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BRITISH TOPICS
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My thanks are due to Donard Britten
2
for his most valuable suggestions

3
4
To my students
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CONTENTS
Chapter One. The English Nation or the Britannic
Salad Bowl
1. Introduction
...........................................................................................
9
7
2. A Problematic Issue: British Identity. Linguistic,
Political,
Religious Arguments
...........................................................................................
10
3. The Resilience of a Term: ‘British’
...........................................................................................
15
4. The Historical Context of Britishness as Plural
Identity.
The History of an Idea: Devolution
...........................................................................................
18
From Immigration to Multiculturalism.
Major Waves
of Immigration in the 20
th
Century. Racial
Relations
in Contemporary Britain and the Fight against
Racial Discrimination
47
6. Factfile: The Lawrence Case
...........................................................................................
55
7. Conclusions. Ethnic/National/Cultural Identity in a
Globalised World
8
.....................................................................................................
59
Chapter Two. How Strange a Country? Monarchy and
Parliament
Constitution: Uncodified,
yet Living
and on the Move
...........................................................................................
66
2. Monarchy
...........................................................................................
74
3. Functions. The Royal Prerogatives
........................................................................
77
4. The Tragic Death of A Princess and Calls for the
Reform of Monarchy
........................................................................
86
5. A Brief Historical Outline of Parliament
...........................................................................................
94
6. The House of Lords
...........................................................................................
96
7. The House of Commons
...........................................................................................
103
Chapter Three. The Thatcherite Years
9
1. Thatcher the ‘Providential Leader’
...........................................................................................
113
2. On the Incongruity of Neo-Liberal and
Authoritarian
Tory Policies
...........................................................................................
119
3. Thatcherite Engagement with ‘Englishness’
and Decadence
...........................................................................................
121
4. Thatcherism and European Integration
...........................................................................................
127
5. Thatcher and Culture
...........................................................................................
131
6 6. Thatcher’s Gendered Politics
.....................................................................................
135
7. Thatcher’s Legacy
...........................................................................................
159
8. Final Remarks
...........................................................................................
163
10
Chapter Four. New Labour, New Britain

Revamping Britishness
.............................................................................
166
2. The Young Country
.............................................................................
172
3. The Third Way
.............................................................................
176
4. Beyond a Socialist Economy. From Welfare to
Workfare
and the Stakeholding Society
...........................................................................................
181
5. A UK of the Regions: New Labour and
Constitutional Reform. Devolution
...........................................................................................
194
6. A Troubled Relationship: Britain and Europe
...........................................................................................
203
7. A Triumph of Style over Substance?
...........................................................................................
219
8. Conclusions
........................................................................
225
11
Bibliography
...........................................................................................
227
Index
...........................................................................................
237
Chapter One
The English Nation or the Britannic Salad
Bowl
Introduction
Once upon a time, the story goes, there was
an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman. Who
was he? The answer to this puzzle is simple and
complex at the same time: the Englishman,
Scotsman and Irishman was/were Arthur Conan
Doyle. In recent decades historiography has
gradually made room for a perspective which
grapples with the plurality of identities - cultural,
political, social, economic that make up the British
Isles, replacing a formerly fashionable Anglocentric
view very much akin to Bentham’s Panopticon. We
are going to look at this question of plural identities
from the point of view of the pressures leading from
the proud but artificial assertion of difference to that
of diversity. The simple enunciation of cultural
difference problematizes, as Homi Bhabha says in
his Location of Culture (1997:35), the binary
12
divisions of past and present, tradition and
modernity. By stressing difference we undermine the
sense of the homogenizing effects of some cultural
symbols or cultural changes. We must rethink our
perspective on the identity of culture which Franz
Fanon in the Wretched of the Earth defines as the
“zone of occult instability where the people dwell”
(1967:183).
Cultures are never unitary in themselves nor
simply dualistic. So what we are attempting here is
to define British culture as a ‘third cultural space’
beyond that equated with the historical identity of
culture as a homogenizing unifying force,
authenticated by the originary Past that is kept alive
in the national tradition of the People. Such a Third
Space may open the way to conceptualizing a
cultural model based, not on the exoticism of
multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on
the articulation of cultural hybridity, because it is
exactly at the interface of translations, negotiations,
interchanges that the meanings of cultures develop,
meanings that may elude the politics of polarity.
We will try to go beyond an imperialistic
Anglocentric point of view, one that irons out the
multiform and plurivocal individual identities and
which would obliterate the very process of
hybridization. We wish to see briefly whether there is
reason to uphold the existence of a British identity.
British identity is to be conceived of primarily, not as
a kind of integrator of variety, but first and foremost
13
as a revealer of diversiy with the consequent
highlighting of a common basis. The intercultural
clashes between these different and distinctive
kulturgebiet-s lead to something quite different from
cultural conformity. Whilst cultural traditions could not
be expected to stay intact and pure, nonethesless a
plurality of identities has long remained both within
and between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
We are going to look at these tendencies of
distinctiveness and unity over quite a long period of
time, insisting however on the complex cultural
phenomena that have contributed most substantially
to the fashioning of a distinctive cultural cluster of
features that we would easily recognise as
‘Britishness’.
A Problematic Issue: British Identity.
Linguistic, Political, Religious Arguments
During the last millennium England, Ireland,
Scotland and Wales have not lived in mutual
isolation. Since the Viking invasion, if not earlier, the
cultures of the British Isles have interacted with each
other. The influence of history cannot be left out of
account. The conflict between Celtic and Germanic
cultures, the Norman Conquest, the impact of
Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the effect of
migration within the British Isles, the consequences
of imperial expansion – all have left a lasting mark
upon cultural relationships within these islands.
14
Although one would expect to encounter
many differences in landscape, vernacular
architecture, place names and local customs from,
let’s say, Wales to Kent, the visitor can
communicate, there is this linguistic unity very much
in favour of the idea of oneness and sameness: one
nation - one language. Although one is struck by
various accents and unfamiliar words or ways of
constructing sentences, Britishness presupposes the
existence of a more or less standard English, a
lingua franca, rendering feasible the transmission of
a cultural inheritance throughout the kingdom. This
basis for oneness is however not absolute and the
transmission of this British culture does not preclude
the existence of a literature which is more limited in
appeal to a particular region or nation, either by
virtue of language or of cultural context. The English
reader might not find it easy to tune in to the local
ecclesiastical and political world exemplified in the
novels of John Galt and a Scottish reader might
experience a comparable difficulty with Hardy. A
visitor to both Caernarfon and Canterbury might
experience a true cultural shock when confronted
with such different cultural milieus.
Yet another point of convergence would be
the political culture expressed in a party system,
which extended throughout Britain with the same
labels: Whig/Tory, Liberal/Conservative, and Liberal
Unionist/ Labour, even if party preference varied
from region to region. The Liberal Party in Wales and
15
in Scotland sought to present itself as the national
party; and Scottish and Welsh Liberals pressed hard
at times for Home Rule. Home Rule (or to use the
political jargon of postmodernity ‘devolution’) has
been met with considerable reserve by many, not
least by the Scots and Welsh themselves, who found
this surge of nationalism and this triumphalist
celebration of cultural individuality a major hindrance
to social and political stability. It is well known that
especially in Wales, where even the 1997
referendum for devolution passed by a very narrow
margin, many people expressed fear at the
escalation of tribal sectarianism. In any case there
was no doubt that Welsh and Scots could play their
full part in the British government. In addition, as
Keith Robbins points out, there was a disposition
among the English to vote Conservative, so the
Liberal Party needed all the voting strength it could
get outside England to be able to form a government
(1990:4-18). The last decade of Liberal government
can be thus considered the highest point in a British
political culture. The administration in the persons of
Cambell-Bannerman, Haldane, Lloyd George
contained a disproportionate number of non-
Englishmen in its ranks.
A common religious culture did exist despite
the intricacies of tensions between dominant and
recessive religious cultures in the constituent units of
the British Isles. Three major ecclesiastical
communities existed: Roman Catholic,
16
Anglican/Episcopalian, and Presbyterian/Free
Church. Despite the homogeneity of this pattern,
religious allegiance was far from uniform.
Presbyterianism is a minor if not altogether
insignificant phenomenon in England, being
essentially Scottish in numerical strength and
stature. Welsh Calvinistic Methodism had rather
different roots. Anglicanism was essentially English
and Scottish, and Welsh Episcopalians had to
defend themselves against the charge that they
belonged to an alien church. It is rather difficult to
territorialize Methodism in its various forms, as it was
everywhere but was nowhere dominant, which also
holds true for other Dissenting or Free Churches (cf.
Robbins, 1982:465-487). As Robbins puts it, “the
denominational ingredients existed throughout
Britain but in sharply different proportions” (1982:10).
But at the same time, churches expressed, created
and transmitted a certain sense of identity. At the
beginning of the 19th century one could have spoken
unequivocally of a British Protestant self-image.
Possibly a question that might arise today, when
non-church going has indeed become a defining trait
of the British religious life, is not whether the
Protestant traditions remain in the ascendancy, but
whether the nature of British identity might be
transformed by a marginalisation of all Christian
traditions.
The British identity is predominantly
conceived as imperial. The Empire was frequently
17
stated to be the logical expression of British
greatness. It was the goal to which all previous
British history had pointed: “England without an
Empire! England in that case would not be the
England we love!” (Joseph Chamberlain); “If we lose
India we will become a third-rate power” (W.
Churchill). The Empire, being the common
achievement of all the peoples of the islands, added
one more raison d’être for their political unity. The
maintenance of unity in Britain during World War I,
despite stresses and strains, seemed to testify both
to the vitality of the British Empire and the cohesion
of Britain. But at the same time one cannot ignore
the fact that the very unity of the UK of Great Britain
and Ireland was in the process of anguished
dissolution. The constitutional settlement of the Irish
Free State in 1922 gave the appearance of
strengthening a sense of Britishness. Successive
governments in London in the 20’s gave fresh
emphasis to the British Empire as a space in which ex-
servicemen especially were expected to settle.
Enormous pride swelled the chests of British citizens
when the splendours of the Empire were displayed at
the Empire Exhibition at Wembley in the mid-1920’s or
when Glasgow organized its magnificent Scotland’s
Empire Exhibition in 1938.
But colonial nationalism became more and
more demanding and Britain was made to
acknowledge the equal status of the self-governing
Dominions at the 1926 Imperial Conference, codified
18
in the 1931 Statute of Westminster. Unrest in India
finally led to the 1933 Government of India Act. It
was a measure bitterly opposed by Churchill who
feared the disappearance of the “brightest jewel in
the Crown”. Churchill declared in 1940 that he had
not become the King’s Prime Minister to preside over
the liquidation of the British Empire, but by the year
of his death, 1965, that Empire had virtually passed
away. Of course the British Empire had in a way only
been transmuted into the British Commonwealth, but
the belief that the British Commonwealth could still
project Britain in the world had to be abandoned, in
private, if not in public. Although decolonisation,
despite its difficult moments, did not precipitate the
kind of domestic crisis, which led in France to the fall
of the Fourth Republic, the psychological
adjustments which governments and people had to
make to the changed conditions cannot be
overlooked. Dean Acheson’s famous remark that
“Britain had lost an empire and not found a role”
bitterly, yet accurately, express the truth. The imperial
myth that underpinned national existence for so long
crumbled, and the general feeling of malaise
accompanying the loss cast ever more doubt on a
world role for Britain. In the following chapters it will
become apparent how the discourse of power at peak
times in the postwar period under Churchill or
Thatcher and Blair has been obsessively concerned
with retrieving the past greatness of the Empire days.
19
In the post-war period the Cold War dominated
the international political scene and, while Western
countries became more and more prosperous and
assertive, pressing for entry to the European
Community, the British economy was less and less
competitive. The country was dominated by the trade
unions and often strike-bound, and the concept of
Britishness was dealt heavy blows. Britishness was
looked upon as a diminishing commodity. More and
more soothsayers from within and without prophesied
that Britain would break up, that its meaning was linked
with a reality that had ceased to exist. In both Wales
and Scotland nationalist parties had already been
founded in the interwar period.
In Wales, Plaid Cymru’s primary concern was
with language and cultural issues, as it became clear
that the Welsh language was losing ground. The
Scottish National Party had a broader concern for
what it considered to be the erosion of Scotland’s
individuality. If in the interwar and postwar periods
they did not pose a real challenge to British politics,
in the 60’s the situation changes. More and more
claims to Home Rule are backed up by a
momentous issue - the discovery of oil in the North
Sea and the consequent demand that the oil be used
for Scotland’s benefit as a step forward in the
direction of autarchy. Gwynfor Evans of Plaid Cymru
and Winifred Ewing of the SNP arrived in
Westminster, pledged to seek independence.
20
In 1979 the Labour Party, confronted with a
mounting crisis, moved towards measures which
would give substantial devolution of power to both
Scotland and Wales. But the electorate did not give it
sufficient support, whilst the incoming government,
that of Margaret Thatcher, set its face firmly against
devolution. It is not easy to interpret the results of the
1979 referenda on devolution. As I have already
hinted above, there was concern among the
electorate about the devolved administration that
would gain hegemony over the substantial non-
Welsh speaking population; or, in the case of
Scotland, that anti-Catholic, anti-Irish feelings would
get the upper hand. It was such specific
apprehensions that caused the failure of the
referendum and not any warming of the population
to the label of ‘Britishness’. Whilst some Welsh
believed that their identity was not dependent upon
the language, Welsh speakers frequently asserted
that in the longer term the death of the language
would spell the demise of the whole Welsh culture.
The substantial political successes of Plaid Cymru in
the 80’s were confined to north-west Wales and thus
reinforced the perception of the party as a vehicle for
the values of cultural localism rather than a party
capable of liberating Wales as a whole. Although
political fortunes have fluctuated in Scotland, the
Scottish National Party - SNP - has continued to be a
substantial political presence, although in the mid-
21
and late 80’s it adopted a pro-European slogan of
independence in Europe.
Many attempts have been made to define
Britain’s essential character. It appears to some as a
multi-national state from certain points of view and a
national one from other perspectives; a unitary state
in some respects, but with a range of diversity that is
quite staggering. The distinctive cultural attributes
have all received considerable emphasis and central
funding. For many it remains undesirable to seek an
integral nationalism which obliterates all traces of
Britain in a headlong pursuit of ‘Balkanisation’
(Robinson, 1990:14), though some might feel
attracted to this view. Sometimes people talk very
vividly about a federation of Britain as a structure
capable of embracing the totality of relations within
the island, a situation reminiscent of Home Rule All
Around before 1914.
As someone once said, Britain is a house with
many mansions, which can and should contain
Ulster and Clydeside within the United Kingdom for
so long as this remains the wish of most inhabitants.
We live in a world that is equally marked by a quest
for unity - not uniformity - and at the same time,
paradoxically, for individuality. The idea of Europe is
countering any attempt at reestablishing a tribalist
ethnocentric and nationalistic identity, whilst at the
same time a Europe of the Regions should
encourage these units to vie with one another in
diversity and specificity.
22

The Resilience of a Term: ‘British’
I would like to consider first the cultural
clashes, convergences and divergences that led to a
definite type of relationship shaping certain identity
formulas in the units that make up Britain.
‘Britishness’, however, is not a discrete phenomenon
to be sharply differentiated from ‘Irishness’ or
‘Scottishness’; neither is it so satisfactorily inclusive
of those identities as the present-day situation
suggests. There is much more talk about
Europeanness in Scotland today than there is of
Britishness. I think that we can also admit more than
a whiff of truth in the opinion held by quite a few
historians that Britishness is undergoing a slow but
definite process of dissolution.
The term Britishness has had as troubled a
history as the countries that make up the British
Isles. The Britons were one of the migratory waves
of Celtic tribes that settled mostly in Wales and
England. A rather tentative etymology ascribes to
both varieties briton or pryton the meaning of
‘tattooed person’. The first reference to the British
Isles, i.e. to the toponym, we owe to Herodotus who,
adding to them the determinant kassiteride, refers to
the rich resources of tin in the isles of Albion and
Ierne (ca 445 BC). The ethnonym prydain in Welsh
was transcribed by the Romans as britani. The term
might have lapsed altogether after the withdrawal of
the Romans and the defeat of the Britons at the
23
hands of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, had not the regal
style rex Britanniae had an appeal to certain Saxon
kings. William the Conqueror also liked to be
regarded as monarch totius Britanniae. During the
Middle Ages there was considerable disparity of
usage. Sometimes Britannia was taken to be
synonymous with England, the first entity to be
united. But some Scottish writers took exception to
the fact that many English and foreigners used
Britain as both the name of the Roman province and
of the whole island. At the beginning of the 16
th
century the Scottish writer John Major declared: “At
the present there are, and for a long time have been,
to speak accurately, two kingdoms in the island: the
Scottish kingdom, namely, and the English…Yet all
the inhabitants are Britons…All men born in Britain
are Britons, seeing that on any other reasoning
Britons could not be distinguished from other races”
(quoted in Robbins, 1990:7). It was James VI of
Scotland and I of England who in 1604 proclaimed
his assumption of the style ‘King of Great Britain,
France and Ireland’. The new title was very
contentious during the following century and only
gained wide acceptance after the Anglo-Scottish
Union of 1707 (Hay, 1968:128-144).
So the term is marked by inconsistency and
has a lengthy but at the same time rather awkward
pedigree. On both sides of the border people had
been accustomed to think of themselves as English
or Scots. They continued to do so even when
24
referred to as Britons. The term North Britain gained
status in Scotland but it was no longer deemed
acceptable by the end of the 19
th
century, when
‘Scotland’ returned with a vengeance. On the other
hand there is no record of any English tendency to
adopt ‘South Britain’ or to describe themselves as
‘South Britons’. In fact, the English hardly considered
themselves Britons. There was, however, a period of
profound elation in the whole nation in mid-18th
century - a time when the British Empire was
becoming solidly established, a time when everybody
was swelling with British pride and when people felt
obliged to ask every morning what victory there was
for fear of missing one - expressed in a nationalist
song written by the Scotsman James Thomson in
1742, which sounds the powerful brass of naval
patriotism: “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves; / Britons
never will be slaves.” It was probably the only occasion
on which the English have prided themselves on being
British.
By the end of the 19
th
century Welsh identity
no longer permitted talk of only two kingdoms and
this too pointed to the demise of Britain as the
universally accepted all-purpose name for the
country.
And what about England? Many claim that the
blending of Britain, with all its varying degrees of
consent and coercion, has historically occurred in
England, that the British institutions developed and
continue to exist in England. There are national
25
museums, libraries, and galleries in Scotland and
Wales, but there is nothing that is English national
there. England has absorbed hundreds of thousands
of Irish, Scottish and Welsh families. When history
along national lines was the order of the day, when it
was axiomatically nation-based (complete with its
narrative and the concept of race, ethnocentrism,
tied to national ideologies) English historians shifted
quite freely between ‘British’ and ‘English’. “The
historical development of England is based upon the
fact that her frontiers against Europe are drawn by
nature and cannot be the subject of dispute… In
short a great deal of what is peculiar in English
History is due to the obvious fact that Great Britain is
an island (Namier, 1930:66-7). “In the Second World
War the British people came of age… The British
people had set out to destroy Hitler… No English
soldier who rode with the tanks into liberated
Belgium… The British Empire declined… Few even
sang ‘England Arise’. England had risen all the
same” (Taylor, 1966:60I). The situation, as Robbins,
half in jest half in earnest, points out, was saved by
the Postmaster General who had had the foresight to
make sure that no name was attached to the country
on postage stamps. When the Historical Association
was founded in 1906, it was decided that the best
thing was not to give any hint about its nationality.
Matters however never went so far as to require any
change in the regal style, to make for example King
Edward VII monarch ‘of England, Scotland, Ireland
26
and Wales’ rather than ‘of Great Britain’, but Great
Britain had become and was to remain problematic.
We are in the midst of momentous changes in
Britain: constitutional, legislative, sweeping cultural
changes on a scale that does not enable us yet to
foresee the future configuration of the United
Kingdom. The issue of Britishness is far more
problematic now, with the multiple waves of
immigration that started in the late 40’s. The range of
cultural mutations that this situation has engendered
challenges Britishness in ways that would have been
inconceivable at the beginning of the 20
th
century.
So, has Britishness become a very porous and open
structure able to accommodate and encourage the
conversation of various cultures and multiple
traditions? Can it permit, encourage, tolerate beliefs,
values and practices which may have their own logic
but which can be remote from those which have
informed the legislation and social arrangements
which have come to prevail in these islands? Is
Britishness more and more a complex of political and
civic values now detached from any universalist
claims - like that of anchorage in Christianity - to
which all citizens must assent?

The Historical Context of Britishness as
Plural Identity.
The History of an Idea:
Devolution
27
In the following paragraphs we are going to
look at the idea of Britain as a Third Space or a locus
of hybrid cultural expression, in a historical context.
We are going to take account of a few episodes of
acculturation, of the dialectics of
dominance/recessiveness of cultural models; of the
multifarious interactions between these indigenous
cultural traditions of the Isles, which may enable us
to gain a broader perspective on the key issue: one
identity or a plurality of identities? After that, the
history of the term will be considered in the light of
postmodernity with its relativization of the concepts
of nation-states
*
, sovereignty, independence,
autonomy, as viewed in the post-Enlightenment
terms, with the breakdown of the centre-periphery
dichotomy and the rise of a multicultural society, the
United Kingdom versus the European Union.
The nation is not only a unifying concept, but
also exclusive and divisive, stressing difference
between a particular society and its neighbours.
Moreover it provides a narrow working frame,
because what later became national boundaries had
in the past little or no no reality, with the
consequence that earlier tribal or pre-national
*
Leopold Von Ranke’s use of the nation paradigm is a good
example of the grand narratives of post-Enlightenment
rationality that postmodernists set out to dismantle. It is very
much a universalist, teleological, absolute entity. Van Ranke
stresses the role of nations in history and the belief that the
nation was a divinely created unit at work in universal history,
with each nation having its own appointed moment of destiny.
28
societies were lost sight of. I am far more interested
in discovering here the episodes of interchange, of
cultural osmosis. An example would be the border
between Wales and England. Herefordshire and
Shropshire are part of England and their inhabitants
are English with all the appropriate mental
equipment that goes with it. But in fact these border
counties have been the scene of continuous
intermingling between the Welsh and English
cultures over a long period of time. The same point
may also be made about the border between
England and Scotland, which was drawn at one time
to include the Lothians within England and at
another to include Celtic Cumbria within the kingdom
of Strathclyde. The modern distinction between
Ulster and south-west Scotland did not exist in the
late middle ages, since the channel dividing the two
areas served as a unifying element for the sea-borne
post-Viking society which occupied the isles. With
this pattern in mind I wish to illustrate how the history
of the various nations of the British Isles transcends
the internal boundaries of later date. Thus the
Roman Conquest, the barbarian invasions, the
Viking raids, the Norman Conquest, the Reformation,
Counter-Reformation and the Industrial Revolution
were events that affected the British Isles as a whole
and brought about crucial changes in the models of
interaction and exchange within these isles and
between the British Isles and Europe.
29
Let us begin with the Celts. Views of this
episode are generally marred by an extrapolation of
the ‘nation’ concept that treats 5
th
century British
society as an arena for the confrontation of two
distinct races, the Celts and Anglo-Saxons. In fact
we are dealing here with linguistic and cultural
differences. Both linguistic branches stem from a
common Indo-European stock, there are many
similarities in their tribal organisation, religious
beliefs, social classes and tripartite division so
characteristic of the configuration of Indo-European
societies. In Celtic Ireland there were differences
between north and south; in Scotland, between Irish
and British populations. Similar conflicts existed
between the constituents of the Anglo-Saxon
heptarchy: Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, etc. The
interesting points to notice are those of convergence
and of cultural exchange. Thus the Celtic-speaking
Bishop Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland during
the 5
th
century and Irish monks there later became
missionaries to the inhabitants of Scotland and North
Britain.
The archaeologists or paleolinguists and
ethnobotanists are divided on the issue of migration,
especially on its definition as ‘conquest, extermination,
displacement’. Colin Renfrew is the main supporter of
the anti-migrationist point of view or of the processual
approach, which favours a pattern of peer polity
interaction between local communities with the
subsequent fashioning of a nuclear area, of a style
30
zone. He rejects all theories that express the advent of
bellicose Indo-European tribes emerging bellicose
from a proto-Indo-European fatherland. Such
catastrophe theories postulate the utter extermination
of the peaceful Neolithic farmer cultures and
consequent displacement of ideology, pantheon and
social organization (the ‘Kurgan’, ‘barrow’ or ‘battle-
axe’ people invasion). Renfrew’s processual approach
highlights, on the contrary, interaction, exchange
networks of complementary crafts, and episodes of
convergence and divergence, of continuous
development. Graham Clark, also analyses the spread
of farming to Britain and tells us that there was
probably only one significant invasion of Britain before
the Roman Conquest; there were ample movements
of people, there was expansion, but not necessarily of
a strictly colonizing nature. This view does not deny
that a new and superior technology, military
effectivenss, better weapons, processed metal, a
stratified social organization prevailed in such
competitive and cooperative structures, or that an elite
dominance model with the survival of the upper
language of the more competitive polity gained
ground.
*

*
In the case of Celtic or Dacian, the lower status language survived
especially in place names, thus from the Celtic substratum of English
we have: tor, crag, combe, bin, brock, avon; Wear, Don, Ouse,
Dore, Rye, Avon Thames, London, or a few river names derived from
Isca ‘water’: Axe. Exe, Esjk, Usk Wiske. Although the number of
words is much more limited than in the case of the Thraco-Dacian
substratum of 160 words, most linguists think that the former is
much more real (cf. Nicolescu, 1999:29).
31
Placing much more weight on contact and
exchange, on acculturation, rather than on
extermination and radical displacement, Renfrew
finally adheres to an all-embracing theory of Kurgan
plus Corded ware plus Beaker cultural models, all
together (cf. Marija Gimbutas’ similar theories
developed especially in Vestigii europene preistorice
in sud-estul european). The Celts were amongst the
four great Barbarian peoples of the known world
alongside the Scythians, Persians and Lybians.
Whether we are dealing with several invasions or
only one, and whatever their character, what is clear
is that the indigenous elements, the communities
with which the Romans came into contact in the first
century BC were Celtic-speaking, iron-using
societies organized on a tribal pattern, and there are
also clear indications all over Britain - from passage-
graves in Ireland at Newgrange, on the east coast in
the Boyne valley and Lough Crew, but also on the
Isle of Anglesey - of a unity of artistic expression, of
ritual and religious beliefs.
It is true that the British Celts were neither
among the earliest Celts nor among those of widest
distribution. But on the other hand, these Celts are
those about whom we know most today, for they
have left us the most complete picture of their
civilization, since they enjoyed freedom from foreign,
especially Roman, conquest longer than their
continental neighbours. In parts they escaped such
influences altogether and thus preserved their
32
culture in a purer form. Their culture, language and
art also indicate that they shared a common culture
with the Celts of continental Europe, groups of whom
crossed the Alps and sacked Rome in 390 BC. In
her classic work, Pagan Celtic Britain, Anne Ross
assembles evidence in favour of a common pattern
reflected in attitudes and beliefs: a reverence for
rivers and wells, the cult of the severed head,
totemic animals and plants (see Virginia Cartianu’s
book Urme celtice în spiritualitatea şi cultura
românească for a comparative analysis of similar
practices, rituals, artefacts and iconographic motifs
in Romanian traditional society and art and also
about the lasting effects of Celticity on Romanian
territory).
The Roman Conquest was conducive to a
social and cultural revolution. South of a line between
Lincoln and Lyme Bay, various Celtic kingdoms lost
their independence and were incorporated into the
imperial administrative framework. The southern
Lowlands formed a military province with the most
romanised section of Britain. North and west a military
zone existed over which there was military rather than
administrative control. When we speak about the
‘blessing in disguise’, and the modernizing effects of
the Roman Conquest, it is sometimes forgotten that a
process of modernization had already been under
way in the south, where social change, the
development of larger political units, urbanisation and
a wider market economy, accompanied by a certain
33
level of literacy and numeracy, determined some
people to term this development prior to the actual
Conquest as ‘Indirect Romanization’ (Kearney, 1989:
22). Of course the thrust towards modernisation was
greatly accelerated after the Claudian invasion of A.D.
43, with the introduction of a development along the
lines of ruling according to the administrative
standards of a cosmopolitan empire, the setting up of
a literate bureaucracy, rationalization of the
infrastructure of settlements, development of a
centralised road system, refinement of manners, of
domestic comfort, etc. Alternative social and
economic arrangements may be perceived in the
north and west and in Ireland which the Romans did
not attempt to conquer.
Of all romanising influences the most
important was undoubtedly Christianity. The coming
of St. Patrick to Northern Ireland and of other
missionaries to the southern half of the country is
normally seen in exclusively religious terms as part
of the history of the Christian Church. In cultural
terms, however, it marked the opening up of Ireland
to the values of Rome; it made Ireland part of the
Roman-led ‘globalisation’ process that was going on
at the time. The point here is not to exaggerate the
success of the new faith in Ireland, since many
traditional aspects of Irish life survived for many
centuries, but to underscore the fact that the
‘splendid isolation’ of Ireland was broken down
during this period. The Christian Church was no
34
longer a network of sects: its organization was
monarchical in the sense that both the Emperor and
the Pope exercised a great deal of power. Latin was
the sacred language of the Church and its centre
was Rome. So the Christian missionaries to Ireland
in the course of the 5
th
century were also agents of
Romanisation. There were other marked differences
between the religions formerly professed and
Christianity. With the Druids and filids of the Celts,
oral culture was the paradigm. Committing to
memory tens of thousands of verses, a process
stretching over a period of 20 years or so, was the
rule. Christianity on the other hand was a religion of
the book, so it also brought literacy in its wake, no
matter on how restricted a scale.
Thus, around the year A.D. 400, we can
easily perceive a contrast between cultural areas.
England south of a line from the Thames estuary
was heavily Romanised, with the universalist outlook
of the empire prevailing, whilst a second cultural
area including Scotland, Ireland and Wales was
made up of societies still rather heavily local in their
outlook. Here local kinships prevailed as well as the
patronage of local aristocratic elites and, although
the impact of the Christian teaching was very
powerful, these societies still clung to their own rites
of passage, to old institutions like ‘fosterage’ and
‘wake’, and in general, to immemorial customs. Over
much of the British Isles, the Celtic-speaking world
survived the arrival and departure of the Roman
35
legions. The vitality of local cultures led to the
invention or re-editing of origin legends, genealogies
of founding heroes, narrative histories which were
eventually committed to writing in an acceptable
form by the monastic scribes in the early middle
ages. The Arthurian cycle, the Cornish legend of
Tristan and Iseult, Finn MacCumhail and the
Mabinogi are just a few examples.
For the next important chapter of British
history, the Anglo-Saxon invasion, we have as an
extraordinary source of information, the work of an
English monk, Bede, who completed his
Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.
Although we have here an account related from the
angle of the invaders, we also come upon a paradox:
his own people were pagan while their victims were
Christian. Bede solved the problem by attributing the
English victory to the working of Divine Providence.
The character of this invasion has to be judged
critically. We know from various sources that were
finally archeologically attested
*
about the continuous
history of Anglo-Saxon settlements that actually
began under Roman rule. Many authors speak about
the sacred fear that the Germanic tribes felt towards
superior cultural models, which ties in with an
*
The great discovery of a huge site near Mucking on the Thames
estuary of sunken huts (compare with the Romanian ‘bordei’) with
gabel-posts characteristic of the crude design of Germanic buildings
dated round the year 400 - most probably houses of mercenaries
guarding the approach to London - points to the early arrival and
settlement of Anglo-Saxons, most probably hired by the post-Roman
usurpers or tyranny.
36
entirely catastrophe-ridden invasion complete with
massacres and the total destruction of villas, Roman
castra, etc. There is ample evidence, however, that
the English knew what a ceaster was - a word used
with remarkable consistency in place names:
Mameceaster (Manchester) or Ventanceaster
(Winchester). The Roman towns were not totally
abandoned, they became the tuns or settlements or
manors of the powerful chieftains (Blair, 1993:60-
119). There are hints at the clashes of different
cultures in the 6
th
and 7
th
centuries. The impact of
Christianization was important, but we know that for
many bretwaldas or Brytenwaldas
*
∗ who depended
on warfare and amassing great wealth, the
conversion to Christianity was skin-deep. The pagan
ship-burial of Sutton Hoo and the pagan aristocratic
ideas expressed in Beowulf or in the heroic lines of
the Battle of Maldon, with their ethos of loyalty and
feud, may serve as a reminder that there was no
instant Christianization. Bede also celebrates the
*
∗ These were ‘overkings’ (actually sub-kings), a concept that
indicates the instability of political power and dominance in a
heptarchy marred by internecine battles for power. It was a society
riddled with feuds and the succession to kingdoms was fluid and
uncertain. The criterion of eligibility for kings was gift-giving or
potlatch (see Marcel Mauss’ famous Eseu asupra darului, Iaşi:
Institutul European, 1993 on gift-giving in traditional and modern
societies). The splendour of the great royal ship-burial at Sutton Hoo,
a great discovery dating back to 1939, throws a lot of weight behind
the bardic accounts of royal wealth; kingdoms, it seems, were won
and lost for treasures such as that of Sutton Hoo, a trait that the
Germanic tribes shared in common with many heroic warrior
societies on the continent.
37
harmonious relations of Ireland with Northumbria,
and monks from Iona were encouraged to establish
themselves at Lindisfarne. Three of the first four
bishops in Mercia were either Irish or Irish-trained.
There was cooperation in this field with East Anglia
too. The art of the period indicates the existence of
close links between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of
Northumbria and the Irish kingdoms. The Book of
Durrow juxtaposes Germanic and Celtic
ornamentation, whilst the Lindisfarne Gospels or the
8
th
century Book of Kells illustrate an intermingling of
Irish, English and Mediterranean styles. Moreover, in
the ship-burial of Sutton Hoo, although pagan
Germanic motifs prevail, there are some artefacts
that bear witness to the links between Ireland and
Anglo-Saxon England: interlacing, scroll motifs, high
crosses, hanging bowls of Celtic design. Cooperation
and exchange were not the sole models of
interaction. There was also continuous tension and
hostility between these cultures, and this should not
be played down: Offa’s Dyke (an earthwork nearly
150 miles long) built in the 8
th
century and forming a
continuous barrier between Wales and England from
sea to sea; the massacre of monks; and the battle of
603 between the kings of Dalriada (a kingdom
created on the west coast of Scotland by Irish
settlers, the future ‘Scots’) and Northumbria. In the
Lowland zone of Britain a steady process of peer
polity interaction and consistent episodes of elite
dominance followed their course. Military victory in
38
the area was accompanied by the persistent advance
of agrarian settlements and by the development of
the manorial system - the creation of nuclear
settlements, of villages and open fields, and the
administrative division into counties, shires and
hundreds (subdivisions of shires, each hundred
having its own court for settling local business).
The Anglo-Saxons were themselves ethnically
mixed, originating in several Germanic cultures; they
cannot be judged as a monolithic entity, there were
great differences between their kingdoms. The
sharpest difference was between, on the one hand
the older kingdoms of the east and south coasts -
East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex - and, on the
other, the newer, more powerful, expanding
kingdoms of the north, the Midlands and south-west
Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex in particular. Their
settlement and the diffusion of their cultural model
led English society towards a more mobile structure,
which valued loyalty to lord rather than loyalty to kin,
the latter being typical of more static societies.
Monarchical institutions stood a much better chance
of developing in this type of society than did the
lineage-based society of the Britons and the Irish. It
was a more fluid social structure that encouraged
trade as an honourable, socially acceptable activity.
We should not adopt a dualistic way of thinking
about these communities of the early middle ages in
Britain. There was a certain amount of localism in
Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but this trait should not
39
be overemphasized. Pre-Christian Ireland had
indeed been tribal, rural, hierarchical and based on a
kin-ethos, but from the 5
th
century on, it underwent
considerable change, despite the survival for many
centuries to come of old institutions and beliefs:
there was still polygamy, and up to the 12
th
century
even the ancient tarbfeis
*
survived; cursing one’s
enemies (such black magic practices as curses
written backwards had quite an effect upon the
Romans) was a deep-seated practice; and an overall
obsession with rituals and animistic beliefs. Despite
the important changes that the British Isles saw from
the 5
th
to 8th centuries, the late Roman empire
exercised a continuing influence upon all the cultures
of the British Isles, which is why there are sufficient
grounds for calling these centuries the ‘Post-Roman
centuries’ (Kearney, 1989:37).
An important consequence of the Viking
invasion is exactly this weakening of the power of
the Roman image. The Old Order falls; the
equilibrium of the old cultures is disturbed by the
onset of a new seaborne power. Under the year 789
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains an ominous
entry: the first ships of the Danes land on the English
coast. The raids in the north were far more serious
and the old centres of learning of Lindisfarne,
Jarrow, Iona were plundered. Once more mobility
*
‘Bull’s dream’ a shamanic divination practice for electing the king:
the Druid gorged on the flesh of the sacred bull, a mythraic symbol,
and in the trance that followed he found out the name of the future
king of legendary Tara (Powell; Chadwick; Piggott).
40
seems to be a crucial factor in conquest (as was
previously the riding of horses for the Indo-
Europeans - the horse had been domesticated in the
steppe lands of Russia by 3000 BC, and again
during the Spanish Conquest of the New World).
Thanks to their longships, a crucial invention, the
Vikings managed to dominate for a long period much
of the Irish and North Seas. When it came to
settlement patterns, the new social order was
broadly based upon farmers. Along the East Coast
of Britain, Anglo-Saxon England ceased to exist in
any meaningful sense. The literate Christian culture
of Alcuin of York or Bede of Jarrow, a culture linked
to Rome and to the Carolingian Empire, was
replaced by a pagan, oral culture, which looked to
Denmark and Norway. Generally the Scandinavian
centuries, three centuries actually, are played down
by many writers although in this period large areas of
the British Isles fell under the control of the first
raiders and settlers from Denmark and Norway. The
British Isles underwent important changes during this
age. In the second half of the eleventh century the
society that emerged was quite different from that of
previous ages, and of course there were much more
profound changes than those generally cited as a
progression from the ritual killings of the blood-eagle
type and the plundering of Iona and Lindisfarne, to
the later urban development, trade and
shipwrighting. The changes were of such scope that,
were the terminology not too rebarbative ‘Hiberno-
41
Scandinavia’ or ‘Anglo-Scandinavia’ might be
appropriate terms for the resulting mix.
Besides the market orientation that we have
already spoken about (it is said of the Vikings that
with them piracy and trade were so inextricably
woven, that trade was piracy and piracy their trade),
they added substantially to the proportion of freemen
in the areas that they controlled - Lincolnshire,
Leicestershire, Norfolk. The typical Viking was a
farmer in arms, not a warrior seeking to control
unfree labour. Their society was far more flexible
and less authoritarian than what it replaced. The
Viking invasion, by mobilizing the resistance of the
Anglo-Saxons, paved the way or served as a
ferment for the renewal of the whole society. The
old- style lordship or brytwalda of the Anglo-Saxons
gave way to feudal kingship with its entire array of
distinctive features that were to reach maturity with
the Norman Conquest. But if feudalism is understood
literally, meaning the holding of land in return for
military service, then the new monarchy was brought
into existence by the Danish threat. The new-style
monarchy could exert its power from Wessex over
Mercia and the Danelaw as well as Ireland. Other
phenomena accompanying the new development
were a heavier burden of taxation, a military-style
government and reformed monasticism. It was the
Scandinavians who brought about the rise of the
centralised kingship, replacing looser, traditional,
diffuse political structures. It is the beginning of a
42
broad process of modernization whose ultimate
consequences were to be witnessed in Norman
England.
The establishment of the royal house as a
bureaucratic base for professional armies, the
promulgation of laws on the basis of royal authority
rather than as in the past the expression of local
customs; the development of the ideology of
vassalage - a unique factor of social cohesion
throughout the Middle Ages; the reinforcement of
this thrust for centralisation of power in the symbolic
forms of the castle and the Romanesque churches –
all this stands for the new political order. I do not
mean to say that several distinct cultures did not
continue to exist with their own sense of identity and
their own view of the past. What later generations
see as the emergence of one nation involved the
superimposition of one culture upon another. Whilst
it is true that the Viking influence was not evenly
distributed and there were varying degrees of
dominance in the different regions of Britain, over the
British Isles as a whole the decline of the Norse
influence was a much slower process than was the
case in England. The kingdom of Norway remained
strong in Scotland until the middle of the 13
th
century, especially in the Western Isles, in Orkney
and Shetland as well as in some Irish towns such as
Waterford or Wexford. In the Danelaw the Norse
influence was deeply felt long after the Norman
Conquest. One could of course speculate on the
43
consequences of a different course of history for the
British Isles had the battle of Hastings turned out
differently. The Viking as well as the Norman
Conquests focus our attention on those common or
specific cultural traits that evolve from such
‘accidents’ of history.
The nature of the society that emerges and
develops gradually after the Norman Conquest is, in
traditional terms, of a colonial type. Opinions vary
and many historians have attempted to ‘domesticate’
the Norman Conquest, playing down its many
incidents of sheer violence and aggressiveness.
Accounts range from a stereotypical impersonation
of the conqueror as a masculine race disciplining a
primitive and chaotic feminine one, to overemphasis
of the vigour and strength as well as the cultural
refinement of the Normans. The colonial nature of
the conquest is seen by Hugh Kearney from three
main points of view: the castle, the church and the
borough. The Norman successes created a French-
speaking ascendancy throughout the British Isles
and, as in other instances of elite dominance, the
French language left its indelible mark on the
language of the conquered. It resulted in the
doubling of the English vocabulary, in itself indicative
of the profound changes that marked British society
and which surfaced at the level of expression:
administration, law (crown, parliament, reign, royal,
city, court, gaol, prison); manners and courtly life
(chain, collar, feast, bacon, beef, mutton); home,
44
household (chamber, parlour, scullery, curtain,
cushion, wardrobe); military (army, battle, navy,
peace); ranks (clerk, duke, farmer, prince, servant,
sir); religion (abbey, convent, lesson, mercy, parson,
pity, prayer), etc. As to the colonial nature of society
during the Norman Conquest, settlers continued to
arrive well into the 12
th
century, displacing more and
more English sub-tenants who had survived the first
generation of conquest.
‘Norman’ must also be used with caution
because it was not a pure entity but rather a generic
term extending over Picard, Breton and Flemish
elements. Normanisation used various instruments
to reform English society and impose a colonial
ideology. If the Viking invasion brought about the fall
of many aspects of the Old Order, the Norman
Conquest completed the process. During the Viking
centuries the British Isles remained divided into
distinct but overlapping political and cultural
communities, all of them affected to a greater or
lesser extent by Norse influences. With the coming
of the Norman Conquest the communities of the
British Isles were brought together at the aristocratic
level, in Church and state, within a single cultural
and political ascendancy looking towards France. At
the end of the 13
th
century the political future of the
British Isles seemed to be directed towards a unified
Norman ascendancy, an ascendancy which was
later to dissolve into a number of independent or
semi-independent units. The Norman Scots were in
45
favour of a kingdom of Scotland, in Ireland they
settled for real autonomy, and all this was made
possible by the decision of England to seek an
imperial future in France in the Hundred Years War.
Whilst these different Norman societies stuck to
traditional structures of feudal lordship, the great
agents of change start to make inroads into these
fragmented societies with the establishment of
London as a great trading metropolis. Progress,
manufacturing, an increased degree of social
mobility and market relations created a new
paradigm that was already attracting important
segments of the population to the Scottish Lowlands,
the south-west of Ireland and south Wales. The
future of Norman rule was to be influenced both by
military enterprise and by factors quite out of human
control, such as the Black Death. The plague in the
14
th
century reduced the population of England by
one third and greatly influenced important social
shifts: from labour service to cash rents. The decline
of unfree tenures and the reduction of both
population and land pressures reduced the work
force upon which the Norman rule relied.
For much of the next two centuries the history
of the British Isles was predominantly the history of
individual communities. A proto-industrial revolution
in East Anglia, the Cotswolds and the West Riding of
Yorkshire was another important development that
secured Britain’s transition from a colonial-style
economy exporting raw materials for manufacture
46
(true, the native cloth industry had come into being
partly as a result of the migration of highly skilled
Flemish weavers). It looks very much like a period
divided between military action and the
establishment of a merchant community.
At the beginning of the 16
th
century the
military society, dominated by the castle with its
strategic, defensive, public and domestic aspects,
gave way to the squire’s manor house, to market
towns and individual farmers. It became gradually a
society stratified by a different factor - wealth.
Differences between England and Wales became
minimal and, although the Welsh language survives
and the differences of mentality between north and
south Wales were preserved, a new amalgam of
Norman, Welsh and English elements facilitated the
incorporation of Wales into the English political, legal
and administrative system (Acts of Union 1536-
1543).
In Scotland a stark contrast is created
between the Lowlands and Highlands. English was
dominant even among the nobility in the Lowlands.
The development of a cash economy and the
strengthening of the boroughs were concentrated in
the Lowlands, whilst in the west feudal relations and
services in kind lingered on.
The 16
th
century is characterized by the
emergence of the English Empire, an empire based
mainly on the predominance of the wealth, resources
and population of southern England over the rest of
47
the British Isles and later on over North America and
the West Indies. It is a period marked by noteworthy
developments such as large scale emigration, which
can be seen as a form of steady internal
colonization, with Ireland the prime attraction for
many from Scotland, Wales and England. Imperial
dominance manifested itself vigorously: Scotland
was conquered by Cromwell’s armies and
parliamentary union was achieved in 1707 through
the Act of Union. Important factors leading to the
Union were John Knox’s reformed Kirk of Scotland,
in the latter half of the 16
th
century, a process very
much encouraged by the Tudors and by the
succession of James VI of Scotland, son of Mary
Stuart, to the English Crown in 1603. The extension
of the new imperial power and the modernisation of
society were symbolised by the royal supremacy, the
translation of the Bible into the vernacular (the Bible
in English proved to be a formidable instrument of
Anglicization), clerical marriage and the dissolution
of the monasteries. This should however not tip the
scales too much in favour of an anglocentric
nationalist point of view on the one hand or a
vernacularist, nativist one on the other. We cannot
speak about a single, national English culture at this
point.
The unprecedented rise in importance of
London was based on the development of the cloth
trade from the 15
th
century, but the great impulse
behind the assertion of cultural dominance by the
48
south over the rest of England and Wales, Scotland
and Ireland was the impact of the Reformation. The
ideas of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin could not have
had such an impact on the British Isles without the
support of government: Henry VIII’s chief minister
Thomas Cromwell with his Lutheran sympathies and
the reign of Edward VI, when the Privy Council
became strongly Protestant. It is true that there was
resistance, but the victories over the Pilgrimage of
Grace in 1536, the Cornishmen’s revolt of 1549 and
the Rising of the Northern Earls in 1569, brought
formerly largely autonomous regions under southern
dominance.
But precisely this apparently unifying factor –
the Reformation, polarised as never before
communities of the British Isles between those
conforming to the idea of an Established Church and
those who demanded more than conformity in ritual
and external assent. Whilst this polarisation was held
at bay during Elizabeth’s reign through her
diplomacy and spirit of moderation and tolerance,
the early years of the 17
th
century brought about the
re-emergence of the Counter-Reformation in
Germany and a revival of ritualism in England. The
split was in other words between the Anglicans and
the Puritans, although a decisive split did not occur
until the crisis of 1640-1642. The Civil War was to
leave an imprint on English life, which lasted until the
beginning of the 20
th
century. A penal code passed
after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and
49
not seriously modified until 1828 made dissenters
second-class citizens. By the end of the 17
th
century
an English empire had come into existence affecting
most of the British communities, although rural
Ireland, the Scottish Highlands and north Wales
remained more or less unaffected. In these regions
local institutions like the wise men of the village, the
fair, the wake and kinship ties retained their hold in
the face of attempts at Anglicization by the English-
oriented gentry and clergy.
The shift of Scotland from pro-French Auld
Alliance to Reformation is very important. John
Knox, who had taken a crucial part in the Edwardian
reformation, was backed financially by the English.
Likewise in Ireland, the mid-17
th
century marked the
peak of reformation fervour and the myth of the Irish
massacre of 1640 formed the rationale for a string of
punitive actions, which followed in the next decade
under Cromwell. The Protestant interest was placed
on the defensive after the Restoration and even
forced into full retreat during the crisis of 1688-1689,
but after the victory of William III at the Boyne in
1690, the future of Ireland was decided for the next
two centuries on the basis of Protestant landowning
ascendancy. Most historians agree that for many in
those two centuries the sense of belonging to a
church replaced an earlier culturally-based identity
formula. So the divisiveness of the feudal period
gave way to a new form of divisiveness based on
religion.
50
The year 1688, the year of the Glorious
Revolution, is undoubtedly a landmark in the history
of English liberties. The victory of Protestantism and
the underlying principles of modernity were
consolidated and assured by the flight of James II
and the subsequent accession of William and Mary.
Absolutist monarchies based on the divine right that
placed the person of the king beyond human
judgement had come to an end and had given way
to parliamentary sovereignty. The Bill of Rights
clearly overrode the hereditary rights of the
monarch, which had formed the basis of the restored
constitution of 1660, and replaced it with the will of
the nation expressed through parliament. The
Toleration Act of 1689, which inspired Voltaire and
Abbé Grosley to praise enthusiastically the liberal
and democratic spirit of Britain, was seen as a
revolutionary step towards democracy and freedom.
It granted freedom of worship to Protestant
nonconformists provided that they shared the basic
doctrines laid down in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the
Anglican Church, and it allowed dissenters to erect
their own places of worship.
In the context of the British Isles the
Revolution gains many more meanings. In Scotland
it was only after the battle of Culloden of 1746 that
the regime set up in 1689 became relatively secure.
The same can be said about Ireland. James II was
decisively defeated and Ulster Protestantism
triumphant only after the fate of the Stuart cause was
51
decided by the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (the
‘blood bath’ that took place still holds a prominent
place in the Irish collective memory).
The result of William’s victories can hardly be
regarded as a ‘victory of liberal principles’, as
sometimes represented by Macaulay or the Victorian
Whigs (Langford, 1993:399). It meant the
establishment of Episcopalian ascendancy in Ireland
and of Presbyterianism in Scotland. Toleration was a
façade because the legacy of the civil wars led to the
perpetuation of distrust and hostility between the
cultures of the Church and of Dissent. An Anglican
ascendancy, as Jonathan Clark remarks in his book
English Society 1688-1832 prevails as a unifying
factor controling the institutions of power long after
1688. Episcopalian culture was dominant in the
universities, public schools, army, navy and the
Church itself. Dissenting culture had to create its
own structures in response to such challenges. For
Scotland the dominant culture was Lowland
Presbyterianism reinforced by the Act of Union,
enshrined in the power of the Kirk, universities and
schools.
The English Empire thrived after 1688, with
the growth of the American colonies; trade with the
colonies became an important feature of English
economy. The prosperity of London in the 18
th
century, but also the rise of such ports as Liverpool
and Bristol, were bound up with colonial trade
including the infamous slave trade. Dissent – that
52
was to be such an important agent of sweeping
changes in the age, was not a homogeneous
phenomenon. Within Dissent there were marked
divisions between Independents, Baptists, Unitarians
and Presbyterians. The situation was further
complicated by the Evangelical Movement of
Methodism within the Church of England, a
missionary movement but very much inspired by
Dissent.
The balance between the two cultures was
held by the Whig administration of Robert Walpole
and Henry Pelham, which relied upon a corrupt
political system during the reigns of George I and
George II. A system of generalized patronage was
developing in the face of long wars, or fear of war,
between 1688 and 1815, sometimes termed ‘The
Second Hundred Years’ War’.
The triumphalist mood of the first half of the
century gave way to a deep crisis from 1763 - when
the government attempted to raise money from the
colonies by means of the Stamp Act of 1765 – up to
the recognition of American independence in 1783.
A series of British defeats ensued that would have
been inconceivable at the time of the Seven Years
War (1756-1763), which ended with the decisive
defeat of France in America and India, a high point
of imperial achievement.
Imperialism was traditionally underpinned by
efforts at Anglicization. It is interesting to follow the
course that such anglicising influences took in
53
Wales, Scotland and Ireland and how these were fed
into the subcultures there. Parliamentary politics and
the control of local administration lay in the hands of
the Episcopalian gentry. South Wales was thus
anglicised, i.e. cosmopolitanised and
commercialised, whilst the north, heavily Welsh-
speaking and rural, embraced Calvinistic Methodism.
In Ireland we see three cultures clashing:
Episcopalian in the east, Presbyterian in Ulster and
the Catholic majority to be found in all provinces.
Episcopalians held power, though a minority
numerically, as they were mostly landowners who
belonged to the Established Church. The
Presbyterians developed close links with Scotland,
whilst Episcopalians played their part in English
matters, as the career of Jonathan Swift proves all
too well. The development of the market economy
brought with it the rise of an urban middle class that
was mostly Catholic. Continuous pressure for the
repeal of penal laws that discriminated against
Catholics was mounting and with it the threat of
sectarian violence. Nearly one hundred Protestants
were killed in Wexford and a number of others
burned alive in a barn at Scullabogue. The rebellion
convinced Pitt of the necessity of union between
Ireland and Britain: cultural colonization was no
longer enough. The Act of Union of 1800 provided
for Irish representation in the House of Commons
(100 members) as well as for the election of 25
peers to the House of Lords, and it is said that the
54
shadow of 1798 lay heavily over 19
th
century Irish
history. Nevertheless George III invoked
constitutional grounds for not granting Catholics the
right of entry to parliament so the Act of Union only
gave the Anglo-Irish Episcopalian segment the
representation at Westminster.
In Scotland there were three cultures as well:
the Presbyterian in the Lowlands, Episcopalianism
on the East Coast and residual Catholicism. The real
struggle was between Episcopalians, on the one
hand and, on the other, Presbyterians who
remembered the collective trauma of the “killing
time”, when their most fervent members had been
persecuted. The Glorious Revolution replaced an
Episcopalian tendency with a Presbyterian one. The
Kirk Session made up of ministers and elders
became the chosen instrument for the enforcement
of Presbyterian views on private and public morality.
If in the early modern period between 1500 and
1700 there had been a heavy out-migration into
Ireland and the American colonies from Britain. The
modern period was characterized by a large-scale
movement of population into the industrial areas of
Britain from Ireland and elsewhere. From this point
of view the multi-ethnic character of modern Britain
is a continuation of 19th century trends.
The structure of English society changed a lot
in the wake of industrialism and urbanisation. By the
early 20
th
century, over four-fifths of a vastly
increasing population lived in towns, compared with
55
one-third in the mid-18
th
century. Another fact that
conferred a specific cluster of features on this epoch
was Dissent, which became a noteworthy factor
rising numerically from a minority to a position of
near equality with the Established Church. The latter
was essential for the preservation of social order:
membership of the Established Church was a
prerequisite for full participation in politics, the army
and the learned professions. The Anglican Church
exerted control over the universities and important
public schools. At Oxford acceptance of the 39
Articles of the Church was necessary for
matriculation and at Cambridge for admission to a
degree. However, in the turmoil of changes created
by the Industrial Revolution, it was the dissenting
sects that took more advantage of the developments
than the Established Church. In cities such as
Birmingham, Liverpool, Leicester and Sheffield, the
city councils were dominated by dissenters after the
electoral reforms of the 1830’s.
The Reform Act of 1832, preceded by the
repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (confirming
the political monopoly of the Anglicans) and the
establishment of University College London all testify
to the new strength of Dissenters. A growing
demand was expressed against the paying of tithes,
the levying of taxes to pay for the upkeep of the
parish church, the legal requirement that dissenters
be married within a Church of the Establishment,
and the continued exclusion of dissenters from
56
Oxford and Cambridge. In 1834 a dissenting
conference of 400 delegates under the chairmanship
of Edward Baines, a Leeds nonconformist,
demanded the Disestablishment of the Church. The
main doctrinal and attitudinal differences between
the two cultures boil down to the following: one was
profligate, easy-going, bent on debauchery and
frivolity, idleness, cockfighting, hunting, drinking,
gambling; whilst the other was a culture underscored
by restraint, sobriety, respectability, hard work,
perseverance and a commitment to temperance.
In mid-19
th
century the balance of the cultures
that we have tried to trace so far shifted radically
once more. The great ferment of all cultural, social,
demographic and economic changes was the
Industrial Revolution, an umbrella concept that
fostered the creation of a new urban culture in the
North - a term that should be made more flexible to
include the industrial areas of Birmingham,
Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle;
the factory towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire and
the mining villages of the counties north of
Nottinghamshire.
The fame of London subsided in the new age,
since shipbuilding and silk weaving were unable to
compete with the industries of the powerful North. In
1870 Charles Trevelyan described the metropolis as
a “gigantic engine for depraving and degrading our
population… a common sink of everything that was
worst in the United Kingdom”. The 19
th
century with
57
the Industrial Revolution as its fulcrum is one of
those ages that can best exemplify the shifts of
power and authority within the British Isles and also
the extent to which the centre could control but could
at the same time be undermined by the periphery.
Socio-economic changes were accompanied by
major cultural changes. Within the Established
Presbyterian Church of Scotland a split occurred
which was known as Disruption. The religious
divisions inherited from the former ages were now
overshadowed by the far more momentous changes
induced by the Industrial Revolution: the heavily
industrialized south-west revolving around Glasgow
contrasting with the more conservative, rural east
with Edinburgh as its capital. A new factor that was
added now to the general scene is internal migration.
The changing fortunes brought about by
industrialisation bestow upon some centres a
melting pot effect. So new subcultures add tension to
the clashing cultures within the various regions of the
British Isles. Though it is true that this period can be
viewed from the perspective of two major cultures
clashing, English involvement and overall attitudes
cannot be left out of account.
Irrespective of the implications of relations
with the Celtic periphery, the English find it difficult to
repress feelings of arrogance and superiority. This is
what appeared in The Economist in April 1948
(quoted in Kearney, 1989:159-160): “Thank God we
are Saxons! Flanked by the savage Celt on the one
58
side and the flighty Gaul on the other – the one a
slave to his passions, the other a victim to the
theories of the hour – we feel deeply grateful from
our inmost hearts that we belong to a race, which if it
cannot boast the flowing fancy of its neighbours, nor
the brilliant esprit of the others has an ample
compensation in a social, slow, reflective, phlegmatic
temperament.”
A major cause of the continued division
between Catholic and Protestant cultures in Ireland
must be sought in their contrasting experiences
during the atrocious years of famine (1845-1849).
The Protestant north, where oats rather than
potatoes constituted the staple diet, was spared from
famine when successive potato crops failed. The
small farming and labouring classes in the south and
west bore the full brunt of the famine. Joseph Lee
has shown that by 1847 the labouring class,
overwhelmingly Catholic, was decimated by disease
and starvation. Those who managed to survive were
forced to emigrate in large numbers (well over a
million and a half) so that by 1851 Ireland had lost a
quarter of its population through emigration or death
(nearly one million). Memory of the famine is to this
day part and parcel of the mentality of Catholic
culture, differentiating it from that of Protestant
Ireland. The memory of this social tragedy was taken
with them by many emigrants who left for the New
World, where it provided an emotional reservoir for
Irish Catholic nationalism.
59
Because of the influx of Catholic and
Protestant immigrants from Ulster in search of
employment in Wales, Cardiff became a melting pot
attracting, on top of Welsh internal migrants from
rural areas, English and Irish immigrants. In Ireland
the counterpart of the northern economic boom was
the industrial expansion of Belfast and the Lagan
Valley. As Belfast prospered, Dublin became a
backwater like London, its infant industries, which
had evolved under the wing of protectionist
legislation, declined. Jack Lawson, looking back from
1932, described the way in which the county of
Durham had become a sort of social melting pot
owing to the rapid development of the coalfield
during the 19
th
century: “By the time of which I write
(1890s) there was a combination of Lancashire,
Cumberland, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Cornish, Irish,
Scottish, Welsh, Northumbrian and Durham accents.
All these and more tongues were to be heard in a
marked way; and not only that, but the families in
each group gravitated together and formed a
common bond” (1965:97).
The intermingling of cultures, this prominent
mobility of populations, was also accompanied by
inter-ethnic hostility, particularly towards Irish
Catholics and Jews. Catholic Emancipation
produced such a stir because of the opposition to
Catholic entry in parliament. In the 1840’s the
Maynooth Grant became in Harriet Martineau’s
words “the great political controversy of the day – the
60
subject on which society is going mad” (quoted in
Norman, 1968:23). Widespread rioting was caused
by the English reaction to Irish sympathy for
executed Fenian prisoners

. The rise of the Home
Rule movement in Ireland in the 1800’s led to a
further intensification of ethnic rivalries throughout
the British Isles.
An attempt to identify a distinctive ideology of
Northern Dissent would have to take into account
such figures as Samuel Smiles and John Bright.
Smiles’ best selling book Self Help, which sold a
quarter of a million copies by 1905, put forward the
self-made man as a praiseworthy social ideal. The
human prototypes of the age were the engineer and
inventor such as Wilkinson, Wedgwood, Brindley,
Stephenson, Brunel, and Telford. John Bright began
his political career with a speech advocating
temperance and fought the imposition of Church
rates upon dissenters. He was a devout follower of
17
th
century Miltonian Puritanism and an opponent of
the southern aristocracy, a radical thinker (a trait not
typical of dissent), but his views found a home in the
Liberal Party - very much the party of the North
against the South.
Paradoxically, one of the staunchest
defenders of the Establishment was someone who
should have been destined by his birth and
temperament for dissent: Benjamin Disraeli, a man

The Fenian Irish Movement attempted risings in the USA, Canada
as well as Ireland. In 1867 it astonished England by a series of bomb
explosions.
61
of Bohemian temperament, middle class origin and
Jewish extraction. He was a defender of aristocracy,
in his opinion the only security for self-government,
stability and of the preservation of past greatness.
Though he was a self-made man he was no admirer
of meritocracy. In famous speeches in Lancashire
and at the Crystal Palace in 1872 he portrayed the
liberals as unpatriotic, a danger to property, a threat
to the institutions of the nation, betrayers of Britain’s
world and imperial interests. On the other side,
Gladstone pressed for Home Rule, for free trade and
for the introduction of competitive examinations into
the Civil Service.
Home Rule was not specific to Ireland only; a
movement for Welsh Home Rule made its
appearance in the 1880’s. There are many parallels
that can be established between Ireland and Wales
in the 18
th
and 19
th
centuries, with one major
difference. It was mainly the rural areas of west
Wales that threw their weight behind Home Rule and
at the same time, industry being much stronger there
than in Ireland (especially the heavily industrialized
southern counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth),
south Wales became an important melting pot where
Irish, Welsh and English intermingled. Yet the great
majority were Welsh and no massive emigration
occurred from Wales.
There were at least three Scotlands during
this period. There were the Highlands with their own
individuality, which during the century saw their
62
population drop substantially, with the balance
shifting in favour of the urbanised and industrialised
Lowlands. Emigration to Nova Scotia, Cape Breton
or Prince Edward became a pattern. Highland
clearances took place on a massive scale, as
estates were turned over to the more profitable
sheep farming. Whilst the west Lowlands with the
Clydeside valley, with Glasgow as centre, was
heavily industrialised, to the east, the Lowlands were
mainly a rural area, with a long tradition of political,
legal and cultural dominance. Three of the famous
Scottish universities were there - St Andrews,
Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Edinburgh was the centre
of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Highlands
underwent great changes because of the influence
of the missionary activities of the Methodists. Gaelic
oral culture flourished and gave rise to a biblically
oriented literacy but while paradoxically, a
romanticised version of Highland culture was making
headway in the Lowlands. In the wake of the Ossian
forgeries of James Macpherson (a companion that
Napolean never parted with, not even during his
military campaigns) and of the novels of Walter
Scott, the cult of the Highlander achieved
extraordinary success

. The disruption within the

In an article published in 1998, Scotland and the Braveheart Effect,
Colin McArthur discusses this Scotland which is stereotyped as a
timeless, pre-industrial Highland world depicted in Scottish artistic
productions. They resort in fact to a heavily discursified society and
narrativized nation - a product of the Ossian poems and Scott’s
novels. So, despite the fact that four-fifiths of the Scots are urban
dwellers who follow the range of occupations characteristic of
63
Scottish church in 1843, when over 470 ministers,
that is four-fifths of the total, left the Established
Church, was an extraordinary event, an expression
of Scottish nationalism against the control of
Westminster. It was also a success for the middle-
class’s ability to draw upon local resources of wealth
and expertise.
I have tried to illustrate the exposure of the
‘fringe’ or ‘peripheral’ cultures of the British Isles to
forces of change emanating mostly from the centre.
It is clear that the ample economic changes of
industrialisation and modernisation as well as
urbanisation were a major effect of English
investment and they were a response to the
demands of the English market. So, whilst it may
seem that the individual histories of the four national
constituents can only be understood in such a larger
context with England at the hub of all changes, the
periphery (restricted to a mostly passive role in the
first half of the century) embarked upon a much
changed status towards the middle of the 19
th
century. It was at that time that Irish Catholicism,
modern times, their imaginative lives continue to be shaped by this
ruralist, pastoral and anti-national discourse imposed upon them, but
against which they measure their own identity. We have here a
typical case of cultural colonisation, a feature of many societies’
colonial or imperial encounter with Europe or of what the author
calls the “Scottish Discursive Unconscious”, which might be defined
as an unconscious predilection among Scots for lachrymosely elegiac
tales set in the Scottish Highlands of the past, and their great
difficulty in making or appreciating images of Scotland which do not
conform to this model (1998:27-39).
64
Welsh Non-Conformism and the Free Churches of
Scotland formed an alliance with English dissent to
bring pressure to bear upon the English
establishment. This was the backdrop against which
the Liberal Party was formed, the centre being now
exposed to political pressures from the periphery.
The next period of 60 years or so (1860-1914)
witnessed a remarkable growth of ethnic
consciousness throughout British society. Class,
which was a primordial factor in such movements as
the Chartism, the Tithe War in Ireland or the
Highland Clearances in Scotland, came to the fore.
Domestic issues were relegated to the background
during the Crimean War; but then during
Palmerston’s term of office English nationalism
became central. It polarised British society into
England (the south-east) and the ethnic communities
of Ireland, Scotland, Wales together with English
nonconformity. The split between Church and
Chapel, Anglican and Dissent was dramatic, a
cultural split that someone called an ‘Offa’s Dyke’
cutting clear through social life. The Whigs had been
the party of Protestant ascendancy and the Liberal
Party developed out of the more radical Whig
elements to become the party of the
Disestablishment cause, with the Irish Catholic issue
central to its policies. It also meant probably for the
first time a dislocation of the centre in the centre-
periphery equation as the Irish issue became
deprovincialised, and came for the first time to bear
65
on British politics in general. The Reform Acts of
1884-1885, entailing a wider franchise extending
over counties as well as boroughs, were meant for
all the constituent parts of the British Isles and not
primarily for England. Of course the main Irish issue
of overall import was Home Rule - a cause that
Gladstone took up in December 1885. It was an
issue calling into question empire and race, drawing
a serious wedge down the middle of the Liberal party
itself, with the Liberal Unionist faction separating
from the party and later joining the Conservative
Party.
Unionism, Englishness and Empire, the
Conservative Establishment and tradition were
interchangeable values. Everything that was good
and moral stayed within this constellation; everything
opposed to these was uprooting what was national
and good. Of course the issue of Home Rule made it
possible for the Conservatives to play the ‘ethnic
card’ by appealing to a potent combination of
nationalism, imperialism and anti-immigrant feelings.
All these latter forces made possible the rise of the
Liberal Party under Gladstone, as Kearney remarks
(1989:178-180). The New Liberals or the
Progressives embrace a much more Socialist cause
against poverty, unemployment and social injustice
under Asquith and Lloyd George. There was a lot of
pressure on the Lords from George V himself to
enable Lloyd George to pass his People’s budget
without a veto from the Upper House.
66
In Ireland itself, the existing cultural
differences between north and south were much
more accentuated by Famine and the Post-Famine
attempt at reforming a vigorous popular culture in
conformity with the requirements of Catholic
orthodoxy. The distinguishing features of Irish
identity in the south were Catholicism and Irish
nationalism, nourished by a revival of an
unprecedented interest in Gaelic culture (with the
Irish language a major symbol of Irish identity),
which later in the century was to ensure the success
of Charles Stewart Parnell and his Home Rule Party.
At the end of World War I Ireland was not divided by
class but by culture. In 1916 Sinn Fein came into
being to placate the counter-nationalism of the
Protestant north-east, marking a change of
overriding importance - an advanced nationalist
party which put to rout John Redmond’s
parliamentary party and whose members refused to
take up their seats in the Westminster parliament. In
1914 a civil war was prevented as the Protestants of
Ulster wanted at all costs to preserve the union. In
September 1914 the Home Rule Bill became law
and it was put into effect after the war. Thus, after
three years of military struggle - guerilla warfare -
Ireland split into the six counties of Northern Ireland,
which were given a measure of Home Rule, and the
26 counties of the Free Irish State. After 1922 the
ultraconservative elements gained ground as ethno-
cultural issues escalated and the liberal-conservative
67
coalition led by Lloyd George was brought down.
The way was clear for a ‘roll-back approach’ and for
a drive towards business under the governments of
Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain.
On the other hand, in Wales class became
increasingly important while the ethnic and religious
issues lost in significance in view of the rift that was
widening between rural Wales and the industrial
south-east. The Welsh liberals embraced the cause
of rural counties where Welsh-speaking dissent and
nationalism were stronger, but after the war the
balance shifted in favour of the industrial areas
where English was strong and which looked to the
socialism of the Labour Party (born out of liberal
radicalism).
The two decades before World War II can be
described as an age of isolationism with the
Conservatives exploiting the general fear of
Bolshevism. During Stanley Baldwin’s time English
nationalism became very strong. It was a nationalism
of a very narrow type, excluding or ironing out not
only any contribution from the other constituents of
the British Isles but also the North of England

