The Sketch: Britishness: a God-given right to muddle through

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The Independent Online

At the Lords debate on Britishness we had speeches from noble Afro-Brits, Indo-Brits, Islamo-Brits, Euro-Brits and even a couple of Anglo-Brits. We all have multiple identities these days. It's something to do with Gordon Brown's attempt to include himself in the "one of us" category at election time. It's working well so far, you notice.

Tory Lord Taylor gave us a series of propositions about Britishness. It's about "shaking hands, not shaking fists", and "building bridges, not walls" "pulling together, not pulling apart". These are the things politicians say. But is that what being British is about? Are our hooligans not British? What about our fox hunters? What about our fist-shaking, wall-building BNP? Whatever else they are, they're British.

Lord Parekh told us that there was no transcendental British essence and that identity was a political project. That sounds plausible, but nauseating. On Gordon's political definition, a Briton sounds very like a New Labour supporter.

It's an impossible subject for politicians. They have to produce a sanitary, health-and-safety definition of what it is to be British. In the half dozen speeches I heard, no one even mentioned the Queen. Too controversial.

As a country that's had very limited immigration for most of its history our experience of integrating foreigners has been on our – that is, English – terms. Rapid, mass immigration is new and it bewilders our intellectuals.

"Education is the answer,' it's often said. But as Baroness Cox related, that depends what's on the syllabus. In the 1970s she had to contend with crypto-Marxo-Brits whose idea of education was inculcating "shame, guilt and abhorrence" of British history. And that we are even now reaping the harvest of those days.

And bloody religious revolution can be a passion of highly educated people; it ain't the result of ignorance and poverty.

For once the Church of England has something useful to tell us. The Bishop of Norwich recommended the practice which is profoundly, possibly transcendentally, British: the concept of "muddling through". He said it was a practice on which "the Church of England has much to offer". Amen.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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