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Tony Grist

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Britishness [Jun. 10th, 2007|10:17 am]
Tony Grist

I've been meaning to write about "Britishness" for weeks. It's an idea the politicians are pushing. And I just can't get my head round it.

For instance they'd like to establish a Bank Holiday to be known as Britain Day on which we all get to sit down and think about how jolly it is to be British.

It takes me back to school- not my real school but the fictitious Mr Chipsy public school most of us carry round in our heads. The politicians are the prefects and it's their job to drum up some of that good old school spirit thats been so sorely lacking of late. We've been behaving like duffers and we need to show how frightfully keen we are or.... or what?  Are they going to make us run round the lower field in full kit if we don't ?

Gordon Brown- our soon to be unelected dear leader- has been talking up the flag. He'd like us to get all pledge-of -alliegancy about it-  just like you Americans. 

(Which shows how out of touch he is with the public mood. I'm sorry, you guys, but American militarism isn't exactly flavour of the month right now)

And why does he want us saluting the flag? I guess because it would make his job easier. A tight knit body of rah-rah-rahing patriots is so much easier to boss around.

They're losing their grip- the politicians are- and they're panicking.

Britishness is a modern invention. It dates from the yoking together of the kingdoms of England and Scotland by Act of Union in 1707. The Union was  a useful and at times popular creation that enabled us to run an empire and fight world wars but now it's falling apart.  I don't know why exactly but it's clearly part of a worldwide trend and too deep to be rectified by political speechifying. Large political units are breaking up into their constituent parts all over the globe.  Goodbye European empires, goodbye USSSR, goodbye Yugoslavia, goodbye Iraq....

Thankfully we Brits are experiencing it as a peaceful process.

So what is Britishness? I don't know. I think of redcoat soldiers- some of them in skirts- fighting the paynim. Not very helpful or contemporary. What else do we all have in common?  Erm.....

I'm English. When I go to Scotland I feel like I'm crossing into a foreign country- as foreign as France or the USA. The politics are different, the culture is different, the religion is different, the food is different, the geography and climate and architecture are different.  And that's clearly how the Scots see things too. They're the junior partner in the Union and chippy about it. They just had an election which put the Nationalists in power in Edinburgh- leaving the Scottish Labour MPs in Westminster (including the soon to be unelected dear leader- no wonder he's anxious) looking rawly exposed and faintly illegitimate.

I don't know what the future holds, but I know a worn-out idea when I see one and Britishness has flies buzzing all round it.


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[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-06-10 11:36 am (UTC)
I agree with most of what you say - and I live in Wales, which you haven't mentioned, so perhaps fogot about.
On the other hand, I know quite a number of English 30 + people who don't agree with us, and have applied for US or Australian nationality, because they feel that we've lost something in the way of "allegiance to the flag".
So this might get him some support.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-10 11:43 am (UTC)
I left Wales out of the equation because the relationship between Wales and England is so much less clear cut. Wales was never a kingdom the way England and Scotland were/are. Would a separate Wales be a viable nation the way Scotland so clearly would? I just don't know.

So basically I'm pleading ignorance here.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-10 01:13 pm (UTC)
There's shared history, too, I suppose- which includes in the case of the English and the Scots long centuries of emnity.

I think small nations are a good idea- on the principle that the more local a government is the more answerable it is to its people- but I would also like to see the small nations "glued" into much larger confederations.

My choice for my own country would be for the UK to be dissolved, but for its constituent nations to be fully integrated members of a federal Europe.
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2007-06-10 01:35 pm (UTC)
Whatever 'Britishness' is, I'm sure it doesn't involve having a national day. Tea, cricket, steam engines, and world maps coloured pink, with a glorious permanence of nostalgia and, like Bagpuss, a bit frayed at the seams - that's Britishness, isn't it?

I find it difficult to distinguish it from 'Englishness': to me, they are de facto the same, but I guess that's because 'Britain' (the UK) is effectively a takeover by England of the rest (more or less) of the British Isles.