. In

Although the north-south divide is becoming blurred if not totally
eradicated by the deindustrialisation of recent years, the traditional
divide is still within people, a deep-seated emotional factor that
distinctly colours their outlooks. The Full Monty (one of the highest
grossing films of the British film industry) was made in Sheffield,
where once mighty Hadfield Steelworks stood and where now lies
the UK’s largest shopping mall (sic!). The story of the six male
strippers, all of them steelworkers made redundant, has nothing in
common with the repertoire of ‘Northernness’ as pictured in the
68
triumphalist terms this England was stated to be a
repository of greatness, political acumen and self-
governing capacity. The rhetoric of the Conservative
Party was based upon a three-fold appeal that
Maggie Thatcher would herself take over on almost
the same fiery note: English nationalism, pride in the
British Empire (a relative degree of political
correctness made her refer to it as ‘the times when
England was great’) and the fear of socialism. This
was a period of nationalist hysteria that overlooked
and scorned the merits of any politician that was not
an English thoroughbred, like the Welshman Lloyd
George or Scots such as Ramsay MacDonald or
Campbell-Bannerman.
Unemployment became rampant in the old
coal and iron industries of the north, morale was low,
a general mood of depression hit the north in the late
20’s and 30’s, in what had once been the great
boom areas of the Industrial Revolution. Now their
fortunes changed dramatically. A notable issue in
British politics in these decades before World War II
was the emergence of the Labour Party as a strong
political alternative that inherited part of the mantle of
the Liberal Party as it drew far more support from
Outer Britain (Northern England, South Wales and
Clydeside).
1930’s: decency, hard work, toughness, masculinity, wholesale
nonconformist values. Film tourism has conquered Sheffield making
of the film a post-modern phenomenon of a “post-industrialist,
post-fordist era, a true laboratory of Blairism” (Cunningham,
1998:303-311).
69
The pattern was to be reversed only once
more this century when during World War II Britain
depended for its survival on its Atlantic ports and its
traditional industries, especially shipbuilding and
mining.
After the war the victory of Labour restored
the influence of the periphery in the persons of such
cabinet ministers as Emmanuel Shinwell, Aneurin
Bevan and Harold Wilson. In the meanwhile Ireland
toughened its anti-British attitude with the decision of
neutrality in World War II (which was concomitantly a
decision in favour of economic stagnation and
cultural isolation). Church and State and such
charismatic leaders as the radical nationalist De
Valera fought to keep Ireland ‘uncontaminated’ by
the pressures of modernity; divorce and
contraception were prohibited and a system of
literary censorship was enforced. By 1972 this
attitude seemed to have changed decisively when
the Irish voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining
the EEC. For 50 years the politics of Northern
Ireland remained frozen in an ethno-religious mould
with two-thirds of its Protestant majority maintaining
its unity against the supposed threat of the Catholic
minority. In England, where the affluent south-east
provided a secure basis for Conservative political
power, politics became based more and more on
class divisions. Although in such delicate areas as
Glasgow and Liverpool ethnic hostilities were high, a
working-class authoritarian Toryism could still thrive.
70
The politics of class proved again to be stronger than
the factors of ethnicity and religion. In Scotland,
despite the fact that especially in the west, ethnic
issues remained important, class came to the fore.
So, one could say without fear of
exaggeration that the First World War had the effect
of reducing the importance of ethno-religious
conflicts and placing class at the centre of politics.
Nationalism was on the rise again when the
discovery of important fields of oil off the east coast
of Scotland provided an issue on which the Scottish
National Party could capitalise. They demanded that
Scottish oil should be used for the benefit of the
Scottish people. Devolution became an issue that
the Labour government could no longer ignore and
in 1979 it was put to referendum. Welsh nationalism
received one of its cruellest blows when only a slim
11.8 per cent came out in favour of it and 46.5 per
cent against, to the consternation of Plaid Cymru. In
Scotland it attracted 52 per cent of the votes cast but
this amounted to only 33 per cent of the total
electorate, short of the 40 per cent which the
government laid down as an essential prerequisite.
Religious issues are still very much alive in some
areas in Scottish life. The Clydeside area, especially,
resembles Northern Ireland and anti-Catholic (read
anti-Irish) feeling is still very strong.
Although long-standing historical patterns
continue to manifest themselves culturally, politically
and economically, the affairs of these countries
71
remain intertwined with England. Let’s take the case
of Ireland. A relationship ridden with paradoxes
between the two countries determines that many of
the leading figures in English literature - Yeats,
Joyce, Synge, O’Casey, Seamus Heaney - were
Irishmen. In sports such as golf and rugby the
differences are virtually ignored. During the 1950’s
there was an immense wave of Irish immigration to
the UK - 355,000 people. The Northern Irish crisis of
1969 illustrates the difficulty of treating the different
national units as isolated.
The biggest political shake-up of British
politics since the creation of the Irish Free State in
1922 has been devolution that took its course in the
wake of the 1997 referenda, bringing about a
complete overhaul of the British context, building a
modern constitution for the whole of the United
Kingdom. We have the picture of a nation peeling off
into distinctively separate political cultures.
The September 1997 referenda were no
doubt a historic step that the Welsh and the Scots
took, leading the way to opening the Parliament of
Scotland and the Assembly (Senned) in Wales after
300 years and almost 500 years respectively.
Although the Prime Minister Tony Blair thinks that
this devolving of power will strengthen the union,
making it more flexible and more open, some others,
more nationalist in their views like Alexander
Salmond (leader of the SNP), take it as the way to
true independence.
72
May 6, 1999 did not herald the instant break-
up of the union that the nationalists hope for or the
doomsayers fear, but it may start a quieter but no
less dramatic process spelling the end of British
politics as we know it (see J. Freedland’s leader in
the Guardian Weekly of 16 May 1999). Indeed, as
Donald Dewar said in the summer of 1998 when
many feared the ascendancy of the SNP and when
some were skeptical of Dewar’s chances of
becoming First Minister of Scotland - at that time he
was still Scottish Secretary, a crusader for
Devolution since the 1950’s and author of the
Government’s Devolution White Paper - state
nationalism is not the most attractive of political
philosophies. Similarly, Tony Blair said in September
1997: “The era of big centralised government is
over.”
May 1999 will also be remembered as a big
reshuffle of political power in British society. Indeed
the elections saw the coronation of Labour by much
narrower a margin than expected in all three nations
of Great Britain, but facing a different opposition in
each: Labour versus nationalism in its Scottish,
Welsh and English forms. In Edinburgh, the SNP
was represented by a parliamentary bloc six times
larger than before: in Cardiff the nationalists of Plaid
Cymru triggered an earthquake in Labour’s valley
heartlands, snatching the mining seat of Rhondda
and the former Neil Kinnock stronghold of Islwyn. A
very spectacular and unheard of swing of 35 per
73
cent occurred in the voting behaviour of the Welsh
electorate. In England the main force opposing
Labour will still be the party that claimed to be the
voice of the union but which is now reduced to the
status of a fringe group west and north of the border.
The Conservatives bagged more than 1300 new
council seats but as a force in UK-wide politics they
are vanishing before our eyes. This new landscape
is seen by Tony Blair as a big victory of Labour over
nationalism (‘old-style nationalism’) and a victory for
their (New Labour) brand of looser, devolved
unionism.
Still, Britain’s future could be sensed in a
symbolic gesture: while the Prime Minister of the UK
was speaking to reporters, Scottish TV interrupted
him in mid-sentence to cut to the words of the new
First Minister of Scotland, Donald Dewar.
It is clear for everybody that what devolution
has unleashed is a new dynamic in British life, one
that puts first the distinct political cultures of the
constituents, whilst at the same time strengthening
the union. Because despite all speculation one thing
remains clear: the nationalist parties did not win. A
process begun by Labour may well have created its
greatest headache. The biggest challenge is to
Britain. Distinct cultures are blossoming in these
islands each with its own media, political class and
national conversation. They are also becoming less
interested in one another: Wales barely made a blip
on the Scottish radar. Yet somehow they remain
74
citizens of the same country and their future within
the union will depend on the skill and intelligence
and the capacity of Labour to accommodate diversity
while sustaining in the most enlightened of fashions
the feeling of belonging to a common core. With no
clear majority in Scotland or Wales, “Labour must
learn the coalition Tango” as Dean Nelson, Andy
Smith and Douglas Fraser put it. The rise of
nationalism has led to an escalation of sectarianism
in the devolved countries. Scotland was denounced
as being a very sectarian society in the wake of the
May 1999 parliamentary elections. The sectarianism
does not only refer to an undercurrent of Anti-
Catholic (anti-Irish) feeling, a sign of tribal hatred

.

Braveheart was the tenth highest grossing film of 1995 and has
been, quite expectedly, especially popular with Scottish audiences,
producing 28 per cent of its overall British box office takings in
Scotland. Concern was expressed repeatedly with the film’s
xenophobia, in particular anglophobia. Teenage Scottish audiences
cheered every time Wallace killed an Englishman. Alan Massie a
distinguished Scottish novelist and frequent defender of the Union
compared this Gibson-styled Wallace with the notorious Bosnian
Serb military commander General Radko Mladic. The appropriation
of the Braveheart effect by various agencies, political, cultural, in
Scotland is fascinating. Alex Salmond and the SNP adopted images
from the film and, at the party’s annual conference, he structured his
final speech to delegates substantially round the film. This effort
paid off, since one month after the release of the picture the party
achieved the highest poll ratings in seven years. Michael Forsyth,
Scottish Secretary at the time, was the sitting member of Stirling,
Wallace’s heartland and, together with John Major, decided to
capitalise on the film. The Stone of Destiny, which was stolen by
Edward I and had for seven centuries lain under the throne of the
British monarch, was returned with pomp to Scotland. Wallace Clan
Trust and all kinds of dubious Celtic nationalist groups thrived on
75
Back in 1979, when the referendum was
unsuccessful, many Catholics in Scotland still feared
that a devolved and independent Scotland would
emerge as a protestant country, but by the time of
the 1997 referendum the fear had receded to the
point where Catholics were as likely to support
Scottish Home Rule as Protestants. Scotland is
unlike Northern Ireland, a highly secularised society,
where few people observe any religion at all.
Although most Scots are convinced that they want to
live in a diverse, exciting, outward-looking, anti-racist
and inclusive Scotland, they have already shamed
themselves by electing a 21
st
century parliament that
has not a single black or Asian member.
Whilst this may have seemed a very long
digression, its purpose was mainly to disavow a view
of Britain as one nation, a monolithic entity standing
aloof in ‘splendid isolation’ from the continent. A
nationalist, ethno-essentialist point of view would
distort the picture completely. The history of the
British people has all along been a never-ending
series of exchanges, of acculturations, of cross-
cultural conversations. An anglocentrist view of
English history would impoverish immensely the
interplay of shaping forces that contributed to the
emergence of a plurivocal identity, to the emergence
of the plurality of identities that we call ‘the British’.
this stereotyping of Scotland as a brave Celtic country, different
from England. As the marketing of heritage is a very prosperous
business today, it becomes clear that the tourist appropriation of
Braveheart was equally impressive (cf. McArthur, 1998:27-39).
76
I have so far considered mainly the
phenomenon of internal hybridization and the steady
and consistent process of internal migration and
amalgamation. I am going to proceed next to a brief
survey of the main waves of immigration and the
configuration of a multicultural society - a cultural,
social, political model that is meant to create what
Bhabha calls ‘a third space of understanding’ that
transcends the dualism of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Collaboration and fusion in the spaces
between cultures, and often outside the mainstream,
is becoming more current, but education frequently
lags behind. In his Location of Culture Bhabha
insists on the necessity of getting away from a view
of culture as an evaluative activity concerned
primarily with the attribution of identity and the
conferral of authenticity (custom, tradition, ritual).
This perspective necessarily takes you to a
confrontational and parochial view of culture: on the
one hand a ‘core’ culture, a dominant culture and on
the other hand ‘the others’, very often the exoticized
‘other’ of the colonial era, folklorised and
‘orientalised’; it leads one to a conception of
majoritarian versus minoritarian perspective

.

In a highly racist model of culture the relationship between
colonizer and colonized is based on a series of clichés which
construct what Albert Memmi called “the devalued other”. The
criterion of judgement is narcissistic: ‘sameness’ which confers upon
the other every negative quality while of course everything that the
colonized lacks is the exclusive property of the colonizer, a
repository of positive values. The perception of otherness is
processual, the other is first defined as a void, a lack, secondly his
77
The hybrid cosmopolitanism of contemporary
metropolitan life cannot be denied in the context of
globalisation and the unprecedented development of
communication technologies. In Re-Inventing Britain.
A Manifesto, Bhabha redefines culture as “the
activity of negotiating, regulating and authorising
competing often conflicting demands for collective
self-representation” (1997:9-10). The coexistence of
different cultures replaces the dominance of a
mainstream nationalist culture. Much of today’s
multiculturalist thinking is seeking to revise the
homogeneous notion of ‘national culture’ by
emphasizing multiple identities of race/class/gender
or by demonstrating the historical and discursive
constructedness of ‘Englishness’, ‘Scottishness’, etc.
humanity becomes opaque, mysterious and impenetrable, and thirdly
the other is not seen as an individual member of a human community
but rather as a part of a chaotic disorganised anonymous collectivity.
Orientalism with Edward Said (1978) becomes a Western style for
dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient, a
construct of the Eurocentric and power-seeking individual. As Franz
Fanon remarks, colonialism is not satisfied with merely controlling
people, but also renders as pure negativity the identity of the
colonizer, the latter’s claim to a national narrative, tradition, etc. The
effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the
natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would
at once fall back into barbarism, degradation and bestiality (Fanon,
1967: 169).
78
From Immigration to Multiculturalism.
Major Waves of Immigration in the 20
th
Century.
Racial Relations inContemporaryBritain and
the Fight
against Racial Discrimination
The question of race had permeated the
whole history of imperialism and the contacts
established over five centuries between Britain and
the peoples of the entire world. In the centuries
following the Norman Conquest immigration was
mainly characterized by agricultural, financial,
trading and industrial skills. Jewish money lenders
had entered Britain with the Norman Conquest and
their financial talents were passed on later to the
Lombard bankers from northern Italy, a connection
still celebrated today in Lombard Street in the City of
London. The expanding trade was influenced by the
merchants of the Hanseatic League, who set up
trading posts in London and on the East Coast of
England. Dutch and Flemish weavers arrived and
contributed substantially to transforming England
from a provider of wool into a European cloth
manufacturer, contributing a lot to the national
wealth (Oakland, 1995:45-49). Many of these
became assimilated into the larger British society,
but sometimes they preserved their own cultural
traditions. Although Britain was most encouraging
towards immigration, from which it benefited
79
immensely, it granted no rights to immigrants, who
could be summarily expelled from the country. This
happened with the German Hansa merchants, and
especially with the Jews sacrificed in the interests of
Christian piety by Edward I in 1290.
Gypsies and blacks followed in the 16
th
century. The latter were largely associated with the
slave trade (the first blacks arrived in Britain with the
Roman army, when the African division of the
Roman army was stationed on Hadrian’s Wall in the
3
rd
century). The African Company was an important
trading enterprise that dates back to 1588 and it is
associated with the infamous slave trade. John
Hawkins, one of those picturesque courtiers cum
pirates in Elizabeth’s retinue, carried his first slave
cargo in 1562. By 1650 slavery had become an
important trade, bringing wealth particularly to the
ports on the south-west coast. Even before the
formal abolition of slavery in 1833, there was
tolerance, which enabled freed and escaped slaves,
servants and other black people to live in Britain.
There was a black community, mainly in London,
which numbered some 15,000 by the mid-18
th
century (a community which mostly disappeared in
the 19
th
century through intermarriage). In 1655 the
Jews created their first permanent Jewish
community as they flocked in after Cromwell had
removed the legal bars on their residence.
The French Huguenots escaping from Louis
XIV’s persecutions in the 1680’s were the only
80
significant wave of immigration in the 17
th
century.
Dutch Protestants likewise found a safe haven from
religious persecution at home. For the next two
centuries there was to be no more large-scale
immigration into the country. In fact Britain was
exporting more and more people herself, mainly to
North America and expanding colonies worldwide.
The growing attraction of North America towards the
end of the 19
th
century caused some 79,000
European immigrants to leave Britain for America in
addition to 210,000 Britons (Oakland, 1995:50-55).
Although immigrants had formerly been allowed
easy access to Britain, an increasing number of
restrictions on newcomers imposed a gradual curb
on immigration. At the 1871 census the number of
people born outside the British Empire was quite low
- 157,000 out of 31.5 million.
But in spite of these low figures, immigration
became increasingly a matter of concern in the
1930’s, when a lot of Jews fled persecution in other
parts of Europe to settle in Britain in the East End,
traditionally a centre of immigrant concentration.
They were victims of rural depopulations as
ferocious as the Irish famine. A general xenophobic
feeling spread, whilst nationalism and the spymania
generated by the First World War increased. More
and more people asked for immigration control. An
Alien Restriction Act in 1919 was supposed to curb
immigration substantially. However more refugees
and immigrants arrived in the inter-war period during
81
the world economic recession. A large number of
Poles, Latvians and Ukrainians streamed into the
country after World War II. Political and economic
refugees - Hungarian, Czechs, Chileans, Lybians,
East African Asians, Iranians and Vietnamese -
continued to arrive in the 1950’s.
Before World War II most of the immigrants to
Britain came from largely White Old Commonwealth
countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand
and South Africa. In the late 40’s this pattern was to
reverse in favour of the largely coloured
Commonwealth nations of India, Pakistan and the
West Indies. However, in the face of this coloured
Commonwealth

immigration, racist attitudes and
severe forms of discrimination greeted the arrivals.
These people from the New Commonwealth
way back in the 40’s were specificly invited by

The Commonwealth was the result of the process of decolonization
which had begun before 1939 with the Statute of Westminster
(1931), and perhaps even earlier with the Anglo-Irish Treaty,
gathered momentum after 1945 (much to the dismay of some famous
politicians such as Winston Churchill who once declared that he had
not become the King’s Prime Minister to preside over the dissolution
of the British Empire). The granting of independence to India,
Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma in the late 40’s was accompanied by
withdrawal from Palestine in 1948 and in 1954 from the Suez Canal
Zone. An attempt to restore British influence in the Middle East with
the Suez expedition of 1956 broke down in the face of American
opposition. During the 60’s withdrawal from empire continued under
Harold Macmillan and his colonial secretary Iain MacLeod. At the
same time there were approaches to the EEC. Macmillan made the
first application to enter Europe in 1962, but Britain was only
admitted to membership in 1973 together with Ireland.
82
government agencies to fill the vacant manual and
lower paid jobs of an economy that had been
shattered by the war. The Caribbean blacks were
welcomed to work in public transport, manufacturing
and the National Health Service. The first group of
492 Jamaicans arrived at Tilbury Docks on the MV
Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948 (a successful
three-month BBC TV series was launched on the
50
th
anniversary of the event). Tens of thousands
followed in the 50’s, reaching a peak in the early 60’s
(especially after 1953, because of the restrictions
imposed on entry into the United States by the
MacCarran Act of 1952). By the 1970’s coloured
people had become a much more familiar sight in
such towns as Glasgow, Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds,
Liverpool, Manchester.
In the 70’s a wave of Asians expelled from
East Africa arrived, many of whom were in business
or professional workers. The East African colonies
were granted independence from Britain in the 60’s
and during the colonial period Indians had settled
there in large numbers with the encouragement of
Britain. Now the newly independent colonies began
to implement policies of Africanisation leading to this
mass exodus of Indians, mostly to Britain.
In 1969 the new Irish immigration was
estimated at 750,000 from the Irish Republic and
many thousands from Northern Ireland. In the 70’s
and 80’s came Hong Kong Chinese and refugees
83
from Vietnam, many of whom went into the catering
business.
As to the integration of these ethnic
minorities, many think that a kind of deep-rooted
institutionalised racism inherent in the British
continues to manifest itself. I consider such remarks
grossly essentialist. I think credit should be given to
the British for a whole range of attitudes, institutions
and structures that developed in Britain with a view
to accommodating, integrating and providing equal
opportunities in all fields for people belonging to
ethnic minorities. However, moments of
intensification of racial hatred are quite frequent.
One can easily recall the 60’s when immigration
legislation becomes harsher, and it was also in the
60’s that in addition to dilapidated housing and racial
discrimination in employment, and also at times at
the hands of police, there was the added hazard of
racial bigotry in older urban areas.
Yet, attempts to whip up nativist hysteria
along lines which recalled anti-Jewish and anti-Irish
propaganda fell largely on deaf ears. In April 1968
perhaps in an attempt to challenge Edward Heath’s
leadership of the Conservative Party, Enoch Powell,
a right-wing Cassandra, forecast with inflammatory
rhetoric ‘rivers of blood’ in British cities on the lines of
race riots in the US. Powell made a speech which has
been compared to Randolph Churchill’s playing of the
‘Orange card’ (symbolic of Protestantism as against
the green card of Catholicism). A former Professor of
84
Classics, Powell declared that, “Those whom the
gods wish to destroy they first make mad. We must
be mad, literally mad as a nation, to be permitting the
annual flow of some 50,000 dependents… It is like
watching a nation busily engaging in heaping up its
own funeral pyres.”

He spoke very emotionally of a
formerly quiet street, which had become a place of
noise and confusion and where a single old white lady
had been shouted at by her coloured neighbours and
had excreta pushed through her letter-box.
Immigration legislation in 1962 and 1968
aimed to enforce a two-strand policy: on the one
hand to restrict the number of immigrants entering
the country and on the other hand to pass laws to
protect the rights of those immigrants who were
already settled in Britain. Eventually in 1971 the
Heath government introduced an Immigration Act
which had the effect of treating all Commonwealth

It is interesting to compare Powell’s discourse on race to that of
Margaret Thatcher, whose rhetoric is more politically correct that
Powell’s but very firm in its insistence on total assimilation and not
integration of immigrants. Eventually she suggests that the
phenomenon should be drastically curbed: “We are a British nation
with British characteristics. Every nation can take some minorities
and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this
country. But the moment a minority threatens to become a big one,
people get frightened.” Terms like ‘flooded’ and ‘swamped’ add to
the imagery and register of her racialised discourse: “Some people
have felt swamped by immigrants. They’ve seen the whole character
of their neighbourhood change…Of course people can feel that they
are swamped. Small minorities can be absorbed but once a minority
in a neighbourhood gets very large people do feel swamped.” (both
quotations from Solomos, 1993: 187, 97).
85
citizens as aliens. One loophole in the act however
was that the Commonwealth people who were either
born in Britain or had a parent or grandparent born in
Britain (patriality) had the right to appeal for a British
passport, to claim British citizenship and to live
permanently in Britain. This patrial rule, whose
significance has been decreasing lately, in practice,
meant that New Commonwealth people were
effectively barred from automatic entry. However,
acceptance for settlement does not mean automatic
citizenship. Naturalisation can only take place when
certain other requirements have been fulfilled
together with a specified period of residence. New
conditions for naturalisation and a redefinition of
British citizenship are contained in the Nationality Act
of 1981.
The history of immigration has produced
today’s uniquely diverse nation. There is now a
minority ethnic population of 3.3 million people
forming just under 6 per cent of the population. The
Office for National Statistics projects that the minority
ethnic population will double over the next 25 years
(all ensuing figures are taken from the Foreign and
Commonwealth publication Ethnic Diversity in
Britain, 1999). Ethnic diversity has shaped Britain’s
cultural life and the quality and breadth of the arts
and popular culture have been enriched through the
contribution of individuals from many backgrounds
and traditions. Now British-born black, Asian and
other ethnic minority individuals and communities
86
are also making their mark on the new face of Britain
as a centre of style, fashion and pioneering ideas in
popular culture and the arts. British cinema,
television, fashion, youth subcultures, Britpop and
literature all owe a debt to the creative and talented
input from the many people who have come here to
settle, over the years

. The diversity creates a
unique identity as different traditions and approaches
fuse to create a quite distinct hybrid, which is
contemporary British life and culture.
In order to protect immigrant rights the Labour
government passed the first Race Relations Act in
1965, which was followed by further acts in 1968 and
1976. These acts make it unlawful to discriminate
against another person on grounds of racial, ethnic
or national origin. The Race Relations Act of 1976
marked an important step forward in combatting
racial discrimination and promoting equality of

A typical Booker Prize (the most important British prize for fiction)
shortlist like that of 1993 features one Irishman – Roddy Doyle, who
won the Prize that year; David Malouf, Australian; Carol Shields and
Michael Ignatieff, Canadian; Tibor Fischer, Hungarian and Caryll
Philips, West Indian. The cosmopolitanism of this list is a
confirmation of the growing view that the best novelists in the
Booker’s bizarre catchment area are not English. Kazuo Ishiguro,
Salman Rushdie, Timothy Mo, Hanif Kureishi, V.S. Naipaul, Anita
Desai (shortlisted three times) are some more examples of famous
British writers who in their works reflect the intricacies of the
process of interacting with another culture, ‘holding a mirror’ in
which the other culture is reflected from different angles, thus
enriching and challenging the self-image of a group’s identity (see
Pia Brînzeu’s Corridors of Mirrors, especially pp. 37-66 and 147-
167).
87
opportunity in employment, education, provision of
goods and facilities. The Act also distinguishes
between two main types of racial discrimination:
direct discrimination, i.e. treating a person, on racial
grounds, less favourably than others are or would be
in similar circumstances, and indirect discrimination -
applying a requirement or condition which puts
people from a particular racial group at a
disadvantage compared to others. The more recent
Racial Acts include the Public Order Act of 1986,
which makes incitement to racial hatred an offence.
This covers the production and circulation of printed
material. The act outlaws threatening abusive or
insulting behaviour, causing harrassment, alarm or
distress. New offences of racially aggravated
violence, criminal damage and racial harrassment
were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act of
1998. The Football (Offences) Act makes racist
chanting at football matches an offence.
A very important structure created for
combating racial discrimination was the Commission
for Racial Equality – CRE, set up under the 1976
Act. Its main duties are: to work towards the
elimination of racial discrimination; to promote
equality of opportunity and good race relations
between persons of different racial groups and to
keep the working of the Act under review. The CRE
is empowered to issue codes of practice, to carry out
formal investigations and to issue non-discriminatory
notices after findings of unlawful racial
88
discrimination. They have conducted over 100 such
investigations that resulted in significat changes in
employment practices and housing allocation policy.
The codes of practice covering employment,
education, housing and the health service provide
guidance on the operation of the law. Failure to
observe a code may be admissible in courts and
tribunals. Racial equality Councils are on hand
locally to assist in cases of discrimination and to
promote race equality. There are 87 such councils
funded jointly by the CRE and local authorities.
Recent initiatives include The Leadership
Challenge, launched in 1997, inviting British leaders
to declare their commitment to the principles of
diversity and racial equality and to take practical
measures to promote racial equality in their
organisations. In May 1998 Prime Minister Tony Blair
accepted this challenge in the name of the
government. The Roots of the Future educational
exhibition promoting Britain’s ethnic diversity was
visited by 500,000 people in 1997. There are Race in
Media awards for the promotion of excellence in the
handling of race issues in all parts of the media and
Visible Women awards seeking to raise the profile of
ethnic minority women’s potential and the specific
problems which they face. A Race Relations Forum
was set up by the Home Secretary Jack Straw in
June 1998. The Forum advises on issues affecting
minority ethnic communities and acts as a voice for
minority ethnic interests in the heart of the
89
government. The UK has agreed to the Treaty of
Amsterdam, 1997, which provides a legal base for
community action to combat discrimination based on
race. It enables member states to take action to
combat criminal acts of racism and xenophobia and to
promote the security of citizens. This is an important
follow-on from the EU Joint Action on Racism and
Xenophobia, to which the UK is also a signatory.
Yet despite the very vibrant and significant
presence of the ethnic minorities in British life and
culture and despite the fruitful attempts at shaping
harmonoius race relations in Britain today, with all
the underlying institutions, legal framework and
structures created, we are still confronted with a
wide range of problems. The 1991 census was the
first to include a question on ethnic groups. It
produced the first hard facts on Britain’s minority
ethnic population with their socio-economic
circumstances, household size, numbers, age
distribution, etc. The data have been invaluable for
understanding the continuing inequalities and for
providing a firmer basis for future action. Pakistani
and Bangladeshi families are the worst off, because
of their family patterns. These are large families -
more than four in five of such families live well below
the national average income and have high rates of
male unemployment, low rates of women’s economic
activity, low wages

. There were 28,000 applications

Yet Indians and Pakistanis are becoming ‘the new Jews of Britain’,
Richard Ford says in an article published in the Guardian of 12 June
1996. They enjoy rising prosperity through hard work while retaining
90
for asylum in the UK in 1996 of which 2,200 were
granted asylum and 5,100 exceptional leave to
remain. The main applicants were from Nigeria,
India, Somalia, Pakistan and Turkey. As regards the
stated equality in employment, pay gaps continue to
exist, especially in some ethnic groups, black
communities particularly. Minority ethnic workers are
more likely to be found in lower-paid manual jobs,
though some minority ethnic groups fare better, such
as Indians, a third of whom are in managerial and
professional jobs. Unemployment affects particularly
black minorities. The unemployment rate for young
black people (Carribbean and black, Pakistani and
Bangladeshi) was three times higher than for the
majority population; also black African and Pakistani
women had unemployment rates four times higher
than the rate for white women.
Although people from minority ethnic groups
are now beginning to play a more active part in
representative democracy they are still very much
under-represented in national and local decision-
making bodies. In Parliament there are nine black
and Asian MPs, whilst in the House of Lords there
are 10 Black and Asian working peers. There are
about 650 ethnic minority local councillors in
a strong belief in the family. They emulate the upward mobility of
the Jewish community in starting their own business, moving into
their own homes, joining the ranks of professionally qualified white
collar workers. On the other hand, the Bangladeshis and the Afro-
Caribbeans face an ‘Irish’ future, being working class wage-earners,
living in council or housing association property.
91
England and Wales, according to a Survey by the
Local Government Management Board in 1998,
which represents 3.1 per cent of the 21,498 local
councillors.
There is a growing understanding and
practice of difference and multiculturalism in the
British society of today, but there is still a long way to
go to reach racial equality and racial harmony. As
someone said in a recently published report on
racism in British institutions: “They are en route but
there is still another two miles to go.”
Factfile: The Lawrence Case
“I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young
man who had a future. He was well-loved and had
he been given the chance to survive maybe he
would have been the one to bridge the gap between
black and white.” (Doreen Lawrence, the late
Stephen Lawrence’s mother)
Police statistics recorded 13,900 racial
incidents in 1997-98. The Crown Prosecution
Service monitoring racial incidents found that out of
the 1510 defendant cases handled by the CPS in
England and Wales in 1997-98 the police identified
37 as racial incidents and the CPS 63. The first ever
judicial inquiry into a racist murder was announced
by the Home Secretary in July 1997 following public
concern about the investigations of the murder of
teenager Stephen Lawrence. The terms of reference
of the inquiry, which heard evidence in mid-1998,
92
were “to inquire into the matters arising from the
death of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993 in
Eltham, south-east London, to date in order
particularly to identify the lessons to be learned from
the investigation and prosecution of racially
motivated crimes”.
The inquiry resulted in the well-known William
Macpherson Report, published on 24 February
1999, which made 70 recommendations to be
followed by the main institutions and decision-
making authorities in Britain. Let us look at some
aspects of the Lawrence case and consider some
elements of the coverage of the murder and the
consecutive investigation, in the media. Who was
Stephen Lawrence? Not a famous man, just a boy, a
very promising student who was stabbed to death
one night in April 1993 in Eltham while waiting for a
bus. The Macpherson Report into his death marked
a rare moment in Britain’s national life. It forced
everyone to take a long, uncomfortable look into the
mirror to examine “not just the people we pay to
protect us but ourselves”. As The Home Secretray
said in an admirable statement to the House of
Commons: “Sir William Macpherson’s searing
report opens our eyes to what it is like to be black
or Asian in Britain today.” The Macpherson report
points an indicting finger at a police culture riven
with prejudice and ignorance and at a chance to
make amends, to make a watershed in the
relations between Britain’s races. A churchman
93
told the inquiry that for more than 30 years black
Britons have been consistently over-policed and
underprotected.
Several initiatives were announced which
reformers were invited to embrace. The police
along with several other institutions should be
brought within the ambit of the 1976 Race
Relations Act, as they should have been from the
very beginning. Jack Straw has already signalled
his intention of setting much higher targets for the
recruitment, retention and promotion of minority
officers for all police services. At present just 2 per
cent of the police officers in England and Wales
are from ethnic minorities; 3.3 per cent of the
Metropolitan police (the Met) are drawn from ethnic
minorities while 20 per cent of the wider London
community comes from a minority background.
The Home Secretary insits on a rise to 7 per cent
nationally, and even higher in areas of high
concentration of ethnic minorities. The setting up
of the Racial and Violent Crimes task force is a
major step forward and it is an exceptionally
challenging task for the Met to reach the Home
Office target of 5,662 black and Asian officers by
2010.
In the meantime it became possible for
Lawrence’s parents to sue 42 officers involved in
the failed investigation of their son’s murder,
including Sir Paul Condon, the newly retired Met
94
commissioner (Guardian Weekly, 6-12 January
2000).
The recommendations made in the
Macpherson Report suggest however changes of
an unprecedented breadth and depth. There are
proposals that the Court of Appeal should be given
power to permit prosecution after acquittal where
fresh and viable evidence is presented. The
ineptitude of the police back in 1993 included
failing to arrest swiftly the five suspects, losing
evidence, ignoring witnesses, destroying or
mislaying documents. The Law Commission was
called upon by the Minister to challenge the
‘double jeopardy’, the principle in accordance with
which a person cannot be tried twice for the same
offence (three of the suspects in the Lawrence
case have been acquitted and cannot be tried
again for murder in conformity with this principle).
Another fundamental flaw in the system of
criminal justice highlighted by the Stephen
Lawrence case was the fact that in Britain, unlike
in France for example, the victim has no right to
justice. Under French criminal procedure, victims
or their families have a right to be joined as civil
parties to criminal proceedings. Acting through a
lawyer, the victim or family has the right to be kept
informed of major steps in the criminal
investigation. In Britain police, prosecution and
courts have no formal, recognisable and
enforceable duty in law to take on board the right
95
of the Lawrences to justice for their dead son. In
the English system there is no one who is formally
entitled, with a right enshrined in law, to keep an
eye on the interests of the victims and their
families. As Jean-Gilles Raymond says in an article
published in The Guardian Weekly of January 24,
1999: “This is the real scandal highlighted by the
Stephen Lawrence case.” Making victims and their
families civil parties to criminal proceedings
provides an obvious answer to what he calls “the
glaring gap in the English criminal justice system”
(‘Victims of Crime Have Rights too’).
Sir William Macpherson’s report asserted
with undeniable force that expressing racist
language should be a crime and that the CRE
should be given statutory rights and powers to
investigate the police. He defines institutional
racism as “the collective failure of an organisation
to provide an appropriate professional service to
people because of their colour, culture or ethnic
origin. It can be seen or detected in processes,
attitudes and behaviour which amounts to
discrimination through unwitting prejudice,
ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist
stereotyping” (‘Report Lays Bare Met Police
Racism’, in Guardian Weekly, March 7, 1999). It
also suggests amendments to the National
Curriculum to promote cultural diversity and
tolerance in schools. In an article published in the
same paper a few months ago (Amelia Gentleman,
96
‘Race Hate Victims Face Daily Abuse’, June 27,
1999) we read that routine racial harrassment is
placing a burden of “devastating stress” on victims
and has a damaging effect on all areas of their
lives according to a recent report on racist
victimisation in Britain. It is a study conducted by
the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Most of the
victims of low-level and mosly daily abuse are
reluctant to complain or seek help until the
harrassment becomes intolerable, because of fear
that police or other agencies would fail to respond
in a supportive way. So there is a lot of concealed
racial victimisation, a lot of abuse passing
unreported or underreported.
Unusually in this case the report focuses on
the emotional impact of harrassment rather than
on the statistical prevalence of abuse. The
Rowntree Foundation report is based on in-depth
interviews with 74 victims in Belfast, Cardiff,
Glasgow and London, analysing in detail their
experiences - anger, stress, depression and
sleeplessness - common and recurring themes
throughout the interviews. One mother explained
that she kept her daughter inside : “When she was
going out to play it was ‘You are a Paki bastard’. I
came in from work at night and my daughter was
crying. She said: ‘Why are they calling me names?’
It was getting to the stage that she didn’t like who
she was.”
97
Figures released in September 1999
showed that complaints of racial behaviour against
police officers doubled in the months after the
Lawrence report was published. In an
embarrassing twist, the statistics were released by
the officer in charge of the Met’s race relations
strategy, Dennis O’Connor, who has responsibility
for the area where Duwayne Brook lives. Duwayne
was Stephen’s friend, an eye witness to his friend’s
murder and has feared ever since for his life.
Though a protected person, he said he did not feel
safe anymore and planned to leave after police
failed to offer real protection. The number of
complaints of race discrimination against officers
rose from 51 in April to June 1998, and to 115 in
the same period in 1999.
In April 1999 two nail-bomb attacks were
targeted at the centre of the capital’s Bangladeshi
community in Brick Lane, East London. Another
nail bomb went off in Brixton, centre of the black
community. The Prime Minister said at the time:
“The true outcasts today, the true minorities, those
truly excluded, are not the different races and
religions of Britain but the racists, the bombers, the
violent criminals who hate that vision of Britain and
try to destroy it.” (Guardian Weekly, 9 May 1999).
Lately three people were jailed for the racist
killing of black musician Michael Menson, whose
family won belated justice three years after his
98
murder. The investigation of the murder had
striking parallels to the bungled Lawrence case.
Also in March 2000 a disappointed Doreen
Lawrence remarks that one year on from the the
publication of the Macpherson report, with the sole
exception of the Met most police forces have
significantly failed in hiring black or Asian officers
(overall recruitment figures for them stand at 260
out of 5,000 new recruits). Only 17 forces have
met Sir William’s demand that they train staff fully
in racial awareness and cultural diversity. This is
what she declared: “I was hoping they would
recognize that they’ve made mistakes and say we
live in a society that’s multicultural and we should
police everybody in the same way. I don’t see
anything happening. The police are still very angry
about the report and he fact that they have to
make changes. I feel under attack from the
police.”(Guardian Weekly, March 2-8, 2000: 8).

Conclusions.
Ethnic/National/Cultural Identity in a
Globalised World
Analysing racism today in its complex
structure and dynamics, one issue emerges - it is
the fear, a terrifying, atavistic fear of living with
difference. This fear arises in consequence of the
fatal coupling of difference and power, and it can
make societies profoundly and deeply antihumane
in their capacity to live with difference. The notion
99
of a single national identity is untenable. Identity
implies a distinct, homogeneous common culture
marked by common values, shared undestandings
and loyalties. The reality in a society with class,
gender and regional differences is totally different.
Moreover, like individuals, a nation does not have
one identity but many: an individual is a bearer of
multiple, evolving and dialectically related
identities. To attribute identity to a community of
millions spread over vast expanses of space and
time makes even less sense. Apart from a clearly
manifested multicultural attitude and behaviour,
there has also been clear resistance to updating
Britain’s self-image to accommodate the
multicultural reality of British society and its history.
The notable absence during the V-Day
celebrations in 1995 of the recognition of the major
contribution made by Indian and Caribbean
soldiers in Britain’s armed forces during World War
II was one example among many.
There is also clear evidence of a counter-
reaction in the field. Writers on globalisation have
often pointed to a paradox: the increasing
transnational flows of culture seem to be producing
not global homogenisation but growing assertions
of heterogeneity and local distinctiveness (Sibley,
1995:183-184). Meyer and Geschiere argue that
contemporary global flows of culture tend often to
provoke reactive attempts at cultural closure:
“There is much empirical evidence that people’s
100
awareness of being involved in open-ended global
flows seems to trigger a search for fixed
orientation points and action frames as well as
determined efforts to affirm old and construct new
boundaries… It looks as if in a world characterized
by flows a great deal of energy is devoted to
controlling and freezing them. Grasping the flux
often actually entails a politics of fixing, a politics
which is, above all, operative in struggles about the
construction of identities” (Meyer & Geschiere,
1999:2,5).
Although we might have abandoned in the
contemporary world assumptions of objectively
bounded societies and cultures, many authors
argue that communities may often mobilize
themselves by representing themselves as having
clear boundaries which are endangered, as having
essential qualities or distinctive ways of life that
are under threat from the outside. The difference
discussed earlier between Self and Other here
takes the form of boundaries (ethnic or cultural)
between one’s own group cultural identity symbols
and those of other groups. Such boundaries are
sometimes reasserted for fear of the intrusion of
foreign cultural forms, whilst in other cases it is the
threat of foreign consumption or misappropriation.
The first would employ a rhetoric of cultural
pollution and the other a rhetoric of cultural
appropration, piracy and theft. An illustration of the
role of notions of purity and pollution in the
101
construction of ethnonationalist identity is
Handler’s study of cultural politics in the province
of Quebec in Canada. Quebec nationalists feel
their nation menaced with being politically,
economically and culturally overwhelmed by larger
and more powerful unities such as English Canada
and the US. Fundamental to Quebec nationalists
are cultural icons, images of a nation as an entity
bounded against the defiling cultural Other.
Identity piracy refers mainly to cultural
appropriation, the entire range of ways in which the
cultural knowledge, traditions and identities of
minority peoples can appear to be exploited by
others. An example would be the action taken by
communities in an attempt to resist the
unauthorised use of cultural imagery in advertising
or publicity (Lakota people vs a beer distributor
over the use of ‘Crazy Horse’ as a trademark; or
the damages sought by the Pueblo community for
the unlicensed use of their sun symbol as an
emblem by the state of New Mexico, Brown, 1998:
193-222).
An interesting case in point would in this
direction be the West Indian Culture in Britain.
Abner Cohen wrote a fascinating study of the
history of the Notting Hill Carnival

and of the key

Notting Hill in west London, has the largest street festival in
Europe. A site of bloody interracial conflicts in the 50’s, it has
become internationally renowned for its carnival, a major tourist
attraction held on August Bank Holiday. The streets of west London
turn into a riot of noise and colour, where whistles blare, steel bands
102
role it played in the emergence of the West Indian
identity in Britain (1993). For the first five years of
its existence (1966-1970) the carnival was a
relatively small working class event attended by a
few thousand people. Although several ethnic
communities were involved (Irish, Turkish-Cypriot
and Czechoslovak bands) the overall symbolism of
the carnival was predominantly British or English,
the themes of the masquerade including English
monarchs, the novels of Dickens and scenes from
Victorian England. Politically the carnival
expressed opposition to landlords and local
authorities over issues such as housing shortages
and extortionate rents (Cohen, 1993: 10-20).
During the first half of the 1970’s a
collective West Indian ethnic identity developed in
London, arising out of shared experiences of
unemployment, police harrassment and poor
housing conditions, and this emergent community
adopted the carnival as its focal symbol. Within a
few years the carnival had become exclusively
West Indian in its leadership and in musical and
cultural form, a process accomplished through the
deliberate removal of all artistic and cultural
content not deemed to be West Indian. The
implications of all these works is not that cultural
ghettoisation is recommendable in any way, but
that a group must safeguard its cultural identity by
play and revellers clad in sequins and feathers dance the bank
holiday weekend away (Anghelescu Irimia, 1999:251; Longman
Dictionary of English Language and Culture, 1993:910).
103
controlling the flow of cultural forms into and out of
its repertoire of symbolic practices, because in any
society, in any particular period, “there is a central
system of practices, meanings and values which
we can properly call dominant and effective… not
merely abstract but… organized and lived… a set
of meanings and values which as they are
experienced, as practices appear, are reciprocally
confirming. It constitutes a sense of reality for most
people in society, a sense of absolute because of
experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult
for most of the members of society to move, in
most areas of their lives” (Raymond Williams). If it
does not protect its cultural boundaries it will be
absorbed and dissolved back into its environment:
“The distinction between the cultural Self and
Other depends irreducibly on stopping at least
some transmission of culture between them: on
regulating the movement of foreign culture inward
or of local culture outward, or both, so as to
preserve this critical yet imagined boundary
against erosion” (Harrison, 1999:10-13).
I wish to end on a lighter note as indeed I
started this chapter. Some years ago the Brits
were invited by a prestigious paper to respond to a
questionnaire regarding the cultural icons of
Britishness. In the Daily Telegraph leader of
October 8, 1995 the results of the opinion poll
appeared. What becomes apparent is the difficulty,
if not the utter preposterousness, of essentializing
104
to such a degree a very complex and
heterogeneous phenomenon like British society
today

. When the English are debating Britishness
they are really debating Englishness. Almost any
cultural commentary in a London broadsheet will
throw up the confusion. Like Shakespeare’s John
of Gaunt in Richard II (“This royal throne of kings,
this scepter’d isle”) many see England as an
island. Others attribute to Britain icons and
traditions, which are deeply English. In some cases
using Britain for England represents an attempt to
find a term that sounds more pluralistic than
England

∗.

Julian Barnes’s England, England we come across a substantial list
of cultural icons whose purpose is that of constructing a kind of
marketable heritage England, in a dystopic effort of selling off
England’s past as the future of other European nations - ‘a tourist
mecca set in a silver sea’. They are called the Fifty Quintessences of
Englishness and besides the Royal Family, class system, Robin Hood
and his merrie men, cricket, pubs, Union Jack, Magna Carta, Queen
Victoria, Francis Drake, Battle of Britain, Marks and Spencer,
Oxford/Cambridge, Shakespeare, The Times Newspaper, BBC,
Harrods they also include, whingeing, not washing/bad underwear,
emotional frigidity, perfidy/untrustworthiness, hypocrisy, stiff upper
lip, snobbery (1998:83-85).

∗ In political terms ‘Englishness’ seems to have been traditionally
the appanage of Conservatives, owned by one party alone. The
Conservatives were considered the national party of England (Crick
1990, 1991). Whilst Scottishness and Wellness were more and more
confidently expressed in the 80’s, the debate on Englishness is more
hesitant. In Blair’s New Britain there is a real prospect for a new
intellectual grounding in which Englishness, for so long seen as a
“conservative project with racial overtones”(Andrews, 1996:129),
can flourish in England alongside other identities. This also means a
major shift in Labour philosophy, namely coming to terms with
105
Some of the cultural icons that surfaced
were: vicars on bicycles, thatched cottages, net
curtains, changing trains at Crewe (an important
railway junction in Cheshire, N-W England), Brief
Encounter (a famous British film directed by David
Lean in the 50’s), walking the dog, ducks on the
village pond, orderly queues, Spitfires (aircraft
flown by the British in World War II), the Salvation
Army playing carols outside Fortnum’s

. However,
nearly all the interviewees agreed upon five items
of ‘Englishness’: fish and chips, cricket on the
green, pubs, church bells, and the Last Night of the
Proms

∗. We should add however that over 90 per
England. Although the British Empire has ceased to exist, the
machinery that ran it is still mostly intact as Bragg (1995) says. The
Right should not be allowed to set the agenda on Englishness,
because in that case the patriotic majority who believe in equality
and accountability will be alienated. A realistic approach to England
and Englishness requires jettisoning romance and leaving behind
pessimism. A more positive, open and optimistic approach to
Englishness, overthrowing both the pessimistic and naively romantic
approaches, would lead to a more inclusive sense of national
identity.

Fortnum and Mason is a famous food store in Piccadilly in London
which sells quality goods and is thought of as being a place where
rich people buy their supplies and go for their afternoon tea.

∗ The Proms are concerts in which parts of the audience stand. These
performances of classical music are held over a period of several
weeks every summer in the Royal Albert Hall in London. They were
established by Henry Wood in 1895 and have become a great
national event. The Last Night is a very special occasion when the
second part of the programme always consists of some well-loved
tunes which the standing crowds sing along with. The programme
ends with Sir Edward Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory and people
sing it while waving Union Jacks (Longman Dictionary of English
106
cent of the fish and chips shops are run by members
of the ethnic minorities, that most village cricket
teams are packed with advertising executives who
object to the noise of church bells and that most
pubs can’t even raise a decent pickled egg. We see
people obsessing here with visions of the way things
never were or with a bizarre medley of objects and
events that would offer an extremely narrow and
ludicrous view of Britishness.
Most British institutions provide us with ample
evidence against a purist, exclusivist view of such
national products. The syncretism of the most
unlikely ingredients, the mongrel pedigree of these
institutions, can be astounding. We are not only
referring here to the motto of the Royal House, the
phrase that belongs to the Royal Family’s coat of
arms but also to the sacred institution of monarchy
itself. The present-day Queen can claim a royal
lineage stretching back virtually unbroken to the
West Saxon King Cerdic in the 5
th
century. (It is true
that in 1973 there were great festivities in Britain
marking the millennial of monarchy. In this case the
originator of modern-style monarchy was considered
to be Edgar, who was the first king to be anointed
with the holy oil which conferred near-priestly status
upon the king, setting him above human judgement.)
But if we look in detail at the Royal Family tree, it
turns out to have been anything but British. In the
1000 years since the death of the last English
Language and Culture, 1993: 1053, 739)
107
monarch Harold Godwinson post-Viking in the 10
th
century, there have been neo-French Normans in
the 11
th
, French Angevins in the 12
th,
13
th
and 14
th
,
Welsh Tudors, Scottish Stuarts, a Dutch Prince of
Orange at the end of the 17
th
century and the
Germans Hanoverians throughout the 18
th
, 19
th
and
20
th
centuries. Rather than try to naturalise
themselves by marrying into British stock these
foreign kings and queens have made it their habit to
marry a succession of French, Danish, Norwegian,
Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Prussian, German and
Greek consorts. The Royal Assent to bills by
parliament is still proclaimed by the Clerk of the
Commons in French: “La Reine le veule.”
People can hardly think of a more typically
British festive occasion than Christmas. When the
English-speaking countries have a traditional
Christmas Dinner, they eat an Aztec bird by an
Alsatian tree, followed by a pudding spiced with sub-
tropical preserves, while in England itself the most
popular of Christmas carols still tells us of a
Bohemian king Wenceslas to music taken from a
Swedish Spring song (for some of these examples I
am indebted to Julia Cleave from the English Study
Centre, Colchester, who presented them in a
keynote address to the Fourth TETA Conference,
Timişoara, October 1995). Similarly, Santa Claus is
Dutch; the Yule log is Viking (the most favoured
etymology for the Romanian Crăciun originates in
the same pagan ‘invincible sun’ festivities of the
108
winter solstice. Both the Ukrainians and Albanians
call the log that is traditionally burned on the shortest
night of the year to ‘help’ the waning god kërcum or
keregum i.e. in Danish ‘yule’), pantomime is Italian
and crackers are French.
Shakespeare, an institution in himself, a
supreme celebrator of Englishness was happy to
ransack the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome
and of medieval and Renaissance Europe in search
of plots, characters and inspiration for his plays. The
sources of Hamlet are a Latin history of Denmark
and a story from a French collection of Histoires
Tragiques. Only 10 of his 37 plays are set in
England, two in mythical Ancient Britain, a further 10
in Italy, five in France, four in Rome and four in
Greece. All’s Well that Ends Well has scenes in
Rousillon, Paris, Florence and Marseilles.
Then maybe a last argument, yet a decisive
one, comes from the English language, whose
vocabulary is another example of heavy ransacking
of the lexicons of the many cultures they came into
contact with. The legacy of multiple linguistic
invasions is enshrined in Modern English and again
this should relativise any claim to linguistic
imperialism. The vocabulary of English is a
heterogeneous multilingual hotchpotch. Maybe no
other language is so promiscuous in its provenance.
Not only Dutch, Danish and German, Old Norse, Old
French or Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, but
also Arabic (soda, alcohol) Gujarati (bungalow),
109
Hindi (chintz), Mexican (tomato), Chinese (tea),
Haitian (potato), Persian (caravan, sofa), Australian
(budgerigar), Polynesian (tattoo). Scones and
crumpets traditionally served with tea are both Dutch
words, toast and marmalade are French and
Portuguese respectively.
Britain is a multilingual country par excellence
- today Londoners alone speak nearly 200
languages other than English, with a quarter of
London’s school pupils speaking another language
at home. Widely spoken languages include Punjabi –
52 per cent of British Asians speak it; Urdu, Hindi,
Gujarati, Bengali, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese
and Caribbean Creole/Patois.
The Arthur Conan Doyle syndrome of hybrid
identity is increasingly becoming the rule in our
world. For many it may mean accepting and
embracing their own Englishness before they can
recognise and respect the identities of other people.
Pluralism in England requires expansion of the vision
of what it is to be English. In the Black Atlantic Paul
Gilroy speaks about a double consciousness. There
is a double consciousness about being both Welsh
or Scottish and at the same time British or British
and European. Maybe there is a triple
consciousness as in the case of the athlete Linford
Christie, in being Welsh, British and black. Linda
Colley says that nationalities are not like hats;
human beings can and do put on several at a time.
110
We live in a world where it is possible to hold, value
and reconcile separate identities.

Chapter Two
How Strange a Country! Monarchy and
Parliament
“The essence of the British political system is that it is
more important to travel peacefully than to arrive” (Ian
Gilmour, The Body Politic, 1969:140)
A fairly young Romanian scholar sees British
political institutions at the turn of the millennium in a
far from flattering light: “Against the backdrop of
innovations such as the spleen, the game of golf and
the English park, the English beheaded a king only to
feverishly set about the restoration of monarchy after
a short respite; they fought for centuries their
traditional enemies across the Channel whilst
111
voraciously absorbing at least three quarters of the
polished French vocabulary; they preserved an oasis
of aristocracy in a democratic sea that they
themselves had sown the seeds of, colonised half the
world just to find themselves the subjects of the most
ample cross-fertilisation in modern history. Their
traffic keeps to the left, they still go fox-hunting, cook
abominably and, of course. they have a monarchy.”
(Andrei Cornea, “Ultima familie. Despre monarhie la
britanici” in 22, 23-29 March 1999: 16).
Britain is eccentric and solipsistic, a myth-
saver in a world that keeps debunking all myths; and
monarchy provides a last link with a past of austere
and clear-cut values but fails to inspire
contemporaries. In this sense the British Royal Family
is ‘the last family’. The Romanian philosopher and
political scientist chooses to make the British
monarchy in a way ‘anti-representative’ because its
strong ties with the past, its time-defying
exquisiteness set it apart from the touch of real life.
The ‘last family’ like the last Chinese Emperor is a
bizarre fossil in a world where sophisticated
technology calls the tune. Cloning, artificial
insemination, transsexuality, alternative families
undermine more and more the standards of
‘normalcy’, no matter how narrow and how parochially
exclusive. What follows attempts several answers to
Andrei Cornea’s questions concerning monarchy and
the constitutional order of Britain.
112
Constitution: Uncodified, yet Living and
on the Move
According to the generally accepted view, a
constitution is a body of fundamental principles, rules
and conventions according to which a state or other
organisation is governed. Thus, the terms
‘constitution’ and ‘constitutional’ usually refer to: a) an
authoritative document or set of rules which describes
the powers and duties of government institutions and
the relations between them, or b) a spirit or style of
politics, usually one in which there is a balance
between the different institutions or which provides for
a restraint on the holders of power (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998: 56)

.
Britain has a constitution but not according to
the first definition. One cannot say that it is unwritten
but it is nevertheless uncodified. The constitutional
order of the United Kingdom is based on the material
constitution. This means that the rudiments of the

Of the various interpretations of the British Constitution which have
been put forward over the years, the best known is the classical
liberal view which is associated with the 19
th
century writings of
Walter Bagehot and A.V. Dicey. Their view holds that the House of
Commons is the supreme political institution with the power to make
and unmake governments, pass any laws and debate the great
political issues of the day. They accord subsidiary constitutional
significance to the Monarchy and the House of Lords as well as to
political parties, pressure groups, the civil service, media or public
opinion. One has to be aware, however, that when they wrote their
books, in mid-19
th
century, there was no significant extension of the
franchise; the national party organisations were not yet established
and there was no civil service, in the modern sense of the word.
113
British system of government are not recorded in the
constitution, in the sense of a single, complex act of
basic law, endowed with the highest legal authority,
but that they are regulated by the constitutional
norms of statute laws; by the constitutional norms of
case law as expressed by individual court decrees
and by the conventions of the constitution which are
not treated as legal norms.
This state of things leads one to the conclusion
either that the British constitution does not exist
(Alexis de Tocqueville) or else that it is perceived “as
a rig-rag of statutes and judicial interpretations
thereof, of conventions, of the Law and Custom of
Parliament, of common law principle and
jurisprudence” (Bogdanor, Finer and Rudden,
1995:42-43). In the case of Britain we are dealing with
a flexible and ‘on the move’ constitution and we
cannot, as in the case of most countries, assign it to a
certain date. Most written constitutions are adopted
by states which acquire their independence or that
mark an important rupture in their evolution (cf.
France in 1958). The British system has been highly
admired and Britain has often been asked to write
constitutions for the colonies that won their
independence from the British Empire.
As I have already said, the British constitution
is based on the Common law, that is traditions or
customs administered by the old ‘common law
courts’, such as freedom of expression, which came
to be accepted as constituting the law of the land.
114
Laws statutory or parliamentary form the bulk of the
British constitution and they override common law
and provide a substantial written part of the
constitution. Magna Carta, signed by King John in
1215, is perhaps the best known constitutional
document

. The Bill of Rights of 1689 was of great
significance, consolidating the powers of Parliament
at the expense of the Crown, clearly overriding
hereditary right, which had formed the basis of the
restored constitution of 1660, and thus enabling the
accession of William and Mary to the throne

The Great Charter, revered as the earliest monument of English
freedom, the basis of English liberty, was in itself no novelty in the
land. And it did not claim to establish any new constitutional
principles. The Charter of Henry I formed the basis of the whole
document and the additions to it are for the most part formal
recognitions of the judicial and administrative changes introduced by
Henry II. But the Charter is a decisive break and a transition from
the age of traditional rights preserved in the nation’s memory to the
age of written legislation of Parliaments and statutes which was soon
to come. Although the document provides rights for Englishmen at
large - their rights to justice, security of person and property and
good government, it only set out to liberate a tiny proportion of the
English folk, namely the freemen: “No freeman shall be seized or
imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or in any way brought to
ruin. We will not go against any man nor send against him save by
legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To no man
will we sell or deny or delay right or justice” (quoted in Brown,
1966:30). Clause 61 -which established a council of twenty-five
barons who were to ensure that the sovereign observed the charter
and they were consequently entitled to wage war on the monarch if
he did not - is the basis of the contractual British monarchy. Such is
the significance of the Great Charter that in the 19
th
century the
medieval historian Stubbs said: “the whole of the constitutional
history of England... is but… a commentary upon it” (quoted in
Bogdanor, 1997:4)
115
abandoned by James II. The Act of Settlement of
1701 described as “an Act for the further limitation of
the Crown and the better securing of the rights and
liberties of the subject” (quoted in Forman, 1989:12)
postulated that only an Anglican could accede to the
throne of England. It also gave further definition to the
idea of constitutional monarchy and it constituted at
the same time a breach with the hereditary right of
succession as in terms of hereditary right there were
over fifty descendants of the Stuarts who had a better
claim to the throne than George I in 1714. It
reinforced the fundamental constitutional rule that
parliament had the right both to determine the
succession to the throne and the conditions under
which Crown was to be held, marking thus the
change of monarchy into a parliamentary, i.e.
constitutional monarchy (Bogdanor, 1997:7-8). There
has been no statutory requirement however that the
monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of
England (not its Head which is Christ) should actually
be a member of that Church – two notable exceptions
were George I and George II, German Lutherans, but
the presumption is nowadays that the sovereign is in
fact a member of the Church of England (Bogdanor,
1997:44).
The Act of Union with Scotland followed in
1707, declaring in Article 3 that the “United Kingdom
of Great Britain is represented by one and the same
parliament to be styled the parliament of Great
116
Britain” (Forman, 1989: 12), and the Act of Union with
Ireland in 1800.
Later the Reform Bill of 1832 was designed
among other things to extend the franchise at
parliamentary elections, and the Ballot Act of 1872
introduced the secret ballot for all elections

. The
Local Government Act in 1888 established elected
County Councils for the new administrative counties.
The Parliament Acts in 1911 and 1949 regulated the
relations between the two Houses of Parliament and
confirmed the legislative supremacy of the Commons.
The Treaty with the Irish Free State was signed in
December 1921, the Representation of the People
Act in 1969 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. All
these Acts have helped to shape the Constitution as it
is today.
Conventions based on historical practices and
established customs are rules, which do not have the
force of law, but they are regarded as binding
because of being in force for so long. A few examples
are: the convention that the Monarch should send
first for the Leader of the largest single parliamentary
party after the result of a general election or the
demise of a Prime Minister in office; ministerial
responsibility, collective responsibility, the resignation

About one adult in twenty-four possessed the vote after the Reform
act of 1832; about one in six after 1867 and one in four after the
Reform Act of 1884 – this established popular democracy in
principle though not yet in practice. As late as 1911 only 30 per cent
of the total adult population of the UK was entitled to vote. Full male
suffrage was delayed by war until 1918 and women did not get full
and equal voting rights until 1928.
117
of the Prime Minister following defeat on a no-
confidence vote in the Commons; the monarch’s
Assent to a Bill passed through Parliament - all these
are the product of convention. However, Jones and
Kavanagh remark that the force of a convention
depends a lot on its being observed and continued
breaches certainly contribute to the erosion of their
strength. The example quoted is the principle of the
Cabinet’s collective responsibility which has been
dealt decisive blows during the premierships of
Thatcher, even Major and very much, apparently,
under Blair.
The main characteristics of the British
Constitution are: the absolute and unlimited power of
Parliament: an Act of Parliament is not constrained by
any higher law and the courts can only interpret
statute law and not alter it in any way. Local and
regional authorities only derive their powers from
central government and these may be easily
rescinded, as with the abolition of the Stormont
Parliament in Northern Ireland and the reintroduction
of direct rule from Westminster.
The only exception to the absolute authority of
Parliament is the provision of treaties, a royal
prerogative exercised on the advice of the
Government and not subject to parliamentary
approval. A good example would be the treaties that
Britain has signed as a member of the EU, including
the momentous Treaty of Accession to the EU, which
was signed in the name of the government by Heath,
118
under the force of the royal prerogative without his
having to consult Parliament. All these treaties are
beyond the jurisdiction of domestic law and it is in this
context that Robin Cook, the current Foreign
Secretary, has been constantly advocating over the
last two years the need to curb the power of Brussels
by the creation of a second chamber in Europe made
up of MPs from Westminster and other national
parliaments: “The European Parliament does a very
useful job but the missing link is tying in the national
parliaments with the work of Europe. At the moment
there is not an adequate basis for representation from
the national parliaments to come together to discuss
Europe and somewhere within the broad family of
European institutions there should be room for that.”
(GuardianWeekly, August 23, 1998).
The British Constitution is not legalistic, which
means that it is pragmatic, flexible, open, and
different from the legalism found in the constitutions
of most Western states.
119
That the constitution is very flexible is attested
by the recent innovations implemented: referenda,
membership of the EU, demands for a Bill of Rights,
devolution. The most powerful demands for
referendums have always been voiced in connection
with constitutional matters, such as the reform of the
Lords in 1910-11, entry to the EU, devolution for
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. One may
remark that referenda as means of direct democracy,
have usually been resorted to when the issue in
question was divisive for the ruling party, e.g. Labour
over Europe at the time of the 1975 referendum

and
again on devolution in 1979. If prior to 1997 they had
been regarded as consultative and not binding, with
the election of new Labour, referenda have become
part of the constitution. Besides the referenda
mentioned since the new government came to power,
a referendum was also held on the election of a
mayor for London and further ones are promised over
the electoral system and in the event of British
membership of a single European currency.

The Wilson government was so seriously split on the issue that it
was necessary to suspend the convention of collective responsibility
for the duration of the referendum campaign so that Senior Cabinet
members could freely argue against each other in public, something
which had not happened since the open agreement to differ in the
National Government in 1931 on the issue of tariff reform (Forman,
1989: 18).
120
In the case of demands for a Bill of Rights that will be
entrenched, i.e. that is not to be overriden by
Parliament, we could mention the formal incorporation
of the provisions of the European Conventions of
Human Rights into British law, an act which Britain
ratified in 1951, but which up to 1998 had not been
enacted into British law. This would enable citizens to
take cases direct to British courts and it would also
grant citizens the right of privacy, which might be
used against media intrusion.
121
As regards devolution, which I have already
touched upon and will discuss also in the following
chapters, problems may arise which go beyond the
fear of this being a stage in the break-up of the UK.
Some express concern regarding the eventuality of
conflicts between Westminster and the Scottish
Parliament or Welsh Senedd. Both countries already
have more MPs at Westminster than their electoral
populations justify. Another bone of contention is the
West Lothian question, i.e. the right of Scottish MPs
to vote on UK legislation but the inability of non-
Scottish MPs to vote on Scottish legislation. Some
have voiced dissatisfaction at the continuation of
Scotland’s and Wales’ larger share of public spending
per capita than England’s whilst also having their own
122
parliaments

. About the envisaged reform of the
House of Lords I shall talk in another section.
The Constitution remains the only check on
an executive supported by a majority in the House,
in the exercise of self-restraint and acceptance of the
need to bargain with groups, appease backbenchers
and respect opposition rights in the Commons. In a
famous lecture in 1976 Lord Hailsham argued that
these checks were no longer sufficient since, against
the backdrop of the waning powers of monarchy and
Lords, Cabinet domination over the Commons, over
parliamentary sovereignty, becomes actually “an
elective dictatorship” (Jones and Kavanagh,
1998:58).

