Thursday, 7 June 2007
Britain Day?! Whatever next!
Britain was once a proud nation. A nation which had no need to assert its identity or reaffirm its notion of self. So pronounced was its self-confidence it didn't even bother to put its name on its stamps. Everyone knew Britain was great; that it was also green and pleasant was a bonus.
Yet now we are told that Britain is afflicted by an identity crisis. The meaning of Britishness is poorly understood and Mother Labour wants to teach us what it means (ah, if only Labour's Britain were my Britain!).
Truth be told, we would not be in this sorry mess had generations of loony lefties, at all levels of government, not embarked upon a decades long policy of Britain-bashing, in which Britain's legacy and achievements and its symbols and institutions were ignored, devalued and debased whilst ghettoised minority communitites were actively encouraged to celebrate and foster their own cultures and traditions, in their own languages. One cannot help but wonder whether there just might be a connection...
When one adds devolution, the rise of the European Union and the concomitant erosion of British sovereignty to the depressing mix, there is little wonder that some are dazed and confused.
To be fair, whilst Labour has not acknowledged that it is largely responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, it should be congratulated for finally realising that action must be taken; it is only a shame that its good intentions are so poorly directed.
According to two Labour Ministers, the solution to Britain's malaise is "Britain Day". Yes. I know, I know. My thoughts exactly.
Other countries have national days of celebration but these mark pivotal moments of nation-forging, be they days of independence (USA and many Commonwealth republics), revolution (France), discovery or first landing (Australia), federation or confederation (Canada), or the signing or coming-into-force of treaties or national constitutions (New Zealand and Poland).
One of the marked disadvantages of having the world's oldest and most stable democratic constitution and system of government (as Britain does) is that Britain doesn't have any great date upon which it can claim to have been born. We have no Phoenix moment. Ours is a story of relatively peaceful evolution. How civilised. How British.
The closest we can come to a birthday is the date of the Act of Union, yet we saw its tercentenary pass this year without a single catherine wheel or roman candle.
The date proposed by Labour ministers is the date of the State Opening of Parliament. Yawn! Only long-term residents of the Westminster Village would propose such an uninspiring date. It is safe, relatively PC and boring! The public is unlikely to connect with this in any real way.
If any "Britain Day" is to succeed it must be tied to an event or date which has great historic and popular appeal and that event should be central to the celebrations. The only dates that spring to mind are Battle of Britain Day (September 15), Trafalgar Day (October 21), or the old Empire Day (May 24, which is also Queen Victoria's birthday and is currently celebrated in Canada as "Victoria Day").
Of course, the great national days of other states are days of enormous pomp and pageantry: flags and bunting galore, fly pasts, fireworks, parades, concerts; a great smorgasbord of patriotic fervour, all designed to stiffen the sinews and reaffirm that ___________________ (insert name of country) is a splendid place.
Alas, what we have been offered is a day of local community initiatives....which sounds like a dull and very wet affair indeed. The real world equivalent would be for a tour guide to go to Heathrow airport to greet an enthusiastic first-time tourist, eager to see Britain's greatest and best, and then skip London completely, taking the poor soul to Milton Keynes or Basingstoke, before sending him back home.
The proposed Britain Day is an artificial creation that is doomed to fail. If the government seriously wants a national celebration of Britishness it should organise major events on Coronation Day or Queen Victoria's birthday. The Monarch is the ultimate symbol of our state and it is towards the Monarch that our national pride is traditionally directed. The anniversary of a monarch's birth or coronation is the appropriate time to celebrate Britain and all things British.
However, more important than any short-lived celebration, if the government wants to strengthen pride in Britain it must take proactive steps to instill British values in two critical groups: the young and immigrants.
The government should ensure that a portrait of The Queen is erected in the lobby of every state funded school, college and university and that the national anthem is reintroduced to school assemblies. It must make the study of British history compulsory through all levels of primary and secondary school and ensure that the history that is taught is balanced and unbiased.
The government must also ensure that British culture and values are never sacrificed or made to take a backseat to minority interests. New immigrants must enroll in civics classes that offer instruction on our culture and our history and, prior to receiving citizenship and in addition to an English-language test, these immigrants should, as in Canada, have to pass a test demonstrating comprehension of our national qualities and history.
The young, new immigrants and indeed many adult Britons, whilst enjoying a day off, will see no reason to attend a day long celebration of Britishness if they are not first taught what being British means. Let us not place the cart before the horse.