Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

25 October 2009

The rise of the BNP is a consequence of New Labour’s de-anglicisation of Britain

The liberal political establishment and the British National Party uphold two opposing visions of Britain as a nation. The former, as typified by New Labour’s approach in government, involves the systematic stripping out from (Great) Britain of its traditional national core: England. The BNP’s conception of Britain, on the other hand, is actually closer to one of the traditional models of the UK as a nation composed of four constituent countries, of which England is the heartland. The BNP is careful not to perpetuate the old Anglo-British conflation of England and (Great) Britain, and emphasises the fact that Britain is made up of four distinct countries with their own cultures, histories and identities. But it still regards ‘Britain’ as a unified nation formed from the co-existence and interplay of the four countries. And, by very virtue of maintaining such a conception of Britain as a nation, the BNP articulates a traditionally English and England-centric view of the UK-as-Britain, in which the identities of England and Britain overlap and merge to a considerable degree.

By contrast, New Labour’s de-anglicisation of Britain – its creation of a ‘New Britain’ shorn of any reference to its foundations in English identity and traditions – has been a necessary precondition for re-casting Britain as a multi-national and multi-cultural nation-state. This is something of a paradoxical project: at once the attempt to craft a new identity for Britain-as-a-nation and, at the same time, the working out of a vision of Britain as a sort of ‘supra-nation’ – a nation-state formed from the confluence and melting together of virtually all of the nations of the world as a sort of macrocosm of the new internationalism and globalisation. But these two apparently contradictory goals have a common basis in the would-be eradication of England as the mono-cultural and unifying national core of the traditional Britain. Strip out the foundation of Britain’s identity in the unitary national identity and cultural traditions of England, and you can then shape a new national identity for Britain as the unique place of a convergence of multiple national and cultural traditions.

Putting it this way provides a new dimension to our understanding of New Labour’s systematic attempts to suppress English identity and nationhood. We, or at least I, tend to think of this within a very domestic British framework: how the liberal establishment has tried to re-work traditional language and symbols through which the structure and values of the British state are articulated. However, it seems we should now view New Labour’s attempt to abolish England as being just as integrally connected with the multi-cultural project as with devolution and the dispossessing of England from its traditional ‘ownership’ of the British project and identity. It is now emerging that the New Labour government opened the door to mass immigration with the deliberate aim of making Britain more multi-cultural, i.e. less English. Indeed, the two trends – ‘multi-culturalisation’ and de-anglicisation – are so interdependent that the very term ‘multi-cultural Britain’ should really carry the tag ‘formerly known as England’, because it is primarily England that is being referred under the heading of ‘multi-cultural Britain’. This is not just because England has absorbed a disproportionate volume of mass immigration but because ‘Britain’ has become the new name for England itself: once you’ve removed England as the core of Britain, then the only language with which you can refer to England is the language of ‘Britain’. This is ironic, because then you’re still left with a distorted version of anglo-centric Britain in that the core identity of Britain remains the territory and people of England (now known as ‘Britain’); and that ‘England’ becomes the nation of Britain from which the ‘other nations’ (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) are semi-differentiated. Be that as it may, when the term ‘multi-cultural Britain’ is used, that very term is an example of the attempt to destroy a distinct, unitary English identity that New Labour’s British project has perpetrated, because it mainly refers to England alone while suppressing that very reference.

The BNP’s charge that the New Labour government has committed, or is committing, ‘genocide’ against ‘the British people’ by encouraging mass immigration has some foundation in truth, but not in a literal sense: New Labour has used mass immigration not so much to wipe out the ‘indigenous population’ of Britain but to destroy its traditional grounding in English culture, nationhood and history. This is erasing a nation’s culture and identity rather than wiping out its physical population; and it’s the erasure of the traditional culture of Britain in the sense that this was centred on English identity and traditions.

In this sense, despite the fact that the BNP does not advocate the establishment of a separate government and parliament (let alone state) for England, and the fact that it refers to the primary ‘nation’ of the UK as ‘Britain’ rather than seeing each of the nations and would-be nations (e.g. Cornwall) of the UK as sovereign entities in their own right, the BNP’s message speaks powerfully to English people’s sense that New Labour has profoundly betrayed them. This is not just because England has borne the brunt of mass immigration, with all the difficult changes and social problems that brings, but because Labour has deliberately turned its back on the very idea that there is a core British population and cultural identity: that of England. New Labour has not only abandoned its ‘core vote’ in the white working class of England, but it has rejected, despised and suppressed England itself. And until Labour, and indeed the whole liberal political class, starts to focus on the needs and concerns of English people as English people – and not merely as citizens of a multi-cultural Britain in which ‘England’ has no particular rights or claim for special treatment – then the BNP’s message will continue to attract many of those in England who quite rightly feel Labour has given them up to mass immigration and dispossessed them of their country.

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9 Comments »

  1. Interesting that you mention Cornwall – a referendum is long overdue there.

    What do you think of claims being made in the Shetland Islands that they are not Scottish/British? –

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_north_sea_oil_owned_by_the_shetland_islands

    I would be very interested to read your views on this as the situation seems somewhat similar to the “Cornwall – country or county?” issue this side of the border.

