British Scholar Vol.

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

as conceived by one man. in 1800) and the militaristic song “Rule Britannia”. The Festival conveyed the inspirational force of a nation’s autobiography. this idea of Britishness was reinforced by the vigorous notion of a second. pp. defending his countrymen against the age-old enemy France. It linked directly Britain’s world leadership as a manufacturing power with the international gospels of work and of peace.The British Identity. keeping close watch on potentially hostile vessels lurking in the harbours of Brest. Protestant people. of course. Its message was unmistakable. Evan Evans would have had no doubt about his Britishness. also powerful in its time. both embodied in the ideology of free trade. which indeed I visited myself more than once as a schoolboy and which left a powerful impression on my generation. lesser nations. obviously conveyed one. 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. Joseph of Arimethea. even if contemporary ideas of “Britishness” and of “Englishness” were frequently conflated. 1851-2008 5 happy retirement. The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester.. Age of Austerity (1963). exalting the primacy of the “workshop of the world” while offering a platform to the manufacturers of other. and Michael Frayn. 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. he would have explicitly believed in the existence of what they called then “the British nation”.2 A later vision of Britain. working alongside an architectural director of genius. shaped by timeless legends of the empire of Albion. as the embodiment of freedom. Gerald Barry.3 2 Asa Briggs. and King Arthur. was the Festival of Britain of 1951. in Victorian People (London. with his pigtail. Although a Welsh-speaking Welshman. 2003). esp. 1954). Rochefort. Hugh Casson. The massive international prestige of the Great Exhibition of 1851. There have been clear visions of Britain and its identity that emerged at key moments later on. or Toulon. It embodied the resolve of a proud. of Brutus. I also have his old flintlock musket hanging above my fireplace in my home. 305-26. globe-trotters and sea-farers who disliked standing armies but who also saw the traditional seaman “Jolly Jack Tar”. 43ff. ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’. 3 See Becky E. eds. It also instructed foreigners of the supreme virtues of Britain’s free constitution and its way of life. Conekin. . After the end of the Napoleonic Wars. “The Crystal Palace and the Men of 1851”. p. Pacific and Francophile though I am. 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. ‘Festival’ in Michael Sissons and Philip French.

neighbourly and tolerant as noted in Orwell’s Lion and the Unicorn (1941). The Festival stuck boldly to a belief in ‘national character’. Its people were pulled together by the growth of national railways and systems . 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. In many ways. There was a manifest doctrine of Britishness in 1805. politicians struggled to find a use for the Dome. It lingered on as an empty (and very expensive) hulk near the Greenwich waterfront. was refurbished in 2006-7. with such pleasure-garden delights as Rowland Emett’s light railway. What was Britishness after all? Was it fundamentally ethnic. When the Royal Festival Hall. 1851 and 1951. the Millennium Dome at Greenwich in 2000.6 Kenneth O. Morgan It conveyed a view of a country that was technically inventive. In 2000 there was no message at all. sources both of unity and of diversity. a politically-correct theme-park which stirred few hearts and was not obviously about anything very much. The Lion and the Unicorn. It proclaimed an artistic style that was clear and definable. the very symbol of gentle British eccentricity that George Orwell had acclaimed in his wartime book. secure in its values and its sense of heritage (rather than of history—no professional historians were used in planning the Festival). until it was proposed as one of the supplementary arenas for the London Olympic Games scheduled for 2012. which was its centrepiece. It had no sense of identity to convey and was from start to finish an embarrassing failure. And the Festival was an enormous success while it lasted: eight and a half million people came to see and to marvel. symbolized by the Battersea funfair up river. 1851-1914 Yet the idea of Britishness was complicated even before 1851. Pluralism. 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. There were also other confusions about identity and nationhood. This contrasted starkly with the almost literal emptiness of a later dome. But it was also great fun. care was taken lovingly to reproduce the same pastel shades and décor of half a century earlier. in embarrassing proximity to the architectural glory of Christopher Wren’s Naval Hospital and Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House. especially when home rule for Ireland became a dominant theme with the rise of the Irish Nationalist Party in the late 1870s. one that implied renewal in the grim years of austerity following the end of war in 1945. a synonym for Englishness. to accommodate activities such as basketball and trampolining. For some years afterwards.

