Leading Article: Ask a silly question

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The Independent Culture
THE ORGANISERS of the National Identity Zone for the Millennium Dome at Greenwich had a problem: precisely what in the world is our British identity? Inevitably, they sought to answer it in typical Nineties fashion - by consulting a focus group. The twist is that their focus group was a rather large one, consisting of 30,000 people. These monitors of our times were asked to name a "person or a thing" which, in their considered view, represented Britishness.

The 50 chosen people are a predictably daft assortment, whatever their merits when individually considered. Lulu, for example, is a fine singer and no doubt a typical representative of a joyously vulgar streak in the nation's psyche, but she sits oddly with the mathematician Alan Turing.

The 50 things are, on the whole, charming: from the milkman, through the traditional fry-up, to - in a nice, self-referential, postmodern touch - the Dome itself. But they, like the iconic people, have been chosen with little thought to their millennial significance. After all, the vast majority of the people born on these islands since the year 1000 will never have heard of any of these mostly modern people and things. But then, this lack of a sense of history is truly typical of Britishness today.