Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The PM is wrong about what makes Britain great


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The Independent Online

I must be a pest again on the subject of David Cameron and his campaign, inviting people around the world to come visit, study, work and invest in "Great" Britain because it has heritage, green grass, businessmen, shoe shops, viaducts, music festivals, unlike all those other un-great nations on earth. With posters and postcards symbolising all these, the Tories aim to clean away memories of the recent riots and the PM's own dystopic admonitions. The esteemed American journalist Stryker McGuire points out Cameron's "unfortunate duplicity" when he talks about "broken" Britain at home and "great" Britain abroad.

It's hard to believe that Cameron was once a director of communications of a media conglomerate. His campaign is feeble, unpersuasive, culturally illiterate, inconsistent, fraudulent and fails utterly to reflect the shape and soul of our nation, which like all others has a mixed story to tell. Shameful things have been done and are done in its name, and yet Britain's many aspects and achievements are hugely admired.

An astoundingly backward selection of images have been picked. Scan this panorama and there are no women, though one poster does feature a killingly-high stiletto shoe. Just as scandalous is the total absence of the racial and cultural mix that defines London, our extraordinary metropolis. I lie. The prosthetic arm, representing innovation, is shiny black, a careless slip perhaps. We would never have won the Olympics with such a mendacious, whitewashed sales pitch. That bid celebrated our energetic and multifarious land. Should our athletes and players of colour choose to boycott the British team, the number of British medals wouldn't fill a Smythson's business card wallet designed by the fragrant Samantha Cameron. In spite of racism, this nation has always been open to change, that is the secret of its success. We migrants have been part of that edgy and unfixed culture and beneficiaries too of long-settled constitutional entitlements. Britain, uniquely, gave incomers the vote as soon as they arrived. We have rights and freedoms we never had in our old countries, not even when they were under the British.

The struggle to keep those alive is unending. I spoke at a fringe meeting organised by Liberty at the Liberal Democrat conference. Chaired by the brilliant Shami Chakrabarti (the daughter of immigrants), the meeting was about defending the Human Rights Act, hated by the Tories who want to replace it with a more limited bill of rights. The room was packed with activists who understand that human rights are sacred and belong to the good, bad and ugly, the deserving and undeserving. Remember it was Churchill who instigated and pushed for the European Convention on Human Rights. That was Britain being great. Cameron's PR stunt is not. It only grates.