This is quite a serious matter. When a needs analysis was conducted
in 1976, a bias was revealed in favour of Scotland and Wales in
terms of need calculated in relation to money spent. In 1978 a
formula was devised by Joel Barnett, Labour ’s Chief Secretary to
the Treasury, to distribute public money fairly to the Celtic fringe.
His formulation boiled down basically to: England 85 per cent,
Scotland 10 per cent and Wales 5 per cent, with an adaptation for
Northern Ireland allowing for security costs. This policy has been in
place ever since, with minor adjustments in 1992. As the economic
situation in Scotland, (and to a lesser extent that of Wales), has
improved substantially there were demands in the Cabinet to reduce
the funding allocated; but they were overcome by the prediction that
cuts would play right into the hands of nationalists. However, after
devolution opinions have swayed and Sir George Russell, Chairman
of the Northern Development Company, complained in November
1997 that the Barnett Formula is no longer necessary or just: “We
(the North East) are now the poorest region in the UK.” It is believed
that unless the system of distributing public funds to the regions is
fundamentally overhauled, progress towards devolution will run into
severe political storms (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998: 61).
123
A deep paradox lies at the heart of the matter:
the Parliament’s power is limited, because although
it is stated to be legislatively supreme and is capable
of criticising the government, it cannot fully control it.
A further paradox developing from this one is that
the government also has limited powers because,
whilst it can normally get its legislation through
Parliament, there is little point in doing so if the
implementation is unduly restricted by the negative
force of the civil service, pressure groups or public
opinion.
Lord Hailsham also argued that a Commons
where the party whip applied was no longer an
adequate defender of the citizens’ liberties.
Subsequently he became a fervent supporter of a
written constitution, which he thought would ensure a
legal limitation on the powers of parliament whilst at
the time reducing the power of the executive.
Recently, a number of supporters of a
codified, written constitution have raised the issue,
although this it is not the dominant way of thinking
among constitutionalists. Nevertheless, such
renowned academic centres as the London Institute
for Public Policy Research, as well as members of
the major political parties in Britain, have lobbied for
the issue. Within the Conservative Party it is Lord
Hailsham, for many years the Lord Chancellor, who
has been the most dedicated supporter of a written
constitution. In his book The Dilemma of Democracy
he quotes arguments in favour of introducing a
124
constitution in the form of a single basic law (1978:
pp.133 ff. and 225 ff.) According to Hailsham such
important political issues as membership in the EU,
the norms of the European Convention of Human
Rights and devolution of state central authority
require a written constitution. Together with Lord
Scarman he has argued the case for a new
constitutional settlement based upon a new Bill of
Rights and a codified constitution which would be
protected and interpreted by a Supreme Court. They
state that the traditional views have become
obsolete and ineffective and the basis of these
traditional assumptions – namely, that their civil
rights and political liberties are more secure if
founded upon the custom and practice of the
common law, should be resisted. It has become
obsolete because it deliberately sets out to ignore
the scope and complexity of public administration
and governmental activity in modern political
conditions.
In the Labour camp Tony Benn, well known
for the radical views which made him the leader of
the left-wing of the party in the 70’s, is the author of
a draft of a codified constitution. The draft, entitled
The Commonwealth of Britain Bill and published in
1992, contains some truly radical views on the
reconstruction of the British system of government
(Benn and Hood, 1993:124 ff.). Their proposals to
abolish the monarchy, the Privy Council and the
House of Lords, to create the office of president,
125
institute a state council and an elected higher
parliamentary chamber as well as separate national
parliaments for England, Scotland and Wales were
regarded not only as most radical but also most
contentious by the British public at large.
From a historical point of view the above
initiatives pertain to the constitutional tradition
initiated by the acceptance in December 1653 of the
only known written constitution in the history of
Britain, namely the constitutional document issued
during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, entitled The
Instrument of Government (Morrill, 1993:374-377).
Most historians remark that this document is highly
characteristic of the Protectorate in confirming the
political rights of the upwardly mobile middle classes,
the most progressive sector of the population.
Moreover by laying it down in the form of a written
constitution, Cromwell can claim a place among the
precursors of the liberalist philosophy of a later date.
No other period saw such a penchant for paper
constitutions (Zieba, 1998:46).
The Liberal Democrats of the 90’s gave the
issue pride of place in their manifesto and electoral
campaign. An official document was published in
June 1990 entitled We the People – Towards a
Written Constitution. The document in question
contains a draft of the constitution of the UK written
by John MacDonnald, QC (Queen’s Counsel), as
well as a commentary to the constitution compiled by
the study group. This document resonates with the
126
abiding concerns of the 70’s, when the system of
government and the constitution came under serious
stress. The rise of nationalist parties in Scotland and
Wales, the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland and the
consequent suspension of the Stormont Parliament
in 1972, with the reintroduction of direct rule from
Westminster as a corollary, referenda for devolution
in 1979 - all required reforms of the system and
especially a major constitutional settlement. There
was pressure for codifying the organisational and
procedural rules, the rights, competences and
mechanism of all the changes entailed in the
renewed institutions and practices.
The Charter 88 movement also helped in the
late 80’s to keep the issue of constitutional reform on
the agenda. The supporters of a written constitution
put forth the following arguments: power in Britain is
too centralised and the sovereignty of Parliament is
much undermined by the executive; the need for
statutory protection of individual liberties - a Bill of
Rights - and the need for certainty and clarity about
‘the rules of the game’ (in the case of many
conventions, for example, the constitution becomes
what the governments decides).
127
The more traditional defenders of the status
quo invoke, as ever, the Conservative arguments of
tradition, of redundancy: a written constitution would
only double the provisions that have long been in
operation. They also think that any change would be
extremely time-consuming, as the British style of
conducting politics is bound to cause a lot of difficulty
in agreeing upon a new constitution.
The Labour Party accepted much of the
traditional liberal reform agenda and supported
change. After the 1997 election it proved its
commitment to devolution, reform of the Lords, the
Freedom of Information Act, revival of local
government and protection of civil liberties. It is true
also that the Conservatives themselves have
become more open to constitutional reform since
1997.
Tony Blair’s real radicalism has turned out to
be constitutional rather than economic or social. He
saw the decrepitude of Britain’s constitutional order
and embarked on perhaps the most far-reaching
series of reforms ever tried by a modern British
government.
Monarchy
“his will is not his own,
For he himself is subject to his birth;
he may not, as unvalu’d persons do,
Carve for himself. For on his choice depends
The safety and the health of this whole state.”
128
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene III)
Let us see whether the monarch in Britain is
that ceremonial hollow space that Cornea referred to
in his article. The British have always been ruled by
a monarch except for a very brief period, extremely
unpopular and self-righteous, a dystopia of austerity
and self-denial - Cromwell’s Protectorate. The
present-day sovereign can claim unbroken descent
dating back to the Anglo Saxon bretwaldas Cerdic in
the 5
th
century. Other ancestors include
Charlemagne, Malcolm II of Scotland and even the
emperor Barbarossa.
Since the Bill of Rights in 1689, after the
Glorious Revolution that secured the succession of
William of Orange as William III of England, every
monarch reigns with the consent of Parliament in
addition to their hereditary right. Although said to be
a figurehead, a detainer of symbolic and not real
power, the monarch is ominpresent. Coins, stamps,
most visual images of Britain bear a picture of the
Queen’s head – a primordial national emblem. Also
all major institutions bear the queens’s imprint: the
post is carried by the Royal Mail, the ships in the
Royal Navy are Her Majesty’s Ships, Her Majesty’s
Government is made up of Her Majesty’s Ministers,
official letters are sent On Her Majesty’s Service
(OHMS).
On the other hand, all these institutions that
append the prefix ‘Royal’ or ‘Her Majesty’s’ cannot
129
possibly benefit from the supervision of the monarch
and the prefixes are tantamount actually to ‘State’ or
‘British’. So we encounter here a problem that recalls
the famous quarrel of medieval philosophers: name
or substance? are names real in themselves or are
they conventions, symbols, fictions? I suggest that
the answer to this problem could also come from the
interpretation of the concept of power.
According to feminist reconstructionist
theories, power is a concept that should be revisited.
Hannah Arendt, the famous philosopher of politics
(who has always resented any connection with
feminism), bases her theory of power on ancient
Greek sources. Power for Arendt is much more
associated with (indeed, a cognate of) community
and its ethos than we might be inclined to think.
Power is the ‘glue’ that holds the community
together, the means by which the community is
constituted and even “the means by which
immortality is attained and death overcome”. Power
is significantly, in fact primordially, connected to
public life: “Power springs up whenever people get
together and act in concert, but it derives its
legitimacy from the initial getting together rather than
from any action that then may follow” (Arendt, 1969:
52).
This type of power, distinguishable from
authority, strength, domination, etc., is what keeps
the public realm in existence. An agonistic
understanding of power as sheer force, conflict, thirst
130
for domination is also undermined by Dorothy
Emmet, who argues that power should be
distinguished from domination since, she thinks, the
production of intended effects need not be the
achievement of intended effects through coercing
other people (Emmet, 1954:4). She distinguishes
between ‘power over’ and ‘power with’, or ‘coercive’
vs. ‘coactive’ power, and discusses the advantages
of freeing the latter in both cases from its association
with domination (1954:9).
Like Arendt, although she does not go so far
as to refuse to include domination in her definition of
power, Emmet believes that power is not a thing but
a capacity or relation between people (ibid.:19). In
this definition she is very much concerned to discuss
the way in which the exercise of ritual power can
make for the coherence of a community. She cites
the example of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
as a ritual that gathered up a number of aspects of
the non-coercive kinds of power (Emmet, 1954:18).
She has hopes for a redefinition of power as a way
of referring to any kind of effectiveness in
performance, but also wants to include in it the
aspect of psychological or psychic energy or manna
(1954:22; 24-26).
This ‘gelling’ of the community, which is no
minor matter in the context of fragmentation and
erosion of social cohesion today, this ritual power of
holding people together and imparting a feeling of
community and belonging to them, is real power, call
131
it symbolic if you wish, but I think it is real power.
What the limits to the exercise of this kind of power
are in the context of contemporary Britain we will see
later.
Shils and Young (1953:63-82) argue that the
coronation of Elizabeth in 1953 was one of those
occasions when the whole nation came together
filled with a sense of common values and a desire to
affirm their commitment to the collectivity of the
nation. By analysing all gestures, words, stages of
the ceremony, they come to the conclusion that the
ceremony of the Coronation fulfills the same social
functions as more strictly religious rituals, affirming
and celebrating the values of community: “The
nation was coming together to reaffirm for itself a
sense of common identity and thereby to renew its
collective self-confidence, also confirming the
primacy of family life for the nation” (67; 71-73).
Anthropologists have long been aware of the
functional importance of monarchies. In this respect
the king’s person in several cultures, in different
historical periods, has been regarded as the
guarantor and mirror of the social and environmental
prosperity of the nation. Of course, this sacred
kingship no longer holds today in our secularised
societies, but some think that there are residual
beliefs, such as the conviction that the social and
political order is guaranteed by the spiritual and
transcendental position of the monarchy. Nairn
contends that presidency is still in many quarters
132
regarded as deplorable precisely because there are
no divine sanctions associated with it (Nairn, 1988:
59).

Functions. The Royal Prerogatives
The Queen appoints the Prime Minister.
George III chose and dismissed Prime Ministers
almost at will but he was the last monarch able to do
that. Elizabeth II does not actually choose, rather
she confirms as Prime Minister the elected leader of
the largest single party in the Commons

. It is a

The monarch exercised more freedom in the choice of Prime
Minister in the first half of the 20
th
century. In 1923 George V asked
Stanley Baldwin to form a government in succession to Bonar Law,
when the next in line seemed to be Lord Curzon, the Foreign
Secretary. But the King thought that the place of the Prime Minister
in this century should be in the Lower House, so Curzon to his bitter
disappointment was passed over. In 1940 George VI chose Winston
Churchill to succeed Chamberlain, when his personal preference
would have been for Lord Halifax, because he thought again that in
times of war a Prime Minister should sit in the Commons. Churchill
had also aroused widespread distrust during the inter-war years
through his erratic political judgements, such as his hostility towards
Indian self-government, his support of Edward VIII, his resentment
towards the General Strike of 1926 which singled him out as an
enemy of the labour movement. The choice has not always been
along these lines. In 1957, when Sir Anthony Eden retired and
Macmillan took over, many people thought that R.A. Butler was the
stronger candidate. Again at times the Lords were favoured over the
Commons as in the case of Lord Home, who was chosen to succeed
Macmillan, when again the favourite was Mr Butler, and that choice
attracted a lot of criticism from Conservative MPs like Iain Macleod
and Enoch Powell, who decried the so called “magic circles” of
decision making in the party at that time (Irwin, 1994: 8-9). The last
Prime Minister to sit in the Lords was Lord Salisbury, who resigned
in 1902.
133
residual prerogative then, with the exception of some
special cases when she can have more real power.
That happens in the case of a ‘hung parliament’


when no single party has an overall majority in the
Commons and it is up to the monarch to designate a
leading political figure with a better chance of
forming a government which could command the
support of a majority in the lower House. This has
occurred more frequently than it is thought. Of the
twenty-five general elections in the 20
th
century
Britain between 1900 and 1997, no fewer than five
have failed to yield a clear result – in January and
December 1910, in 1923, 1929 and in February
1974.
In January 1957 Anthony Eden fell ill, so the
Queen took advice from Winston Churchill and the
Marquis of Salisbury and invited Harold Macmillan to
form a new government. Then in October 1963,
Macmillan was taken ill, and the Queen took advice
from Macmillan in hospital and invited Lord Home to
form a new government. The Queen was confronted
once with a ‘hung parliament’ produced by the
General Election of 1974. In February 1974 the

∗ In 1931 George V played a vital role in encouraging Ramsay
Macdonald to form the National Government in order to get through
the Commons the deflationary economic measures which were not
acceptable to a large part of the parliamentary Labour Party. In 1940
George VI had some influence on the choice of Winston Churchill to
succeed Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, as the latter had
been discredited by a significant number of abstentions within the
Conservative Party at the end of a crucial debate of confidence on
the conduct of war (Forman, 1989: 126).
134
Queen was very close to being attracted into political
controversy by Edward Heath’s attempt to retain
power for the Conservatives by offering a coalition
pact to the Liberals, after his government was
defeated in the election. He also reached out to
Harry West, leader of the Ulster Unionists and
consequently offered the Conservative whip to seven
of the eleven Ulster Unionists. The latter declined the
offer and it was impossible for Jeremy Thorpe, the
leader of the Liberals, to persuade his party. So a
few days later the Queen invited Harold Wilson to
form a minority Labour government.
The dissolution of Parliament is again formal
since the Queen can only do that at the request of
her Prime Minister within the five-year maximum life-
span of a Parliament. The last monarch that
exercised this prerogative in an independent way
was Queen Anne.
The Royal Assent to legislation is another
royal prerogative and it is through applying the royal
rubber stamp to Bills that they become Acts of
Parliament. Charles II managed to postpone or
quash bills, which he disapproved of by pretending
that he had mislaid them! The same happened in the
19
th
century with controversial laws related to
Catholic emancipation. Both George III and George
IV managed to delay it. George III declared not
without justification that anyone who voted for
Catholic Emancipation would be his enemy as in the
Coronation oath he pledged himself to maintain the
135
Protestant religion (see Act of Settlement above).
Queen Anne again was the last monarch to veto
legislation.
Creation of peers is mainly on the advice of
the Prime Minister

. Appointments are usually made
twice a year, when the names of the newly created
peers appear in the Honours Lists. Since 1964 life
peerages have been the order of the day, but this
was reversed under Margaret Thatcher’s rule after
1983, when William Whitelaw, a staunch and loyal
supporter of Thatcher’s, and George Thomas, a
distinguished Speaker of the Commons, were given
hereditary peerages. Later the honour was also
bestowed upon Dennis Thatcher, the Prime
Minister’s husband. A hereditary earldom was
conferred upon Macmillan in 1984, which he
accepted although he had refused that honour in
October 1963 when he ceased to be Prime Minister.
The monarch is also involved in granting a
range of honours, civilian and military. This, as in the
case of the creation of peerages, happens twice a
year when the Honours Lists are published.

There was a time when this Royal prerogative was very important.
In 1711 Queen Anne created twelve new peers to ensure
parliamentary ratification of the Treaty of Utrecht. The War of the
Spanish Succession (1702-1713) created the impression of ‘English
Hegemony in Europe’, although the terms of the Treaty fell short of
the British expectations (Langford, 1993:403). In 1831 the threat of
William IV to create new peers helped to ensure the passage of the
first Reform Bill and in 1911 the willingness of George V to create
as many as 400 new Liberal peers caused the hereditary majority of
Conservatives in the upper house to give way to the Liberal majority
in the lower House.
136
Nevertheless, certain occasions might arise when
special investitures can be made, as in 1982 when
honours were awarded to those who took part in the
Falklands campaign. Although most nominations are
made on the advice of the Prime Minister, some of
these honours remain in the personal gift of the
Monarch: the Order of the Garter, the Order of the
Thistle, the Order of Merit and the Royal Victorian
Order

∗. More often than not they have no political
significance, just recognising and rewarding some
outstanding personalities. Mother Theresa was
awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen on her visit
to India, when she opened the 1983 Commonwealth
Conference. However, occasionally they do have
political significance as in the case of Sir Humphrey
Gibbs, who was awarded the Royal Victorian Order
for his personal loyalty to the Crown in continuing to
act as Her Majesty’s Governor of Rhodesia after that
country had declared its unilateral independence
from the Commonwealth in 1965 under the apartheid
regime of Ian Smith (Forman, 1989: 129-130).

∗ The Order of the Garter is the highest degree of Britsh knighthood
together with the Order of the Thistle. It is said that its origins are in
an embarrassing situation that the countess of Salisbury found herself
in during a ball at the court of Edward III. “Honi soi qui mal y
pense” are the words that the King is thought to have uttered on the
occasion and they are to this day the motto of the Order. It is said
that only 16 people can hold the Order of the Thistle at any one time
and they are mainly Scottish men of high rank. The Order of Merit
is a special honour given to British people who have done something
unusually good in military or civilian life. Only 24 people can have
the Order of Merit at any one time.
137
Public appointments refer again to a formal
function. All important positions in the civil service,
the police, the judiciary, the BBC and the Church of
England are filled in the name of the monarch, as
well as all ministerial appointments. However, these
are done again on the recommendation of the Prime
Minister or of the Foreign Secretary in case of senior
appointments in the Diplomatic Services; of the
Defence Secretary for the armed services; of the
Home Secretary for the police and of the Lord
Chancellor for judicial appointments.
The prerogative of mercy and pardon is again
devoid of meaning. Since the House of Commons
voted in 1965 to abolish the death penalty on a
provisional basis, and since that decision has
subsequently been confirmed in successive free
votes, it now seems that this particular aspect of the
royal prerogatives has also fallen into disuse.
Pardons are granted only in very rare situations
when there is some special reason why a sentence
should not be carried out or a conviction expunged,
e.g. the discovery that the evidence on which these
were based was false.
Other formal functions, of which most are
redundant or meaningless, include the conclusion of
international treaties, declaration of war, the
introduction or amendment of colonial constitutions
(meaning actually the states that have won their
independence after World War II and are now part of
138
the Commonwealth

) and the establishment of public
corporations. Although the sovereign is the head of
the executive, the vast bulk of the prerogative
powers of the Crown –over 95 per cent of them – are
exercised not by the sovereign personally but either
on the advice of ministers or by ministers
themselves. In the conduct of foreign policy the
Royal prerogative was used in the past in less formal
situations, in fact in such a very momentous and
controversial matter as entry to the EC. The 1972
Treaty of Accession which took Britain into the EC
was signed by Edward Heath as Prime Minister in

The Commonwealth is a loose association of states with no formal
constitution or rules, among which only a few, such as Gibraltar and
the Falkland Islands, remain dependencies of Britain. The term as
such was for the first time used by Lord Roseberry, a future Liberal
minister, in 1884 when he considered Australia’s position in a
commonwealth of nations to be the right thing (Mansergh, 1969:19).
There are 53 states within the Commonwealth, following the entry of
Mozambique and Cameroon - nearly one-third of the world’s
independent states with a combined population of over 1.5 billion,
around one quarter of the total population of the world. Heads of
government and ministers of these states meet and consult regularly
on a number of matters from trading relationships to cultural and
sporting exchanges. The Queen is recognised as Head of the
Commonwealth. In 16 countries, including Canada and Australia,
she is also head of State. Thirty countries, like Zimbabwe, India,
Guyana, Ghana, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cyprus, etc., are republics
and six of them, like Brunei, Malaysia, Lesotho and Tonga have
their own royal families. On November 6, 1999 the Australians
organised a referendum on whether to retain the Queen as the Head
of State or form a republic headed by a president. For many
Australians who voted against the republic and for maintaining the
Queen as Head of State the most commonsensical comment was: “If
it ain’t broke why fix it?”
139
Brussels without having to secure prior approval of
that move by Parliament (Forman, 1989:131).
As to colonial constitutions, they are
promulgated or changed in the name of the
Monarch. The constitution of Zimbabwe which British
Ministers negotiated with the representatives of all
parties at Lancaster House in 1979-80 was
eventually promulgated in the name of the Queen
and given statutory authority in the Zimbabwe
Independence Act of 1980.
The creation of public corporations is also
done in the name of the Monarch by granting royal
charters to the bodies concerned. The BBC became
a public corporation by Royal Charter in 1926;
various new towns like Milton Keynes and Telford
built after the war; also the new universities, like
Sussex and Essex built in the 60’s and 70’s, were
established in a similar way.
The Queen has a very important
representational role reinforcing her symbolic
functions. She is immensely popular with millions of
people in the world, and her many state visits serve
the purpose of promoting British values worldwide.
Her annual Christmas broadcast to the people of her
country and of the whole Commonwealth is a major
highlight of Christmas festivities in the British Isles.
These messages are unique since they are not
made in the queen’s capacity as Queen of the UK,
nor as queen of her other realms. They are delivered
on the Queen's own responsibility and not on advice.
140
The members of the Royal Family are actively
engaged in many charitable organisations, they
promote excellence and equal opportunities in the
many trusts and funds that they have initiated and
steadfastly support

. The Queen leads her people
on important occasions, imparting a sense of unity
and common purpose to them and raising their
morale (a good example would be the
commemoration of the dead of the two World Wars
and other conflicts at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on
Remembrance Sunday every year).
As a ‘dignified’ part of the constitution
(Bagehot), the Queen has regular and confidential
contacts with the Prime Minister, enjoying what
Walter Bagehot calls “the right to be consulted, the
right to encourage and the right to warn” (1978:11).
They usually meet every week on Tuesday evening
and then for several days in the late summer when
she is on holiday at Balmoral in Scotland. Her
experience of the affairs of state is unrivalled in
modern times, since in almost 50 years on the
throne she has had 10 Prime Ministers and 15

Some examples are: The Prince’s Trust set up in 1976 by Prince
Charles to provide recreation and leisure facilities for deprived
young people. He has also taken a special interest in inner cities,
ethnic minorities, unemployment and in the environment. The Duke
of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme through which awards are made to
young people between the ages of 14 and 21 for enterprise, initiative
and achievement; Princess Anne has gained worldwide recognition
and admiration for her tireless work as President of the Save the
Children Fund and the late Princess Diana’s most laudable initiatives
in the campaigns against anti personnel land-mines and against
poverty and disease.
141
different governments. As a permanent fixture in the
British political system, unlike temporary politicians,
she has a greater knowledge than them of domestic
and international politics.
Public attitudes to monarchy have swayed from
considerable support in the 70’s and 80’s to the very
critical attitudes of recent years. A 1969 opinion poll
demonstrated that only 13 per cent thought it was a
dated institution, 30 per cent thought it should
continue unchanged, and about 50 per cent thought
it was good value as long as it was willing to adapt to
changing times. In an opinion poll whose results
were published in the Guardian of 22 July 1981, as
many as 80 per cent of respondents thought that the
Royal Family was a marvellous example to everyone
of good family life. Also 90 per cent of those
questioned preferred the British monarchy to a
republic of the French or of the American type. Only
30 per cent of them thought that the monarchy cost
the country more than it was worth.
On 7 January 1997 “Do you want a
monarchy?” was the question put to a nation in an
interactive media show which was without precedent
in history, broadcast across the nation with 3,000 live
guests, 14,000 telephone lines, 9 million viewers and
2.6 million phone calls. Sixty per cent of the voters
agreed on the preservation of monarchy. The
programme showed that monarchy and its crisis are
issues of more than national proportions. Broadcast
by satellite all around the world the referendum was
142
a showcase of British culture, debating the British
understanding of democracy in what could be called
a virtual networking interactive global studio.
The monarch is the personification of the
British state and this is an extension of her symbolic
function (Irwin, 1994:8). She opens Parliament,
always on a Wednesday in November (since 1537),
but she takes no part in its deliberations and in fact
is forbidden to enter the chamber of the House of
Commons, as all monarchs have been since 1641.
In that year Charles I, in breach of parliamentary
autonomy from the kings’ power, ordered the arrest
of five members of whom he disapproved - among
them John Pym, Edward Coke and Thomas
Wentworth were his most vociferous opponents - in
an attempt to stamp out opposition to his
discretionary rule

.
So pro-monarchists think that one argument
definitely in favour of monarchy is its unifying
influence that goes beyond the ideological claims of
any political party. The Queen is a permanent, non-
partisan symbol of national unity (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998:120). The Queen is to be

An officer of the House of Lords, the Gentleman Usher of the Black
Rod who is also Sergeant-at-Arms in attendance upon Lord
Chancellor, responsible for security, accommodation and service in
the House of Lords, is sent as a messenger to the Chamber of the
Commons to summon MPs to the Lords. As he approaches the
Commons chamber the door of the Commons is slammed in his face,
a custom dating back to the offence perpetrated by Charles I. Then
he has to rap three times with his ebony stick (hence his name) and
only then is the door opened.
143
distinguished from other Heads of State, because, not
being engaged in chief executive functions, like the
US president, she can perform hundreds of
engagements and overseas visits each year. So she is
a full-time Head of State and very experienced and
skilled at her job. This is what Margaret Thatcher says
on the matter: “Anyone who imagines that they are a
mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite
wrong; they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty
brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and
breadth of experience.”(1993:18). The Queen is
scrupulously neutral but occasionally she hints at
personal views

∗. In June 1986 it was rumoured that
the Queen disapproved of Margaret Thatcher’s
oppositions to economic sanctions against the
apartheid regime in South Africa.
As Cornea well remarks in his article it is
almost impossible to mark off a portion of the
sovereign’s life which is truly private. Even when on
holiday, official papers will arrive on a regular basis
for scrutiny; in modern times there can never be a
holiday from the work of government and the
sovereign can never be completely ‘off duty’ or ‘on
holiday’ in the traditional sense, as George VI’s
private secretary Sir Alan Lascelles puts it very
memorably: “We serve, may I remind you, one of the

∗ It is well known that Queen Victoria detested the liberal leader and
four times Prime Minister W.E. Gladstone and she also distrusted his
party. Nevertheless she was compelled to accept him as Prime
Minister. It was also rumoured that the Queen was not at all inclined
towards the policies and personal disposition of Baroness Thatcher.
144
very few men in this world who never gets a holiday
at all and who, unlike the rest of us, can look forward
to no period of retirement at the end of his service,
for his service never ends.” George V called his work
‘a life sentence’ (Bogdanor, 1997: 193-194).
The Queen has great representational
functions that derive from her ritual power. She is a
superb ambassador, she is very popular and able to
attract a lot of interest wherever her visits take her.
Monarchy offers fixed constitutional
landmarks and a degree of institutional continuity in
a changing world. Pro-monarchists think that
especially nowadays, with a New Labour
government so committed to sweeping changes, to
social and constitutional reforms, the monarchy is
needed even more with its offer of legitimacy to a
reforming administration. That is why the
overwhelming majority of the prime ministers of the
Left – Gladstone, Asquith, Attlee, Wilson, Blair have
proved such staunch royalists.
In her quality of Head of the Commonwealth,
again a predominantly ceremonial role strictly
matching the ceremonial power of the
Commonwealth itself, the Queen acts as a focus and
a binding influence for this loose association of states:
“ Queen Elizabeth is the bit of glue that somehow
manages to hold the whole thing together…and I
suppose it is to some extent a matter of worry that
clearly her personality is a major factor to all of us in
the Commonwealth. She does the unifying.” said
145
David Lange, former Prime Minister of New Zealand
(quoted in Bogdanor, 1997: 275). She is undoubtedly,
Bogdanor thinks, the world’s only international
monarch.
Monarchy generates lots of money. People
think that the monarchy is good value. It may cost
more than the royal houses of Holland or the Nordic
countries, but it is good value for money. In the 80’s
the supporters of monarchy argued that spending by
the NHS on appetite suppressors exceeded the
costs of the Civic List (see below).
The opponents of monarchy put forth several
arguments against monarchy. The most important
claims are that in a democratic age hereditary rights
should be invalidated and heads of state should be
popularly elected. They think that the monarch’s
neutrality is only apparent, since the values that the
monarch stands for cannot be depoliticised, and
reinforce the conservative values of wealth, class,
deference to social status, tradition, the
Establishment. They also think it is very costly. The
Queen used to receive an annual grant of nearly 6
million GBP - the Civil List - to meet the expenses of
the nearly 400-strong royal household. The first Civil
List Act was passed in 1697. It is sometimes
believed that the Civil List is remuneration for the
sovereign, when it is actually used to meet official
expenditure necessarily incurred through the
sovereign’ duty as head of state or head of the
Commonwealth. Around 70 % of it is spent on the
146
salaries of those working directly for the monarch
and it is audited annually by the Treasury (Bogdanor,
1997:186). In July 1990 a new arrangement was
introduced whereby the Queen receives an agreed
sum over a ten-year period with more money being
made available in the early years (7.9 million GBP in
1991-92). The Queen is granted the Civil List in
return for handing over the Crown estates to the
Exchequer, as has happened since George III.
Although those estates officially belong to the
Crown, no monarch could keep them if they
considered, for example, that the Civil List was not to
their liking. Nevertheless, the Queen has a
considerable personal fortune in addition to
jewellery, paintings (her stamp collection alone is
said to be worth over one million GBP). Critics argue
that the tax-payers should not have to cover the
Queen’s personal expenses, those of the royal
dependants, when she is actually one of the richest
women in the world.
A MORI

poll in 1990 showed three-quarters
of the population favoured taxing the Queen’s
income. On 11 February John Major announced that
the Queen would pay income tax from April that
year, though with a huge allowance and exemption
from inheritance tax for the Prince of Wales (Jones
and Kavanagh, op.cit:124). The Sunday Times of 8
April 1990 calculated her personal fortune at 7 billion

A MORI poll is a special survey of opinion in a country done by a
company - Market and Opinion Research International.
147
GBP, though this was dismissed by the palace
(quoted in Jones and Kavanagh, 1998: 119).
Her critics also think that the functions that
the Queen holds are mostly meaningless and
absurd. The Queen, they say, by dispensing honours
such as peerages, knighthoods and sundry medals,
in fact, creates for the Prime Minister, on whose
advice she elevates people to such titles, a rich
system of patronage, thus strengthening the Prime
Minister’s manipulative powers. Some of her other
functions, they argue – declaration of war, signing of
treaties, granting pardons, her annual opening of
Parliament, appointment of the Prime Minister,
Cabinet, bishops, Lords of Appeal, heads of
corporations - are meaningless. They also invoke the
argument of the breach of royal prerogatives by the
executive. Thus the so-called immunity of the Crown
from democratic control is far from absolute. A well-
known example is that of the left-wing Labour MP
Tony Benn, who has long campaigned for greater
accountability of monarchy to the Commons; for
instance NHS hospitals are run by the state, in
theory by the Crown, so they cannot be taken to
court if their kitchens are a health hazard (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998:120).
The death of Diana (to which we will return
later) in August 1997 damaged, some say beyond
repair, the support for monarchy in Britain. And many
commentators like Jonathan Freedland in the
Guardian and Andrew Ransley in the Observer have
148
called for the abolition of the monarchy and the
establishment of a republic.
The Queen described the year 1992 as annus
horribilis. It was the year the media most feverishly
burrowed into the private lives of the younger
members of the royal family, into the intimacy of their
love affairs and marriage problems; there were
marital scandals surrounding her son Andrew and the
heir to the throne, Charles. In the following years the
prestige of the institution was dealt further blows that
came to a head in 1997 with the death of Diana,
Princess of Wales, when there was vivid discussion of
the future role of the royal family. In the years that
followed the monarchy seemed to be transformed into
a “sleazy tabloid soap opera” (Jones and Kavanagh,
1998: 122).
There was a general feeling of dismay and
profound dissatisfaction with a monarchy that had
become more and more aloof from the problems of
common people, ossified in rituals and artificial
conventionalism.

The Tragic Death of A Princess
and Calls for the Reform of the
Monarchy
In a poll published in the Observer in
September 21, 1997 it is evident how the Queen and
Prince Charles plummeted in popular support. The
ratings plunged from 71 in 1981 to 10 for the Queen
and from 58 to 5 per cent for Charles. Still 74 per
149
cent of the interviewees thought that the institution
should be maintained but they added that an
overhaul of the institution was mandatory and only
12 per cent thought that the status quo should be
maintained. 81 per cent thought that the Royal family
should become more informal and less concerned
with preserving their traditional ways; 79 per cent
thought that the monarchy was out of touch with
ordinary people in Britain. To a last question
concerning the succession to the Crown, only 38 per
cent thought that Charles should be the next in line,
whilst 53 per cent thought that the Crown should go
to Charles’s son William.
When Diana died in a car smash in Paris in the
small hours of Saturday 30, August 1997, the
princess precipitated a crisis in the Royal Family as
severe as any she had caused when alive. Initially the
Queen withheld any public expression of sadness. It
was even rumoured at the time that the Queen had
been so disaffected with the maverick Princess' ways
that she actually forbade the mention of her name in
her presence. But it seems that the royals had
miscalculated the national mood: millions expressed
their sorrow in a near hysterical week of national
grieving over someone who, despite her erroneous
conduct at times, had been able to touch people’s
hearts in a unique way and to win widespread support
for the many charitable causes she championed.
The Queen was more or less forced, by this
tidal wave of grief and dismay at her behaviour to go
150
on air and express deep sorrow at the death of her
daughter-in-law, in a bid to win back some popular
sympathy. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was the
only public figure who found the words and the
sensitivity to express the nation’s feelings. At the
funeral, a massive state affair, despite the fact that
the Princess was technically no longer a royal and
had been stripped of her HRH title by the Queen, the
Royal Family was bitterly criticised by Earl Spencer,
Diana’s brother. In fact many people thought that the
bickering over Diana’s claims to royal status that
seemed not to have been resolved at the time of her
death, was mean-spirited and illegitimate.
Consequently, the debates about the possibility of
restoring the title to her posthumously and the
pointed remarks of Earl Spencer at the funeral come
as no surprise. The spontaneous applause which
washed into Westminster Abbey from the crowds
outside reminded the royals that it was Diana who
had captured the nation’s hearts and not Charles or
the Queen (Kavanagh and Jones, 1998:122).
Diana’s death confirmed how dramatically the royals
in Britain were poised at the watershed between
traditional values and modern/post-modern times.
Andrew Marr, in an article published in the Guardian
one year after Diana’s death, and thus at a certain
distance from that tragic event, reflects on the fact
that Diana’s death forced the British to look in the
mirror where they could no longer see that fictional
self-image they thought they still harboured. Instead
151
of a tight-lipped, reticent, expressionless people, they
could see what in fact Diana stood for: she was the
queen of another country - a multicultural, more
liberal and emotionally open Britain, “the patron saint
of the pierced people who are all around us.” It shook
the Brits awake from the slumber of complacency,
self-sufficiency and conservatism. It became clear
that the old Roman virtues of endurance, deference,
understatement and dignity in public and the public
school ethos of gentlemanliness were dying out. The
stiff upper lip, the phlegmatic belief in coping, the
buttoned-up stoicism, all the things Charles stands
for, seem to be more and more out of sync with a
changing world: “Let me repeat, Diana didn’t cause
this. She was a force of nature, but hardly El Niño.
She was only a symbol of social changes happening
already, a political symbol because of her royal fate
and her choice of charities, friends, words and
gestures. With her emotional fragility and self-
revelation, her baseball caps, natural look of
deference, hedonistic enjoyment of material things
and her complicated sex life, she was representative
of the new, emerging Britain just as surely as Charles
and his mother represent an old nation” (“One year
on, has Britain changed?” in Guardian Weekly, 30
August 1998:13).
The author of the article thinks that this was
the major effect of Diana’s death. It provided a much
needed shock, a disruption to everyday rituals which
allowed for communal self-recognition: “The moment
152
when we stared at the crowds and bouquets, we
stared at ourselves and thought, bloody hell, so
that’s what we’re like. It offered in the proper sense a
moment of national reflection. And because to know
oneself is to change, then a year on, yes, it is safe to
say that Diana’s death changed the country”
(ibid.:13).
The monarchy as an institution has to dovetail
with modern times whilst preserving the nearly
sacred status that many of its supporters hold dear:
tradition, high moral standards, stability and
continuity as Stuart Hall asserts in “The Great
Moving Right Show”: the major significance of the
monarchy is its capacity to continue to forge links
among constitutional, political and social features of
a society which has been struck by far-reaching
economic and social problems and which is still
marked by the powerful impact of the politics of Tory
leader Margaret Thatcher (1983:19-39).
One may say that Tory values and policies
are a matter of the past and that its totems have lost
a lot of their lustre and glamour. The Royal Family,
Britain as a great power, the aristocracy, the Church
of England, all appear to be disintegrating, but
Conservatism, especially in its British variant
Thatcherism, continues to operate as an
undercurrent in the policies of Thatcher’s
successors. It affected the government of John
Major and there are clear indications, as we are
going to see in the ensuing two chapters, that the
153
New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and his party
are planning to elaborate on the positive sides of
Thatcherism.
Interviewed by the BBC on the morning after
Tony Blair’s triumph, the Iron Lady wished Tony Blair
the best of British luck with the continuation of what
she had started.
There has been a lot of talk about the
symbiotic relationship that Diana had with the media,
shunning and attracting the media simultaneously,
and many considered her to be a subject entirely
constructed by the media, especially by the British
newspapers. I would like to consider for a moment
this subject construction of Diana as a mega
mediastar from the point of view of the conflicting
images of the monarchy as mirrored in the British
public. In the way the British newspapers
constructed the Princess Diana subject there is a
clear clash between traditional and modern values, a
clash recorded on the postmodernist, fragmented,
paralogical and contingent terrain of the mass
media.
A discourse analysis of all the articles relating
to Diana, published by the Independent and the Sun
over a period of time (110 days from October 1995
to the end of February 1996

) seeks to highlight the

It is actually the time span between the first time Prince Charles and
Camilla Parker Bowles met in public and ends with the certainty that
Diana and Prince Charles would be divorced in accordance with the
Queen’s wishes. The interview which Diana gave in the BBC
programme Panorama on 20 November 1995 can be seen as a
154
strategies deployed by the media in a political and
social climate which had been dominated by the
Neo-Conservatives for 17 years (Bünger, 1998: 41-
54). The two papers in their coverage of Diana
perform a double trick on her. Sexuality is the main
topic of the journalist discourse and the material can
be assigned to two areas: a private one - Diana’s
sex appeal, her body and health - and the public
area that comprises the media and publicity, politics
and economy. The 215 articles published in the Sun

elicit for the ‘private’ thematic area ambivalent
representations of Diana’s sexuality. Her looks, her
vigour and youthfulness bring fresh air into the dusty
and rusty structures of the monarchy (“It’s blade-y
Di” one headline puts it referring to her craze for
roller blades). When it comes to her body and health,
a lot of ink is spilt over her assumed mental illness:
when she is trying out a new diet: “Diana is a fruit
climax. The TV programme was broadcast by satellite all over the
world and the Palace had not been informed in advance. In the
interview Diana talked about the break-up of her marriage, her
problems with the members of the Royal family, her health
problems, her lovers. This led to a heated public debate on
monarchy, family values, women as wives and mothers, modernity,
etc. The nation was split into backers and opponents.

The Sun is the most widely read paper in Britain, having a
readership of over 4 million and although in the run-up to the last
general election in 1997 it swung from its former Tory orientation
towards New Labour, it had been for the last two decades the major
mass medium outlet of Tory thought to ordinary people. Its main
aspiration is to appeal to ordinary people, it has a marked preference
for puns, for soundbites and an important feature is that it reports
abundantly on the Royal family.
155
and nut case” or the comments after her Panorama
interview: “Di’s in advanced stages of paranoia”.
Again there is ambivalence when she appears as the
betrayed wife, on the one hand her feelings about
Camilla are discussed in a sympathetic light, but her
jealousy of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, the nanny of the
Royal sons, is treated ruthlessly: “Di has a big diggy
at tiggy”, even “Diana’s lies over Tiggy” (Bünger,
1988:44). The Panorama interview was covered
extensively and although according to a poll
conducted by the paper, two-thirds of its readers
welcomed the Princess’s confession, the coverage
ranged from a Victorian fable to an outlet of medieval
culture and thought (Bünger, 1998: 45).
Prince Charles learned about the interview
while on a tour of farms in Germany. The title “We
are not a-moo-sed”, a typical Sun pun, quotes
Queen Victoria but also brings in associations with
the topical BSE, mad cow disease and mental illness
in general. The night before, the Prince had
applauded a Munich theatre’s production of an opera
about Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
The article comments, “She gave her husband grief
so he chopped off her head.” The Sun also adopted
a very moralist stance in connection with the
revelations of her affair with James Hewitt.
So, in this first area of the construction of her
subject through reliance on her sexuality, she is
depicted as an enemy of monarchy and of the
traditional values that legitimate that institution; she
156
is the black sheep that is obviously straying from the
straight and narrow; she is destabilising and seen as
a threat to this cluster of values and institutions
underlying them.
But on the other hand, when it comes to the
public realm, she is seen in a much better light. She
is “our queen”, “she heals wounds”, she has a new
role in the world. She is an ambassador of
Britishness in the world. She appears to the Sun as
very deft in the field of diplomacy and the highlight is
her visit to Pakistan. She is saluted for her sane
decision to separate the political situation of Pakistan
from the controversial political role of her host, the
legendary cricket player and former captain of the
Pakistan cricket team, Imran Khan. So, on the one
hand the deconstruction of the Princess as a
member of the Royal family can be seen as part of
the authoritarian, moralist, law-and-order aspects of
Thatcherism, but there is also the populist side to it
when she is reconstructed as a media megastar and
an ambassador projecting with glamour and
diplomacy Britain’s image abroad.
The Independent, as a quality paper, targets a
different section of British readership - the educated
middle class - and it has a much smaller circulation
than the Sun, only about 300,000 copies daily, and
no political affiliation. It is famous also for keeping
Royal Family reporting to a minimum (only 99
articles were published on Diana in the selected
period of time).
157
The Princess’ sex appeal plays a modest part
in the coverage, as well as her private and sex life,
as expected, in fact, of a paper of such calibre. Her
mental health is frequently discussed: “Was that
madness in her eyes?”, “The Princess of Wales
paranoid, persecuted or simply exercising power?”
The Panorama interview is seen as a media
battlefield for royal broadsides.
Her actions are much more prominent than
her body or health, but she is found wanting in the
field of diplomacy; though praised for her
humanitarian campaigning, her role as ambassador
is judged with caution and criticism. But the double
trick that we remarked in the Sun coverage of the
Princess transpires here as well, showing that neo-
Conservative values were widely shared across the
political, cultural and intellectual spectra. The ‘roll
back discourse’, the call of ‘back to basics’, shines
through these articles as well. The Independent is
highly supportive of her ‘Queen of Hearts’ quality
and as far as home policy goes, there is hope that
she might spur the modernisation of the monarchy,
the call for which is an undercurrent common to all
Independent articles (Bünger, 1998: 48-50).
In his article “When the Monarchy went into
Showbiz” (the Independent, 22 December, 1997:15)
Anthony Sampson maintains that if it is not possible
to adapt monarchy to modern times, it ought to be
abandoned altogether.
158
Royalists think that despite more and more
vigorous calls for its modernisation

, especially in the
last decade, Britain and monarchy seem to be still
strongly connected. Monarchy, they believe, still
means an important cultural, social, political and
economic asset to the national structure of Britain at
the turn of the millennium. They also discard any
correlation between republicanism and
modernisation, on the other hand. They argue that of
the continental monarchies - Denmark, Norway and

Lately there have also been suggestions for reform although the
Labour government is not eager to take the idea on board. The left-
leaning think-tank Demos, headed by Geoff Mulgan, a member of the
Downing Street policy unit, stops short of recommending abolition of
the monarchy, but argues dramatic reform is needed if the institution is
to match public expectations. Some of the radical measures proposed,
that Tony Blair immediately expressed indignation at, were to give the
public the right of veto over a new king or queen, automatic right of
succession to the throne to be abolished, scrapping of the monarch’s
political powers and the ending of the role of the sovereign as supreme
governor of the Church of England. Further recommendations in the
report, aimed at root-and-branch reform of the monarchy included the
use of state schools and the NHS by the royals. Vernon Bogdanor
firmly expresses arguments in favour of reforming the rules of
succession. He thinks that it is absolutely aberrant to maintain rules
that reflect the religious struggles of the 17
th
century. Prohibiting a
Roman Catholic or someone married to a Catholic (the case of Edward
VIII) from occupying the throne is deeply offensive to Catholics but
also to Commonwealth countries, such as Canada and Australia, that
have large Catholic populations. Also, he thinks, in an era of equality
of opportunity it is deeply anomalous for male heirs still to take
precedence over female ones - cf. the eldest daughter of the monarch
can only be heir presumptive, never heir apparent - the latter a
privilege of the male heir, since as long as the incumbent monarch
lives there are hopes for a male descendant that would become heir
apparent.(1997:59)
159
Sweden - are clearly more egalitarian and socially
progressive than Britain and they also provide a
higher level of social welfare for their citizens. In
Japan industrial success without precedent proved
to be perfectly compatible with a monarchy of a
highly traditional kind. They say that people should
not worry about the ratings of the Queen, as they still
beat those for Tony Blair and Prince Charles. The
Queen is a tough woman with a strong sense of
history. She has been through a bad patch, she
almost humbly accepted the lessons that Diana’s life
at her court and her death taught her

∗ Lord Blake,
the constitutional historian, praised the Queen for
her positive response: “You have to admire her
courage in circumstances that are very painful and
difficult.” She came to understand that the chilly
formality and the permafrost aloofnesss that she
deemed appropriate were found repellant by many.
It is truly said that on all those occasions
when crisis struck the Crown was saved by the
Prime Minister of the day. Lord Melbourne

∗ In a remarkable break with tradition the Queen paid tribute to
Princess Diana on the eve of her funeral in an unprecedented
television and radio address to the nation, from the balcony of
Buckingham Palace. She said that there were many lessons to be
learned from Diana’s life and from the extraordinary and moving
reaction to her death. Not only this broadcast of the Queen’s address
was unique. A series of gestures made by Buckingham Palace
revealed a fundamental break with the traditional protocol that
dictated to the Royal family how they should act. In a blatant
capitulation to public and media pressure the Palace flew the Union
flag at half-mast for the first time in history, during the weekend of
the funeral.
160
reinvented the young Victoria as a fairytale princess.
Disraeli transformed the reclusive widowhood of
Victoria into the elderly grandeur of the Empress of
India. Stanley Baldwin helped the throne to weather
the 1936 abdication crisis. It seems that the current
monarchy expects the intervention of Blair, who
seems likely to try to reform the institution along the
lines of the bicycle monarchies of the Nordic
countries. Although I think that some of the
republicans’ views are far too radical (cf. Polly
Toynbee, “Abolish the Monarchy and all its
Trappings”, Guardian Weekly, 13 September,
1999)

, the vitality and the viability of the institution

Polly Toynbee’s article is little short of vitriolic. It attributes all the
infantilism and the fascination with relics of the great past, as well as
the rejection of modernity, to the existence of monarchy: “Abolition
would free us from our national idolatrous obsession with these
people… we are reduced to absurd primitivism in our national
fascination with such trivia. It makes Britain the laughing stock of
the world. It diminishes and infantilises us in our own eyes. Given
the chance to vote on it the people might well decide it was time to
put away these childish things and grow up” (Guardian Weekly, 13
September 1998:12).
Besides the Cromwellian Interregnum there have been only isolated
attempts at installing a republic. The first MP to declare himself a
republican was an… aristocrat - Sir Charles Dilke - a descendant of
no less than three men who had condemned Charles I to death. He
was mainly supported by the radical mayor of Birmingham, Joseph
Chamberlain, who told Dilke in 1871 that “The Republic must come
and at the rate at which we are moving it will come in our
generation.”(quoted in Thompson, 1990:104). In 1882, however,
Dilke repudiated his republicanism as ‘opinions of political infancy’
and since then there has been no significant republican movement in
Britain. When in 1923 the Labour Party Conference last debated
republicanism it was very heavily defeated by 3,694,000 votes to
161
can only be supported by a sincere commitment of
the royals themselves to change. By way of a last
word on monarchy here is a quotation from Vernon
Bogdanor’s The Monarchy and the Constitution: “As
the 20
th
century draws to a close, constitutional
monarchy survives in a small number of favoured
nations mainly in Western Europe, in which, far from
undermining democracy, it serves to sustain and to
strengthen democratic institutions; and, if the
conjunction of monarchy and democracy may seem
a contradiction, it would be well to bear in mind
Freud’s aphorism that it is only in logic that
contradictions cannot exist.”(1997: 309).
A Brief Historical Outline of
Parliament
It is often said that Britain has the “mother of
parliaments”, with a history dating back to the elders’
councils of traditional societies and to the Witan of the
Anglo-Saxon kings or their successor in early Norman
times - the Commune Concilium. The very first
parliament in Britain was held in 1241. Until then the
medieval kings, who were expected to meet all royal
expenses private and public from their own revenue,
could ask the barons in the Great Council - the true
source of the two chambers, a gathering of leading
men who met several times a year - to grant aid in an
emergency, such as war. In the thirteenth century
however, not only private revenues but also baronial
386,000 while in December 1936, in the aftermath of Edward VIII’s
abdication, a republican motion in the Commons attracted only five
votes.
162
grants of support were no longer sufficient to meet the
expenses of government. In Simon de Montfort’s
‘parlement’ of 1265, two knights represented each
county for the first time and there were also two
representatives of each borough. Edward I, an
excellent administrator and diplomat, preserved this
representative system in what was to become the first
real parliament.
Edward I was the first to create a
representative institution which could provide the
money he needed. In 1275 he commanded each
shire and each borough to send two representatives
to his Parliament mainly to get their assent to
extraordinary taxation. This was the germ of the
House of Commons and it contained a mixture of
gentry (knights and other wealthy freemen from the
shires and merchants from the towns). The
commoners would have gladly avoided this ‘honour’
but they were afraid to anger the king. This rather
than Magna Carta was the beginning of the idea that
there should be “no taxation without representation”,
as later claimed by the American colonists of the 18
th
century in the Boston Tea Party episode of the
Independence War (cf. McDowall, 1991:30-31;
Nicolescu, 1999:257-259).
A Speaker was for the first time elected in
1376 and voiced the objections of the commoners or
their agreement, as they held very little prestige at
the time and despite the etymology of parliament (‘to
meet for parley or discussion’) the commoners had
163
no right to speak in parliamentary sessions, they
were only supposed to listen to the great feudal
magnates. Anyway, as the debates leading to the
Speaker’s address were extremely noisy and
boisterous, Edward III decided to allot a special
chamber to commoners - the Chapter House of
Westminster Abbey; later on, from 1547 to 1834, the
Commons were hosted in St Stephen’s Chapel, also
founded by Edward III.
It is interesting to note that while in most other
European countries there were three important
social categories, ‘estates’ or classes, represented in
the councils, the English parliament has almost from
its very beginning been bicameral. The explanation
lies in the fact that the former strife between the
secular and ecclesiastical authorities led to their
inclusion in one chamber. But the increasing might
and authority of the Commons can also be
accountable to its markedly homogeneous social
structure underlying the socio-political stability and
the economic prosperity of England. The upper
house too proved stable: even in the most critical
moments of its history, during Cromwell’s
Protectorate and the civil wars preceding it, the
question of eradicating the nobility never arose;
there were notably less carnage stories than in, let’s
say, the French Revolution.
The old and honourable institution of
Parliament channelled towards social utilitarianism a
nation that has been eminently active and pragmatic
164
and that has at least tried to solve all major national
controversies through public debate, as Salvador
Madariaga beautifully puts it (1982:374-394).
Although the main function of the Commons
was juridical, over the course of time they began to
realize the strength of their position. By the middle of
the 14
th
century the formula had appeared which in
substance was the same as that used nowadays in
voting resources to the Crown, namely “by the
Commons with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and
Temporal”. In 1407 Henry IV pledged that henceforth
all money grants should be approved by the House
of Commons before being considered by the Lords.
A similar advance was made in the legislative field.
Originally the king’s legislation needed only the
assent of his councillors, but starting with the right of
individual commoners to present petitions, the
Commons as a body gained the right to participate in
giving their requests (i.e. their bills) the form of law.
The subsequent development of the power of the
House of Commons was built upon these
foundations. The constitutional developments of the
17
th
century led to Parliament securing its position as
supreme legislative authority.
In 1832 the relative harmony between the two
houses was shattered. The Great Reform Act ended
the Lords’ control over the Commons by extending
the franchise to the lower middle classes and
removing the Lords’ ability to nominate members.
The Commons now ensured a very solid base in
165
society; they came to represent wider interests, and
the growth of the Liberal Party reflected this change.
By the mid-19
th
century, what with a small electorate,
loose party discipline and MPs with private incomes
who did not rely too much on party affiliation for re-
election, “the House could sack Cabinets, remove
individual ministers, it could force the government to
disclose secret information; it set up select
committees to carry out investigations and it rewrote
government bills on the floor of the house”
(Mackintosh, 1977:613). Conflicting interests were
manifested in a series of clashes between the liberal-
controlled House of Commons and the Conservative-
dominated Lords. There were further proofs in the
first part of this century of the contempt in which the
Lords held the Commons. When in 1909 the Liberal
Chancellor declared implacable war on poverty and
squalor via a package of tax increases, the Lords
threw it out, by 350 votes to 75 (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998: 124-125). Although there was a
Liberal majority in the Commons, in two elections in
1910, George V had to threaten the Lords with the
creation of sufficient non-Conservative peers to make
them give in.

The House of Lords
The Upper House consists of the Lords
Spiritual and the Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual
are the Archbishops of Cantebury and York, the
Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester and the
166
following 21 next most senior diocesan bishops of
the Church of England (26 in all).
The Lords Temporal consist of all hereditary
peers and peeresses of England, Scotland, Great
Britain and the United Kingdom, of life peers created
to assist the House in its judicial duties and the
Lords of Appeal or ‘law lords’ - 22 of them, including
the Lord Chancellor. The House of Lords is also the
final court of appeal for civil cases in Britain and for
criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern
Ireland. Although until very recently the House has
still been disproportionately hereditary, the life peers
tended to play a fuller and more regular part in the
proceedings.
Moreover, since 1963 it has been possible to
disclaim hereditary peerages within 12 months of
succession, and disclaimants lose their right to sit in
the House but gain the right to vote and stand as
candidates at parliamentary elections. The number
of Lords exceeds 1,200, although not all the peers
with a right to sit in the House of Lords attend the
sittings. The average daily attendance is 320 and
they receive no salary for their parliamentary work,
but can claim for expenses incurred in attending the
House. The average number of sitting days is 150 in
the Lords and 168 in the Commons. Parliament
stands prorogued (suspended) for about a week and
then the new session opens. At the start of each
session the Queen’s speech to Parliament outlines
the Government’s policies and proposed legislative
167
programme. There are adjournments at night,
weekends, Christmas, Easter, the late Spring bank
Holiday and during a long summer break starting in
late July or early August.
Over 750 of the peers are hereditary. A
significant number of hereditary peerages were
created during this century and an important number
of them under the premiership of Lloyd George
(1916-1922). Some of them however date back to
the Middle Ages: the Barony of Mowbray, 1283, the
Dukedom of Norfolk and the Earldom of Shrewsbury,
1483 and 1442 respectively. Hereditary peers
however do not always keep such a low profile and
they are not always ‘backwoodsmen’. Lord Home
was Foreign Secretary under Macmillan and Heath,
Lord Shackleton was a senior member of Harold
Wilson’s government, Lord Carrington was Defence
Secretary in the Heath Government and Foreign
Secretary in Thatcher’s government.
Life peers have been created since 1958, the
vast majority of them being distinguished men and
women from a wide variety of walks of life who have
been so honoured in recognition of their political or
public services. They may be former civil servants or
diplomats who retired at the top of their profession,
distinguished soldiers who rose to the highest
military rank, successful industrialists or prominent
trade union leaders, distinguished scientists or
academics. However, the largest single category of
life peers is formed of former politicians from the
168
House of Commons or local government. They are
either retired senior ministers or very senior
backbenchers whom the Prime Minister wishes to
reward with a seat in the Lords. Ian Gilmour says:
“The House of Lords does something to reduce the
hazards of a political career and embalms without
burying a number of useful politicians” (1969: 302).
Since the introduction of life peerages, the dynamics
of the Lords sittings have changed substantially for
the better, average attendance has doubled and the
average length of sittings has increased from three
and a half to six and a half hours per day.
Tony Blair is said to have little sympathy for
the Lords. In reply to the assertion by Lord
Cranbourne (the Tory leader in the Lords, who can
trace his line back to the Cecils) that the chamber he
graces is often in touch with the common man, he
derisively asked about the three generations of the
Bricket family: the first had bought his title in the
early part of the century, the second was a Nazi
sympathiser and hated Scottish landowner and the
third was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for
making an insurance claim on Ferraris he had
concealed in a lake (Ewan Mac Askill, The Guardian,
8 January, 1998).
It is certainly preposterous to claim that the
Lords reflect the common people, when only about 5
per cent can claim a working class origin. In terms of
education 47 per cent of them went to Eton and 40
169
per cent to Oxbridge (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:
126)

.
The functions of the House of Lords are
mainly: legislative delay - they can delay for about
one year the passage of Bills approved by the
Commons; the power of legislative revision - the
ability to amend and improve Bills inadequately
considered by the Commons; and the power of well-
informed deliberation - the ability to debate issues of
the day in a more knowledgeable and less partisan
way than this is done in the Commons.
The supporters of the Upper House often claim
that the Lords provide a useful second opinion on
legislation; amendments can be suggested and new
opinions expressed; they have more time than the
Commons, so they can discuss a bill in far greater
detail. The discussion can be freer than in the

The Lords have often been steeped in ridicule on account of their
eccentricity or their aloofness from ordinary people’s lives and
problems. John Wells’ The House of Lords (1997) reminds us of
some anecdotes that delight the Brits. He refers for example to Lord
Clancarty’s debate of 1979, a peak in the proceedings of the Upper
House. A member of the Ancient Astronaut Society, he claimed to
be in communication with higher beings and urged the government
to expose the conspiracy between London, Moscow and Washington
to cover up the numerous sightings over the years of flying saucers.
In the history of anecdotes about the Lords one that should figure
prominently is about the Duke of Devonshire, who dreamed that he
was making a speech in the House of Lords and woke up to find that
he was; Lord Faringdon, who instead of addressing his colleagues
with the customary ‘My Lords’ used ‘My Dears’ instead; Michael
Foot, the Old Labour left-wing politician who, when asked whether
he attended the ceremony of enthronement (the investiture) of
Margaret Thatcher, answered acidly: “Entombment, you mean.”
170
Commons because the Lords do not have to worry
about their constituencies or about offending their
electors. They are also a protean mix of experience
and wisdom so their thoughts and ideas can often be
illuminating and even provocative.
The Lords do not interfere with bills
concerned primarily with finance (about one-quarter
of all legislation) but have a key role in other
respects. Thus by introducing non-controversial
legislation, particularly in connection with local
government, the Lords relieve the burden on the
overworked Commons. About 40 per cent of all
government legislation was introduced via the Lords
during 1974-79 (Jones and Kavangh, 1998: 128).
The Lords revise and improve bills on their way to
the Royal Assent, and the government often uses
this stage to introduce its own amendments and
improvements.
Its judicial function is important as it is the
highest court in the land, a function which is
perfomed by the law lords including the Lord
Chancellor, ex-Lord Chancellors and Lords of
Appeal in Ordinary (including those retired). They do
not pass judgement, rather they clarify the law and
give opinions on appeals. This is indeed a vital
function and their judgements tend to have great
authority and have influenced the development of
English law over the years. Usually appeals are
heard by a committee of five judges and decisions
are reached by majority vote.
171
The House of Lords Select Committee on the
European Community matches that of the House of
Commons. Both these committees are constantly
involved in the scrutiny of the European Commission
proposals received by Parliament. Sixty to seventy
peers are involved in its subcommittees and its
reports are widely read and are very influential. They
also set up a number of ad-hoc committees on
specific topics and are very scrupulous in consulting
expert opinion.
However, over the years, there has been a lot
of disagreement over maintaining the Upper
Chamber unchanged. The hereditary principle, it was
thought, as in the case of the monarch, is totally out
of tune with democracy; the Lords have a poor
attendance record and represent an outdated cluster
of values no longer defensible in the contemporary
world - inequality, the right to rule, wealth, exclusive
private education, class privileges. The hereditary,
non-elected peers should not be allowed to frustrate
the will of the elected chamber. As Conservatives
tend to have a majority over Labour in the Lords and
as they can increase their number in time of need by
summoning the less regular attenders (the
backwoodsmen) they are able to delay and amend
radical policies for party political reasons. Many think
that several functions could much more effectively
be performed by the Commons or, in the case of the
judicial function, by a separate institution completely
unconnected with a second legislative chamber.
172
Critics often air the view that a reformed chamber
with younger and more dynamic members might
perform these tasks more effectively.
The House of Lords that Bagehot described in
1867 as one of the ‘dignified’ as opposed to the
‘efficient’ parts of the constitution, has had a long
history marked by considerable institutional
resilience. The 1911 Parliament Act provided the
statutory basis for the present limitation of the Lords’
power. The main provisions of this act were that
Money Bills were meant to become law within one
month of being sent to the Lords; that the legislation
delaying prerogative was reduced to two years; and
the maximum span of a Parliament should be
reduced from seven to five years. Subsequently, the
1949 Parliament Act further reduced the delaying
power of the Lords to one year, but failed to deal
with other important matters such as its composition
and functions.
Other attempts at reforming the Upper House
were made in 1957, when daily allowances were
introduced for travel costs and attendance at
sessions, and in 1958 the Life Peerage Act made
possible the creation of life peers, including women
life peers in their own right. In 1963 the Peerage Act
allowed hereditary peers to disclaim their titles and
make themselves eligible for election or re-election
to the Lower House. This act was the direct
consequence of a campaign led by Tony Benn, at
173
the time Viscount Stansgate, who was determined to
change the law

.
The one further attempt at major reform was
the ill-fated Parliament Number 2 Bill, which was
introduced by the Labour government in 1968. It
involved both a reduction in the total number of
peers and an attack upon the hereditary principle
(Forman, 1998: 139). The proposal was for the
House to be made up of 250 peers with voting rights
who would be appointed by the government of the
day, together with a large number of peers who
would be entitled to speak but who would be barred
from voting. It was a clear case of an attempt to
make the Lords, very much as in the 1999 reform, a
kind of ‘echo chamber for the government’, as the
proposal was that the composition of the appointed
chamber be checked from time to time and altered in
consequence so as to ensure that the government
had a voting majority over the principal opposition
party. Also the delaying prerogative was to be halved
to six months. The proposals were abandoned by
the government in 1969 because of a sustained and
effective filibuster

by backbenchers on both sides of

The grand old man of the left is one of the most troublesome and
radical politicians even for his own party. Although he said he would
stand down as an MP at the next election, at 74 he still promises to
remain a thorn in the side of Blair’s New Labour because he thinks
his mission is to continue campaigning for social justice, democratic
socialism and peace. Harold Wilson once memorably described him
as a man “who immatured with age”.

Filibustering is a means of delaying and preventing action by
making very slow and long speeches.
174
the Commons led by Enoch Powell for the
Conservatives and Michael Foot for Labour. In 1977
Lord Carrington, the Conservative leader in the
House of Lords, proposed the creation of a reformed
Chamber whose members would be elected by
proportional representation from large regional
constituencies. His main argument was that such a
chamber would reflect public opinion differently from
the Commons, since the type of constituencies,
dates, method of election would be different from
those in elections for the Commons. In 1978 a
different set of proposals was put forward by Lord
Home according to which the membership of the
Lords was to be reduced to 400, of whom one-third
had to be nominated by the political parties and two-
thirds elected through proportional representation
from about 250 large territorial constituencies.
Thatcher never gave much thought to Lords reform,
so neither of these proposals was ever implemented,
also because most Conservatives had gone cold on
anything connected to proportional representation
(ibid.: 149-150). In 1980, Tony Benn proposed at the
Labour Party Conference that a future Labour
government should be prepared to create as many
as 1,000 peers so that the Lords would vote for their
own abolition (Bogdanor, 1997:120).
Labour set up a committee in 1998 to
examine the New Labour manifesto commitment to
reform the Lords. A bill to abolish the powers of
hereditary peers makes provisions for a two-stage
175
reform, Stage 2 being concerned with the shape of
the chamber. It will be however very hard for the
New Labour to create the necessary legislative time.
Tony Blair’s ideas for a reformed Upper Chamber
are strangely similar to Cromwell’s Other House,
which was to exclude almost all hereditary peers and
be composed largely of his nominees and
dependents. Under Stage One 92 of the 751
hereditary peers have lost their 800-year-old rights
to sit and vote. Hereditary peers, who hope to
remain in the interim House of Lords before they are
removed in the final stage of the reform, had to
endure the humiliating process of putting their
names forward for election. The hereditaries have
each been allowed 75-word election addresses. Lord
Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords whose two-
line election address outlining his parliamentary
career is one of the shortest, called on the
government to await the outcome of the Royal
Commission on the future of the second chamber.
He said: “In a matter of weeks the commission is
going to produce the holy grail, the answer to the
problem of the last 100 years on the future of the
House of Lords. Wouldn’t it be far wiser even now at
this late stage to drop this half-way House, this cack-
handed approach to constitutional reform and let us
know what we are really going to get?” (Guardian
Weekly, October 28-November 3, 1999:19). The
reform bill passed its final hurdle so that on the 17
November, 1999 when the Queen opened a new
176
parliamentary session she spoke to a severely
pared-down second chamber made up of life peers,
the 26 Anglican bishops and the 92 hereditary peers
after their unique election was completed

.
Labour ’s proposal is fair in resolving that
legislative power should not be conferred by birth.
Lord Wakeham was appointed to head the Royal
Commission that will consider the final shape of the
second chamber. It was a good move, attesting to
Blair’s savvy, to choose for the job a Tory who is
also a practically minded person, which made it
more difficult for the Conservatives to condemn
Lords reform as a self-serving Labour scheme.
In the 50’s Peter Bromhead was still confident
of the importance of the House of Lords for British
society: “So long as the House of Lords continues by
the exercise of voluntary restraint to perform a
restricted function in the exercise of political power,

This was not accepted without anger however. In April an indignant
alliance of peers accused the government of undemocratic plans to
abolish hereditary voting rights. The Lord Chancellor, the
mastermind behind the House of Lords Bill, Lord Irvine, warned his
colleagues that if they misbehaved all bets were off with regard to
the compromise negotiated by Lord Cranbourne the Tory leader of
the Lords before William Hague dismissed him. Many peers in the
Lords, not all hereditary, protested at what a successful amendment
tabled by Lord Cobbold called a radical alteration for party political
advantage without agreement on Stage Two reform and without
making the Lords more democratic. Lord Irvine’s warning that the
Government would not countenance any material disruption of its
legislative programme prompted Lord Cranbourne to accuse him of
trying to bushwhack the House over what he called a nasty and
ineffectual blueprint (Guardian Weekly, April 11, 1999). The debate
lasted for two days more or less round the clock.
177
there is little reason for altering either its powers or
its composition” (1958: 16). Enoch Powell more than
10 years later thought that it was at worst a useful
device. But then even one of its members, thought
certainly not a typical one, Lord Foot says: “It really
can do very little. It performs a minor useful function
of looking at matters in detail which the Commons
has not got the time to do, but that is no satisfactory
bicameral system” (Hansard, 18 November 1980).
It is important to remember, however, that the
Lords were rather more ‘effective’ at times than
‘dignified’. From 1979 to 1990 they voted down
Thatcher’s legislation over 150 times. Governments
were defeated in the Lords: Heath suffered 26
defeats between 1970 and 1974, and Labour 355
between 1975 and 1979. It is almost paradoxical that
some of the most severe blows were dealt by a
preponderantly Conservative house at
Conservatives. This suggests that as they do not
work under the pressure of seizing and keeping
power, free as they are of constituency and re-
election pressures, they take their role seriously as
guardians of the constitution (Jones and Kavanagh,
1998: 131).

