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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
What is Britishness anyway?
Apart from the sea, what keeps the British together?
David Blunkett has named academic Professor Sir Bernard Crick as the man who will set up a controversial "Britishness" test for would-be immigrants. Part of the problem might be there are so many definitions of what "Britishness" is.

Mr Blunkett's plans for citizenship tests - and his plain speaking approach on immigration and race - have led to accusations of borderline racism from some on the left.

He was warned when the tests were announced that his comments could be exploited by racists, and he has been criticised for showing a "distinct lack of understanding".

Cricket sight screen in John Major's old constituency, Huntingdon
"Long shadows over county grounds..."
It's an illustration of how delicate a subject race still is.

Many have tried to define what it means to be British, sometimes in relation to race but often at the level of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

For former Tory chairman Norman Tebbit, it was the infamous "cricket test" which mattered. Immigrant communities, he said, should support England even when it was playing their country of origin. Many objected to having their loyalties called into question.

Views on best of Britishness
Sophie Dahl: "Earl Grey and John Galliano"
Elton John: "Sense of humour"
Andrew Motion: "Beer on tap"
Norman Cook: "Most people speak your language when you go abroad"
Denise Lewis: "Gin and tonic"
Commenting on Professor Crick's appointment, Lord Tebbit told BBC News Online the "cricket test" was "not a test of Britishness it was a test of integration".

"Nobody used to talk about Britishness in the 1940s and 1950s, it is a phenomenon of large numbers of non-British people coming into the country.

"The question is about foreigners and how foreigners are persuaded to adopt British customs and styles."

He said England cricket captain Nasser Hussain - who was born in India - was a good example of racial integration.

'Long shadows on county grounds'

Lord Tebbit went on: "My father's family came to Britain in the 16th Century, but I regard the Anglo-Saxon period, King Alfred and William the Conqueror as part of my inheritance."

He said the challenge will be to "persuade these people (immigrants) that Waterloo, Trafalgar and the Battle of Britain, is part of their heritage."

John Major also attempted to define Britishness, although more in an attempt to reassure those worried at EU influence than immigration.

He said that in 50 years' time, it would still be the country of "long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and - as George Orwell said 'old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist'."

Same hymn sheet?

David Blunkett mentioned two things in particular - forced marriages and genital mutilation - which he said were certainly not part of Britishness.

David Blunkett meets British Muslims
But stating in any detail what are characters of Britishness is a challenging task.

Would there, for instance, be cultural harmony in a massive jamming session between a garage collective, a colliery band, drumming Orangemen, and a chamber orchestra - all of them distinctly British in their own way?

Finding the common ground which defines a nation is a challenge for many countries, especially as the concept of the "nation state" comes into question from the rise of international bodies and multi-national companies.


Within the UK, devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, inspired much soul-searching about what - if anything - it meant to be British. As the devolved assemblies settle in, there are also moves for the English regions to have more autonomy.

What exemplifies Britishness?
In a recent survey, 91% said it was the NHS
The concept of modern Britain was founded in 1707 with the Act of Union which brought England and Scotland together.

In just over five years' time, it will in a sense be Britain's 300th anniversary. But it may well be that without a greater sense of what constitutes Britishness, any celebrations will struggle to be a success in the public's mind.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Politics
10 Dec 01 | Politics
26 Oct 01 | Politics

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