    Comment by Maria — 25 October 2009 @ 1.34 pm | Reply

    • Hi, Maria. Sorry for the delay in replying. I was aware there was ambiguity about the Shetland’s (and Orkney’s) constitutional status but needed to look into it. Having done so, it does seem that the islands should really be regarded as Crown dependencies held on trust for the Danish state. I guess they should hold a referendum there, too, to see if the people want to belong to Scotland, Denmark, Norway, become an official Crown dependency or be independent; and then the whole thing should be ratified by an international treaty with Denmark and Norway. But I can’t see anything happening till the oil runs out! Given that, in a recent poll, Norway emerged as the best place to live throughout the world, perhaps they’d be better off voting to become Norwegians!

      Comment by David — 27 October 2009 @ 3.13 am | Reply

  2. …but because Labour has deliberately turned its back on the very idea that there is a core British population and cultural identity: that of England. New Labour has not only abandoned its ‘core vote’ in the white working class of England, but it has rejected, despised and suppressed England itself.

    Oddly enough given the fact that Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State for Scotland and Iain Gray the Labour MSP goup leader in Holyrood literally wrapped themselves in a Saltire at the last Labour Conference for a photoshoot the Labour party also has rejected, despised and suppressed Scotland as anything more than a regional British identity. Any move to link that regional identity with a national or political identity has been fought fiercely.

    In Scotland as in England the Labour party has always regarded the only true nation as Britain and the disdainful treatment that England is getting now is one that Scotland has received for years. The only reason that Labour displays so many symbols of Scottishness in Scotland is that it is under direct threat from the SNP and the reason that it refuses to display obvious symbols of Englishness is just the same, it is under threat from the SNP and it wants to be seen as inclusively British not as an English party. I say obvious symbols because the adoption of the “Red Rose” as a party logo was a direct play for English votes. It could be passed off as the rose of socialism if Tony Blair kept a straight face but the Britishness of Labour in Scotland was obvious by the fact they accepted the English symbol of the rose as a British party symbol without a murmur.

    The philosophy of all the UK parties is the same. Scotland, Wales and NI are devolved from the unitary state of Britain. Once you devolve Scotland, Wales and NI from Britain all you’ve got left is England but to recognise it as England not as Britain is to recognise the four-nation make up of the UK and then the idea of three devolved, “Celtic provinces of a unitary Britain”, falls flat.

    One interesting point is that in Scotland all the UK parties are fiercely unionist, Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem. Though the differences between them are now small the Left, the Right and the Centre are all unanimous in their British identity and dislike of an independent Scotland. One might have thought that the parties on differing political wings would have had different views on Scottish independence but from a Scottish perspective they can simply be viewed not as separate parties but as unionist factions.

    Why is this important and how does it link back to your article? It means that all three parties have always bought into the idea of Britain as one nation not a union of four nations. Their loyalties are not to England, or to Scotland or to Wales or to NI as four nations in a union but to Britain as a unitary state. If that means fighting the SNP in Scotland as a three party grouping or ditching “England” as an identity in favour of “Britain” then they are quite happy to do that.

    It’s not just Labour who want to see England and the other UK identities subsumed into Britishness.

    Comment by DougtheDug — 25 October 2009 @ 1.48 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting angle but hard to find fault with.

    Comment by jameshigham — 28 October 2009 @ 2.53 pm | Reply

  4. At the risk of sounding obsessive have you looked at Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s ‘Imagining New Britain’?

    Having fallen out with New Labour over Iraq she’s been adopted by the Lib Dems but her vision remains very much the New Labour “multi-national and multi-cultural nation state” you describe. She disapproves of the ‘disengaged tribal Scots, English and Welsh’. I wonder whether anyone pointed out to her that the Lib Dems organise on ‘tribal’ lines!

    Comment by Hendre — 29 October 2009 @ 10.31 am | Reply

    • Yes, I have looked at YAB’s essay, which I thought rather incoherent and contradictory, and does exemplify New Labour multi-cultural Britology, as you say. I think it was presented at a fringe meeting, so not directly affiliated with official party policy. But don’t the Lib Dems organise on ‘asymmetric-devolutionary’ lines: Scottish, Welsh and ‘British’?

      Comment by David — 29 October 2009 @ 12.53 pm | Reply

  5. Semi-tribal then! I appreciate that it was a paper prepared at the request of Nick Clegg rather than an official party document but I think the choice of such a metropolitan-centric commentator was quite revealing. In her columns and in other contributions YAB has on a number of occasions tried to ‘wish away’ elective devolution and the cultural differences between the Welsh, English and Scots. I’m not sure what Clegg expected she would come up with in terms of a vision for post-devolution Britain. I notice Anthony Barnett over on Our Kingdom seems to have some reservations about Clegg’s appetite for constitutional reform.

    Comment by Hendre — 29 October 2009 @ 2.38 pm | Reply

    • Clegg equally seems totally incapable of acknowledging England or England-specific policies: didn’t mention the nasty ‘E’ word once in his conference keynote speech, despite enunciating several England-only policies. He’s definitely a British-establishment figure: Westminster School, and Westminster through and through.

      Comment by David — 29 October 2009 @ 10.51 pm | Reply

  6. IMHO what goes hand in hand with the multi-national and multi-cultural nation state is a meritocratic vision of Britains future. Its quite sad that only the BNP and other nationalist parties can be seen to offer any vision of the future where an individuals interests are secondary to the interests of wider society. Whatever happened to the real Left in British politics?

    Comment by Richard — 17 November 2009 @ 11.02 pm | Reply


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