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  • Why we need a sense of Britishness


    by Sunny
    16th May, 2006 at 2:59 pm    

    It is not a new debate but the origins of the current round of ‘Let’s Be British’ initiatives must surely lie with Gordon Brown’s speech earlier this year.

    In response he was scorned, derided, and even supported. Yesterday it started all over again, with responses asking what these ‘core British values’ actually were.

    Please, stop it! These debates are framed so badly that they invite ridicule amongst even the most liberal of ethnic minorities. Let’s start from the beginning.

    Yes, we need a stronger, shared sense of British identity. But the real question is, why? I’ll answer that by first listing those who may be opposed to this idea for different reasons.

    1) Faith-based ‘community leaders’. Many state a sense of nationality or even belonging is not important. Or they make a bizarre reference to the Iraq war as an example of ‘why we cannot be British’. This is primarily because they prefer to perpetuate a victim mentality that strengthens their own powerbase and ensures their flock stay loyal to them.

    2) Race-related commentators. By continually stating that ethnic minorities cannot be British while there is endemic racism they also prefer to perpetuate a victim mentality. They prefer their services are continually used for dealing with racism or they would be out of a job.

    3) Some lefties. They see ethnic minorities as ‘exotic people’ who, while being perfectly nice and agreeable, are completely different to them. Like their food and music but have never invited anyone non-white home for dinner.

    4) Some on the right. They see race or a particular rabid form of patriotism as intrinsically tied with Britishness, and could thus never accept anyone from an ethnic minority as being British.

    Attempts to instill a sense of Britishness based on ‘core values’ or ‘shared British culture’ are doomed to failure and can easily be dismissed. For a start it is amusing the Chancellor believes that Britons are the only people who believe in a sense of fairness, liberty and tolerance. Secondly, British culture is not only impossible to pin down and characterise, but constantly changing.

    As I have said before, British ethnic minorities not only enjoy multiple faceted identities, they also do not enjoy being told how to live. So how do we square this circle?

    Following the July bombings last year I was invited to various discussions on Britishness and multi-culturalism. At one such event an 18 year-old youth, of Somalian origin I believe, approached me and asked how he could possibly see himself as British when the country was busy dropping bombs on fellow Muslims.

    I countered that if he disagreed with foreign policy then he should get his voice heard by joining the civil service, becoming a journalist or running for parliament. I was surprised that no one seemed to have suggested this to him before.

    But this isn’t just about foreign policy. I constantly get asked by first generation Asians and their British-born offspring how can they see themselves as British when they face so much racism. I always reply that taking citizenship advice from BNP supporters is not a good idea.

    So here is my vision. This new sense of Britishness, if our aim is to form a common thread, has to be based on empowerment. It has to be about a message that says everyone has an equal part to play in improving society or making their voice heard.

    It cannot be about putting people into segregated groups. It cannot be about letting ‘community leaders’ perpetuate that sense of victimhood. It cannot be about ethnic minorities being seen but not heard. It has to be about an honest discussion of racism on all sides and dealing with this mindset. It has to be about identifying the enemies of the coming revolution, as I have done above, and dealing with them.

    This is also about the way discussion is framed and what words are used. At a debate I attended today, a Muslim audience member used the words: “Muslims and the host community”. Host? This is our country too!

    To put it more bluntly, a Briton who feels he belongs to a country without questions of loyalty, and can find avenues to make his voice heard, is much less likely to blow himself up in anger.

    This psychological barrier of ‘us and them’ needs to be broken down, for whites and non-whites. A recent poll found that 32% of people agreed with or were unsure whether non-white people were inherently ‘less British’.

    But as the brilliant Stephen Colbert recently told President Bush: “… guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality’. … Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it’s 2/3 empty. There’s still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn’t drink it. The last third is usually backwash.”

    [cross-posted on CIF]


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    65 Comments below   |  

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    1. raz — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:10 pm  

      OT, but Ayan Ali Hirsi has been exposed as a fraud (she made up the whole forced marriage thing) and is leaving the Netherlands before she is stripped of citizenship. LOLZ.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4986418.stm

    2. leon — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:20 pm  

      Hmmmmmmmmm….you beat me too it Sunny. I was mulling over writing about this but just couldn’t decide on which point to angle my focus on.