The House of Commons
Unlike the ‘dignified’ elements of the
constitution, the House of Commons has real power
in the British political system, although this power is
by no means something absolute and its exercise
178
has had its ups and downs in recent and more
remote history.
The modern House of Commons is neither
the government of the country nor even the principal
place where most of the legislation is conceived. At
the same time it is essentially the stage upon which
the party political battle is fought; it is the sounding-
board for popular representation and redress, the
proving ground for ministers and shadow ministers
and the principal forum within which legislation and
other actions of government are criticised and
asserted between general elections (Forman,
1989:153).
Let us see if these essential functions
assigned to this important political body in the latter
half of the 19
th
century have changed. In 1867
Walter Bagehot suggested that the functions of
Parliament were mainly the following: to elect a
Ministry, legislate, teach the nation, express the
nation’s will and bring matters to the nation’s
attention (1978:170). In his Parliament, Jennings
(1969:7-8) describes these as being: to question and
debate the policy of the government and in doing so
to bring home the unpopularity (or popularity) of a
particular line of policy. L.S. Amery described them
as being to secure full discussion and ventilation of
all matters as the condition of giving its assent to
bills or its support to ministers. Broadly speaking
such descriptions are still valid today.
179
The House of Commons is elected during the
general election held at least every five years. Britain
is divided into 659 constituencies, each of which
returns one member to the House of Commons (529
from England, 72 from Scotland, 40 from Wales, and
18 from Northern Ireland). Each MP normally
represents between 76 and 102,000 voters (who
make up a constituency). If an MP dies or retires
during the time between elections a by-election is
held to elect their successor

.
The Speaker is the chief officer of the House
of Commons, elected by MPs to preside over the
House. Her three deputies the Chairman of Ways
and Means and two deputy chairmen, are the next
most important officers of the House. They take no
partisan part in debates or votes unless a vote is
tied, which is a rare occasion, and in that case they
have the decisive vote, or casting ballot

*. Paid

Most MPs will come from one of the main political parties but there
are exceptions, a recent one is the well-known journalist Martin Bell
elected as Independent for Tatton MP in 1997. To ensure the size of
constituencies is kept roughly equivalent, four permanent
Parliamentary Boundary Commissions, one each for England, Wales,
Scotland and Northern Ireland, review the constituencies
periodically.

* The current very successful and firm Speaker of the House is Betty
Boothroyd, who became a Deputy Speaker in 1987 and in 1992
became the first woman Speaker of the Commons. As the Speaker
must be non-partisan politically she had to relinquish on appointment
her former Labour Party membership. Because of her non-party
position it is customary for the Speaker to be re-elected to
subsequent parliaments without having to contest the election. At
one time the Speaker was appointed by the Crown and controlled
debates on his royal master’s behalf. Even today the Speaker is
180
office-holders in the government who are entitled to
sit on the first bench, hence ‘front-benchers’, make
up about 100 of the total number of MPs. The figure
includes the government Whips (the name is derived
from the whipper-in in fox-hunting whose job is to
ensure that the hounds are kept under control

∗∗
(Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:140)) who draw
ministerial salaries but do not speak in debates or in
government departments.
On the Opposition side the so-called ‘Shadow
Cabinet’ is made up of twenty senior members of the
Conservative party. The remainder formed of over
450 members are all backbenchers, which means
that they have no direct involvement with the
government or the tasks of front bench Opposition.
Some of them have been in the House a long time
and they exert a good deal of influence within their
own parties. However, most of them are relatively
expected to show reluctance to assume office, which is why at the
installation ceremony two members are deputed to ‘drag’ the newly
appointed Speaker to the chair of the House.

∗∗ The government Whips constitute important channels between
backbenchers and frontbenchers. They are chosen within the party
and their duties include keeping members informed on forthcoming
parliamentary business, maintaining the party’s voting strength,
ensuring members’ attendance during important debates and also
passing on to the party leadership the opinions of backbench
members. The Whips also indicate the importance their party
attaches to a vote on a particular issue by underlining items of
business (once, twice, three times) on the notice sent to MPs. Failure
to comply with a three-line whip (the most important) is usually seen
as rebellion against the party (as has happened quite often lately with
bills proposed by the New Labour government).
181
junior and have been in the House less than 10 years,
trying to make their way as well as they can. They
seek, for example, to attract the attention and
approval of the party Whips by playing an active part
in the proceedings both in the Chamber and ‘upstairs’
in Committee

. When their party is in government the
main function of backbenchers is to support it with
their votes and to a lesser extent with their voices in
Question Time and debate. Over the years the
backbenches have been a nursery for important
ministers. After serving for some years in the House
and making their mark in debates, select committees,
etc. they are usually rewarded with junior ministerial
office. An example would be Gordon Brown, the
present-day Chancellor of the Exchequer, who
established his reputation in debates against
Thatcher’s Chancellor, Nigel Lawson (1988-89).
The main functions of the Lower House, still
much redolent of those mentioned by Bagehot and
other theorists of the 19
th
century, are the following:
1) It sustains government. Although the
House’s power is not what it used to be, it is still very
significant, since elections to the House decide the
political complexion of the government (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998:136) and the majority party in the

This is the Standing Committee formed of parliament members that
considers possible changes to a Bill after its second reading in the
House of Commons. The period during which this special committee
examines in detail a bill is called the ‘committee stage’ and it is
followed by the report stage when there is more discussion.
182
House provides the support needed. Still Harold
Wilson in 1974 was the leader of a minority Labour
government, but ironically the lack of overall majority
triggered off vibrance and vigour in the House’s
activities. The House defeated Callaghan’s
government after the dramatic Winter of Discontent
(1978-79) on a vote of no confidence, the first time
this had happened since 1941 (the overall economic
crisis was one of the principal reasons of the defeat;
the other was devolution proposals which were
acceptable neither to a significant minority of its own
Labour backbenchers nor to any minor parties, for
that matter).
2) Parliamentary control and scrutiny of the
executive is a vital function of MPs, who are called
upon to control the activities of the executive and set
limits to government actions. It is the most difficult of
functions as, with the steady extension of government
activity over the last 50 years it became clear that the
traditional approach to ensuring ministerial
accountability to the Commons at Question Time was
not sufficient and had to be supplemented by other
institutional devices (select committees, pressure
groups, etc). The government has to explain and
defend its policies convincingly in the Commons;
should it lose its argument on a regular basis, its
credibility would be under threat and it would lower, of
course, the morale of its supporters.
An important means of scrutinising the Prime
Minister is Question Time which, prior to Blair’s
183
victory in the elections of 1997, used to take place
for two fifteen-minute sessions every Tuesday and
Thursday and attracted disproportionate attention,
because it was mainly a heated engagement
between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime
Minister. Blair decided to take this boisterous edge
off the event and Question Time has been revamped
into one half-hour session on Wednesday
afternoons.
3) The Commons as “sounding board of the
nation”. The representative character of the House
with the MPs standing for their constituencies
secures a fair geographical representation of the
country’s interests, concerns and needs; and of
course an important role of MPs is to publicise their
constituents’ views and to seek the redress of their
grievances. They can represent these views in a
wide variety of ways: in major debates, on Ten-
Minute Rule Bills, emergency debates under
Standing Order No.9, adjournment debates, through
written and oral questions, etc.
4) The legislative process. The scrutiny and
approval of legislation is another well recognised
function of the Commons. The legislative process
begins with a Green Paper, which makes suggestions
for legislation. Comments are invited from anyone
who wants to write in, whether an individual or an
organisation and all comments are looked at. The
next stage is a White Paper, which contains firm
proposals for a Bill, and again comments are invited.
184
Then the Bill is published and introduced in the House
of Commons, where the first stage is called the First
Reading: printed copies of the Bill are laid on the table
of the House and made available in the Vote Office
for all MPs and other interested parties to read and
comment upon.
After an appropriate interval the Second
Reading follows, when about six hours are spent in
debates during which the broad purposes of the Bill
are discussed. At the end a vote is taken to show
whether or not the House approves the Bill. At the
end of the debates the voting may or may not be
whipped, which means that MPs are expected to
vote as their party has decided they should (which
as we have seen is not always what really happens).
If the bill is approved at Second Reading, it is then
referred to a Standing Committee ‘upstairs’ where it
is debated by a committee of between 16 and 50
MPs chosen to reflect the party balance in the House
as a whole. It is debated clause by clause and line
by line, and lots of amendments may be introduced
during this stage. Some more controversial bills
might take as long as 100 hours or more during the
Committee stage.
Then the Bill is returned to the floor of the
House, where the Report Stage and the Third
Reading follow. These may last for six hours or
more, taken together. During these stages the
House as a whole debates the amendments passed
by the Committee and they may add their own
185
amendments or new clauses. The Third Reading is
usually no more than a brief and fairly repetitive
debate on the general strengths and merits or de-
merits of the bill. Another whipped vote is taken. The
scrutiny is complete, unless the House of Lords
insists upon any substantial amendments. If this
happens the Commons has later to consider them. If
the amendments are approved by the Commons the
latter simply sends a message notifying its
agreement. Since the vast majority of amendments
by the Lords are inspired by the need for technical
improvements, such amendments usually cause no
problems in the Commons. They merely underline
the usefulness of a bicameral legislative procedure.
Once it is through the Lords a Bill is virtually in
its final form awaiting the royal rubber stamp - the
Royal Assent - to become an Act of Parliament. The
whole process can take up to a year, but in special
cases pressure is put on the Commons and Lords to
pass a bill very quickly (e.g. bills that deal with civil
disorder, terrorism, etc); sometimes the process has
to be completed within 24 hours.
Most legislation passes through the
Commons as the government wishes, but on a
significant number of occasions the Commons have
emphatically thrown it out. As examples we can
mention the Reform of the Lords legislation (1969),
when the Wilson government was defeated, as well
as in the case of industrial relations reform in the
same year. The Heath government suffered six
186
defeats in 1970-1974, and the Labour government
42 in 1974-79. A lot of backbenchers rebelled
against legislation suggested under Margaret
Thatcher’s premiership. MPs’ pay, increase of
parental contributions to students’ grants, the Shops
Bill that voiced the wish of many business-minded
enterprise people to keep their shops open on
Sunday (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:138). Since
1997 under Tony Blair, the Lords as well as
backbenchers have rebelled on several occasions
especially against cuts in welfare services (some of
which are mentioned in the Fourth Chapter).
5) Political education. The house plays an
important role in the democratic education of the
nation. The various stages in the journey of a bill are
as many occasions for citizens at large to tune in to
national debates on vital issues that are going to
influence the lives of common people. Ministers have
to justify their actions on the floor of the House or in
the Standing Committee rooms. Few people read the
Hansard reports

today, but edited extracts appear in
the quality press and on the radio. According to
David Wood (The Times, 7 August, 1980) the Lower
House is “the great democratic educator, the
sounding-board without compare”.

This is a printed verbatim report of everything said and done during
the proceedings of both parliamentary Houses. In the Commons
several officers serve in the Department of the Official report
(Hansard). The minutes and speeches that make it up are published
daily. The records of the Lords date back to 1497 and those of the
Commons to 1547.
187
Very many people in this media–bound age
watch the proceedings on TV. This used to be a very
contentious issue in 1966, when televising the
debates in the Lower House was first proposed. The
proposal was heavily defeated, the main contention
being that this would be an intrusion and would
affect the distinctive atmosphere of the House…
After sustained effort in the following two decades
the balance was finally tipped in favour of the
cameras in November 1989, when the Lords bowed
to the inevitable (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:145).
The ‘biggest hit’ of the televised proceedings was the
twice-weekly clash between Thatcher and Kinnock at
Prime Minister’s Question Time, although Thatcher
fiercely opposed through her successive
premierships the idea of televising the proceedings
in the House. Summarised highlights of House
proceedings are shown at 8.15 am on BBC, but
there is also extensive coverage in the major news
bulletins.
The decline of Commons power. By the mid
70’s it was believed that the Commons had reached
its ‘nadir of impotence’ (Walkland and Ryle,
1981:279-304) and had been relegated to a
subsidiary role, almost matching the ritual status
(according to their critics) of the Lords. It was alleged
that most of its functions were of diminished import
and that the amendments introduced to bills
proposed by the government were not substantial.
Professor John Griffith reported that during three
188
sessions in the early 1970’s 99.9 per cent of
government amendments to bills were passed, while
only 10 per cent of government backbench and 5 per
cent of opposition amendments were approved
(quoted in Jones and Kavanagh, 1998: 136). It is
generally felt that somehow the persistent fight for
independent powers from an executive dominated by
the monarch and the nobility, over time, has sapped
the energy of the House; so now the Commons
bows to an executive controlled by its own
representatives. As Lord Hailsham memorably
described the situation, governments have become
‘elective dictatorships’. Some of the factors that have
contributed to this decline of influence and power are
given in the following paragraphs.
Firstly, there is the growing importance of
parties in the political life of the country. They started
to by-pass Parliament in reaching out to their
electors, realising that support and therefore
allegiance to their parties were instrumental in their
chances for re-election.
Secondly, as Tony Wright, an important
Labour MP and political scientist, argues, Parliament
as a forum for national policy debate does not really
exist: “What exists is government and opposition
locked in an unending election campaign on the floor
and in the committee rooms of the House of
Commons.” He surveys the main functions of
Parliament and concludes that none are performed
really well. He concludes: “There is no institution
189
more in need of reform… the reform agenda has
been sitting there for years… Parliament does not
exist - but the task is to make it exist” (Wright,
1997:32).
Thirdly, the power of the Prime Minister has
tended to become greater and greater, as he or she
has exerted sometimes a very tight control (as in the
case of Thatcher and Blair) over the hundred
members of the Cabinet. MPs are reluctant to
challenge prime ministerial endorsement by acting
independently. Neil Kinnock famously expressed this
outrage at the growing power of the Prime Minister:
“The House has become little more than an
Edwardian fan club for the Prime Minister” (quoted in
Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:134).
Furthermore, the Commons’ prerogatives
have been superseded by many other governmental
agencies: the civil service (about half a million are
employed in the civil service now compared to about
50,000 at the beginning of the 20
th
century). The
growth of bureaucracy has also led to the delegation
of a growing volume of legislation, with Parliament
agreeing only the framework while often the
important details are entrusted to civil servants.
What is more, pressure groups have been on the
rise over the last decade or so. These interest
groups are an important source of advice,
information and lobbying. Moreover, new legislation
is often formulated by ministers and civil servants in
conjunction with pressure group representatives.
190
The capacity of MPs to placate the vigorous action of
this ‘triumvirate’ is lessening.
As with many European Parliaments, British
membership of the EU leads to important decisions
concerning the UK economy being taken by
Community institutions rather than the House of
Commons. The means of direct democracy such as
referenda have also had an important effect on
eroding the power of the Commons.

The movement for reform has gained ground since
the 60’s and some of the recent reforms stemmed
from a report of the Select Committee on Procedure
in 1978 to the effect that the “relationship between
the House and the government is now weighed in
favour of the government to a degree which arouses
widespread anxiety and is inimical to the proper
working of our parliamentary democracy” (quoted in
Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:143). Allegations and
evidence of sleaze among MPs in the 1990’s and the
employment of political placemen in quangos have
brought the political system into discredit. A
committee under Lord Nolan was set up in October
1994 to make recommendations on Standards in
Public Life and a code of conduct for MPs was
approved.
This important report that decried the
Commons’ slide towards rubber stamp status vs.
executive action, was followed by some reform: a
191
House of Commons Commission was set up in
1978 which gave the House a greater measure of
political and financial control over its own
administration and personnel appointments. Two
more bodies were set up - the National Audit Office
and Public Accounts Commission – which oversee
the checks on spending by governmental authorities
(The Exchequer and Audit Department). Special
standing committees, ad hoc groupings that
scrutinise bills in detail during the committee stage,
were soon followed by others in an attempt to
balance out the pressure groups.
One of the most important reforms initiated
was the setting up of select committees in the wake
of the 1978 report. In 1979 most of the old
committees that counted very little were abolished
and 14 new ones were established for Agriculture,
Defence, Education, Employment, Wales, etc. They
are made up of 156 MPs in all and they have so far
produced over 400 reports on a whole range of
topics. Devolution and proportional representation
might also have important effects on the activities of
the House of Commons in the future. Once in power
Labour established the Select Committee on the
Modernisation of the House of Commons. The
leader of the House, Ann Taylor, set out the
government’s four priorities on 22 May 1997: more
effective legislation through the publication of more
draft bills and more extensive consultation; holding
ministers to account through the hourly afternoon
192
sessions for questioning the Prime Minister and
other ministers; improving the monitoring of
delegated legislation, much of which currently
passes relatively unscrutinised; and the reducing of
the ceremonial procedures often criticised as time-
consuming and unnecessary (Jones and Kavanagh,
1998:148).
In conclusion, while the House of Commons is
in theory at least supreme in the constitutional
arrangements of Britain, in practice it is usually
controlled by government in most normal
Parliamentary circumstances. The position is
however open to new challenges to the balance of
power coming from far-reaching reforms that are
under way. Nothing can be anticipated with any
certainty, but the consequences of devolution
(reduction in size), proportional representation (new
parties being represented in the House), increased
demands for final accountability of the executive to
Parliament, and the strengthened role of select
committees and of the Nolan committee, also better
contacts between Westminster and the European
Parliament, might add important dimensions to this
issue in the not so distant future.
Chapter Three

193
The Thatcherite Years

Within cultural studies there has been considerable
debate in evaluating the significance and novelty of
Thatcherism. The term was originally given cultural
currency by Stuart Hall and it signified the disturbing
popularity of a deeply authoritarian right-wing
government and the problems and challenges it
presented for the Left. It was first used as an ‘ism’ in
Hall’s influential article published in 1979, “The Great
Moving Right Show” (Franklin, Lury and Stacey,
1991: 21). There were however tendencies in the
decade to ‘naturalise’ and stabilise it as a political
phenomenon that reinforced its own self-definition as
something inevitable, a permanent fixture in the
political future of Britain.
But the important thing would be rather to emphasise
the constructedness of the term, to problematise it,
to prove its contextualisation and its contingency not
as a unified coherent set of values, ideas, practices
but its construction in relation to different academic
and political contexts.
Hall sees Thatcherism as a combination of neo-
liberalism in terms of a laissez-faire economy and an
authoritarian conservatism in terms of law and order
and the power of the state in everyday life.
194
Thatcher’s extraordinary success lies in her capacity
to build images, her extraordinary power to
constitute identities which people recognise:
national, familial and individual. She is also
particularly skilful in setting boundaries around
insiders: patriots, entrepreneurs, competitive
individuals, homeowners and outsiders (‘the other’):
miners, black Brits, socialists, gays and lesbians, the
Argies, single mothers, grouse moor politicians,
‘wets’, etc. This dichotomic tendency was also
accompanied by ambiguity and often by the utter
blurring of the boundaries separating the referential
areas of the us and the them within Thatcher’s
Britain. They were highly contradictory, partial, never
fully unifying one set of interests, offering multiple,
diverse, contradictory identifications.
Attention has been focused for example on the
relationship of Thatcherism to other forms of
conservatism and the role of the left in providing, or
rather in failing to provide, a sufficiently popular
alternative to the Thatcherite ethos. This debate about
Thatcherism within cultural studies is part of a more
comprehensive debate within left politics and Marxist
theory about how the dominant culture reproduces itself
and, in particular, about the role of ideology in this
process.
I am going to highlight in the following pages the
195
main terms of the debate around Thatcherism, a
debate that proves to this day that The Lady’s
Shadow still hangs heavy not only over the
Conservative Party but also to a very large extent
over Blair’s Britain thus further proving itself
‘anything but impermanent’.
It is said that Margaret Thatcher is one of those
towering personalities over whom, as with Napoleon
for example, it is very hard not to take sides. The
main questions that I will try to raise are: whether it
is true that she was a providential leader for Britain’s
economy; in what ways did she reform Old Tory
policies, and how successful was she in holding the
balance between neo-liberal and authoritarian statist
ideas? What was her rhetoric based on? Was she
engaged in any meaningful redefinition of
Englishness and if so, to what effects? How
gendered were her policies, if at all? But on top of
everything else: what is Thatcher’s legacy?
Thatcher the ‘Providential Leader’
To understand Thatcher’s economic reforms we
have to start with a survey of the economic decline
of Britain starting with the 60’s and with considering
196
the main factors that contributed to that economic
slump.
Through their participation in the wartime coalition
the trade unions had become a decisive factor in
British domestic politics. After the Labour victory in
the national elections of 5 July 1945 the trade unions
were among the architects of the modern welfare
state. The organisation of the public health system, a
mixed economy including the nationalisation of key
industries (coal, steel railway) and full employment
based on economic growth were supposed to be the
solid bases of the postwar consensus. High taxation
became necessary to finance the improvement of
the welfare state, wages had to follow prices. Social
Democracy was seen as a guarantee for political
stability and it was accepted and defended by all
major political parties, including the Conservatives.
The British economy suffered in the following years
from a lack of competitiveness in the international
market, the result of a partial disregard of the rules
of the free market and of the delay in restructuring
industry and modernizing it for fear of
unemployment. Widespread prosperity and
economic growth in the USA and Western Europe
during the 50’s and 60’s initially favoured the British
system of social democracy (the memorable words
of Harold Macmillan, often called Supermac, about
the prosperous British economy in the late 50’s
197
were: “Let’s be frank about it; most of our people
have never had it so good” - from a speech given in
Bedford, 20 July 1957).
The year 1958 was a crucial watershed, when the
increase of incomes exceeded the increase of
production (Wilson, 1992:4), but at the beginning of
the 70’s the economic decline could no longer be
ignored. In comparison to other industrial states,
Britain’s economic growth was lagging behind. From
1964 to 1973 the annual growth rate in England was
2.7 per cent, whilst in West Germany it stood at 4.3
per cent, in France 5.4 per cent, in Japan 9.7 per cent
(Lahme, 1994:112). The low rate of inflation of 1 per
cent in 1959 exploded to Banana Republic levels:
28.7 per cent in 1973. In the 70’s high unemployment
and high inflation produced the phenomenon of
stagflation.
Without dramatic changes in the system of social
democracy and a reduction of trade union power a
recovery of the British economy seemed impossible.
In 1970 Edward Heath decided to force British firms
into facing the cold winds of market competition
without government assistance. Rolls-Royce, the
most illustrious name in British industry, turned out to
be a lame duck. It went into voluntary liquidation in
1971 because it proved to be uncompetitive in
international markets; the management was proven
not to have been concerned with costs, profits and
198
loss but only with engineering excellence (Wilson,
1992:9).
Britain became in the 70’s a union-dominated, strike-
bound, almost ungovernable society. The welfare
state was responsible for solving basic social
problems ‘from the cradle to the grave’: health,
housing, education, employment; between the
welfare state and citizens a paternalistic relationship
developed. If one looks at the system of industrial
relations, one is intrigued by the absence of
legislation to regulate strikes, for example. The
frequency of strikes was extremely high after 1945.
In Germany between 1950 and 1984 some 35 million
working days were lost as a result of strike action. In
Great Britain in 1979 alone there were 29,474,000
working days lost as a consequence of strikes.
There was no institutionalized cooperation between
management and employees, and the workplace
was dominated by shop stewards who had the
privilege of negotiating, concluding agreements and
especially calling for industrial action (in fact they
had discretionary powers and could often persuade
workers to go on strike for unimportant reasons).
Up to 1979 trade unions in Britain operated on a
basis of legal privileges, and collective bargaining
was free from legislation. In 1871 the Trade Union
Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of the
same year protected unions from criminal liability,
199
particularly from criminal conspiracy. The 1906
Trade Disputes Act further increased the legal
privileges of trade unions. Labour and Conservative
governments tried to reform the system of industrial
relations but the results were far from satisfactory.
In 1964 Harold Wilson acknowledged for the first
time that trade unions were a grave obstacle to a
change in British economic performance. In 1968 the
Donovan Commission published its report asking for
voluntary reforms. However, massive opposition
from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and leading
members of the Labour Party ended this first attempt
to reform the system.
Edward Heath, Wilson’s Conservative successor in
1970, was determined to fight for a radical solution.
The government introduced a complex and far-
reaching bill, the Industrial Relations Act of 1971. Its
main aim was to prevent unofficial strikes. The Act
was considered a direct attack on the established
rights of unions, so they reacted accordingly with an
unprecedented outburst of trade union militancy.
Finally the successful miners’ strike of 1972 put an
end to the reform campaign by the Heath
government. But in the following years inflation rose
abruptly and the miners went on strike again. In the
general elections of the year 1974 Heath confronted
his electorate with a decisive question: ‘Who rules
the country? The trade unions or the elected
200
government?’ but the results were a disappointment
for the Conservatives.
The Labour minority government that followed in
February 1974 in and which was given a majority in
the October elections that same year, decided to take
a different approach. Wilson thought that his
negotiating abilities would take him farther than any of
his predecessors and he thought of a ‘social contract’
that would, on the one hand, increase the powers of
the unions and extend their rights but, on the other
hand, would determine them to support the
government’s economic policy and exercise restraint
in collective bargaining. But in the context of the world
economic crisis (a good example would be the fact
that the oil price had multiplied fourfold) and
increasing international pressure on the British
government, Wilson was forced to revise the politics
of full employment and rising incomes.
In 1976 the pound sterling was on the verge of
collapsing and this could only be avoided by credits
from the International Monetary Fund. If the pound
had fallen as low as 1 USD, the collapse of the
currency would have endangered the stability of the
Western world (Wilson, 1992:5). A loan of 5 billion
GBP from the IMF (International Monetary Fund)
enabled Britain to buy its own currency and to restore
the exchange value of the pound. So James
Callaghan, Wilson’s Labour successor in 1976, was
forced to proclaim a new course in British economic
201
policy which entailed cutting public spending and
fighting inflation, but this new course was seen by the
trade unions as a betrayal, as breaking the social
contract; and in the winter of 1978-79 Britain
experienced a series of strikes such as the country
had never seen.
‘The Winter of Discontent’, as it was called, arose
mainly in protest against a government-imposed pay
limit of 5 per cent for public service workers. In the
spring of 1978 there were salary reviews and
subsequent increases of over 30 per cent for senior
civil servants, judges, police officers, heads of
nationalised industries. Moreover, the Labour
minister Roy Hattersley told trade unions that a price
freeze was not possible. The fire brigades went on
strike, so did garbage collectors and undertakers
among many public service sector workers - for
months the refuse was not collected and corpses
even lay unburied in mortuaries. When Callaghan
returned to snowbound and strike-bound Britain that
winter and was asked about the crisis, he attempted
to play it down by saying that he knew of no crisis
(“Crisis? What Crisis?”) and the nation was
outraged.
The cultural climate of the 70’s was imbued with
many of the values of the Swinging Sixties: a
collective fantasy of youth, energy, classlessness,
iconoclastic rejection of all traditions. There was no
202
sense of economic realism and no political force was
inclined to dispute the Beveridge Report on Social
Welfare and Equal Opportunity of 1943. In 1974
British industry had the longest working hours,
lowest pay and lowest production per head, the
highest taxes, lowest investment and largest
nationalised sector of any major industrial country in
the West. Britain was a dis-investing nation with the
public sector, the lean kine, drawing away wealth
created by the private sector. A true vendetta was
unleashed against free enterprise and profit and the
trade unions were seen as utterly selfish in their
pursuit of self-interest (Joseph, 1975: 8-9). Heath, it
is true, had embarked on a programme of New Right
style reform in 1970, but after two years “abandoned
it at the first sound of gunfire” (Wilson, 1992: 36)
when unemployment increased and bankruptcies
multiplied.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power
representing the neo-liberal wing of her party, it was
clear for anyone that she would break completely
with Heath’s traditional consensus policy. In 1981
Thatcher said very clearly what social democracy
meant to her: “For me, consensus seems to be the
process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values
and policies” (quoted in Kavanagh, 1987:7). The
retreat of the state from the economic sphere,
privatisation on a grand scale, substantial reductions
in public spending on social welfare programmes
203
and on subsidies to unprofitable industries were the
main tenets of her economic reform. Taxation was
reduced so as to encourage investment and
modernisation. She spoke about “the iron that
entered her soul” during her experience of strikes
and crisis in the Cabinet between 1972 and 1974.
But the restoration of the free market had to remove
one big obstacle - trade union power. Margaret
Thatcher had learnt her lesson from previous ways of
dealing with trade unions and she intended to be very
careful not to repeat her predecessors’ mistakes. She
also made sure that public opinion had swung in her
favour. In a 1984 opinion poll 57 per cent thought that
the trade unions had too much influence; even among
trade union members, an astonishing 46 per cent
thought the same. At the beginning of the 80’s the
power of trade unions started to be eroded by
recession and rising unemployment. Several
industries with a high degree of trade union
organisation were privatised. There had also been
structural changes: many jobs were lost in
manufacturing (car, metal, textiles) with a traditionally
high level of unionisation. New jobs were created in
the service industries (banking, insurance, hotels,
catering) and in high-tech sectors where trade union
organisation was weak. After 1979 high-level talks
between trade unions and government were
drastically reduced. The concept of the trade unions
as a political force was radically changed and
204
returned to its pre-1945 level of a negotiating partner
in collective bargaining.
The Conservative legislation of 1980, 1982 and 1984
has been characterised as a ‘revolution in labour
law’ (McIlroy, 1988:65). The Employment Acts of
1980 and 1982 aimed at preventing sympathy strikes
by narrowing the definition of a lawful strike to one
wholly or mainly between workers and their own
employers (Roberts, 1989:67). The traditional
immunity of union members and officials from legal
prosecution as a consequence of industrial action
was removed. The closed shop

also came under
severe pressure. Although the system was not
directly challenged, it was legislated that the closed
shops were subject to acceptance, in secret ballot,
by the work force.
The Trade Union Act of 1984, moreover, also tried to
put an end to the traditional cooperation between the
unions and the Labour Party. It was one explanation
for the real political influence that the trade unions
could exert. From its birth, the Labour Party had
been funded by the trade unions. At their annual
conferences the trade unions were actually in control
of block votes which dominated the party. No leader
of the Labour Party could be elected with the trade
unions against them (McIlroy, 1988: 33-34).

This meant forcing all employees into joining a union and forcing
the management to hire only unionised workers.
205
The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was to test all these
acts. Under the leadership of the NUM (National
Union of Miners) and its president Arthur Scargill the
battle between the unions and the government
reached its climax. In the past, given the strategic
importance of the mining sector - it could endanger
the electricity supply of the country, such strikes had
contributed to the fall of governments (Roberts,
1989:76).
But Maggie Thatcher had prepared carefully for the
confrontation. Between 1979 and 1983 the coal
supply had been increased from 42.2 million to 58
million tons; she ensured coal imports and hired non-
unionised truckers to transport coal where
necessary; a dual system of coal and oil was
introduced for all power stations. Also in a miners’
strike no social security benefits would be payable
and the trade unions themselves would have to take
care of their members and their families (Marsh,
1992: 120). So Scargill thought he could strike
Margaret Thatcher out of No.10 Downing Street but
this time the strike failed to achieve its aims.
As a result of the government’s economic policy and
new legislation, trade union power was thus
drastically reduced (Marsh, 1992: 239). They are no
longer a state within the state. It might be said that
the singling out of the trade unions as the main
obstacle to the recovery of the British economy was
206
the result of a blinkered analysis of the British
economic disease. Many other serious problems
remained unchallenged so that the Major
government was still faced with a lack of
competitiveness, with deep divisions in society, a
widening gap between north and south, rising
poverty and unemployment. Still, for many of political
analysts this was a spectacular victory (Riddell,
1991: 43-68).
On the Incongruity of Neo-Liberal
and
Authoritarian Tory Policies
The apparent paradox of Thatcherism, the idea of a
free economy and a strong state, reflects some of
the unsolved ambiguities of the New Right and 20
th
century Toryism, the unavoidable conflicts between
libertarianism and collectivism, between doctrinal
and positional Conservatism (see Gamble, 1994).
Theoretical opposition to Keynesian

consensus

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), illustrious British economist
who in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money of
1936 addressed one of the most acute problems of his time:
unemployment. He was convinced that full employment and
economic growth were simultaneously possible. He was also in
favour of using the full range of economic controls to achieve this.
His followers believed that keeping wages in line with prices would
restrain any inflationary tendency. By 1944 Keynesian thinking had
become so widely accepted that it was enshrined in a White Paper
committing the post-war government to maintaining the highest
possible level of employment. Since the War Conservatives
especially have been heavily influenced by Keynes, just as Labour in
the 70’s absorbed to a high degree the teachings of another famous
207
centred on the London School of Economics. At F.A.
von Hayek’s

* suggestion the Institute for European
Affairs was set up in 1957 to challenge Keynesian
ideas and to promote a free market. The Centre for
Policy Studies was set up by Keith Joseph and
Margaret Thatcher in 1974 in the aftermath of the
double defeat of the Conservatives in the general
elections that year. It had a great role to play in the
emergence of the New Right thinking and policy
creation; it also meant a revival of Victorian
Manchester Liberalism with its drastic reduction of
state responsibility and its emphasis on
individualisation and privatisation.
So, when we speak of a strong state in connection
economist, Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University. His
opposition to Keynesian theories boils down to this: whilst Keynes
believed that injections of money into the economy would stimulate
demand, production and employment, Friedman argues that on the
contrary, such injections would only stimulate “price increases by
business and wage demands by trade unions, in other words,
inflation”. The Keynsian policies of Chancellor R.A. Butler were so
similar to those of his Labour predecessor Hugh Gaitskell in the
1950’s that the term ‘Butskellism’ was coined to describe them.
Thatcherism was later set on replacing Butskellism with the neo-
liberal policies (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998: 184-186; 6).

* Friedrich August von Hayek (1899-1992), the famous Austrian-
born British economist who predicted the inevitable failure of central
planning as early as 1944 in his Road to Serfdom and warned against
government intervention in capitalist economies. He set up the Mont
Perelin Society in 1947 and later at his suggestion the Institute for
Economic Affairs was created. Both are forums for the promotion
and diffusion of the economic theories of the free market in whose
worth and virtues he believed unconditionally. Nobel Prize laureate
for economics in 1974.
208
with Thatcherism, we do not mean by that an all-
pervasive state controlling firmly all areas of socio-
economic life. Its role is to maintain law and order, a
sound currency, defence against external threats
and the provision of such public goods as it would
not be profitable for individuals and smaller groups to
provide. The role of the state was very much along
the lines of Hayek’s neo-liberal agenda. Some also
link this misconception of the strong Thatcherite
state to an encroachment on democracy in general.
Democracy for the liberal thinkers was meant to
accommodate the demands of the free market
economy and limited state activity in the economy.
Once the state begins to worry about material
conditions, it becomes omnipotent and ruins the
economy as well as the freedom of individuals. It is
worth remembering that Hayek dedicated his Road
to Serfdom to no other group than the European
social democrats. Hayek did not reject democracy
and he repeated many times: as a convention which
enables any majority to rid itself of a government it
does not like, democracy is of inestimable value
(Hayek, 1984:352). But he distinguishes between
democracy and unlimited democracy, sharply
criticizing the latter: “Agreement by the majority on
sharing the booty gained by overwhelming a minority
of fellow citizens, or deciding how much is to be
taken from them, is not democracy. At least it is not
that ideal of democracy which has any moral
209
justification. Democracy itself is no egalitarianism.
But unlimited democracy is bound to become
egalitarian” (Hayek, 1984: 357). For Hayek
democracy can only play this role if the scope of
government activities is very limited. Hayek required
that the government limit itself to the problem of
defence and safety and above all not busy itself with
wealth.
Democracy is no longer accepted unconditionally
today. Even Karl R. Popper, whose attitudes about
democracy were so optimistic and who believed that
democracy gives a chance for an open society
solving its problems through honest dialogue with
everybody’s participation, came to the same
conclusion as Hayek. Popper stressed that
democracy did not mean the dictatorship of majority:
“a) The difference between democracy and tyranny
consists in the fact that in democracy it is possible to
get rid of the government while avoiding bloodshed,
whereas it is not possible in tyranny; b) Democracy
as such cannot and should not give any goods to the
citizens. It is only a structure which enables the
citizens to act; c) We are democrats not because the
majority is always right, “but because the democratic
institutions, if they are rooted in democratic
traditions, are the least evil we know” (quoted in
Zmierczak, 1998:53-62).
So the authoritarianism that Thatcherism is
210
mordantly criticised for stands ultimately for the
confirmation of the stern rule of the law, again one of
the ideas that liberals hold in great respect. If we are
to stop democracy acting by force or if we want to
create barriers against the possible tyranny of the
majority, they think, our only instrument is the
Rechtsstaat, the State of Law. The control of the
parliament’s bills by independent courts means at
least that even the overwhelming majority in a
parliament has no unlimited rights to create and
change the law, especially in what concerns
individual liberty.
The welfare state encouraged ‘free riding’,
‘scrounging’ and dependency; it negated the
principle of individual autonomy, which according to
liberal thinking is essential to a moral society.
Instead of the deadly levelling climate of collectivism
and chronic guilt feelings about the needs of others,
a triumphant competitive individualism emerged:
enterprise, a buccaneering or samurai spirit, and a
robust refusal of the strong either to shoulder the
problems of the world or to be ashamed of not doing
so (Wilson, 1992:34). Her programme held great
attractions for intellectuals, even for those that had
been previously strongly identified with the left,
through laying such an emphasis on individualism,
promotion of excellence, of freedom and through
fighting egalitarianism.

Thatcherite Engagement
211
with ‘Englishness’ and Decadence
Thatcher took her party more to the right than it had
been since the end of the Second World War. Her
polemical, combative style was felt to bring fresh air
into the stuffiness of the consensus politics of the
60’s and 70’s. In the speech ‘Let me give you my
vision’ on her election as party leader in 1975 - the
first-ever woman leader of the opposition, she places
herself in an illustrious line from Churchill to Heath
(whom she ousted as party leader and who lost two
general elections in 1974, so she is quite reserved
about his merits). By placing herself in that line she
also makes clear one aspect: patriotism meant
serving with devotion one’s country and sparing no
effort to restore its past greatness. The people on
the other side of the fence were the enemies of the
country.
The attack on socialism was reopened with
unmatched vigour, a punching style and sarcastic
wit: “ It is the Labour government that brought the
level of production below that of the three-day week
in 1974. We have really got a three-day week now

,
only it takes five days to do it. It is the Labour
government that has brought us record peace-time

The three-day week had been forced on the country in 1973 by the
miners’ strike, by reducing the production of energy to a level
insufficient to keep British industry running for a normal working
week. It had also been a major cause of Heath’s defeat, since most of
the nation were convinced that the government could not deal
efficiently with the unions.
212
taxation. They have the usual socialist disease: they
have run out of other people’s money. It is the
Labour government that has pushed public spending
to record levels. How have they done it? By
borrowing and borrowing. Never in the field of
human credit has so much been owed.” Cleft
sentences - one of her favourite stylistic devices -
manage exceptionally well to foreground and expose
the ‘enemies’ of the nation. The last sentence quoted
is a pastiche of Churchill’s famous “Never in the field
of human conflict was so much owed by so many to
so few”, referring to the famous victory of the Royal
Air Force over the Luftwaffe in 1940 (Diller, 1994:
97). The mismatch of Britain and socialism is
overemphasized so as to underline the incongruity
between Labour and Britain. In an aggressive self-
centred tone she says: “As long as I have health and
strength they never will be (one and the same
thing).”
She ended her election campaign in 1979 with a
speech focusing on the United Kingdom’s universal
decline. In this speech of May 3 1979 she speaks
about a country that has lost its way, when during
the overall crisis of the 70’s even its common
humanity was badly shaken, “a society on the brink
of disintegration”. She concluded her speech with
the words: “Somewhere ahead lies greatness for our
country again. This I know in my heart. Look at
Britain today and you may think that an impossible
213
dream. But there is another Britain which may not
make the daily news, but which each one of us
knows. It is a Britain of thoughtful people,
tantalisingly slow to act, yet marvellously determined
when they do. It is their voice which steadies each
generation. Its message is quiet but insistent. It says
this: Let us make this a country safe to work in. Let
us make this a country safe to walk in. Let us make it
a country safe to grow up in. Let us make it a country
safe to grow old in. And it says, above all, may this
land of ours, which we love so much, find dignity and
peace and greatness again” (Butler and Kavanagh,
1980:195).
I spoke before (see Chapter One) about a
pessimistic approach to Englishness which considers
it to have been over the decades appropriated by the
Conservatives - referring to the former greatness of
Britain, yet encouraging a downsized, narrowed-
down version of Britisness tantamount to
Englishness

.

This more romantic, nostalgia-ridden aspect of Thatcherism was
discussed by Wendy Wheeler, who traces this vein in one of the
films in Adam Curtis’s trilogy The Living Dead – “The Attic”
broadcast on BBC 2 in June 1995 (1996:112-113). It traces the
development of the New Right vision of Britain dreamt by Airy
Neave and Keith Joseph during the 70’s and later on given substance
by Neave’s protegée Thatcher. The last Edwardian summer before
the Great War is presented as cliché imagery: tea in china cups on a
gently sloping lawn, warm beer and cricket on the village green. Its
reality, like that of Christminster in Jude the Obscure, is only lived
in the dreams of a privileged few. Utterly phantasmagoric and
endlessly seductive for the vast majority who desired but could not
214
Margaret Thatcher through her own political career
demonstrates how an entire generation was able to
benefit from a general flexibility within the social
hierarchy and a criticism of the elite (see in
Thatcher’s own policies her contempt for the
traditional Tory elite ‘grouse moor politicians’ or ‘old
boys’). It was part of the important debate on
Britain’s decline over the 60’s and 70’s, an
economic lag that made people talk about the ‘British
disease’. The perception of decadence that is
generally triggered by the lost influence of Britain in
international affairs was possibly for the first time
experienced acutely in 1901 when Queen Victoria
died. Far from being bathed in rosy light,
Victorianism is considered a failure by many
philosophers and politicians. Industrialisation, the
commodification of life, de-individualisation, the
destruction of nature, the generalised ‘shoddiness’ of
life, and the vulgarisation of taste are pilloried. There
were dubious double standards, there was
prudishness and the suppression of women. Edward
VII was decadent, depraved, with a lavish life style.
The fatalistic expectation was of further decline. A
new vision of doom was occasioned by the First
World War and by the victory of the Bolshevik
attain it, this phantasy of the past was a recurrent motif in her
rhetoric. She tried to re-make an England of the past. Politics
becomes a very interesting complex of reality and imagination, so a
language of the imagination is needed as much as the language of
utilitarian fact.
215
masses. There was an all-pervasive neurotic sense
of imminent catastrophe (see Graves and Hodge,
1985:7).
The Great War sparked off apocalyptic fears
nourished by 750,000 casualties, 1.5 million
seriously injured, 65,000 mentally ill; 7 per cent of
the male population aged between 15 and 49 died,
and of those between 20 and 24, 30 per cent died -
the highest rate in this age group since the War of
Roses. About 20 per cent of the Etonians taking part
in the war and 25 per cent of Cambridge graduates
were killed (Noetzel, 1994: 136). There was a
general feeling of malaise that was linked to the fact
that only the “runts” were left among the living whilst
the best - the social and cultural elite of the nation -
lost their lives on the battlefields. The economic
depression raging in the late 20’s added to this
general sense of loss and decline. More menacing
signs later were the drop of Britain’s share in world
trade, her negative balance of payments and her
indebtedness to the United States. The ever-
widening rift between the prosperous south-east and
the distressed north, what with the closure of old
industries, structural changes, unemployment rates
skyrocketing to 70 per cent, greatly affecting the living
conditions of northerners - all confirmed the old idea
of an almost inevitable disintegration of society. The
political establishment was viewed with resentment.
The Conservative governments of Baldwin and
216
Chamberlain caused resentment through their
inefficiency, haplessness and weakness – ‘pygmies’.
After World War II, for strategic reasons, American
Marshall Aid to Germany was massive, to Britain
much more limited. Britain surrendered valuable world
markets including South America to the US; also
patent rights and royalties on important technological
inventions (radar, antibiotics, jet engines and nuclear
power) and later on Labour leaders including Harold
Wilson condemned Churchill for not having been able
to insist on adequate royalties for these inventions
(Wilson, 1992:44-45). Public spending rose to
untolerable levels of 60 per cent of the GDP. But
although the postwar Conservative governments
fared no better (Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home),
the Left was unable to put forth a more viable set of
policies able to bring the country out of this marasm.
The Winter of Discontent of 1979 seemed to
discredit both the Left and old Tory leaderships. If
the discourse of decline was on the wane in the
post-war period, the phenomenon as such featured
prominently in the agendas of both parties as did, for
the Tories, the failure of the Labour governments
and of the social democracy model as a force for
future progress and new greatness.
It is time to open a largish parenthesis before we
proceed to Thatcher’s rhetoric of decline in order to
understand how this decline and British disease was
217
linked with the evolution of aristocracy in the 19
th
century as well as with the human prototype of the
‘gentleman’. Central to such a discussion would no
doubt be Arnold’s essay Culture and Anarchy.
Matthew Arnold wrote his polemical work in the
1860’s. Culture, he thinks, seeks to do away with
classes, to make the best that has been thought and
known in the world current everywhere; to make all
men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light,
where they may use ideas, as it uses them itself,
freely – nourished and not bound by them. This is
the social ideal; and the men of culture are those
who had had a passion for diffusing, for making
prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the
other the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time
(Arnold, 1962: 149). Whilst Utilitarianism, the
ideology of the rising bourgeoisie, was a major force
in intellectual and social life, arguing that the
purpose of education is to train people to carry out
specific tasks in society, Arnold totally opposes this
view. He argues that Culture, especially Great
Literature, brings Enlightenment, an enlightenment
which transcends social divisions such as class,
religion, ethnicity, gender. This is a central idea to
liberal humanism. Culture offers all individuals the
means to realize their human nature to the full. His
book was very much about eugenics and political
engineering. His famous book, subtitled “An Essay in
Political and Social Criticism”, is about the relation of
Culture and State to social unrest and social
218
cohesion. His central thesis is that the task of an
enlightened state is to provide the working classes
with Culture, or there will be Anarchy or even social
revolution. So it is rather Culture OR Anarchy
(Williams, 1961:123). The commodification of
culture, de-individualisation, loss of authenticity, the
vulgarisation of taste, the growth of hypocrisy,
depravity, consumerism and shoddiness of the
industrial Victorian epoch all sound the alarm of a fall
from grace: “rowdyism, tumult and disorder….
multitudinous processions in the streets of our
crowded towns, multitudinous meetings in their
places and parks, demonstrations perfectly
unnecessary in the present course of affairs”
(Arnold, 1962:119, 136). Some of his best ideas
come from his father, Dr Thomas Arnold,
headmaster of the prestigious Rugby School for
Boys. In 1830 he writes “I call the great evil of
England that unhappy situation in which the poor
and the rich stand towards each other”, or
“Education in the common sense of the word is
required by a people before poverty has made havoc
among them” (quoted in The Educated Elite).
Matthew Arnold blames a decadent aristocracy that
through its incapacity to rule and set moral standards
for the whole nation, brings about the rise of
democracy and egalitarianism. Order and culture
that can no longer be sustained by the upper classes
give way to “rowdyism, tumult and disorder”.
219
The only way of resisting anarchy was to educate
the nation, so the maintenance of an educated elite
was needed to secure progress and the vanguard of
a cultured society structured in harmony. The elitist
product of this reformed system of education was the
‘man of culture’ domesticating himself and others, in
other words, the gentleman. This emphasis on
indvidualism as well as on social integration and the
claims to leadership of a minority reveals the
specifically English mixture of an aristocratic and at
the same time, bourgeois and industrial society. The
constant demands of modernisation should be held
at bay, so traditionalism was a defining feature of the
gentleman, making him appear quite anachronistic in
the 20
th
century. Social leadership qualities, such as
order, loyalty, subordination, integration and of
course physical prowess and hierarchic awareness,
service and conformity became the basis of the
public school ethos. The public schools were the
main nurseries of the gentleman. According to
Gilmour Robin (1981:97) the subjects taught were
primarily those whose aim was to ‘humanise’: Maths
and Physics, which only make people more
intelligent, were neglected in favour of classical
languages, philosophy and history (cf. Thatcher’s
choice of Chemistry for her academic studies, hence
her pragmatic and technocratic ‘middle class’
attitude to education). However, this legion of
gentlemen that were called upon to build a ‘New
Jerusalem’ failed to accomplish their mission.
220
In organising her rhetoric around the theme of
decline and making Britain a great country again, a
lot of her followers got entangled in a process of
‘othering’, of scapegoating: they, ‘the old boys’ of the
Conservative Establishment (who like prominent
members of the upper class, students in the thirties,
betrayed their country by leaking information to the
Soviet secret police). One of the main targets of
Thatcherism became everything that the
Conservative Establishment stood for, not least -
the gentleman ideal.
In 1985 a typical leader from the Sunday Times was
published on the ‘expiration of the gentleman and of
the wrong definitions of Englishness’: “Britain’s
decline owes too much to feeble efforts of our faded
gentry for us to yearn for their return. If Mrs.
Thatcher has one virtue, it is to show the grit, energy
and determination of the upwardly mobile on whom
this country’s fortunes depend. Mr. Pym (leader of
the opposition against Thatcher within her own party)
and his friends are of a bygone era, “when the
grouse moor and the old school tie set the tone. That
day is gone” (12 May 1985).
So the ‘Philistines’ or middle class treated with so
much contempt by Matthew Arnold had now
established themselves as an organising force. The
conviction and missionary tone that emanate from
221
Thatcher’s 1979 speech is based on a firm
conviction about the ways and instruments needed
for re-establishing the greatness of her country,
although at that time it was conceived of as an
impossible dream. The ‘vision’, ‘dream metaphors’,
had a very tight grip on Thatcher’s rhetoric. This
does not render it unique, however, (one remembers
Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream or Lincoln’s
“Gettysburg Address”). Also true Englishness is
represented by tacit, industrious and trustworthy
individuals who choose not to be in the limelight of
the sensation-starved media. This is real
Englishness again overlapping with Britishness. Her
use of personal pronouns as usual plays a very
important part in pointing an indicting finger to the
unpatriotic and decadent ‘they’ as opposed to ‘we’.
Her emphasis on the slowness and determination of
true Englishness brings to mind the national myth of
the English bulldog.)
Thatcher cultivates a semantics in which tradition
and progress ought to be reconciled, but her image
of a better and healthy Britain is still oriented towards
resurrection and greatness. The old elite, the ideal of
the gentleman are blamed for not being English
enough.
Thatcherism and European
Integration
222
Her missionary and fiery nationalist streak, which
practically the whole nation relished in the early 80’s,
gave her an arrogance and self-sufficiency in her
later years, that fringed on paranoia. Her intolerance,
rejection of European values, her extreme self-
confidence and self-righteousness, her inclination to
vilify people of different political orientations
becomes excessive towards the end of her political
career. In 1989 she delivers the famous, indeed
notorious, College of Europe speech in Bruges,
before the continent’s only post-graduate academy
for the study of European law and politics. In his
rhetorical study of Thatcher’s speeches Hans-Jurgen
Diller (1994:93-108) analyses the subtle shifts in
Thatcher’s speeches as regards the use of inclusive
and exclusive we. Of great interest is the
referentiality of the we and I that occur in her
speeches. Very flexible and fluid, the we can either
serve for the Conservatives (and within that, either
for identification with the brand of conservative policy
that she and Keith Joseph represent or to dissociate
her from her Conservative opponents); or for the
British, or for the entire human race; sometimes it
serves as a clarifying context for a lengthy series of
I’s. However the Bruges Speech has further
narrowed down the we, as by now she is more and
more isolated within her party (Thatcher, 1993:14).
The speech abounds in the use of I (32 times, which
is less indicative of her increasing monomania and
self-righteousness than of her isolation within her
223
own party). It gives her speech nevertheless a
schoolmarmish tone, signalling that stereotypical
female kind of power or authority to which nearly
everyone condescends. But to adopt this defiant
tone, especially with the specified aim of clarifying
what Europe means to such experts and giving them
ex cathedra her self-styled definition of Europe, is
astounding. She is ‘othering’ her audience again
here: they are marked by a kind of mythical
collective consensus: they are compromise-oriented;
they stand for a set of community policies, which she
rejects from the standpoint of a pragmatic politician.
As the leader of the Times put it: “She came as a
missionary to a half-converted tribe” ( 1988, 21
September:17). “Europe is not the creation of the
Treaty of Rome. Nor is the European idea the
property of any group or institution” (Thatcher, 1989:
257). She no longer uses we because her position
within per party is already badly shaken by now by
the pro-Europe faction, which is more and more
vocal, and her haughtiness is unparalleled in her
previous speeches. She is defiant, over- defensive,
vilifying, but also lonely and bitter. On a symbolical
level, she is the aged hero slaying the dragon in a
foreign field, but she does not retire from the battle-
field triumphant, the deadly wound has already been
inflicted on the hero herself.
In the speech she avoids the sensitive issue of
Britain vs. Europe, in which Britain has been for
224
some time the awkward partner. She talks instead
about the Europe “I want”. In her use of I and
exclusive we, she completely reverses the
anticipated hierarchy of relationships between the
two entities. It is not Europe but Britain that could
serve as an example to the rest.
Thatcher’s European community is one that would
embrace her policy of enterprise, private initiative,
individualism and free trade, with Britain in the
forefront on free trade (rather than favouring the
protectionism and dependency encouraged by
European policies). She pretends to subscribe to the
EU’s goals but then subtly slides into her own tune, a
glittering series of glissandi: “Of course we must
make it easier for goods to pass through frontiers. Of
course we must make it easier for people to travel
throughout the Community. But it is a matter of plain
common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier
controls if we are also to protect our citizens from
crime and stop the movement of drugs or terrorists
and of illegal immigrants” (Thatcher, 1989:263).
At the same time she makes an interesting
distinction in her speech between the ‘two Europes’.
The ‘good Europe’ is meant to stand for common
cultural stock, tradition to be emulated, a set of
inspiring values, of which Britain is part and parcel (if
not the better part): “That Europe on both sides of
the Atlantic which is our noblest inheritance and our
225
greatest strength, a Europe of powerful nation-
states, the only and the best guardians of individual
and entrepreneurial freedom” (Thatcher, 1989:266).
“We British have in a special way contributed to
Europe. Over the centuries we have fought to
prevent Europe from falling under the dominance of
a single power. We have fought and died for her
freedom. Only miles from here in Belgium lie the
bodies of 120,000 British soldiers who died in the
First World War. Had it not been for that willingness
to fight and to die, Europe would have been united
long before now – but not in liberty, not in justice”
(Thatcher, 1989:258). She also acknowledges the
unique cross fertilisation of diverse European
cultures that participated in the formation of the
British nation: “For 300 years we were part of the
Roman Empire and our maps still trace the straight
lines of the roads the Romans built. Our ancestors -
Celts, Saxons and Danes, came from the continent”
(257). The inclusive we covers the present state
when certain things should or should not be done:
“We Europeans cannot afford to waste our energies
on internal disputes or arcane institutional debates”
(259).
But on the other hand, ‘the other Europe’ the lesser
and not so entirely good Europe - a populist
‘Identikit’, a ‘European conglomerate’ or ‘super-
state’, is one that would attempt to diminish initiative,
enterprise, competitiveness and free trade, in other
226
words, the radically libertarian instincts of her rightist
orientation: “If you have no real confidence in the
political system of your country you are bound to be
more tolerant of foreigners telling you how to run
your affairs, or to put it more bluntly, if I were an
Italian I might prefer rule from Brussels too”
(Thatcher, 1993: 742). The European Community is
seen as an instrument, one of the identities that
Europe can assume, it is a means, never an end in
itself. In defiance of all theories of relativised
sovereignties

and postmodernist deconstructions of
nationhood (the nation state is portrayed as the best
guardian of individual and entrepreneurial freedom)
she decrees: “My first guiding principle is this: willing
and active cooperation between independent
sovereign States is the best way to build a
successful European Community. To try to suppress
nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a
European conglomerate would be highly damaging
and would jeopardize the objectives we seek to
achieve” (260). In her negative definitions of
Europe’s role she also stresses the importance of
defence, pleading for nuclear modernization, thus
touching upon a very delicate issue, a most divisive
one which was bound to anatagonise the great
majority in her audience.

It was a time when Jacques Delors, president of the European
Commission, was supporting the ideas of a measured transfer of
sovereignty, abolition of frontier control, and the European Social
Charter.
227
Her speech is an indication of her populist exploitation
of the chauvinist Europhobic part of the British
electorate. Sir Charles Powell, her secretary on
private affairs since 1984, was skeptical about Europe
and professed an exaggerated regard for the virtues
of the nation state. Already Macmillan, Heath and
Home had given higher priority to the Atlantic alliance
and the relationship with the US than to developing
relations with Europe. She accepted some key steps
towards integration in signing the Single European
Act, establishing the objectives of a Single Market in
1986. But by the end of her premiership she came
down decisively in favour of a project of a revived
Anglo-American axis as an alternative to the pursuit
of deeper integration in the EU (Gamble, 1996: 20).
From 1988 Thatcher followed the advice of Sir Alan
Walters and opposed Britain’s entry into the EMU.
Chancellor Nigel Lawson favoured early entry, and
disagreements led to his resignation in October 1989.
In October 1990 Thatcher pronounced the other 11
leaders of the Community to be living in “cloud
cuckoo land” when they agreed to proceed with a joint
monetary policy. Her chauvinistic vein of nationalism
frequently boiled over in her last years, as happened
when she was invited to address the French nation on
the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution.
She lectured the French on liberty, telling them that
the English long preceded and far excelled the
228
French in the matter, quoting in support Magna
Carta, a document that expressly excluded almost
the whole population from whatever rights it secures
since they were not counted ‘freemen’ (Edward
Pearce, “An Anti-Revolution Outburst that was Born
out of Ignorance”, Sunday Times, 16 July 1989:33).
Europhobia was certainly not a Thatcherite
peculiarity. This type of speech, which caused such
stunned outrage in polite European circles, is not a
rara avis in European politics even today. There are
of course many efforts made to rebrand, to revamp
the image of Britain, to relaunch it in European
politics, to modernise it, to make it compete and
cooperate. But although the competitive edge is
stronger especially in the foreign policies of the Blair
government, in his professed allegiance to the
military policies of the international US gendarme
(more on this in the next chapter).
Timothy Garton Ash, one of the historians who
advised Thatcher on German issues and a leading
expert on Central Europe, thinks that Germany, like
all the other EU members, should do their best to
disambiguate the definition of national interest, which
should precede the definition of the European
interest. In a recently published article in the
Romanian magazine 22 he restates the necessity for
the post-communist countries in Central and Eastern
Europe to ask such important question as: whether
229
memory is important, whether or not we should
confront our own problems, the demons of the past,
confront paradoxes and assume responsibility and
not resort to national myths and the past before
asking questions of European integration (“Sechelele
trecutului în Europa de Est”, no.10 and 11, March
1999).


Thatcher and Culture
One of the best-written historical novels of the 80’s is
Barry Unsworth’s Booker Prize-winning Sacred
Hunger. Although the action takes place on a slave
ship in the 18
th
century, analogies with the
Thatcherite years are transparent. The author
commented on his book in the Observer that “it was
impossible to live in the 80’s and not be affected by
the sanctification of greed inherent in British society.
My image of the slave ship was based on the desire
to find the perfect symbol for the entrepreneurial
spirit” (Observer, 18 October 1992:59). An image of
a selfish, greedy, unjust society will stick with the
Thatcher Years.
London was one of the most inspirational themes for
novelists in the 80’s as London during the
Conservative Revolution exemplifies best the
230
negative aspects of the Thatcher Years. The city is
portrayed as peopled with greedy individuals and
with the helpless victims of an acquisitive society; it
becomes a fortress of evil. Trevor Hoyle’s dystopian
novel Vail written in 1984 shows us the picture of a
nightmarish London where the heat, sulphuric rains,
violence on the streets are redolent of hell

. The city
is dominated by a frenetic activity of consumption.
The streets are teeming with showbiz personalities,
television producers, members of the secret police,
terrorist groups, thriving businesses, television and
video shops, pornography and prostitution, but at the
same time we have here a typically polarised society
with drifters sleeping rough and drunks and addicts
slumped in doorways (Hoyle, 1989: 11). No
productive work is being done in this society, the
working population are occupied with staging
pseudo-events for the media, or seem to be busy
fighting violently for obscure extremist views or
preserving the status quo with an equally violent
determination ( Kohl, 1994:123-132).

As a matter of fact there were symptoms of a ‘general disease’
affecting the country as Dickensian squalor made a comeback; river
pollution worsened and in September 1989 the European
Commission undertook to prosecute the British government for
refusing to clean up drinking water, for the quality of bath water.
Britain became the ‘dirty man of Europe’. Health minister Edwina
Currie felt obliged to resign because of the furore that followed her
revelation that British eggs were infected with salmonella; soon the
BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis or ‘mad cow disease’) scandal
was to break out.
231
The North-South divide is presented hyperbolically,
there are tight security checks and very reduced
access from the North to London and the Home
Counties. Vail, the main character travels by car from
the North as he will feature as a ‘frontman’ in a highly
successful TV series. The initial mission of the
journey, which is never achieved, is to find a cure for
his daughter’s enigmatic illness. On the road however
Vail meets some left-wing activists that tell him about
the government’s ruthless plans to get rid of the
problems of northerners - rampant unemployment,
poverty, political discontent by dumping toxic
chemicals and radioactive waste on the densely
populated areas of the North. No wonder that Vail
arrives in London animated with nihilistic feelings, i.e.
the idea of killing the Prime Minister.
The dire poverty, dereliction and vandalisation of the
North remind one of the Thatcherite policy of
scapegoating aspects of British society. In the TV
series Vail is being lectured in terms that cannot be
misleading: “You Held the Country to Ransom and
Priced Britain Out of World Markets and now you’re
unemployed. You’re forever looking for State
handouts and Fiddling the Social Security and
Sponging off Society (Hoyle, 1989:84).
A novel that invites many parallels with Romania
under Ceauşescu’s regime is Kate Pullinger’s When
232
the Monster Dies. In it the main preoccupation of
urbanists and architects is to erase the historic
tradition itself of cities and with it a communitary and
individual identity. In Kate Pullinger’s novel the main
antagonism is between individual attempts to form a
historical consciousness and the authorities’ plans to
marginalize history by recycling it in entertainment or
theme parks

. The Battersea Power Station is to be
changed for example into an amusement park with
rides and shopping and skating, which triggers off a
terrorist attack (1989:43). The current refashioning of
the capital robs the relics of history of all meaning.
The heritage industry subjugates the metropolitan
past, attractive historical relics are made into
entertainment pseudo-events or, if they cannot be
adapted to the commercial purposes of Thatcher’s
London, are destroyed. It is interesting to note in this
context that Thatcher’s government abolished the
National Heritage Act of 1983 and formed a new

The topic is also obsessive in Barnes’s England, England where the
Isle of Wight is turned into a gigantic theme park masquerading the
entire history of the British Isles: “ an enterprising leisure launched a
new venture off the south coast of England. It has swiftly become
one of the most coveted destinations for upmarket vacations… In his
original stroke of lateral thinking (he) brought together in a single
hundred-and-fifty-five square mile zone everything the Visitor might
want to see of what we used to think of as England. In our time-
strapped age, surely it makes sense to be able to visit Stonehenge and
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in the same morning, take in a
‘ploughman’s lunch’ atop the White Cliffs of Dover, before passing
a leisurely afternoon at the Harrods emporium inside the Tower of
London (Beefeaters push your shopping trolley for you!).” (1998:
178-180)
233
Ministry for Heritage responsible for historic
buildings, broadcasting and plans for a national
lottery (Taylor, 1994:218). Violence is endemic in the
streets of Spivsville (‘spivs’ are persons who live by
their wits and have no regular employment, who
regularly engage in petty blackmarket deal and are
frequently characterized by flashy dress). For the
immigrant characters in the novels it is impossible to
develop a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, as
they live in the middle of a de-historicised London.
The axiological centre no longer serves its sacred
function; the monster slain by the mythical founder is
forgotten. Therefore a sense of homelessness
prevails even for those who happen to live decently
in a flat or in a rented house. There are gigantic
demolition programmes, all signs of a more general
eradication of the past. This exile within one’s own
country, culture and language is also acutely
experienced by the protagonist of Mihai Zamfir’s
novel Acasă, dealing with the problem of human
identity versus totalitarian architecture (see Dascăl,
1999: 170-172).
These novelists’ negative attitudes have several
explanations, the most important being resistance to
Thatcher’s social experiments. In the 80’s writers,
artists and academics were among the first victims of
Thatcher’s reordering of priorities, and quite early in
the course of this revolution they felt the
234
consequences of the severe cuts in government
spending on culture and education (see Sinfield,
1989). A loss of or, severe reduction in subsidies for
the arts made writers feel, regardless of their initial
political commitment, that they were now being
rejected as unnecessary members of a materialistic
society and they reacted, understandably, with
resentment or open criticism.
Typical of the writers’ contempt for Thatcher’s
competence in cultural affairs is a parody of her
election speeches in Michael Dibdin’s Dirty Tricks
(1991) “You don’t want a caring society… You say
you do, but you don’t, not really. You couldn’t care
less about education and health and all the rest of it.
And don’t for Christ’s sake talk to me about culture.
You don’t give a toss about culture. All you want to
do is sit at home and watch TV. No, it’s no use
protesting! I know you. You’re selfish, greedy,
ignorant and complacent. So vote for me.” (Dibdin,
1991:21). As regards the reflection of Thatcherism in
the cinema of her time, criticism is combined with the
recognition of some beneficial effects. Although she
abolished the subsidies of the 1947 Eady Levy, and
although she never provided direct help to the film
industry, her powerful and often oppressive
presence moved British film makers to burn brightly
for at least one decade and become, after decades
of rusty provincialism, extremely competitive in the
international film market (Friedman, 1993:33).
235
Thatcher’s Gendered Politics
An anlysis of the gendered dimensions of Thatcher’s
policies is extremely interesting and I have given
extra space to this sub-section because it draws
together many strands in her politics. The discourse
of sexuality and gender politics sheds new light on
various aspects of Thatcher’s New Right policies,
including the forms of patriarchal culture have
emerged during successive Thatcher governments.
Through Thatcher’s image and rhetoric, the politics
of work, of the family and sexuality, the support of
the ‘new oppressed’ of her age, I would contend that
feminism has made both more and less of a
difference to the gender politics of the decade than is
usually acknowledged.
The Eighties gave us many female icons. But the
greatest of these is Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher
continuously presented herself as a loner, a unique
person, as the exceptional woman (Wilson,
1987:199). A woman who had succeeded without
challenging the fundamental rules of the boys’ game
236
of mainstream politics, she declared she was
feminine and at the same time disavowed her
femininity. Her mode of inhabiting femininity fits
easily with a rather depersonalized political image;
there was little public sense of her personality, even
the press showed little concern for her personal life.
Even the antics of her spendthrift son Mark did not
hold public attention for long.
Also typical of her desire to fit into the mould of
male-dominated politics without changing the status
quo is the fact that she rigidly reinforced the
boundary between the public and the private, which
feminism in the 80’s sought to break down.
Feminists offered diverse perspectives on the
implications for women of the policies of the
Thatcher governments, which could fall under two
headings: first, the decline of the welfare state and
second, employment and enterprise. From a feminist
point of view the development of the welfare state
had contradictory implications for women. It was
premised on the need to compensate women’s
unpaid work of social reproduction through a variety
of tax and benefit measures, but it did nothing to
challenge the underlying sexual division of labour
and ensured that women’s identities were
overwhelmingly linked with those of their children.
But on the other hand, the severe cut-backs in
welfare benefits and services that were a constant of
237
Thatcher’s social policies had a profoundly negative
effect on women overall. Single mothers were
particularly hard hit in Britain as they were in the
USA under Reagan, the fastest growing and largest
population group living beneath the poverty line.
Cutbacks in maternity benefit, child benefit, housing
benefit and unemployment combined to hit them. It
was all part of the ‘othering’ process going on within
the Thatcher ideology: a profound loathing of the
deplorable dependency culture.
As Elisabeth Wilson demonstrates in her article
(1987) the decline of the manufacturing sector, the
increase in part time work (meaning minimal
employment benefits and job security, with limited
opportunities for advancement or further training),
low pay and also changes in technology and
consumption patterns have all combined with
changing family structure and the rise in divorce
rates to create a situation in which more and more
women become wage workers. But they made up an
increasingly vulnerable section in the workforce
(Wilson, 1987:208).
Thatcher’s dismantling of the welfare state was a
matter of means, of freeing resources, but also a
matter of commitment to the Protestant ethos of
salvation by individual effort. To express it in the
language of psychoanalysis, too much parental
‘binding’ (safety) and not enough danger produces
238
an infantilised culture of over-dependence and
passivity. But dependency can also be thought of in
terms of the necessary interdependence of any
human society. Freedom imposes obligations, there
are degrees of dependence and interplay in a
society, there is a need for, but there should be limits
to ‘holding’, because certain forms of holding prevent
the individual from the challenges of autonomy and
freedom, essential parts of modernity and
democracy (Wheeler, 1996:105). A healthy modern
society would have to be one which is able to
recognise the need for a constant play of binding
and unbinding in regard to social institutions and one
which is able to accommodate such play. The way
Freud told his story was to say that we relinquish the
narcissism of infancy via the experience of symbolic
loss which psychoanalysis calls castration. In place
of what is lost (undifferentiated joy in the mother),
the father, the figure symbolising the law by which
social identities are more or less fixed, offers us the
possibility of social life as users and makers of
symbols. Modernity, especially in its form of capital
industry as Wheeler remarks (Wheeler, 1996:116), is
characterised by a great sense of social and physical
binding. The role of the father, of authority here? The
father of utilitarianism is a panoptic father, watching
over, annulling any form of mystery, of opaqueness,
a predecessor of the Orwellian Big Brother

. In this

Klein minimizes the role of the father, as against Freud and Lacan,
for whom real progress and maturation comes only through passing
239
permanent fear of revelation, the graces of the soul
are lost (as Louisa Gradgrind says to such a
panoptic father, in Dickens’s Hard Times). For
Winnicott both authority and its failures come
together in one space, a transitional space where
both binding and unbinding are made possible by a
maternal-paternal capacity for ‘holding’ rather than
for absolute mastery. ‘Holding’ is a form of binding
which is extremely fluid, responsive and adaptive to
change, its values are not those of mastery but of
constant negotiations and renegotiations of human
identities, identifications and relatedness. It is
interesting that with Winnicott there are no fathers
present

*. The “good enough” mother who is central
from the narcissistic or imaginary phase dominated by the mother to
the symbolic or rational and civilising realm of the father. In
Winnicott the mother works within the realm of inherited traditions
and meanings and ethical values which twenty years ago Hélène
Cixous referred to as ‘the masculine realm of the proper’, but she
does so illegally and thus within Cixous’s other realm there is the
feminine realm of ‘gift’. The gift affirms giving to the other as an
open-ended and unbound act – like free blood donation. The realm of
the proper is the realm of symbolic law, of the father, of prohibition
and restriction and a closed economy of bounded exchange and of
fixed calculable returns whether of money or meanings. The realm of
gift is a space where the meanings are mutable, provisional,
transformative. Meanings can ‘fly’ here or ‘be stolen’, as Cixous
says. The space of holding is very important for defining any space
of cultural meaning. It means knowing when to accommodate
yourself to the burdens of difference rather than having an
expectation of narcissistic sameness and repetition.

