryto convince “all the inhabitants of theseislands that they are equal and valuedcitizens irrespective of whatever identitythey may individually select to prioritise”.This required that civil rights, equalityof opportunity, political participationand empowerment all be maximised - anagenda of particular interest to non-whitesand women but not one with anythingdistinctively British about it.But Colley also argued that a citizenshipexpressed in universal terms would onlybe meaningful, even inspirational, toBritons if connected to British historyand experience. It was thus necessary to“pillage the past selectively” and engagewith the present, to evaluate heritage anddraw upon cultural capital. All Britons, shesuggested, could agree to commemoratethe abolition of the slave trade back in 1806,the Reform Act of 1832, the CatholicEmancipation of 1829, the end of Jewish disabilities in the 1850s,Votes for Women in 1918, etc. “Andwhy shouldn’t we commemorateindependence for India in 1947,since it is part of our history too?” But why was Britain a better vehiclefor the citizen-nation than Scotland,Wales or England? Colley’s indirectanswer was that “Britishness is asynthetic and capacious conceptwith no necessary ethnic orcultural overtones”. This is anoverstatement - Britishness doeshave necessary cultural overtones,not least the paramountcy of theEnglish language - but it remindsus that the 1707 treaty of unionbetween England and Scotlandensured that, by guaranteeing thatScotland kept a distinctive civil societyof its own, there would always be morethan one way of being British. Moreover“synthetic and capacious”, combinatoryand accommodative, does describe afeature Britishness has had for centuries,and must sustain if whatColley called the “multi-national, multi-cultural,in
nitely diverse” Britainof today is to have afuture.The London tube andbus bombings of 7 July2005 perpetrated bydisaffected Muslims havemade the British questioneven more pertinent.Responses to it havebeen varied and complexand there is space hereto mention just two. Onehinges on
and is associatedwith Gordon Brown, the prime minister;the other relates to
butremains mostly con
ned to academicdebate.
Gordon Brown used high-pro
le lectures in 2004 and 2006 to arguethat devolution must not, and need not,lead to the break-up of Britain, and thatrespect for ethnic diversity must be, andcan be, accompanied by respect for sharedBritish values and a common Britishness.In speeches, and especially in soundbites,Brown’s British values often sound bothvapid and not Britain’s alone. What theselectures do is make the connections withepisodes, events, institutions, practices andpersons in British history. (Actually Englishand then British history, but not pre-1707Scottish or pre-1536 Welsh history.) Thevalues may be western or universal buttheir particular actualisation in (Englishand) British history and contemporarylife has given them a distinctively Britishcast.Brown makes the case that the Britishvalues of liberty, duty and fair play,complemented by the essentially Britishqualities of adaptabilityand a creative andinternationalistopenness to new ideasand in
uences, haveshaped British nationalidentity. He refers to “agolden thread which runsthrough British history ofthe individual standing
rm for freedom andliberty against tyrannyand the arbitrary use ofpower” beginning withRunnymede in 1215 andincluding the 1689 Bill ofRights, both of which werenot, of course, British but English (thoughthere was a Scottish Claim of Rights in1689), and he links liberty to tolerance ofdifference and acknowledgement thatsuccessive waves of immigrants haveenriched British culture.Belief in liberty has been accompanied“by a British idea of duty as the virtue thatreinforces neighbourliness and enshrinesthe idea of a public realm and publicservice.” Whether inspired by religiousbelief, noblesse oblige or a sense ofsolidarity, the call to civic duty has givenstrength to civil associations, voluntaryorganisations, mutual societies, and localdemocracy and made them a notablefeature of British life. Brown’s third value,fair play - Adam Smith’s helping hand(that complements the invisible hand),George Orwell’s decency - has promptedquests for social improvement and social justice. Duty and fair play combine in anethic of public service that has given riseto great institutions such as theNational Health Service, the BBC,the armed forces and universities,galleries and museums.This is what Britons have longstood for and should now revisitand build on. Respect for diversityin a multiethnic and multinationalstate is essential but so is respectfor common values. The bestof Britain’s past has created adistinctive British identity which isincompatible with both individualenslavement “to some arbitrarilyde
ned collective interest” andindividual indifference to society.Instead the “British way” dependson “a strong cohesive society inwhich in return for responsibilitythere is opportunity for all”.
