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I, Issue 1, 4-20, September 2008
The British Identity, 1851-2008
Kenneth O. Morgan
Introduction Nelson’s, wrote the Whig historian G.M. Trevelyan in 1926, was “the best-loved name” in British history.1 So let us begin this investigation of Britishness with the Battle of Trafalgar! One of my Welsh peasant ancestors, Evan Evans, was pressganged for the Royal Navy while working in the fields of Merioneth in mid-Wales some time around 1800. He served under Nelson and fought against the French at that climactic naval battle of October 1805. He was later wounded in the face. I have his pension form, which says that he left the navy on March 30, 1813, and that he would be paid an annuity of £10 a year for life by the Directors of the Chest at Greenwich for the relief of Seamen maimed or wounded in His Majesty’s service. This was a considerable sum for those days and he had a long and, no doubt,
Professor Kenneth O. Morgan is Honorary Fellow of The Queen’s and Oriel Colleges, Oxford. He was Fellow and Praelector, The Queen’s College, 1966 - 89, Vice-Chancellor in the University of Wales, 1989 - 95, Visiting Professor at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, 1997 - 2000, and three times lecturer at the University of Texas. He is the author of 28 widely-acclaimed works on British History including Wales in British Politics 1868 - 1922 (1963), The Age of Lloyd George (1971), Consensus and Disunity (1979), Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880 - 1980 (1981), Labour in Power 1945 51 (1984), Labour People (1987) and The People’s Peace 1945 - 2001 (new edn., 2001), and biographies of Lloyd George (1974), Keir Hardie (1975), Lord Callaghan (1997) and Michael Foot (2007). His edited Oxford Illustrated History of Britain (1984, new updated edn. 2009) has sold over 750,000 copies. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy (1983) and became a life peer (Labour) in the House of Lords in 2000. Welsh-speaking, in August 2008 he was made a Druid of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, and will receive the medal of the Society of Cymmrodorion for lifetime achievement in March 2009. All correspondence should be addressed to: The House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW. 1 G.M.Trevelyan, History of England (London, 1926), p. 578.
_________________________________________________________________ ISSN 1941-6105 Print/1941-6113 Online © 2008 British Scholar
Conekin. also powerful in its time. “The Crystal Palace and the Men of 1851”. It linked directly Britain’s world leadership as a manufacturing power with the international gospels of work and of peace. even more extensive “British Empire” – a term that meant something quite different now from that invented by the Welshman John Dee at the time of the Tudors. working alongside an architectural director of genius. Pacific and Francophile though I am. Joseph of Arimethea. 3 See Becky E. of course. pp. . Although a Welsh-speaking Welshman. I also have his old flintlock musket hanging above my fireplace in my home. Protestant people. Age of Austerity (1963). was the Festival of Britain of 1951. with his pigtail. in 1800) and the militaristic song “Rule Britannia”. 2003). as conceived by one man. 1851-2008 5 happy retirement. 43ff. 1954). esp. as the embodiment of freedom. p. lesser nations. ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’. which indeed I visited myself more than once as a schoolboy and which left a powerful impression on my generation. The Festival conveyed the inspirational force of a nation’s autobiography. Hugh Casson. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester. even if contemporary ideas of “Britishness” and of “Englishness” were frequently conflated. 305-26. exalting the primacy of the “workshop of the world” while offering a platform to the manufacturers of other. It embodied the resolve of a proud. of Brutus. Its message was unmistakable. globe-trotters and sea-farers who disliked standing armies but who also saw the traditional seaman “Jolly Jack Tar”. In 1805 most people had little doubt about what Britain meant – it was symbolized by the old Hanoverian emblems of the Union Jack (Ireland included too. There have been clear visions of Britain and its identity that emerged at key moments later on. It also instructed foreigners of the supreme virtues of Britain’s free constitution and its way of life. Evan Evans would have had no doubt about his Britishness. keeping close watch on potentially hostile vessels lurking in the harbours of Brest. this idea of Britishness was reinforced by the vigorous notion of a second.2 A later vision of Britain. he would have explicitly believed in the existence of what they called then “the British nation”. and Michael Frayn. shaped by timeless legends of the empire of Albion. ‘Festival’ in Michael Sissons and Philip French.The British Identity.3 2 Asa Briggs. defending his countrymen against the age-old enemy France. Gerald Barry. Ralph Tubbs’s aluminium-clad Dome of Discovery and Powell and Moye’s seemingly floating Skylon were almost as thrilling as Joseph Paxton’s “temple made of glass’” had been a hundred years earlier. eds. The massive international prestige of the Great Exhibition of 1851. and King Arthur. in Victorian People (London.. both embodied in the ideology of free trade. Rochefort. obviously conveyed one. or Toulon.