* Wendy Holloway and Brid Featherstone in Mothering and
Ambivalence discuss Melanie Klein’s ideas moving in the same
direction, that is towards the primordial importance of the mother in
the development of the child, through her own model of restructuring
240
to his account of cultural experience fulfils both
maternal and paternal functions. The space she
‘holds’ and creates for the child’s coming-to-be is
both bound and unbound by her (Winnicott, 1991:96-
98).
Another aspect of the way Thatcherism affected
women in terms of employment was the decline in
status, if not direct scapegoating, of many of the
professions in which women have the greatest
presence: teaching, nursing, services. It had to do
with that extreme polarisation of British society under
Thatcher’s leadership because there were actually a
lot of women who became far more visible, more
influential than ever before, the ethos of enterprise
and competitiveness might have been detrimental for
many, but it also benefited quite a few. Thatcher
exacerbated the gap, the forms of inequality, which
divide women, including ethnicity, nationality,
disability and sexual orientation.
Like Reaganism, the effect of the Thatcherite
promotion of competitive individual success and
minimum state provision of a safety net has been to
disproportionately benefit those individuals already
well placed in terms of employment and financial
security and to disproportionately penalise those in a
more vulnerable position (Franklin et al, 1991:29). I
autonomy, of fighting to preserve her subjectivity from total
objectification through identification with her child.
241
see in this a flight from the stereotyping of gender
essence. According to essentialist gender theories
there is a cluster of traits that overdetermine the
performance in public and private of the genders.
Thatcher contested this identikit for women; she took
it to pieces in extreme and aggressive ways, refusing
to give currency to the mothering, ‘angel of the
hearth’, dependable, weak definitions of
womanhood. Whether she should have relied on a
more benign set of political and social practices to
put such ideas into effect is a different matter. But
we should not ignore that she set out to apply in the
field some of the crucial feminist theories of her time.
Moreover the feminisation of poverty and the
changes in the sexual division of labour force are in
no way specific to Thatcherism, and we should see it
as part of a much broader set of international shifts.
In order to better understand Thatcher’s ideas
regarding the status of women in family and society
we have to ask ourselves how conservatism, how all
these New Right theories enable women to make
sense of themselves and their world. Such analyses
were developed by Andrea Dworkin for America and
by Bea Campbell for Britain (1983;1987).
Dworkin starts from the premise that women’s lives
are shaped by a fear of male violence,
uncontrollable, unpredictable, threatening. So rightist
politics makes certain metaphysical and material
promises to these women that both exploit and quiet
242
some of women’s deepest fears (1983:210). They
offer women a fixed, dependable, pre-determined
sexual and social order which fosters a secure and
stable context for familial and marital relationship;
but the system of sex hierarchy is immovable,
unbreakable, inevitable.
Cambell also argues that in Britain women have
almost never been addressed as political subjects,
and have been largely excluded from party politics.
Right wing ideology emphasises the fact that women
are naturally maternal and domestic, but in this role
the Tory discourse ascribes to them a privileged
status denied by other parties; they are recognised
as socially significant. Thatcher confirms these
conservative lines in her policies: authoritarian legal
and moral intervention to contain violence, the
rhetoric of family, public support for the domestic role
of women. But on the other hand we have her
attacks on the welfare state, organised labour, single
mothers, ‘pretended’ families of lesbians and gays.
Significantly, Thatcher did not call for women to
return to the home, but instead emphasised the
compatibility of women’s paid work with their roles in
the home (cf. Gardiner, 1983:188-206).
The Tories’ position on women is not as explicit and
united as their approach to some other issues. The
Tory government is neither explicit about its attacks
on women nor even probably aware that its policies
have this effect (ibid.:195-196).
243
One image that has constantly been defined as
masculine has been that of public political power.
What happens when a woman takes over such a
position? Is her femininity called into question by
taking up this conventionally masculine position?
Has she got to negotiate the contradictions of the
masculinity of such a culturally defined position and
her own femininity? Does it move Thatcher beyond
gendered identity, giving other factors overriding
significance? Power and femininity interplayed in her
image, says Ros Brunt in her article (1987: 22-24).
She draws a parallel between Thatcher and other
Tory politicians. Thus Jill Knight keeps drawing on
reactionary populist religion and appealing to petit
bourgeois anxieties and women’s fears about
violence (23); and the more flamboyant ones like
Barbara Cartland advocate that “women are the
moral guardians of the nation”. But Thatcher is
different. Her success in the realm of patriarchal
politics has precisely to do with her effectiveness as
a woman and the way she inhabits particular
feminine roles while appearing to disavow femininity
(23). Thatcher has often been contrasted with the
male opponents in her Cabinet described as ‘wets’.
Thatcher herself was the ‘best man’ in the Cabinet
and this made her doubly superior. The Iron Lady,
the woman who was not ‘for turning’, combined
femininity with strength and determination in ways
that contributed to the powerful undermining of an
244
essentialist gendering of women. In Monuments and
Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, Mary
Warner says: “Margaret Thatcher has never
repudiated as alien or undesirable the image of
strength that clothes her… Rather she interiorizes it
with almost grateful eagerness for it provides her
personality with a dimension that traditional
definitions of female nature exclude” (1985:40).
Thatcher was associated with Britishness
itself. A new form of British strength displacing
several decades of fading colonial and economic
power, especially the resolution of the Falklands
War, brought about this conflation of Thatcher and
Britishness. “I have the reputation, she said on
American television, as the Iron Lady. I am of great
resolve. The resolve is matched by the British
people” (Thatcher, 1982, quoted in Warner,
1985:41). She could play on a traditional historical
representation of female British power: ‘Rule
Britannia’, the glorious queens, the imperial cult of
Elizabeth I, Gloriana, the Phoenix of the world, true
descendant of Eneas’ great grandson Brutus. In a
typically queenly manner, she managed to represent
herself near the heart of things in Britain.
Representing traditionalism, authoritarian leadership
and national pride, she came to replace the queen
as the symbolic centre of power. Many British
children, Warner says (43), failed to recognise the
difference between the Queen and the Prime
245
Minister – indicative of a radical shift in the female
figurehead of national identity.
Warner concludes that Margaret Thatcher
managed to coalesce the hypostasis of the battle-
axe queen of the Celtic tribe of the Icenii, Boudicca,
with Britannia’s resoluteness and a housewifely
demeanour. She is known after all by two cosy
names as well - ‘Mrs T.’ and ‘Maggie’ (1985:51). She
preserved her status as a proper woman: she
cooked for her Cabinet, expressed interest in the
kitchen; on a visit to a factory she discussed the
difficulties of making marzipan with women workers;
her inner cabinet was referred to as the ‘kitchen
cabinet’ and she drew analogies with housework to
describe her prime-ministerial responsibilities,
describing her national economy as if it were a
domestic budget. The soft, more womanly
components of her identity were described by
feminists as a means of manipulating people as
regards some of the harsher policies of her
government: repression of the miners’ strike, denial
of trade unions’ and civil rights, stricter immigration
laws and the dismantling of the welfare state
(Franklin et al, 1991: 350).
She also waged war on a repertoire of
traditional cultural idioms of British womanhood
decried by Virginia Woolf in her essay A Room of
One’s Own, namely the images of nanny and
governess. We have here an interesting case of self-
denial because, while lashing out at these avatars of
246
femininity, she also assumes the roles in her relation
to the British people: nanny, matron, governess,
these are not Mrs.Thatcher’s personal role models.
But they are perceived to be in character because
they are women of discipline. Margaret Thatcher
tapped into an enormous source of female power: the
right of prohibition. She exercised over unruly
elements, near and far the kinds of censure children
receive from a strict mother. It is a very familiar form
of female authority, it just looks novel applied by a
Prime Minister. It is also an authority many are used
to obeying (Warner, 1985: 52).
Margaret Thatcher lends herself easily to a
psychoanalytical discussion mainly as regards her
contradictory approach to the psychosexual aspects
of political power, the centrality of violence and terror
in this case, rather than desire and sexuality. She
repudiates terror and violence on the one hand -
football rowdyism, rioting, the Hungerford massacre,
on the other hand she seems to be fascinated with it,
showing a repressed desire for violence (the
Falklands War, capital punishment, harsher law,
militarism). Drawing upon the works of Julia Kristeva,
Janet Rose argues (1988:3-31) that femininity sets
the boundaries of the social, and is defined in
opposition to it as excess, chaos and irrationality.
However, Thatcher’s image as a female leader
manages to balance, to hold together, the
contradictions of rationality and femininity, whilst
embodying the fragility of that boundary. This
247
produces the fascinating and yet terrifyingly powerful
female executioner who legitimated extreme force of
state violence in the name of law and order. In this
way Thatcher’s gender identity held together the
contradictory images of anti-violence and anti-
statism on the one hand, and aggressive
nationalism, militarism and a law-and-order state on
the other.
Thatcher’s image can be seen from a feminist cultural
perspective to have had a highly gendered
significance. This in turn suggests means by which
her identity as a woman may have served to mediate
certain aspects of her government’s policies and
secure popular consent for her leadership. It suggests
also how femininity could be both present and absent
in her image, its selective invocation and denial
facilitated by the combination of being a woman in a
traditionally masculine role (Franklin et al, 1991: 37).
Maureen McNeil believes firmly that there has been a
strong gender politics within the policies and interests
of the Conservative governments of the 80’s,
although this has been very elusive. In more recent
years several critics of Thatcherism have allowed
some of the language and conceptual frameworks of
feminism to shape their picture. Stuart Hall speaks of
Thatcherism as constructing a ‘patriarchal
entrepreneurial subject’ (1988: 8) and of it at some
moments addressing Thatcherite men or “the
Thatcherite man in all of us” and at others “the little
248
Thatcherite woman in all of us” (Hall, 1988:85-86). A
woman in power has to put away feminine things, has
to prove that she does not quail before the sword, but
she too can be man enough to press the button
(Polan, “Handbag and Rule” in The Guardian, 29
December 1988: 27).
In her family rhetoric Thatcher’s discourse
attempts to depoliticise the institution and the power
relations within it, thus challenging many of the
feminist arguments of the 70s and 80s. In reality,
although reclaimed as an apolitical sphere within the
rhetoric of freedom and choice, a high degree of
political intervention befell the family and, in this
sphere again, we come upon the same wavering
between the neo-conservative and neo-liberal poles
of Thatcher’s political spectrum. To understand her
family rhetoric we have to consider first the intense
interdependence of the private and public spheres
that remains central to feminist politics. The Western
liberal individualism that evolved from the so-called
Age of Enlightenment onwards had men in mind and
was predicated on what one academic feminist once
called ‘women’s relegation to the ontological
basement’. What she meant was that men’s
embrace of the principle of individual equality, of
opportunity and of the right freely to enter as
unencumbered individuals into the competitive
marketplace of high politics and the public economy
rested on the assumption that women would remain
in the home, servicing the needs of men and their
249
children. Women’s allotted role was to make the
home a ‘haven in a heartless world’.
While individualism reigned supreme in the
public sphere, the family of the private sphere was
not reconstituted to consist of atomised individuals,
but rather was resolidified as a corporate entity,
hierarchically ordered from the headship of the
father/husband down through the dependent
mother/wife to the dependent children. The resulting
limits to individualism are recognized in the New
Right’s defence of the traditional family, where
women have the task of nurturing the dependents; it
is explicitly they who bear the costs of individualism.
The separation of the public and private
spheres belongs to the liberal tradition and is built
into New Right assumptions. It confronts modern
feminists’ best known claim that the personal is
political. Private life is not private from social policy,
and public life reflects the division of labour in the
home, especially in terms of time. The liberal
tradition sees politics as essentially public affairs, but
feminists, as I have said, have claimed that families
and households are political too (Pascall, 1997:11-
12). Families are public because they are the
subjects of careful regulation: legislation on
marriage, divorce, children and family law, which
historically encompassed men’s dominance over
women and children in marriage. We see Thatcher
waver between the neo-conservative and neo-liberal
poles of her political spectrum yet again, because
250
although the family was presented as an apolitical
sphere within the rhetoric of freedom and choice

, a
high degree of political intervention befell
households and families during her premiership.
Feminists writing about the anti-feminist backlash in
the English-speaking world remind us to beware of
men talking about the restoration of family values.
Signals about the decline of the family have been
used as a backlash against the increasing autonomy
of women and children. Men lament the loss of their
sacred duty to own, control and enforce behaviour
upon women (Dowdy, 1992:8). New Right policies,
with their emphasis on enterprise, extended the
market values deep into areas that were previously
socially regulated or provided – in labour, housing,
social care and the management of health and
education. Through important legislation in
education, NHS, child support, housing and
community care, important changes occur, which
represent the culmination of the Thatcher project for

Hayek, the great intellectual of the New Right, whilst recognising
the importance of the family as a legitimate unit as much as the
individual, already shows the signs of irreconcilable tensions
between them. The individualist philosophy that they promote
depends heavily on the traditional notion of family. Primary ties of
dependence, nurturance and mutual help are an inevitable part of the
structure of any society, even of one ostensibly organised around
individualism and independence (Zaretsky, 1982:193). The resulting
limits to individualism are recognised in the New Right’s Defence of
the Traditional Family where women have the task of nurturing the
dependent, so it is they who bear the costs of individualism.
251
society to replace bureaucratic and professional
modes with market product, voluntary organization
and family care. In the countries that lay claim to the
title of democracy there has been a marked
consistency in the figures for female participation in
national and local politics. However, with the major
recent exception of the Nordic countries, women
figure in national politics at something between 2
and 10 per cent, and in many developed
democracies women have found it notoriously hard
to break the 5 per cent barrier (Phillips, 1991:60).
Thatcher said if women wish to be lawyers, doctors,
engineers or scientists, they should have the same
opportunities as men (Pascall, 1997: 65). But despite
theoretical possibilities, British equality laws have
had little impact on women’s position at work. These
laws have coexisted with a segregated and a male-
controlled labour market and with a family policy that
leaves women responsible for the care of children
and old people. The Thatcher government brought a
new urgency and ideological flavour to this traditional
theme. If the market was to replace the government
across a swathe of social policy areas, the family
was to be the saftey net (Pascall, 1997: 68). If the
market was to be set free, the family was to
encompass our responsibility for each other, to
underpin individual security in an increasingly
insecure world. If society did not exist, the family
would have to fill its place.
252
The Thatcher government took alarm at the idea that
the family could no longer carry out its functions
effectively, could no longer give security to children,
raise responsible citizens, provide a haven of
stability in an increasingly ‘heartless world’.
Thatcher’s family rhetoric attempts to depoliticise the
institution and the power relations within it,
challenging many of the feminist arguments of the
70s and 80s. True to the ideas of her early speech
writer and family policies advisor Ferdinand Mount,
author of Subversive Family (1982), Thatcher
promoted the family as the source of freedom, liberty
and dignity, of national pride, a repository of moral
values. Family is equal to society; it is a nursery, a
school, a hospital, a leisure centre, a place of refuge
and a place of rest, she believed. It is, therefore,
seen to encompass the whole of society. It fashions
our beliefs. It is the preparation for the rest of our
life. “And women run it,” she argued at the
Conservative Women’s Conference in 1988.
Her rhetoric in the cause of family, in contrast to
other right-wing policies, rarely had an explicitly
gendered audience. She assumed the absolute
compatibility of the home and of the agora, of
women’s public and private roles: the home should
be the centre but not the boundary of a woman’s life
(Thatcher in 1982, quoted in Campbell, 1987: 235).
She said at the Conservative Women’s Conference
253
in 1986 that the desire to do better for one’s family is
the strongest driving force in human nature.
Rooted in the nuclear family, the kinship ethos of the
Thatcher governments defined itself in opposition to
the ‘nanny state’, tantamount to socialism, trade
unionism, collectivism and unfashionably liberal
teachers. Since persons were defined through
consumerism, nationalism, parenthood, professional
success, reproduction of wealth and an array of
traditional values, the cultivation of the family was
prompted by the individualist ethos as well as by that
of popular capitalism and of free market
consumerism. Thus the encouragement of
purchases of homes, private education and
healthcare, domestic products and family-oriented
policies were primary areas of privatisation and
market proliferation. Home purchase and
consumerism became important parameters in
assessing middle-class masculinity. Men were called
upon to make money to provide for their families, to
provide goods and services; it was an ideal that
many working class men were urged to emulate.
Man cast as the almost heroic provider, the
breadwinner for his family, was a reinforcement of
traditional masculinity, a situation that obscured the
increasing participation of women in paid
employment and domestic labour.
254
We should remember that the definition of the
fundamental features of Thatcherism was performed
against the backdrop of the demonised permissive
society of the 60’s and 70’s, an era of decline and
loss. The women’s movement with its challenges to
traditional, patriarchal definitions of family,
domesticity, sexuality and reproduction, was
presented as an essential avatar of the permissive
society. There is no doubt that Thatcher assumed a
position of political leadership on very patriarchal
terms, however much she may have played upon
her identity of mother, homemaker, housewife in her
professional life. She was herself unequivocal about
feminism: in her mind the battle had been won.
Beneath the slogan "My message to Women of the
Nation" in the poster picturing her, her reply was:
“Tough” (Franklin et al, 1991: 41). But nevertheless,
even for many feminists whose definition of feminism
is access to male power, Thatcher’s success was
indeed a success for feminists. An example would
be the 300 Group campaign organized by women to
increase the number of women in parliament. Other
feminists like Brunt, while denying the above
assumption of Thatcher’s success as feminist
success, because they would claim that women do
not only want power on patriarchal terms but also
want to transform the terms upon which it is defined,
argue at least that she did not let the team down.
She was not sympathetic to feminism, her policies
did not benefit a significant number of women, but
255
she actively disproved the sexist assumption that
women are incapable of holding high political office.
Thatcherism was part of a general backlash against
feminism, along with the rise of the New Right and a
general bemoaning of progressive political movements
from the loony lefties to the bra-burning Greenham
Commons and Molesworth militants (Brunt, 1987:42).
But Thatcherism is much more than a backlash
against feminism and what is more important is that
it constitutes a reworking, a new engagement with
feminist issues. Men’s rights groups or fetal rights
advocates were an attack on the gains of feminism,
but also a calling into question of feminist issues in
refashioning the objectives, the targets of the whole
movement. Thatcher never demonised feminism
and, although she was not a particular fan of feminist
vocabulary, she availed herself occasionally of the
language of rights individualism and equal
opportunities, particularly in the area that really
mattered: that of the enterprise culture where
women were invited to take up equal citizenship with
men.
Thatcher was a post-feminist

careerist and was well

In the 1980’s, whilst many feminists decried the end of feminism
due to a process of fragmentation and pluralist development, in
response to the existence of multiple identities for women, many
others found in it a lot of strength confirming the solidity and the
openness, the undogmatic relational capacity of feminism, or rather
256
known for her opinion that feminism was quite
unnecessary: “After all, I don’t think there has not
been a great deal of discrimination against women
for years” (quoted in ten Tusscher, 1986: 77). It was
in the name of furthering women’s options in the paid
labour force that Thatcher incorporated some of the
language of feminism into her government policies,
such as the promotion of women’s training schemes
and her limited support for equal opportunities
programmes. The double standard in her vision of
women’s equality was clearly evident in her claim
feminisms, to accommodate and give scope to all these multiple
identities of women across the class, professional, social, race and
ethnic spectra. Although the women’s movement loses in visibility,
it gains in breadth and depth (Katzenstein and Mueller, 1987).
Awareness grew and this, along with the deterioration of economic
conditions, focused attention once again on the issue of political
representation. Policy change for women was becoming harder to
achieve because of the lack of women in decision-making positions.
The demand at state and European levels for the increased
representation of women is gaining more and more legitimacy (see
British Labour decision for women-only shortlists in selected
parliamentary seats). Representation is a concept that brings up the
issue of women’s interests which, far from being homogeneous,
should be nuanced along the spectrum of class, ethnicity, race. Thus
Marion Young contends that only bottom-up support from public
resources could lead to the recognition of cross-cutting identities.
Proportionality should be combined with fair representation,
meaning that not only numbers but other categories of difference as
well are taken into consideration. Group interests have often been
regarded as too specific and particularistic, undermining the national
interest. Nowadays we can see that many political parties in their
soundbiting electional campaigns or in actual policies tend to
accommodate identity-based interests: gender, disability, race,
ethnicity, sexual preference - again a good example would be the
New Labour policies.
257
that: “It is possible in my view for a woman to run a
house and continue with her career provided that
two conditions are fulfilled. First, her husband must
be in sympathy with her wish to do another job.
Secondly, where there is a young family, the joint
incomes of husband and wife must be sufficient to
employ a first class nanny-housekeeper to look after
things in the wife’s absence. The second is the key
to the whole plan” (Thatcher quoted in ten Tusscher,
1986:79).
The rhetoric of Thatcherism, condensed into ‘the lady’s
not for turning’, ‘as any housewife knows’ and fighting
against the ‘nanny’ state (McNeil, 1991:225), can
further clarify to what extent gender was an issue in
Thatcher’s policies and also to what extent the
personal image and the gendered dimensions of
Thatcherite rhetoric were complementary. The most
memorable of these lines uttered at the Conservative
Party Conference in October 1980, written for her by
playwright Roland Millar, whilst distancing her from the
Tory ‘wets’, emphasised power and control; she was
not a stereotypical woman, she could not be wooed.
Again this is not the power of women but this was
exclusive and individual, it is the power of the lady that
Thatcher insisted upon. ‘As every housewife knows’
represented her attempt to establish parallels between
the domestic and national economies (Hall, 1988: 47,
206), although she was invoking rhetoric here rather
than women’ s daily experiences, as most women for
258
most of their lives are no longer full-time housewives. It
had to do with that ethos of making the best of
yourself, of making do. It also touched upon a strong
streak of nationalism and nostalgia, women being
encouraged to carry heavy domestic burdens and to
make great self-sacrifices in the national interest. The
disdain for the nanny state conveyed the view that the
people should be real men and take care of
themselves. It reaffirmed a well-known set of
dichotomies: socialism, welfare state, femininity,
dependence and indulgence vs. market, laissez-faire
values, masculinity, independence, austerity (McNeil,
1991:226). The personal image and the gendered
dimensions of Thatcherite rhetoric were
complementary. They shared a common emphasis on
the uniqueness of Thatcher’s feminine strength,
disdain for many aspects of women’s experience, and
distaste for some features of the feminine in our
culture. Significantly, femininity was also used to
distance Thatcher from her male colleagues and to
address them in an idiom from which they were
excluded (Wilson, 1987:221), Thatcher in 1983 said:
“What I am desperately trying to do… is to create one
nation with everyone being a man of property.”
Men appear quite often in the garb of the ‘new
oppressed’ of Thatcher’s age: strongly defended
fathers, fetuses and burdened taxpayers, which makes
McNeil remark ironically that “there is a caring face of
Conservatism”. This is however rendered through
259
scapegoating women, by the cultivation of female and
feminist bogeys

(McNeil, 1991: 229). For instance,
The Educational Reform Bill of 1987 was meant to
become a guarantor of new parental powers, obviously
white middle-class parents, whilst being directed
explicitly against the supposed encroachments of
professions in which women predominate - teaching
and social work. Another consistent bogey, a favourite
vehicle of the scapegoating of women in the Thatcher
era, was the threatening and increasingly prevalent
single mother; she constituted a permanent threat to
the traditional role of the father. Moreover, the
discourses on artificial insemination and the publicity
given to sperm banks dealt a heavy blow to the poor,
decent, hardworking, over-burdened taxpayer, the
male breadwinner of the working and lower middle-
class family. This patriarchal, entrepreneurial hero of
the Thatcher discourse was made to suffer at the
hands of the ‘scrounger’, a generic term (Hall, 1988:

Thatcherism promoted a climate in which the scapegoating of
women professionals was a predictible outcome. A renegotiation of
the public-private divide and a range of other labour issues were
highlights of her policies. There was a most serious erosion of the
conditions, status and pay of the liberal professions and of the most
highly unionised parts of the public sector, heavily privatised under
Thatcher: nursing, social work, teaching. It was not coincidental that
the professional conduct of two women doctors, Wendy Savage and
Marietta Higgs, became the subject of major public debate: an
obstetrician and pediatrician; their competence was subjected to
hostile public interrogation. In the Savage case it revolved around
her use of unprofessional childbirth techniques; in the Higgs case the
criteria used to diagnose child sexual abuse were at issue (McNeil,
op.cit.:232).
260
47, 145), although the single mother on welfare was a
specific variety, ‘the enemy within’. Mrs.Thatcher was
reported as criticising young women for becoming
pregnant in order to gain housing priority (Sexty,
1990:36). The 90s saw new policies to deter women
from becoming lone mothers by reducing their housing
rights to enforce breadwinner support through the
Child Support agency, and to encourage lone mothers
to support themselves and their own children through
paid employment with payments from fathers where
possible (Pascall, 1997: 235).
These constructions of threatening agents is
paradoxical, because less powerful groups
demanding greater social justice came to be seen as
the agents in the oppression of other far more
powerful groups (McNeil, 1991:230). The
championing of the rights of parents, fathers,
burdened taxpayers and fetuses in turn threatened
some of the hard-won gains of feminism in the
spheres of the professions, education, welfare and
reproductive rights. The cultivation of sympathies for
the ‘new oppressed’ was a crucial but neglected
aspect of the ideological face of Thatcherism and a
key component of its gendered dimension, McNeil
thinks (1991:230). The educational responsibilities of
mothers increased as well as the impressive amount
of domestic labour because of the cutbacks in
benefits for the elderly, the ill and the disabled,
schoolchildren. Parents were called upon to police
their children more adequately, mothers almost
261
exclusively were held responsible for youth
misbehaviour, muggings, riots, including those on
the football pitch (David, 1983:40). Shortages of
teachers put enormous strain on parents; one-third
of the schools used parents to teach arithmetic and
computer studies, one-third of the money spent on
books and equipment in schools came from parents.
On the other hand, there are aspects of the
educational reform, not least of the National
Curriculum, that go with the trend towards widening
girls’ horizons, evidenced by increases in their
general levels of achievement in Maths at GCSE and
Double Science, which allowed teachers to support
the expansion of girls’ real choice in education and
career. Widening access to higher education was an
important feature of the Thatcher era that particularly
benefited girls and women. Through the 1980s the
increase in the number of mature students was
greater than for men, regardless of the institution or
academic level of study or whether the course was
part or full time. In 1988 men accounted for 56 per
cent of mature students compared to 66 per cent in
1981 (Pascall, 1997: 128)

.

In a Guardian Weekly report of January 11, 1998 we read about a
most distressing and alarming general underperformance by boys in
their GCSE exams. Stephen Byers, Education Secretary, told an
international conference on school effectiveness in Manchester: “We
must challenge the laddish, anti-learning culture which has been
allowed to develop over recent years.” The official statistics prove
that girls outperform boys at GCSE level in all but one local
authority. In terms of the proportion of pupils obtaining five A to C
grades the gap between boys and girls has widened nationally to 9
262
As regards the New Right discourse on sexuality,
despite its strong moralistic image, Thatcherism
distanced itself much more systematically than
Reaganism from undiluted New Right morality and
sexual puritanism

. John Gray in his famous work of
1993, although very economical with his praises for
neo-conservatism, remarks that in spite of all the
charges of authoritarian moralism, the Thatcher
government never even attempted to repress the
hard-won liberal reforms in the field (1998: 149). A
standing proof is the fact that Thatcher refused to
link up with Mary Whitehouse and other puritanical
crusaders of sexual morality in the 80’s. The most
systematic effort in this area was the endeavour to
prise the family away, as the quintessential unit of
social stability and economic transactions from the
unsettling realm of sexuality. Some philosophers of
the New Right, like Roger Scruton, advocated that
women should tame the unruly force of the male:
marriage and the family, he said, were units for the
socialisation of men and guaranteed social stability.
As the only social unit acknowledged by Thatcherism,
and even to 15 per cent in some areas; 28,500 boys leave school each
year without qualifications compared with 21,500 girls.

Michel Foucault addressed the problems related to the development
of the discourses of sexuality, putting forward the argument that the
repression model of sexuality is misconceived. Hence, the Victorian
era must be understood not as a period in which there were social
prohibitions on the expression of sexuality, but rather as a period in
which these discourses proliferated, because prohibitions fuelled the
flames of the discourses of sexuality (1978).
263
the family had to carry the whole weight of
responsibility for socialisation and for the conservative
adaptation to the status quo. Given this expectation,
sexuality could only be seen as a disruptive force
(McNeil, 1991: 233). But this attitude was far from
consistent and there were cases when division within
Conservative ranks on the issues of sexuality came to
the fore. Victoria Gillick ran a campaign for asserting
parents’ rights to control their daughters’ access to
contraceptives, to prevent prescription of
contraceptives for girls under 16 without parental
consent, but in 1985 the decision was overthrown by
the Law Lords. If there was consensus in the field, it
was around heterosexuality and against
homosexuality (e.g. the introduction of Section 28, a
government-sponsored amendment to a Bill
concerning local government, which banned the
promotion of homosexuality by local councils).
In the case of the widely hyped sexual scandals in
her own Cabinet, the famous Cecil Parkinson and
Jeffrey Archer scandals (the former was a senior
government minister discovered to have fathered his
secretary’s child; the latter an ex-Conservative MP
and best selling novelist, who eventually won a
major libel case against allegations about an extra-
marital affair with a prostitute

), the approved public

We are in for a big surprise, however, if we browse through the
papers of early December 1999, where we learn that Lord Archer
(also a prolific writer with several of his books translated into
Romanian) had persuaded a friend to lie about crucial details of the
264
response was that men could stray from the straight
and narrow, but women should stand by their men.
The two wronged wives demonstrated the virtue of
quiet, long-suffering and loyal spouses.
The Alton Abortion Bill was introduced in Parliament
as a Private Member’s bill by a pro-life liberal, David
Alton, in October 1987. In January 1988 it was given
a second reading in the House of Commons, where
it passed by a majority of 296 to 252. In Committee,
Conservatives supported Alton so finally none of the
29 amendments proposed in the committee were
passed, but then the bill ran out of time at the Report
Stage which follows Committee and failed. It
proposed a reduction in the upper time limit for legal
abortion from 28 to 18 weeks gestation. It did not
rule out abortion altogether, but it aimed at initiating
incremental erosion of legal abortion, beginning with
late abortions. The press had an overriding
importance in shaping the terms of the public debate
in that period and only when a kind of consensual
position was outlined by the media (giving priority to
a pro-fetal or fetocentrist stance, a pro-life and
eugenic attitude over feminist politics) did Margaret
case back in 1987. The whole political career of Archer is
threatened, even membership of the party he has served for the last
30 years and a jail sentence was not ruled out at one point. The
scandal also ruined his campaign to become mayor of London and
revived the taint of the Tory sleaze controversies of the Thatcher and
Major years (“Archer Heaps Shame on Tories” in Guardian Weekly,
Nov 25-Dec 1, 1999).


265
Thatcher make her own position on the Alton Bill
clear. The government then adopted a compromise
position reducing the upper time limit to 22 rather
than 18 weeks. The parliamentary amendment to
lower if not to bar completely access to abortion to
24 weeks was passed in 1990 by a considerable
majority.
The power of science, medicine, technology to
determine commonsense assumptions concerning
reproductive issues was to be an increasingly
important focus for feminists struggling within the
contested territory of reproductive politics (Franklin
et al, 1991: 218). The construction of fetus
personhood as a cultural category has been one of
the main challenges to feminists. It aims at
naturalising social and cultural constructedness.
Patriarchal individualism underlies this process, the
fetus being constructed through power/knowledge or
discourse, in the visual, metaphorical and linguistic
representations (the gendered construction of the
fetus as masculine, the narration of the fetus in
terms of masculine heroism and adventure).
Feminists contend that fetal citizenship contradicts
the citizenship of women and contradicts their
individuality. Endowing fetuses with full civil rights
ironically confers upon them a status in relation to
the patriarchal social contract which women never
had to begin with (Franklin, 1991b:190-205). As
Nancy Chodorow (The Reproduction of Mothering,
266
1978) and E.F. Keller (Reflections on Science and
Gender, 1985) have often remarked, the fetus as
bounded object of patriarchal science (through which
the body of the woman in whom the fetus exists is
rendered invisible), bears a strong resemblance to
the bounded masculine self formed through a similar
psychic process of disavowal of maternal
dependence. The masculine identification with the
fetus as hero, adventurer, its uterine existence cast
in terms of a developmental journey and space travel
render the woman’s body invisible and futile. Donna
Haraway takes issue with the very term individuality
which etymologically should mean ‘that which cannot
be divided’, for this can only represent the male,
because in the case of women we have the process
of one individual becoming two, two bodies
becoming one, the exact antithesis of individuality:
“Why women have had so much trouble counting as
individuals in modern Western discourse is precisely
this: that their personal bounded individuality is
compromised by their bodies’ troubling talent for
making other bodies whose individuality can take
precedence over their own” (Haraway, 1988:3-44).
It is also interesting to speculate on the
hidden agenda of some of Thatcher’s speeches. The
resumption of the discourse of decline in the
Thatcher Years was not only for the sake of winter
tale telling but had subversive motivations as well:
denouncing the ideal of the gentleman prototype in
the cultural history of England. The gentleman ideal
267
and the elite based on the public school ethos had
failed lamentably and there was a general feeling
that the gentleman ideal, an ideal of masculinity
triumphant, was a wrong definition of Englishness.
Instead of the outdated stiff-upper lip masculinity and
the muscular Christianity and cultural physicalism of
the Empire gentleman (such as Michael Henry
Havelock or Lawrence of Arabia) a new ideal of
gentility emerges which no longer excludes women.
Her 1979 election speech is thus far more gendered
than it might seem.
She also appeals to common sense, to daily
life experiences, tradition, commonplace knowledge,
her speech hinges on the traditional functions of
women in all societies: the ancestors create the
guidelines for their descendants and without this
awareness of tradition there would be no stability
and security. Britain’s decline is therefore also a
result of traditions falling into oblivion and ancestors
being denied, hence the fire being extinguished in
the altars of Hestia’s or Vesta’s temples and the
banning of the vestal priestesses. Her frequent
evocations of the glorious past serves to highlight
her heroic mission in British society. The
fecklessness of the Socialists lampooned in her early
speeches, the threat posed to the glorious heritage
of the Big Empire days, the irresponsibility and lack
of political perspective of the ‘wets’ and the grouse-
moor politicians in her own party are all challenges
that Britain had to face. Britain had once again a
268
providential person as heroic as Churchill in the
Battle of Britain. Her spirit of self-immolation in
founding a new order in her land, in installing a new
state after the disasters of the corporatist, highly
collectivised, consensus-based policies of the
Labour government, is reflected in her aggressively
self-centred tone: “As long as I have health and
strength they (socialism and Britain) never will be
one and the same.” She casts herself here in the
mythical role of the pater patriae, the Saviour, her
missionary spirit, the messiah guiding her people out
of bondage (Thatcher, 1977: 19-20; 1993).
Thatcher’s decade followed immediately on
the heels of a decade of feminism. Feminism did
make a difference. At the core of virtually every
aspect of the Thatcherite programme there was
some challenge to feminism: the reinforcement of
the public-private divide, profound individualism and
devaluing of women’s experience within Thatcher’s
image and rhetoric; the entrenchment of middle
class models of the masculine breadwinner through
the reinvigoration of domestic consumption; the
attacks on women’s autonomy through the
championing of the rights of fathers, burdened male
taxpayers and fetuses; the undermining of concrete
gains made in struggles over women’s welfare,
employment and professional possibilities, the
closing down of the discourse of sexuality.
But the very indirectness of the sexual and gender
269
politics of the Thatcher decade is testimony to the
achievements of feminist struggles, in its implicit
acknowledgement that in the wake of the latest
phase of the movement, a direct assault on feminism
and women was no longer possible (Riley, 1988).
Thatcher and feminism differ completely yet they
flourish in the same garden (Loach, 1987:23), calling
into question strong identity politics.
She strives hard on the one hand to present politics
as something transcending gender, hence the
vacuity of the arguments, including psychoanalytic
arguments, that favour her masculinization; and on
the other hand she seems to be vaguely aware that
her accession to power to some extent due to the
feminist movement and thus she also assumes the
aspect of female solidarity, no matter how
idiosyncratically in her case. Many people still think
that, in a world more and more debarred of sexist
prejudices, women undergo a process of
neutralisation or de-gendering through politics.
Women have not only been hostages of their
reproductive function; they have traditionally been the
conveyors of tradition over the centuries, the main
agents of enculturation in all societies, educators,
managers of the domestic economy, preservers of
oral, popular culture, of unwritten laws. They have
always offered an alternative to the rigorous, law-
based, abstract moral and cultural codes of the right
or norm-based ethos, Antigone vs. Creon being the
270
paradigmatic pair here. So when in one of her famous
speeches she says, “But there is another Britain
which may not make the daily news, but which each
one of us knows. It is a Britain of thoughtful people,
tantalisingly slow to act, yet marvellously determined
when they do. It is their voice, which steadies each
generation. Its message is quiet but insistent”, I think
that she is mostly thinking here of the great mothers
of the nation in tandem with men, without marking her
referents for a specific gender.
It makes you remember an ideal that Virginia Woolf
expressed in a book that is too often overlooked and
deemed quite dull and fraught with clichés, by some
feminists particularly. Three Guineas appeared when
the civilisation of Europe was wavering on the edge of
the abyss. The whole world was falling apart and with
it Woolf’s hopes for a just and fair society. She is very
sceptical about any form of activism aimed at
redressing the balance between the sexes, targeting
gender discrimination, oppression, exclusion,
marginalization. That is why the value of this piece
must needs be judged in its context, and it is the
contingency of the work that should save it, I think,
from rejection. The utopian horizon of expectations
changes. In a Room of One’s Own, a future of
assuaged creative frustrations, an age of the
formidable explosion of female creativity, of visibility in
the public eye, of parity in all fields, including that of
sociability, friendship, solidarity, seemed quite
271
probable, almost palpable. In Three Guineas the
perspectives are much grimmer and the future of
gender interrelationships is outlined in the fashion of
utopias: if it is ever to happen, it will not be thanks to
women’s activism but to an increased awareness of
the other sex and finally of a common will of the two
sexes to work and militate in conjunction: a fight by
both men and women against the tyranny of the
patriarchal state, against the rising forces of
authoritarianism (1992:303). I think that we should
take with a largish pinch of salt the radical distrust
expressed here by Virginia Woolf in the efficacy of
feminist action. I keep thinking of that crude appraisal
expressed by many critics of the firm oppositional
relationship between the two poles of Woolf’s feminist
thinking. Far from being a rupture, a break with the
main ideas expressed in A Roomof One’s Own I think
that Three Guineas is a logical sequel to the former
(although feminists would have a word to say about
her flight from the most burning feminist issues: see
Elaine Showalter’s criticism of her flight into
androgyny to avoid confronting what was staring her
in the eye).
I think that Thatcher, a contradictory, complex,
formidable character in the contemporary world, is
much more than a story of success or a story of
femininity a rebours. Her permanent endeavours
with her image, her rhetoric, her public perception
point to the paradoxes and inconsistencies in the
272
constructions of gender. If we were to look at
Thatcher as a textual body we would always come
across disseminated texts belonging to other bodies:
Aphra Behn or George Eliot, Catherine of Pisa or
Saint Ursula, all those female writers whose
suppressed texts were finally circulated
anonymously. From Catherine of Pisa to the nuclear
disarmament campaigns staged by feminists, one
can hear their mutterings in these speeches and in
her performance as a politician. I agree that her
housewife clichés might be a promotional strategy,
but I refuse to believe in the exclusively male and
even macho text. I think that very much like
Catherine of Pisa or Virginia Woolf, Thatcher was
trying to dismantle some of the dependency,
weakness, poverty, frailty cognates of womanghood,
all those areas of society regarded as ‘feminine’. We
know that in fact by deploying this range of
strategies she put women under a lot of strain,
because lampooning the weakling and the evil of all
evils, the welfare state, finally led to the narrowing
down of opportunities for women’s performance
outside hearth and home. Cutting benefits for all kind
of disabled, of vulnerable sections of the population,
reduced women’s capacity for professional
accomplishment, because finally it was again up to
them, in the stereotyped function of mothers, carers
and nourishers, to take over where the state kept
withdrawing its protection.
273
But I think that we should not be too critical of
Thatcher. We cannot deny that her politics and
social policies also had another effect: that of female
gendering as never before, with a vengeance we
might say, power and success. The social imaginary
reflects it in the mass culture of the time. The
enterprising woman became the subject of an
extraordinary explosion in the publication of books of
advice for women, female executives, competitive
professionals. They are often Cinderella stories like
Mike Nicoll’s Working Girl. Their titles speak for
themselves: The competitive Woman, A Survival
Guide for the Woman who Aims to be Boss, When a
Woman Means Business, Working the System: 12
Ways for Women to Achieve Career Breakthroughs,
The Influential Woman, How to Achieve Success
Without Losing Your Femininity. All these books offer
the fantasy of barriers melting away if women act
and perform appropriately. It is a fantasy which
appeals to women precisely because it invokes
notions of agency and power; the models are self-
help and responsibility, self-reliance, the moral
theme of independence: “Lucky is only opportunity
meeting readiness.” Cunning, however, an inborn
trait because of centuries of women’s subjugation,
must make their methods diplomatic and subtle;
women’s power must not challenge that of men and
must not be fought for at work at the expense of
building family life and marital relationships. Above
all, it must not challenge the dominance of
274
heterosexuality as well as the institutions within
which women’s identities are constructed (Newman,
1991: 247-251). These books also challenge
feminism: “I am not suggesting that a woman should
deny her femininity and operate like a hard-line
feminist; indeed such a ‘bulldozing’ approach would
be incompatible with the technique of a commercially
minded businesswoman” (Cameron, 1989:13).
The productions of this enterprise fiction celebrate
the move beyond feminism. Now that any serious
form of discrimination has been done away with,
they all try to ‘naturalise’ social divisions and to
depoliticise women’s outlook on the world: the post-
feminist ethos is described as an emerging culture
and ideology that simultaneously incorporates,
revises and depoliticises many of the fundamental
issues advanced by second-wave feminism

(Rosenfelt and Stacey, 1987:77).

Starting with the second wave, feminism in Western Europe in the
late 60’s and early 70’s shifted the emphasis from political
representation and formal de jure equality to validating and making
visible women’s actual situations over a wide field; it also politicised
that which having been removed from the public eye and fenced off
as the private sphere had long been a realm of marginalization,
oppression and exclusion. Hence the politicisation of issues related
to sexuality, male violence, reproduction, control over the body
(itself a fluctuating arena for contestation, subjection and resistance).
A force was generated that affected the political arena, and across a
quite wide swathe of countries it led to policy changes in the areas of
family law, the right to abortion, employment protection and equal
opportunities.
275
The Woman of Substance, published by
Barbara Taylor Bradford, interestingly, in 1979
proved to be a steady bestseller throughout the 80’s,
one of the first of ‘wannabes’, or enterprise fictions.
Emma Harte, the Yorkshire lass starting from a most
lowly, unpromising social rung and rising to the
position of an undisputed matriarch of her domain, a
multinational empire of department stores, becomes
a fictional symbol of achieving anti-feminist
womanhood. She stands for a clear flight from
maternity, confirming the impossibility of reconciling
a narrative of domesticity with one of enterprise. The
author lays a deeply puritanical emphasis on hard
work and sacrifice and concomitantly on the
simultaneous enjoyment of consumption and
commodities. No sisterhood is celebrated in the
book; both Emma and Thatcher ignore and exploit
other women. They achieve success within existing
structures and any idea of collective struggle is
irreconcilable with a story of individual triumph.
There was an entire craze about emulating women
of substance like Emma Harte. It is a story that tells
us not only about the possibility of freeing women
from gender clichés, about their being able to hold,
no matter in how frail and tense a balance, the Angel
of the Hearth and their careers, but also about the
drawbacks and caveats of enterprise, initiative,
competition and success: failure in marriage and in
the education of children.
276
I would guess that much of the hatred and insults
that people traditionally hurl at Thatcher cannot be
separated from her having actually transgressed, not
with a lot of grace but with a lot of boldness and
vigour and wit of phrase, the boundaries between
gender spheres. One has to struggle against the
temptation to portray her in the fashion of military
saints with a difference, throttling the dragon with her
bare hands, banging him lethally on the head with
her proverbial handbag in the absence of the
consecrated sword.
When dealing with the phenomenon of the
Renaissance, Stephen Greenblatt talks about self-
fashioning which is pleonastic because at that time
fashioning meant exactly the forming of the self, the
presentation of a distinctive personality, a consistent
mode of perceiving and behaving (1980:2).
Thatcher’s ambivalence is at times evocative of
Catherine of Pisa, a famous forerunner of feminism
who, in 1405, published the book The Treasure of
the City of Ladies, in which she seemingly departs
from The City of Ladies. In the former she advises
women to be demure, to act according to their
traditional roles, to defer to the will of men, but at the
same time they are supposed to fashion, to construct
a self, a female one. Through shaping an identity,
they can subvert their position of subjugation in a
male-dominated world (Bella Mirabella, 1999:12).
She fashions a dual identity in order to oppose a
277
patriarchal establishment because, as Greenblatt
warns, self-fashioning takes place in relation to the
threatening Other which must be discovered in order
to be destroyed (1980:9). What Catherine of Pisa
committed by transgressing conventions of the
woman’s voice in the public realm, by advising
subversive submission (silence was the advice of all
inspiring sources in the male canon of the epoch:
Aristotle, St Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, Juvenal’s
famous Sixth Satire) was a crime of thought. She
represented women taking territory for themselves,
adopting the language of the other for their own
purposes against the prevailing master discourse
(Bloch, 1991:47). In Je, tu, nous. Toward a Culture
of Difference, Luce Irigaray tells us about the failure
of the other sex to recognize female identity (77-79).
Overriding female identity in order to pass for a man
is a symptom of the neutralisation of the sexes in our
time. In this case women merely confirm the bases
of the patriarchal order, they slide into a state that
they initially set about calling into question, taking to
task, deconstructing. The women that become men
do not choose but tolerate a man’s world. Margaret
Thatcher left a long-term imprint on British politics,
on British life and society in general. She did a great
job of enriching the outline of female identity in
politics, in public life. With more and more women in
politics today, especially in top, decision-making
positions, a kind of female genealogy in world
politics is establishing itself. It draws our attention to
278
the creativity, spirit, and freedom of the female
gender.
Thatcher’s Legacy
On May 21, 1988 Thatcher addressed the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland and stated that,
“we must not profess the Christian faith and go to
Church simply because we want social reform and
benefits, but we must work and use our talents to
create wealth. ‘If a man will not work he shall not
eat,’ wrote St Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed,
abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy
which derives from the very nature of Creation.” In
an outraged response the Archbishop of Canterbury
remarked that Britain was in danger of becoming a
pharisee society based on self-interest and
intolerance.
The cartoonist of the Observer, Trog, likened her to
Marie Antoinette

who by her extravagance and
disregard for the population, added to the social

Queen of France, wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette tried to
escape the Revolution in 1791 but she was caught and imprisoned. In
1793 she was executed. When she was told that people had become
so poor that they did not have a crust of bread to eat, she is believed
to have said: “Let them eat cake, then.”
279
distress of the country instead of relieving it. The
article concluded that Mrs.Thatcher’s philosophy
provides no inspiration, for it ignores the fact that a
free market society inevitably produces victims who
cannot be blamed and should not be punished for
their failure. She strongly dismissed expression of
concern for the badly-off and a sense of guilt over
that as “drivelling and drooling” for the “moaning
minnies”. Her speeches lack one crucial word that
she cannot bring herself to utter. The word is
compassion (Observer, 29 May 1988:12).
Thatcher herself admits that too many Britons felt
that they were discarded, like so much unwanted
waste, by an economic policy that regarded the
winding down of manufacturing industry and the
tripling of unemployment as mere ‘collateral
damage’ in an otherwise just war. As an article in the
Guardian Weekly of May 9, 1999, says her 11 years
in Downing Street were not placid ones; they were
probably the most divisive years of the post-war era.
“There was a hardening of the heart in those years,
a thinning of the subtle, almost invisible threads of
neighbourliness and common interest that ultimately
tie a society together. Greed seemed to replace
compassion as a core value.”(12). She promised to
roll back the frontiers of the state from the economy
but she did nothing to shrink the role of the central
government from the rest of people’s lives.
280
Inequality has never been so blatant. The growth in
inequality of incomes was unmatched in other
developed countries. The wealth of the top 1 per
cent doubled between 1979 and 1989 to 17 per cent
of the total. Large tax reductions in the top rates of
income tax, from 83 per cent in 1979 to 40 per cent
in 1988, only benefited the most affluent. They failed
in practice to reduce the burden of taxation: income
tax went down but many indirect taxes, like VAT,
went up.
Some people might contend that the economic
recession of Britain could not be put down to trade
unionism alone. Infrastructure, roads, underground
transportation should have got more attention. Whilst
weakening trade union power was a positive aspect
of Thatcherism overall, the UN International Labour
Organization condemned the British government’s
increasingly illiberal labour laws. In 1987 the salary-
negotiating rights of school teachers were curtailed
(Wilson, 1992:114).
She strongly resisted the Social Charter providing for
minimum wages, workers’ participation in
management and guarantees of social welfare
provision. Women were disadvantaged by the 1980
Employment Act, as their rights to maternity leave
and protection from dismissal when pregnant were
much reduced.
281
Roy Hattersley has written: “During 15 Tory years
the number of people below the poverty line rose
from 5 million to 13.7 million and the number of
children similarly deprived increased from 1.4 to 4.2
million” (The Guardian, 4 August, 1997)
Meritocracy cannot be invoked when talking about the
revival of hereditary peerages. Knighthoods and
peerages were liberally distributed, on a scale
unknown since the 1920’s, to people whose chief
distinction, some say, was to have arranged for
companies to make handsome donations to
Conservative Party funds. William Whitelaw was not
only a very deserving politician and staunch supporter
of Thatcherism but also without posterity. But when
she ennobled her husband with a hereditary title in
her retirement Honours List, she secured
ennoblement for her son Mark, and it is hard to
imagine anyone less useful and distinguished than
him (Wilson, 1992:167).
On the day she was elected Prime Minister in 1979
she recited some words of St Francis of Assisi:
“Where there is discord may we bring harmony,
where there is error may we bring truth, where there
is doubt may we bring faith, where there is despair
may we bring hope.” They rank with Neville
Chamberlain’s proclamation of ‘Peace in our Time’
282
among the least prophetic utterances ever made by
a British Prime Minister (Wilson, 1992: 194).
Nigel Lawson writes (1988:10): “It is hard to
persuade people for very long that you are on the
right track if none of your policies delivers the
goods.” Many of the analysts of her policies believe
that her achievements lie in the field of rhetoric and
manipulation of figures: Wynne Godley in the
Observer of 18 Sept 1988:14: “I regard the so-called
Thatcher miracle as a gigantic con-trick… The con
has been achieved by the skilful but thoroughly
dishonest way of presenting the facts.”
I realise that Thatcher, being such a formidable
character, lends herself best to a “on the one hand and
on the other hand” approach when it comes to
assessing her merits. Nevertheless, as I have tried to
demonstrate in this chapter, the influence of
Thatcherism was so decisive on all aspects of British
life and society that maybe this is the most important
thing to say ultimately, that Britain will never again be
was before Thatcher. And when it comes to feeding
arguments into this, the only problem we have to face
is the ordering of an enormous database.
Her views have driven a battering-ram through
traditional Conservative policies (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998: 34). A politician of conviction, she
was against compromise and less interested in
283
balance and harmony than in building consensus
round her ideas. She gradually dismissed many ‘wet’
critics of her policies: Gilmour, Soames; she exiled
Prior to Northern Ireland and managed to lose more
independent-minded ministers such as Carrington in
1982, Heseltine in 1986, Lawson in 1989, and
gradually appointed ministers who owed their
promotion to her: King, Tebbit, Parkinson, Brittan.
Possibly her greatest strengths were being a person
of moral convictions and her readiness to reason
from principle rather than from expediency (Gamble,
1996: 36).
She defended the right of people to be unequal. In
her assault on egalitarianism she became insensitive
to inequalities, vigorously advocating self-reliance
and loathing the deplorable dependence culture. A
new economic morality emerged, celebrating the
individual as wealth creator and consumer. A tabloid
campaign was launched against scroungers.
Although Conservatives resented her desire to
promote an enterprise culture because they said ‘it
smacked of social engineering’ and it was
condemned as a socialist fallacy by traditionalist
Tories, she added a youthful and high-reaching
edge to a depressed national morale.
There is an almost unanimous acknowledgement of
the fact that the most significant political legacy of
284
Thatcherism is that it restored the Conservative
Party to a position of dominance in British politics.
Although the shake-out was severe and the cost in
unemployment and bankruptcies heavy, many of the
subsidised, overstaffed and inefficient parts of the
economy were removed, the trade unions
substantially weakened and the underlying
profitability of industry was improved, in which the
lower the taxes imposed, the better (Gamble, 1996:
21-24).
One cannot deny Thatcher the great merit of
diminishing the political power of trade unionism, a
scourge on Britain for several decades, a power that
became so discretionary and absolute that it
managed to overthrow the governments of Harold
Wilson and Edward Heath in 1974 and James
Callaghan in 1979. She has earned a genuine place
in history by changing the face of the British
economy. With her programme of privatisation, she
slimmed down a state that had become flabby and
overstretched, reconciling Britain for ever to market
forces. She effected the change brutally and with
great pain, but it was a change that had to be made.
That basic shift towards making Britain ready for the
global marketplace has been recognised, even
embraced by Labour.
The Thatcherites ditched state socialism once and
for all, and reinvented themselves as the champions
285
of enterprise. The Conservatives cannot escape the
Lady’s Shadow nor can they claim to be her true
heirs. That mantle has gone however bizarrely to
Tony Blair. Some people find it difficult to call her
Conservative on account of her markedly liberal
policies. Woodrow Wyatt, a close friend and advisor,
wrote in the Conservative Party publication
celebrating Mrs. Thatcher’s ten years in power: “Mrs.
Thatcher may see herself as a Tory, but I do not.”
He places her in the same category as the 19
th
century radical liberal John Bright (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998: 35).
Whereas the issue of Europe and Thatcher’s
growing hostility towards integration was to
contribute significantly to her downfall, we cannot
ignore the fact that in the mid-80’s the Thatcher
government played a key role in the launch of the
Single European Market programme, rightly viewing
it as an expansion of the free market reforms already
underway in the UK. Her government in that period
of the mid-80’s occupied a pivotal position in what
Jacques Delors, the then President of the European
Commission, termed the ‘relaunch of the
Community’.
Tony Blair is called by some of his critics ‘Thatcher’s
son’, and Margaret Thatcher herself congratulated
him, as I have said, on his victory in the May Day
Elections by wishing him the best of British luck with
the continuation of what she started. Blair made
some very public acknowledgements to Thatcher,
286
not least in his most important social policies, as we
shall see in the next chapter.
“It is probably this – the common commitment of
both main parties to the market coupled with a Prime
Minister in her own image - that is Mrs. Thatcher’s
greatest legacy.” (“Thatcher’s Legacy” in Guardian
Weekly, May 9, 1999).
In 1997 when she backed William Hague for the
leadership of the party in her fiercely combative and
determined way against the Redwood-Clarke
coalition, this is what the Times leader quotes her as
saying on June 19, 1997: “Now have you got that?
Hague. Would you like to hear the name again:
William Hague.” In the same article I came upon a
unique and possibly bizarre tribute paid to her: “She
is the only non-royal woman in Britain whom it is
unnecessary to name: it is sufficient to mention the
blue suit, the coiffure and the handbag… She is a
portable totem, no longer required to speak, her
presence alone conferring ideological benediction…
Tories used to say that she kept the Ark of the
Covenant. These days, she IS the Ark of the
Covenant.” (Matthew Parris, “Tory Ark Sails in to
Keep Young Heir Afloat”, 19 June, 1997).
Final Remarks
287
The woman who in 1987, for the third time running
had been victorious in her battle against the arch-
enemy, socialism, the longest serving PM since Lord
Liverpool in the 1820’s, went down to defeat in
November 1990, not in an election, but through a
surprisingly swift erosion of support within her own
party. Whether it was in revolt against her
stubbornness as regards European integration, or
the increasingly negative perception of her style of
leadership, or the new economic recession are
debatable matters.
What is beyond any doubt however is that she
remains one of the most remarkable politicians of all
times. Her place in history is secure. Under Major,
with the sole exception of the repeal of the poll tax,
there was nothing but a continuation of Thatcher’s
policies. After winning in the April 1992 elections, the
Major government was plunged into a trough of
unpopularity unique in modern times. After the
forced exit of sterling from the ERM (Exchange Rate
Mechanism) in September 1992, the government
trailed the Labour Party by more than 20 per cent in
all opinion polls for the next three years.
The significance of New Labour is not so much an
endorsement of explicit items of Thatcherite policies,
although this is extensive enough, but the
acceptance that if socialism is to regain its appeal it
288
has to reconnect with the radical egalitarian
individualism of the Enlightenment from which it is
born (Gamble, op.cit:35).
When Tony Blair took over on May Day 1997
one of the people ready to extend congratulations
was Margaret Thatcher, certainly relishing the defeat
of the ‘grey’, bland politics of her conservative
successor John Major. She expressed her belief that
Tony Blair might continue her own policies in the
best interests of Britain; and one tends to believe, in
the light of several New Labour policies, that the
Neo-Conservative mentality is still strong in the Blair
government.
Stuart Hall, writing about the ideological formation
and practice of Thatcherism, said that it was
anything but impermanent: “Ideological
transformations and political restructuring… works
on the grounds of already constituted social
practices… It wins space there by constantly
drawing on those elements which have secured over
time a traditional resonance and left their traces in
popular inventories… It changes the field of struggle
by changing the place, the position, the relative
weight of the condensations within any one
discourse and conducting them according to an
alternative logic” (Hall, 1983:39).
289

Chapter Four
New Labour, New Britain
Over the last three years (1997-2000) there
have been concerted efforts by Labour to remodel
what Britain means today. Modernising what the UK
represents both at home and abroad is, the party
leadership maintains, an essential part of the
process of establishing the UK as a modern political
power. For some, however, critical of what they see
as a ‘triumph of style over substance’, the concept of
New Labour, New Britain is a marketing

strategy

“As marketing textbooks recommend, they (Blair and Mandelson)
reformulated the product (old Clause IV ditched, old policies
emasculated). This was accompanied by a small but momentous
tweak to the old brand name (‘New’ said the legendary adman David
Ogilvy “is one of the most powerful words in the advertising
dictionary.”). Market surveys - particularly, focus discussions - were
used constantly to check the acceptability of every policy, every
message, every idea. The strengths and weaknesses of the
competition were assiduously analysed. The target group was
carefully selected: only middle of the road, wobbly Tories need
apply. Then all communications were coordinated to maximise
impact. (Winston Fletcher, advertising executive in The Guardian,
23 October 1997).
290
masquerading as political policy. Changing the
surface appearance of the UK and making it more
palatable for those who perceive contemporary
notions of Britain or Britishness to be oudated, will
be little more than a political make-over unless it is
accompanied by serious changes in government
policies.
Serious changes have, however, been under
way in the UK during the early stage of the new
administration: devolution in Northern Ireland,
Scotland and Wales, the promise of electoral reform,
the signing of the EU’s Social Chapter and the
incorporation of the European Convention of Human
Rights into British law. Perhaps the most significant
dimension of the new government’s strategy, in
marked contrast to the previous administration, has
been its attempts to present itself allied to the broad
interests of pro-Europeans. As Blair wrote in an
article in the Independent in 1998: “British politicians
have had a reputation for finger wagging which has
not endeared them to their continental colleagues.”
The Labour government, however, would, he
explained be “committed to being enthusiastic
partners in building a strong and open Europe” (7
April 1998).
In the run-up to the 1997 general election and
in the period following it, it has been a central theme
of Labour Party policy to redefine the UK’s role in the
EU and thus to dramatically change how the UK is
perceived on the continent. For the present
291
government the EU has taken on a new importance;
the strength of the EU, the Labour leadership has
explained will be vital to the future international status
of the UK. The degree to which the government is
able to carry through its stated intentions with regard
to the EU will, to a large extent, be dependent on how
it seeks to portray itself as the defender of the
national interest. In this respect the government will
face some considerable difficulties in the near future;
on the one hand, from those such as the
Conservative Euro-sceptics, who view integration as
a threat to national sovereignty, and on the other
hand, from Scottish and Welsh political
representatives who are eager for the government to
involve itself more positively in the business of the
EU. Redefining the UK within the context of EU may
yet present the government with problems of a similar
magnitude to those experienced by the Major
government.
We are going to look in some depth at this
process of redefining Britishness and also consider
why the Labourites lay so much emphasis on the
need to attempt this modernisation.
Revamping Britishness
292
I have referred in the previous chapter to the
economic as well as overall decline of the country
after World War II and in fact also fitted this chapter
into a much larger picture of the generalised feeling
of malaise and inadequacy seizing a nation that
used to be the masters of the world and
consequently had to part with one of the most
consistent aspects of their identity - the imperial one.
Nonetheless, the recession that was already
haunting the last years of Thatcher’s government, in
spite of economic growth and higher productivity in
the earlier years of her premiership, struck with force
under the leadership of John Major. In March 1995
the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), in
association with the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, held a conference to celebrate the 75
th
anniversary of the founding of the former
organisation. Britain and the World, as the
conference was entitled, brought together key
figures in politics, industry and academia to examine
the current and future trajectory of the UK within the
international arena. The nature of the conference,
which after all was celebratory, was unlikely to be a
setting for harsh words, although the speeches of
each of the keynote speakers, among them John
Major, Tony Blair, Howard Davies and Henry
293
Kissinger

, reflected their respective professional and
political dispositions.
John Major, with an eye firmly on the situation
in the European Union, spoke on how UK was first
and foremost a nation-state “attached to our
independence, sovereignty and our national
peculiarities” (Financial Times, 30 March 1995)
which, given the need to appease the Euro-sceptics
within his own party, was hardly surprising. Tony
Blair took his opportunity to raise the standard in the
pro-Euro camp and thus line up with the growing
number of heads of industry taking similar positions,
by arguing that if the UK is to maintain its role as a
global player it has to be a central part of the politics
of Europe” (Guardian, 6 April 1995). Peter Bonfield,
a leading industrialist, also emphasised the
importance of the EU for the UK’s future globally,
commenting that “we are a European power but
every time our partners in the EU feel the UK is
again turning its back on Europe we marginalise our
role within Europe. That inevitably weakens our role
globally” (Financial Times, 30 March 1995).

Davies was the Director General of the Confederation of British
Industry and Henry Kissinger is an important politician and adviser
who played a key role in the American foreign policy of the 70’s. He
won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his contribution to stopping
the fighting in Vietnam.
294
If the tone of the majority of speeches was
generally upbeat and positive, concerns about the
UK’s role in the world in general and the European
Union in particular were nonetheless evident. Indeed
one journalist writing at the time described the
conference as “another stage in the working out of
Britain’s existential crisis”(Guardian, 30 March 1995).
295
The Collapse of the Asian economies in 1997-
98, the full impact of which has yet to be felt in the
UK and the apparently good personal relations
between President Clinton and PM Blair have not
dramatically altered the UK’s stature as a “middle
ranking European power” as the Financial Times
described the UK at the time of the 1995
Conference. With regard to the UK’s role globally,
solutions to the problems of national existential
anxiety have yet to be found. Redefining what the
UK is at home and abroad and how it is represented
publicly remains a pressing political concern. As
Vincent Cable, a Fellow of the RIIA, told delegates in
his background paper to the conference, whatever
image of Britain prevails, “it will shape, much more
than the mechanism of government policy, Britain’s
future international role” (Cable, 1995:8). As Cable
also pointed out what Britain symbolises in a global
environment and what Britain means to those living
in the UK are two sides of the same coin; as he
explained, the role of Britain in the world ultimately
comes back to how British people see themselves
(Cable, 1995:8). His conclusion that “it is very far
from clear what that self-image is” (Cable, 1995:8) is
one which is echoed in more recent analyses. A
report from Demos, currently regarded as one of the
most influential think-tanks in the UK, claims that in
the rest of the world the UK is perceived as
“backward-looking, hidebound, arrogant and aloof”
while at home there is considerable confusion about
296
what Britain will be or will stand for in the future
(Leonard, 1997:13)

.
The concept of Cool Britannia, while
admittedly a media image originally woven in the
USA by Newsweek magazine, may have made ‘good
copy’ as journalists say and given the UK ‘a new
spring in its step’ (Leonard, 1997:13) as Demos
claimed, but it was never going to provide the
answers to the UK’s identity dilemma. Much like
some of the nouvelle cuisine for which the UK is
becoming famous, Cool Britannia whetted the
appetite but left one wishing for something more
substantial (Thompson, 1998: 4).