The British question
By Christopher Bryant
Christopher G.A.Bryant is Professor of Sociology at theUniversity of Salford,an Academician of theSocial Sciences, and theauthor of
The Nationsof Britain
(Oxford Uni-versity Press, 2006).
”Gordon Brown usedhigh-pro
le lectures in2004 and 2006 to arguethat devolution must not,and need not, lead to thebreak-up of Britain, andthat respect for ethnicdiversity must be, andcan be, accompaniedby respect for sharedBritish values and acommon Britishness.”
Brown and Britishness
. The shared identity of Britain has been a centrepiecefor the Prime Minister:
”a strong sense of duty and of fair play” and
a golden threadwhich runs through British history of the individual standing
rm for freedom andliberty against tyranny and the arbitrary use of power”
© Jeff Moore / all rights reserved
In July 2007 the newministry responsiblefor constitutionalaffairs, the Ministryof Justice, publisheda green paper on
TheGovernance of Britain
with an introductionby Gordon Brown andthe justice minister, Jack Straw. Thesection on Britain’sfuture presents Britishnational identityas the identity that“overarches” otheridentities, such asgender, ethnicity, classand faith, and “bringsthe nation together”and it con
ates it withBritish citizenship. Italso announces that“Through an inclusive process of nationaldebate [the Government] will work withthe public to develop a British statementof values that will set out the ideals andprinciples that bind us together as anation”.The government has, however, no idea howa broadly based national debate could beconducted and Gordon Brown is now sounpopular his support for it could in anycase be the kiss of death. The governmentis also unclear whether Britain, as distinctfrom England, Scotland and Wales, isa state only or also a nation of nations.And any conclusions from the debate ofrelevance to the school curriculum couldonly be applied to England anyway asresponsibility for education in Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland rests with thedevolved governments. There is not even anall-UK education ministers’ talking shop.Brown’s top-down British values initiativehas petered out.
The debate about amulticulturalism offers a second responseto the British question. The context is wellknown. People who are not white Britishmade up 14.7 percent of the population ofEngland and a remarkable 41.6 percent ofthe population of London in 2004. In thatyear multiculturalism was questionedfrom the left and from the Com¬missionfor Racial Equality as never before. DavidGoodhart, the editor of
magazine,argued that progressives want “plenty ofboth solidarity (high social cohesion andgenerous welfare paid out of a progressivetax system) and diversity (equal respect fora wide range of peoples, values and ways oflife)” but there comes a point beyond whichthese are inversely related. The volume ofasylum seekers, he thought, threatened totake us beyond that point.Trevor Phillips, the co-author of
(1998) and the head of the Commissionfor Racial Equality, agreed, arguing“that multiculturalism was out-of-date. Itencouraged separateness when the need nowwas to re-emphasise ”common values… thecommon currency of the English language,honouring the culture of these islands, likeShakespeare and Dickens”. The view seemedto prevail that multiculturalism could issuein a dangerous separateness though it neednot, that all responsible citizens shouldguard against this, that more attention tocommon values and practices was overdue,that the problem of the radicalised minorityof young Muslims who rejected Britishnesscould no longer be ignored,that the ceremonies tomark the award of Britishcitizenship introduced bythe then Home Secretary,David Blunkett, werea good idea, and that itwas time to take forwarda Britain of which allcitizens would be proud.A rebalancing was calledfor.This has not settled thedebate about multiculturalism. In a speechshortly after the London bombings, Phillipsgave voice to the fear that there are “districts onthe way to becoming fully
edged ghettoes”and that “we are sleepwalking our way tosegregation”. Subsequent research suggeststhat the incidence of residential segregationhas been exaggerated and the dynamicsof such segregation as there is are morecomplex than the mythmakers would haveus believe. Even so there is a general viewthat multiculturalism without interactionbetween bearers of the different cultures isundesirable. Responses to this include thearticulation of more sophisticated versionsof multiculturalism, the switch in emphasisto interculturalism, and government supportfor “communitycohesion” understoodas respect for culturaldifferences within acommunity, that ofthe majority as well asminorities, allied to thegeneration of sharedexperiences and values.This all has an air ofmaking the best ofthe diversity we havefound ourselves with.There is an argumentthat London points tosomething better.The success of London’s
nancial heart, atleast until the onsetof recession in 2008,raised its standingworldwide, butthe extremes of wealth and poverty itgenerated were greater in London itselfthan anywhere else in the UK. Diversityalongside inequality might have led tosocial con
ict and urban disorder, but forthe most part it has not. London’s successfulOlympic bid emphasised the city’s ethnicdiversity and Londoners’ contentment withit. The 7/7 bombings, the day after the 2012Olympics were awarded to London, mighthave started the unravelling of London, butthey did not.It is easy to point to examples of Londonersenjoying London’sdiversity – the vast crowdsat the West Indians’Notting Hill carnival, forexample; and it is easy tocite examples of objectionsto it, such as the hostilityof some East Enders towhat they perceive as anunfair allocation of councilhousing in Tower Hamletsthat favours Bangladeshis.According to Paul Gilroy(
, 2004),however, there increasinglyprevails a “convivial cosmopolitanism”. Inthe big city the spontaneous interaction ofdiverse people and peoples generates evernew cultural and economic possibilities.Londoners agree. Polls repeatedlyindicate that a majority think the diversecommunities of London make it a betterplace to live.London’s diversity is recognised as ahuge asset and not just something to beaccommodated, but the world-in-one-city character of London is untypical ofBritain as a whole. Even so today’s bottom-up Britishness is about bene
ting fromdiversity in a common home and Londonleads the way.