to accommodate activities such as basketball and trampolining. 1851-1914 Yet the idea of Britishness was complicated even before 1851. It lingered on as an empty (and very expensive) hulk near the Greenwich waterfront. one that implied renewal in the grim years of austerity following the end of war in 1945. secure in its values and its sense of heritage (rather than of history—no professional historians were used in planning the Festival). For some years afterwards. The Festival stuck boldly to a belief in ‘national character’. What was Britishness after all? Was it fundamentally ethnic. In 2000 there was no message at all. There was a manifest doctrine of Britishness in 1805.6 Kenneth O. sources both of unity and of diversity. with such pleasure-garden delights as Rowland Emett’s light railway. And the Festival was an enormous success while it lasted: eight and a half million people came to see and to marvel. the Millennium Dome at Greenwich in 2000. There were also other confusions about identity and nationhood. In many ways. It had no sense of identity to convey and was from start to finish an embarrassing failure. in embarrassing proximity to the architectural glory of Christopher Wren’s Naval Hospital and Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House. When the Royal Festival Hall. the very symbol of gentle British eccentricity that George Orwell had acclaimed in his wartime book. Britain became far more integrated and closely-knit after 1815. even in the very aftermath of military and naval success over the French in Napoleonic times. a politically-correct theme-park which stirred few hearts and was not obviously about anything very much. neighbourly and tolerant as noted in Orwell’s Lion and the Unicorn (1941). a synonym for Englishness. care was taken lovingly to reproduce the same pastel shades and décor of half a century earlier. This contrasted starkly with the almost literal emptiness of a later dome. which made it increasingly hard to reconcile with the notion of a “United Kingdom”? Or did it flow from the civic and institutional identity of the British Isles? The argument became increasingly passionate as the nineteenth century wore on. It proclaimed an artistic style that was clear and definable. especially when home rule for Ireland became a dominant theme with the rise of the Irish Nationalist Party in the late 1870s. Morgan It conveyed a view of a country that was technically inventive. until it was proposed as one of the supplementary arenas for the London Olympic Games scheduled for 2012. Its people were pulled together by the growth of national railways and systems . The Lion and the Unicorn. But it was also great fun. Pluralism. 1851 and 1951. politicians struggled to find a use for the Dome. which was its centrepiece. symbolized by the Battersea funfair up river. was refurbished in 2006-7.
by the advance of mass literacy after Gladstone’s 1870 Education Act and the rise of a mass newspaper press.The British Identity. 6 Kenneth O. 5 Philip Waller. from Clydeside and Tyneside to the Welsh valleys. Thus. 26-155. City and Nation: England 1850 -1914 (Oxford. distinct cultural landmarks like the federal University of Wales and the related network of “county schools” in 1889-93. after 1860 this diversity and local pride became more and more evident. The dynamism of Joseph Chamberlain’s Birmingham or the London County Council. the Hope of Democracy (New York.)5 In Scotland and Wales. Town. even more than those of Germany or Switzerland. Yet they were also local metropolises. p. as well as in Ireland. by a national market and credit and banking system. the municipalized tramways and public libraries of Glasgow. 1981). the British were becoming more diverse. their powerful newspapers. . Howe. and textiles across the world. 1907) and European Cities at Work (New York. Yet in other ways. Cardiff and Belfast had dual identities. 4 Frederick C. Mighty cities like Glasgow. 1913). political democracy which created mass nationwide parties after 1867 also encouraged the sense of local power seen in the great surge of local government in the last third of the century. Late-Victorian Scotland and Wales rapidly developed their own sense of historic identity and national awareness. 1851-2008 7 of communications.4 Industrialization. with a city like Manchester promoting both itself and its governing ideology in Waterhouse’s gothic town hall and the Free Trade Hall nearby. 82. (The gospel of free trade and the anti-Corn Law crusade supplied a respectable civic model: the city fathers expunged any mention of the 1819 “massacre” of Peterloo. Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880 . Morgan. The City. The vision of Empire made this integration increasingly apparent. The British City: the Beginnings of Democracy (New York. There were potentially separatist institutional developments like the revived Scottish Office of 1885.1980 (Oxford and Cardiff. They were all great imperial cities and trading centres. dominating their regional hinterland with their entrepots and chambers of commerce. their wealth based on their exports of steel. These revolutionary changes in economic and social life fostered contradictory forces. north and south. which swept Britain into a nationwide economy. specifically Celtic politicians like David Lloyd George and Tom Ellis in Wales6 and the sub-national assertiveness of the six counties of Protestant Ulster from 1886 in resisting the threat of Irish home rule administered from Catholic Dublin. pp. could offer “the hope for democracy”. 1983). their cultural and religious life. 1905). There was certainly a great upsurge of regional awareness in England shown in the civic consciousness of the major cities. and imposing civic centres like the Edwardian baroque grandeur of Cardiff ’s Cathays Park. also promoted regional economic identities. thrilled American Progressives like Frederick Howe and Jane Addams who felt that Britain’s cities. coal.
