Straw attacks 'unpatriotic' left

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, made a scathing attack yesterday on those on the political left who have "turned their backs on the concept of patriotism". He was responding to the publication of a report that criticised traditional concepts of Britishness.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, made a scathing attack yesterday on those on the political left who have "turned their backs on the concept of patriotism". He was responding to the publication of a report that criticised traditional concepts of Britishness.

In an outspoken speech to an audience comprised mainly of leading figures from Britain's ethnic minority communities, Mr Straw said the Government was "standing up for Britain and for British values".

Speaking at the publication of a controversial report, The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, the Home Secretary turned on the document's authors in an effort to distance himself from their findings. Right-wing commentators had attempted to link the report to government thinking and claimed the Home Secretary was seeking to "rewrite British history".

The report argued that the term "Britishness" was "racially coded" and reminded blacks and Asians "of colonisation and empire". It said: "Britishness, as much as Englishness, has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations. Whiteness nowhere features as an explicit condition of being British, but it is widely understood that Englishness, and therefore by extension Britishness, is racially coded." The report also claimed that Britain's "national story" and image were distorted and "southern-England centred" and needed to be "jettisoned, revised or reworked".

Mr Straw was furious after sections of the right-wing press attempted to link him directly with the report, which was written by a commission chosen by the race charity, the Runnymede Trust, and claimed that "Straw wants to rewrite our history".

The Government had been expected broadly to welcome the document's contribution to the race debate but sources close to the Home Secretary said he had torn up his original speech after reading the report and deciding it was "intellectually incoherent". Instead, he attacked the liberal left and the nationalist right for promoting the concept that "Britain as a cohesive whole is dead".

Mr Straw said his task in melding an inclusive society had been hampered by the way left-wingers had abandoned the field of patriotism to the far right.

The Home Secretary quoted George Orwell's observation that those in left-wing circles found there "something slightly disgraceful" in being English and sniggered at its institutions "from horse racing to suet pudding". Mr Straw said: "Given the tendency of some on the left to wash their hands of the whole notion of nationhood it's perhaps not surprising that some people's perception of Englishness and Britishness became a narrow, exclusionary, conservative one."

The Home Secretary's comments provoked an angry response from sections of the audience. Gus John, a professor of education at Strathclyde University, told Mr Straw he was "disappointed" by his comments and remarked that Asian children had been attacked during the Gulf War because they were not seen as British.

But earlier the commission's chair, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a professor at the University of Hull, attempted to address criticisms of the report by saying that "Britishness" should not be abandoned but redefined. "It does not imply that Britishness is not a cohesive force, far from it," he said. "All we are saying is that the history of this country continues to evolve in countless different ways."

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