The British question (cont.)
By Christopher Bryant
The East London Mosque, one of the largest Islamic places of worship in Britain.
Photograph: public domain
”London’s successfulOlympic bid emphasisedthe city’s ethnic diversityand Londoners’contentment with it. The7/7 bombings, the dayafter the 2012 Olympicswere awarded to London,might have started theunravelling of London,but they did not.”
Chasing Britishness: a post-colonial project
By Vron Ware
Identity after Empire.
The concept of nationalidentity in crisis. Inspite of Gordon Brown’sbest efforts to breathelife into somethingcalled Britishness, thefact is that in this ageof economic collapse,climate change andglobal communication,governments canno more dictate anddescribe our collectiveidentities than controlthe weather.Bearing in mind theambivalence met byNew Labour’s projectto develop the conceptof Britishness as agoverning principle ofa new civic nationalism,it is worth raisingquestions about the relevance, substanceand validity of what is commonly termednational identity today.We are repeatedly told that young whiteBritons - particularly in England - are ata loss to explain what is distinctive abouttheir national culture, or more worrying,that they hold negative perceptions ofwhat it means to be white, English orBritish – a condition sometimes referredto as “identity fragility”. In response,the Britishness project launched by NewLabour aims to instil a sense of civicidentity through education, but there arefew signs that this has met with anythingother than ambivalence.Research indicates that many youngadults are overwhelmingly indifferentto the whole concept of national identityoutside the arena of competitive sport.Evidence also suggests that the conceptof global citizenship is increasinglyattractive to a generation at ease in avirtual world where activism, socialnetworking and entertainment have norespect for national borders. However,with the reappearanceof immigrationcontrol as a centralpolitical issue andthe election of the farright to the Europeanparliament, theBritishness agenda isin danger of taking ona depressingly insularand nationalist tone.A strident appeal toa nativist sense ofnational identity,premised on thequali
cations of beingwhite and indigenous,immediately becomes more alarming inthe context of a breakdown in trust formainstream political parties.Any initiative to address collective identity- whether through education, the arts,or political debate - must also addressracism as a fundamental issue for Britain’sfuture, as well as for Europe as a whole.This demands a trenchant reckoning withthe UK’s history as a former global power.The tortuous history of Britain’s imperialambitions, from the slave trade to theinvasion of Mesopotamia, means thatBritishness is a concept that travels withheavy global baggage. The consolidation ofempire meant that British values, dialects,social customs and laws were plantedin the fabric of daily life in colonies farand wide. This inevitably gave rise toa supranational, world-spanning diffusion ofAnglo-Saxon hubris whichtook root in many differentplaces.In order to considerBritishness from a post-colonial perspective Irecently embarked on a journey that took me toSouth Asia, Kenya andIreland to talk to youngpeople about the relevanceof national identity in theirown lives, and to ask them what Britainmight look like from their point of view.The currency of Britishness as a colonialconstruct was perhaps best demonstratedin Nairobi where I met a group of students,youth workers and journalists over twodays of intense discussion. We began bytaking it in turns to answer the question:which part of you is British?“Kenya itself is a British construct,” saidone, ruefully. “We can’t escape that aspect.Why are there so many expats here and somuch of our families over there?”“I was brought up in the British system,”said another, “so it’s hard to de
ne. Mostof what is me is British.”“For me, Britishness is the idea that theworld is shaped with you at the centre,”said a young woman from Cameroon,a country split in two by the distinctlegacies of British and French colonialrule. “It’s the feeling that you are betterthan anyone else. Even their version ofcolonialism is supposed to be better.” Shequickly pointed out that she was glad shedid not grow up in the French part.“The mentality of colonialism has affectedus like second hand smoke,” observedBinyavanga Wainaina, a writer who wasfacilitating the session. “I think we givetoo much credit to the imperialists though.It’s dif