were also strongly imperialist 7 J. the Scots. p. A Liberal historian like Edward Freeman wrote romantically on the local autonomy enjoyed by other. Aftermath: Remembering the Great War in Wales (Cardiff. in 1916 he became prime minister of Great Britain and presided over a wartime imperial Cabinet. the folk-hero William Tell above all. 170.8 Kenneth O. a mighty historiographical orchard grew. 2002). Cardiff. eds. an ever increasing measure of separatism from crown and parliament. Welsh. For the southern Irish sought not equality but exclusion. the Scots and Welsh sought equality within the United Kingdom and the British Empire. in sharp contrast. Thus. On hearing news of crushing British defeats at Colenso and Spion Kop. “International Opinion” in David Omissi and Andrew Thompson. Methuen for the Scots. strongly backed the demand for independence voiced by the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He was to operate within the traditional system. In time.”7 Switzerland with its citizen pikemen became for a time a kind of model of face-to-face pluralist democracy. or Scandinavia: “The most ancient crowns of Kings and Popes and Caesars are things of yesterday beside the patriarchal honours of the Landmanns of Uri. 1983). cherishing its myths.8 The Welsh sense of nationality in the early twentieth century was encapsulated at the unveiling of the Welsh National War Memorial in Cathays Park.9 The Scots. the Tyrol. and Ulstermen largely remained enthusiasts for the imperial cause and trumpeted their own military heroes (Kitchener for the Ulsterman. There national identity was perfectly compatible with Britishness. and the much more debatable credentials of Roberts and BadenPowell for the Welsh). 9 Angela Gaffney. most commentators felt comfortable with what was happening. 44 ff. in Scotland and Wales at least. was very different. even the home rule within the Empire sought by Irish Nationalists like Parnell and Redmond was overtaken by the overt republicanism of Griffith. . The Impact of the South African War (Basingstoke. Ireland. 1998). this diversity was. peoples in the Swiss cantons. Even Edward Gibbon had once contemplated writing an epic on the rise of Swiss liberty. Essentially. David Lloyd George was not a Welsh Parnell. strictly qualified. prior to finding a grander theme in Roman decline and fall. A Liberal Descent (Cambridge. From Tell’s apple.. at least the 26 counties of the Catholic South. 278-82. the Irish Nationalists in the Commons stood up and cheered. pp. Anyway. Burrow. The Irish Nationalists. which described the Welsh people as “conscious of their nationhood but equally conscious of their partnership in Empire”. p.W. 8 Donal Lowry. during the South African War of 1899-1902. in 1928. Morgan While some unionists saw this as the malign result of the domino-theory fragmentation initiated by proposing separatism for Ireland. After all. immensely active in reviving political badges of nationality after 1885. usually mountainous. Collins and de Valera in Sinn Fein.
(It had been preceded by another symbol of Britishness the previous year. The Irish and the Welsh both disestablished their churches in 1869 and in 1920 respectively. 2003). Memories of Dunkirk (an evacuation from the continent. the war memorials in tiny villages. the nationwide symbolism of Armistice Day and the Cenotaph. Geographes. as in 1588 or 1805. the sale of poppies. and the work of the British Legion on behalf of war veterans. his scruffy appearance was roundly condemned (including within the Labour Party) as being un-British. was thought to be too casually dressed at the Cenotaph ceremony in November 1981. 386 (Rouen.) This unionism was nurtured by two world wars. When Michael Foot. What else could be expected from this “inveterate peacemonger” other than disrespect to the military dead? The Second World War was even more powerful in encouraging a very specific image of Britishness. underpinned by the crisis of the capitalist order in the inter-war period. that underlay the remarkably paternalistic Empire exhibition at Wembley stadium in 1924. Unionism. � Lieux de Memoire: la Grand-Bretagne. . centred on the country’s insular separateness and historic independence. 10-14. in defiance of foreign aggressors and a fascist. Morgan. This long survived. les Etats Unis et la France et les deux guerres mondiales. denounced by the French as an act of betrayal but revered in British legend as a triumph for homely British muddle-through). 1914-1966 In the twentieth century.The British Identity. It was this Britishness. But in Ireland disestablishment was an early precursor of home rule. Historiens. in Wales it was an alternative to it. the Scottish voters swung towards the Salisbury government in the “khaki election” of 1900. The year 1940 became Britain’s all-purpose lieu de memoire (site of memory). a white horse. The legacy of 1918 came in the sense of sacrifice. the relative pluralism of late-Victorian Britain gave way rapidly to a long phase of unionism—a form of civic and symbolic Britishness. when “the few” fought alone against the enemy. 1919-2003 ». then Labour’s leader. far greater than the capacity of the stadium to house it. when the first Wembley football cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United attracted an immense crowd. Order was restored by one famous solitary unarmed policeman. and the Battle of Britain. astride yet another symbol of identity for the animal-loving British. pp. 1851-2008 9 from their shipbuilders to their doctor-missionaries. from the time of the First World War until the sixties. or defeatist continental Europe. collaborationist. The political agendas of the various Celtic nations were all distinct and different. in its wider imperial guise.10 and it generated a good deal 10 See Kenneth O.
