My late mother used to often come up with the phrase “I’m proud to be British” and to an extent that is a sentiment that she helped to instill into me. One of her major influences, as with many of her generation, was living though the Second World War and playing her part in the British war efforts. No doubt there were other reasons too that made her proud to be British but, given Britain led the world in standing against Nazi Germany led oppression, and when the odds were stacked against her, this was an important one.
It wasn’t so long ago when Britannia ruled the waves and a significant part of the world was painted in pink on maps, as belonging to the British Empire, and with it the notion that Britain was instrumental in civilizing heathen lands in the four corners of the globe. And when one looks at every aspect of life as we know it, e.g. science, technology, medicine, literature, the arts, democracy, education, philosophy, commerce, Briton’s played more than their fair share when it came to making advances in these areas. Many felt pride in the “British way of life” feeling it to be superior to any other.
I won’t view Britain through rose tinted glasses though. It was not long ago when people were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread and burnt at the stake for publicly disagreeing with the ruling powers. Then there was all sorts of unchecked poverty and social injustice. Much good was cancelled out by much bad. The list of things supposedly done to promote British interests that harmed others is nigh endless. When recently looking at a video in which a panel of experts was asked the question what makes America great, I was struck by one of the panelists, who offered a dissenting opinion, backed up by evidence, that America was not great, even though at one time it may have approached greatness. I could not help but feel much the same when it came to my own country. Rough sleepers being ignored and harassed, doors of help and hope shut toward the growing number of destitute, fleeing asylum seekers and steps in the wrong direction in recent years to three great issues of the day: traditional marriage, rights of the unborn and freedom of conscience, are some of the examples I would cite.
The issue of British values is one I have discussed in earlier posts and where I feel strongly. I feel strongly for example that a government, that is morally bankrupt, should attempt to define these, especially when they don’t get it right and woe betide schools and such like that teach values that don’t align with views of the government. Most recently, we see snippets of intended legislation whereby preachers are to be somehow vetted for being sound according to the government definition before being let loose and allowed to share their views in the public square. This is not the sort of Britain that I am proud of or wish to identify with.
Regarding British or English, I was prompted to ask the question when two former school mates, who I happen to respect, posted something on social media to the effect they see themselves as English rather than British. I have some sympathy with this position in the light of the recent Scottish referendum campaign when the Scottish people decided by only a narrow margin to remain part of the Union. If the Scottish can put Scotland before Britain and the Welsh put Wales before Britain (I am less sure about the Northern Irish and there is the other Ireland also to consider) then why can’t the English do the same? While only anecdotal, there is evidence of a move away from a primarily British identity to, if an identity still does exist, it happens to be an English one, I well recall the day when Union flags were waved in great numbers whenever the occasion allowed but in recent years it is the waving of the St. Georges flag of England we are more likely to see.
I love the Union and want it to continue and thrive. I also believe in localism whereby local people have a greater say in local affairs than is currently the case. I am also open, albeit with a little skepticism, to more regional and national control. But it is the two ends that interest me most. I am also a Euroskeptic, partly because I don’t think unelected foreigners should tell us British what we must do, and I will be watching developments ahead of the promised European referendum with interest. I also believe in the global community and what happens in other countries are things that should interest and concern us. Sadly, I suspect we are moving toward a one world government that will thrive on the divide and rule notions we are now seeing. Regarding citizenship, it is likely I will put being a citizen of heaven top of my list, and my wanting to identify with people irrespective of their nationality as a citizen of the world after that. But I am a British citizen by definition and, because I believe in Great Britain and in national sovereignty, I am happy to be regarded as British, more so even than being English.
I thought in closing I would outline my vision of the type of Britain I do believe in. It wouldn’t be that far from the type of Britain my mother’s generation might identify with and, while for the sake of being inclusive I will keep religion out of it, it is based on the Judaeo-Christian consensus that once prevailed:
- Work hard
- Obey the law
- Respect authority (even if less deferential nowadays)
- Support the underdog
- Truth, justice and righteousness are key values
- Show hospitality toward the foreigner
- Duty toward others before self gratification
- A sense of humour and of perspective
- Look out for the well being of our neighbor (whoever he/she is)
- Proud of our cultural heritage and respect for that of others