      Regarding a sense of Britishness; I’m not sure anymore if it’s possible. Doesn’t devolution undermine the idea? How can we have a sense of Britishness when we’re not a nation (Britain is a United Kingdom of nations…), what is a sense of national character in a globalised age and how will it survive?

      These are all questions that immediately spring to mind every time this debate arises.

    3. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:27 pm  

      your points are good and i agree there is a problem. you’re also right to state that culture is continually changing and hard to pin down.

      and you’re absolutely spot on when you say this is about “This psychological barrier of ‘us and them’ needs to be broken down, for whites and non-whites.”

    4. SajiniW — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:29 pm  

      Whilst Britain has always been a nation of immigrants, it’s only in the last 150 years or so that different religions and visibly different people have gained a foothold.

    5. JohnJo — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:30 pm  

      Quite, devolution. There is a 5th type on the list. Those of us that think the whole idea is off to a very bad start and oppose it because it (whatever it might be) will not be taught across Britain but will, instead, be taught only in Schools across England as mandated by the British Government.

    6. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 3:49 pm  

      johnjo - i like your lord salisbury quote

    7. Roger — on 16th May, 2006 at 4:03 pm  

      Is conscious patriotism and national identication worth very much? a friend once said that people who said they were proud to be British were like people who said they were proud to be honest- it made their hoensty or their patriotism less believable than if they’d said nothing.

    8. Jay Singh — on 16th May, 2006 at 4:06 pm  

      Spot on Sunny.

    9. Nyrone — on 16th May, 2006 at 4:40 pm  

      OMG!! How on Earth did Stephen Colbert get away with those comments??? Right to his face, in the Lion’s den? I think I see why this was not reported in the mainstream press, it rips up his adminstration in front of his face! The genius of satire.
      I wish I was there.

    10. El Cid — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:07 pm  

      I regard myself as British, British-Spanish, but British all the same. I would struggle in an England-Spain game, but only because people in the pub would constantly be referring to Spanish bastards or spics and the like, so the bolshie contrarian in me would probably turn. I have very close friends who genuinely struggle to use “we” whenever we discuss the England football team, and yet are as British as a cup of tea and slice of Jamaican ginger cake — and they know it too.
      It’s complicated. But, as I said, I see myself as British. Would be stupid not to.

    11. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:16 pm  

      raz - the poor thing. she’s got to go and find somewhere else to go live now - its not very nice for her.

    12. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:20 pm  

      I am afraid when ever this subject is raised

      ‘core British values’ the human desire to differentiate always kicks in - and the word ‘unique’ is always subconsciously added and positively added by the media, so everyone scrabbles around trying to think of “core ‘uniquely’ British values”. People naturally want to define themselves by contrasting themselves from others visa vi the French, USA, Arabs Jews etc etc. Its just a waste of time looking for the unique values and even more so for the British and its constituant nations, because the world has for 250years been thoroughly dominated by British thought and way of doing things that it is mostly taken for granted in our minds. We now think of the US as a superpower, but relatively speaking Victorian Britain’s impact on the world was far more dominant and complete than anything the US achieves now.

      We should rather try draw a Venn diagram of the cultures and values here in the UK and reach a consensious about the values from differnt cultures that overlap and then reject the ones on the fringes. I am sure that the Venn diagram will consists of numerous circles which all pretty much centre on each other so that there will only be a few slivers of values and practices that should not be maintained within this country.

      Justforfun

    13. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:22 pm  

      Roger has a good point. this issue isn’t simple. id say personally that obviously everyone should feel able to be as individually different without being made to feel like an ‘alien’ for being different. the social context this debate resides within is the standard traditional notioin of identity as fixed and singular. the main thing is for individuals to have their own sense of belonging ( to a nation-state in this instance)and the confidence to ‘belong’ even if you appear different to whatever is considered the ‘mainstream’. rather than an abstract notion of ‘british’ which is ‘held up’ - the problem with the latter is then other people can turn around and say ah but you don’t conform to the idea of britishness as held by moi and my little coterie. which at some level will always be around, hence the importance of individuals to feel that they do belong and aren’t excluded.