69-74. honorary fellow of The Queen’s College. p. variously proclaimed in Churchill’s immortal speeches. The unionist mystique of the Second World War was lovingly preserved for half a century afterwards in endless wartime films. Morgan less warmth towards our French ally. its “dambusters” blowing up the Mohne and Eder dams. Eminent Churchillians (London. with the massive depressions in the staple industries of coal. Oxford (like the present writer. 12 Andrew Roberts. They were frequently shown on television on Christmas Day. In 2008 the Brown government resisted strongly the idea that the Lisbon Treaty agreement was an action replay of the European constitution. sang of bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover or nightingales singing in Berkeley Square: these were not avian locations with which Scots. and devolution before 1914.11 “There’ll always be an England” was the message of the war. after their Christmas dinner and the Queen’s traditional message to her people. or (for Far Eastern colour) marching on the bridge over the River Kwai. or Swansea). less positively. T.M. based on a historic sense of insular detachment. the folksy communication of J. pp. Eliot’s “East Coker” and “Little Gidding”. . Geordies.S. the nostalgic chronicle of G. one of the few female icons of the war along with the Queen Mother. The Myth of the Blitz (London. again to keep ideas of a referendum and probable political defeat at bay. or Welsh were likely to feel close kinship. municipal socialism.12 This wartime nostalgia reaped its partial dividend in the perennial Euroscepticism of the British well into the twenty-first century. when the British could settle down. As for Hitler in 1940. steel. to enjoy their boys once again sinking the Bismarck or escaping from Colditz. Dame Vera Lynn. The radio soubrette. textiles. and 11 Angus Calder.B. Arthur Bryant. Ramsay MacDonald and George Lansbury in its early years. The Blair government rejoiced in not holding a referendum on the proposed European constitution in the summer of 2005 because it would almost certainly have been heavily defeated. Newcastle. than had memories of the Marne or Verdun after 1918. after its Vichy experience along with tensions with General de Gaulle. had encouraged ideas of local government. alas!). 287ff. so for the Euro currency sixty and more years later. inclusive Britishness—or perhaps an extended Englishness since the main impact of the war was felt in south-eastern England (for all the heavy bombing of Glasgow. 1991). the upperclass whimsy of Noel Coward. 1994). a second force for unionism was mass unemployment.10 Kenneth O. by the Napoleonic naval sagas of the anti-semite and neo-fascist. The Labour Party. Trevelyan’s English Social History (1942) or. Priestley’s broadcast “postscripts”. If war was a great unifier after 1918 and even more after 1945. But the catastrophes that beset the British economy between the wars. through such pioneers as Keir Hardie. its fighter pilots shooting down Messerschmitts. It encouraged an unreflective.
403. Douglas Jay. 14 Social Insurance and Allied Services. over the opposition of Herbert Morrison. A national disease demanded a national remedy. not the few. major instruments of the idea of Britishness. Linked with this was the notion of the welfare state. who as former leader of the London County Council championed a local/municipal approach. after 1945 the pressure for central planning and reconstruction encouraged ideas of a “people’s peace”. Deb. Social welfare meant.13 National differentiation was therefore absurd. 1944. boldly etched out in William Beveridge’s astonishingly influential report on national social insurance in November 1942. 1851-2008 11 shipbuilding. to Labour. 2311-14. to avoid the betrayals of the “land fit for heroes” which followed the First World War after 1918. William Beveridge: a biography (Oxford. Vol. education. If the Second World War was felt to be a people’s war. nationwide minimum standards for health. they aimed at the conquest of power at the centre—this meant Westminster and Whitehall. the same criteria should apply in Tyneside as in Tunbridge Wells. During the war years. Neither Scotland nor Wales appears in the index of this biography. Their essential view of national policy was a centralized British one. pp. 1977). In the famous or notorious words of another socialist. writing in The Socialist Case. 378 ff. even if their narrative was a radically different one from that of the old Whig imperialist. and Jose Harris. which was where imperial power was located.). Through such evangelists as Bevan. people should realise 13 Parl. when he poured scorn on the idea of having a Welsh Day debate in the House of Commons.14 Printed unattractively in single-space on shoddy wartime paper. and housing. 211-28. 1975). It would be a brave new world for the many.The British Identity. As socialists. Aneurin Bevan memorably encapsulated the British emphasis of Labour’s class message on October 17. That was what “fair shares” implied. It also meant a centralized emphasis to ensure that social quality was nationally enforced. November 1942 (Cmd. No “hard-faced” wartime profiteers would dominate the settlement this time around. What was the point? How did Welsh sheep differ from English sheep? They all grazed on the grass in the same way. inevitably led to a sense of country-wide crisis. See also Paul Addison’s fine discussion in The Road to 1945 (London.(5th ser. pp.000 copies. this universalization of the political culture of the working class was taken further. it sold 630. Winston Churchill. the Labour Party and its partners the trade unions became. Thus Aneurin Bevan carried through Cabinet. Unemployment and industrial stagnation afflicted workers from Clydeside to Caerphilly. 6404). along with the consensus on Keynesian-style national economic planning that went along with it. the nationalization of the hospitals’ services. . The great idea emanating from the Second World War at home was that of a welfare state. therefore.
