Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
First, the word ‘Britishness’ is not, according my spellchecker, a real word. It offers me the option of replacing ‘Britishness’ with ‘Brutishness’, which, I admit, would be an accurate description of Gerald Howarth
and those who share his thuggish ideas of what it means to be British.
Second, when David Davis calls for Britain to adopt the American model
, he makes a whole handful of mistakes. On a simple level it seems that he thinks that Britishness can be imported. I have no problem taking good ideas from beyond our borders. But then I do not express reverence for the Britishness of values. On a more serious level, we cannot be sure whether he is speaking of the reality or the myth of US integration policies. Does he mean the US where people routinely describe themselves as Italian-American, African-American, Irish-American and so on? Or does he mean the US of myth, an immigrant nation where successive waves of new immigrants did not simply assimilate into some native population (who were kept out of the way on reservations), but took an active part in shaping the cultural, social, economic and intellectual landscape of the developing nation? I think that David Davis is talking about neither. I think that he is calling for us to adopt the ‘American model’ is merely a rhetorical trick. He calls on ethnic minorities to “respect the British way of life”. No description of how, as Britons, they will take part in shaping ‘the British way of life’. So does he mean the ethnic identification that is a routine part of American life? No, he criticises the promotion of “distinctive identities”. So which America model is it that Davis is speaking of? None whatsoever, except the one that he has invented through his imaginative powers to serve his political purposes - an invention that mirrors the creation of definitions of Britishness.
Third, we have the Liam Fox
on the Today Programme stating that adherence to the idea of a free market economy is an essential part of British values. Well, that rules me out of being British then. When you have a nominally socialist party in power, to state that an adherence to the idea of a free market economy is an essential part of being British is to make a tremendous number of people within the borders of Britain non-British. Or even anti-British. Traitors, as Gerald Howarth calls them*.
But then, these are two sides of the same coin. Howarth is, after all, a resolute defender of General Pincohet, who certainly made an adherence to a certain brand of free-market values a requirement for living as a free Chilean.
This is the problem with the debate about what it means to be British – it is necessarily exclusionary, and as the debate is a political one it is very far from being an attempt at arriving at an objective statement of what Britishness IS, but a statement of what Britishness OUGHT to be. This must exclude people, marking them as un-British solely on the basis of a definition that conforms to the desires of political and media opinion formers. We ARE British. Britishness is what we do. British values are those that we hold. Any other definition, any definition that attempts to paint some British people – including me, it seems – outside the borders of Britain is an exercise is wicked political rhetoric. To even take part in the debate, except to point out the absurdity of this brand of discourse, even if your aim is to express a liberal view of Britishness, is to bolster the legitimacy of exclusionary definitions.
*The Conservative Party appears to be doing a clumsy job of disassociating themselves from Howarth’s comments
. While stressing that Howarth was expressing a personal opinion rather than a party position, Tory HQ have performed a cack-handed defence of his ‘traitors’ remarks by saying that he was speaking solely about suicide bombers themselves, not Muslims who may hold critical opinions of British society. Of course, this is nonsense, and more than that is nonsense spoken in the full knowledge that the speaker is peddling a line in pap.
He said; “If they don’t like our way of life, there is a simple remedy – go to another country, get out.” With regard to the British born; “Tough. If you don’t give allegiance to this country, the leave. // There are plenty of other countries whose way of life would appear to be more conducive to what they aspire to. They would be happy and we would be happy.” Do these sound like comments aimed at suicide bombers? No, these comments are clearly aimed at people who are critical of the British way of life. And, as I said before, Gerald Howarth is one.