Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

14 July 2011

Britishness may be about pop and fish ‘n chips – but it’s not about to discuss Englishness

I wrote a comment yesterday on an interesting ‘Labour Hame’ article entitled ‘Britishness is about pop and fish ‘n chips’, which argued that there are many aspects of Britishness that are about a shared national culture that we would miss if the UK was broken up by Scottish independence. The comment lingered in the ‘awaiting moderation’ holding bay for a few hours then disappeared: presumably, deemed unsuitable.

Well, it’s nice to see that Labour has a new spirit of openness towards engaging with the English Question! Ironic that ‘moderation’ was one of the qualities that the article touted for Britishness, and which my comment reclaimed in part for Englishness! I don’t think my comment was that immoderate or objectionable, but judge for yourself below (lucky I kept a copy):

The definitions and evocations of Britishness in the Newsnight programme are nothing new. In fact, the New Labour governments tried to cultivate a sense of Britishness around precisely the values you list, which are in reality mostly English values (fair play, moderation, tolerance etc.).

Your argument is inconsistent in that you say that Gordon Brown’s Britishness crusade failed because it was linked to national (political) institutions and achievements, which implies that these things no longer hold as much sway or appear as relevant as they once did; and you also maintain that the principal ‘case’ for the Union is embodied in the cultural characteristics and expressions we share.

Accordingly, there’s no reason why we can’t retain all those cultural attributes of Britishness while dismantling the political Union and giving expression to the aspirations towards self-government in each of the UK’s nations – as expressed in the figure from the BBC / ComRes poll that Newsnight conveniently chose to ignore: that 36% of English people now favour independence (independence, let alone an English parliament, which a majority supports) for England, not Scotland.

By contrast, the relentless efforts by the media and political establishment to promote Britishness are intended, among other things, to suppress English-national identity and culture as something distinct from Britishness – the better to try and suppress any civic and political expression of Englishness such as an English parliament.

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1 Comment »

  1. Great article, David! I am never particularly supportive of so-called ‘national values’: if you claim that tolerance, moderation, fair play are English values then does that suggest that other countries: Welsh, Scottish, American, French are intolerant, extremist and have no sense of fair play. I find that very hard to believe – some critics would point out the English Democrats, the English Defence League, imperialism, racism in England as very strong evidence of intolerance and unfair play. Have you read the Daily Mail recently, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph, what about the News of the World hacking – the media based in London has very little evidence of tolerance or fairplay to immigrants coming to England. Every nation likes to claim some characteristics that represent themselves and not surprisingly these are always positive and based very much on wishful thinking, and usually just shows the hypocrisy of the nation in question.

    Comment by Alex — 16 July 2011 @ 9.24 am | Reply


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