Thatcher was to put it in a speech in 1988. The legal system was also hailed in print and in rhetoric. or in the jungles of Burma or Malaya. along with the right to trial by jury. 258. in the later twentieth century. the National Health Service. when threatened by the Blair government’s Criminal Justice Bill in 2003.Deb. so opinion polls showed.15 Indeed. on the high seas. Army Bureau of Current Affairs classes run for members of the armed services fighting the foe in north African desert. 16 Parl. 651. a very English man with his love of cricket and the Times crossword. a bulwark of individual freedom via habeas corpus as in centuries past. presided over a celebration of British traditional institutions and values. There is a final aspect of unionism to note in this period down to the mid1960s—the unionism embodied in the constitution. proclaiming as Colonel Rainboro had then done in Putney church that the “poorest he hath a right to live as the richest he”. . It was trial before one’s fellow citizens not before an official tribunal of state. Vol. with much success. 130 (15 July 2003). when. It is a curious twist that the great socialist rebel. even citing (in tones that evoke the social democratic egalitarianism of the war years) the Levellers of 1647. as Mrs. 1946 edn. It represented a cherished system which was to be robustly defended. as traditional institutions like the monarchy. as they had endured since 1688. 795-6. when the present writer ventured to remind parliament that they were being asked to undermine something enshrined in Magna Carta back in 1215.12 Kenneth O. The war years. focused on Westminster and Whitehall. by “freeborn Englishmen” as in the Middle Ages. Scottish national sensibilities did get a strengthened Scottish Office when Tom Johnston. should be the originator of the proudest national totem of them all. a famous imperial public school. when the House of Commons continued to maintain free debate and survived the perils of the blitz. Aneurin Bevan of Tredegar. Morgan that “the gentleman from Whitehall knows best”. He above all people believed in the Mother of Parliaments. the Church of England and above all the Empire.16 The constitution thus survived almost every attempt at major surgery in the twenty years following 1945. the most powerful enduring symbol of the sense of Britishness was. “Big Ben chimed out for liberty”. (Lords). successfully reminded the wartime Churchill cabinet of the danger of an upsurge of Scottish nationalism (on the strength of one by-election win for the SNP in 15 Douglas Jay. placed emphasis on the Mother of Parliaments. pp. The Socialist Case (London. celebrated the historic virtues of the Crown in parliament and the House of Commons as “the great assize of the people”. p.). The effect of two world wars and consequent economic turmoil was a heightened respect for the system of governance. Attlee himself. the product of Haileybury. declined in esteem. a Labour Secretary of State who had championed Scottish home rule in his younger days.
more than most. this time under Wilson’s Labour government as previously under Macmillan’s Conservatives in 1963. It defies periodization. 1977). in Britain’s alarming balance of payments crisis of July 1966. 18 See Alec Cairncross. exemplified Harold Wilson’s famous remark that a week was a long time in politics. This heralded the end of the Anglo-American financial concord achieved in the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement. Managing the British Economy in the 1960s (Oxford. But this old tribal victory was immediately followed by a crisis for the national psyche. marked by floating exchange rates and a new mobility for capital.The British Identity. James Callaghan. 51-7. as the sterling area subsided and the special relationship with the United States seemed increasingly unreliable and precarious. not even in the restructuring of nationalized industries such as coal and steel. . But there was a chain of key events in the second week of July 1966. 1996). that ancient totem of national stability and self-confidence. treasury to accede to a request by the British Chancellor. pp. Secondly. and this tradition of constitutional non-reform endured until the vortex of change in the 1960s. It followed immediately after a traditional celebration of an older symbol of Britishness—or really Englishness—in England’s football triumph in the World Cup final at Wembley. a new awareness of the fragility of the world financial system. First there was. This indicated that Britain felt itself to be too weak to operate financially on its own. in the 1960s. Scotland and Nationalism (London. In major respects. and the devaluation of sterling. Indeed. of course. S. that age of transformed standards popularly identified with the Beatles and “swinging London” and the mini-skirted. added to popular satisfaction. The impact of the Sixties Then. This week. with so many different currents surging in different directions at once. the eventual devaluation of sterling in November 1967 followed a final refusal by “Joe” Fowler at the U. 1851-2008 13 Motherwell in 1945). A new global world order. Four things happened around this time. this reflected the extraordinary upheaval in cultural and moral values in that era. Britain found itself compelled again to try to enter Europe. The fact that it was achieved against the established wartime enemy. the rapid demise of the post-war sterling area. to bail 17 Christopher Harvie. was coming into being.17 But this reform was intended clearly to strengthen the Scottish voice at Westminster and serve as an antidote to nationalism. long-haired young. several of the older symbols and mystique of Britishness suddenly collapsed. with permanent consequences. Wales got nothing at all. the Germans.18 Britain suffered a huge run on the reserves and the pound was under sustained pressure.
in the eyes of some. Plaid Cymru’s president. Callaghan: a life (Oxford. overwhelmingly ratified in a referendum in 1975. later many hundreds of thousands from the Indian sub-continent. The younger generation was much to the fore in these developments.19 Even though Harold Wilson’s bid to enter Europe was to fail in 1967. They provided a disturbing backdrop to other forms of political destabilization. and Caribbean nations. Morgan out British overseas indebtedness with a vast loan one more time. who foresaw 19 Kenneth O. again quite distinct. Morgan. . unknown since the rout of the second Jacobite uprising on barren Culloden Moor in 1746. Great naval bases like Singapore were no more. It meant a huge saving in foreign exchange. It indicated a new fluidity in the notion of the United Kingdom. purely local development in July 1966. entirely different. Asian. even more than Indian independence or Eden’s Suez fiasco in 1956. the Suez crisis. although it was completed with remarkably little popular trauma. Celtic nationalism subscribed to the cult of the new. marked the real end of empire. Six years later. vetoed by President de Gaulle as Macmillan’s had been in 1963. But it also reflected the growing irrelevance of British forces trying to play a world role after the independence of India. These were black and brown migrants initially mainly from the Caribbean and West Africa in the early fifties. Another underlying element of change should also be mentioned here. And there was a fourth. The victory of Gwynfor Evans. was followed by a Scottish Nationalist Party victory at Hamilton the following year. and the decolonization of African. 1966. Enoch Powell. A third profound result of the financial crisis of the second week of July 1966 was confirmation in British government circles of a final decision to withdraw British military and naval forces from east of Suez. in a by-election in Carmarthen on July 14. Fear of immigration resulted in alarming racial clashes in several industrial towns in the late 1960s. pp. They were reflected in the speeches of a right-wing Cassandra. 268-87. namely the background of massive immigration from the new Commonwealth.14 Kenneth O. with de Gaulle replaced as president by the emollient Pompidou and later by the English-speaking Giscard d’Estaing. 1997). of course. along with the strategic emphasis on a long-range nuclear strike deterrent rather than on conventional land-based forces. membership of the European Common Market was permanently on the national political agenda from then on. one connected only remotely with the previous three—the announcement of a new political effectiveness for Celtic nationalism. The withdrawal from east of Suez. Britain’s European quest duly succeeded. as in the Welsh Language Society tearing down road signs or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Scotland protesting at Polaris submarines in Holy Loch. and strong Welsh and Scottish nationalist votes in a string of by-elections from the Rhondda to Govan.