The vision of Empire made this integration increasingly apparent. the municipalized tramways and public libraries of Glasgow. Yet in other ways. The dynamism of Joseph Chamberlain’s Birmingham or the London County Council. the Hope of Democracy (New York. There were potentially separatist institutional developments like the revived Scottish Office of 1885. 5 Philip Waller. from Clydeside and Tyneside to the Welsh valleys.4 Industrialization. These revolutionary changes in economic and social life fostered contradictory forces. thrilled American Progressives like Frederick Howe and Jane Addams who felt that Britain’s cities. 1905). as well as in Ireland. coal. dominating their regional hinterland with their entrepots and chambers of commerce. even more than those of Germany or Switzerland. 82. p. also promoted regional economic identities. and imposing civic centres like the Edwardian baroque grandeur of Cardiff ’s Cathays Park.1980 (Oxford and Cardiff. Yet they were also local metropolises. The British City: the Beginnings of Democracy (New York. Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880 . 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. 1907) and European Cities at Work (New York. with a city like Manchester promoting both itself and its governing ideology in Waterhouse’s gothic town hall and the Free Trade Hall nearby. by the advance of mass literacy after Gladstone’s 1870 Education Act and the rise of a mass newspaper press. There was certainly a great upsurge of regional awareness in England shown in the civic consciousness of the major cities. Mighty cities like Glasgow. Cardiff and Belfast had dual identities. 1983). distinct cultural landmarks like the federal University of Wales and the related network of “county schools” in 1889-93. the British were becoming more diverse. 4 Frederick C. after 1860 this diversity and local pride became more and more evident. Late-Victorian Scotland and Wales rapidly developed their own sense of historic identity and national awareness. pp. 1913). 1851-2008 7 of communications. City and Nation: England 1850 -1914 (Oxford. their wealth based on their exports of steel. . 26-155. by a national market and credit and banking system. north and south. which swept Britain into a nationwide economy. Howe. and textiles across the world. They were all great imperial cities and trading centres. 1981). (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. Town. 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. could offer “the hope for democracy”. Thus.)5 In Scotland and Wales. their cultural and religious life. 6 Kenneth O.The British Identity. their powerful newspapers. Morgan. The City.

278-82. After all. The Impact of the South African War (Basingstoke. Burrow. 9 Angela Gaffney. the Scots and Welsh sought equality within the United Kingdom and the British Empire. in sharp contrast. The Irish Nationalists. at least the 26 counties of the Catholic South. 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. an ever increasing measure of separatism from crown and parliament. Thus. a mighty historiographical orchard grew. peoples in the Swiss cantons. Even Edward Gibbon had once contemplated writing an epic on the rise of Swiss liberty. was very different.9 The Scots.. usually mountainous. the folk-hero William Tell above all. 2002). were also strongly imperialist 7 J. eds. Aftermath: Remembering the Great War in Wales (Cardiff. prior to finding a grander theme in Roman decline and fall. strongly backed the demand for independence voiced by the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Cardiff. 1983). “International Opinion” in David Omissi and Andrew Thompson. . which described the Welsh people as “conscious of their nationhood but equally conscious of their partnership in Empire”. Welsh. Essentially.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. A Liberal Descent (Cambridge. 8 Donal Lowry. this diversity was. in 1928. in Scotland and Wales at least. p. immensely active in reviving political badges of nationality after 1885. David Lloyd George was not a Welsh Parnell. cherishing its myths. There national identity was perfectly compatible with Britishness. In time. On hearing news of crushing British defeats at Colenso and Spion Kop. For the southern Irish sought not equality but exclusion. A Liberal historian like Edward Freeman wrote romantically on the local autonomy enjoyed by other. p. pp. in 1916 he became prime minister of Great Britain and presided over a wartime imperial Cabinet. 44 ff. during the South African War of 1899-1902. 1998). strictly qualified. the Tyrol.8 Kenneth O. even the home rule within the Empire sought by Irish Nationalists like Parnell and Redmond was overtaken by the overt republicanism of Griffith. From Tell’s apple. 170. He was to operate within the traditional system. Methuen for the Scots. Anyway. most commentators felt comfortable with what was happening.W.”7 Switzerland with its citizen pikemen became for a time a kind of model of face-to-face pluralist democracy. and Ulstermen largely remained enthusiasts for the imperial cause and trumpeted their own military heroes (Kitchener for the Ulsterman. the Irish Nationalists in the Commons stood up and cheered. Morgan While some unionists saw this as the malign result of the domino-theory fragmentation initiated by proposing separatism for Ireland. and the much more debatable credentials of Roberts and BadenPowell for the Welsh). Ireland. the Scots. Collins and de Valera in Sinn Fein.

