David Blunkett: Let us draw inspiration from Britain's radical past

From a speech by the former Home Secretary to the Institute for Public Policy Research
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The Independent Online

The decision by Parliament to ban fox-hunting was followed by cries of "Goodbye England". Why are we wedded to such a conservative national story which feels unconfident and insecure about change? A closer reading of English history reveals a much more radical and passionate past.

The scale and pace of change in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries - in the era of Charles I, the Glorious Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and franchise reform - do not suggest we are averse to change. On the contrary, they show our restless, pioneering tradition.

History shows that the English have something profound to offer when it comes to nationalism. During the "Springtime of Nations" in the 19th century, when European nationalism was on the rise and exclusively defined, the English, in building Great Britain and the British Empire, were instead constructing an inclusive identity, and a common sense of citizenship, that was outward not inward looking.

The Little England view is precisely that, little. It forgets the larger, adventurous, trading and international spirit of the English. We are an island people who have gone out into the world to learn and explore.

The important thing that this teaches us is that we need to debate and discuss the English national story. It isn't a closed book. As I referred to above, the citizenship education, tests and ceremonies I introduced as Home Secretary will spark this debate for new immigrants, while citizenship education I introduced as Education Secretary will do so in the school curriculum.

Englishness can be experienced, asserted and celebrated in the fabric of our existence as a community: in our habits, casts of mind, the culture that we daily create and re-create. We can find it in our traditions of fairness and civic duty, and in our spirit of imagination and invention.

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