In a recent novel Julian Barnes makes one of his characters utter a
cynic remark on Britain: “ So, England comes to me, and what do I
say to her? I say, “Listen, baby, face facts. We’re in the third
millennium and your tits have dropped. The solution is not a push-up
bra… The days of sending a gunboat, not to mention Johnny
Redcoat, are long gone. We have the finest army in the world, goes
without saying, but nowadays we lease it for small wars approved by
others. We are no longer mega. Why do some people find that so
hard to admit?”(1998:37-39)
297
Cool Britannia may have been a passing
media phenomenon but the essence of what it was
about - revamping the image of Britain - has
nevertheless been viewed by some in government
and industry as vital to the future of the UK. The
building of the Millennium Dome is seen by Peter
Mandelson, the government minister who formerly
had chief responsibility for this project, as part of an
ongoing rebranding of Britain.
298
British Airways changed the design of the
tailfin of its planes, removing the Union Jack emblem
and replacing it with a general company logo in order
to position itself as a more cosmopolitan corporation
(they have recently abandoned the new designs).
The British Tourist Authority (BTA), which occupies a
focal position in the marketing of the UK abroad, has
also undergone a similar rethink, although still clearly
wishing to emphasise national distinctiveness. In
September 1997 the BTA unveiled its new logo, still
focusing on the Union Jack flag but now also
surrounded by flashes of yellow and green in an
attempt to symbolise the UK’s style and vitality and
its landscape, according to a BTA spokesperson.
While the BTA believed that British Airways’ change
of style was an ill-judged manoeuvre and while its
chief executive stated that the BTA was not in any
way replacing heritage with a new stylish image of
Britain, he nevertheless wondered whether it was
possible to rebrand a destination and a country in
the same way as a product or a company. The
British Tourist Authority believes the answer is
undoubtedly ‘yes’ (The Guardian, 23 September
1997). The Chair of the BTA further underscored the
commercial dimension of his organisation’s new
strategy when he commented that the process of
articulating and then reinforcing brand values is what
any commercial company with a brand product has
to do.
299
The importance of creating and sustaining a
unique national image for the UK is also underlined
by the British Council, which with offices in over a
hundred countries is also a vital institution for the
marketing of the UK abroad. As one British Council
official has recently been quoted as saying, “The
whole idea of national identity and the
distinctiveness of Britain as opposed to Germany,
France or New Zealand becomes more important as
you struggle to attain a competitive edge” (The
Guardian, 4 August 1998).
The BTA’s efforts to represent the UK as the
Spice Girls or the Last Night of the Proms, could
easily be criticised as commercial opportunism
blatantly designed to mean all things to all people.
After all, as the BTA has unashamedly stated it is an
organisation concerned with securing the most
advantageous market niche for its product.
300
Helena Kennedy, appointed as the new Chair
of the British Council in August 1998, has remarked
that such popular representations of Britain and
Britishness detract form the diversity of the
contribution, which the UK can, and does make to
the world. As she has pointed out: “Cool Britannia is
ghastly sloganeering … It’s just as narrow and
constricting as the Beefeater image we‘re trying to
counter” (The Guardian, 4 August 1998). Helena
Kennedy, impeccably Blairite, a high-profile barrister,
educationist, Labour peer women’s activist and
networker extraordinary, set out on the challenging
task of promoting the United Kingdom as a forward
looking and dynamic democracy. The Council
employs a 5000-strong staff in 230 offices in 109
countries. Their main asset is certainly the English
language, but not just the language of the Bard, also
that of business, diplomacy and science. She also
wants to put more emphasis on human rights,
gender issues and good governance projects
involving the police and judicial training.
Multiculturalism is seen increasingly as strength of
the New Britain

.

Baroness Helena Kennedy’s speech to the Annual Conference of
BASELT (British Association of State English Language Teaching
on 26 February 1999) referring to the British Council’s mission in
this sector and in many others, said that Chris Patten was right to
describe the BC as “a disgracefully unsung and under-utilised
national asset” and that it should participate in what Jack Lively,
who serves on the British Council Board, described as “the great
conversation of humanity… and that it should occupy its seat in the
front-line of that great conversation”.
301
Cool Britannia is not liked by too many, as this
derided concept suggests that it is only British
culture that needs projecting when in fact many other
fields of British expertise are just as marketable. The
Council is sensibly represented on Panel 2000, a
committee which is responsible for changing how the
UK is viewed abroad and of promoting a modernised
Britain in the international arena. Its intentions are to
coordinate efforts involving the Foreign Office, the
Department of Trade and Industry, the CBI and the
BTA.
The BBC World Service, by the same token,
(Guardian Weekly, September 20 1998: 9) is to be
rebranded to give it a more modern flavour,
sweeping away the bowler hat and umbrella image
in favour of a friendlier local radio style.
302
All these national agencies intend to promote
the country’s modern identity in a bid that takes
account of the present, without meaning to discard
the national heritage. With regard to their substantive
functions, the BTA and the British Council may be
quite different organisations, but it is possible to
develop a perspective which views the actions of the
two as being part of a wider process of redefining the
UK which has been underway since the Labour
Party assumed the mantle of government in 1997.
Both have indicated that they wish to modernise the
meaning of the UK, whose new image, it is hoped,
will combine the stability and history of Britain with its
modern and vibrant aspects (The Guardian, 4
August 1998), a reference to an awareness of the
need to break away from some of the less flattering
images of the UK’s imperial past. Moreover,
representatives of both the British Council and the
BTA have partly linked their own strategies and
fortunes to those of the government. The BTA, in
publicly revealing its new image in 1997, explained
that it had been influenced by the direction being
created by the dynamic new government (The
Guardian, 23 September 1997).
303
As organisations such as the BTA and the
British Council among others have testified, the
source of much of their optimism about the future of
the UK and the inspiration for their respective
strategies of redefining what the UK represents, has
been the present Labour government. Reinvention
for better or worse is in many senses the hallmark of
the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair.
There have been radical changes to the party’s own
constitution, the development of a closer relationship
with industry, the abandonment/clarification
(depending on one’s personal view of the situation)
of the meaning of socialism, the fostering of
communitarianism and the promotion of a new
culture of morality, among other fundamental
changes. The party has been, moreover, responsible
for an unprecedented number of entries to our
political vocabulary even by the standards of
contemporary soundbite politics: ‘The Young
Country’, ‘the stakeholder society’, ‘the Third Way’,
‘the Giving Age’ and most significantly ‘New Labour ,
New Britain’ - all slogans which the Prime Minister
has employed in his efforts to define the mood in
turn-of-the-millennium Britain.
304
Of all the slogans which the Labour Party has
utilised it is the last - New Labour, New Britain -
which is at the heart of Blair’s vision of how the
party and the country must progress. As he has
stated, this particular phrase is intended to be
more than a slogan. It describes “where we are
in British politics today. It embodies a concept of
national renewal led by a renewed Labour Party”
(Blair, 1996:16). Indeed, in drawing parallels
between his private religious convictions and his
party’s public role, Blair has pointed out that it is
not so much a renewal which he envisages for
the country as a rebirth. Hard questions are
being asked from both right and left of the
political spectrum about the party’s reborn
philosophy, but his words and deeds with regard
to its pre-election promises of constitutional and
electoral reform, the decentralisation of political
power and the forging of a stronger, more
involved role for the UK in the EU have found
widespread support among many at home and
abroad. So what form does this new vision of a
reborn UK assume?
The Young Country
305
Perhaps the first point to make is that much of
Tony Blair’s perception of the UK’s changing role in
the world is premised on the notion of the UK as
what he has termed a ‘Young Country’. This idea is
directly linked to an understood need to adapt the
UK to changing times, most particularly by warning
of the dangers of a complacency rooted in some
archaic notion of British imperial power. The theme
of Blair’s message stresses that the UK will receive
few favours by relying on its history; new political
and economic powers, some of which still loosely
belong to the modern Commonwealth are now
making headway. As he stated in 1995, “We live in a
new age but in an old country, we are proud of our
history but its weight hangs heavy upon us” (Blair,
1996: 64-65). The significance of the Young Country
message is that it simultaneously speaks to those
who wish for change while also appealing to those
who seek a return to the golden age of wealth and
empire. This message, then, is a powerful one in
terms of maximising popular support, mixing as it
does old-guard nationalism with the rhetoric of
modernisation, but the central theme of creating a
new international role for the UK is nevertheless a
positive step.
Since Tony Blair’s election as leader of the
Labour Party the landscape of British politics has
changed far faster and far more dramatically than
anyone anticipated. There is a sense of excitement
in the air, and a level of political risk-taking that has
306
not been seen for many years. It is as if a system
that had begun to seem stuck, sclerotic and arthritic
has been loosened up. New political alignments and
new sets of ideas have at last become thinkable. At
the very least, British politics has become interesting
again. He has been remarkably successful in
reorganising and rejuvenating his party, he has
improved immensely the internal party
communications

and by the end of 1995 he had
won over more than a hundred thousand new
members - most notably amongst those under 40
(Wilkinson, 1996:226). The theme of making Britain
a Young Country emerged in his speech to the 1995
Labour Party Conference: “This is a new age. To be
led by a new generation.” It appears that he was
clearly inspired by Australia, a young nation
achieving success under a Labour government, at
ease with the future and with new technologies, a
society far more classless than Britain has ever
been.

Communications, the improvement of the relations with the media,
are of a strategic importance to New Labour. This becomes
especially apparent if one compares Attlee to Blair in this matter.
Dennis Kavanagh relates how Attlee in the 1950 general election
was asked by a deferential television interviewer if he had anything
he wished to say on the eve of the election campaign. Attlee replied:
‘No’ and after an awkward pause that was the end of the interview
(Kavanagh, 1995:120). This illustrates his indifference to the notion
of the centrality of communication and his diffidence of television.
Blair instead gave a key role to Peter Mandelson as Minister without
a Portfolio to coordinate the government’s communications.
Mandelson and his Press Secretary Alastair Campbell imposed a
tight grip over ministers’ access to the media.
307
A survey of that same year revealed those
only one in eight teenagers was remotely interested
in politics; among adults it was one in three. The
same study showed that there was a profound lack
of political knowledge amongst people at large. Far
from seeing the job of Prime Minster as the very
summit of achievement, young Brits see politics as
the least popular career choice on offer. It was the
conclusion of the report that the next generation of
voters is likely to be more apathetic about politics
than ever (Wilkinson, 1996: 231). It also surfaced
that this lack of interest in politics is more flagrant
with young women, despite the efforts of Campaign
300 and other similar organisations to attract women
to politics. Thus politics, unlike the economy and
culture in general, is resistant to feminisation,
confirming the impression that the parties are remote
and out of touch. The conclusions of the report also
expressed rising concern about the new generation
becoming, like their American counterparts, the
‘switched-off generation’. They are turning away
from politics and are also less likely to tune into
serious news and current affairs coverage on radio
and TV. They are reading less and less hard news,
with the majority of Sun readers being under 25,
whilst as many as 36 per cent of people aged 25-34
do not read a daily newspaper (Wilkinson,
1996:233).
308
Despite this unpromising outlook, Blair’s New
Labour has made some advances. The rapid rise in
Labour membership which has occurred during his
leadership is primarily amongst those under 40 and
has now reversed the trend towards a declining and
ageing party membership. As with questions of
Britishness and European integration, Blair faces in
this area one of the most problematic of tensions.
The tension between old and new values is no
novelty, but a new pattern emerging in the 90’s is the
increasing degree of fragmentation along
generational lines, given the greater overall diversity
and the changing demographic base of the British
population. There are two main trends at work: the
socially conservative philosophy which emphasises
duty, family values and the need for spiritual, moral
guidance and another which empahsises personal
freedom, enterprise and change. The latter is more
in line with modernity and more likely to appeal to
the younger generations, whilst the former’s appeal
is to older generations. This tension between
modernity and social conservatism may be one of
the most difficult long-term political dilemmas, for the
demographic basis of the British population pulls
Blair towards social conservatism.
309
In our post-modern world, where moral
authority and social cohesion are on the wane, duty
might sound anachronistic. This language of duty
constitutes an appeal to the older generations.
Blair’s socially conservative rhetoric is appealing to a
moralistic minority who, like some important thinkers
today (e.g. Fukuyama), put down the dissolution of
traditional family values to the iconoclastic and
permissive 60’s. For such people women, single
mothers especially and alternative families are
amoral symbols of a libertarian age. So for many
young people this aspect of the Blair agenda is
highly alienating, because they assume that social
conservatism is hidebound, authoritarian and
exclusive.
On the other hand, responsibility is a much
more interactive and complex concept, and has a
large potential appeal. With responsibility there is an
element of choice and the assumption that respect
must be earned and not simply asserted. The youth
of today have been also much attracted by
‘issueisms’: environmental issues, animal protection,
new Age travellers, the egalitarianism of the
women’s movement and neo-humanism.
310
Another aspect of the politics of responsibility
is that it would not demand that Blair should jettison
all his social conservatism. Pollsters across the
Western world periodically report on the
conservatism of today’s younger people, especially
those in their twenties but even teenagers who are
all seeking a more secure environment. Teenagers
who have been through the trauma of school
shootings in America attest to this renewed interest
in social conservatism, complete with pressing
demands for law and order, firm policing, stern
education, two-parent households, etc.
But the fact that these younger generations
have grown up at a time of unprecedented freedom
must make policy-builders wary of any morality which
feeds off scapegoats and which stigmatises minorities.
311
In the previous chapter we enlarged on the
gendered politics of Margaret Thatcher and the
appeal that New-Right ideologies hold for women.
The Conservative Party could be rightly claimed until
recently the party of women, whilst Labour suffered
from its portrayal as the macho Labourist party. In
1992 the Conservatives got the lion’s share of
women’s votes: 43 per cent of them voted
Conservative, compared to 34 for Labour, and
women over 65 were 20 per cent more likely to vote
Conservative (Wilkinson, 1996:241-242). Labour
knew that the ‘genderquake’ could not possibly be
ignored: the feminisation of the economy through de-
industrialisation and the shift towards a service
economy and the empowering of women over the
last three decades with its remarkable effects on
family relationships, work and politics itself. Such
gender shifts will inevitably transform the electoral
map. Historically Labour has always done better with
younger people - the only category where Labour
was more popular with women than the
Conservatives was amongst under 25-year olds.
Labour has many more female politicians and more
women in decision-making roles in the party
machinery (their 121 women in the present
Parliament is a most hopeful sign). Still the party
cannot afford to alienate and antagonise the majority
of older women whose social conservatism extends
to society’s gender contract and who are ill at ease
with working mothers, and uncertain about the
312
gender shifts in society at large. The flexibility and
the diversification of policies is necessary, and in fact
they have found quite subtle ways for announcing
measures to help working mothers whilst at the
same time feminising the party’s overall message to
appeal to the older generations. So even in this field
a new paradigm emerges beyond the conventional
politics of left and right, and not mere ‘Blatcherism’
as some people maliciously implied.
A Young Country in Blair’s vision could be
defined along the following lines:
1) radical and ruthless government, not just
strong leadership but honesty, a more authentic and
mature style of politics, a commitment to close
certain things down and create space for new ones.
There are certainly indications that Blair’s leadership
is as ruthless as Thatcher’s was;
313
2) Blair is at ease with the cultural forces
shaping the country, he is the first post-Beatles
politician, he was himself a rock band member, who
takes culture seriously. Political parties in the past
remained cut off from the influences of popular
culture. In a different manner, Blair’s much
publicised support for the entertainment industry in
the UK, while also clearly giving him and his party an
invaluable dose of credibility among the country’s
younger generation, is also too a recognition of the
importance of this sector in overseas markets

. An
announcement in September 1998 that the
government was to launch a high-publicity
international advertising campaign to modernise the
UK’s image abroad by incorporating images of
contemporary British popular icons (from Michael
Owen and the Spice Girls to Mr. Bean and Damien
Hirst’s pickled sheep), further underscores the
lengths to which Tony Blair is prepared to go to give
substance to this concept of the Young Country;

In 1996 the British music industry had a 1,1 billion GBP turnover
and the publishing industry in the same year was worth 1 billion
GBP while on its own the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral
grossed over 160 million GBP worldwide. Indeed, the royalties
earned by British musicians are worth more as exports than the
British steel industry.
314
3) Redefining Britishness in a most inclusive
way involving all stakeholders young and old,
women and men, ethnic groups. A key source of
rejuvenation would be involving all such groups who
have been historically absent from decision-making
processes;
4) A Young Country needs to be free of the
outdated institutional legacies of the past, so
constitutional and electoral reforms are inevitable;
5) Inter-generational equity has to be taken
seriously, the responsibilities and rights that each
generation bears to the other are very real in our
days;
6) Stakeholding must have a real basis as
there are many young people and not so young who
have no stake in the system, partly a product of
demographic change but also of disproportionately
high rates of unemployment amongst today’s young
people;
7) The capacity for fostering social cohesion
is vital to rejuvenation.
The Third Way
Far from offering a clarification for the main
orientation of New Labour, the term ‘Third Way’ or
middle way between or beyond left and right has
accumulated a whole array of divergent meanings
over the last few decades. Fascists used it to identify
their views and policies in the 1920’s; Harold
315
Macmillan used it to advocate capitalism with a
human face in the 1930’s; the socialist international
availed themselves of it in seeking a path between
capitalism and communism in the 50’s; East
Europeans applied it to socialism with a human face
in the 60’s; the German Greens used it in the 70’s
and Swedish social democrats in the 1980’s.
The language of the Third Way has been
enthusiastically espoused both by Blair and Clinton
as well as by various other leaders and ideologists of
the centre-left from Brazil to Italy. The rhetoric of the
Third Way in Britain after two decades of
Thatcherism and the fall of the Berlin Wall embodies
several fundamental assumptions: that the neo-
liberalism of the free market right is exhausted,
destructive and self-defeating; the ideas,
programmes and policies of the left are in serious
disrepair; an alternative politics enveloping new
thinking and innovative policies must be developed
which can comprehend and confront major
contemporary transformations in our social and
economic life (Lukes, 1998:3). So if we are to go
along a neither…nor mode of thinking then the
rhetoric may be telling; to an extent it suggests that
we have, in the case of New Labour, a symmetrical
rejection of neo-liberalism and of social democracy
alike.
Now both these so-called rejections have to
be considered with caution. It is much more a case
of redefinition than one of rejection. Old-style
316
democracy is no longer palatable. The very phrase,
as Steven Lukes remarks, suggests closure rather
than a space occupied by several alternative political
projects leading in different directions. It also
suggests the possibility of cross-fertilisations, of
transferability across diverse social contexts. It is not
a novelty, since already in Thatcher’s time new
channels became operational linking strands of
political thought that used to be parallel and mutually
exclusive. The model of social democracy is one of
the most divisive issues within New Labour. John
Gray, an important supporter of New Labour noted
that it is no longer possible and reasonable to put
the social democratic project back on the road. That
belonged within a historical niche that is gone
beyond hope of memory.
On the other hand, in his Third Way, Anthony
Giddens thinks that there are hopes for social
democracy in this world where there are no longer
alternatives to capitalism: first of all it has to be left of
centre, because social justice and emancipatory
politics remain at its core. A reformed welfare state
has to be more clearly entwined with life politics,
choice, identity, and mutuality - such as ecological
questions, the changing patterns of family life, of
work, of personal and cultural identity. Globalisation
has certainly changed the world we live in,
transforming decisively the institutions in our society;
traditions and customs lose their grip on our lives.
That is why we must live in a more open and
317
reflective way. There are three main directions of
change or modernisation rather the concept of social
democracy, to use New Labourspeak: no rights
without responsibility, no authority without
democracy and the democratisation of democracy.
The last one probably needs some further
clarification. It refers to devolving centralised powers
both downwards and upwards (to construct a
political order that is neither superstate nor only a
free trade area), reinventing government by
sometimes adopting market-based solutions and
sometimes reasserting the effectiveness of
government in the face of the markets; renewing
community through harnessing local initiative,
involving the third sector, protecting the local public
sphere and encouraging social entrepreneurship.
There would also be a balance of autonomy and
responsibility and, on the other, diversity and choice
in the democratic family. The social investment state
will promote a new mixed economy that looks for a
synergy between the public and private sectors,
utilising the dynamism of the markets but with the
public interest in mind, and involving a balance
between regulation and deregulation at transnational
as well as national and local levels.
It should also aim at balance between the
economic and the non-economic in the life of
society, developing a society of responsible risk-
takers in the spheres of government, business
enterprise and the labour market, while nonetheless
318
ensuring protection when things go wrong, seeing
equality as inclusion and inequality as exclusion
(from citizenship in its broader sense).
The welfare state should promote a common
morality of citizenship and should not be reduced to
the status of a safety net; it should have a positive
connotation and not be targeted at the poor as in the
US. This commitment to positive welfare means that
the cultivation of the human potential replaces after-
the- event redistribution, with the state working in
combination with other agencies. It is a one-nation
politics, but that covers a cosmopolitan nation that
helps promote social inclusion which also has a key
role in fostering transnational systems of
governance.
Democracy’s diffusion downwards means
local government and the devolution to regions, but
at the same time it is based on an expansion of
cosmopolitan democracy as a condition for
effectively regulating the world economy, for
attacking global economic inequalities and
controlling ecological risks. It should also entail
reducing the power of the executive in British politics
and strengthening its accountability, promoting
experiments in direct democracy. It should promote
bottom-up decision making and local autonomy,
community based approaches to crime prevention,
such as collaborative policing, encouraging co-
parenting and mutual rights and responsibilities,
making the protection and care of children the centre
319
of family policy by separating contractual
commitments to children from the co0ncept of
marriage, and making them legally binding on both
married and unmarried fathers.
Replacing traditional poverty programmes with
community-focused participatory programmes,
reforming pension policies not only by combining
private and public funding but also by thinking of older
people as a resource not as a burden, and abolishing
statutory retirement, are also priorities. Others include:
promoting life-long education programmes and family-
friendly working environments; restructuring the
division of powers in the EU and moving toward a
more comprehensive system of global governance
incorporating existing institutions into legislative
administrative intergovernmental and judicial bodies,
and an Economic Security Council within the United
Nations.
The space carved out by the Third Way
rhetoric is a contested terrain crossed by several
demarcation lines. Its different occupants seem to
agree about various matters apart from the relative
rejection of the neo-liberal perspectives and policies,
and they have open minds about where market
allocations are appropriate and where their limits lie.
They agree that the state must guarantee, but need
not provide, such goods as education and health
care, that various forms of mutual co-operation
between the state, business and other secondary
associations are legitimate and desirable, and that
320
alternative modes of public finance should be
explored; they seek to rectify disadvantages by
enhancing people’s productive endowments, and
they use the language of rights with responsibilities,
community, stakeholding citizenship, exclusion and
inclusion.
Yet these bases of agreement allow for
significant divergences, which are not only between
left and right. ‘Inclusion’, for example, means
citizenship, civil and political rights and obligations
that all members of a society should have, not just
formally but as a practical reality. It refers to
opportunity and involvement in the public space.
Work remains central to self-esteem and standard of
living, access to work one main aspect of opportunity
and education another one

. On the other hand,
there are two major forms of exclusion: the
involuntary exclusion of those at the bottom, cut off
from the mainstream opportunities, and voluntary
exclusion, i.e. the revolt of the elites, a withdrawal
from public institutions on the part of more affluent
groups who choose to live separately from the rest of
society.
Other divergence areas are bound to emerge,
for example between those inclined to impose a
particular conception of the good life and civic

To this end, there has been much discussion of the need to improve
educational standards (particularly in computer literacy) to support
scientific and technological advances within the UK and to promote
the UK as the Knowledge Capital of Europe and the electronic
workshop of the world.
321
responsibilities on the citizen and those with more
liberal and or perhaps libertarian inclinations. The
former have a certain perception of what kinds of
behaviour the state should adopt to encourage or
discourage such issues as working and acquiring
skills for work, being a good parent, respecting the
environment; the latter will interpret the same much
more narrowly, leaving much more to individual
choice. The former will try to use public policy to
preserve or revive the traditional family, the latter will
not.
About democracy some tend to hold elitist
and technocratic conceptions, others tend to
encourage participatory and deliberative
experiments and initiatives of various kinds. The
former will be averse to reducing the protective
secrecy that pervades British government and to
strengthening parliamentary accountability. They will
favour manipulative politics and the sustaining of
conformity within the governing political party and
will have little real interest in participatory initiatives
for other than extrinsic reasons (as safety valves or
providing information flows). The latter will favour
them as forms of civic involvement that enhance
people’s control over aspects of their life they count
as important, express civic responsibility and solve
problems that central governments and
bureaucracies cannot.
A serious redistributive agenda would have to
squarely face the inescapable need to tax the better
322
off in the name of an expansive understanding of
citizenship and community, and actively seek ways
of promoting such an understanding and an
acceptance of its fiscal implications. It would find
ways to limit the offensively high rewards of some
top corporation executives and in particular the
beneficiaries of privatisation schemes. It would firmly
close the escape hatches of the self-excluding into
privileged private education and health care. It would
widen that agenda to incorporate the distribution of
paid and unpaid work and the distribution of time -
matters of special relevance to women.
The redistributive agenda suggests a strong
aversion to all forms of moral authoritarianism in the
public sphere. Maximisation of educational
opportunities for all is a major priority, but it would
view national curricula with suspicion and it would be
disinclined to the use of ‘shaming’ as a means of
getting schools to improve. It would suggest policies
that counter the stereotyping of single mothers, of the
unemployed and the old. It would welcome open and
free ranging debate within the political parties and
indeed encourage in particular arguments between
what is held to be new and old. It would practise
inclusion and not use political patronage to
marginalise advocates of the alternative. It would
stress all kinds of experiments with democracy - local
direct democracy, citizens’ juries and other
possibilities. It would also be fully committed to
maintaining rather than restricting on grounds of cost
323
the scope of that ancient and radically democratic
device for the protection of civil rights - the jury
system itself.
Beyond a Socialist Economy.
From Welfare to Workfare and the
Stakeholding Society
As we have seen already in the previous
chapter, although there is a common ground of
shared ideas and policies and strategies between
Thatcherites and New Labourites, the significance of
New Labour is not so much an endorsement of the
explicit items of the Thatcher policy no matter how
extensive this might be. It is rather an
acknowledgement of the fact that if socialism is to
regain its acceptance and its appeal to
contemporaries it has to reconnect with the radical
egalitarian individualism of the Enlightenment from
which it was born (Gamble, 1996:35). The direction of
British politics over the last ten years or so has been
towards the creation of a neo-liberal consensus
replacing the old social democratic consensus of the
post-war period

. Egalitarian individualism can renew

We can talk about what some authors define as Post-Thatcher
consensus or social market consensus, which Garner and Kelly
define as follows: “An acceptance that individual freedom rather
than equality is the philosophical backdrop to modern political
activity and that the role of the State must be strictly limited; an
acceptance that a modern economy must be based upon capitalist
criteria, market criteria and consumer choice; an acceptance that the
mixed economy of the 1970’s has been remixed, irreversibly and
justifiably in favour of private enterprise; an acceptance that trade
324
the radical purpose of parties of the left, but in a
communitarian rather than a neo-liberal direction,
while on the right the politics of national identity
seems certain to figure prominently, and both these
directions are rooted in Thatcherism.
If Labour is to find a new role in British politics
it has to find ways of using the state not to plan
society but to preserve and enlarge individual
autonomy by making use both of democracy and
markets as institutional mechanisms for sustaining
those forms of association and community that the
citizens value and desire, without sacrificing the
benefits of an open society and open economy. It
has to start to take the shaping of institutions at the
local and regional levels seriously again (Gamble,
1996:37). In fact we are seeing very interesting
developments that some choose to call the
emergence of New Conservatism with such
vociferous and active opponents of New Labour as
Michael Portillo and John Redwood.
unions should be mainly concerned with the needs of individual
members and that any return to the status they enjoyed in the 70s
would be inappropriate; an acceptance that the State retains vital
responsibilities for the public’s welfare, particularly health and
education, but that they should be reworked to give more importance
to consumer choice, cost-effectiveness, managerial efficiency and
value for money; an acceptance that macroeconmic management has
been curtailed by European integration and a globalised economy,
that the social and economc shake-up of the 1980’s may have
weakened social cohesion and that steps should now be taken to
rekindle a certain type of collectivism, variously described as
citizenship, unity values, stakeholder society and one-nation
Toryism” (1998: 29-34).
325
How does the socio-economic agenda of New
Labour compare with Old Labour strategies? An
important difference would be that Attlee in 1945 and
Wilson in 1966 had their focus on differing visions of
economic modernisation with remarkably little
interest in constitutional radicalism, while the Blair
government in a sense has begun where the Labour
government of 1974-79 left off and it is pursuing a
radical constitutional agenda coupled to a moderate
macro-economic programme.
The reforming zeal that gathered momentum
during the war translated into legislation and policy
that the Attlee government (1945-1951)
implemented: the nationalisation of coal, gas,
electricity, railways and road transportation. These,
alongside Attlee’s commitment to democratise British
society, were not so much an innovation but rather a
continuation of the policies of Lloyd George and
Ernest Bevin (Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Attlee
government who signed Britain’ entry in NATO).
Universal manhood suffrage at the age of 21 and
votes for women over the age of 30 were conceded
by the House of Commons under extreme duress in
1918. By common consent the most successful
Labour government so far was that of 1945-51 and
some of the features of the Attlee period that still
have resonance today are the extension of the
welfare state, the extension of public ownership and
the pursuit of full employment.
326
Labour governments operating within the
framework of Keynesian economic management
created and developed the welfare state according
to the dominant ethic of welfare collectivism derived
from a mixture of pre-war Labour thinking, blueprints
like the Beveridge Report associated with post-war
reconstructionism, and the practical implementation
of welfare legislation by the Attlee government in the
late 40’s. Credit has rightly been given to Attlee
governments for their role in developing the welfare
state from the blueprints of wartime proposals; its
goal was to remedy the great pre-war evils of
squalor, idleness, want, ignorance and disease.
Whilst the path-breaking reforms in health and
education were not problem-free, the party was in
opposition between 1951 and 1964, a period in
which the Conservatives could capitalise on the
1950’s economic boom. There were also severe
disagreements throughout the 50’s within the party
between Tribunites, centre-left planners, Keynesian
socialists and ethical socialists about the importance
of different aspects of democratic socialist strategy,
particularly about the salience of public ownership.
When Labour returned to power in 1964 there was a
continuous series of good initiatives and good
intentions, but these were overshadowed by
spending constraints in education, health, and social
security.
In the 70’s Labour misfortunes have to be
understood in the singular and dramatic context of
327
increasing internal struggles over party identity and
rapidly accelerating economic decline, in other
words, the difficulties of the 60’s writ large. The new
stress on relevance as a criterion for spending is
symbolic of the Labour’s gradual dissociation from
the welfare collectivist ethic, which had exercised
such hegemony over the party’s social policy since
the Attlee years. Welfare provision began to be
conceptualised differently, being apparently given a
less privileged claim on scarce resources. In this
way already in the mid-70’s growth came to be
regarded as an issue quite distinct from any
commitment to welfare per se (cf. Ellison, 1997: 48).
It became clear that it was impossible to combine
economic growth with commitments to ever-
increasing social spending.
The endemic weakness of the economy was
also due to international factors, changing global
conditions: deindustrialisation, mass unemployment,
changes to the labour market and the labour
process. Deindustrialisation, the trend away from
male manufacturing employment, began in the mid-
1950’s and became a steady decline a decade later.
At the same time civil society became disoriented
and problematic, and the British political
establishment was seen to operate in a veritable
vacuum as a result of the failure to reform.
Britain began the process of moving away
from a Keynesian welfare state to the
Schumpeterian workfare state (from the name of
328
Joseph A. Schumpeter, a well-known economist) -
the jargon tracing a shift from the paternalism of the
welfare collectivist era to a developing sense of
welfare as a set of practices designed to foster the
new enterprise culture (Jessop, 1994:24-25). After
the 1987 election defeat, the Labour party embarked
upon a two-year policy review during which it began
to accept two important modifications to its traditional
welfare collectivist positions: the need to embark on
the ambitious job of rebuilding a popular collectivist
outlook and to reconstruct popular collective
democratic institutions. New Labour's rigid stance on
public spending, especially in the sense of welfare
spending, is not simply a matter of dampening
expectations or of getting its “betrayal” in first, but of
a loss of faith in the goals themselves. During its
periods in government between 1951 and 1979
Labour did at least try to achieve the classic social
democratic balancing act, attempting to marry social
justice and even some incremental redistribution with
competent economic management. But its sense of
achievement in the Attlee years, and most
particularly the need to defend those achievements
against the increasingly open attacks of the
Conservatives, condemned it to a kind of collectivist
stasis and prevented it from realising fully the need
to adapt to and move into the post-welfare era.
It was only after the defeat of 1992 that it
began seriously to reconfigure its social policy along
the lines of a stakeholding approach that would stress
329
that rights entailed responsibilities and that the
facilitating of individual effort and encouragement of
social capital would take pride of place over the
collective provision of state benefits.
The 1997 manifesto, not unlike that of Labour in
the 60’s, was a movement towards economic and
financial stability, though the 1964 manifesto was
strikingly thin on how the new stability was to be
achieved. The 1997 document insists on ending the
instability of the previous 18 years with a promise of a
tough anti-inflationary stance and tight fiscal controls
(Tomlinson, 1997:11-27). Another important attitude to
be confronted by New Labour is the stance of
declinism

that the party adopted in the late 1950’s.
Panaceas were sought after desperately, and in those
attempts mistakes were often made. New Labour finds
itself in a similar position today with its emphasis on

“Measured against the much faster growth being made elsewhere,
the country seemed to be suffering from what the Germans called
“The English Disease” – a combination of militant trade unionism,
poor management, stop-go policies by government and negative
cultural attitudes towards hard work and entrepreneurship… The
economic statistics offer a measure of the acceleration of the
industrial decline of Great Britain. Its share of world manufacturing
production slipped from 8.6 per cent in 1953 to 4 per cent in 1980.
Its share of world trade also fell swiftly from 19.8 per cent (1957) to
8.7 per cent (1976). Its Gross National Product, third largest in the
world in 1945 was overtaken by West Germany’s, then by Japan’s,
then by France’s… By the early 1980s the decline seemed to be
levelling off, leaving Britain still with the world’s sixth largest
economy and with very substantial armed forces. By comparison
with Lloyd George’s time or even with Clement Attlee’s in 1945, it
was now just another ordinary, moderately large power, not a Great
Power”(Kennedy, 1989:548-549).
330
league tables of economic growth, a device invented in
the 1950’s at the beginning of the first wave of
declinism. Today the panaceas seem to lie in the fields
of education and training. The Labour Party is aiming
at combining a stabilisation policy with a supply-side
reform to put an end to what used to be called ‘stop-
go’ or ‘boom-bust’, the tendency of the UK economy to
overheat as soon as it begins to grow, forcing
governments into deflationary policies, which among
other things discourage long-term investment, which is
the key to sustained economic success.
There was formal acknowledgement in the
manifesto that the role of the state should be limited.
Second came the recognition of the efficiency and
realism which markets can provide and the
acceptance of individual liberty as opposed to social
equality, as the primary goal of social policy. The
Commission on Social Justice (CSJ) appointed by
the late John Smith in the wake of the 1992 electoral
defeat, together with the changes both in ideology
and Party structure which followed Tony Blair’s
election, mark the two most significant stages on the
way to what may be called the Party’s present social
Schumpeterian stance. The concept of social justice
as present in the Commission’s final report defined it
as a hierarchy of four ideas:
1) A free society should be founded upon the
equal worth of all citizens expressed in equality
before the law, in political and civil liberties; 2) All
citizens were further entitled to have their basic
331
needs for food, income, shelter and health met by
the state; 3) There had to be the widest possible
access to opportunities and life chances; 4) To
achieve all these it is important to recognise that not
all inequalities are unjust but that those that are
should be reduced and, where possible, eliminated.
This social Schumpeterian position has been
given an added boost by Blair’s New Labour,
unthinkable however without the prior initiatives of
Kinnock and Smith. The new leader built upon
Kinnock’s reform of Labour’s policy-making
apparatus and Smith’s successful attempt to reduce
the power of the trade union bloc vote at party
conferences, by jettisoning Clause Four of Labour’s
constitution, thereby ending any ambiguity about
Labour’s stance on economic ownership. He
continued to develop the ideas discussed by the
CSJ, firstly, by elevating economic stability above all
else as the essential platform for sustained growth

.

Prior to putting the notion of the stakeholder society on the agenda in
1996, Blair reflected on the widespread suspicion and dismissal of his
ideas as a move to the right. He was addressing the left intelligentsia in
the country with phrases redolent of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian
Marxist, recommending intellectual pessimism accompanied by an
optimism of the will, in other words where indeed lucid, hard-headed
analysis was needed this should not thwart a desire to make the world
a better place. Reflecting on the period since the publication of the
Commission on Social Justice report in October 1994, what is striking
in the general response by academics on the left is the negativity of
most of it (Showstack and Sassoon, 1996:147-169). The report comes
out of a very different context than the 1942 Beveridge report. The
latter summed up what they were fighting for, which was a cornerstone
of wartime national unity and encapsulated hopes for the
332
Secondly, he gave equal importance to the potential
for the creation of a more organic sense of society
and social obligation as meeting the needs of both
society and individuals: social advance and
individual achievement. The government is seen as
adopting the ‘carrot and stick’ approach investing in
reconstruction of peacetime Britain. Fifty years later the situation was
entirely different when the Commission was set up by John Smith in
opposition, in the wake of Labour’s defeat that year. It was created as
an independent, broadly based group chaired by Sir Gordon Borrie, at
a time when the argument for dropping the policy of a minimum wage
and for targeting benefits such as child benefits was gaining ground. In
the early 1980’s Women and the State was published. It reflected the
enormous changes brought about by the fact than more and more
women were entering formal paid work and had concomitantly major
family responsibilities and the implications of these changes for the
organisation of welfare. So the CSJ report defines the social revolution
which has been taking place especially with regard to women’s life
chances, family structures and demography. What has been called in
the Nordic countries a new gender contract is highlighted as a
precondition for eliminating poverty and transforming the economy.
The gender contract is meant to revise the relationship between work
and family in which both men and women would be given the
possibility to live more flexible and productive lives with greater
freedom of choice and fewer constraints. Inter-related policies
described in the report would enable women and men to combine
family, work and education in ways, which suit new living patterns.
An immediate priority is therefore placed on free, universal nursery
education. Justice across genders, a greater contribution by men to
household responsibilities, minimising the current loss to the economy
and society more generally of women’s skills, better educational
opportunities for all social groups are some of the issues of the report.
Overcoming poverty and providing the conditions to achieve greater
social justice are at the very top of the agenda. It is a radical document
because of its concerns but also because of its mode of analysis
combining pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the will. The
report talks about a flexible, intelligent welfare state able to help
333
an educated and skilled workforce, creating
opportunities for employment, new business, etc. At
the same time individuals are called upon to act
responsibly to make the most of their educational
opportunities and the state will support their efforts
through effective social provision and the extension
of social rights, enabling them to feel they have a
stake in society. The state can get tough against
citizens that are not responsible and they may be
refused benefits, thus juvenile offenders, the
voluntary homeless and others may find themselves
subject to the rigour of zero-tolerance. In promising
to give 250,000 young people opportunities,
education and training, the party makes it clear that
they will be expected to make the best of what is
proposed because rights and responsibilities must
go hand in hand without the option of life on full
benefit (Ellison, 1997:54).
This is in brief social Schumpeterianism at
work: the traditional welfare element, the top-down
attempt to confer equality for its own sake, is
underplayed, while quality and relevance are
promoted in the name of social and economic
efficiency.
people into work and enable individuals to change jobs upwards rather
than be trapped in low-skill, low-pay jobs or no jobs. Economic
regeneration is based on education and training, and social justice, the
document maintains, is a prerequisite to economic growth. What is
required by the report to carry into effect some of its most progressive
proposals is however a very long time span, at least 15 years.
334
Problems have arisen nevertheless, as
welfare-to-work policies will depend to a large extent
on the willingness of the unemployed to become
partners both with the state and with those who
provide training work and to take up the
opportunities on offer. Will Hutton argues that a
significant aspect of the stakeholding idea is the
notion of a better economically assured social
balance and with it of a culture in which common
humanity and the instinct to collaborate are allowed
to flower. Such a balance is extremely difficult to
attain (1997: 66-67). It is important, Ellison
contends, that institutions that lie between the state
and the individual - pension funds, business firms,
universities, trade unions, housing associations -
should operate in ways that reflect the costs that
individualistic action motivated by self-interest
necessarily imposes on the rest of society. The idea
is that if this culture and new ethos of partnership is
not supported by corporates to fulfil their obligations
to employees, pensioners, unemployed, if they
persist in the pursuit of naked self-interest, Labour
could find it difficult to gain a sufficient hold on
available resources to finance even its limited social
ends (Ellison, 1997:56).
Balancing out individualism through social
action and partnership reminds us of Margaret
Thatcher’s moralistic individualism, when she argued
for a body of values to keep anarcho-individualism
on the straight and narrow in a way that possibly
335
Protestant religion had once done. David Walker, in
The Moral Agenda (1997: 66-74), thinks that New
Labour’s problems do not differ too much from such
an approach to morality. However, in an article
published in The Times on April 17, 1997, Tony Blair
contrasts his core beliefs in family and community as
a clear alternative to Tory obsessions with self-
interest.
Law and order is also at the top of their moral
agenda, as there is more contact crime per capita in
Britain than in the USA. As Shadow Home Secretary,
Blair made his mark fighting crime, family instability,
young people with nothing to do, drug abuse, poor
educational opportunities. His conclusion was that
there were less likely to be responsible citizens. In
1993 when the Bulger case sent shockwaves around
the world, Blair in his capacity of Shadow Home
Secretary made a speech where he elaborated on
the need for a rediscovery of a sense of direction as
a country

. He said: “ We need to stop being afraid to

Tony Blair’s call to create a new moral purpose is another hoax,
some people think. Blair said: “We need to find a new national
moral purpose for this new generation. People want to live in a
society that is without prejudice, but is with rules, with a sense of
order. Government can play its part but parents have to play their
parts” (James Lewis, “Blair Revives Back to Basics Angst” in
Guardian Weekly, September 9-15, 1999: 8), a burst of moralising
that was caused by two stories about 12-year-old girls both from
Yorkshire that had become pregnant. It is believed by many that
more than such sermons would be needed to solve the complex
problem of delinquency. Many of Tony Blair’s thoughts in the matter
are a painful reminder of John Major’s disastrous ‘back to basics’
crusade when his call for a return to pre-1960’s morality resulted in
336
start talking again about the values and principles we
believe in and what they mean for us, not just as
individuals but as a community. We cannot exist in a
moral vacuum. If we do not learn and then teach the
value of what is right and what is wrong the result is
simply moral chaos which engulfs us all” (quoted in
Walker, 1997:70).
Much has been said about Blair’s Christian
socialism and his avowed belief that socialism is
about ethical values rather than particular forms or
methods of government. His brand of socialism
hinges primarily on an organicist view of community
and culture, a recasting of the earlier emphasis on
the importance of organisms, community and the
reasonable: “The notion of community for me is less
a geographical concept, than a belief in the social
nature of human beings” (quoted in Rentoul,
1995:420).
Tony Blair’s emphasis on the ethics of
socialism as a broader commitment to the
importance of the social and symbolic life, rather
than as simple economic determinism, is promising.
The attempt to shift the Labour Party from the more
narrowing effects of its utilitarianism and to
encourage a wider sense of collective good is
hopeful. Equally, his identification with Christian life
suggests at least some form of commitment to the
importance and mystery of life (Wheeler, 1996:120).
the media declaring open season on the colourful sex lives of some
Tory politicians. Margaret Thatcher’s hankering after Victorian
values did not do her too much good either.
337
Only time and continued office will tell whether the
Blairite stakeholder promise to hold in mutuality and
community rather than to master will be made good.
A healthy modern society would have to be one
which is able to recognise the need for a constant
play of binding and unbinding (see the previous
chapter on the psychoanalytical roots of this
terminology) in regard to social institutions and is
able to accommodate such play, always a
dangerous business, by remaining adaptive.
In the New Labour manifesto of 1997
emphasis is laid on limiting the role of the state
(Alexander, 1997:79-105). The Conservative
governments after 1951 reversed few of the
nationalisations, but of course did not propose new
ones, and in the mid- and late 50’s a number of
right-wing Labour leaders began openly to criticise a
continued emphasis on state ownership. In 1956
Anthony Crosland joined an argument that had been
started by Douglas Jay and other early Keynesians
20 years earlier concerning the growing irrelevance
of the ownership of the means of production. He
argued that the state was inadequate as owner and
manager, bureaucrats were prone to making
mistakes, resources were allotted for reasons of
politics rather than efficiency, and planning in the
state sector tended merely to replicate past
economic behaviours. Also he argued that the state
was not necessary as owner and manager because
Labour’s traditional objectives of full employment,
338
rising wages and education could effectively be
achieved through the state’s fiscal powers of taxation
and spending (Alexander, 1997: 88).
The 1959 defeat made the issue urgent. Jay
famously wrote on that occasion: “The myth that we
intended to nationalise anything and everything was
powerful in this election. We must destroy this myth
decisively, otherwise we may never win again.” With
a few exceptions Labour essentially adopted the
policy of ‘ni…ni’ that the French socialists espoused
after 1947 and again under Mitterrand in 1983, i.e.
neither more nationalisation nor privatisations. This
occurred mainly because of Labour’s stubborn
resistance to revisionism (a case in point here would
be Hugh Gaitskell’s famous defeat in his attempt to
amend Clause Four of the Party’s constitution).
Criticising the state as owner did not mean
denigrating the state as deliverer of services,
distributor of income and resources or enforcer of
outcomes by any number of other means. So Labour
leaders and thinkers continued to be united around a
substantial confidence in the ability of the state to
staff, manage and operate complex and extensive
programmes of quality service delivery, including
education and those associated with the welfare
state - health, care, job training (Alexander,
1997:89). The New Labour government faces many
of the same constraints which faced the party in 18
years of opposition, in the sense that public support
remains low for many traditional roles assigned to
339
the state. However the role of the state has by no
means been thoroughly discredited: income
distribution and efficient delivery of social and health
services remain popular. By the same token,
municipal and especially regional governments may
provide avenues for policy making which is granted
greater popular legitimacy by the public than is the
central state. Second, the reforms begun constitute,
at least in intent, a dramatic break with traditional
forms of organising state structures and Labour has
the opportunity to continue or modify this programme
in ways that reinforce efficacy and efficiency.
New Labour government needs to realise that
in this case, just as with constitutional changes
affecting the relationship between the central and the
local state and also freedom of information, the
problem is not so much the diminution of the state
as the sharing of state power with those whom the
power ultimately exists to benefit.
The 1997 victory in the elections was not only
a triumph for Tony Blair but also, as many people
admitted, for Thatcher. It was her final triumph in that
it ensured that Thatcherism would survive a change
of government. The main outlines of Thatcherism
were not only fully accepted by Labour, but people
somehow got the impression that only after such
acceptance could the new people be regarded as
safe to entrust with power. These main features
were: the priority of the attack on inflation, the
340
importance of the market, the need for the trade
unions to be regulated by law

and privatisation.
Labour had to become New Labour to win
the election. Douglas Hurd said: “The Conservatives
lost the 1997 election, having won the fundamental
arguments.” It was also the first general election
since 1918 in which nationalisation, the balance
between private and public ownership was not an
issue (Douglas Hurd, “His Major Achievements” in
Daily Telegraph, 30 June 1997:18). It is highly
significant that orthodox Marxists and Leftists think
that Tony Blair is either the offspring of two
revisionists - Bernstein and Anthony Crosland
*∗
or

Although trade union membership is only two-thirds of what it used
to be in 1979 it still stands at 8.5 million. This is what Blair said at
the TUC in 1995: “There will be no repeal of all Tory trade union
laws. Strike ballots are here to stay. No mass or flying pickets. All
those ghosts of times past are exorcised; leave them where they lie”
(quoted in Davey, 1997:88).
**
The call for the revision of socialism was initiated by the German
politician Eduard Bernstein in the 1870’s. He thought that there was
no point where socialism would begin and capitalism would end. He
added that a socialist party had to separate from its trade union
support so as to be able to act within parliament and government to
safeguard the interests of the whole nation. Socialism was to be kept
as an integral, inseparable part of the collectivist project embodied in
the French Revolution, increasing the importance of individualism
and individual rights (Fishman, 1996:53-55). These are confirmed by
Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes, where the author remarks that in
the later 1960’s and 70’s a decisive break occurred and capitalism in
Europe ceased to expand and provide rising real wages and full
employment. In our assessment of the political prospects for a
revisionist socialism, most basic would be the recognition of the fact
that the ideals of the French Revolution – fraternity, equality, liberty
and their cognate social political developments: democracy,
341
the son of Thatcher herself, while according to John
Pilger and Hugh Macpherson, New Labourites are
just cloned Conservatives and Labour is nothing
short of ‘One Nation Conservatism’ (quoted in
Davey, 1997: 78;81).
On this view Blair is considered to be the
leader of the most right-wing Labour administration
since Ramsay McDonald’s National Government in
the 30’s. Coercion and ruthlessness are both part of
his moral agenda as well as his perception of good
leadership. He has not shrunk from being coercive in
the party: the removal of the Party’s General
Secretary, the Chief Whip, and the transfer of
responsibility for the selection of whips to the leader.
Blair is pressing ahead with what Tony Benn can
only see as an attempt to dismantle the Labour Party
by breaking the links with the unions and disavowing
socialism (“The Way Forward” in the New Left, no 2,
June 1995: 6). Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has
promised by the same token to clean the streets of
winos, graffiti and squeegee merchants and to
imprison nasty citizens (Davey, 1997: 94).
However, this middle-of-the-way approach
brought New Labour political allies. After Blair took
up the leadership, the Liberal Democrats abandoned
their public stance of equidistance and publicly
announced that New Labour was their preferred
partner in government. Centre left intellectual David
liberalism, socialism - have ceased to provide fundamental
inspiration and motivation for action.
342
Marquand said: “Labour has reinvented itself, this is
a giant step towards the recreation of a progressive
coalition… he (Blair) rejoined the party and resumed
advising it. The private sector will have to accept a
minimum wage and the Social Chapter. In return
Labour promises to become the party of enterprise,
the provider of long-term investment strategies,
higher standards of educational training and a
modern transport and communication infrastructure”.
343
It is also evident that New Labour policies do
not subscribe to a flat-earth view of the world. Blair’s
position in socio-economic matters is also the
consequence of a globalising economy. Central to
his understanding of contemporary processes of
change and of the oft-cited justification for Labour
party policy is that the forces of globalisation are
compelling nation-states, industries, political parties
and individuals to adapt. In a speech in Tokyo in
1996 Blair made the point that the driving force of
economic change today is globalisation: “ The key
issue facing all governments of developed nations is
how to respond” (Blair, 1996: 118). Against this
backdrop he has maintained that, unless everyone is
prepared to address the challenges which
globalising processes present, then the future for the
UK is bleak. Nonetheless, as he has sought to
reassure voters, whether it be creating new jobs
through investment, playing a more important role in
the EU or ensuring the stature of the UK as a global
political power, these objectives can be realised if
they are prepared to accept change. As he explained
in a speech at the Labour Party annual conference in
1994: “If the world changes and we don’t, then we
become of no use to the world… Parties that do not
change die and this party is a living monument not a
historical monument” (Blair, 1996: 48).
344
Moreover, as he maintained two years later, the task
of future party policy would be to establish the UK as
an outward-looking nation that is not afraid of the
new economic challenges because it is preparing
itself to meet them, equipping its people for change
(Blair, 1996: 129). Blair’s understanding of
globalisation is not the extreme reading of the
phenomenon which posits that nation-states are
political dinosaurs and holds that government
intervention at best merely serves to delay the
impact of problems and at worst exacerbates already
existing economic flaws. At the same time however,
he does share the view that support of free trade,
foreign investment and economic growth negate old-
style protectionism and that as a consequence the
role of government is changing. This role, he told the
annual conference of the CBI in 1995, is limited but
crucial; governments should act as facilitators rather
than as controllers (Blair, 1996: 110). Blair believes
the current processes of economic change are
creating greater interconnections between nation-
states, or more particularly between the things that
take place in the territories that nation-states govern.
345
He is also an advocate of the shrinking-world
thesis which is the accepted orthodoxy in much of
the current thinking on globalisation, namely that
technological progress in the fields of transport and
communications have ensured that we in one part of
the world are today more subject to changes taking
place in another part of the world than was the case
for previous generations.
346
Finally the party’s gradual movement away
from the more traditional Labour policy of state
intervention and centralised management of the
economy, which is most evident under the current
leadership, has been accompanied by the fostering
of the principle of decentralisation of political
authority based on the belief that this would counter
the rugged individualism sponsored by the previous
Conservative administrations. Governments cannot,
he believes, insulate against change in this kind of
environment; rather they must create the conditions
which will attract investment while also serving to
strengthen domestic corporations in their foreign
ventures. Nevertheless, the programme of political
reform introduced by the Labour government is also
an integral part of the party’s evolving philosophy on
state intervention. As the Labour Party, first under
Neil Kinnock

, then under John Smith and most

Neil Kinnock by painful degrees achieved a near revolution in
Labour policies by 1990. Besides the socialist rhetoric that was still
easily recognisable, the policies laid out in the party’s May 1990
statements bore no comparison to those of 1983 in matters of
defence, of public ownership: no more nationalisation; trade unions:
no return to the pre-79 position; Europe: “Britain must play a
positive role in shaping the future of Europe”; social services: make
all public spending dependent upon economic growth; the
constitution: elected Upper Chamber, regional assemblies, a Scottish
parliament. The May 1990 document meant a total defeat of Tony
Benn’s socialist alternative, which had been endorsed in the early
80’s. The latter called the document “a breathtaking revelation of the
extent to which revisionism has gone in the party”. This dramatic
swerve of Labour policies to the right was reinforced under John
Smith, a revisionist by conviction, but his envisaged reforms of the
trade union block vote and ‘one member, one vote’ were tragically
347
completely under Tony Blair, has progressively
abandoned its desire for state management of the
economy, so this has created a gap in political
ideology. The principle of decentralisation of political
power has in some senses been an attempt to
create a new political philosophy to accompany the
party's ’changing attitudes towards the economy.

A UK of the Regions:
New Labour and Constitutional Reform.
Devolution
Labour’s record win of 1997 was the third
substantial or landslide win that the party has
enjoyed since 1945, although neither of the two
previous one quite compares with the 1997 victory
and it is questionable, some people think, whether
this election represented the formation of a new
political hegemony by examining popular attitudes to
politics. The party was proposing referenda on
devolution and a referendum on a strategic authority
for London with an elected mayor, reform of the
House of Lords, depriving hereditary peers of their
right to speak and vote, and the incorporation of the
European Convention on Human Rights into British
law, thus actually giving Britain a Bill of Rights. It was
proposing a Freedom of Information Act, and most of
all it was committed to a referendum on the voting
cut short by his untimely death in 1994 (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:
38-40).
348
system to be used for elections to the House of
Commons (Bogdanor, 1997:111).
This commitment sounds almost paradoxical
since Labour has historically been a constitutionally
conservative party, not a radical one. As we shall
see below, in the 60’s the House of Lords reform
was defeated by backbench Labour MPs, whilst the
1979 devolution referenda were imposed on the
Government by hostile Labour MPs. Both defeats
were due as much to hostility from within the Labour
Party as to opposition from its Conservative
opponents. Labour now proposes to allow people to
decide on proportional representation through
referendum. It is committed to a referendum on
joining the single currency. Yet traditionally Labour
has been hostile to the concept of the referendum
and to other methods of direct democracy. This is for
example Attlee’s response to an initiative by Winston
Churchill to organise a referendum on the
continuation of the wartime coalition and the
prolongation of the life of the current Parliament in
1945: “I could not consent to the introduction into our
national life of a device so alien to all our traditions
as the referendum, which has only too often been
the instrument of Nazism and Fascism. Hitler’s
practices in the field of referenda and plebiscites can
hardly have endeared these expedients to the British
heart” (quoted in Bogdanor, 1997: 114).
On Lords reform and devolution the record of
the party is more mixed. They had sought reform in
349
these areas only to see their efforts thwarted by their
own backbenchers. The complex 1969 scheme for
reform of the Upper House had to be withdrawn
when it became clear that Labour MPs would not
support it. Then Scottish devolution in 1979 was
actually killed by the insistence of the backbenchers
that for devolution to proceed, 40 per cent of the
total electorate as well as the majority of those voting
would have to say ‘yes’. In 1979 devolution in
Scotland failed because it was supported by only 33
per cent of the Scottish electorate. Walter Bagehot,
the famous author of the English Constitution, once
wrote that a person who permanently worries about
making improvements to their house is not a happy
person. Bogdanor comments on this with an
interesting comparison. The Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds has apparently more members
than all the important British parties put together.
The society concerns itself primarily with matters of
ornithology. Were it to begin concerning itself with its
constitution and with how its executive committee
should be chosen we should begin to suspect that
something had gone wrong, that the Society had lost
confidence in what it has so long stood for. Thus
Labour’s concentration on constitutional reform may
be a sign less of the party’s continuing vitality than of
its lack of confidence in the value of social
democracy. In fact the American commentator Irving
Kristol said that the central theme of the 20
th
century
is the death of socialism, and Labour’s conversion to
350
constitutional reform does nothing to disprove this
thesis (Bogdanor, 1997:116-117).
The first stage of the reform of the Upper
House involves removing the right of hereditary
peers to sit and vote in the Lords. The second, which
will come after some form of inquiry, would be a
second chamber constituted on a more popular
basis, reminiscent (this latter part) of the Liberals’
commitment in 1911. But if nominating as well as
electing members to the reformed upper house were
to be the procedure finally adopted, it would become,
rich seam of patronage for the Prime Minister. The
Lords would simply become the largest quango
(from quasi-autonomous non-governmental
organisation – an independent body, set up by the
government, but having its own separate legal
powers in a particular area of activity) in the land

.

The Royal commission on reform of the House of Lords outraged
constitutional radicals by producing an election blueprint which is
likely to ensure that only 87 of the new chamber’ 550 members are
elected by the voters, and not before 2004. Lord Wakeham’s report
angered reformers, including Charter 88 and the Liberal Democrats.
Fourteen months ago the 12-strong Wakeham panel was asked to
devise an acceptable compromise for stage-two reform of the Lords
to follow the November 1999 expulsion of all but 92 hereditary
peers. Among the proposals made, Lord Wakeham’s majority voted
for the election of 87 members on regional lists. Most of the 550
members would be picked by an independent appointments
commission. It should also bear a new name once the last 92
hereditary peers go and membership is no longer tied to peerage. The
Independent appointments commission members agreed that at least
30 per cent should be women moving towards a 50-50 split and that
ethnic and religious minorities should have better representation
(Michael White, “Radicals Dismayed at Plans for Lords” in
351
The German system of proportional
representation

* was adopted for the elections to the
new Scottish Parliament, the new National Assembly
in Wales and the European Parliament in the
summer of 1998 and 1999, respectively. Under this
system in Scotland, for example, each elector has
two votes: the first for a constituency member,
elected by ‘first past the post’, the second for a list of
additional members, seven of whom were elected
from each of the eight Euro-constituencies. These
seats will then be allocated so that the total number
‘first past the post’ plus a list for each area will
correspond as closely as possible to the share of the
votes cast for each party in the area, as measured
by the list vote.
Devolution of political authority in the UK was
one of the main elements in the package of
constitutional reforms, which Labour had promised,
in its electoral manifesto. Once established in office
the government fulfilled it pre-election pledge to set
up devolution referenda in Scotland and Wales
within its first year in government. Following
referenda in Scotland and Wales in September
Guardian Weekly, 2 February 2000: 9).