    14. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:23 pm  

      typo..i meant notion..

    15. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:27 pm  

      so i guess its about looking at ways to encourage people to feel ‘one’ whilst simultaneously indicating that this doesn’t equate with ‘homogeneity’. i always think this is the crux of the matter.

      ive long been a fan of the unity in diversity idea ( :-) ) though i personally use the globe as my unit.

    16. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:32 pm  

      El cid - why the reticence to be English, rather than British. I ask because since Scottish and Welsh devolution I have been thinking of myself as less British and more and more English. I can’t pass for a Scot or Welsh I don’t live in either nor have the accent ;- nor possibly (just to stir things up the victim mentality :-) ).

      Or do you subscribe to the Alibhai Brown idea that ‘British’ is the natural identifier for immigrants so as to prolong divisions and have second class feeling of belonging that can be reserved for late comers to these islands where to be British is merely to have political rights on loan from the political class, but not social intergration? I get the feeling that to be British is sort of like being on probation, on license, not quite fully intergrated.
      Anyway thats my feeling , just based on my random thoughts.

      Justforfun

    17. al — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:34 pm  

      Britishness - is not about looking at ancestoral lands and despising migrants that now live their, when you yourself are a migrant. Something Diane Abott needs to understand, who in Jamaican Observer makes racist comment :

      “now that the Indo-Guyanese are in power many black Guyanese feel that they have no option but to get out.”
      “what struck me on my recent visit was the totality of the political and economic power in the hands of one ethnic group, i e the Indo-Guyanese”

      More on her by Gary Younge . Makes you wonder - what are her views on Lozells ?

    18. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:34 pm  

      check out this BBC have your say forum..

      “What are the ‘core British values’?

      How would you describe the characteristics that make a person British?

      Schoolchildren could be taught “traditional British values” in an attempt to challenge extremism and promote a more cohesive society. “

    19. sonia — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:42 pm  

      justforfun has a good point. if i were a ‘british asian’ and i was from england rather than wales or scotland, id have no probs saying i was english. i dont know why so many asians are wary of saying they’re english cos someone out there conflates english with white. about time that changed. after all, what defines ‘english’ - the term anglo-saxon has gained currency over the centuries but one could argue what about the term anglo-’celts’ or anglo-’normans’ blah blah you get the gist of what im saying… is anyone going to come and say oh you can’t say you’re english if you’re norman not saxon ( as if anyone can say they’re either or after all this time anyway) no i don’t think so.

    20. Jay Singh — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:47 pm  

      al

      Diane Abbot is playing the ugly race card there.

      I believe she was one of those Labour MP’s who did all they could to shut down grammar schools, but decided to send her own children to private schools. Just another craven hypocritical politician.

    21. Rakhee — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:50 pm  

      => It cannot be about ethnic minorities being seen but not heard

      Sunny, just to echo your point - I completely agree that it is about empowering ethnic groups but empowerment works both ways. It isn’t just about g’ments implementing change at a policy level (effectively or not) and seeing it as top-down process. It’s also about ethnic groups acting themselves. How many people do you know are in powerful/influential positions in g’ment, media or orgs that are from ethnic groups? I know you’ve referred to this before but if ethnic groups want to be truly be seen as part of this country, we have to work the systems which are already in place.

      Also, a small point but can we quit calling ethnic groups ‘minorites’? Reasons: a. because it will shortly be factually incorrect e.g by 2010, 30% of the population in metropolitan centres will be from ethnic communities according to National Statistics, b. because personally I think it psychologically leads to some people thinking ‘less than, ‘different’ or certainly not ‘major’ c. it bugs me.

    22. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 5:51 pm  

      Sonia - perhaps one way of approaching the question is to adapt the Turing Test for the idea of Britishness.

      We should be made to sit behind a screen and type out answers to questions ( and here’s the twist) from people outside the British isles and if we can convince them we’re British, we’re British :-)

      To go the next level up in the intergration stakes and quality for English , Scotish Welsh , Irish etc , we could be asked further questions, and for the really ambitious, those aspiring to be Yorkshiremen could be asked further questions and then offered councilling before being deported.