« Lieux de Memoire: la Grand-Bretagne. centred on the country’s insular separateness and historic independence. 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. was thought to be too casually dressed at the Cenotaph ceremony in November 1981. far greater than the capacity of the stadium to house it.) This unionism was nurtured by two world wars.10 and it generated a good deal ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ See Kenneth O. . astride yet another symbol of identity for the animal-loving British. The Irish and the Welsh both disestablished their churches in 1869 and in 1920 respectively. 1914-1966 In the twentieth century. when the first Wembley football cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United attracted an immense crowd. Morgan.The British Identity. 2003). the Scottish voters swung towards the Salisbury government in the “khaki election” of 1900. Historiens. collaborationist. Geographes. and the work of the British Legion on behalf of war veterans. the sale of poppies. The political agendas of the various Celtic nations were all distinct and different. when “the few” fought alone against the enemy. It was this Britishness. Memories of Dunkirk (an evacuation from the continent. in its wider imperial guise. underpinned by the crisis of the capitalist order in the inter-war period. When Michael Foot. or defeatist continental Europe. The year 1940 became Britain’s all-purpose lieu de memoire (site of memory). that underlay the remarkably paternalistic Empire exhibition at Wembley stadium in 1924. the relative pluralism of late-Victorian Britain gave way rapidly to a long phase of unionism—a form of civic and symbolic Britishness. Unionism. Order was restored by one famous solitary unarmed policeman. and the Battle of Britain. But in Ireland disestablishment was an early precursor of home rule. a white horse. his scruffy appearance was roundly condemned (including within the Labour Party) as being un-British. 1919-2003 ». from the time of the First World War until the sixties. les Etats Unis et la France et les deux guerres mondiales. pp. in defiance of foreign aggressors and a fascist. This long survived. then Labour’s leader. as in 1588 or 1805. the nationwide symbolism of Armistice Day and the Cenotaph. 386 (Rouen. in Wales it was an alternative to it. (It had been preceded by another symbol of Britishness the previous year. 1851-2008 9 from their shipbuilders to their doctor-missionaries. The legacy of 1918 came in the sense of sacrifice. 10-14. the war memorials in tiny villages. denounced by the French as an act of betrayal but revered in British legend as a triumph for homely British muddle-through).

variously proclaimed in Churchill’s immortal speeches. 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. and ����������������� Angus Calder.S. . ������������������� Andrew Roberts. with the massive depressions in the staple industries of coal. Eliot’s “East Coker” and “Little Gidding”. But the catastrophes that beset the British economy between the wars. by the Napoleonic naval sagas of the anti-semite and neo-fascist.10 Kenneth O. It encouraged an unreflective. The unionist mystique of the Second World War was lovingly preserved for half a century afterwards in endless wartime films. a second force for unionism was mass unemployment. Priestley’s broadcast “postscripts”. after their Christmas dinner and the Queen’s traditional message to her people. textiles. Morgan less warmth towards our French ally. Newcastle.12 This wartime nostalgia reaped its partial dividend in the perennial Euroscepticism of the British well into the twenty-first century. 1991). Trevelyan’s English Social History (1942) or. Geordies. 287ff. 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. Dame Vera Lynn. after its Vichy experience along with tensions with General de Gaulle. through such pioneers as Keir Hardie. or Swansea). the nostalgic chronicle of G. its “dambusters” blowing up the Mohne and Eder dams. If war was a great unifier after 1918 and even more after 1945. than had memories of the Marne or Verdun after 1918. The Myth of the Blitz (London. Ramsay MacDonald and George Lansbury in its early years. the upperclass whimsy of Noel Coward. sang of bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover or nightingales singing in Berkeley Square: these were not avian locations with which Scots. to enjoy their boys once again sinking the Bismarck or escaping from Colditz. one of the few female icons of the war along with the Queen Mother. and devolution before 1914. p. the folksy communication of J. They were frequently shown on television on Christmas Day. had encouraged ideas of local government.M. Arthur Bryant. or (for Far Eastern colour) marching on the bridge over the River Kwai. Eminent Churchillians (London.B. The radio soubrette. so for the Euro currency sixty and more years later. 1994). its fighter pilots shooting down Messerschmitts. less positively. municipal socialism. steel. alas!). when the British could settle down. again to keep ideas of a referendum and probable political defeat at bay. As for Hitler in 1940. Oxford (like the present writer.11 “There’ll always be an England” was the message of the war. T. In 2008 the Brown government resisted strongly the idea that the Lisbon Treaty agreement was an action replay of the European constitution. honorary fellow of The Queen’s College. The Labour Party. or Welsh were likely to feel close kinship. based on a historic sense of insular detachment. pp. 69-74.

