Monday, 27 October 2008

Poppy Day represents a more authentic 'Britishness' than Labour can ever hope to engineer

Michael Wills MP, Minister of State for Constitutional Renewal, has indicated that plans for a mooted ‘national day’ have been shelved. Answering a written question from Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, Wills confirmed that although parts of Lord Goldsmith’s citizenship review would be considered, “there are no plans to introduce a national day at the present time”.

Hopefully it is correct to read between the lines that there are actually now no plans to introduce a national day at all. The initiative represented Labour’s belief that a greater sense of Britishness can somehow be engineered by launching top down, state sponsored gimmicks. Gordon Brown’s instinct is to impose, rather than encourage or nurture.

With identity, in particular, that is an approach which cannot work. Labour is chasing its tail in attempting to encourage more British sentiment amongst people in the United Kingdom. It is top down constitutional reform which diluted felt Britishness and damaged the Union in the first place. The party imposed sweeping constitutional changes without properly examining what the consequences might be in terms of identity. Its only instinct to check these consequences is to re-impose the sense of Britishness which it inadvertently damaged. Labour is like a drunk man who has broken the TV and attempts to fix it by repeatedly walloping it with his fist.

The British identity is a subtle construct, bound up (as shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert identifies) “in our institutions, culture and history”. It is easy to damage, but it is less easily repaired.

Certainly the means to do so is more subtle than Labour realise. It is a process of nurturing and encouraging those institutions, culture and history which contribute toward the identity. How much more eloquent, for example, is Remembrance Sunday in defining part of what it means to be British, in comparison to any number of reports or suggestions which the government might wish to instigate?

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