      Justforfun

    23. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 6:02 pm  

      Oops - read ‘qualify’ for ‘quality’. Could be considered abit nonPC

      Justforfun

    24. Don — on 16th May, 2006 at 6:31 pm  

      ‘Schoolchildren could be taught “traditional British values’

      Yeah, fine. Dump it on the teachers. We’ve got nothing else to do.

      On the British/English thing, I suggest that part of it is that to think of oneself as British is to identify with the country as it is now. To think of oneself as specifically English, Scots, Welsh or Irish is to identify with the history of the ancestral land. As English born and of scots descent I see myself as British. Growing up in the borders, to me England was some place where they spoke RP and danced around maypoles in Cotswold villages. Not my tradition.

      As for ‘core values’, thanks, but I have my own. They are neither geographically nor culturally specific. But for a reasonable fee they are available to the country as a whole; you could do worse.

    25. Zak — on 16th May, 2006 at 6:48 pm  

      I thought more English people consider themselves British than Scots or Welsh? I wonder what the comparative rate is for Muslims or Asians? In any case even the so called British values are breaking up and increasingly becoming either Americanised or more european..I mean wasn’t the lack of gun culture a very British thing?

    26. Zak — on 16th May, 2006 at 6:56 pm  

      Now to add to things..click on this
      http://www.google.com/trends?q=British+&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all

      type in British Muslim or British asian as well if you get a chance lol

    27. squared — on 16th May, 2006 at 7:25 pm  

      Being British does not mean rejecting your “own” culture and accepting British culture.

      To be British is to not reject British culture.

      There’s too much huddling in closed in communities where some don’t even have a basic knowledge of their nation’s language.

      They also have this stupid notion that to be British means to drink, have lots of sex and love the Queen.

      *Rolls eyes*

      How about a basic appreciation of the nation’s history? It’s all very well to love your “roots” and be interested in your family history, but how many brownies put that effort into learning about Britain’s history?

      How many of them use the derogatory term “goreh” whilst crying everytime someone calls them a “paki”? There’s no need to be a patriot or a nationalist or anything else, but a bit of respect for the society around you goes a long way.

      This is the sort of behaviour that causes resentment. I always get the classic “you’re not like the others” comment from borderline racist white folk. When I ask what they mean by that, they say it’s because I don’t huddle in a group full of brown people whittering away in my own language.

      A lot of stuff seems to come from the other side, affirmative action and the like, in order to encourage browns to integrate within their society…

      But I feel in a lot of parts of the UK, no real effort is coming from our side.

    28. bvanzy — on 16th May, 2006 at 8:01 pm  

      SajiniW - Britain has not “always been a nation of immigrants”. Apart from the Irish during the 19th century the last big movement of people were the French of Norman times, and the amounts just didn’t compare to now. So that’s just garbage.

    29. al — on 16th May, 2006 at 8:10 pm  

      By the way , Ayaan Hirsi Ali LIED !!! - resigned as dutch MP, lost her dutch citizenship and is off to work in US for the neo cons American enterprise Institute !!!

    30. John Browne — on 16th May, 2006 at 8:17 pm  

      Don,
      I consider myself English (not British) even though my ancestors came over from Ireland.

      If England played Ireland at anything I would cheer England.

      The reason for this loyalty is the age of my parents - they lived through the Blitz in London’s East End. My dad was in the airforce.

      There was common spirit.

      That is what was so odd about 7/7, none of these guys were Iraqi (there are tens of thousands of them living here) and even odder they decided to blow up Conservative/Liberal commuters rather then blow-up the Labour Voters in their own town.

      This leads me to think that these people do actually have some small loyalty to “The North” and think of Londoners as the evil regime.

      In reality if they bombed their own street they would have hit more Labour voters. There is loyalty, there just is no brains. In the olden days they would have been sent abroad as “cannon fodder”.

      John

    31. Don — on 16th May, 2006 at 8:17 pm  

      Your point being…?

    32. Jay Singh — on 16th May, 2006 at 8:23 pm  

      John Browne

      It wasnt loyalty to the North. It was to get maximum publicity in the international city of London. Leeds being blown up wouldnt have the same symbolic value and PR for them.