403. 211-28. the Labour Party and its partners the trade unions became. 1944. Their essential view of national policy was a centralized British one. along with the consensus on Keynesian-style national economic planning that went along with it. 1851-2008 11 shipbuilding. to Labour. pp. 2311-14. A national disease demanded a national remedy. Aneurin Bevan memorably encapsulated the British emphasis of Labour’s class message on October 17. they aimed at the conquest of power at the centre—this meant Westminster and Whitehall. even if their narrative was a radically different one from that of the old Whig imperialist. which was where imperial power was located. the nationalization of the hospitals’ services. inevitably led to a sense of country-wide crisis.14 Printed unattractively in single-space on shoddy wartime paper. Linked with this was the notion of the welfare state.000 copies. writing in The Socialist Case.13 National differentiation was therefore absurd. 6404). who as former leader of the London County Council championed a local/municipal approach. In the famous or notorious words of another socialist. . and housing. major instruments of the idea of Britishness. Neither Scotland nor Wales appears in the index of this biography. education. It also meant a centralized emphasis to ensure that social quality was nationally enforced. The great idea emanating from the Second World War at home was that of a welfare state. See also Paul Addison’s fine discussion in The Road to 1945 (London. Douglas Jay. 1977). not the few. During the war years. nationwide minimum standards for health. As socialists.).The British Identity. 378 ff. the same criteria should apply in Tyneside as in Tunbridge Wells. over the opposition of Herbert Morrison. boldly etched out in William Beveridge’s astonishingly influential report on national social insurance in November 1942. No “hard-faced” wartime profiteers would dominate the settlement this time around. people should realise 13 Parl. pp. That was what “fair shares” implied. If the Second World War was felt to be a people’s war. Winston Churchill. Deb. after 1945 the pressure for central planning and reconstruction encouraged ideas of a “people’s peace”. It would be a brave new world for the many.(5th ser. What was the point? How did Welsh sheep differ from English sheep? They all grazed on the grass in the same way. when he poured scorn on the idea of having a Welsh Day debate in the House of Commons. this universalization of the political culture of the working class was taken further. and Jose Harris. therefore. Social welfare meant. it sold 630. 1975). November 1942 (Cmd. William Beveridge: a biography (Oxford. Unemployment and industrial stagnation afflicted workers from Clydeside to Caerphilly. Through such evangelists as Bevan. Vol. Thus Aneurin Bevan carried through Cabinet. 14 Social Insurance and Allied Services. to avoid the betrayals of the “land fit for heroes” which followed the First World War after 1918.

even citing (in tones that evoke the social democratic egalitarianism of the war years) the Levellers of 1647. It is a curious twist that the great socialist rebel. The war years. as they had endured since 1688. Vol. a famous imperial public school. a very English man with his love of cricket and the Times crossword.12 Kenneth O. should be the originator of the proudest national totem of them all. when. with much success. in the later twentieth century. along with the right to trial by jury. It was trial before one’s fellow citizens not before an official tribunal of state. placed emphasis on the Mother of Parliaments. “Big Ben chimed out for liberty”. The effect of two world wars and consequent economic turmoil was a heightened respect for the system of governance. focused on Westminster and Whitehall. The legal system was also hailed in print and in rhetoric. as traditional institutions like the monarchy. proclaiming as Colonel Rainboro had then done in Putney church that the “poorest he hath a right to live as the richest he”.). There is a final aspect of unionism to note in this period down to the mid1960s—the unionism embodied in the constitution. Attlee himself.Deb. Thatcher was to put it in a speech in 1988. Scottish national sensibilities did get a strengthened Scottish Office when Tom Johnston. 651. 1946 edn. as Mrs. the National Health Service. when threatened by the Blair government’s Criminal Justice Bill in 2003. a Labour Secretary of State who had championed Scottish home rule in his younger days. 258. when the House of Commons continued to maintain free debate and survived the perils of the blitz. the product of Haileybury. or in the jungles of Burma or Malaya. by “freeborn Englishmen” as in the Middle Ages.16 The constitution thus survived almost every attempt at major surgery in the twenty years following 1945. declined in esteem. the most powerful enduring symbol of the sense of Britishness was. the Church of England and above all the Empire. It represented a cherished system which was to be robustly defended. Morgan that “the gentleman from Whitehall knows best”. p. 130 (15 July 2003). Army Bureau of Current Affairs classes run for members of the armed services fighting the foe in north African desert. a bulwark of individual freedom via habeas corpus as in centuries past. presided over a celebration of British traditional institutions and values. when the present writer ventured to remind parliament that they were being asked to undermine something enshrined in Magna Carta back in 1215. so opinion polls showed. pp. Aneurin Bevan of Tredegar. (Lords).15 Indeed. 16 Parl. on the high seas. The Socialist Case (London. 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 ���������������� Douglas Jay. 795-6. He above all people believed in the Mother of Parliaments. celebrated the historic virtues of the Crown in parliament and the House of Commons as “the great assize of the people”. .

