Brown’s ‘patriotic oath’ won’t solve Britain’s identity crisis

The cool reception of Lord Goldsmith’s recent report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, which advised that school-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country proves that traditional notions of Britishness are antiquated and in need of an overhaul.

At a time in Britain’s modern history when the phrase ‘disunited kingdom’ has never been more appropriate the weakness of Brown’s idea is summed up by the Labour Peer Baroness Kennedy who referred to it as ‘puerile…an empty gesture’. While Goldsmith has reassured people that there is no crisis of national identity, there is certainly evidence of an anti-social behavioural crisis. It is almost impossible to engage with the written or broadcast media on a daily basis without hearing about ‘feral youths’ roaming the streets of a society which could be mistaken for the setting of an Anthony Burgess novel.

Yet Brown’s proposed oath, the citizenship ceremonies for school-leavers and the introduction of a British national day to coincide with the 2012 Olympics all conjure up analogies with a book which is held in as much reverence in popular culture as Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange – George Orwell’s 1984 and its Ministry of Love. While Britain has thankfully managed to avoid lurching into a similar totalitarian nightmare it is talk of these kinds of proposals from Governments that make people feel increasingly uneasy about the freedom they have to express their individual identities.

Although not explicitly stated, Goldsmith seemingly hopes to wean young people off the ‘ultraviolence’ that has become so rampant in modern society by encouraging them to become decent British citizens. Would it be going too far to suggest that perhaps the perceived denigration of Labour’s original political values by the current crop has played its part in contributing to the apathetic attitude among many young people in the United Kingdom? By leaving the white working class without a rational political voice in an ethnically changing Britain, people living in areas such as East London and Yorkshire have become fodder for the political ambitions of the British National Party; a political organisation that has always used and added to people’s dystopia for its own repugnant manifesto. Labour could be mopping up a mess of its own making.

Perhaps rather than whipping people into their respective corners, the Government would be better advised to make sense of and celebrate the cultural diversity which exists in modern Britain. It would be better to educate people about why the character of their country is changing rather than encourage them to indulge in knee-jerk posturing that has more than a whiff of an imperial past that many people would rather leave well behind them. Citizenship and moral fibre are important traits for a country but they can’t be taught through barely disguised channels of nationalism. Rather than attempting to recapture the collective national spirit of post-war ‘austerity Britain’ it may be more useful for Brown to draw up plans for a modern nation with complimenting, rather than competing, identities.

Source: Belfast News Letter, March 2008

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