    33. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 9:20 pm  

      Don - when you say
      On the British/English thing, I suggest that part of it is that to think of oneself as British is to identify with the country as it is now. To think of oneself as specifically English, Scots, Welsh or Irish is to identify with the history of the ancestral land. As English born and of scots descent I see myself as British. Growing up in the borders, to me England was some place where they spoke RP and danced around maypoles in Cotswold villages. Not my tradition

      I can see where your coming from as a way of easily reconciling your Scottish ancestry and English birth and I think the concepts are flexible enough within the UK for this to work and I would say I think few think of themselves exclusively English, Scottish etc except for the SNP where I presume the idea of Britain has no place.

      However when you say ….to think of oneself as British is to identify with the country as it is now. can this continue while the idea of Britain is slowly losing its meaning, as devolution continues to increase. I am not saying it should go, but just questioning what moniker will be possible for immigrants to use in say 25 years if the current trend continues. Time seems to fly by so fast and just when people will be comfortable with the idea of thinking of themselves as British Asians , Britain will not exist and we can have this discussion in 25 years all overagain :-)

      Justforfun
      Justforfun

    34. John Browne — on 16th May, 2006 at 9:25 pm  

      Jay Singh,
      There is no PR unless people can see a point. The Brighton bomb had more impact then any London bomb.
      The Birmingham pub bomb shock the nation. the Omagh bomb shook half of Europe. But all these where chicken feed in PR terms compared to Bobby Sand’s hunger strike.
      Perhaps that is what we need, Brits prepared to die of hunger to promote wishy washyness (christian or liberal variety - take your pick) outside ‘extremist’ organisations. All that it will cause though is an outbreak of laughter…. perhaps that is what makes us all British…we don’t want to make a fuss…or perhaps we like to take the piss.. or a bir of both,.

      John

    35. Don — on 16th May, 2006 at 9:29 pm  

      Previous post for Al, not you John.

    36. John Browne — on 16th May, 2006 at 9:34 pm  

      Don,
      LOL. If you are interested in Scottishness. Paisley is a nice place to visit. If you walk past the disused Hillman Imp factory (renfrew) and past the Coates Paton mills (ignoring all the guys injecting themselves with substances) you will come to Paisley library/museum. Here you will see the history of the “Paisley Pattern”.
      It originated as the leaves on the tree of life religion of ancient babylon and from there it went east to Kashmere and from there to Paisley and my pyjamas (my wifes from Paisley - she cheers Germany when they play England)

    37. Don — on 16th May, 2006 at 9:40 pm  

      ‘we can have this discussion in 25 years all overagain’

      This discussion has been going on, in one form or another for a long time. Since Bede, I suppose. I’m perfectly sure we’ll have it again.

      ‘Britain will not exist’

      I think we may be working from different schema here. Care to expand?

      John,

      I’m sure what you say makes perfect sense, but it just seems to keep catching me off kilter.

    38. Jay Singh — on 16th May, 2006 at 10:01 pm  

      What was their point John Browne? They wanted to kill as many infidels as possible and terrify the world. Better do that in London where the worlds cameras were ready to record every scene rather than Leeds. Although there is some black comedy in your idea that the kind of motherfuckers who would strap explosives to their bodies and decapitate/eviscerate themselves along with 60 innocent men and women had some kind of residual northern patriotism.

      “Heh, Mohammad, lets bomb Leeds city centre and show these infidels”

      “No way Shazaad, I fukkin’ hate those soft southern infidels, no way am I blowing myself up in town, I love Leeds I do, lets do London instead, soft southern bastards”

    39. justforfun — on 16th May, 2006 at 10:05 pm  

      Don - Sorry loose definition when I said ‘Britain will not exist’ - I meant as a political entity and shorthand for the UK , but your right even if the UK is disbanded the idea of Britain could still exist I suppose in the same way that possibly Scandinavia exists for Norwegians, Swedes and Danes.

      Justforfun

    40. John Browne — on 16th May, 2006 at 11:15 pm  

      lol,
      put “Paisley pattern” in google and select the first site you come to (make sure you have your speakers on).
      …Sorry off topic, but made me laugh.