more than most. ������������������������ See Alec Cairncross. a new awareness of the fragility of the world financial system. This indicated that Britain felt itself to be too weak to operate financially on its own. Four things happened around this time. with so many different currents surging in different directions at once. 1851-2008 13 Motherwell in 1945). this reflected the extraordinary upheaval in cultural and moral values in that era. In major respects. the rapid demise of the post-war sterling area. This week. 51-7. Scotland and Nationalism (London. But there was a chain of key events in the second week of July 1966. Wales got nothing at all. was coming into being. First there was. as the sterling area subsided and the special relationship with the United States seemed increasingly unreliable and precarious.17 But this reform was intended clearly to strengthen the Scottish voice at Westminster and serve as an antidote to nationalism. pp. Managing the British Economy in the 1960s (Oxford. S. and this tradition of constitutional non-reform endured until the vortex of change in the 1960s. marked by floating exchange rates and a new mobility for capital. . that ancient totem of national stability and self-confidence.18 Britain suffered a huge run on the reserves and the pound was under sustained pressure. in the 1960s. 1977). in Britain’s alarming balance of payments crisis of July 1966. This heralded the end of the Anglo-American financial concord achieved in the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement. added to popular satisfaction. James Callaghan. long-haired young. several of the older symbols and mystique of Britishness suddenly collapsed. It defies periodization. that age of transformed standards popularly identified with the Beatles and “swinging London” and the mini-skirted. and the devaluation of sterling. the eventual devaluation of sterling in November 1967 followed a final refusal by “Joe” Fowler at the U. Indeed. 1996). The impact of the Sixties Then. of course. this time under Wilson’s Labour government as previously under Macmillan’s Conservatives in 1963. A new global world order. Britain found itself compelled again to try to enter Europe. the Germans. treasury to accede to a request by the British Chancellor.The British Identity. to bail ����������������������� Christopher Harvie. exemplified Harold Wilson’s famous remark that a week was a long time in politics. The fact that it was achieved against the established wartime enemy. not even in the restructuring of nationalized industries such as coal and steel. Secondly. with permanent consequences. But this old tribal victory was immediately followed by a crisis for the national psyche. 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.

These were black and brown migrants initially mainly from the Caribbean and West Africa in the early fifties. later many hundreds of thousands from the Indian sub-continent. of course. And there was a fourth. The victory of Gwynfor Evans. along with the strategic emphasis on a long-range nuclear strike deterrent rather than on conventional land-based forces. who foresaw ���������������������� Kenneth O. Enoch Powell. in a by-election in Carmarthen on July 14. Celtic nationalism subscribed to the cult of the new. and the decolonization of African.14 Kenneth O. the Suez crisis. . Another underlying element of change should also be mentioned here. marked the real end of empire. one connected only remotely with the previous three—the announcement of a new political effectiveness for Celtic nationalism. Morgan out British overseas indebtedness with a vast loan one more time. membership of the European Common Market was permanently on the national political agenda from then on. The withdrawal from east of Suez. Morgan. 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. purely local development in July 1966. But it also reflected the growing irrelevance of British forces trying to play a world role after the independence of India. and strong Welsh and Scottish nationalist votes in a string of by-elections from the Rhondda to Govan. entirely different. The younger generation was much to the fore in these developments. with de Gaulle replaced as president by the emollient Pompidou and later by the English-speaking Giscard d’Estaing. Callaghan: a life (Oxford. even more than Indian independence or Eden’s Suez fiasco in 1956. They were reflected in the speeches of a right-wing Cassandra. They provided a disturbing backdrop to other forms of political destabilization. and Caribbean nations. 1966. pp. again quite distinct. vetoed by President de Gaulle as Macmillan’s had been in 1963.19 Even though Harold Wilson’s bid to enter Europe was to fail in 1967. although it was completed with remarkably little popular trauma. Plaid Cymru’s president. Fear of immigration resulted in alarming racial clashes in several industrial towns in the late 1960s. 268-87. It meant a huge saving in foreign exchange. in the eyes of some. 1997). Six years later. Britain’s European quest duly succeeded. namely the background of massive immigration from the new Commonwealth. was followed by a Scottish Nationalist Party victory at Hamilton the following year. It indicated a new fluidity in the notion of the United Kingdom. overwhelmingly ratified in a referendum in 1975. Great naval bases like Singapore were no more. Asian. 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. unknown since the rout of the second Jacobite uprising on barren Culloden Moor in 1746.