To these should be added the emergence of Celtic nationalist movements and pressure for devolution in Scotland and Wales. Edward VII. many of the totems that once inspired an awed deference or at least the official recognition of Britishness rapidly lost ground. and George V it summed up the national idea for most people. The death of Diana in 1997 brought it to its knees in public esteem. The Union Jack (or flag) was seldom waved (and sometimes perversely associated with the right20 See the Fabian Commission report. and by the ending of empire. “Now we can look the East Enders in the face”. The traditional British governmental state has been “hollowed out” by membership of the European Union since 1973 (ratified in a national referendum in 1975). pluralist society (complicated still further.20 In the reigns of Victoria. . 2002). in 2007 one-tenth of the population was foreign-born. under the impact of these profound changes. a remarkably dysfunctional group of people who hardly embodied the values of the traditional nuclear family. Immigration was largely from the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere in the Commonwealth down to the 1990s. By the end of the Millennium. and (when the European Union expanded in 2004) many hundreds of thousands from Poland and other nations in Eastern Europe. The spectacle of George VI and his queen striding through the rubble of the blitz which struck Buckingham Palace as it did poor terraces in the East End. around a million and half people entered Britain. in the music hall as well as in high society. In the 1950s. The Second World War gave the monarchy an unexpected new impetus after the dangerous interlude of Edward VIII and his abdication in 1936. together with the challenges of an increasingly multicultural. Since the 1960s. Nowhere was this truer than with the monarchy. 1851-2008 15 “rivers of blood” if the tides of immigration continued unabated and called for the mass repatriation of Africa.The British Identity. audiences accepted without question that cinema performances would end with the national anthem. had huge and positive popular impact. and Caribbean immigrants back to their homelands. reinforced by the bizarre personal misfortunes of the royal family. she observed. accompanying the Queen in military posture as she surveyed the trooping of the colour on the Horse Guards parade. Under George V it subtly adapted to a more democratic age. Asian. The Queen Mother acquired an honoured reputation as a national icon. In the first ten years of Labour government after 1997. of course. the Balkans after the Kosovo war. The Future of the Monarchy (Fabian Society. many of the older symbols of Britishness have fallen away. along with many publications from Charter 88. In the process. the monarchy had lost much of its authority. After the Millennium there followed an accelerated wave of migration from the Middle East. by the continuous impact of Americanization and global pop culture upon British tastes and norms).
It asked for a revisiting of the notion of the “island story” to adjust to the outlook of newer immigrants and their descendants. Professor Bhikhu Parekh. “Minorities and Outsiders” and “National Fictions” (History Workshop. . The process of generational change magnified a sense of multiple identities. whose chairman. Only the Queen herself remained a generally respected figure. But her death led only to merciless obituaries of her as a pitiful remnant. Her interest in the arts. notably in northern towns with large Asian populations. with pressure for “faith schools” among Muslims. was ignored. There are fascinating discussions of British national identity in the three volumes Patriotism. 1989). placed emphasis on the need to re-think every aspect of British culture. The sense of civic identity related to the idea of “Britain” was increasingly replaced. could face a troubled inheritance when he succeeds her. there was a mounting sense of national awareness down to the achievement of devolution in both countries (by the narrowest of margins in Wales) in 1997. as the polity increasingly came to reflect its component parts. It also called for a revision of the National Curriculum as taught in schools. “History and Politics”. more as post-colonial Asians than subjects of the British crown. very much in contrast to the unifying and conformist approach adopted in the schools of the 21 See important articles by Bhikhu Parekh. Hugh Kearney and Philip Lynch on aspects of multicultural pluralism. education and sense of heritage. in the second. Ethnic minorities. Asian voters seemed to react to the unpopular decision to send British troops to invade Iraq. became increasingly selfsufficient in educational provision and other ways.21 In Scotland and in Wales. August 21. a predatory neighbour from hell. uncoupled from the central state. The death of Princess Margaret in early 2002 illustrated the point. alongside the Americans. The national anthem was no longer sung by Welshmen at Cardiff Arms Park or Scots at Murrayfield before rugby internationals: they preferred the triumphal battle-song “Yn Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” (Land of my Fathers) in the first case. The influential Parekh report on multiculturalism in 1999. 1930). In by-elections in places like Brent and Leicester South in 2003. and for a reintegrating sense of citizenship. edited by Raphael Samuel. was a distinguished Indian political scientist and shortly a Labour peer. the mournful dirge. all too prone to give vent to tetchy and often reactionary views on issues ranging from modern architecture to fox-hunting. popularized by the folk group “The Corries” and commemorating victory over Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. if it was by anything. “Flower of Scotland”. rare in Britain’s royal family. by a more communal identity. Morgan wing fringe). Duncan Kelly. 1 ( January-March 2000). Her heir.16 Kenneth O. Prince Charles. often reduced to a unifying coherence only with the greatest of difficulty. Political Quarterly 71. She had once been seen as the glamorous face of modern monarchy (including for my parents who were excited by getting married on her day of birth.