      John

    41. John Browne — on 16th May, 2006 at 11:19 pm  

      the site goes like this:

      http://www.demonbuster.com/paisley.html

      In the PAISLEY PRINT PATTERN, you have a connection with
      CATHOLICS
      THE COUNTRY OF INDIA (WITH ALL THEIR GODS)
      GOAT HAIR (GOAT IS THE SYMBOL FOR THE DEVIL)
      MUSLIMS
      PRAYER RUGS
      JESUITS
      CULTS
      SEERS
      MAGICIANS
      OCCULT
      Looking at the rest of our website, you will find out why you should get rid of anything that could be bringing in more demons into your home and your body.

    42. Vikrant — on 17th May, 2006 at 7:36 am  

      One thing that stupms me these days is what is British about our mainstream culture? Except for Fish ‘n Chips and football we look just like an outpost of Americanism, 51st state in the union…

    43. j0nz — on 17th May, 2006 at 7:58 am  

      we look just like an outpost of Americanism, 51st state in the union…

      I think 95% of the population would disagree with you there. We invented the Americans after all! They just tried to cpy us, and to be different they play rounders instead of cricket, and rugby with padding instead of football!

      Seriously though, good post Sunny.

      P.s. All those people in glee about Ayan Ali Hirsi are complete fucking hypocrites! Maybe rohin or sunny could start a thread?!

    44. Katy Newton — on 17th May, 2006 at 9:22 am  

      Good post. British identity is about making people feel that they belong on an everyday basis, not pushing them to go to evening classes on The Stiff Upper Lip or whatever.

    45. El Cid — on 17th May, 2006 at 9:39 am  

      justforfun — British, English — funny enough i’m just as comfortable with either. I’m certainly not Scottish or Welsh but i certainly feel a togetherness with them when we fight as one. If you looked more carefully at the subtext of what I was saying you would see that I want to support England when they play Spain. Two other Hispano-Londoners I hang around with either very pro-Spain or very pro-England in such a scenario. So we have a full spectrum. It takes all sorts, as they say.
      As for Dianne Abbot — grrrrr — she’s my MP. I left the Labour Party because of her (wrote a big article in the Observer ‘n’ evrifink). Not only is she a crass hypocrite on education, she lacks talent and seems to think that she only represents her Jamaican constituents, rather than Hackneyans of all hues, and that the best way to represent them is to act as some disattached Labour grandee and getting noticed with some gaffe or other. In the past she has also railed against blonde nurses employed by the NHS and Nigerian traffic wardens. She is frigging two-bob.
      Now I have a train to catch. No frigging dilemma knowing who I support tonight!! Stuff the Spaniards.

    46. justforfun — on 17th May, 2006 at 10:05 am  

      El cid - I undersstand your reluctance to support England against Spain - Its the embarrassment :-) - but seriously I agree that is an acheivement that for the most part British/English British/Scots etc is interchangeble for most people and depends on their mood, however I have sympathy with Scots who are always called British when they are a sporting success but Scottish when they fail ;-)

      Justforfun

    47. Roger — on 17th May, 2006 at 12:37 pm  

      Out of curiosity: can anyone think of any “core British values” which you wouldn’t think of as “core huamn values”? What is there in British values taht wouldn’t be a virtue in any set of values?

    48. TottenhamLad — on 17th May, 2006 at 2:31 pm  

      If you need to be taught ‘Britishness’ then you are probably not British and never will be.

    49. sonia — on 17th May, 2006 at 4:03 pm  

      yeah roger - exactly.

      the thing is that if people carry on harping on the ‘british’ value its tempting to dredge up the colonial past. and who exactly is that going to make look good!!

    50. sonia — on 17th May, 2006 at 4:06 pm  

      bottom line is this - it ain’t about thrashing out what is or isn’t british - which is an abstract imagined concept anyway - but to focus on the shared reality of the present.

      emphasis on shared!

      i thought that was Sunny’s point anyway

    51. leon — on 17th May, 2006 at 4:26 pm  

      @ Roger, this is something I’ve mulled over. Seems to me that some people (IE Gordon Brown etc) like to use the idea as a mask for a new(ish) form of patrotism (jingoism?); it’s implicit that our values are better (and thus we are) than everyone elses because they are values that are hard to disagree.

