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The BBC's Jon Devitt
"Key proposals have become somewhat lost in a row over what it means to British"
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Report commissioner, Trevor Philipps
"There is still the idea that British is code for white"
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Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
What is Britishness?
The report is the biggest of its kind for many years
The government is being asked to rethink what it means to be British by a new report examining the nation's ethnic mix. But everyone has their own definition.

The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain wants a formal declaration that the UK is a multi-cultural society.

The chairman, Lord Bhiku Parekh, says such a declaration would be "a statement of who we are", a way of saying to ethnic minorities and the world that the UK cherishes its diversity.

But what is it to be British? It is many things to many people.

John Adams, of the Campaign for English Regions, says ethnicity should not come into equation.

Daley Thompson
Daley Thompson: Proud to be British
"Someone who is British is someone who lives and works in Britain. You have to be inclusive - if someone wants to commit to Britain then we should welcome them."

Daley Thompson, the Olympic decathlon gold medallist born of a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, wrote in the Sun about what it is to be British.

"It's a national identity which embraces the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh as well as anyone else who has come to Britain in the hope of giving their children a better life.

"I know athletes on the podiums whose ancestors came to Britain for other countries felt just as proud as anyone who could trace their ancestry back to 1066."

Yet Gillian Glover, of the Scotsman newspaper, has said that the stiff upper-lipped stereotype has made her generation embarrassed to be British.

John Orr at polling station
Braveheart: Scottish nationalism comes of age
"I suspect this is one of the things which has made being Scottish suddenly such a glamorous and compelling alternative."

Roger Scruton, the author of England: An Elegy, has said that the only group of Her Majesty's subjects who describe themselves as British are those who emigrated to the UK from the former colonies.

They have done this, he said, as a means of having "no real nationality at all, certainly no nationality that would conflict with ethnic or religious loyalties forged far away and years before.

"There are black or Bangladeshi Britons, but not black or Bangladeshi English."

Orwell
George Orwell: Definition still recognisable on the football terraaces
Unlike the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh, the English appear almost reluctant to identify themselves as such.

Yet definitions of the national character are typically less than flattering. In his 1941 essay England, Your England, George Orwell described the national character thus:

"The English are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world."

Cool Britannia

Conservative Party leader William Hague has said that to be British means being, "ambitious, sporty, fashion-conscious, multi-ethnic, brassy, self-confident and international."

Geri Halliwell
Spice Girl Geri Halliwell flew the flag for Britain
Earlier this year he spoke of Britain as a place where "hundreds of thousands go to the Notting Hill Carnival and the Eisteddfod, the Britain which watches MTV and Changing Rooms, and which is fascinated by Ricky and Bianca's ups and downs".

A leader in the Daily Telegraph this week says there has never been a homogenous British population.

"Our nationhood has been shaped over centuries by waves of settlers, each bringing his own contribution to British identity.

"But that is the point: it is our common nationality that allows us to define Britishness in civic, rather than racial, terms."

In 1760, when the British Empire was at the height of its powers, King George III declared: "Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton."

Like many Britons today, George's parents came from the continent, as did his wife.

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See also:

23 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Row over UK 'racism'
14 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Government 'gives comfort' to racists
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