It is a sound response to Montgomerie’s missive because it rules out the option of entering a ‘flag waving’ contest with Gordon Brown, whilst showing an innate understanding of the civic nature of Britishness, whereby institutions, history and certain common cultural coordinates draw a diverse nation together, rather than race, perceived ethnicity or a narrow prescription of culture.
In the previous article I contrasted the conceptual nature of Brown’s unionism with Cameron’s genuine engagement as regards matters pertaining to the Union. By seeking to secure Northern Ireland’s full participation in national politics, the Conservatives have already converted unionist rhetoric into meaningful action. Whether a Conservative government is equipped to strengthen the Union or not, time will tell, but there is every sign that unionism will be embedded within its policies, in a fashion which Labour cannot match. The constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will be a prime policy consideration for the next government.
“We are the only party that has representation in every region of the UK - including Northern Ireland. We will fight the SNP every inch of the way over their attempts to break our Union apart. And when it comes to the EU, we will always be a strong voice for national sovereignty.”
So, where Labour suggested gimmicks and big government engineering, Cameron promises a more evolutionary approach whereby citizens are given the opportunity to strengthen their sense of identity.
“Britain is bigger than the government it has. Ultimately, Britishness is about Britons. It grows and evolves from the bottom up. It can never be defined by one motto or one politician, but by millions of individuals whose identity is the product of many ingredients. So if we’re serious about strengthening our national identity we should do whatever we can to give these individuals reasons to feel pride in their country.”
Rather than seeking to achieve this aim by inventing national days, introducing mottos or requiring school children to sign an oath of allegiance, changing policies which enervate a sense of Britishness will do more to strengthen commitment to Britain. Thus the Tories propose to curb the worst excesses of multiculturalism. Dominic Grieve has spoken persuasively on the topic, and in Cameron’s piece he too emphasises the undesirability of encouraging a ‘community of communities’. The government must stop interacting with minorities as atomised, imporous units, through unelected, self- appointed representatives. Britons, shaped by whichever particular culture or ethnicity, should be treated as individuals by the state.
Likewise, although abstract values can be identified which characterise Britain, they are not unique to the United Kingdom or its people. We do, however, have a set of unique institutions which often embody those values and which define our political identity. So it is not sufficient for Gordon Brown to stress the importance of ‘liberty, fair play, openness’ whilst he simultaneously emasculates the Houses of Parliament and erodes the very virtues which he claims make Britain what it is. Where is the point in being ostentatiously proud of our armed forces, yet sending them into battle funded for peace time?
Cameron also finds space to address the issue of British history in schools. He favours a less bitesize methodology whereby students would learn key dates and facts in the national story. I have already recorded my approval of this approach.
It is encouraging that the probable successor to Gordon Brown seems to possess a more inherent understanding of what Britishness entails than the current prime minister. What we need is a government which consistently assesses how its policy will affect the Union and develops its programme on that basis. Cameron should leave the gimmicks to Labour.