      @ Sonia, yeah despite my half hearted dissenting on the issue I think you (and Sunny) might be onto something with that…

    52. sonia — on 17th May, 2006 at 4:31 pm  

      leon you’re right about this sort of thing being very easy to twist into a patriotism sort of thing.

      personally i would say its nothing to do with nationality - just who happens to be around in a society.

      one of my main peeves about so-called democracy is that it seems to limit itself to ‘only citizens’ can vote - and nowadays - a lot of people arent citizens of where they live. so what -they then don’t count?

      seems to me that needs updating. luckily here in britain i can vote - despite not being a citizen!! yeah :-)

    53. leon — on 17th May, 2006 at 4:38 pm  

      Indeed. For me any sense of British (if it does or can exist) has to come from peoples experience, it has to be built bottom up. A bunch of politicians and press barons have no right to tell us how we should define ourselves or relate to each other.

    54. rockmother — on 17th May, 2006 at 11:54 pm  

      Good points Sunny. Surely ‘being British’ (a) means different things to different people and (b) holds uncomfortable Empire-esque overtones of outdated social systems and hierarchies. The phrase ‘core British values’ makes me think of Thatcher and the Victorians. We need to move on from all that prejudice-feeding claptrap. It just seems to divide people even more into curious do-gooders that want everyone to belong without doing much about it, bullies who want to be the only ones to belong and fuck it up for everyone else and the rest who feel that they don’t belong but actually do belong as much as the next person. The other problem is, and I’m going off on a rant now - sorry BUT.. it doesn’t really feel like we live in a democracy proper. We need to get our say more often for a start. Too many laws have been rushed through in this country preventing anyone from doing exactly that. At this rate the Home Office will be publishing a ‘Britishness’ Handbook with specific ‘targets’ to be met for levels of ‘Great Britishness’. So I agree with you - we need updating big time. Ok - I’m going to stop now!

    55. Sunny — on 18th May, 2006 at 4:12 am  

      At this rate the Home Office will be publishing a ‘Britishness’ Handbook with specific ‘targets’ to be met for levels of ‘Great Britishness’.

      Haha! True, but knowing their current rate of incompetence they’ll take 15 years to produce one.

      Thanks for all your points. I want to write another point about how we can empower everyone (not just the Asian folk) to build a better sense of Britishness. Someone on CIF called a misty-eyed revolutionary! Haha!

    56. Roger — on 18th May, 2006 at 10:08 am  

      “Haha! True, but knowing their current rate of incompetence they’ll take 15 years to produce one.”…and contract it out to a foreign company.

    57. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 10:53 am  

      =>”and contract it out to a foreign company.”

      …..Probably a US management consultancy who will end up offshoring the project to their colleagues in India ;)

      lol

    58. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 11:06 am  

      =>”holds uncomfortable Empire-esque overtones”

      On a more serious note, the above is a good point and certainly a major reason for the discomfort amongst many older-generation Asians in particular when it comes to the concept of identifying themselves as “British”. It’s a little less prevalent amongst younger Asians these days (obviously varies according to the individual’s social circle and location), at least compared to how such people used to feel about such matters.

      It’s the historical colonial baggage which can be a stumbling block. If being “British” predominantly involves a core set of noble-minded ideals, then — assuming the ideals are sound, humanitarian, and fair-minded — I think it would be easier for people of all backgrounds to rally around this.

      However, if being “British” is also deemed to be intricately tied into the imperial history — and this history is not only taught in schools (as it should be) but is also glorified — then there will understandably be some reticence and (metaphorical) schizophrenia on the part of immigrant communities about identifying themselves as British along with the related values, because their own ancestors were amongst the “conquered” peoples (in many cases, still within living memory).

      In any case, as I mentioned, it will be more attractive for people to “come together” and be proud of regarding themselves as British first and foremost if being British — and indeed the UK as a country — was regarded as being fundamentally about certain high-minded ideals and principles, rather than just a geographical location (in the same vein as the US aspires to be, as based on some aspects of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution etc).