Under George V it subtly adapted to a more democratic age. in the music hall as well as in high society. and by the ending of empire. in 2007 one-tenth of the population was foreign-born. The traditional British governmental state has been “hollowed out” by membership of the European Union since 1973 (ratified in a national referendum in 1975). In the first ten years of Labour government after 1997. . a remarkably dysfunctional group of people who hardly embodied the values of the traditional nuclear family. reinforced by the bizarre personal misfortunes of the royal family. the monarchy had lost much of its authority. 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. and George V it summed up the national idea for most people. The Queen Mother acquired an honoured reputation as a national icon. and Caribbean immigrants back to their homelands. together with the challenges of an increasingly multicultural. around a million and half people entered Britain. The Union Jack (or flag) was seldom waved (and sometimes perversely associated with the right������������������������������������� See the Fabian Commission report. By the end of the Millennium. Edward VII. many of the older symbols of Britishness have fallen away. of course.20 In the reigns of Victoria. along with many publications from Charter 88. The Future of the Monarchy (Fabian Society. Nowhere was this truer than with the monarchy. After the Millennium there followed an accelerated wave of migration from the Middle East. and (when the European Union expanded in 2004) many hundreds of thousands from Poland and other nations in Eastern Europe. many of the totems that once inspired an awed deference or at least the official recognition of Britishness rapidly lost ground. 2002). The death of Diana in 1997 brought it to its knees in public esteem. In the 1950s. To these should be added the emergence of Celtic nationalist movements and pressure for devolution in Scotland and Wales. by the continuous impact of Americanization and global pop culture upon British tastes and norms). In the process. Immigration was largely from the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere in the Commonwealth down to the 1990s. under the impact of these profound changes. the Balkans after the Kosovo war. Since the 1960s. she observed. “Now we can look the East Enders in the face”. accompanying the Queen in military posture as she surveyed the trooping of the colour on the Horse Guards parade.The British Identity. Asian. had huge and positive popular impact. The Second World War gave the monarchy an unexpected new impetus after the dangerous interlude of Edward VIII and his abdication in 1936. pluralist society (complicated still further. audiences accepted without question that cinema performances would end with the national anthem. 1851-2008 15 “rivers of blood” if the tides of immigration continued unabated and called for the mass repatriation of Africa.

1989). became increasingly selfsufficient in educational provision and other ways. The influential Parekh report on multiculturalism in 1999. alongside the Americans. 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. very much in contrast to the unifying and conformist approach adopted in the schools of the ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� See important articles by Bhikhu Parekh. The sense of civic identity related to the idea of “Britain” was increasingly replaced. But her death led only to merciless obituaries of her as a pitiful remnant. “Flower of Scotland”. by a more communal identity. 1930). the mournful dirge. Her heir. rare in Britain’s royal family. education and sense of heritage. could face a troubled inheritance when he succeeds her. and for a reintegrating sense of citizenship.16 Kenneth O. uncoupled from the central state. There are fascinating discussions of British national identity in the three volumes Patriotism.21 In Scotland and in Wales. edited by Raphael Samuel. often reduced to a unifying coherence only with the greatest of difficulty. placed emphasis on the need to re-think every aspect of British culture. “Minorities and Outsiders” and “National Fictions” (History Workshop. Only the Queen herself remained a generally respected figure. was ignored. Political Quarterly 71. all too prone to give vent to tetchy and often reactionary views on issues ranging from modern architecture to fox-hunting. was a distinguished Indian political scientist and shortly a Labour peer. Duncan Kelly. 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. “History and Politics”. Professor Bhikhu Parekh. Ethnic minorities. popularized by the folk group “The Corries” and commemorating victory over Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314. with pressure for “faith schools” among Muslims. The process of generational change magnified a sense of multiple identities. 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. . notably in northern towns with large Asian populations. more as post-colonial Asians than subjects of the British crown. if it was by anything. The death of Princess Margaret in early 2002 illustrated the point. Prince Charles. In by-elections in places like Brent and Leicester South in 2003. in the second. August 21. 1 ( January-March 2000). as the polity increasingly came to reflect its component parts. It also called for a revision of the National Curriculum as taught in schools. Asian voters seemed to react to the unpopular decision to send British troops to invade Iraq. Her interest in the arts. Morgan wing fringe). It asked for a revisiting of the notion of the “island story” to adjust to the outlook of newer immigrants and their descendants. a predatory neighbour from hell. whose chairman. Hugh Kearney and Philip Lynch on aspects of multicultural pluralism.