* Proportional representation is a system of voting in elections by
which all political parties, small as well as large, are represented in
the governing body according to the proportion of votes they receive,
rather than having to get more votes than any other party, in each
voting area. ‘First past the post’, or the simple majority system,
means that the person with more votes than any other wins the
election. The winner does not need to have more votes than the
losers have together.
352
1997, a parliament was created in Scotland and an
assembly – the Senedd established in Wales. The
unexpected chain of events in Northern Ireland in the
spring of 1998 also led for the second time this
century, to the introduction of devolved government
in that province. For the government, devolution is a
way of renewing the vows of union between the
constituent parts of the UK; it is a way of
demonstrating that concern for devolved government
and pride in one’s national identity, whether it be
English, Scottish or Welsh, is not incompatible with
being British.
On the contrary, for Tony Blair, devolution is
not just about changing the mechanics of
government; it is also about redefining a more
inclusive sense of Britishness. In a speech in 1995
Blair made the point that: “We are all proud of our
own countries. But people can be British and
Scottish or British and Welsh. They can even be
British and feel a close identity with the North-East or
with London. And pride in my country is not the
same as hostility towards others” (1996: 259-260).
Nevertheless, in each of these countries, although
particularly in Scotland and Wales, some of the main
political parties have seen devolution as a means of
bypassing Westminster and thus securing a greater
presence in the EU for their respective countries,
independent of the government of the UK. The
process of devolution initiated by the government
with the stated objective of bringing decision-making
353
closer to the people, may yet lead to further
repercussions with regard to the issues of the EU,
most notably in terms of challenges to the
government’s claims to represent the interests of the
people, as well as over what exactly those interests
are.
A report by Plaid Cymru, The Best for Wales
(1997), makes this point when it states that a
“Powerhouse Parliament will put Wales at the heart
of a new Europe of the Nations and historic Regions
– no longer left on the furthest edge of the UK,
listening to the Euro-squabble of middle England”
(quoted in Thompson, 1998:15). The process of
negotiation which takes place between the new
institutions of the devolved government may in future
mean that any British government in the EU council
of Ministers will have to formally display greater
sensitivity to differing viewpoints in the UK.
The issue of devolution as a serious political
consideration has had a rather fitful existence in the
UK since the 1960’s. Political parties based solely in
Scotland and Wales have been campaigning for
independence for their respective countries for much
longer than this, but it was only in the 1960’s that the
prospect of devolved government in these countries
first came to be seriously entertained in
Westminster. After a decade during which the issue
disappeared from then reappeared on the political
agenda, voters in Scotland and Wales went to the
354
polls in 1979 to vote for devolved government. As we
have already seen, in spite of a majority of Scottish
voters deciding in favour of a Scottish parliament,
the total number of votes supporting this motion
came to less than 40 per cent of the electorate (the
pre-determined threshold necessary for a legitimate
outcome) and thus the motion failed to secure
devolution, while in Wales support for devolution was
significantly weaker (causes for the failure of the
referenda are discussed in Chapter One). Following
the 1979 referenda the issue of devolution once
again disappeared off the political agenda,
particularly where central government was
concerned. That the general election later that year
saw the ascendancy of the Thatcher administration,
which confirmed the belief of many that the debate
on devolution was unlikely to surface at Westminster
as long as Thatcher was in power.
As Bradbury and Mawson (1997:18) have
commented, the Tory incumbent government was
implacably opposed to considering devolution again.
It is somewhat ironic that it was political opposition to
the Conservative position that played such an
important role in firing interest in devolution once
again. That this issue experienced a change in
fortunes in the mid-90’s was not unprecedented.
This time, however, there appeared to be growing
certainty that voters (especially in Scotland) would
not reject these proposals a second time. That
devolution should have once again been put before
355
voters in 1997 may be explained by a number of
factors.
Firstly, the Thatcher administration’s
commitment to a strategy of UK-wide reform of the
role of state – the famous ‘rolling back of the state’ –
executed via increased central government control -
did much to fuel opposition to the seemingly high-
handed approach of central government.
Increasingly in the course of the 1980’s Thatcher
was seen by many interested parties in Scotland and
Wales as imposing her agenda without any due
consideration of popular and elite interests in those
countries, which served to exacerbate ill-feeling
towards what was seen as English dominance over
the other regions of the UK. Bradbury and Mawson
(1997) argue that within both the Thatcher and Major
governments there was, alongside the Thatcherites,
a Tory modernising influence which did seek to
mollify those frustrated by Thatcherism in Scotland
and Wales. Nevertheless in the course of the 1980’s
and 1990’s support for the Conservatives in Scotland
and Wales gradually declined, a phenomenon which
served to draw attention to the fact that the
government was an English Party as far as
occupying parliamentary seats in Westminster was
concerned.
A second factor, which contributed to the
renaissance of the issue of devolution, was the
change of heart within the Labour Party on this
matter. The Labour government had been
356
responsible for pushing the 1978 bills through
Parliament, but there was nevertheless significant
internal opposition to this development. The
experience of opposition appears to have
concentrated minds, especially in Scotland and
Wales, where the Labour Party and trade unions
gradually came to see devolution as a means of
securing some measure of autonomy independent of
central government. A recent report by the Wales
Labour Party makes this point, when it states that for
the past 15 years the Conservative government has
been systematically undermining local government
throughout the UK. Nowhere has this been more so
than in Wales and the report concludes that Labour
will maintain its commitment to Wales’s full
participation within the UK (quoted in Thompson,
1998:16). The growing support of the party
leadership for devolution was undoubtedly
influenced by the pressures being exerted by party
members and representatives in Scotland and Wales
as well as by polls, which showed increasing popular
support in both countries for devolved government.
That the party has long been the dominant political
force in Scotland and Wales, and that devolution
would therefore give the party a strong negotiating
hand irrespective of who was in central government,
also appears to have been an important factor
influencing the evolution of party policy.
A third issue, which served to bring the matter of
devolution back into the political spotlight in the
357
1990’s, was the growing politicisation of the different
national identities in the UK. I have already briefly
touched on this phenomenon in relation to the
backlash against Thatcher and, although to a lesser
extent, against Major. Throughout these
administrations the diminishing power of the
Conservative Party in Scotland and Wales was seen
both as a result of the view that the government
lacked democratic legitimacy in these countries and
also as a catalyst for its further demise. In a report
on devolution for Wales it is mentioned that one of
the major arguments in favour of such a
development would be that it would strengthen
democracy. As it observes: “For the fourth time in
succession the Welsh Office has been under the
control of a Government and political party not
elected by a majority of the people in Wales” (quoted
in Thompson, 1998:21). Regional economic
development was influenced both by the policies of
central government and by the increasing emphasis
on this matter at the level of the EU in the form of EU
structural funds

.
Devolution has also served to engender an
awareness of distinct Scottish and Welsh economic
and political interests. Moreover, both members and

The Objective 2 programme meant for declining industrial areas and
the Objective 5b (for rural areas) programme of the EU Structural
Funds brought in 430 million GBP to Wales between 1994 and 1999.
Moreover, through other programmes Wales also benefited from a
further 650 million GBP of EU Structural Funds during the same
period (Morgan and Price, 1998).
358
representatives of the Scottish National Party and
Plaid Cymru began in the 1980’s to view the rolling
process of change taking place at the level of EU as
something which could benefit their respective
countries rather than weaken them, as they had
believed in the 1970’s. They began to promote the
idea that they could secure a greater level of
autonomy, even independence, within the EU. In
1980’s the Scottish National Party started to
enthusiastically campaign under the slogan
“Independence in Europe” arguing that an
independent Scottish nation-state would acquire far
greater levels of authority within the EU than under
the present system of representation through the
government of the UK.
Changes taking place as part of the process of
European integration have indeed informed the
debate on devolution in the UK in a series of very
important ways. It is for this reason, then, that the
Blair government will find itself facing growing
pressure from the Scottish National Party and Plaid
Cymru as well as from its own representatives to
ensure that national interests in Scotland and Wales
have some bearing on the substantive form of the
UK’s role in the EU. The new institutions of devolved
government will not, however, have direct contact
with EU institutions; the UK government will still
continue to be the single representative of the
collectively defined national interests. The White
Paper on devolution in Wales, A Voice for Wales
359
(1997), nevertheless does stress that Wales needs a
strong voice in Europe (Thompson, 1998:17). The
Assembly will be consulted on matters of EU
business where they relate to Wales and where they
touch on those matters for which the Assembly has
responsibility. It can also convey its judgements
through the Secretary of State for Wales. It is
notable that this role is considerably less than
envisaged by the Wales Labour Party while it was in
opposition. At its annual conference in 1994 the
Wales Labour Party expressed the view that
foremost among their priorities will be to give Wales
for the first time, direct representation at meetings of
the Council of Ministers when issues of relevance to
Wales are being discussed. The Secretary of State
for Wales could attend such meetings, as could
members of the Welsh Assembly by virtue of a
clause in the Maastricht Treaty which allows a
member state to be represented at meetings of the
Council by elected representatives who are not
necessarily members of the national government
(Thompson, 1998:21).
This voice is however weaker than that
envisaged by other organisations. A report by the
Institute of Welsh Affairs Wales in Europe (1997),
argues that the Secretary of State for Wales should
be present at all meetings of the EU Council which
are relevant to Wales and then there should be
contact between the Welsh Office and the Assembly
before and after these meetings. A report by Plaid
360
Cymru, A Democratic Wales, is not surprisingly
considerably more scathing in its analysis of the
extent to which British interests represent anything
other than those of English MPs. They argue that
even when subjects in the Council of Ministers have
a significantly Welsh dimension, it is still the English
minister who represents the UK and it is
predominantly the needs of England which are fed
into the European system. Scotland and Wales have
no voice.
Even allowing for the creation of the new
devolved governments this matter will continue to be
an extremely contentious one. This is especially the
case in Scotland, where the very narrow victory of
Labour over the SNP in the elections to their
Parliament in May 1999 partially confirmed opinion
polls that had been indicating that the SNP and not
the Labour Party would be the dominant political
force in the Scottish Parliament (see Chapter One on
more details).
Leaving aside the question of whether
Scotland will some time in the not too distant future
be represented as an independent nation-state in
the EU, it is evident that the process of devolution
has contributed to a sharpening of popular
awareness of distinct national identities in the UK. In
the run-up to the 1997 general election, newspapers
carried debates in which some commentators
suggested that the choice about devolution was
quite simple: if Wales is a nation separate from
361
England, then it must have a separate national
assembly or parliament. In the political preamble to
the referenda those opposed to the proposal argued
that such separatism would lead to the end of the
UK. Letters published in The Western Mail, one of
the largest circulation papers in Wales, on the day of
the referendum on Welsh devolution demonstrated
that for some voters sharing a British as well as a
Welsh identity was irreconcilable with support for
devolution, as the latter would ultimately lead to
Wales withdrawing from the UK. In contrast, Tony
Blair argued that devolution would strengthen the
bonds between the constituent nations of the UK
rather than fuel popular support for national
separatism. Irrespective of these differences of
opinion, considerations of what support or opposition
to devolution symbolised with regard to one’s sense
of national identity, and how this related to a larger
sense of Britishness, was undoubtedly an important
consideration for many voters during the 1997
referenda.
How this issue will feed into policy formulation on the
EU, and the relationship between the new devolved
governments and central government with regard to
the latter’s negotiations in the Council of Ministers, is
not yet clear. In some respects people think that
there are reasons to be sceptical about the strength
of the Labour Party in the new institutions.
Nevertheless now that this debate has been aired,
362
and with the prospect of Welsh and Scottish
nationalists eager to exploit anything which can be
construed as central government’s neglect of
Scottish and Welsh national interests, the extent to
which the government actually does represent British
interests in the EU will be under increasing scrutiny.
As one commentator has argued, defining the
national interest that is to be defended in Brussels is
already a complex task of balancing interests and
departments. After devolution there will also be
strong national and regional interests to be taken
into account (Thompson, 1998:15). Such
considerations are all the more significant when one
takes into consideration the government’s criticism
that government at the EU level lacks in popular
legitimacy and needs to be brought closer to the
people. For itself to be seen, then, as pursuing
strategies in the EU which run counter to the wishes
of elected representatives in Scotland and Wales or
which are subject to considerable criticism in those
countries would certainly undermine the credibility of
its views on the EU. If the government abides by its
stated intention of entering into consultation with
representatives of both the Scottish Parliament and
the Welsh on the UK’s role in the EU, then this may
well lead to the development of a British position
which reconciles a diversity of positions.
As Robbins has argued, so long as this kind
of consensus politics exists, one might say that
363
British European policy will become more truly British
than it has been hitherto (1998: 115).
The return of a Conservative government
retaining its current prejudices against the EU would,
however, in all likelihood lead to sharply contrasting
positions between central government and the
devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales. Such a
scenario might serve to accelerate the break-up of
the UK particularly as far as Scotland’s relationship
to the Union is concerned. For the Blair government,
which is apparently keen not to repeat the mistakes
of previous Conservative administrations, the unity of
the UK internally is inextricably linked to its vision of
a stronger role for the UK in the EU and in the world
more broadly. Redefining what the UK and
Britishness represent at home is, then, part of the
price which the government believes it is necessary
to pay in order that Britain may play a leading role
away from home.
A Troubled Relationship: Britain and
Europe
A key element of this strategy of redefining
the UK within the international arena is the change in
attitude towards the EU

. Before coming to office and

The idea that a European federation could be a practical political
step was first suggested by the French foreign minister Aristide
Briand in 1929 when he was looking for a peaceful way both to
control German power and to match America’s burgeoning economic
might. The slump and the rise of nationalism in Europe soon put an
end to the idea, but it was MacDonald’s Labour Party which had to
react to the proposal and it did so with some striking parallels to
364
in its period in office, the New Labour government
has made more positive overtures in the direction of
European integration than any post-war British
government. A recent Labour Party consultation
paper on Europe points to the break with earlier
government policy, arguing that governments in the
past have seen Europe as a threat not as an
opportunity: “But we are… pro-European because
we believe that to be pro-European is in Britain’s
national interest” (quoted in Thompson, 1998:6-7). In
setting out their respective views on the EU, Tony
Blair, Robin Cook and Gordon Brown have each
declared that, while nevertheless continuing to value
the UK’s special relationship with the US as well as
its links with the governments of other
Commonwealth countries, they consider that the
UK’s future international role is inextricably entwined
with the realisation of its role in EU. As Blair stated in
a speech to the French National Assembly in March
1998: “Britain’s future lies in being full partners in
Europe” (The Guardian, 25 March 1998).
Nevertheless just as the Labour Party and the UK
are undergoing a process of reform, so too, the party
argues, must the EU on a large scale.
Tony Blair’s vision of a Young Country is of
course not only concerned with redefining what the
UK represents within the international arena or, more
Britain’s post-1945 attitudes: a general feeling that European
integration was impractical; a belief that British commercial interests
would be best served by a global approach to free trade; a reluctance
to alienate America and a wish to safeguard Commonwealth links.
365
immediately within the EU. Alongside changes in
what the UK represents abroad, the period since the
Labour Party came to power has witnessed an
attendant domestic redefinition of the UK. There can
be little doubt that some of these changes, as in the
case of devolution, have resulted partly from internal
political pressure. Spurred on by the period of
Conservative government 1979-1997, which saw the
government gradually lose all its seats in Scotland
and Wales, political parties such as Plaid Cymru in
Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland
have been making growing noises about the need
for increased democratic accountability within the
UK. To this end, devolution of political power to the
constituent units of the UK serves to enhance the
democratic legitimacy of the state as well as to
enhance the democratic credentials of the
government. Ongoing processes of devolution within
other EU member states, as well as the growing
public profile of the question of a Europe of the
Regions at the level of the EU itself, have also
undoubtedly served to generate increasing pressure
for the decentralisation of political power within the
UK. The Wales Labour party made the point, in its
1994 Report on Wales and Europe, that the UK then
was fast becoming an elected dictatorship, while our
European partners are embracing new forms of
democratic participation and local involvement
(Thompson, 1998:8). The redefinition or rebranding
of the UK at home and abroad has, then, emerged
366
as a central theme of the Labour government during
the first years in office. The test of this strategy will
come over the issue of the UK’s role in the EU.
The EU is vital for the foreign and domestic
policy of the government. As senior figures in the
party leadership have stated, strength in the EU,
possibly with Blair providing a form of hegemonic
leadership, is the key to the UK’s strength globally;
while the UK remains on the margin of developments
within the EU, it will fail to realise such a role. For
those who provide Blair with much-needed private
sector support, such as the CBI, the promise of a
change in the UK policy towards EU is a crucial part
of the new-found bond between the Labour Party
and big business. The issue of the UK’s role in the
EU will also severely test the wisdom of the
government’s efforts to restructure the political and
constitutional foundations of the UK, most notably
with respect to the way in which current processes of
change in the UK have opened a debate on what
Britain and Britishness represent today.
In seeking to win ground from the
Conservative Party, the Labour Party under Blair’s
leadership has repeatedly stressed the importance
of making Britain one nation. Blair has in general
sought to keep his distance from that splenetic
nationalism which has so divided the Conservative
Party over the issue of the EU, yet he too has played
heavily on the idea of the nation. The strategy of
rebranding Britain may well be concerned with
367
seeking to modernise the national image, but this
should not detract from the fact that it is nonetheless
still one which places the nation to the fore of the
political agenda. The first year of the Labour
government saw the beginning of an attempt to
redefine what the UK represents; continued support
of New Labour policies at home and abroad and
most particularly in the EU, will nevertheless be
dependent on how theory and rhetoric will be
translated into political practice.
Writing in the aftermath of the signing of the
Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Lord Jenkins, a former
Labour Chancellor, one of the “gang of four” who in
1981 established the Social Democratic Party and a
former President of the European Commission,
compared the UK’s position on European integration
to someone idly standing watching a train pulling out
of a station, then running to catch it only to get on
and complain that all the seats in the first class
carriage are taken. This view of successive
governments of the UK as not entirely comfortable,
and for much of the time downright awkward
travellers along the path of European integration, is
one which is widely shared by pro-European
politicians such as Lord Jenkins and those of a
similar disposition in other EU member states.
The ascendancy of the Labour Party in 1997,
coming on top of the implosion of the Conservative
Party on the issue of the EU, was roundly perceived
by the pro-Europeans as the UK’s emergence from
368
the Dark Ages. Jacques Santer, the then President
of the European Commission, told Tony Blair shortly
after the 1997 general election that he looked
forward “to the UK, under your government, playing
its rightful leading role within the European Union”
(Independent, 3 May 1997). Indeed such was the
extent of the undisguised joy (and, no doubt, relief)
among pro-Europeans in the EU that one journalist
remarked that the “reception given to the incumbent
government would not have disgraced the biblical
welcome accorded to the prodigal son” (The
Guardian, 6 May 1997).
In some senses the Labour Party could hardly have
failed to impress pro-Europeans. Any indication that
the new government of the UK would be prepared to
throw its weight behind the EU would arguably have
been met with a positive reception in the rest of the
EU. That the Labour leader had promised to sign up
to the Social Chapter

, from which John Major
secured an opt-out in the negotiations preceding the
Maastricht Treaty, was taken as proof that the new
government would indeed be seeking to make a
break with the past. As Doug Henderson, Labour’s

The Social Chapter is a document produced by the European
Community and agreed upon by all member states, except the United
Kingdom (and therefore not legally in force until Blair signed it two
years ago) which contains details of the most important employment
and social rights that should be available in member countries:
freedom of movement, employment and payment, health and safety,
living and working conditions, equal treatment between men and
women, protection of children and young people, etc.
369
first Minister for European Affairs stated in his first
meeting with his counterparts in the EU in the week
following Labour’s general election victory, “the new
government will work together as colleagues in a
shared enterprise, not using the language of political
opponents” (The Guardian, 6 May 1997).
British governments have not commonly been
so publicly enthusiastic about membership of the
EU. In the early post-war period, successive
governments of the UK refused to participate in the
formation of the European Coal and Steel
Community in 1951, also in 1957 in Euratom (for
atomic energy), and later in the European Economic
Community established by the Treaty of Rome. Why
did Britain stand aside? Jones and Kavanagh think
the main reasons might have been a sense of
superiority and national pride, resulting from
defiance of Hitler in 1940 and victory in war,
contrasting sharply with the different experiences of
the six countries (France, Italy, West Germany, The
Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium), either
defeated or occupied in the war; then the so-called
‘three circles’ which placed Britain’s interests above
those of Western Europeans - Commonwealth, USA,
Europe; and finally a sense of difference, a more
secure experience of nationhood and a stable
democracy. There were also constitutional and
political culture differences. The original six
members experimented frequently with coalitions
and proportional representation and had written
370
constitutions and multi-party systems.
Geographically and culturally Britain was insular and
separate from continental concerns (Jones and
Kavanagh, 1998:3), preferring instead to concentrate
on their relations with the Commonwealth and the
US. There have also been notable instances where,
when the governments of the UK have agreed to
participate in integration, they have nonetheless
haggled bitterly over the conditions of participation
as in the Wilson government’s renegotiation of the
terms of the UK’s membership of the EEC in 1974-
75 or the various opt-out dispensations which the
Major government secured in the Treaty of the
European Union. For its critics, both abroad and at
home, the position of the UK has been that the
EC/EU should accommodate it rather than the other
way round. The Major administration for example had
spoken of the importance of being, in the Prime
Minister’s famous expression, “at the heart of
Europe”, yet showed in its negotiations on the Treaty
of the European Union that there was a high price to
pay for the UK’s broad support for integration (not
least from the Conservative Party itself). Just as
damaging have been the outbursts of Europhobia
which characterised the later years of John Major’s
administration, but which have been present since the
UK joined the EEC in 1973.
It would, however, be erroneous to state that the
UK’s role in the EC/EU has been a wholly obstructive
371
one. Edward Heath as Prime Minister in the early
70’s was an enthusiastic supporter of the EEC,
campaigning successfully for UK membership. Later,
in the mid-80’s, the Thatcher government played a
key role in orchestrating the launch of the Single
European Market programme, rightly viewing it as an
expansion of the free market reforms already
underway in the UK. Indeed, while the issue of
Europe and Thatcher’s growing hostility towards
integration would contribute significantly to her
downfall, the government in that period of the mid-
80’s occupied a pivotal position in what Jacques
Delors, then President of the European Commission,
termed the ‘Relaunch of the Community’. Other
commentators have moreover cast a more flattering
light on the UK’s role in the EU. Jonathan Bradbury,
writing during the second term of the Major
administration, has argued that the widely accepted
perception of the UK’s awkwardness has detracted
from a more contextual understanding of what he
views as the efforts of UK governments to
accommodate both domestic political and public
concerns and the larger programme of European
integration. Much as a previous British Home
Secretary, Reginald Maudling, once spoke of the
need to achieve an acceptable level of violence in
Northern Ireland, so it seems here that the onus is
on securing an acceptable level of European
integration. Anthony Teasdale, a former special
adviser to Kenneth Clarke (then Chancellor of the
372
Exchequer) and Geoffrey Howe (then Foreign
Secretary), has been a little more forthright in
describing what he regards as “the UK’s past
successes in the EU/EC as the real achievements of
one of the Union’s most powerful players” (Teasdale,
1998: 76).
Nevertheless, by comparison with those
member states seemingly committed to a more
supranational approach to integration, such as the
Benelux states and Italy, or France and Germany,
who have both their respective problems with the
integration process but have maintained their
relationship as the dominant axis of the EC/EU, the
claims of the Thatcher and Major governments that
the UK has been a leader in the EC/EU are difficult
to accept. Concerns about the consequences of EU
policy for national sovereignty were voiced in other
member states, as the various problems surrounding
the ratification of the Treaty of the European Union
demonstrated, but in the UK they almost ruled out
the possibility of a rational public debate on this
matter.
Leon Brittan, the former Conservative Home
Secretary and Deputy President of the European
Commission, commented in the run-up to the 1997
general election that in the UK, rather than enter into
a serious consideration about the EU, people and
their political representatives in the UK had so far
avoided it; as he asserted, there is a perennial
British affinity with the ostrich: “If you don’t like the
373
look of it and it presents you with difficult decisions, it
is best to bury your head in the sand” (The
Guardian, 5 March 1997).
Lionel Barber, a columnist for the Financial
Times, urged the Labour government to change the
UK’s status as an outsider in the EU, remarking
bluntly that not since Margaret Thatcher embraced
the single market has the UK shown any genuine
enthusiasm for a major European initiative, adding
that British government ministers “still behave like
educated soccer hooligans when dealing with their
European colleagues” (Financial Times, 4 July
1998).
Given these kinds of statement from British
commentators it is understandable that Labour’s pre-
election pronouncements about the need for a more
hands-on approach to the EU met with a favourable
reception from those committed to exactly such an
approach. Similar sentiments had, of course, been
expressed in the early stages of the Major
administration, but with Blair this promise was
accompanied by tangible policy objectives, as in his
declaration of intent to sign the Social Chapter and
to support the incorporation of the European
Convention on Human Rights into British law. On a
number of instances Blair sought, moreover, to
convert the issue which had put the final nail in the
coffins of both Major and Thatcher – that of the
relationship between the national interest and
European integration – into one which actually allied
374
patriotism with pro-Europeanism. As he stated in
1995, the real patriotic case for those who want
Britain to maintain its traditional global role is for
leadership in Europe (Blair, 1996:210). Let’s take a
brief look at the history of the problem.
The two most humiliating episodes for
Britain’s international standing in recent times were
presided by Conservatives: appeasement under
Chamberlain and the Suez crisis under Eden. In
rhetoric at least Labour always sounded more
internationalist than the Conservatives, better
disposed to the Commonwealth and less willing to
risk isolation in Europe. Past experience suggests
however that just as the Conservative Party has
taken a full part in multilateral diplomacy, so Labour
governments are capable of being patriotic, self-
seeking and cynical in their dealings with the outside
world (Young, 1997:139). Ernest Bevin is best
remembered for signing the North Atlantic Treaty in
April 1949, a commitment which became Britain’s
cornerstone in its security policy throughout the cold
war and which was strongly supported by the
Conservatives. Although sometimes criticised for his
reliance on America, his maintenance of the Empire
in Africa and the Middle East and for failing to match
Britain’s commitments to its resources, Bevin is seen
as a successful foreign minister, perhaps the most
successful since the war. The Labour government
also scored high for its conduct on decolonisation in
India: whatever the bloodshed that followed partition,
375
the British withdrew with timeliness and good grace,
transforming the Commonwealth in the process into
a multi-racial group, tolerant of Indian republicanism.
Even if it was Churchill who coined the term, Britain’s
influence in 1951 was based on ‘three circles': the
US alliance, the Commonwealth, and through such
institutions as the Brussels pact and OEEC, links to
Europe. On a global level Labour also backed a
liberal world trade policy and the creation of the IMF
and World Bank.
However, relations with the USA were so
foregrounded that Churchill famously declared that
Britain had become the USSR’s prime nuclear target
in Europe. When Labour returned to power in 1964
the three circles were still intact (Young, 1997:141)
and, with its presence in south-east Asia and the
Persian Gulf, the country could still be considered a
global military power as well as a commercial-
financial one. Yet much had changed. Outside the
Gulf, Britain’s presence in the Middle East had
dissipated after Suez. In 1959-61 the Conservative
Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod had presided over a
rapid acceleration of the decolonisation process in
Africa. In 1961-63 Macmillan’s government had
made the first vain bid to enter the European
Community. It is possible to see around 1960-1961 a
self-conscious appreciation by the British of the need
to retire from a global military political presence to a
European focus.
376
The Commonwealth received a serious blow
with the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and the Unilateral
Declaration of Independence by Rhodesia a few
months earlier that divided the organisation,
exposing it as a poor basis for British influence.
Britain’s reliance on America, for Polaris missiles and
the support of sterling, went along with British
support for the Vietnam war, which alienated
France’s Charles de Gaulle and ensured the defeat
of Wilson’s attempt to discuss EC entry in 1967. In
1974 Foreign Secretary James Callaghan told the
Cabinet: “Our place in the world is shrinking: long-
term political influence depends on economic
strength and that is running out” (quoted in Young,
1997: 142). Still Britain at that time was the fifth
largest economy in the world and a leading member
of various international organisations including since
1973, the EC. Despite the suspicions of the left,
James Callaghan as Britain’s Prime Minister became
in 1976-1979 the most trusted European ally of
Jimmy Carter.
In 1962 Gaitskell attacked Macmillan’s
attempt to enter Europe: “A European federation
means the end of Britain as an independent nation,
we become no more than Texas or California in the
United States. It means the end of a thousand years
of history” (quoted in Andrews, 1996:127). Still,
many prominent Labour leaders like George Brown
believed Britain’s future lay in Europe. But many
others among them welcomed this chance to attack
377
Macmillan’s government, so Labour became
identified with anti-Europeanism.
Social democrats, and foremost among them
Roy Jenkins, believed strongly in the principle of
membership as a way to bolster British power in the
world, secure better market for British exports and
bring the country into line with post-imperial realities.
Nearly 70 Labour MPs ignored the party whip to vote
in favour of membership in October 1971. A whole
group, including left-wingers like Michael Foot but
also rightists like Peter Shore, were opposed in
principle to the EC because they thought such a step
would destroy the Commonwealth, undermine
parliamentary sovereignty and impede the pursuit of
social policies in Britain; it would instead make
Britain part of the capitalist club where working class
interests would be harmed by higher food prices
(thanks to the Common External Tariff and Common
Agricultural Policy, CAP) and unemployment caused
by the need to deflate (in order to make Britain more
competitive against Germany, France and the rest).
It was largely to hold the party together that
Wilson in 1975 held a referendum on EC
membership, even allowing Cabinet colleagues to
speak on opposite sides in the debate (Andrews,
1997:151). A well-organised campaign by the pros
backed by most of the press helped secure victory
and two-thirds of the electorate approved
membership. This apparently decisive popular
verdict did not solve Labour’s divisions in the way
378
Wilson had hoped. Benn, Foot and other anti’s
remained in the Cabinet, whilst in 1977 Jenkins left
to become President of the European Commission.
EC membership did not, as some had naively
hoped, transform the country’s economic prospects.
Instead inflation, rising unemployment and the need
for expenditure cuts made the 1970’s a depressing
and uncertain time. After the 1979 electoral defeat,
Europe and defence remained the most divisive
issues for Labour and contributed to the party split
and the foundation of the SDP. European socialists
despaired of Labour’s policies, and in 1983 the Party
promised to negotiate withdrawal from the EC within
the lifetime of a parliament (Andrews, 1997:152). In
1987 the Labour manifesto accepted EC
membership alongside promises of reform. In the
late 80’s the Conservatives themselves became
divided on the issue. The single market launched in
January 1993 might be welcomed by Thatcher as
symbolising the acceptance of free enterprise
values, but greater qualified majority voting, the
Social Chapter and talk of a common currency were
not.
In 1992 and 1997 Labor’s acceptance of the
Social Chapter was one of the main areas in which
the parties differed on international issues. The
question which needs to be asked is, why is the
leader of a party which only fifteen years before had
been committed to withdrawing from the EC at the
earliest possible opportunity is now proposing to take
379
the UK where no government had gone before? In
answering this question three brief points should be
made.
Firstly, the process of reforming Labour’s party
policy on European integration had already been
underway for some time. Beginning under Neil
Kinnock in the mid-80’s, the party removed the
stated objective of formally withdrawing from the EC
from its manifesto, while under John Smith the party
increasingly warmed to playing a committed role in
the EU. The reasons for this change of policy are
numerous and vary to some extent with the
individual positions of the party’s leaders. A central
theme however which runs throughout Kinnock’s,
Smith’s and to some extent Blair’s leadership is that,
as trade, finance and capital have moved beyond
national borders, the most realistic way of
responding to such developments is by building a
framework for social democracy which itself is
supranational. Such an understanding is, in the UK,
also evident in the growing levels of support among
trade union organisations for EU-wide initiatives on
social action. During his leadership of the party Blair
has expressed similar sentiments, but his notion of
the Third Way also unashamedly embraces the
principles of free market capitalism, which were
previously more characteristic of the Conservative
Party under Thatcher and Major.
A second factor which has contributed to the
380
transformation in Labour party policy towards the EU
is the changing dynamics of international relations.
In the early post-war period it was the UK’s trade
relations with the newest members of the
Commonwealth and its political relationship with the
US which swayed government opinion in favour of
not taking part either in the ECSC or, later, in the
formative years of the EEC. It was the realisation of
the success of the EEC in contributing to the
economic growth of the six founder members that
convinced the Macmillan government to apply for
membership in 1961. It was moreover the
recognition of the growing importance of the UK
trade with EEC member states that was such an
important factor behind the UK’s third and successful
bid to join the EEC under Edward Heath in the early
70’s. At the same time, governments of the UK were
made increasingly aware of the US’s interest in
backing European integration, with the UK as a
participant in the process. The present Labour
government is fully aware of the extent to which the
economy of the UK is intertwined with that of its
fellow member states in the EU. Isolation, supported
by trade links with the rest of the Commonwealth
and some kind of alliance of interest with the US, is
not an option today. As Blair stated in 1996: “We no
longer have an empire and although the
Commonwealth gives us valuable links around the
world it is not an alternative to Europe. The
transatlantic relationship will continue to be important
381
- particularly in the security field - but the Americans
have made it clear they want a special relationship
with Europe, not with Britain alone” (Blair, 1996:210).
Following on from the above point, a third factor
which has contributed to Labour’s moves to realign
the UK as a more integrated member of the EU is
the stated acknowledgement of the importance of
the EU in securing for the UK a key role in the future
dynamics of international politics. Some of the most
senior figures in the Labour party including Tony
Blair, Robin Cook and Gordon Brown have
emphatically declared that the UK must be at the
centre of the EU if it is to wield any serious global
influence. Participation in the EU is, then, a
pragmatic acknowledgement of the increasing
regionalisation of international political economy and
of the importance of being inside an emergent
regional power such as the EU. As Blair stated in an
article in the Independent: “In a world of global
markets, collective security systems and larger trade
blocs, the EU is in the self-interest of all of us. It is a
practical and crucial necessity. Europe is stronger
together than alone” (7 April 1998). Robin Cook, the
Foreign Secretary, has also spoken of the
significance of the UK’s role in the EU, arguing that it
is membership of the EU which gives the UK the
greatest negotiating strength in the world (Financial
Times, 30 March 1995).
The Labour government has been
considerably more positive in its attitudes towards
382
the UK’s role in the EU than some of its
predecessors, but to what extent has this contributed
to a real redefinition of the UK within the EU? To
some degree, the overtures made by the
government towards their counterparts in the Council
of Ministers and the European Commission have
certainly served to alter the more negative
perceptions of the UK. There can be little doubt that
for some pro-Europeans this is a good start for the
new government, yet major policy developments,
such as the decision not to take part in the first wave
of EMU, have dented the new image, which the
government has sought to create. That the UK
government broke ranks with the rest of the EU in
siding with the US over the crisis in Iraq in 1998 (and
again in February 2000) was not regarded as in
keeping with its stated intentions of seeking to
cooperate with the other EU member states on
matters of defence and security. In addition, EU
officials and other heads of government in the EU
have criticised what they perceive to be the
arrogance of the UK government in its dealings with
the EU. As one EU diplomat was quoted saying just
days before the UK assumed the presidency of the
EU: “Every country uses the word leadership when it
takes over the presidency, but we seem to be
hearing it all the time from Blair and Cook. We are
not impressed. This is not a US presidency”
(Financial Times, 17 December 1997).
383
There have also been criticisms, stemming in
large part from its decision on EMU, that the
government has not yet given a substantive
indication of its commitment to European integration.
Such criticisms were, however, already in evidence
before Labour came to power. The Independent
argues that while both Blair and Major engaged in
heated exchanges over the issue of the EMU,
neither sought to engage in any kind of rational
debate about the implications for the UK of future
developments at the level of the EU (14 April 1997).
Another journalist writing in the Financial Times was
even more critical of how both the Conservative and
the Labour were handling the debate about the UK’s
role in the EU, remarking that this issue would be
one of the most important in the 1997 election but
“neither of the larger parties has the foggiest idea
about how to deal with it” (Financial Times, 16 April
1997). Even David Marquand, the distinguished
British political scientist and supporter of Tony Blair,
could find little to extol in Labour ’s attitude to the
EU. As he remarked in March 1997: “All we know is
that a Labour victory would leave the future open
where a Conservative victory would foreclose it. That
may not be an inspiring rallying cry but in a nation
emerging from 200 years of delusive certainty it is
not a bad one” (The Guardian, 27 March 1997).
The neo-liberal political consensus after 1972
aiming for a fixed exchange rate system, which
would allow both for high capital mobility and price
384
stability through a restrictive monetary policy,
permitted a gradual high-level political decision in
favour of EMU

. The 70’s especially through their
empirical demonstration that rising inflation and
rising unemployment could coexist, depoliticised
opposition to deflationary policies. The European
Union’s decision for EMU is an enlightened
anticipation of the inevitable: retaining influence over
their own future in an age of globalisation. Here
globalisation means the great increases in foreign
investment and capital mobility since 1969, the large
and increasing share of international trade within
multinational corporations and the
internationalisation of some services. There are

If there is one thread that links the economic and political troubles
of Britain since the end of the Second World War it is the sterling
exchange rate. The understanding of the British adherence to the
ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) in the 1990-1992 is mistaken,
Tomlinson thinks. Euro-sceptics in all parties present this as part of
the Conservatives’ European folly but in fact it had little to do with
Europe; it had to do with the Conservatives’ need to reassure
financial markets about its anti-inflationary credentials (1997:14) in
the wake of the failure of money-supply targeting in the 1980’s. To
achieve that end they decided to employ the means of an overvalued
exchange rate. Winston Churchill’s vainglorious decision to peg the
pound to gold at the parity of $4.86 in 1925 was typical. An
overvalued currency led to a calamitous results decline in exports, an
important factor in the severity of the Great Depression in the UK.
Although sternly opposed the opting out of the euro on January 1,
1999 did not lead, as in the case of other “out”countries, to rejoining
the ERM as Denmark and Greece did; it has been a symbol of
decline and an endless cause of difficulty for the British
government.At present given the absence of an option, adherence to
EMU may prove to be the best foreign exchange framework that is
available.
385
some major doubts raised by this: the difference
between regions in unemployment and income
levels will not be levelled out by greater labour
mobility nor by unrestricted capital flows between
countries. A political demand for less restrictive
monetary policies in one member state would lead to
a defection from the EMU. Voters in most EU
member states are aware of the fact that EMU was
the price the Federal Republic paid for the entry of
the GDR into the European Union, the price of
reunification, and it is also clear for many that a vote
for the EMU is a vote for the continuation of Western
Europe’s longest peace in history.
It is very interesting to listen to the other side.
John Mills, an officer at Camden Borough Council
and a businessman, is famous for his Old Labour
anti-Europe feelings. Bill Jamieson, Economics
Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Helen
Szamuely, Tories, yet they agree with Mills and his
allies that the EU is an economic disaster and this
disaster will be made even greater by EMU. Their
main argument is that the GNP of the EU has grown
more slowly than that of any other major
international trader for the last twenty years. If the
same statistical relationships apply for another
twenty years, Western Europe will have been
overtaken in per capita income by most of the Far
East. In Europe’s Economic Dilemma (Macmillan,
1998) Mills contends that the existing EU is a barrier
to domestic growth policies. EMU will make it an
386
insurmountable one. Szamuely and Jamieson (eds)
in A Coming Home or Poisoned Chalice (1998) posit
that enlargement of the EU will eliminate all chance
of the faster income growth which the next round of
candidates from the Eastern Bloc are seeking. They
should stay out of a regime almost as oppressive
and dysfunctional as the one from which the
beggared Central and East European countries have
only recently escaped. (They actually speak about
the “Ceaşescus of Brussels”!)
The exchange rate is the main way in which
governments can stimulate GNP, as growth linked to
an undervalued currency gives the highest returns
on and the highest volume of investment. An EMU
which imposes a ceiling on growth and employment
will lead to a breakout by at least one country, but
only after longer and bitterer social tensions than
exist at present. Only then will Europe return to its
lost place in the world. By then Eastern Bloc
members will be as far behind the present member
states as they are now. Membership will eliminate
the competitive advantage of their cheap, skilled
industrial labour. Far form winning a market for their
agricultural products they will be eating subsidised
German and French food exports. They already
have to give up new economic freedom in the quest
for membership. They also think that the future for
these countries is utterly grim, because the aid
envisaged in EU budgets up to 2006 will not be
387
available as it is predicted on the basis of GNP
growth rates which the EU will not achieve.
But Leo Brittan in Globalisation vs.
Sovereignty? The European Response disagrees
absolutely. He thinks that it is the enlargement of the
Union that will make it truly dynamic, open and
competitive, provided economic integration is not
viewed as a messianic voyage, which must be
pursued to its glorious end. But it always has been a
messianic voyage. Its history is one of a strong
negation of British ideas of a free-trade area in favour
of the carefully regulated internal market which
France and Germany have preferred. Changing to a
more open market will not advance rich countries at
the expense of the poorer members, nor will it
threaten existing social-security systems, he thinks.
Belgium, France and Italy have attached a
Declaration to the Treaty of Amsterdam insisting on
institutional reforms of the EU before enlargement,
which may push enlargement off the immediate
agenda. That could give EMU a better chance of
survival. The awkward period will come when the
euro circulates in parallel with national currencies.
Much more likely is that the present consensus will
hold, the author thinks, because many differing
national interests will emerge not overridden by the
messianic urge

.

The two sides of the European single currency debate agree on one
thing: that this is one of those rare, once-in-a-generation choices that
will shape Britain. It is a grand question. The launch of Britain in
Europe or BiE saw representatives of the three main political parties
388
In practical terms Blair faces a Herculean task in
bringing the British public round to supporting a
committed role for the UK government in the EU.
The fact that Blair, before the general election,
refused to be drawn into making extensive
statements of intent about future Labour policies on
the EU has much to do with the frenzied manner in
which the debate about EU has been conducted in
the UK, particularly since the Maastricht Treaty.
Even so, in the prelude to the 1997 general election,
Blair himself made a number of ill-judged statements
about his views on the EU. In an attempt to present
an image of a strong British leader in the EU to his
domestic audience and thus deliver a body blow to
in mid-October 1999 sharing a common platform for the first time in
nearly 25 years. A new coalition was formed according to BiE’s
mission statement to persuade Britons of the benefits of joining a
successful single currency. The launch marked the first formal outing
of the ‘yes’ side in any future referendum on the euro. Tony Blair
appeared alongside the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown,
the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, the leader of the liberal
democrats, Charles Kennedy, and two ministers from the Major era -
Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine. The line-up gave pro-Euro
forces what they have hankered for: power and political heft. But
Blair was not firm on the matter once again. He said that he
supported the single currency as long as the Government’s economic
tests were met. The debate about economic convergence will rage on
but it is not the whole story. The principle matters too. Qualms about
the euro will never be reassured by numbers. The debate goes
deeper, into questions of national sovereignty and independence. It is
not enough to say that there are no constitutional or political
implications to joining the euro: the British need to be persuaded of
that. Voters suspect that something profound about Britain will
change. It is this fear that BiE will have to tackle.
389
the efforts of Conservatives to portray him as bad for
the national interest, some of Blair’s statements had
a damaging impact on how he is perceived by pro-
Europeans in the UK as well as in the EU. For
example, in the run-up to the general election and on
the day before St George’s day (a bank holiday
commemorating the patron saint of England), Blair
commented in an article in the Sun that the Labour
Party wants “a Britain strong in Europe, leading in
Europe, building a Europe on Britain’s terms… St
George did not slay the dragon so that England
could follow the rest. He did so that we could be
strong and ready to lead” (22 April 1997). He further
mined the vein of nationalism when he explained
how he “would have no truck with a European
superstate. If there are moves to create that dragon I
will slay it.”
In truth, it is possible to find other speeches and
comments from the same month in which the Prime
Minister makes rather saner pronouncements on this
topic. Indeed if one pulls away the overtly
nationalistic rhetoric of the article in the Sun, his
perception of the UK’s role in the EU is not
dramatically different to what he said at the Britain
and the World Conference in 1995 or what he stated
on numerous occasions during the UK’s presidency
of the EU in the first half of 1998. It is nevertheless
disconcerting and disappointing that a Prime Minister
who has talked publicly of the importance of creating
a new modernity, would be so willing to harness the
390
popular resonance of ancient mythological heroes in
order to make his point. Some, such as senior
figures in British industry, had stated that such was
the level of bitterness within the UK on the issue of
the EU that it was inevitable that Blair himself would
be caught up in it and that would be pressured into
making some more reassuringly nationalistic noises
because of the Conservative attacks.
Yet Blair, no novice when it comes to image-
making, chose a symbolic date on which to counter the
Conservative attacks, a gesture which no doubt
strengthened his credentials among those opposed to
or concerned about the EU, but one which met with a
scathing response from liberal observers. Juxtaposing
Blair’s comments in the Sun with his speech at the
1995 Britain and the World Conference, one
commentator in the Financial Times remarked that
“with every nationalistic sentence he utters the more
his 1995 hopes of a UK constructively engaged in
Europe recede” (Financial Times, 23 April 1997).
That Tony Blair, with a commanding majority
in the House of Commons, evidently felt compelled
to attempt to straddle the horns of populist
nationalism and enlightened European idealism
illustrates the difficulty in applying his modernisation
panaceas to the UK’s image in the EU. A headline in
the Sun rhetorically asking of Blair: “Is this the most
dangerous man in Europe?” (23 June 1998)
demonstrated that any indication of Tony Blair
391
blossoming into an ardent champion of the EU would
continue to meet with a harsh reception in the UK.
The present government has gone farther
than any of its predecessors in stating its
commitment to the EU and in doing so has started a
process of redefining Britain’s role in the EU, but the
importance of being seen to be strong on the issue
of the EU will remain a matter which will present it
with problems for the foreseeable future. The use of
a bulldog as a mascot during the general election
campaign may well have been intended to portray
Blair as a Churchill for the 1990’s and to attempt to
make the point that one can be a patriot without
being rabidly anti-European, but such strategies will
only serve to fuel nationalist sentiments in the UK,
not diminish them. One journalist writing in the
Financial Times contended that whatever the
intentions may have been behind the decision to use
the bulldog as a Labour mascot, it was nevertheless
a strategy betraying remarkably poor political
judgement: “A British bulldog is produced as
evidence that Mr Blair can be as chauvinistic as the
worst of them. I am not sure which was the most
offensive: the idea that a modern party of the centre-
left should so dangerously confuse patriotism and
nationalism, or the aren’t-we-so-clever smirks of the
party’s image-makers as their self-declared audacity
in appropriating Winston Churchill’s mascot” (18
April 1997).
392

A Triumph of Style over
Substance?
Unfortunately, in its first two years in power
the record of sleaze, hypocrisy, cynicism and double
standards of the New Labour government exposed it
to escalating accusations of betrayal and to a
confirmation of ‘the triumph of style over substance’
in their over-hyped attempt to modernise Britain and
British’s. A few examples could be invoked.
In his leader speech at the Labour
Conference in Brighton, Blair was meant to make a
high-minded appeal to the British people to cast
aside the cynicism and mediocrity of the post-war
era and join a selfless national renewal under the
banner of the ‘giving age’; the electors had voted a
government of ‘high ideas and hard choices’ that
would make the Britain of the 21
st
century ‘a beacon
to the world’. The richness of the British character
was praised as creative, compassionate, outward
looking: “Old British values but a new British
confidence. We can never be the biggest; we may
never again be the mightiest. But we can be the
best.” Simon Hoggart reporting on this first Labour
Party Conference after their landslide victory in May
calls Tony Blair a “preacher without a tambourine”
(Guardian Weekly, October 12 1997). Blair has
trouble distinguishing decisions from achievements
(12). His 97 verb-free sentences, Hoggart believes,
point to this delusion. When underlining for example
393
‘the giving age’ his hypocrisy shines through as
‘giving’ almost loses its meaning when collocating
with ‘hard choices’ or ‘harsh choices’ - euphemisms
for ‘lack of resources’: “That was your challenge to
me. Proudly, humbly I accepted it.” The anti-climax
of that almost religious tone comes in the columnist’s
comment: “Vainly, modestly he set to work. Harshly,
compassionately he took the tough decisions.
Loudly, softly he spoke to the conference and a
fascinated, bored the audience gave him a standing
ovation anyway” (12).
Another case in point would be the so-called
‘ethical foreign policy’. Robin Cook’s plan for a new
ethical UK foreign policy has as its rationale the
strengthening of the UK’s international diplomatic
role in conflict resolution. Blair’s only foreign policy
speech during the election campaign, in Manchester
on April 28, testifies to a readiness to strengthen UN
peacekeeping, improve co-operation with the
Commonwealth (after John Major’s refusal to
condemn French nuclear tests upset the last
summit) and use economic pressure against Nigeria
to ensure respect for human rights. All these made
Labour’s rhetorical tone very different from the
Conservatives’.
But the process of translating theory into
practice has caused some uncomfortable moments
for the government. Official British complicity in
possibly illegal supplies of arms to Indonesia, Sierra
Leone and Zimbabwe has been repeatedly revealed
394
over the last three years. The trouble with the ‘ethical
foreign policy’ as with John Major’s ‘back to basics’ is
that every tiny gaffe bloats in the uncovering. Britain
was apparently involved in the February 1998
counter-coup against the military junta in Sierra
Leone, threatening a crisis of confidence between
the Foreign Secretary and senior officials in his
department. In February 1999 a shocking revelation
made headlines. John Pilger reporting on the
tragedy of East Timor states that, “New Labour sells
weapons to murderous regimes. The government
has approved arms contracts to the Indonesian
dictatorship.” The article highlights several stages in
the career of a famous politician, none other than
Robin Cook, the present-day Foreign Secretary. In
1978 as young Scottish Labour MP, he made a
name for himself by criticising the arms trade, he
lamented that wherever weapons are sold there is
tacit conspiracy to conceal the reality of war: “It is a
truism that every war for the past two decades has
been fought by poor countries with weapons
supplied by rich countries.” Sixteen years later, as
Labour’s frontbencher spokesman on foreign policy,
he lambasted the Conservative Trade minister
Richard Needham for selling more Hawks to
Indonesia. Still, today’s Britain is the world’s second
biggest arm dealer. The truth is that Tony Blair’s
government secretly approved sixty-four new arms
contracts with the Indonesian dictatorship before its
overthrow. Blair went to Dunblane following the
395
massacre of children there in 1996 and shed a tear
on television. He subsequently banned the sale of
handguns in Britain, while his government secretly
approved their export in other countries (“Blood on
British Hands”, Guardian Weekly, February 7, 1999).
In February 2000 the government seems to have
abandoned its ethical foreign policy by giving the go-
ahead for the sale of spare parts for fighter jets to
Zimbabwe. The ‘ethical policy’ was supposed to
deny weapons to countries engaged in external
aggression or internal repression. Zimbabwe, which
sent troops to fight on the government side in the civil
war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fails on
both counts. The Labour MP Ann Clwyd said: “I feel
that we raised expectations that we would have a
different policy to the last government when we came
into power and I am extremely disappointed that we
are selling arms to Indonesia and now keeping the
Hawks flying in the war in Congo.” It was also
revealed that Robin Cook opposed the sale of arms
but Tony Blair overruled his protests, insisting that
Britain had to stand by a 1980’s contract between
Zimbabwe and Britain (Ewen MacAskill, “Blair Shoots
down Ethical Policy on Arms Sales”, Guardian
Weekly, January 27-February 2000:11).
Robin Cook set out to modernise the Foreign
Office and leave its reputation of ‘white Oxbridge
male’ behind, saying: “If I am going to represent
Britain, I need a Foreign Office that is representative
of the whole of modern Britain.” But of 6000 staff in
396
October 1997, only 3.3 per cent were from ethnic
minorities.
In retrospect, it can be said that the 1992
defeat was crucial in making the Labour Party take
on board most of the Thatcher reforms, like their
more selective approach to welfare, taking steps to
get people back to work and making some services
more dependent on private provision (the first
budget raised 5 billion GBP tax on the profits of the
privatised utilities to provide funds for schools and
health). They also signed up to British membership
of the EU’s Social Chapter. As concerns taxes,
Chancellor Gordon Brown was said last year to have
audaciously stolen the ‘tax-cutting clothes of the
Conservatives’ when he announced in March 1999 a
cut in income tax to its lowest level in 70 years. They
were going to introduce a children’s tax credit to
replace the married couple’s allowance and a further
increase in child benefit, as well as new measures to
cut down on pollution. The widening of the inequality
gap, what with the impact of world markets,
globalisation and the closing down of formerly
prosperous joint firms in the North-East, led to the
New Deal launched for 17 pathfinder districts from
Newcastle and Middlesbrough to Liverpool,
Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton and four London
boroughs. The community-based programmes will
embrace housing improvement, selective demolition,
bettering of education and health, jobs and training
opportunities and curbing crime.
397
Yet many of the achievements of New Labour
under the ‘from welfare to workfare’ slogan,
particularly welfare cuts, have proved highly divisive.
In the first year of their administration there was a
revolt against cutting back benefits for single parents
and in May 1999 there were signs of a new welfare
revolt on plans to restrict entitlement to incapacity
benefits. There was true rebellion against the party
when in May 1998, out of the Government’s 179-
seat majority, 67 Labour MPs defied the whip and
joined Tories and Lib Dems in opposing disability
benefit cuts, with 14 more of them abstaining. In
October 1999 the Lords rejected cuts in welfare for
disability benefits again and for widows’ allowances.
The UK is at the same time near the bottom of the
EU league for the proportion of GDP spent on social
protection (Ewen MacAskill, “Labour Rattled by
Revolt on Welfare”, Guardian Weekly, May 23,
1999). Backbenchers also rebelled against the
government’s proposal to charge parents a
proportion of their children’s university tuition fees.
Possibly in the whole panoply of anti-poverty
policies, the minimum wage stands as the vital back
marker. Its function is also symbolic in establishing a
moral norm, a sense of basic decency and a gesture
towards equality; and this is probably one of the
grandest achievements of New Labour in the field of
social justice. Yet, by refusing in 1999 to index this
minimum wage, by a mere 10p rise in April 1998, it
risks creating a great outcry and a needless wave of
398
cynicism about its motives. Labour MPs themselves
threatened mutiny over proposals for letting private
businesses take over the management of state
education in deprived areas. Labour council chiefs
rebelled openly saying that this was the beginning of
the privatisation of the education system and that it
would lead to the break-up of the education
authorities, i.e. nothing short of the destruction of
local democracy. Blair’s government was openly
accused of reneging on a code of conduct signed in
1998 by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott,
promising full consultation on policies affecting local
governments.
As Labour leader in opposition Tony Blair
proved to be a decisive leader, reforming and
centralising the party and slapping down colleagues
for speaking out of turn. He promised to carry on
with a similarly decisive style in government, as we
saw from his agenda for a Young Country. New
Labour’s agenda for modernising Britain, the
constitution, education and the welfare system is
very much Blair’s own. His personal imprint was
reflected in his decision to import his Press
Secretary and many others of his personal staff into
Downing Street. As PM Tony Blair coordinated policy
as one of the so-called Big Four of John Prescott,
the Deputy Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer and Robin Cook, the
Foreign Secretary. He has also invited the Liberal
Democrats to join a Cabinet committee on
399
constitutional change. In keeping with the aim of
providing strong leadership he has substantially
increased the staff in Downing Street. His policy unit
(eleven staff) is the largest ever and he has virtually
doubled the media personnel under his Press
Secretary Alastair Campbell. He has also introduced
changes in style: a weekly Question Time for the
Prime Minister rather than two sessions a week,
asking colleagues to address each other by first
names, and he has, as we have seen, a high media
profile. He has intervened personally on the big
issues, e.g. the Irish Peace Treaty, constitutional
reforms and ‘welfare to work’. Polls showed that
after one year in office he was the most popular
Prime Minister ever recorded by opinion polls. In fact
a year before a MORI poll in The Times (19
December 1997) revealed that most Conservative
Party supporters preferred Blair even to their own
leader, William Hague (Jones and Kavanagh, 1998:
166).
Yet at the same time Cabinet’s influence at
the same time appears to have declined sharply
under Blair as he relies on bilateral meetings with
ministers, and the Commons is less significant
because of Labour’s huge majority. His style is
similar to or even more pronounced than Thatcher’s
at her most imperious and powerful. The downside
of his style expressed itself when in October 1997 it
transpired that Labour’s promised ban on tobacco
advertising would exclude Formula One residential
400
racing following representations made by Bernie
Ecclestone, a major contributor to Labour Party
funds. It also transpired that there was opposition to
this exclusion from Frank Dobson and the junior
health minister Tessa Jowell. Sir Alan Baikley,
former Transport Permanent Secretary, wrote to The
Guardian (19 November 1997) arguing that the
episode shows the need to involve the relevant
ministers in decision making and to get back to
proper Cabinet government, which has been in
decline for the last two decades. The next day
Michael White in the same newspaper wrote: “The
word is around that too many decisions are being
taken bilaterally on Mr Blair’s sofa with the big
players squared by phone, instead of the forum of
the full Cabinet.” This is what the doyen of The
Guardian’s commentators, Hugo Young, said on 30
December 1997: “This is a government in thrall to its
own disproportionate triumph on May 1
st
and to the
leader who produced it. Its collective membership
permits him to run it as a personal fiefdom,
consulting here and there with selected colleagues,
running the show through an inner Cabinet not all of
whose members belong to the real thing or have any
other base than as a Blair familiar. The Cabinet has
taken further giant strides into the desert of
irrelevance towards which Mrs. Thatcher propelled it.
Nobody these days even talks of the Cabinet as a
centre of power, or its meetings as occasions where
difficult matters are thrashed out between people
401
whose convictions matter to them.” Peter Riddell of
The Times already at the time of the 1997 election
campaign described Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and
their small group of allies as “operating by coup and
fait accompli rather than debate” (quoted by Gordon
Prentice MP in the Observer, 11 January 1998). Alan
Travis, in commenting on the results of a popularity
poll conducted by The Guardian (Guardian Weekly,
20 Sept 1998: 11), says that “Tony Blair’s
honeymoon with the voters is over… the
extraordinary bubble of popularity surrounding the
Prime Minister has burst. His personal ratings for
empathy and honesty have plummeted.”
More and more accusations of sleaze and
several scandals have tainted the reputation of the
new government. Peter Mandelson, the ‘Prince of
Darkness’, still stalks the corridors of power, being
the PM’s confidant and adviser though he lost his
cabinet post as Trade and Industry Secretary, and
he has also given up his role as New Labour’s spin
doctor in chief. His resignation was caused when
revelations were made about a 373,000 GBP home
loan from the former Paymaster General George
Robinson. Their two resignations, coupled with
revelation about internal party feuding and
allegations of sleaze, have undoubtedly damaged
Labour. The ‘return to basics’ (maliciously termed by
Conservatives a “rehash of tired rhetoric”) launched
in January 1999 not only smacks of conservatism
402
but also of a desperate and futile attempt to placate
charges of hypocrisy.
Another divisive issue and yet another field
where New Labour fails to deliver is resistance to the
Freedom of Information Act rooted, some say, in a
pathological distrust of open democracy (Greg
Palast, “Jack Straw’s Plan to Keep it Zipped”,
Guardian Weekly, July 29-August 4, 1999:13).

Conclusions
I have tried to answer the question why there
is such a great need to both modernise what Britain
represents and take this New Britain to an
international audience in a much more positive
manner than was the case under the previous
political administrations in the UK. Much of the
impetus for this new strategy has come from the new
government and their conviction that this process of
redefining Britain and Britishness should be viewed
as a way to carve out a key role for the UK in the
future, most especially in the EU. By way of a
conclusion some brief closing comments:
Firstly, on the issue of rebranding Britain,
whether as a tourist destination or as a democratic
polity, what we are witnessing is not so much
modernisation as postmodernisation; appearance,
image and soundbite sloganeering are vital elements
in this process of rebranding. It is easy to find fault
with this strategy. In the rebranding of Britain there
are some dubious elements, such as the building of
403
the Millennium Dome

or the Millennium Wheel, which
many people see as a contemptible misuse of public
funds. We do however believe that a debate about
changing what the UK represents for those who
reside within it as well as seeking to alter how it is
perceived abroad, and especially in the rest of the
EU, has been long overdue. The implosion of the
Conservative Party over the issue of the EU gave
vent to sentiments which cannot fail to have a
damaging effect on how others outside the UK
perceive the British. If this process of rethinking what
Britain and Britishness represent serves to create an
environment in which the UK’s role in the EU can be
debated in a rational manner, it will be beneficial.
Secondly, as I have suggested, the process of
redefining Britain and Britishness must be viewed
alongside an understanding of how the Labour Party
has changed under Blair’s leadership. It is important
to point out that the changing position of the current

The Dome that many consider an emblem of desperate, empty
national grandiloquence cost 1.2 billion USD to complete. In a
recent article Hugo Young thinks that Tony Blair as well as Michael
Heseltine have to forget the Dome and move on. Michael Heseltine,
the fervent initiator and supporter of the Millennium Dome said of
the project that “we set out to create the biggest statement of
confidence in Britain”. Tony Blair in his turn called it “a triumph of
confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over
mediocrity” and questioned the patriotism of anybody who said
otherwise. Young calls it “a huge exercise in architectural
solipsism”(Guardian Weekly, 13-19 January 2000:12)
404
leadership of the Labour Party on the question of
political economy and their resolute acceptance that
the era of direct state management of economic
affairs is at an end, has been accompanied by a
political strategy which similarly stresses that the
emphasis is now on empowering communities/
regions/nations to take responsibility for their own
affairs. The justification for this strategy on the part
of the government is that it will allow these entities to
develop their potential in a manner which suits their
specific needs. It is against this backdrop that the
current policy of rebranding Britain as a dynamic
innovative and modern nation needs to be viewed.
Yet as I noted in the discussion of devolution, it is
possible that the debate which the government has
initiated about the question of national identity in the
UK, and the processes of political change which it
has set in motion, may serve to empower individuals
in such a way that it exacerbates rather than eases
the tensions between the constituent units of the UK.
As to the UK’s role in EU the way in which the
government addresses the notion of the nation and
national interest will require greater sensitivity. At
present the government appears to be able to strike
a balance which accommodates those who are
mildly concerned about the development of the EU
and those who are mildly supportive of change in
this arena, but it cannot put off for much longer a
strategy of seeking to gain popular legitimacy for its
future policies towards the EU. How Britain is defined
405
in this context will have important repercussions both
inside and outside the UK. On this mater the
government would do well to heed the warning of
Samuel Johnson, caused by the intriguing character
of Jean Jacques Rousseau: “Patriotism is the last
refuge of the scoundrel.”

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                                                             

 

My thanks are due to Donard Britten
2

for his most valuable suggestions

3

4

To my students

5

6

CONTENTS Chapter One. Salad Bowl 1. Introduction ........................................................................................... 9 The English Nation or the Britannic

7

2. A Problematic Issue: British Identity. Linguistic, Political, Religious Arguments ........................................................................................... 10 3. The Resilience of a Term: ‘British’ ........................................................................................... 15 4. The Historical Context of Britishness as Plural Identity. The History of an Idea: Devolution ........................................................................................... 18 From Immigration to Multiculturalism. Major Waves of Immigration in the 20 th Century. Racial Relations in Contemporary Britain and the Fight against Racial 47 6. Factfile: The Lawrence Case ........................................................................................... 55 7. Conclusions. Ethnic/National/Cultural Identity in a
Globalised World

Discrimination

8

..................... 94 6..... Monarchy ............................. The House of Lords ....................................................... 86 5..................................... 59 Chapter Two...................................... The Thatcherite Years 9 ....... Functions................................................... 77 4............... A Brief Historical Outline of Parliament ............... How Strange a Country? Monarchy and Parliament Constitution: Uncodified... 103 Chapter Three................................... The Tragic Death of A Princess and Calls for the Reform of Monarchy ...... 96 7............................................ yet Living and on the Move ..................................................................................... 74 3............................................................................................................................................................................................................ 66 2........................ The Royal Prerogatives ............... The House of Commons ......................

...................................................................................................................... Thatcher the ‘Providential Leader’ ............. 119 3.................... Thatcherite Engagement with ‘Englishness’ and Decadence .......................................... Final Remarks ..................................................... On the Incongruity of Neo-Liberal and Authoritarian Tory Policies ........................ 127 5.................................................... 159 8..................................... Thatcher’s Legacy ....................................... Thatcher and Culture .................................................................... 121 4....................................................... 135 7........................................................................... 113 2..1...... Thatcherism and European Integration ............................................................................... 131 6 6........ 163 10 ..................... Thatcher’s Gendered Politics ...................

......... 219 8............................................................ A UK of the Regions: New Labour and Constitutional Reform........................................................ 172 3.......... The Young Country ............................................... New Britain Revamping Britishness ..................Chapter Four............................................................ Beyond a Socialist Economy............................................... 203 7......... Conclusions ....................................... 166 2.................. Devolution ...................... 225 11 ......... New Labour............................................. 194 6...... 181 5........................... From Welfare to Workfare and the Stakeholding Society .................................................................................... A Triumph of Style over Substance? ......... The Third Way ... 176 4........................... A Troubled Relationship: Britain and Europe ..........................................................................

. Scotsman and Irishman was/were Arthur Conan Doyle......Bibliography .......... We are going to look at this question of plural identities from the point of view of the pressures leading from the proud but artificial assertion of difference to that of diversity........ the story goes.... an Irishman and a Scotsman... Who was he? The answer to this puzzle is simple and complex at the same time: the Englishman...............................cultural........... 237 Chapter One The English Nation or the Britannic Salad Bowl Introduction Once upon a time............... The simple enunciation of cultural difference problematizes.... social.. as Homi Bhabha says in his Location of Culture (1997:35).......... In recent decades historiography has gradually made room for a perspective which grapples with the plurality of identities ...................... 227 Index ......... replacing a formerly fashionable Anglocentric view very much akin to Bentham’s Panopticon........................... the binary 12 .............. political.. there was an Englishman........ economic that make up the British Isles...........

because it is exactly at the interface of translations. We must rethink our perspective on the identity of culture which Franz Fanon in the Wretched of the Earth defines as the “zone of occult instability where the people dwell” (1967:183). So what we are attempting here is to define British culture as a ‘third cultural space’ beyond that equated with the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing unifying force. By stressing difference we undermine the sense of the homogenizing effects of some cultural symbols or cultural changes. We wish to see briefly whether there is reason to uphold the existence of a British identity. Cultures are never unitary in themselves nor simply dualistic. but on the articulation of cultural hybridity. meanings that may elude the politics of polarity. We will try to go beyond an imperialistic Anglocentric point of view. Such a Third Space may open the way to conceptualizing a cultural model based. not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures. British identity is to be conceived of primarily. tradition and modernity. authenticated by the originary Past that is kept alive in the national tradition of the People. not as a kind of integrator of variety. negotiations. one that irons out the multiform and plurivocal individual identities and which would obliterate the very process of hybridization. but first and foremost 13 . interchanges that the meanings of cultures develop.divisions of past and present.

Ireland and Wales. nonethesless a plurality of identities has long remained both within and between England. Whilst cultural traditions could not be expected to stay intact and pure. Since the Viking invasion. if not earlier. A Problematic Issue: British Identity. 14 . the Norman Conquest. the impact of Reformation and Counter-Reformation.as a revealer of diversiy with the consequent highlighting of a common basis. We are going to look at these tendencies of distinctiveness and unity over quite a long period of time. Political. the consequences of imperial expansion – all have left a lasting mark upon cultural relationships within these islands. The influence of history cannot be left out of account. the effect of migration within the British Isles. The conflict between Celtic and Germanic cultures. Ireland. Religious Arguments During the last millennium England. insisting however on the complex cultural phenomena that have contributed most substantially to the fashioning of a distinctive cultural cluster of features that we would easily recognise as ‘Britishness’. The intercultural clashes between these different and distinctive kulturgebiet-s lead to something quite different from cultural conformity. Scotland. the cultures of the British Isles have interacted with each other. Linguistic. Scotland and Wales have not lived in mutual isolation.

vernacular architecture. the visitor can communicate. rendering feasible the transmission of a cultural inheritance throughout the kingdom. This basis for oneness is however not absolute and the transmission of this British culture does not preclude the existence of a literature which is more limited in appeal to a particular region or nation. either by virtue of language or of cultural context. Britishness presupposes the existence of a more or less standard English. which extended throughout Britain with the same labels: Whig/Tory. Yet another point of convergence would be the political culture expressed in a party system. and Liberal Unionist/ Labour. Wales to Kent. a lingua franca. Although one is struck by various accents and unfamiliar words or ways of constructing sentences. there is this linguistic unity very much in favour of the idea of oneness and sameness: one nation .Although one would expect to encounter many differences in landscape. even if party preference varied from region to region. Liberal/Conservative. let’s say.one language. A visitor to both Caernarfon and Canterbury might experience a true cultural shock when confronted with such different cultural milieus. place names and local customs from. The English reader might not find it easy to tune in to the local ecclesiastical and political world exemplified in the novels of John Galt and a Scottish reader might experience a comparable difficulty with Hardy. The Liberal Party in Wales and 15 .

A common religious culture did exist despite the intricacies of tensions between dominant and recessive religious cultures in the constituent units of the British Isles. many people expressed fear at the escalation of tribal sectarianism. so the Liberal Party needed all the voting strength it could get outside England to be able to form a government (1990:4-18). Three major ecclesiastical communities existed: Roman Catholic. Home Rule (or to use the political jargon of postmodernity ‘devolution’) has been met with considerable reserve by many. 16 . where even the 1997 referendum for devolution passed by a very narrow margin. as Keith Robbins points out. Haldane. In addition. In any case there was no doubt that Welsh and Scots could play their full part in the British government. The administration in the persons of Cambell-Bannerman. and Scottish and Welsh Liberals pressed hard at times for Home Rule. The last decade of Liberal government can be thus considered the highest point in a British political culture. not least by the Scots and Welsh themselves. Lloyd George contained a disproportionate number of nonEnglishmen in its ranks. there was a disposition among the English to vote Conservative. It is well known that especially in Wales.in Scotland sought to present itself as the national party. who found this surge of nationalism and this triumphalist celebration of cultural individuality a major hindrance to social and political stability.

and Welsh Episcopalians had to defend themselves against the charge that they belonged to an alien church. “the denominational ingredients existed throughout Britain but in sharply different proportions” (1982:10). It is rather difficult to territorialize Methodism in its various forms. Presbyterianism is a minor if not altogether insignificant phenomenon in England. but whether the nature of British identity might be transformed by a marginalisation of all Christian traditions. Possibly a question that might arise today. The British identity is predominantly conceived as imperial. when non-church going has indeed become a defining trait of the British religious life. Anglicanism was essentially English and Scottish. Robbins. religious allegiance was far from uniform. But at the same time. At the beginning of the 19th century one could have spoken unequivocally of a British Protestant self-image. and Presbyterian/Free Church. Despite the homogeneity of this pattern. which also holds true for other Dissenting or Free Churches (cf. churches expressed. being essentially Scottish in numerical strength and stature.Anglican/Episcopalian. 1982:465-487). is not whether the Protestant traditions remain in the ascendancy. created and transmitted a certain sense of identity. as it was everywhere but was nowhere dominant. Welsh Calvinistic Methodism had rather different roots. The Empire was frequently 17 . As Robbins puts it.

codified 18 . being the common achievement of all the peoples of the islands. “If we lose India we will become a third-rate power” (W. Successive governments in London in the 20’s gave fresh emphasis to the British Empire as a space in which exservicemen especially were expected to settle. The constitutional settlement of the Irish Free State in 1922 gave the appearance of strengthening a sense of Britishness. It was the goal to which all previous British history had pointed: “England without an Empire! England in that case would not be the England we love!” (Joseph Chamberlain). The maintenance of unity in Britain during World War I. seemed to testify both to the vitality of the British Empire and the cohesion of Britain.stated to be the logical expression of British greatness. despite stresses and strains. Churchill). Enormous pride swelled the chests of British citizens when the splendours of the Empire were displayed at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley in the mid-1920’s or when Glasgow organized its magnificent Scotland’s Empire Exhibition in 1938. But at the same time one cannot ignore the fact that the very unity of the UK of Great Britain and Ireland was in the process of anguished dissolution. The Empire. But colonial nationalism became more and more demanding and Britain was made to acknowledge the equal status of the self-governing Dominions at the 1926 Imperial Conference. added one more raison d’être for their political unity.

did not precipitate the kind of domestic crisis. but by the year of his death. Dean Acheson’s famous remark that “Britain had lost an empire and not found a role” bitterly. but the belief that the British Commonwealth could still project Britain in the world had to be abandoned. In the following chapters it will become apparent how the discourse of power at peak times in the postwar period under Churchill or Thatcher and Blair has been obsessively concerned with retrieving the past greatness of the Empire days. It was a measure bitterly opposed by Churchill who feared the disappearance of the “brightest jewel in the Crown”. that Empire had virtually passed away. Of course the British Empire had in a way only been transmuted into the British Commonwealth. Although decolonisation. yet accurately.in the 1931 Statute of Westminster. 19 . Churchill declared in 1940 that he had not become the King’s Prime Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Unrest in India finally led to the 1933 Government of India Act. the psychological adjustments which governments and people had to make to the changed conditions cannot be overlooked. express the truth. and the general feeling of malaise accompanying the loss cast ever more doubt on a world role for Britain. 1965. which led in France to the fall of the Fourth Republic. despite its difficult moments. in private. if not in public. The imperial myth that underpinned national existence for so long crumbled.

the British economy was less and less competitive. in the 60’s the situation changes. and the concept of Britishness was dealt heavy blows. More and more soothsayers from within and without prophesied that Britain would break up. If in the interwar and postwar periods they did not pose a real challenge to British politics. 20 .the discovery of oil in the North Sea and the consequent demand that the oil be used for Scotland’s benefit as a step forward in the direction of autarchy. pressing for entry to the European Community. as it became clear that the Welsh language was losing ground. pledged to seek independence. Plaid Cymru’s primary concern was with language and cultural issues. while Western countries became more and more prosperous and assertive. In Wales. The Scottish National Party had a broader concern for what it considered to be the erosion of Scotland’s individuality. that its meaning was linked with a reality that had ceased to exist. Britishness was looked upon as a diminishing commodity. In both Wales and Scotland nationalist parties had already been founded in the interwar period. The country was dominated by the trade unions and often strike-bound. Gwynfor Evans of Plaid Cymru and Winifred Ewing of the SNP arrived in Westminster.In the post-war period the Cold War dominated the international political scene and. More and more claims to Home Rule are backed up by a momentous issue .

moved towards measures which would give substantial devolution of power to both Scotland and Wales. there was concern among the electorate about the devolved administration that would gain hegemony over the substantial nonWelsh speaking population.In 1979 the Labour Party. set its face firmly against devolution.has continued to be a substantial political presence. It is not easy to interpret the results of the 1979 referenda on devolution. in the case of Scotland. confronted with a mounting crisis. Although political fortunes have fluctuated in Scotland. As I have already hinted above.SNP . Welsh speakers frequently asserted that in the longer term the death of the language would spell the demise of the whole Welsh culture. although in the mid- 21 . But the electorate did not give it sufficient support. anti-Irish feelings would get the upper hand. that anti-Catholic. The substantial political successes of Plaid Cymru in the 80’s were confined to north-west Wales and thus reinforced the perception of the party as a vehicle for the values of cultural localism rather than a party capable of liberating Wales as a whole. the Scottish National Party . that of Margaret Thatcher. It was such specific apprehensions that caused the failure of the referendum and not any warming of the population to the label of ‘Britishness’. Whilst some Welsh believed that their identity was not dependent upon the language. whilst the incoming government. or.