    59. Roger — on 18th May, 2006 at 11:30 am  

      Well, as the chief reason non-Europeans are in Britain at all is because of the empire a certain amount of attention and examination might be a good idea.
      Again, what uniquely British qualities are there, shared by no other nation and that no other nation could possibly have, that deserve to be praised? If the UK is “fundamentally about certain [unspecified] high-minded ideals and principles”, what are other nations fundamentally about? Is it our British duty to stop other nations trying to have these principles because theyt’re ours and ours alone, or are we supposed to force them to gratefully accept them as every proper nation ought to have them? If the latter, what unique qualities will we have once we’ve accomplished our mission?

    60. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 12:13 pm  

      Roger,

      Regarding the Empire, it’s not a question of its (actual or perceived) good points. It’s much more basic than that — it’s about people from a foreign power taking over the country of your ancestors and forcibly subjugating them (and yes I know that many Indians were also complicit in this, we don’t need to have an extended debate about that here).

      If the descendents of both parties concerned — which means all of us here — put this event into the box of “ancient history”, are honest about both its positive and negative points, but are much more concerned with the here-and-now, then that is a more constructive way forward. However, if one party insists on trumpetting the perceived benefits of the invasion and conquest, and expects the other party to amicably agree, then it will be a case of the unstoppable force hitting the immoveable object and there is no way it will encourage any kind of unity or goodwill. The opposite will happen. This is human nature. Nobody wants to feel as though they are the descendents of a “conquered group” (and are regarded as such by their fellow citizens), especially if the nation-state who did the subjugation still exists(therefore comparisons to the Romans, Normans etc cannot be made). Forcible aggression against another party for unwarranted reasons (ie. unless it is for self-defence or to protect a third-group against unwarranted attack) is morally unacceptable, regardless of whether it happens on an individual level or a much larger international scale, and regardless of the excuses or the alleged knock-on benefits.

      =>”Again, what uniquely British qualities are there, shared by no other nation and that no other nation could possibly have, that deserve to be praised? If the UK is “fundamentally about certain [unspecified] high-minded ideals and principles”, what are other nations fundamentally about?”

      It’s not an “exclusivist” scenario or one aiming for British “supremacy” over other nations in this regard. If the UK is regarded as standing for certain humanitarian ideals, there is absolutely no reason why other nations should not also stand for these principles themselves (or be aspiring to them). It’s all about finding a common ground and, ultimately and ideally, about the well-being of the human race as a whole. The concept is certainly not about developing or encouraging some kind of jingoistic superiority complex over the rest of the planet.

      =>”Is it our British duty to stop other nations trying to have these principles because theyt’re ours and ours alone,”

      Of course not. See above.

      =>”or are we supposed to force them to gratefully accept them as every proper nation ought to have them?”

      Again, one should not force anyone to accept any such thing. You can set a high standard, state you case, and serve as a role model for others to (hopefully) aspire to, but you cannot impose this on anyone else by force.

    61. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 12:18 pm  

      =>”state you case”

      Typo: should say “state youR case”

    62. Roger — on 18th May, 2006 at 12:36 pm  

      I agree about the possible triumphalism or despair of studying history. Conor Cruise O’Brien once divided nations into “brooders” and “gloaters” depending on their history, or what they imaginbed their history to be. All the same, I think that examining history is an important aspect of national identity. How do we get from here to where we want to go, if we don’t know how we got here in the first place?
      I’m not sure what Britishness is, or what is or should be distinctively British about it, which is why I raised the rhetorical questions above, and I think that it is probably better if it is undefined and unassumed. Perhaps the best British identity would come about as a result of trying to be decent human beings.

    63. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:20 pm  

      Roger,

      =>”Perhaps the best British identity would come about as a result of trying to be decent human beings.”

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, my friend. Ultimately, this is what is should be all about.

      However, if the concepts involved here needed to be formally defined (or summarised), it wouldn’t hurt to have a British version of those American documents I mentioned earlier (adapted as deemed appropriate), or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just to have something concrete for people to refer to and to encapsulate fundamental British ideals — nothing too pedantic or rambling, just the basics.

      This is an excellent website for anyone interested in taking a look at the famous US “core” documents — very inspiring stuff, too:

      http://www.usconstitution.net/

    64. Ismaeel — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:09 pm  

      How about a social contract?

    65. rockmother — on 19th May, 2006 at 9:27 pm  

      Or a multiple choice questionaire?

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