Brown seems to have a thing for 'Britishness': I presume it serves two purposes - to attack the prospect of Scottish independence (which would make his premiership untenable) and to keep the Tories (more or less the English National Party, whatever Cameron might say) at bay.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-10 02:56 pm (UTC)
None of the traditional icons of Britishness really connects with who we are today. Modern Britain is urban, post-imperial, multicultural- a nation in transition. I don't think we honestly know who or what we are- and I'm not sure it matters.

Gordon Brown can go boil his head.

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[User Picture]From: happydog
2007-06-10 09:30 pm (UTC)
Rule Brittania is out of bounds/To my mother, my dog and clowns...

When I think of Britishness I inevitably think of music, because a lot of British music has had a serious impact on me, and I really very often think of Ray Davies, "Village Green Preservation Society" and "Arthur: Or, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire." Is that exceptionally lame of me?
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[User Picture]From: currawong
2007-06-11 04:07 am (UTC)
I never think of anyone as British ... I see them as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. I think they should have their own governments and form a loose association like The Commonwealth. i think that in exchange for constitutional guarantees for the protestant minority, northern ireland should be handed over to Ireland and England should cut and run and let the Irish sort it out.
Of course, her Maj will be a problem ..." ...but I was crained Queen of the United Kingdom, Phillip ...what will happin to the Hice of Windsor? ...it's the thin edge of the wedge"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 09:03 am (UTC)
I guess we'd revert to things as they were before the Act of Union. From James I to Queen Anne we had two separate kingdoms under one monarch- it seemed to work out all right.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2007-06-11 05:04 am (UTC)

Shades of 1966

I first went to Britain in 1966.

There was an upsurge of tongue-in-cheek patriotism, and the Union Jack was on everything, from loo seats to tea towels. In the Daily Mirror, "The Perishers" were "Backing Britain". American publications were writing about "Swinging London" and Carnaby Street was the fashion centre of the universe. George, not Gordon, was the Brown in the news, number two to Harold Wilson, but never got the boss's job.

England won the World Cup, but it was celebrated as a British victory. I sewed a Welsh flag on my sleeve, because I regarded the Welsh as an oppressed and downtrodden people, but it was countrercultural and regarded by my English acquaintances as being in bad taste.

Our politicians and businessmen here are trying to stir up similar sentiments with a "Proudly South African" campaign.

But in Britain, how things have changed.

One rarely sees a a Union Jack nowadays. English, and Scottish flags must sell better individually than all the sales of Union Jacks combined. But even back then, it was tongue in cheek. Twenty years later, I visited the US of A, and saw hundreds of suburban houses with flagpoles in the gardens. They would never put it on a toilet seat.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 09:10 am (UTC)

Re: Shades of 1966

I remember '66....

Back then we used "British" and English" as synonyms. The Scots and the Welsh found it annoying, but it hadn't yet dawned on the English that there was anything offensive about it.

It's remarkable how the Cross of St George has replaced the Union Jack on English streets. It seems to have happened almost overnight. We passed a funeral yesterday and the coffin was draped in the Union flag (I guess the deceased was a soldier) but all the following cars were flying the Cross of St George.

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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2007-06-11 08:15 pm (UTC)
Exceptional analysis of what's going on right now. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-12 09:05 am (UTC)
The more I think about it, the more I'd like to consign Great Britain to the historical dust heap.

My geo-political identity is British, but my emotional identity is English.
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[User Picture]From: mokie
2007-06-11 11:06 pm (UTC)
I'm all for it! I hereby recommend celebrating Britain Day in September, so that America can have a proper two month break between its nationalistic binges.

Green beer for St. Patrick's day in March, Dos Equis for Cinco de Mayo, non-Czech Budweiser for our own Independence Day in July--September would work out perfectly!

Of course, we'd have to invent tea-flavored beer...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-12 09:09 am (UTC)
Tea-flavoured beer?

No need- all you'd have to do is import some proper English beer- much nicer than that watery stuff you drink- like Theakston's Old Peculiar or Old Speckled Hen.
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