cult to pinpoint what’s Britishand what’s western. The way we dressfor instance or having anindividualistic approach.The love of money, the factthat a lot of us even thinkin English. Is this Britishor American?”Later that day Binyavangamade another acutediagnosis: “The worst placein the world to be young isan old country where thereis no place for the young,”he said. He was talkingpartly from his ownexperience of living in the UK, where,as in other western European countries,the proportion of young to old people isthe inverse of that in most developingnations. Demographic data from 2005showed that 18% of the UK populationwere less than 15 years old, compared to43% in Kenya. In 2006 the median age inBritain in 2006 was forty, while in Kenyaand its neighbouring countries it was just18 years old.The views of young people growing upin countries not just shaped, but oftencreated, by Britain were frequentlycoloured by their palpable anger at theUK’s role in Iraq. This was often matchedby the rage and frustration at the state ofpolitics in their ownbackyards. Sharingin their conversationsabout identity as theytalked in urgent tonesabout their own, local,issues of inequality,exclusion, racism andbigotry, demonstratedthat it is possible toglimpse a rapidlyconverging globalgeneration able tothink beyond, as wellas within, the spaceof the postcolonialnation.
”Any initiative toaddress collectiveidentity [...] must alsoaddress racism as afundamental issuefor Britain’s future...This demands atrenchant reckoningwith the UK’s historyas a former globalpower.
Vron Ware is a Research Fellow inculture and citizen-ship at The OpenUniversity. Her booksinclude
Beyond thePale: white women,racism and history
(Verso, 1992) and
WhoCares About British-ness? A global view ofthe national identitydebate
(Arcadia, 2007). She is currentlyworking on a studyof the British Army’semployment of non-UK nationals.
The Kenya-Uganda railway near Mombasa, c. 1899. How do citizens in former Britishcolonies relate to the concept of Britishness?
Photograph: public domain
Unity in diversity
.National identity andthe notion of Britishnessare today among themost debated issuesin the British media.The debate picked upin earnest after the2001 riots in northernEngland, and the severaldisparaging reportsabout communitiesdivided along ethniclines which wereproduced thereafter.Despite this increasedfocus, however, the exactmeaning of Britishnessas a term remainsdisputed, although itseems clear that it restson the perception of anidentity which incorporates all the differentpeoples of the United Kingdom. Thequestion is whether such a common Britishnational identity can still be said to exist,following the impact on British society ofpost-war immigration, globalisation anddevolution. This article will highlight themulticultural dimension: does Britishnesshave a place and function in the modernmulticultural UK?The historian Linda Colley famouslyargued that following the 1707 Act ofUnion between England and Scotland,the British nation was essentiallycreated, or “forged”, out of four elements:
Protestantism, trade and Empire
war andmilitary service
intermarriage among thelanded classes
of England, Scotland, Walesand Ireland. These factors underpinning18th-century Britishness lost most oftheir importance after the Second WorldWar. Since then, Britishness has also metwith a new set of challenges, raising thequestion of whether a different kind ofidentity needs to be forged for the future.Devolution, championed by reinvigoratednationalist parties in Scotland and Wales,has formalised the view of a UK of fournations. Meanwhile, immigration andglobalisation have affected Britain withincreasing strength. During the last decade,this international dimension has beenconsolidated by technological changesfacilitating cross-border communicationand enabling ethnic minorities to beupdated on events in their native countryto a larger extent than before.Faced with the perceived disintegrationof Britain, some experts have argued thatthe policies of multiculturalism whichwere introduced in the 1960s to facilitatecohesion have, in fact, undermined theposition of Britishness as a commonidentity. Britain moved from toleratingethnic minorities, to more activelyappreciating their culture and existence.The education sector was particularlyin
uenced by this change of approach.A number of local education authorities(LEAs) introduced new reforms whichstated that all sections of the communityhad an equal right to maintain theirdistinctive identity, culture, language andtradition, thus emphasising diversity overcommon identity. Moreover, multiculturalpolicies also in
uenced governmentpolicies on health, housing, policing andcultural activities in a wide sense.Over the last few years, the debateabout national identity and Britishnesshas regained attention. Several leadingpoliticians and intellectualshave argued that Britainhas too often emphasisedwhat
