This year Britishness reached its nadir. It turned angry, righteous, hateful, confrontational, inward looking and mean. Brexit was the result and still the rage goes on and on. Our nation’s identity has been and still can be, open and amiably self deprecating. Except for those times when attention seeking or jingoistic politicians jump up and use it as a cultural or racial clarion call. Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nigel Farage and various others have led the charge of the white brigade against diversity and multiracialism. We, who came from around the world to make our lives in this country are both used to and heartily sick of these periodic attacks on our rights, dignity, integrity and allegiances.
In 1967, In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Powell wrote a column complaining about the ‘rising flood’ and ‘invasion’ of migrants who were despoiling the old traditions of his beloved country. Then came that infamous racist Rivers of Blood speech in Birmingham. Margaret Thatcher warned in 1978 that the country was being swamped by too many diverse peoples. Tebbit instructed us dark skinned folk to pass the ‘cricket test’. In 2000, he and I were discussing immigration on the BBC’s Today programme. He refused to say my name and declared that even though I had a British passport, I could not be a true Brit. The barefaced prejudice shocked listeners. Didn’t shock me. Tony Blair tried to sell a new, cool Britishness. It bombed. Gordon Brown whose heart and soul are Scottish, used Britishness as an alibi. Cameron believed ‘British values’ were freedom, democracy, parliament and fair play none of which are uniquely British. As the BBC’s Mark Easton said in 2007: ‘We have our share of scoundrels and bigots and in the absence of good evidence, I’m not sure it is wise to claim a podium spot in the league of gentlemen’
And anyway, our governments are getting more authoritarian and snatching many fundamental rights. Furthermore, what happens to these noble virtues when we sell cluster bombs to horrid regimes, when we secretly facilitate torture, when we keep out child refugees as the Home Secretary Amber Rudd has just done? Where’s the fair play when black and Asian Britons are discriminated against in jobs and housing?
Migrants and their children are not meant to ask such questions. We are expected to fall in line. So along comes the high Tory Sajid Javid, a British-Pakistani, skin as brown as teak, born in Rochdale, son of a bus driver. He wants all public service officials to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘British values’.
You have to pity Javid, a man who wishes fervently to be seen as colourless and a vacuous patriot. Before the referendum, he was a close ally of George Osborne and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Now he holds a humbler position running the Communities and Local Government department. Maybe his latest wheeze is just to show the cold Mrs May that he is worth it. But let’s to his whizzo idea. Would he dare to demand such an oath in Scotland? Or Northern Ireland where so many crave reunification with southern Ireland? Or indeed insist upon such an oath from the English who now disdain the British identity perhaps because it is contaminated by different ethnicities? He wouldn’t dare. This is Javid waving his anti-immigrant credentials, hoping to pass, trying to shed his otherness. As if he ever can.
The harsh truth is that in the eyes of many white citizens, we can never ever be British. We can work hard, pay taxes, do essential jobs in the NHS and transport services, create successful businesses and jobs, read and love Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen and Fredrick Forsyth, become parliamentarians, fight for the country, join the police forces, commit to democracy and freedoms, marry native Brits, speak and write English impeccably, win Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bakeoff, bend our knees to the ( German/Greek) royals, even eat pie and chips, but will still kept firmly outside the tent of Britishness, shivering probably, and perpetually humiliated.
There is much to love and admire in this nation. Recent surveys show that minorities feel more British than do indigenous Britons. This is a porous, agile, sophisticated society where, in spite of bigotry, one can find a way to belong and flourish. Oaths, enforced patriotism, tests of allegiance dishearten and discourage the most integrated of us. And the exigencies further estrange the disaffected-young Muslims in particular. Such alienation will inevitably produce its own horrors and small nationalists will get more emboldened and concomitantly more furious. Next year the clash between these entrenched forces could create mayhem and maybe good immigrants will finally give up and move elsewhere. What will then happen to Great Britain?
International Business Times 21/11/15