Gordon Brown: 'You must have a clear view about what being British means'

From a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a Fabian Society New Year Conference on 'The Future of Britishness', held in London
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The Independent Online

When we take time to stand back and reflect, it becomes clear that to address almost every one of the major challenges facing our country you must have a clear view of what being British means, what you value about being British, and what gives us purpose as a nation.

Take the most recent illustration of what challenges us to be more explicit about Britishness: the debate about asylum and immigration and about multiculturalism and inclusion, issues that are particularly potent because in a fast-changing world people who are insecure need to be rooted. Here the question is whether our national identity is defined by values we share in common or just by race and ethnicity - a definition that would leave our country at risk of relapsing into a wrongheaded "cricket test" of loyalty.

Equally, while the British response to the events of the 7th of July was magnificent, we have to face uncomfortable facts that there were British citizens, British born, apparently integrated into our communities, who were prepared to maim and kill fellow British citizens, irrespective of their religion - and this must lead us to ask how successful we have been in balancing the need for diversity with the obvious requirements of integration in our society.

What is the British equivalent of the US 4th of July, or even the French 14th of July for that matter? What I mean is: what is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for? And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in every garden?

And let us remember that when people on the centre-left recoiled from national symbols, the BNP tried to steal the Union Jack. Instead of the BNP using it as a symbol of racial division, the flag should be a symbol of unity, part of a modern expression of patriotism. So we should respond to the BNP by saying the Union flag is a flag for Britain, not for the BNP; all the United Kingdom should honour it, not ignore it; we should assert that the Union flag is, by definition, a flag for tolerance and inclusion.