people atthe expense of what
them. Moreover, it hasbeen claimed that policiesinitiated to address theincreased diversity insociety had led to furthersegregation and distrustbetween the communities.Trevor Phillips, head of theCommission for Equalitiesand Human Rights, arguedthat multiculturalism entailed separatenessand had created a situation where peoplewere sleepwalking into segregation.To overcome these problems Phillipssuggested jettisoning the policies ofmulticulturalism and instead emphasising“a core of Britishness”.A similar viewpoint has also been voicedby other central
gures, including JohnSentamu, Archbishop of York, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and most recently GordonBrown. Brown’s proposals included a“British day” to celebrate the nation’scultural values, as well as a campaign to“take the Union Jack back” from the far-right British National Party (BNP), andmake it again a symbol of unity. Bothinitiatives built on to the UK citizenshiptests and UK citizenship ceremonies fornew immigrants introduced under Brown’spredecessor Tony Blair.If there is agreement on the need to forgecohesion around a shared set of values,what should this manifestation of amodern British identity imply? In the viewof many researchers in the
eld, a commonBritish identity has to be de
ned in away that is inclusive and considerate ofethnic minority cultures, and this opinioncorresponds to the views emanating fromrecent polls. A MORI poll conducted in2002, for example, showed that the majorityof British people were in favour of de
ningBritishness in an inclusive manner. Almostnine in 10 said that being British is notabout being white and that attitudes andbehaviour were more important thanethnicity when de
ning Britishness.Several studies, including the report“Living Apart Together”, published bythe think tank Policy Exchange in 2007,support the
ndings in this particularMORI poll. Interestingly, the PolicyExchange report found that that whilethere is a growing religiosity amongstthe younger generation of Muslims, mostMuslims are well integrated and do notregard their religion as a barrier to beingBritish.These
ndings have come as anencouragement for those who believe itis possible to re-constructa national identitywithin the framework ofa cosmopolitan Britain.At the same time thereare those who assert thatBritishness might not bea suitable identity for allcitizens in the UK. Forinstance, the Commissionon the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired byBhikhu Parekh, arguedthat Britishness is unsuitedas a common identitybecause of its controversial past anddomination by the majority culture. TheCommission also stated that “Britishness,as much as Englishness, has systematic,largely unspoken, racial connotations”.In particular for Africans, Caribbeansand Asians, Britishness is a constantreminder of the unjust treatment ofcolonisation. A survey conducted by ICMin 2005 highlighted the central argumentput forward by the Commission, anddemonstrated that only 39 per cent ofethnic minorities saw themselves as “fullyBritish”.Finally, and returning to the age-old issueof Britishness as identity marker withinthe UK, the Commission also emphasisedits domination by quintessential southernEnglish values. As such, the identities ofpeople in Scotland, Wales, and a signi
cantpart of the population in Northern Irelandare not suf
ciently acknowledged.Given the multiplicity of views aroundidentity issues in Britain today, it is perhapsmore important than ever that a futureBritish identity is inclusive and based onmore than merely ethnic origins. None theless, ever since the treaty of union in 1707,Britishness has been a capacious conceptaccommodating a variety of national andcultural differences. Therefore, it is notunlikely that Britishness might adapt tothe demands of a multicultural society,and as such continue to encompass morethan one way of being British.
Britishness, multiculturalism and ethnicity
By Espen Kallevik
”In a MORI pollconducted in 2002almost nine in 10 saidthat being British isnot about being whiteand that attitudesand behaviour weremore important thanethnicity when de
Espen Kallevik is a former MA student at the Dept of Modern Foreign Languages, Norwegian University of Science and Technology(NTNU). His master thesis was entitled “Multiculturalism inBritain: An Analysis of Historiographical Perspectives and the Development of Multi-cultural Policies fromthe 1960s to the New Millennium”.
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