In the May 1997 general election. Scottish civil society and the professional classes voiced a growing impatience with Westminster rule. Wales and even Northern Ireland followed on in due course. the idea of empire. Perhaps the main abiding force for integration in 2000 was the post-war welfare state. It showed itself in the stronger identities of Scotland and Wales. if only in self-defence during the aggressive unionism of the Thatcher governments. the less nationalist Welsh voted for an elected Assembly with lesser. The Thatcher-Major years thus played their part in restructuring the United Kingdom. the threat of a European “other”. powers. but also to the operations of parliament. hitherto traditional and puritanical. a unitary state. Many of its underlying components were in decline—the monarchy. By a miniscule majority. Welsh people of all ages sang along with her. But clearly the historic. ‘Dy ni yma o hyd’ (We’re still here). which saw a Labour landslide. and in the mutual self-reinforcement of the ethnic minorities. told the world “Every morning I wake up and thank the Lord I’m Welsh”. as its civil society became more nationally conscious at all levels. in the nineties Cerys Matthews. 1851-2008 17 United States and France. From the seventies. Ironically. by a large majority. Conclusion Britain at the Millennium showed very clearly the evanescence of an old Britain. or the BBC. of course. with primary legislative functions and potential powers over taxation as well. Four months later. Dafydd Iwan. centrally directed British nation-state. popular Protestantism. had sung mournfully. the Scots voted. the sexy blonde soubrette heading the pop band Catatonia. the command of the open seas. was in danger of passing into history itself. shown in a Constitutional Convention which reported in 1990. whose governmental forms dated in part from the Norman Conquest nearly a millennium earlier. Where in the sixties the Anglesey folk singer. It extended not just to the Crown and. the Conservative Party failed to win a single seat in either Scotland or Wales. the language of stubborn survival. the sense of dissolution within a traditional British core was reinforced. the experience of Thatcherism (a mainly English phenomenon) was to make devolution in Scotland all the more certain.The British Identity. purely executive. and called for a Scottish parliament. the political parties. in their referendum. for a Scottish parliament. the National Health . and free trade. notably France. the central state apparatus. 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. and the idea of a meaningful culture mediated by such bodies as the universities. what was left of the Churches. made new inroads into the world of youthful pop culture. Welsh nationalism.

Britain produced no one remotely as influential as Le Pen in France. should erupt in the same way in Britain. Häider in Austria. not least to Commonwealth immigrants. Even so. hardly paralleled the power of German Länder like BadenWurttemberg or semi-autonomous regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque territories. constitutionally. Devolution in Scotland. where French policy was sometimes seen not as a mark of republican. internecine Belgium. and Northern Ireland had not yet come close to stimulating the break-up of the United Kingdom: their elected assemblies’ role. The winding down of Great Britain did not mean that the United Kingdom lacked substance. Britain had over the centuries differed from France in maintaining a distinction between the state and the nation (or perhaps we should say “nations”). It had enabled the country to absorb mighty transformations since 1945. Morgan Service in particular. a famous north London club. citizen-based equality but of western post-imperial intolerance. even in Scotland. 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. . The historian Norman Davies’ prophecy of national disintegration remained unproven and probably incorrect. But. 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. Arsene Wenger. Scotland. the idea of Britain was still in 2000 a concept that commanded allegiance. could now put out almost an entire team of black players. Wales. even that might lose its potency too. Wales. was the underpinning of devolution by further changes. Institutions like the BBC and the police openly accused themselves of “institutional racism” in the 1990s. The sense of Britishness was certainly still important. 1999). while many of its best black players were also French. the concept of “Britain” had always been in flux over the centuries anyway. The Arsenal manager. then. The issue of dual citizenship was less of an issue in Britain than elsewhere. It was hard to imagine that the conflict over le voile. and Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown ������������������ Norman Davies. if only to avoid conflicts in future when governments of different hues emerged in the different parliaments as happened in 2007. one factor making for integration had been sport. Britain has experienced some difficult periods of racial tension since the 1960s. Amongst the masses. With the emergence of different kinds of health services in England.18 Kenneth O. Arsenal. or the fringe xenophobic groups of the Netherlands or Switzerland. with riots in London in places like Brixton and the murder of a policeman at Broadwater Farm. the issue of Muslim girls wearing the veil in state schools. My own football team. There was nothing like the divisiveness between Fleming and Walloon in a fractured.22 What was needed though. The Isles (London. Any form of federalism still seemed far off.

