Paul Barker JournalistRoy Jenkins' civilising mission is complete. Welcome to post-Christian Britain.
In his great work The Civilising Process, the German Jewish sociologist Norbert Elias (1897-1990)—who took refuge in Britain from the Nazis—made it clear that the highest achievement in any society was to evolve ways of resolving differences without resort to violence. This achievement, where it is attained, is a spectrum which ranges from everyday civility to the protections of legislation. The laws are part of an entire ethos. They do not, in themselves, create that ethos; but they do help to ratify it. On the Elias criterion, Britain is much less civilised than when he wrote.
Rodric Braithwaite Ex-diplomatClueless. "Common everyday practice" is what we call culture - i.e. what we haven't got.
For the future wellbeing of these islands, the important task is not to engage in philosophical debate about values, but by legislation where necessary, and by common everyday practice, to enable everyone who lives here to feel they that they share as of right a common allegiance and a common citizenship. If you can do that—and it is obviously not at all easy—the values will take care of themselves.
Lesley Chamberlain WriterShe agrees with Paul Barker.
The real problem seems to me not values but that Britain has become a country that can’t enforce its own rules. Try asking someone in a designated quiet carriage on the train to switch his phone off. Britain’s social strength used to rest on unwritten rules passed down the generations, but this can no longer happen in a global society where experience differs so widely.
Michael Collins WriterWhen we had it, we didn't need to define it #1
... Whatever these values are, they were previously taken as a given. Rarely was there a need to define or document them. The prime minister argues this was because the relative stability of the nation meant there was no call for precision on what it means to be British. His desire to officially define “Britishness” for new arrivals and the nation’s rising generation comes at a time when it has little bearing on most of us. Actually, a time when many British citizens from all classes—notably those that never needed their citizenship prescribed—are heading for the airports in a desperate bid to escape, by emigrating.
When we had it, we didn't need to define it #2. I must say I'd never heard of Robert Colls. But he seems to have the root of the matter in him.
Robert Colls Historian
Government thinking is muddled. It says we are a more stable society because we have been imprecise about our values, but at the same time need to be more precise if we wish to be more stable. It says we have drawn strength from an evolving constitution, but need a full programme of change if we wish to be stronger. It says national identity should be overarching, but is not clear what that identity is, and proposes a national “conversation” to find out. ... The British government proposes a “statement of values” setting out what binds us together. But if the values do bind us, why do we need a statement? And if they don’t bind us, in what sense are they our values?
National identity is different. It is an historical relationship, not a set of values. Not all nations have identities and only a few have them strong enough to exist more or less independently of the state. National identities, therefore, happen when nations see themselves as one, regardless of all that divides them, which can include the state. In the British case, national identity was built over a long line of political compromises at home, and a talent for military victory abroad. The result was an identity based on an overarching sense of English liberty at home and British power abroad. In such circumstances it was claimed that a written constitution was unnecessary. And so it proved. The remarkable thing was not that the modern British sustained a union of sentiment, but how well they sustained a union of sentiment. Only Catholic Ireland ran counter, and only decisively so late in the day.
Our current predicament is that the conditions in which this identity thrived have more or less disappeared. The state, whose job it is to secure the nation and express its identity, is no longer sure who that nation is. The old historical relationship, or at least its articulation, has ceased to matter, and British hegemony has ceased to exist. It was not that the British people ceased believing in this relationship; it is more that over a very short period its conditions evaporated.
At the same time, with mass immigration promoted by a metropolitan elite, the ethnic relationships of the country changed. To fill the historical vacuum, “diversity” became New Labour’s watchword. But diversity pleased no one and left nothing to build on. A mildly racist society was turned into an intensely racialised one. To say the least, slavery, imperialism, and Islamicism are not promising historical relationships on which to build a new national identity. Brown ought to understand that for over 150 years the political class in this country has had it easy. Everything is going to get more difficult
... Whatever happens, national identity will not go away because, except for the EuroUtopians, nation states show no sign of going away. So, like religion, the question is not whether national identity is true but whether it is useful. The government believes we are living between two identities—the national and the post-national. In the interim, expect morbid symptoms to appear.
Dean Godson Think-tankerYup. As Robert Colls said "To say the least, slavery, imperialism, and Islamicism are not promising historical relationships on which to build a new national identity." We need to be moving towards a history curriculum, for example, in which children of Asian descent see Clive and Bobs Bahadur rather than Ghandi or Jinnah as "us". Such a volte-face would be impossible for our present rulers - they just couldn't do it. So we'll continue to actively foster resentment and division in our schools. Way to go.
One of the keys to constructing, consolidating and reviving national identity—Britishness—is a positive view of national history. We need a Royal Commission to look at how the Island Story can be imparted to new generations in a way that unites us. In so many schools it either isn’t taught at all, or if it is, it too often portrays our past in distinctly unflattering light.
Ed Husain WriterTells it like it was - and still is.
I was born and raised in Britain, but never felt British. In fact, I actively rejected any notion of Britishness.
Josef Joffe Editor-publisher, Die ZeitWhen we had it, we didn't need to define it #3.
“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” was JP Morgan’s fabled reply to a friend who asked the millionaire banker about the price of his yacht, thinking he might want to buy one himself. Gordon Brown’s question about citizenship and identity raises the same problem: if you have to ask, it’s not for you. Britons used to know what “Britishness” was; hence, they did not have to ask.
Michael Lind WriterSeems to be arguing for integration. Too bloody late, mate, IMHO. And anyway, what native culture ? The one they've spent the last 40 years wrecking ? As Josie Appleton put it "The exercise of trying to tell immigrants how to be British is becoming an embarrassing demonstration of the fact that the elite doesn't know itself."Given the relative strengths of some imported cultures, the integration's more likely to be the other way.
The British must decide whether to continue as a coalition of four cultural nations, or to add a fifth or sixth or seventh cultural nation by policies which, by default or design, encourage the conversion of immigrant diaspora communities into permanently distinct nationalities on British soil. Immigration is compatible with the perpetuation of four permanent British cultural nations in Britain, as long as the immigrants gradually merge with the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish by assimilation (in which the immigrants simply lose their own cultures) or by “melting-pot” amalgamation (in which immigrants and native cultures fuse to form a hybrid culture).
Munira Mirza Think-tanker"the doing of politics, not the talking around it" - that's called culture. What we haven't got. Or what we don't share, anyway. We have several different models of "the doing of politics".
The problem with these endless consultations is that they ignore the real basis for citizenship—a sense of ownership over society and control over its direction. We can talk till kingdom come about tolerance, fairness and justice, but citizenship is in the doing of politics, not the talking around it.
Frederic Raphael WriterWhen we had it, we didn't need to define it #5.
Gordon Brown’s call for some kind of poll to choose a modernised set of values to renovate the national sense of identity (and honour) is either an exercise in condescension (cf Lenin humbly consulting the peasants before confiscating their land) or what the philosopher Gilbert Ryle called a “category mistake”: since when can “values” be selected from a brochure and the poll-toppers inserted as moral uplift into the body politic like prosthetic implants? Don’t values have to be implicit in acts and arts, not applied like make-up?
Ben Rogers WriterIf Gordon Brown believes that, what's he been doing in the Labour Party since Clause Four went and "the nation" disappeared out of the window along with "nationalisation" ? He's a David Lindsay Labourite all of a sudden, is he ?
Gordon Brown is not alone in believing that, with the decline in religion, the development of liberal attitudes to “private” behaviour, the rise of consumerist values and lifestyles, and Britain’s growing ethnic and cultural diversity, we as a society don’t really believe in anything any more—that “nothing binds us,” that “anything goes.”