had sung mournfully. 1851-2008 17 United States and France. if only in self-defence during the aggressive unionism of the Thatcher governments. Scottish civil society and the professional classes voiced a growing impatience with Westminster rule. Perhaps the main abiding force for integration in 2000 was the post-war welfare state. a unitary state. told the world “Every morning I wake up and thank the Lord I’m Welsh”. the central state apparatus. in their referendum. Ironically. But clearly the historic. hitherto traditional and puritanical. the less nationalist Welsh voted for an elected Assembly with lesser. for a Scottish parliament. Welsh nationalism. and called for a Scottish parliament. the political parties. as its civil society became more nationally conscious at all levels. what was left of the Churches. Conclusion Britain at the Millennium showed very clearly the evanescence of an old Britain. the threat of a European “other”. by a large majority. made new inroads into the world of youthful pop culture. It extended not just to the Crown and. Dafydd Iwan. Wales and even Northern Ireland followed on in due course. and in the mutual self-reinforcement of the ethnic minorities. the experience of Thatcherism (a mainly English phenomenon) was to make devolution in Scotland all the more certain. was in danger of passing into history itself. in the nineties Cerys Matthews. and free trade. the National Health . which saw a Labour landslide. Welsh people of all ages sang along with her. the Conservative Party failed to win a single seat in either Scotland or Wales. shown in a Constitutional Convention which reported in 1990. By a miniscule majority. notably France. It showed itself in the stronger identities of Scotland and Wales. popular Protestantism. purely executive. Where in the sixties the Anglesey folk singer. or the BBC. the Scots voted. the sense of dissolution within a traditional British core was reinforced. with primary legislative functions and potential powers over taxation as well. In the May 1997 general election. but also to the operations of parliament. Many of its underlying components were in decline—the monarchy. From the seventies. The Thatcher-Major years thus played their part in restructuring the United Kingdom. The attempt to impose the hugely unpopular poll tax on Scotland in 1989-90 aroused strong nationalist emotions amongst a people few of whom had ever voted Conservative in the first place. whose governmental forms dated in part from the Norman Conquest nearly a millennium earlier. ‘Dy ni yma o hyd’ (We’re still here). the idea of empire. powers. centrally directed British nation-state. and the idea of a meaningful culture mediated by such bodies as the universities. the sexy blonde soubrette heading the pop band Catatonia. Four months later.The British Identity. the language of stubborn survival. the command of the open seas. of course.
It was hard to imagine that the conflict over le voile. was the underpinning of devolution by further changes. internecine Belgium. should erupt in the same way in Britain. Britain had over the centuries differed from France in maintaining a distinction between the state and the nation (or perhaps we should say “nations”). Wales. citizen-based equality but of western post-imperial intolerance.18 Kenneth O. The winding down of Great Britain did not mean that the United Kingdom lacked substance. could now put out almost an entire team of black players. one factor making for integration had been sport. constitutionally. while many of its best black players were also French. Arsenal. Häider in Austria. Amongst the masses. the issue of Muslim girls wearing the veil in state schools. Britain produced no one remotely as influential as Le Pen in France. Gordon Brown 22 Norman Davies. It had enabled the country to absorb mighty transformations since 1945. hardly paralleled the power of German Länder like BadenWurttemberg or semi-autonomous regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque territories. even that might lose its potency too. with riots in London in places like Brixton and the murder of a policeman at Broadwater Farm. not least to Commonwealth immigrants. The Isles (London. and Northern Ireland had not yet come close to stimulating the break-up of the United Kingdom: their elected assemblies’ role. Arsene Wenger. The issue of dual citizenship was less of an issue in Britain than elsewhere. Morgan Service in particular. Any form of federalism still seemed far off. Institutions like the BBC and the police openly accused themselves of “institutional racism” in the 1990s. Even so. where French policy was sometimes seen not as a mark of republican. the idea of Britain was still in 2000 a concept that commanded allegiance. Wales.22 What was needed though. My own football team. or the fringe xenophobic groups of the Netherlands or Switzerland. But. The Arsenal manager. if only to avoid conflicts in future when governments of different hues emerged in the different parliaments as happened in 2007. Devolution in Scotland. a famous north London club. There was nothing like the divisiveness between Fleming and Walloon in a fractured. then. Nor had it encouraged a hegemonic national ideology to override possible individual or communal dissent as the Americans had done with the cult of the flag and the constitution. The historian Norman Davies’ prophecy of national disintegration remained unproven and probably incorrect. was a multilingual Frenchman from Alsace: the giant screen sometimes lit up before a match began with the words “Allez les rouges!” On many levels. Britain has experienced some difficult periods of racial tension since the 1960s. With the emergence of different kinds of health services in England. and Northern Ireland. 1999). . the concept of “Britain” had always been in flux over the centuries anyway. even in Scotland. Scotland. The sense of Britishness was certainly still important.