whereas the reverse was forbidden. The Conservatives raised the possible spectre of a parliament for England alone. But there was also a more specific problem—that of Englishness. . had merely been subjects of the Crown. as it existed in its early years. even in 2008. More visibly. even if he somewhat undermined his quest by attaching it to a vain search for consensual “British values”. There was also the Barnett formula. 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. across the water. greater per capita funding for the inhabitants of Scotland and Wales (and even more for Northern Ireland). Was it just a state of mind? Was it perhaps a geographical expression as Metternich once described Italy? There had been. the “concordats” governing relations between parliaments to be more firmly written down. typical of a slow-changing. then. the Council of the Isles. the more regular use of the Joint Ministerial Council. sharing power with Protestant Unionists in a revived administration in Belfast. it irked English people that Scottish politicians like Gordon Brown and Robin Cook could dominate Westminster. was under way with a new urgency in the years following the Millennium. However. which would surely rival the long-standing one in Westminster and create chaos. not as part of a greater whole. to date.The British Identity. and needed to be addressed. Sinn Fein republicans with a background of political violence. and similar instruments of possible future conflict resolution. Debate about Britishness. which provided. whereas. The devolution “settlement”. a supposedly temporary arrangement patched up at the time of the earlier devolution debate in 1978. Its durability was masked for the years after 1999 by the existence of Labour or Labour-dominated governments in Westminster. 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. apparently. These events laid bare how Britain’s devolution settlements had been deliberately distinct and asymmetrical. historically. The disunity of the Kingdom thus emerged with new clarity. geared to the specific problems within each country. What exactly was “England”. unwritten constitution. Scotland was forbidden territory. Plaid Cymru in a coalition government in Cardiff and. Structural institutional change was essential to create a sense of citizenship among a people who. scant sign of an aggressive English nationalism. and Cardiff. Edinburgh. the homeland of over 80 per cent of the British people? Its statutory recognition was remarkably vague. Tam Dalyell’s famous “West Lothian question” which pointed out that Scottish MPs could vote on English matters in the House of Commons. There was a need for firmer agreements to underpin the settlement. to the English. rested too much on informality and convention. No one was able to answer the Labour MP. though the Conservative Party was correct that there was English resentment on some specific issues.

Englishness was stridently expressed only in antagonism to the idea of a more integrated Europe. This perhaps reflected a wider scepticism about new expensive tiers of self-serving politicians emerging.. Unreformed England. the vision and the reality of a meaningful Britain would remain unfulfilled.20 Kenneth O. Meg Russell et al. either locally or nationally. Robert Colls. e-Bulletins of the Committee of the English Regions. Sweet Chariot”. for instance.. The English rugby supporters. A referendum to gauge support for a north-east assembly in October-November 2004 saw the idea thrown out by almost three to one. Academics in the Committee for English Regionalism sowed their seeds on the stoniest of ground. “The Constitution: Rolling out the new Settlement”. had not advanced institutionally since the Anglo-Saxon “heptarchy” 1. 190 ff. Morgan these aroused limited reaction beyond rumblings in the tabloid press. after the neglect of centuries. Parliamentary Affairs. Englishness even in sport was hard to define. These matters were studiously ignored in the Brown government’s ‘Constitutional Renewal’ proposals in April 2008. In England. perhaps illogically.24 So the issue was unresolved and the future uncertain. Northumbria: History and Identity (Chichester. Otherwise. and East Anglia in the names of local universities. 54. 2 (April 2001). However. It was often. declared an exasperated Constitutional Unit of University College. ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Robert Hazell. even if the sense of cultural identity amongst the “Geordies” of post-industrial Tyneside remained vigorous in the new century. George. Mercia was even more insubstantial. 2007). ed. not political. like the histories of Bede or Alcuin. 2000-5. deprived of “God save the Queen” for most purposes. 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. .23 The names of Wessex had lived on only in the novels of Thomas Hardy. The idea of Northumbria. Unless some way was found of expressing the civic and cultural identity of the English as well as the Celtic minorities. there would be an ongoing problem. an old American slave song. had remained “the gaping hole in the devolution settlement”. The legacy of the “Golden Age” of the eighth-century kingdom of Northumbria was entirely Christian and cultural. pp. not even for the most limited forms of regional government. or the Lindisfarne Gospels. No. there was no pressure for devolution. ������������������������������������������������� See the attractive volume. One visible sign of English self-awareness was the increased use of the flag of St. As long as this lacuna continued. turned for their anthem to “Swing Low.. and even then it blended into other themes. 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).200 years earlier. But this largely appeared when England took part in international football competitions: it equally soon disappeared when England teams met with their habitual defeat. London.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful