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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Radical performer
On Sunday 18 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Billy Bragg, Singer songwriter

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg, Singer songwriter

ANDREW MARR: The Cross of St George is on display at the moment, right across England - cars, flats, pubs, streets, everywhere.

Now people used to say this was a sort of white's emblem, but people of all background seem to be waving the cross again, even if you're still a bit sceptical about the team itself.

Can the English now relax about showing their national pride?

I'm joined by the man who once sung that he wasn't dreaming of a new England. Musician, socialist, football fan, Englishman. Yes - Billy Bragg.

BILLY BRAGG: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Good morning to you. Thanks for coming in. So what do you make of this, the sudden sea of St George's Crosses? It would have meant something different ten years ago. BILLY BRAGG: It would, yeah, I mean I think if you'd have gone into a pub or a hall ten years ago and there'd have been a big flag of St George on the wall, you might think to yourself, well who meets here? The Klu Klux Klan? And a lot of people.

I'm.. you know, I'm ashamed really the image that the flag got because of a minority of very, very belligerent football fans over the years, and allowing the Far Right to take it. I think the fact that people are talking about "repossessing the flag" it has to be done physically and I think that's what's going on. I don't think the people who are sticking the flags the flags on their cars are consciously thinking I'm gonna stick this on my car and take it away from the BNP or whoever.

But the very fact that it now seems to be accessible to everybody I think is a real sea change in how we think we English think about ourselves.

ANDREW MARR: Bragg Towers? What's fluttering above your house?

BILLY BRAGG: Well strangely enough, above my house is the Trinidad and Tobago flag because my wife was born in Trinidad, my son is supporting Trinidad and Tobago so I'm ... there's a majority of T&T fans in my house, so we're proudly flying that, but I have got a couple of England flags on my car, so I'm sort.. you know,

ANDREW MARR: Hedging your bet.

BILLY BRAGG: Well I mean the great thing about being British I think is everybody ... all Britons are born under two flags. You have two flags, I have two flags, my wife has two flags. She's a British passport holder, and I think nobody complains if we.. you know, sometimes change our loyalties between those two flags, and I think that's one of the great strengths.

The fact that we do all of us have that option, and I mean you see flags around where people are clearly.. they're Portuguese, they've got a Portuguese flag on their car and they've got an England flag as well, so they're.. you know, they recognise that they're a Portuguese person but they're living in England, and I think to allow.. you know.. someone from outside of England to be able to say that, to say, yes I am Portuguese but I also recognise that I'm part of this thing we call England.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think we're growing up basically in terms of identity, we're able to deal with those multiple identities?

BILLY BRAGG: I think unfortunately identity has become a political football. Whether we like it or not I think in a post 9/11 world the issue of where you're from is becoming more and more important. I think the most important thing is actually where you are, you know, because in the end ...

ANDREW MARR: And your loyalty to where you are, presumably.

BILLY BRAGG: Yeah, loyalty is important, but much more important is how are our kids going to get on with their kids, that's the thing I'm most interested in.

I don't mind.. you know, if you're actually born in another country and emigrated here, you're always going to have divided loyalties, but your children, and their children, are they going to grow up to feel that they belong here. I think that beneath this flag issue, I think that's what is important.

ANDREW MARR: Now talking of loyalties, I described you at the beginning as a socialist, and that's how you describe yourself. You left the Labour Party, though, didn't you.

BILLY BRAGG: I did, yes.

ANDREW MARR: Over the Iraq War.. the first Iraq War ... the first Iraq War.

BILLY BRAGG: In '91, yeah, yeah. I was rather disappointed that the Labour Party couldn't come up with an alternative line to the government one at the time.

ANDREW MARR: And you're still out?

BILLY BRAGG: I am, yeah, I mean the sort of mischief I do down in West Dorset with vote swapping and tactical voting, you know, in my constituency I'm encouraging people to vote Liberal Democrat. I'd get chucked out the party if I was doing that sort of thing. So I'm.. you know, I'm a supporter, I mean.. you know, I was taking part in the Compass debates yesterday, some very interesting ideas there. I mean they don't use the word 'socialist' so much anymore as 'progressive'.

ANDREW MARR: Could you be tempted back, do you think?

BILLY BRAGG: Um ... I think really it's about engaging is the most important thing, Andy, not membership - engagement. I would like to see a Labour Party become more close to its members and members have much more say in policy, those kind of ideas might tempt me back.

ANDREW MARR: The other big political campaign that you've been associated with is reforming the House of Lords. We're going to talk to Jack straw in a minute. But what do you make of ... it seems that he's going for.. likely to go for half elected and half appointed, we'll ask him in a second, but what would you make of that?

BILLY BRAGG: I'll be very encouraged if they're going to finish these reforms because I think the Labour Party, this present Labour Government has done more than any other government in the last hundred years to do something about this. But I think if you don't have a majority, and a large majority, of elected people in the second chamber then the public wont bond with that chamber.

I think you need, at the absolute minimum, you need 80 to 75 percent, you've really got to make sure that it's ... people feel that they're represented in the second chamber. If it's 50/50 then the appointees are going to win all the votes and the Tony's cronies thing that we really.. you know, not just for the Labour Party but it makes people cynical about our democracy, the idea of placement in there.

ANDREW MARR: I think because he's been in there so long, he has appointed more people to the House of Lords than anybody ever.

BILLY BRAGG: Yeah, and unfortunately that undermines democracy I think. In the end we want it to be ... we want the second chamber I think to be reflective. It could be regional, it could bring people in from out of the regions.

And I think if you link the election to the general election vote by just simply dividing the seats in the second chamber in direct proportion to votes cast in the general election, you could actually encourage people to vote in the general election and get participation up again. I think the Laws Reform is about participation - I think it should be, anyway.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, and in all this whirl of activity, what about the music? Are you working on anything at the moment?

BILLY BRAGG: I've actually spent the last 8 months writing a book.

ANDREW MARR: Writing a book!


ANDREW MARR: You can't sing a book.

BILLY BRAGG: That's true. If I could have written a song about what I'm writing about, I would have done it. So I'm ...

ANDREW MARR: It's about Britishness of course.

BILLY BRAGG: It started being about Britishness but it's gone on to be about something more deeper than that, about belonging, and I think fundamentally about rights, rather than British values, I'm interested in British rights. The Bill of Rights, the reformed second chamber, these kind of ideas I think in the 21st century accountability is going to be the sexy word that we talk about.

ANDREW MARR: A sort of British revolution of a modest kind.

BILLY BRAGG: A modest kind - of course, it's British!

ANDREW MARR: Of course, absolutely. Billy Bragg, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

BILLY BRAGG: Thank you very much.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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