historically. as it existed in its early years. Structural institutional change was essential to create a sense of citizenship among a people who. the “concordats” governing relations between parliaments to be more firmly written down. a supposedly temporary arrangement patched up at the time of the earlier devolution debate in 1978. The disunity of the Kingdom thus emerged with new clarity. even if he somewhat undermined his quest by attaching it to a vain search for consensual “British values”. These events laid bare how Britain’s devolution settlements had been deliberately distinct and asymmetrical. had merely been subjects of the Crown. even in 2008. However. The Conservatives raised the possible spectre of a parliament for England alone. 1851-2008 19 was to show acute awareness of this when he made constitutional reform a priority for his government on becoming prime minister in June 2007. was under way with a new urgency in the years following the Millennium. There was also the Barnett formula. then. . There was a need for firmer agreements to underpin the settlement. and Cardiff.The British Identity. whereas the reverse was forbidden. whereas. More visibly. across the water. to the English. and needed to be addressed. Sinn Fein republicans with a background of political violence. Tam Dalyell’s famous “West Lothian question” which pointed out that Scottish MPs could vote on English matters in the House of Commons. Debate about Britishness. scant sign of an aggressive English nationalism. the Council of the Isles. No one was able to answer the Labour MP. not as part of a greater whole. The devolution “settlement”. greater per capita funding for the inhabitants of Scotland and Wales (and even more for Northern Ireland). The need for effective integrative mechanisms became all the more acute after the Scottish and Welsh elections of 2007 which saw a minority Scottish Nationalist government in Edinburgh. which would surely rival the long-standing one in Westminster and create chaos. apparently. the homeland of over 80 per cent of the British people? Its statutory recognition was remarkably vague. Was it just a state of mind? Was it perhaps a geographical expression as Metternich once described Italy? There had been. geared to the specific problems within each country. rested too much on informality and convention. and similar instruments of possible future conflict resolution. Scotland was forbidden territory. which provided. What exactly was “England”. sharing power with Protestant Unionists in a revived administration in Belfast. Plaid Cymru in a coalition government in Cardiff and. unwritten constitution. to date. typical of a slow-changing. it irked English people that Scottish politicians like Gordon Brown and Robin Cook could dominate Westminster. the more regular use of the Joint Ministerial Council. though the Conservative Party was correct that there was English resentment on some specific issues. Its durability was masked for the years after 1999 by the existence of Labour or Labour-dominated governments in Westminster. Edinburgh. But there was also a more specific problem—that of Englishness.
Unless some way was found of expressing the civic and cultural identity of the English as well as the Celtic minorities.23 The names of Wessex had lived on only in the novels of Thomas Hardy. they did propose a diminution of the royal prerogative in giving parliament more power over war-making powers and endorsing foreign treaties (the present writer is currently a member of the Joint Select Committee on this). deprived of “God save the Queen” for most purposes. 54. 2000-5. Meg Russell et al. and even then it blended into other themes. The English rugby supporters.. No. One visible sign of English self-awareness was the increased use of the flag of St. perhaps illogically. Sweet Chariot”. suggested that an encouragement of flag-waving Englishness was actually dangerous since it might give comfort to the racist British National Party on the far right. e-Bulletins of the Committee of the English Regions. or the Lindisfarne Gospels. . Academics in the Committee for English Regionalism sowed their seeds on the stoniest of ground. But this largely appeared when England took part in international football competitions: it equally soon disappeared when England teams met with their habitual defeat. However. “The Constitution: Rolling out the new Settlement”. the vision and the reality of a meaningful Britain would remain unfulfilled. These matters were studiously ignored in the Brown government’s ‘Constitutional Renewal’ proposals in April 2008. pp. ed. 24 Robert Hazell.24 So the issue was unresolved and the future uncertain. even if the sense of cultural identity amongst the “Geordies” of post-industrial Tyneside remained vigorous in the new century. after the neglect of centuries. there was no pressure for devolution. “The Parliamentary Affairs. Otherwise.200 years earlier.20 Kenneth O. In England. turned for their anthem to “Swing Low. had not advanced institutionally since the Anglo-Saxon “heptarchy” 1. 23 See the attractive volume. 190 ff. A referendum to gauge support for a north-east assembly in October-November 2004 saw the idea thrown out by almost three to one. Unreformed England. 2007). As long as this lacuna continued. either locally or nationally. there would be an ongoing problem. Englishness was stridently expressed only in antagonism to the idea of a more integrated Europe. an old American slave song. Robert Colls. had remained “the gaping hole in the devolution settlement”. Mercia was even more insubstantial.. like the histories of Bede or Alcuin. London. 2 (April 2001). Northumbria: History and Identity (Chichester. George. not political. This perhaps reflected a wider scepticism about new expensive tiers of self-serving politicians emerging. The idea of Northumbria. declared an exasperated Constitutional Unit of University College. not even for the most limited forms of regional government. Englishness even in sport was hard to define.. The legacy of the “Golden Age” of the eighth-century kingdom of Northumbria was entirely Christian and cultural. and East Anglia in the names of local universities. Morgan these aroused limited reaction beyond rumblings in the tabloid press. for instance. It was often.