Many attempts have been made to define Britain’s essential character. a unitary state in some respects. Sometimes people talk very vividly about a federation of Britain as a structure capable of embracing the totality of relations within the island. for individuality. though some might feel attracted to this view.and late 80’s it adopted a pro-European slogan of independence in Europe. It appears to some as a multi-national state from certain points of view and a national one from other perspectives. The idea of Europe is countering any attempt at reestablishing a tribalist ethnocentric and nationalistic identity. but with a range of diversity that is quite staggering. paradoxically. 1990:14).not uniformity . which can and should contain Ulster and Clydeside within the United Kingdom for so long as this remains the wish of most inhabitants. whilst at the same time a Europe of the Regions should encourage these units to vie with one another in diversity and specificity. For many it remains undesirable to seek an integral nationalism which obliterates all traces of Britain in a headlong pursuit of ‘Balkanisation’ (Robinson. a situation reminiscent of Home Rule All Around before 1914. Britain is a house with many mansions. As someone once said. We live in a world that is equally marked by a quest for unity .and at the same time. The distinctive cultural attributes have all received considerable emphasis and central funding. 22 .

There is much more talk about Europeanness in Scotland today than there is of Britishness. The Britons were one of the migratory waves of Celtic tribes that settled mostly in Wales and England. The ethnonym prydain in Welsh was transcribed by the Romans as britani. however. i. I think that we can also admit more than a whiff of truth in the opinion held by quite a few historians that Britishness is undergoing a slow but definite process of dissolution. The term might have lapsed altogether after the withdrawal of the Romans and the defeat of the Britons at the 23 . is not a discrete phenomenon to be sharply differentiated from ‘Irishness’ or ‘Scottishness’. A rather tentative etymology ascribes to both varieties briton or pryton the meaning of ‘tattooed person’.The Resilience of a Term: ‘British’ I would like to consider first the cultural clashes. convergences and divergences that led to a definite type of relationship shaping certain identity formulas in the units that make up Britain. we owe to Herodotus who. refers to the rich resources of tin in the isles of Albion and Ierne (ca 445 BC). neither is it so satisfactorily inclusive of those identities as the present-day situation suggests. The first reference to the British Isles. to the toponym. ‘Britishness’.e. adding to them the determinant kassiteride. The term Britishness has had as troubled a history as the countries that make up the British Isles.

The new title was very contentious during the following century and only gained wide acceptance after the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707 (Hay. to speak accurately. 1968:128-144). and for a long time have been. At the beginning of the 16 th century the Scottish writer John Major declared: “At the present there are. During the Middle Ages there was considerable disparity of usage. So the term is marked by inconsistency and has a lengthy but at the same time rather awkward pedigree. It was James VI of Scotland and I of England who in 1604 proclaimed his assumption of the style ‘King of Great Britain. and the English…Yet all the inhabitants are Britons…All men born in Britain are Britons.hands of the pagan Anglo-Saxons. On both sides of the border people had been accustomed to think of themselves as English or Scots. the first entity to be united. seeing that on any other reasoning Britons could not be distinguished from other races” (quoted in Robbins. William the Conqueror also liked to be regarded as monarch totius Britanniae. But some Scottish writers took exception to the fact that many English and foreigners used Britain as both the name of the Roman province and of the whole island. had not the regal style rex Britanniae had an appeal to certain Saxon kings. 1990:7). two kingdoms in the island: the Scottish kingdom. They continued to do so even when 24 . France and Ireland’. Sometimes Britannia was taken to be synonymous with England. namely.

the English hardly considered themselves Britons.a time when the British Empire was becoming solidly established. a time when everybody was swelling with British pride and when people felt obliged to ask every morning what victory there was for fear of missing one . rule the waves. has historically occurred in England.expressed in a nationalist song written by the Scotsman James Thomson in 1742. There are national 25 . By the end of the 19th century Welsh identity no longer permitted talk of only two kingdoms and this too pointed to the demise of Britain as the universally accepted all-purpose name for the country.referred to as Britons. On the other hand there is no record of any English tendency to adopt ‘South Britain’ or to describe themselves as ‘South Britons’. when ‘Scotland’ returned with a vengeance. The term North Britain gained status in Scotland but it was no longer deemed acceptable by the end of the 19th century.” It was probably the only occasion on which the English have prided themselves on being British. a period of profound elation in the whole nation in mid-18th century . with all its varying degrees of consent and coercion. however. In fact. which sounds the powerful brass of naval patriotism: “Rule. / Britons never will be slaves. There was. that the British institutions developed and continue to exist in England. Britannia. And what about England? Many claim that the blending of Britain.

Scottish and Welsh families. points out. When history along national lines was the order of the day. when it was axiomatically nation-based (complete with its narrative and the concept of race. was saved by the Postmaster General who had had the foresight to make sure that no name was attached to the country on postage stamps. and galleries in Scotland and Wales. as Robbins. Scotland. The situation. ethnocentrism. half in jest half in earnest. 1966:60I). “In the Second World War the British people came of age… The British people had set out to destroy Hitler… No English soldier who rode with the tanks into liberated Belgium… The British Empire declined… Few even sang ‘England Arise’. libraries. to make for example King Edward VII monarch ‘of England. England had risen all the same” (Taylor. it was decided that the best thing was not to give any hint about its nationality.museums. Matters however never went so far as to require any change in the regal style. Ireland 26 . “The historical development of England is based upon the fact that her frontiers against Europe are drawn by nature and cannot be the subject of dispute… In short a great deal of what is peculiar in English History is due to the obvious fact that Great Britain is an island (Namier. tied to national ideologies) English historians shifted quite freely between ‘British’ and ‘English’. but there is nothing that is English national there. England has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Irish. When the Historical Association was founded in 1906. 1930:66-7).

encourage. We are in the midst of momentous changes in Britain: constitutional. So.to which all citizens must assent? The Historical Context of Britishness as Plural Identity.like that of anchorage in Christianity . values and practices which may have their own logic but which can be remote from those which have informed the legislation and social arrangements which have come to prevail in these islands? Is Britishness more and more a complex of political and civic values now detached from any universalist claims .and Wales’ rather than ‘of Great Britain’. legislative. has Britishness become a very porous and open structure able to accommodate and encourage the conversation of various cultures and multiple traditions? Can it permit. The range of cultural mutations that this situation has engendered challenges Britishness in ways that would have been inconceivable at the beginning of the 20th century. with the multiple waves of immigration that started in the late 40’s. The issue of Britishness is far more problematic now. sweeping cultural changes on a scale that does not enable us yet to foresee the future configuration of the United Kingdom. but Great Britain had become and was to remain problematic. tolerate beliefs. The History of an Idea: Devolution 27 .

with the consequence that earlier tribal or pre-national Leopold Von Ranke’s use of the nation paradigm is a good example of the grand narratives of post-Enlightenment rationality that postmodernists set out to dismantle. which may enable us to gain a broader perspective on the key issue: one identity or a plurality of identities? After that. as viewed in the post-Enlightenment terms. independence. sovereignty. but also exclusive and divisive. Moreover it provides a narrow working frame. the history of the term will be considered in the light of postmodernity with its relativization of the concepts of nation-states*. autonomy. with each nation having its own appointed moment of destiny. because what later became national boundaries had in the past little or no no reality. of the dialectics of dominance/recessiveness of cultural models. with the breakdown of the centre-periphery dichotomy and the rise of a multicultural society. It is very much a universalist. in a historical context. * 28 . Van Ranke stresses the role of nations in history and the belief that the nation was a divinely created unit at work in universal history.In the following paragraphs we are going to look at the idea of Britain as a Third Space or a locus of hybrid cultural expression. We are going to take account of a few episodes of acculturation. the United Kingdom versus the European Union. stressing difference between a particular society and its neighbours. of the multifarious interactions between these indigenous cultural traditions of the Isles. absolute entity. teleological. The nation is not only a unifying concept.

Herefordshire and Shropshire are part of England and their inhabitants are English with all the appropriate mental equipment that goes with it. the Norman Conquest. the Reformation. I am far more interested in discovering here the episodes of interchange. the Viking raids. the barbarian invasions.societies were lost sight of. of cultural osmosis. An example would be the border between Wales and England. which was drawn at one time to include the Lothians within England and at another to include Celtic Cumbria within the kingdom of Strathclyde. Thus the Roman Conquest. since the channel dividing the two areas served as a unifying element for the sea-borne post-Viking society which occupied the isles. With this pattern in mind I wish to illustrate how the history of the various nations of the British Isles transcends the internal boundaries of later date. The same point may also be made about the border between England and Scotland. 29 . The modern distinction between Ulster and south-west Scotland did not exist in the late middle ages. But in fact these border counties have been the scene of continuous intermingling between the Welsh and English cultures over a long period of time. Counter-Reformation and the Industrial Revolution were events that affected the British Isles as a whole and brought about crucial changes in the models of interaction and exchange within these isles and between the British Isles and Europe.

Thus the Celtic-speaking Bishop Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland during the 5th century and Irish monks there later became missionaries to the inhabitants of Scotland and North Britain. etc. Views of this episode are generally marred by an extrapolation of the ‘nation’ concept that treats 5th century British society as an arena for the confrontation of two distinct races. Wessex. in Scotland.Let us begin with the Celts. the Celts and Anglo-Saxons. extermination. Similar conflicts existed between the constituents of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy: Northumbria. displacement’. between Irish and British populations. Colin Renfrew is the main supporter of the anti-migrationist point of view or of the processual approach. there are many similarities in their tribal organisation. social classes and tripartite division so characteristic of the configuration of Indo-European societies. In Celtic Ireland there were differences between north and south. The interesting points to notice are those of convergence and of cultural exchange. religious beliefs. Mercia. Both linguistic branches stem from a common Indo-European stock. The archaeologists or paleolinguists and ethnobotanists are divided on the issue of migration. of a style 30 . In fact we are dealing here with linguistic and cultural differences. which favours a pattern of peer polity interaction between local communities with the subsequent fashioning of a nuclear area. especially on its definition as ‘conquest.

* 31 . and episodes of convergence and divergence. crag. Avon Thames. Such catastrophe theories postulate the utter extermination of the peaceful Neolithic farmer cultures and consequent displacement of ideology. Dore. brock. or a few river names derived from Isca ‘water’: Axe. also analyses the spread of farming to Britain and tells us that there was probably only one significant invasion of Britain before the Roman Conquest. avon. Rye. This view does not deny that a new and superior technology. Renfrew’s processual approach highlights. Although the number of words is much more limited than in the case of the Thraco-Dacian substratum of 160 words. but not necessarily of a strictly colonizing nature. combe. the lower status language survived especially in place names. Wear. thus from the Celtic substratum of English we have: tor. or that an elite dominance model with the survival of the upper language of the more competitive polity gained ground.zone. London. 1999:29). better weapons. Graham Clark. Exe. Esjk. interaction. Usk Wiske. processed metal. most linguists think that the former is much more real (cf. on the contrary. pantheon and social organization (the ‘Kurgan’. Ouse. ‘barrow’ or ‘battleaxe’ people invasion). there was expansion. of continuous development. a stratified social organization prevailed in such competitive and cooperative structures. Nicolescu. military effectivenss. there were ample movements of people. bin. He rejects all theories that express the advent of bellicose Indo-European tribes emerging bellicose from a proto-Indo-European fatherland. exchange networks of complementary crafts.* In the case of Celtic or Dacian. Don.

of ritual and religious beliefs. In parts they escaped such influences altogether and thus preserved their 32 . on acculturation. The Celts were amongst the four great Barbarian peoples of the known world alongside the Scythians. all together (cf. and there are also clear indications all over Britain . It is true that the British Celts were neither among the earliest Celts nor among those of widest distribution. on the east coast in the Boyne valley and Lough Crew.Placing much more weight on contact and exchange. rather than on extermination and radical displacement. But on the other hand.of a unity of artistic expression. these Celts are those about whom we know most today. Persians and Lybians. Whether we are dealing with several invasions or only one. for they have left us the most complete picture of their civilization. Marija Gimbutas’ similar theories developed especially in Vestigii europene preistorice in sud-estul european). Renfrew finally adheres to an all-embracing theory of Kurgan plus Corded ware plus Beaker cultural models. since they enjoyed freedom from foreign. especially Roman. but also on the Isle of Anglesey . the communities with which the Romans came into contact in the first century BC were Celtic-speaking. what is clear is that the indigenous elements. conquest longer than their continental neighbours. and whatever their character. iron-using societies organized on a tribal pattern.from passagegraves in Ireland at Newgrange.

language and art also indicate that they shared a common culture with the Celts of continental Europe. Anne Ross assembles evidence in favour of a common pattern reflected in attitudes and beliefs: a reverence for rivers and wells. artefacts and iconographic motifs in Romanian traditional society and art and also about the lasting effects of Celticity on Romanian territory). The Roman Conquest was conducive to a social and cultural revolution. North and west a military zone existed over which there was military rather than administrative control. totemic animals and plants (see Virginia Cartianu’s book Urme celtice în spiritualitatea şi cultura românească for a comparative analysis of similar practices. The southern Lowlands formed a military province with the most romanised section of Britain. accompanied by a certain 33 . South of a line between Lincoln and Lyme Bay. In her classic work. rituals. it is sometimes forgotten that a process of modernization had already been under way in the south. and the modernizing effects of the Roman Conquest. When we speak about the ‘blessing in disguise’. urbanisation and a wider market economy. the cult of the severed head. Their culture. various Celtic kingdoms lost their independence and were incorporated into the imperial administrative framework. where social change. Pagan Celtic Britain.culture in a purer form. the development of larger political units. groups of whom crossed the Alps and sacked Rome in 390 BC.

of domestic comfort. it made Ireland part of the Roman-led ‘globalisation’ process that was going on at the time. rationalization of the infrastructure of settlements. it marked the opening up of Ireland to the values of Rome. development of a centralised road system. 43. Patrick to Northern Ireland and of other missionaries to the southern half of the country is normally seen in exclusively religious terms as part of the history of the Christian Church. Of course the thrust towards modernisation was greatly accelerated after the Claudian invasion of A. Of all romanising influences the most important was undoubtedly Christianity. determined some people to term this development prior to the actual Conquest as ‘Indirect Romanization’ (Kearney.D. In cultural terms. with the introduction of a development along the lines of ruling according to the administrative standards of a cosmopolitan empire. The coming of St. 1989: 22). the setting up of a literate bureaucracy. The Christian Church was no 34 . however. Alternative social and economic arrangements may be perceived in the north and west and in Ireland which the Romans did not attempt to conquer.level of literacy and numeracy. but to underscore the fact that the ‘splendid isolation’ of Ireland was broken down during this period. The point here is not to exaggerate the success of the new faith in Ireland. since many traditional aspects of Irish life survived for many centuries. refinement of manners. etc.

to immemorial customs. to old institutions like ‘fosterage’ and ‘wake’. Ireland and Wales was made up of societies still rather heavily local in their outlook. Christianity on the other hand was a religion of the book. So the Christian missionaries to Ireland in the course of the 5th century were also agents of Romanisation. There were other marked differences between the religions formerly professed and Christianity. the Celtic-speaking world survived the arrival and departure of the Roman 35 . was the rule. 400. Here local kinships prevailed as well as the patronage of local aristocratic elites and. whilst a second cultural area including Scotland.longer a network of sects: its organization was monarchical in the sense that both the Emperor and the Pope exercised a great deal of power. and in general. we can easily perceive a contrast between cultural areas. although the impact of the Christian teaching was very powerful. Over much of the British Isles. Committing to memory tens of thousands of verses. Latin was the sacred language of the Church and its centre was Rome. so it also brought literacy in its wake. Thus. With the Druids and filids of the Celts. a process stretching over a period of 20 years or so. these societies still clung to their own rites of passage. oral culture was the paradigm. no matter on how restricted a scale. England south of a line from the Thames estuary was heavily Romanised.D. around the year A. with the universalist outlook of the empire prevailing.

narrative histories which were eventually committed to writing in an acceptable form by the monastic scribes in the early middle ages. Bede solved the problem by attributing the English victory to the working of Divine Providence. The vitality of local cultures led to the invention or re-editing of origin legends. the Anglo-Saxon invasion. For the next important chapter of British history. We know from various sources that were finally archeologically attested* about the continuous history of Anglo-Saxon settlements that actually began under Roman rule. who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.legions. genealogies of founding heroes. Many authors speak about the sacred fear that the Germanic tribes felt towards superior cultural models. Bede. we also come upon a paradox: his own people were pagan while their victims were Christian. The character of this invasion has to be judged critically. the work of an English monk. The Arthurian cycle. which ties in with an The great discovery of a huge site near Mucking on the Thames estuary of sunken huts (compare with the Romanian ‘bordei’) with gabel-posts characteristic of the crude design of Germanic buildings dated round the year 400 .points to the early arrival and settlement of Anglo-Saxons. Finn MacCumhail and the Mabinogi are just a few examples. Although we have here an account related from the angle of the invaders. most probably hired by the post-Roman usurpers or tyranny.most probably houses of mercenaries guarding the approach to London . the Cornish legend of Tristan and Iseult. * 36 . we have as an extraordinary source of information.

There is ample evidence. There are hints at the clashes of different cultures in the 6th and 7th centuries. Roman castra. Iaşi: Institutul European. The pagan ship-burial of Sutton Hoo and the pagan aristocratic ideas expressed in Beowulf or in the heroic lines of the Battle of Maldon. may serve as a reminder that there was no instant Christianization. 1993:60119). throws a lot of weight behind the bardic accounts of royal wealth. a great discovery dating back to 1939. that the English knew what a ceaster was .entirely catastrophe-ridden invasion complete with massacres and the total destruction of villas. The impact of Christianization was important. a concept that indicates the instability of political power and dominance in a heptarchy marred by internecine battles for power. they became the tuns or settlements or manors of the powerful chieftains (Blair. The splendour of the great royal ship-burial at Sutton Hoo.a word used with remarkable consistency in place names: Mameceaster (Manchester) or Ventanceaster (Winchester). Bede also celebrates the ∗ These were ‘overkings’ (actually sub-kings). It was a society riddled with feuds and the succession to kingdoms was fluid and uncertain. a trait that the Germanic tribes shared in common with many heroic warrior societies on the continent. The criterion of eligibility for kings was gift-giving or potlatch (see Marcel Mauss’ famous Eseu asupra darului. but we know that for many bretwaldas or Brytenwaldas*∗ who depended on warfare and amassing great wealth. The Roman towns were not totally abandoned. however. etc. * 37 . 1993 on gift-giving in traditional and modern societies). the conversion to Christianity was skin-deep. with their ethos of loyalty and feud. it seems. were won and lost for treasures such as that of Sutton Hoo. kingdoms.

scroll motifs. and this should not be played down: Offa’s Dyke (an earthwork nearly 150 miles long) built in the 8th century and forming a continuous barrier between Wales and England from sea to sea. there are some artefacts that bear witness to the links between Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England: interlacing. high crosses. English and Mediterranean styles. in the ship-burial of Sutton Hoo. Moreover. and monks from Iona were encouraged to establish themselves at Lindisfarne. whilst the Lindisfarne Gospels or the 8th century Book of Kells illustrate an intermingling of Irish. The art of the period indicates the existence of close links between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria and the Irish kingdoms.harmonious relations of Ireland with Northumbria. although pagan Germanic motifs prevail. The Book of Durrow juxtaposes Germanic and Celtic ornamentation. Cooperation and exchange were not the sole models of interaction. In the Lowland zone of Britain a steady process of peer polity interaction and consistent episodes of elite dominance followed their course. hanging bowls of Celtic design. There was cooperation in this field with East Anglia too. the future ‘Scots’) and Northumbria. the massacre of monks. Military victory in 38 . Three of the first four bishops in Mercia were either Irish or Irish-trained. and the battle of 603 between the kings of Dalriada (a kingdom created on the west coast of Scotland by Irish settlers. There was also continuous tension and hostility between these cultures.

which valued loyalty to lord rather than loyalty to kin. they cannot be judged as a monolithic entity. shires and hundreds (subdivisions of shires. The sharpest difference was between. there were great differences between their kingdoms.and. We should not adopt a dualistic way of thinking about these communities of the early middle ages in Britain. Their settlement and the diffusion of their cultural model led English society towards a more mobile structure. on the other. Essex. and the administrative division into counties. It was a more fluid social structure that encouraged trade as an honourable. Monarchical institutions stood a much better chance of developing in this type of society than did the lineage-based society of the Britons and the Irish. the Midlands and south-west Northumbria.the creation of nuclear settlements. each hundred having its own court for settling local business). the latter being typical of more static societies. more powerful. Ireland and Wales. on the one hand the older kingdoms of the east and south coasts East Anglia.the area was accompanied by the persistent advance of agrarian settlements and by the development of the manorial system . socially acceptable activity. Mercia and Wessex in particular. The Anglo-Saxons were themselves ethnically mixed. originating in several Germanic cultures. the newer. Kent and Sussex . There was a certain amount of localism in Scotland. expanding kingdoms of the north. but this trait should not 39 . of villages and open fields.

The raids in the north were far more serious and the old centres of learning of Lindisfarne. Iona were plundered. it underwent considerable change. Under the year 789 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains an ominous entry: the first ships of the Danes land on the English coast. and an overall obsession with rituals and animistic beliefs. cursing one’s enemies (such black magic practices as curses written backwards had quite an effect upon the Romans) was a deep-seated practice. * 40 . An important consequence of the Viking invasion is exactly this weakening of the power of the Roman image. the equilibrium of the old cultures is disturbed by the onset of a new seaborne power. but from the 5th century on. despite the survival for many centuries to come of old institutions and beliefs: there was still polygamy. a mythraic symbol. and up to the 12th century even the ancient tarbfeis* survived. Despite the important changes that the British Isles saw from the 5th to 8th centuries. 1989:37). Jarrow. the late Roman empire exercised a continuing influence upon all the cultures of the British Isles. The Old Order falls. Once more mobility ‘Bull’s dream’ a shamanic divination practice for electing the king: the Druid gorged on the flesh of the sacred bull. Pre-Christian Ireland had indeed been tribal. which is why there are sufficient grounds for calling these centuries the ‘Post-Roman centuries’ (Kearney.be overemphasized. Chadwick. Piggott). and in the trance that followed he found out the name of the future king of legendary Tara (Powell. hierarchical and based on a kin-ethos. rural.

are played down by many writers although in this period large areas of the British Isles fell under the control of the first raiders and settlers from Denmark and Norway. the Vikings managed to dominate for a long period much of the Irish and North Seas.seems to be a crucial factor in conquest (as was previously the riding of horses for the IndoEuropeans .the horse had been domesticated in the steppe lands of Russia by 3000 BC. trade and shipwrighting. oral culture. The literate Christian culture of Alcuin of York or Bede of Jarrow. three centuries actually. and of course there were much more profound changes than those generally cited as a progression from the ritual killings of the blood-eagle type and the plundering of Iona and Lindisfarne. a crucial invention. the new social order was broadly based upon farmers. The changes were of such scope that. Thanks to their longships. were the terminology not too rebarbative ‘Hiberno- 41 . to the later urban development. a culture linked to Rome and to the Carolingian Empire. Anglo-Saxon England ceased to exist in any meaningful sense. When it came to settlement patterns. was replaced by a pagan. Generally the Scandinavian centuries. and again during the Spanish Conquest of the New World). The British Isles underwent important changes during this age. In the second half of the eleventh century the society that emerged was quite different from that of previous ages. Along the East Coast of Britain. which looked to Denmark and Norway.

they added substantially to the proportion of freemen in the areas that they controlled . It is the beginning of a 42 . It was the Scandinavians who brought about the rise of the centralised kingship. Norfolk. diffuse political structures. then the new monarchy was brought into existence by the Danish threat. traditional. The new-style monarchy could exert its power from Wessex over Mercia and the Danelaw as well as Ireland. The old. meaning the holding of land in return for military service. Other phenomena accompanying the new development were a heavier burden of taxation.Scandinavia’ or ‘Anglo-Scandinavia’ might be appropriate terms for the resulting mix. not a warrior seeking to control unfree labour. by mobilizing the resistance of the Anglo-Saxons. that trade was piracy and piracy their trade). Besides the market orientation that we have already spoken about (it is said of the Vikings that with them piracy and trade were so inextricably woven.style lordship or brytwalda of the Anglo-Saxons gave way to feudal kingship with its entire array of distinctive features that were to reach maturity with the Norman Conquest. a military-style government and reformed monasticism. Leicestershire. The Viking invasion. replacing looser.Lincolnshire. paved the way or served as a ferment for the renewal of the whole society. The typical Viking was a farmer in arms. Their society was far more flexible and less authoritarian than what it replaced. But if feudalism is understood literally.

In the Danelaw the Norse influence was deeply felt long after the Norman Conquest. the reinforcement of this thrust for centralisation of power in the symbolic forms of the castle and the Romanesque churches – all this stands for the new political order. Whilst it is true that the Viking influence was not evenly distributed and there were varying degrees of dominance in the different regions of Britain. the promulgation of laws on the basis of royal authority rather than as in the past the expression of local customs. I do not mean to say that several distinct cultures did not continue to exist with their own sense of identity and their own view of the past. the development of the ideology of vassalage .a unique factor of social cohesion throughout the Middle Ages. What later generations see as the emergence of one nation involved the superimposition of one culture upon another. over the British Isles as a whole the decline of the Norse influence was a much slower process than was the case in England. The establishment of the royal house as a bureaucratic base for professional armies. One could of course speculate on the 43 . The kingdom of Norway remained strong in Scotland until the middle of the 13 th century. especially in the Western Isles.broad process of modernization whose ultimate consequences were to be witnessed in Norman England. in Orkney and Shetland as well as in some Irish towns such as Waterford or Wexford.

the church and the borough. in traditional terms. playing down its many incidents of sheer violence and aggressiveness. The Viking as well as the Norman Conquests focus our attention on those common or specific cultural traits that evolve from such ‘accidents’ of history. Accounts range from a stereotypical impersonation of the conqueror as a masculine race disciplining a primitive and chaotic feminine one. in itself indicative of the profound changes that marked British society and which surfaced at the level of expression: administration. prison). bacon. home. parliament. to overemphasis of the vigour and strength as well as the cultural refinement of the Normans. gaol. The nature of the society that emerges and develops gradually after the Norman Conquest is. as in other instances of elite dominance. mutton). beef. reign. The Norman successes created a Frenchspeaking ascendancy throughout the British Isles and. court. of a colonial type. collar. feast. 44 . Opinions vary and many historians have attempted to ‘domesticate’ the Norman Conquest.consequences of a different course of history for the British Isles had the battle of Hastings turned out differently. royal. the French language left its indelible mark on the language of the conquered. The colonial nature of the conquest is seen by Hugh Kearney from three main points of view: the castle. city. manners and courtly life (chain. law (crown. It resulted in the doubling of the English vocabulary.

curtain. navy. military (army. scullery. cushion. lesson. ‘Norman’ must also be used with caution because it was not a pure entity but rather a generic term extending over Picard. within a single cultural and political ascendancy looking towards France. the Norman Conquest completed the process. mercy. religion (abbey. At the end of the 13th century the political future of the British Isles seemed to be directed towards a unified Norman ascendancy. During the Viking centuries the British Isles remained divided into distinct but overlapping political and cultural communities. wardrobe). battle. all of them affected to a greater or lesser extent by Norse influences. etc. an ascendancy which was later to dissolve into a number of independent or semi-independent units. As to the colonial nature of society during the Norman Conquest. parson. parlour. Breton and Flemish elements. ranks (clerk. displacing more and more English sub-tenants who had survived the first generation of conquest. farmer. servant. duke. Normanisation used various instruments to reform English society and impose a colonial ideology. With the coming of the Norman Conquest the communities of the British Isles were brought together at the aristocratic level.household (chamber. prince. convent. The Norman Scots were in 45 . peace). If the Viking invasion brought about the fall of many aspects of the Old Order. prayer). pity. in Church and state. sir). settlers continued to arrive well into the 12th century.

A proto-industrial revolution in East Anglia. the Cotswolds and the West Riding of Yorkshire was another important development that secured Britain’s transition from a colonial-style economy exporting raw materials for manufacture 46 . The future of Norman rule was to be influenced both by military enterprise and by factors quite out of human control. the great agents of change start to make inroads into these fragmented societies with the establishment of London as a great trading metropolis. Progress.favour of a kingdom of Scotland. For much of the next two centuries the history of the British Isles was predominantly the history of individual communities. in Ireland they settled for real autonomy. the south-west of Ireland and south Wales. an increased degree of social mobility and market relations created a new paradigm that was already attracting important segments of the population to the Scottish Lowlands. and all this was made possible by the decision of England to seek an imperial future in France in the Hundred Years War. The plague in the 14th century reduced the population of England by one third and greatly influenced important social shifts: from labour service to cash rents. manufacturing. Whilst these different Norman societies stuck to traditional structures of feudal lordship. such as the Black Death. The decline of unfree tenures and the reduction of both population and land pressures reduced the work force upon which the Norman rule relied.

legal and administrative system (Acts of Union 15361543). whilst in the west feudal relations and services in kind lingered on. The 16th century is characterized by the emergence of the English Empire.(true. Differences between England and Wales became minimal and. although the Welsh language survives and the differences of mentality between north and south Wales were preserved. dominated by the castle with its strategic. It became gradually a society stratified by a different factor . English was dominant even among the nobility in the Lowlands. a new amalgam of Norman. the native cloth industry had come into being partly as a result of the migration of highly skilled Flemish weavers). an empire based mainly on the predominance of the wealth. The development of a cash economy and the strengthening of the boroughs were concentrated in the Lowlands. Welsh and English elements facilitated the incorporation of Wales into the English political.wealth. resources and population of southern England over the rest of 47 . to market towns and individual farmers. It looks very much like a period divided between military action and the establishment of a merchant community. At the beginning of the 16th century the military society. defensive. public and domestic aspects. In Scotland a stark contrast is created between the Lowlands and Highlands. gave way to the squire’s manor house.

The unprecedented rise in importance of London was based on the development of the cloth trade from the 15th century. which can be seen as a form of steady internal colonization.the British Isles and later on over North America and the West Indies. Important factors leading to the Union were John Knox’s reformed Kirk of Scotland. a process very much encouraged by the Tudors and by the succession of James VI of Scotland. son of Mary Stuart. It is a period marked by noteworthy developments such as large scale emigration. Imperial dominance manifested itself vigorously: Scotland was conquered by Cromwell’s armies and parliamentary union was achieved in 1707 through the Act of Union. clerical marriage and the dissolution of the monasteries. nativist one on the other. We cannot speak about a single. national English culture at this point. to the English Crown in 1603. The extension of the new imperial power and the modernisation of society were symbolised by the royal supremacy. with Ireland the prime attraction for many from Scotland. the translation of the Bible into the vernacular (the Bible in English proved to be a formidable instrument of Anglicization). Wales and England. but the great impulse behind the assertion of cultural dominance by the 48 . This should however not tip the scales too much in favour of an anglocentric nationalist point of view on the one hand or a vernacularist. in the latter half of the 16th century.

polarised as never before communities of the British Isles between those conforming to the idea of an Established Church and those who demanded more than conformity in ritual and external assent. A penal code passed after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and 49 . the early years of the 17th century brought about the re-emergence of the Counter-Reformation in Germany and a revival of ritualism in England. which lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. Zwingli and Calvin could not have had such an impact on the British Isles without the support of government: Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell with his Lutheran sympathies and the reign of Edward VI. but the victories over the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. although a decisive split did not occur until the crisis of 1640-1642. brought formerly largely autonomous regions under southern dominance. the Cornishmen’s revolt of 1549 and the Rising of the Northern Earls in 1569. The ideas of Luther. Scotland and Ireland was the impact of the Reformation. when the Privy Council became strongly Protestant. Whilst this polarisation was held at bay during Elizabeth’s reign through her diplomacy and spirit of moderation and tolerance. But precisely this apparently unifying factor – the Reformation. It is true that there was resistance.south over the rest of England and Wales. The split was in other words between the Anglicans and the Puritans. The Civil War was to leave an imprint on English life.

the Scottish Highlands and north Wales remained more or less unaffected. the future of Ireland was decided for the next two centuries on the basis of Protestant landowning ascendancy. In these regions local institutions like the wise men of the village. The shift of Scotland from pro-French Auld Alliance to Reformation is very important. which followed in the next decade under Cromwell. although rural Ireland. the mid-17th century marked the peak of reformation fervour and the myth of the Irish massacre of 1640 formed the rationale for a string of punitive actions.not seriously modified until 1828 made dissenters second-class citizens. By the end of the 17th century an English empire had come into existence affecting most of the British communities. but after the victory of William III at the Boyne in 1690. Likewise in Ireland. was backed financially by the English. The Protestant interest was placed on the defensive after the Restoration and even forced into full retreat during the crisis of 1688-1689. So the divisiveness of the feudal period gave way to a new form of divisiveness based on religion. 50 . who had taken a crucial part in the Edwardian reformation. the wake and kinship ties retained their hold in the face of attempts at Anglicization by the Englishoriented gentry and clergy. the fair. Most historians agree that for many in those two centuries the sense of belonging to a church replaced an earlier culturally-based identity formula. John Knox.

The Toleration Act of 1689. and replaced it with the will of the nation expressed through parliament. is undoubtedly a landmark in the history of English liberties. The Bill of Rights clearly overrode the hereditary rights of the monarch. which inspired Voltaire and Abbé Grosley to praise enthusiastically the liberal and democratic spirit of Britain. which had formed the basis of the restored constitution of 1660. Absolutist monarchies based on the divine right that placed the person of the king beyond human judgement had come to an end and had given way to parliamentary sovereignty. The victory of Protestantism and the underlying principles of modernity were consolidated and assured by the flight of James II and the subsequent accession of William and Mary. and it allowed dissenters to erect their own places of worship. It granted freedom of worship to Protestant nonconformists provided that they shared the basic doctrines laid down in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. was seen as a revolutionary step towards democracy and freedom. The same can be said about Ireland. In Scotland it was only after the battle of Culloden of 1746 that the regime set up in 1689 became relatively secure. James II was decisively defeated and Ulster Protestantism triumphant only after the fate of the Stuart cause was 51 .The year 1688. the year of the Glorious Revolution. In the context of the British Isles the Revolution gains many more meanings.

universities and schools. The result of William’s victories can hardly be regarded as a ‘victory of liberal principles’. but also the rise of such ports as Liverpool and Bristol. Dissent – that 52 . For Scotland the dominant culture was Lowland Presbyterianism reinforced by the Act of Union. public schools. Episcopalian culture was dominant in the universities. as sometimes represented by Macaulay or the Victorian Whigs (Langford. were bound up with colonial trade including the infamous slave trade. The prosperity of London in the 18th century. trade with the colonies became an important feature of English economy. Toleration was a façade because the legacy of the civil wars led to the perpetuation of distrust and hostility between the cultures of the Church and of Dissent.decided by the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (the ‘blood bath’ that took place still holds a prominent place in the Irish collective memory). It meant the establishment of Episcopalian ascendancy in Ireland and of Presbyterianism in Scotland. The English Empire thrived after 1688. enshrined in the power of the Kirk. An Anglican ascendancy. as Jonathan Clark remarks in his book English Society 1688-1832 prevails as a unifying factor controling the institutions of power long after 1688. Dissenting culture had to create its own structures in response to such challenges. army. 1993:399). with the growth of the American colonies. navy and the Church itself.

Unitarians and Presbyterians. A system of generalized patronage was developing in the face of long wars. or fear of war. a high point of imperial achievement. It is interesting to follow the course that such anglicising influences took in 53 . Imperialism was traditionally underpinned by efforts at Anglicization. between 1688 and 1815. a missionary movement but very much inspired by Dissent. which ended with the decisive defeat of France in America and India. sometimes termed ‘The Second Hundred Years’ War’.when the government attempted to raise money from the colonies by means of the Stamp Act of 1765 – up to the recognition of American independence in 1783. The triumphalist mood of the first half of the century gave way to a deep crisis from 1763 .was to be such an important agent of sweeping changes in the age. Baptists. A series of British defeats ensued that would have been inconceivable at the time of the Seven Years War (1756-1763). The balance between the two cultures was held by the Whig administration of Robert Walpole and Henry Pelham. Within Dissent there were marked divisions between Independents. which relied upon a corrupt political system during the reigns of George I and George II. The situation was further complicated by the Evangelical Movement of Methodism within the Church of England. was not a homogeneous phenomenon.

and it is said that the 54 . i. heavily Welshspeaking and rural. The Act of Union of 1800 provided for Irish representation in the House of Commons (100 members) as well as for the election of 25 peers to the House of Lords. Episcopalians held power. South Wales was thus anglicised. Parliamentary politics and the control of local administration lay in the hands of the Episcopalian gentry. Presbyterian in Ulster and the Catholic majority to be found in all provinces. In Ireland we see three cultures clashing: Episcopalian in the east. as the career of Jonathan Swift proves all too well. Nearly one hundred Protestants were killed in Wexford and a number of others burned alive in a barn at Scullabogue. Scotland and Ireland and how these were fed into the subcultures there. Continuous pressure for the repeal of penal laws that discriminated against Catholics was mounting and with it the threat of sectarian violence. though a minority numerically. cosmopolitanised and commercialised. The development of the market economy brought with it the rise of an urban middle class that was mostly Catholic. whilst Episcopalians played their part in English matters.Wales. whilst the north. as they were mostly landowners who belonged to the Established Church. embraced Calvinistic Methodism. The Presbyterians developed close links with Scotland.e. The rebellion convinced Pitt of the necessity of union between Ireland and Britain: cultural colonization was no longer enough.

on the other. over four-fifths of a vastly increasing population lived in towns. The Kirk Session made up of ministers and elders became the chosen instrument for the enforcement of Presbyterian views on private and public morality. compared with 55 . By the early 20th century. From this point of view the multi-ethnic character of modern Britain is a continuation of 19th century trends. Presbyterians who remembered the collective trauma of the “killing time”. when their most fervent members had been persecuted.shadow of 1798 lay heavily over 19th century Irish history. If in the early modern period between 1500 and 1700 there had been a heavy out-migration into Ireland and the American colonies from Britain. Episcopalianism on the East Coast and residual Catholicism. on the one hand and. Nevertheless George III invoked constitutional grounds for not granting Catholics the right of entry to parliament so the Act of Union only gave the Anglo-Irish Episcopalian segment the representation at Westminster. The structure of English society changed a lot in the wake of industrialism and urbanisation. The Glorious Revolution replaced an Episcopalian tendency with a Presbyterian one. In Scotland there were three cultures as well: the Presbyterian in the Lowlands. The real struggle was between Episcopalians. The modern period was characterized by a large-scale movement of population into the industrial areas of Britain from Ireland and elsewhere.

in the turmoil of changes created by the Industrial Revolution. the city councils were dominated by dissenters after the electoral reforms of the 1830’s. the legal requirement that dissenters be married within a Church of the Establishment. The latter was essential for the preservation of social order: membership of the Established Church was a prerequisite for full participation in politics. The Anglican Church exerted control over the universities and important public schools. Liverpool. the army and the learned professions. At Oxford acceptance of the 39 Articles of the Church was necessary for matriculation and at Cambridge for admission to a degree. preceded by the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (confirming the political monopoly of the Anglicans) and the establishment of University College London all testify to the new strength of Dissenters. Leicester and Sheffield. In cities such as Birmingham. Another fact that conferred a specific cluster of features on this epoch was Dissent. and the continued exclusion of dissenters from 56 . the levying of taxes to pay for the upkeep of the parish church. The Reform Act of 1832.one-third in the mid-18th century. which became a noteworthy factor rising numerically from a minority to a position of near equality with the Established Church. it was the dissenting sects that took more advantage of the developments than the Established Church. However. A growing demand was expressed against the paying of tithes.

Manchester. demographic and economic changes was the Industrial Revolution. cockfighting. bent on debauchery and frivolity. The great ferment of all cultural. social. drinking. perseverance and a commitment to temperance. idleness. The main doctrinal and attitudinal differences between the two cultures boil down to the following: one was profligate. the factory towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire and the mining villages of the counties north of Nottinghamshire.a term that should be made more flexible to include the industrial areas of Birmingham. The fame of London subsided in the new age. In 1834 a dissenting conference of 400 delegates under the chairmanship of Edward Baines. Newcastle. hard work. Sheffield. hunting. demanded the Disestablishment of the Church. easy-going. Liverpool. The 19 th century with 57 .Oxford and Cambridge. respectability. a Leeds nonconformist. whilst the other was a culture underscored by restraint. gambling. an umbrella concept that fostered the creation of a new urban culture in the North . sobriety. since shipbuilding and silk weaving were unable to compete with the industries of the powerful North. In mid-19th century the balance of the cultures that we have tried to trace so far shifted radically once more. In 1870 Charles Trevelyan described the metropolis as a “gigantic engine for depraving and degrading our population… a common sink of everything that was worst in the United Kingdom”. Leeds.

The religious divisions inherited from the former ages were now overshadowed by the far more momentous changes induced by the Industrial Revolution: the heavily industrialized south-west revolving around Glasgow contrasting with the more conservative. So new subcultures add tension to the clashing cultures within the various regions of the British Isles.the Industrial Revolution as its fulcrum is one of those ages that can best exemplify the shifts of power and authority within the British Isles and also the extent to which the centre could control but could at the same time be undermined by the periphery. The changing fortunes brought about by industrialisation bestow upon some centres a melting pot effect. Socio-economic changes were accompanied by major cultural changes. 1989:159-160): “Thank God we are Saxons! Flanked by the savage Celt on the one 58 . the English find it difficult to repress feelings of arrogance and superiority. Though it is true that this period can be viewed from the perspective of two major cultures clashing. A new factor that was added now to the general scene is internal migration. English involvement and overall attitudes cannot be left out of account. Irrespective of the implications of relations with the Celtic periphery. This is what appeared in The Economist in April 1948 (quoted in Kearney. Within the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland a split occurred which was known as Disruption. rural east with Edinburgh as its capital.

overwhelmingly Catholic. was spared from famine when successive potato crops failed. nor the brilliant esprit of the others has an ample compensation in a social. Memory of the famine is to this day part and parcel of the mentality of Catholic culture. The small farming and labouring classes in the south and west bore the full brunt of the famine. was decimated by disease and starvation. differentiating it from that of Protestant Ireland. Those who managed to survive were forced to emigrate in large numbers (well over a million and a half) so that by 1851 Ireland had lost a quarter of its population through emigration or death (nearly one million). reflective. 59 . where oats rather than potatoes constituted the staple diet. slow. The memory of this social tragedy was taken with them by many emigrants who left for the New World. the other a victim to the theories of the hour – we feel deeply grateful from our inmost hearts that we belong to a race.side and the flighty Gaul on the other – the one a slave to his passions. where it provided an emotional reservoir for Irish Catholic nationalism. which if it cannot boast the flowing fancy of its neighbours. The Protestant north.” A major cause of the continued division between Catholic and Protestant cultures in Ireland must be sought in their contrasting experiences during the atrocious years of famine (1845-1849). Joseph Lee has shown that by 1847 the labouring class. phlegmatic temperament.

Irish. Cardiff became a melting pot attracting. declined. Dublin became a backwater like London. particularly towards Irish Catholics and Jews. Welsh. Cornish. Yorkshire. Scottish. was also accompanied by inter-ethnic hostility. but the families in each group gravitated together and formed a common bond” (1965:97). Northumbrian and Durham accents.Because of the influx of Catholic and Protestant immigrants from Ulster in search of employment in Wales. looking back from 1932. this prominent mobility of populations. As Belfast prospered. Staffordshire. and not only that. Cumberland. on top of Welsh internal migrants from rural areas. Jack Lawson. In the 1840’s the Maynooth Grant became in Harriet Martineau’s words “the great political controversy of the day – the 60 . In Ireland the counterpart of the northern economic boom was the industrial expansion of Belfast and the Lagan Valley. its infant industries. English and Irish immigrants. The intermingling of cultures. which had evolved under the wing of protectionist legislation. Catholic Emancipation produced such a stir because of the opposition to Catholic entry in parliament. described the way in which the county of Durham had become a sort of social melting pot owing to the rapid development of the coalfield during the 19th century: “By the time of which I write (1890s) there was a combination of Lancashire. All these and more tongues were to be heard in a marked way.

1968:23). Brunel. but his views found a home in the Liberal Party . Brindley. John Bright began his political career with a speech advocating temperance and fought the imposition of Church rates upon dissenters. a radical thinker (a trait not typical of dissent). In 1867 it astonished England by a series of bomb explosions.subject on which society is going mad” (quoted in Norman. He was a devout follower of 17th century Miltonian Puritanism and an opponent of the southern aristocracy. Wedgwood. Paradoxically. and Telford.  61 . An attempt to identify a distinctive ideology of Northern Dissent would have to take into account such figures as Samuel Smiles and John Bright. Stephenson. The human prototypes of the age were the engineer and inventor such as Wilkinson. Canada as well as Ireland. Smiles’ best selling book Self Help. Widespread rioting was caused by the English reaction to Irish sympathy for executed Fenian prisoners∗. one of the staunchest defenders of the Establishment was someone who should have been destined by his birth and temperament for dissent: Benjamin Disraeli. The rise of the Home Rule movement in Ireland in the 1800’s led to a further intensification of ethnic rivalries throughout the British Isles. a man The Fenian Irish Movement attempted risings in the USA. put forward the self-made man as a praiseworthy social ideal. which sold a quarter of a million copies by 1905.very much the party of the North against the South.

middle class origin and Jewish extraction. There were the Highlands with their own individuality. Gladstone pressed for Home Rule. stability and of the preservation of past greatness. In famous speeches in Lancashire and at the Crystal Palace in 1872 he portrayed the liberals as unpatriotic. a movement for Welsh Home Rule made its appearance in the 1880’s. in his opinion the only security for self-government.of Bohemian temperament. south Wales became an important melting pot where Irish. There are many parallels that can be established between Ireland and Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries. a danger to property. There were at least three Scotlands during this period. for free trade and for the introduction of competitive examinations into the Civil Service. betrayers of Britain’s world and imperial interests. Welsh and English intermingled. which during the century saw their 62 . Yet the great majority were Welsh and no massive emigration occurred from Wales. industry being much stronger there than in Ireland (especially the heavily industrialized southern counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth). It was mainly the rural areas of west Wales that threw their weight behind Home Rule and at the same time. with one major difference. a threat to the institutions of the nation. Home Rule was not specific to Ireland only. On the other side. Though he was a self-made man he was no admirer of meritocracy. He was a defender of aristocracy.

Scotland and the Braveheart Effect. as estates were turned over to the more profitable sheep farming. pre-industrial Highland world depicted in Scottish artistic productions. Colin McArthur discusses this Scotland which is stereotyped as a timeless. was heavily industrialised. the cult of the Highlander achieved extraordinary success∗. despite the fact that four-fifiths of the Scots are urban dwellers who follow the range of occupations characteristic of  63 . the Lowlands were mainly a rural area. Edinburgh was the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment.population drop substantially. Emigration to Nova Scotia. So. The Highlands underwent great changes because of the influence of the missionary activities of the Methodists. Cape Breton or Prince Edward became a pattern. They resort in fact to a heavily discursified society and narrativized nation . legal and cultural dominance. Highland clearances took place on a massive scale. with Glasgow as centre. a romanticised version of Highland culture was making headway in the Lowlands.a product of the Ossian poems and Scott’s novels. Gaelic oral culture flourished and gave rise to a biblically oriented literacy but while paradoxically.St Andrews. Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The disruption within the In an article published in 1998. In the wake of the Ossian forgeries of James Macpherson (a companion that Napolean never parted with. with the balance shifting in favour of the urbanised and industrialised Lowlands. not even during his military campaigns) and of the novels of Walter Scott. Whilst the west Lowlands with the Clydeside valley. to the east. with a long tradition of political. Three of the famous Scottish universities were there .

an expression of Scottish nationalism against the control of Westminster. So. modern times. their imaginative lives continue to be shaped by this ruralist. It was at that time that Irish Catholicism. whilst it may seem that the individual histories of the four national constituents can only be understood in such a larger context with England at the hub of all changes. was an extraordinary event. I have tried to illustrate the exposure of the ‘fringe’ or ‘peripheral’ cultures of the British Isles to forces of change emanating mostly from the centre. but against which they measure their own identity. a feature of many societies’ colonial or imperial encounter with Europe or of what the author calls the “Scottish Discursive Unconscious”. the periphery (restricted to a mostly passive role in the first half of the century) embarked upon a much changed status towards the middle of the 19th century. We have here a typical case of cultural colonisation. It is clear that the ample economic changes of industrialisation and modernisation as well as urbanisation were a major effect of English investment and they were a response to the demands of the English market. 64 . and their great difficulty in making or appreciating images of Scotland which do not conform to this model (1998:27-39). It was also a success for the middleclass’s ability to draw upon local resources of wealth and expertise. pastoral and anti-national discourse imposed upon them. which might be defined as an unconscious predilection among Scots for lachrymosely elegiac tales set in the Scottish Highlands of the past.Scottish church in 1843. left the Established Church. that is four-fifths of the total. when over 470 ministers.

and came for the first time to bear 65 . The Whigs had been the party of Protestant ascendancy and the Liberal Party developed out of the more radical Whig elements to become the party of the Disestablishment cause. Wales together with English nonconformity. It also meant probably for the first time a dislocation of the centre in the centreperiphery equation as the Irish issue became deprovincialised. the Tithe War in Ireland or the Highland Clearances in Scotland. Anglican and Dissent was dramatic. with the Irish Catholic issue central to its policies. came to the fore. a cultural split that someone called an ‘Offa’s Dyke’ cutting clear through social life. It polarised British society into England (the south-east) and the ethnic communities of Ireland. the centre being now exposed to political pressures from the periphery. The next period of 60 years or so (1860-1914) witnessed a remarkable growth of ethnic consciousness throughout British society. but then during Palmerston’s term of office English nationalism became central. The split between Church and Chapel. Domestic issues were relegated to the background during the Crimean War. Scotland. Class.Welsh Non-Conformism and the Free Churches of Scotland formed an alliance with English dissent to bring pressure to bear upon the English establishment. This was the backdrop against which the Liberal Party was formed. which was a primordial factor in such movements as the Chartism.

imperialism and anti-immigrant feelings. entailing a wider franchise extending over counties as well as boroughs. There was a lot of pressure on the Lords from George V himself to enable Lloyd George to pass his People’s budget without a veto from the Upper House. the Conservative Establishment and tradition were interchangeable values. The Reform Acts of 1884-1885. with the Liberal Unionist faction separating from the party and later joining the Conservative Party.a cause that Gladstone took up in December 1885. Of course the main Irish issue of overall import was Home Rule . The New Liberals or the Progressives embrace a much more Socialist cause against poverty. Englishness and Empire. were meant for all the constituent parts of the British Isles and not primarily for England. Of course the issue of Home Rule made it possible for the Conservatives to play the ‘ethnic card’ by appealing to a potent combination of nationalism. as Kearney remarks (1989:178-180). unemployment and social injustice under Asquith and Lloyd George. It was an issue calling into question empire and race. All these latter forces made possible the rise of the Liberal Party under Gladstone. everything opposed to these was uprooting what was national and good.on British politics in general. drawing a serious wedge down the middle of the Liberal party itself. Unionism. Everything that was good and moral stayed within this constellation. 66 .

guerilla warfare Ireland split into the six counties of Northern Ireland. the existing cultural differences between north and south were much more accentuated by Famine and the Post-Famine attempt at reforming a vigorous popular culture in conformity with the requirements of Catholic orthodoxy. which were given a measure of Home Rule. At the end of World War I Ireland was not divided by class but by culture. After 1922 the ultraconservative elements gained ground as ethnocultural issues escalated and the liberal-conservative 67 . Thus. after three years of military struggle . In September 1914 the Home Rule Bill became law and it was put into effect after the war.In Ireland itself. In 1914 a civil war was prevented as the Protestants of Ulster wanted at all costs to preserve the union. The distinguishing features of Irish identity in the south were Catholicism and Irish nationalism. nourished by a revival of an unprecedented interest in Gaelic culture (with the Irish language a major symbol of Irish identity). In 1916 Sinn Fein came into being to placate the counter-nationalism of the Protestant north-east. marking a change of overriding importance .an advanced nationalist party which put to rout John Redmond’s parliamentary party and whose members refused to take up their seats in the Westminster parliament. which later in the century was to ensure the success of Charles Stewart Parnell and his Home Rule Party. and the 26 counties of the Free Irish State.

where once mighty Hadfield Steelworks stood and where now lies the UK’s largest shopping mall (sic!). but after the war the balance shifted in favour of the industrial areas where English was strong and which looked to the socialism of the Labour Party (born out of liberal radicalism). On the other hand. all of them steelworkers made redundant. The Full Monty (one of the highest grossing films of the British film industry) was made in Sheffield. The two decades before World War II can be described as an age of isolationism with the Conservatives exploiting the general fear of Bolshevism.coalition led by Lloyd George was brought down. During Stanley Baldwin’s time English nationalism became very strong. It was a nationalism of a very narrow type. in Wales class became increasingly important while the ethnic and religious issues lost in significance in view of the rift that was widening between rural Wales and the industrial south-east. has nothing in common with the repertoire of ‘Northernness’ as pictured in the 68 . The way was clear for a ‘roll-back approach’ and for a drive towards business under the governments of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. In  Although the north-south divide is becoming blurred if not totally eradicated by the deindustrialisation of recent years. excluding or ironing out not only any contribution from the other constituents of the British Isles but also the North of England∗. The Welsh liberals embraced the cause of rural counties where Welsh-speaking dissent and nationalism were stronger. The story of the six male strippers. a deep-seated emotional factor that distinctly colours their outlooks. the traditional divide is still within people.

Film tourism has conquered Sheffield making of the film a post-modern phenomenon of a “post-industrialist. post-fordist era. political acumen and selfgoverning capacity. toughness. a general mood of depression hit the north in the late 20’s and 30’s. like the Welshman Lloyd George or Scots such as Ramsay MacDonald or Campbell-Bannerman. Unemployment became rampant in the old coal and iron industries of the north. wholesale nonconformist values. 69 . South Wales and Clydeside). This was a period of nationalist hysteria that overlooked and scorned the merits of any politician that was not an English thoroughbred. hard work. a true laboratory of Blairism” (Cunningham. 1930’s: decency. masculinity. The rhetoric of the Conservative Party was based upon a three-fold appeal that Maggie Thatcher would herself take over on almost the same fiery note: English nationalism. morale was low.triumphalist terms this England was stated to be a repository of greatness. in what had once been the great boom areas of the Industrial Revolution. A notable issue in British politics in these decades before World War II was the emergence of the Labour Party as a strong political alternative that inherited part of the mantle of the Liberal Party as it drew far more support from Outer Britain (Northern England. pride in the British Empire (a relative degree of political correctness made her refer to it as ‘the times when England was great’) and the fear of socialism. 1998:303-311). Now their fortunes changed dramatically.

divorce and contraception were prohibited and a system of literary censorship was enforced. By 1972 this attitude seemed to have changed decisively when the Irish voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EEC. especially shipbuilding and mining. a working-class authoritarian Toryism could still thrive. In the meanwhile Ireland toughened its anti-British attitude with the decision of neutrality in World War II (which was concomitantly a decision in favour of economic stagnation and cultural isolation). After the war the victory of Labour restored the influence of the periphery in the persons of such cabinet ministers as Emmanuel Shinwell. Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson. Although in such delicate areas as Glasgow and Liverpool ethnic hostilities were high. Church and State and such charismatic leaders as the radical nationalist De Valera fought to keep Ireland ‘uncontaminated’ by the pressures of modernity. 70 . In England. politics became based more and more on class divisions. where the affluent south-east provided a secure basis for Conservative political power.The pattern was to be reversed only once more this century when during World War II Britain depended for its survival on its Atlantic ports and its traditional industries. For 50 years the politics of Northern Ireland remained frozen in an ethno-religious mould with two-thirds of its Protestant majority maintaining its unity against the supposed threat of the Catholic minority.

Devolution became an issue that the Labour government could no longer ignore and in 1979 it was put to referendum. one could say without fear of exaggeration that the First World War had the effect of reducing the importance of ethno-religious conflicts and placing class at the centre of politics. class came to the fore. ethnic issues remained important.5 per cent against. Nationalism was on the rise again when the discovery of important fields of oil off the east coast of Scotland provided an issue on which the Scottish National Party could capitalise.The politics of class proved again to be stronger than the factors of ethnicity and religion. politically and economically. Although long-standing historical patterns continue to manifest themselves culturally. especially. Religious issues are still very much alive in some areas in Scottish life. to the consternation of Plaid Cymru. In Scotland it attracted 52 per cent of the votes cast but this amounted to only 33 per cent of the total electorate. despite the fact that especially in the west.8 per cent came out in favour of it and 46. So. The Clydeside area. In Scotland. resembles Northern Ireland and anti-Catholic (read anti-Irish) feeling is still very strong. the affairs of these countries 71 . short of the 40 per cent which the government laid down as an essential prerequisite. They demanded that Scottish oil should be used for the benefit of the Scottish people. Welsh nationalism received one of its cruellest blows when only a slim 11.

remain intertwined with England. Let’s take the case of Ireland. A relationship ridden with paradoxes between the two countries determines that many of the leading figures in English literature - Yeats, Joyce, Synge, O’Casey, Seamus Heaney - were Irishmen. In sports such as golf and rugby the differences are virtually ignored. During the 1950’s there was an immense wave of Irish immigration to the UK - 355,000 people. The Northern Irish crisis of 1969 illustrates the difficulty of treating the different national units as isolated. The biggest political shake-up of British politics since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 has been devolution that took its course in the wake of the 1997 referenda, bringing about a complete overhaul of the British context, building a modern constitution for the whole of the United Kingdom. We have the picture of a nation peeling off into distinctively separate political cultures. The September 1997 referenda were no doubt a historic step that the Welsh and the Scots took, leading the way to opening the Parliament of Scotland and the Assembly (Senned) in Wales after 300 years and almost 500 years respectively. Although the Prime Minister Tony Blair thinks that this devolving of power will strengthen the union, making it more flexible and more open, some others, more nationalist in their views like Alexander Salmond (leader of the SNP), take it as the way to true independence.

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May 6, 1999 did not herald the instant breakup of the union that the nationalists hope for or the doomsayers fear, but it may start a quieter but no less dramatic process spelling the end of British politics as we know it (see J. Freedland’s leader in the Guardian Weekly of 16 May 1999). Indeed, as Donald Dewar said in the summer of 1998 when many feared the ascendancy of the SNP and when some were skeptical of Dewar’s chances of becoming First Minister of Scotland - at that time he was still Scottish Secretary, a crusader for Devolution since the 1950’s and author of the Government’s Devolution White Paper - state nationalism is not the most attractive of political philosophies. Similarly, Tony Blair said in September 1997: “The era of big centralised government is over.” May 1999 will also be remembered as a big reshuffle of political power in British society. Indeed the elections saw the coronation of Labour by much narrower a margin than expected in all three nations of Great Britain, but facing a different opposition in each: Labour versus nationalism in its Scottish, Welsh and English forms. In Edinburgh, the SNP was represented by a parliamentary bloc six times larger than before: in Cardiff the nationalists of Plaid Cymru triggered an earthquake in Labour’s valley heartlands, snatching the mining seat of Rhondda and the former Neil Kinnock stronghold of Islwyn. A very spectacular and unheard of swing of 35 per

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cent occurred in the voting behaviour of the Welsh electorate. In England the main force opposing Labour will still be the party that claimed to be the voice of the union but which is now reduced to the status of a fringe group west and north of the border. The Conservatives bagged more than 1300 new council seats but as a force in UK-wide politics they are vanishing before our eyes. This new landscape is seen by Tony Blair as a big victory of Labour over nationalism (‘old-style nationalism’) and a victory for their (New Labour) brand of looser, devolved unionism. Still, Britain’s future could be sensed in a symbolic gesture: while the Prime Minister of the UK was speaking to reporters, Scottish TV interrupted him in mid-sentence to cut to the words of the new First Minister of Scotland, Donald Dewar. It is clear for everybody that what devolution has unleashed is a new dynamic in British life, one that puts first the distinct political cultures of the constituents, whilst at the same time strengthening the union. Because despite all speculation one thing remains clear: the nationalist parties did not win. A process begun by Labour may well have created its greatest headache. The biggest challenge is to Britain. Distinct cultures are blossoming in these islands each with its own media, political class and national conversation. They are also becoming less interested in one another: Wales barely made a blip on the Scottish radar. Yet somehow they remain

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citizens of the same country and their future within the union will depend on the skill and intelligence and the capacity of Labour to accommodate diversity while sustaining in the most enlightened of fashions the feeling of belonging to a common core. With no clear majority in Scotland or Wales, “Labour must learn the coalition Tango” as Dean Nelson, Andy Smith and Douglas Fraser put it. The rise of nationalism has led to an escalation of sectarianism in the devolved countries. Scotland was denounced as being a very sectarian society in the wake of the May 1999 parliamentary elections. The sectarianism does not only refer to an undercurrent of AntiCatholic (anti-Irish) feeling, a sign of tribal hatred∗.
Braveheart was the tenth highest grossing film of 1995 and has been, quite expectedly, especially popular with Scottish audiences, producing 28 per cent of its overall British box office takings in Scotland. Concern was expressed repeatedly with the film’s xenophobia, in particular anglophobia. Teenage Scottish audiences cheered every time Wallace killed an Englishman. Alan Massie a distinguished Scottish novelist and frequent defender of the Union compared this Gibson-styled Wallace with the notorious Bosnian Serb military commander General Radko Mladic. The appropriation of the Braveheart effect by various agencies, political, cultural, in Scotland is fascinating. Alex Salmond and the SNP adopted images from the film and, at the party’s annual conference, he structured his final speech to delegates substantially round the film. This effort paid off, since one month after the release of the picture the party achieved the highest poll ratings in seven years. Michael Forsyth, Scottish Secretary at the time, was the sitting member of Stirling, Wallace’s heartland and, together with John Major, decided to capitalise on the film. The Stone of Destiny, which was stolen by Edward I and had for seven centuries lain under the throne of the British monarch, was returned with pomp to Scotland. Wallace Clan Trust and all kinds of dubious Celtic nationalist groups thrived on

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Back in 1979, when the referendum was unsuccessful, many Catholics in Scotland still feared that a devolved and independent Scotland would emerge as a protestant country, but by the time of the 1997 referendum the fear had receded to the point where Catholics were as likely to support Scottish Home Rule as Protestants. Scotland is unlike Northern Ireland, a highly secularised society, where few people observe any religion at all. Although most Scots are convinced that they want to live in a diverse, exciting, outward-looking, anti-racist and inclusive Scotland, they have already shamed themselves by electing a 21st century parliament that has not a single black or Asian member. Whilst this may have seemed a very long digression, its purpose was mainly to disavow a view of Britain as one nation, a monolithic entity standing aloof in ‘splendid isolation’ from the continent. A nationalist, ethno-essentialist point of view would distort the picture completely. The history of the British people has all along been a never-ending series of exchanges, of acculturations, of crosscultural conversations. An anglocentrist view of English history would impoverish immensely the interplay of shaping forces that contributed to the emergence of a plurivocal identity, to the emergence of the plurality of identities that we call ‘the British’.
this stereotyping of Scotland as a brave Celtic country, different from England. As the marketing of heritage is a very prosperous business today, it becomes clear that the tourist appropriation of Braveheart was equally impressive (cf. McArthur, 1998:27-39).

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I have so far considered mainly the phenomenon of internal hybridization and the steady and consistent process of internal migration and amalgamation. I am going to proceed next to a brief survey of the main waves of immigration and the configuration of a multicultural society - a cultural, social, political model that is meant to create what Bhabha calls ‘a third space of understanding’ that transcends the dualism of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Collaboration and fusion in the spaces between cultures, and often outside the mainstream, is becoming more current, but education frequently lags behind. In his Location of Culture Bhabha insists on the necessity of getting away from a view of culture as an evaluative activity concerned primarily with the attribution of identity and the conferral of authenticity (custom, tradition, ritual). This perspective necessarily takes you to a confrontational and parochial view of culture: on the one hand a ‘core’ culture, a dominant culture and on the other hand ‘the others’, very often the exoticized ‘other’ of the colonial era, folklorised and ‘orientalised’; it leads one to a conception of majoritarian versus minoritarian perspective∗.
In a highly racist model of culture the relationship between colonizer and colonized is based on a series of clichés which construct what Albert Memmi called “the devalued other”. The criterion of judgement is narcissistic: ‘sameness’ which confers upon the other every negative quality while of course everything that the colonized lacks is the exclusive property of the colonizer, a repository of positive values. The perception of otherness is processual, the other is first defined as a void, a lack, secondly his

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The hybrid cosmopolitanism of contemporary metropolitan life cannot be denied in the context of globalisation and the unprecedented development of communication technologies. In Re-Inventing Britain. A Manifesto, Bhabha redefines culture as “the activity of negotiating, regulating and authorising competing often conflicting demands for collective self-representation” (1997:9-10). The coexistence of different cultures replaces the dominance of a mainstream nationalist culture. Much of today’s multiculturalist thinking is seeking to revise the homogeneous notion of ‘national culture’ by emphasizing multiple identities of race/class/gender or by demonstrating the historical and discursive constructedness of ‘Englishness’, ‘Scottishness’, etc.

humanity becomes opaque, mysterious and impenetrable, and thirdly the other is not seen as an individual member of a human community but rather as a part of a chaotic disorganised anonymous collectivity. Orientalism with Edward Said (1978) becomes a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient, a construct of the Eurocentric and power-seeking individual. As Franz Fanon remarks, colonialism is not satisfied with merely controlling people, but also renders as pure negativity the identity of the colonizer, the latter’s claim to a national narrative, tradition, etc. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation and bestiality (Fanon, 1967: 169).

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From Immigration to Multiculturalism. Major Waves of Immigration in the 20th Century. Racial Relations inContemporaryBritain and the Fight against Racial Discrimination The question of race had permeated the whole history of imperialism and the contacts established over five centuries between Britain and the peoples of the entire world. In the centuries following the Norman Conquest immigration was mainly characterized by agricultural, financial, trading and industrial skills. Jewish money lenders had entered Britain with the Norman Conquest and their financial talents were passed on later to the Lombard bankers from northern Italy, a connection still celebrated today in Lombard Street in the City of London. The expanding trade was influenced by the merchants of the Hanseatic League, who set up trading posts in London and on the East Coast of England. Dutch and Flemish weavers arrived and contributed substantially to transforming England from a provider of wool into a European cloth manufacturer, contributing a lot to the national wealth (Oakland, 1995:45-49). Many of these became assimilated into the larger British society, but sometimes they preserved their own cultural traditions. Although Britain was most encouraging towards immigration, from which it benefited

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mainly in London.000 by the mid-18th century (a community which mostly disappeared in the 19th century through intermarriage). The French Huguenots escaping from Louis XIV’s persecutions in the 1680’s were the only 80 . servants and other black people to live in Britain. John Hawkins. By 1650 slavery had become an important trade. The African Company was an important trading enterprise that dates back to 1588 and it is associated with the infamous slave trade. one of those picturesque courtiers cum pirates in Elizabeth’s retinue. which numbered some 15. In 1655 the Jews created their first permanent Jewish community as they flocked in after Cromwell had removed the legal bars on their residence. carried his first slave cargo in 1562. bringing wealth particularly to the ports on the south-west coast. There was a black community. The latter were largely associated with the slave trade (the first blacks arrived in Britain with the Roman army. there was tolerance.immensely. Even before the formal abolition of slavery in 1833. Gypsies and blacks followed in the 16th century. it granted no rights to immigrants. which enabled freed and escaped slaves. and especially with the Jews sacrificed in the interests of Christian piety by Edward I in 1290. when the African division of the Roman army was stationed on Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century). who could be summarily expelled from the country. This happened with the German Hansa merchants.

significant wave of immigration in the 17th century. Dutch Protestants likewise found a safe haven from religious persecution at home. For the next two centuries there was to be no more large-scale immigration into the country. In fact Britain was exporting more and more people herself, mainly to North America and expanding colonies worldwide. The growing attraction of North America towards the end of the 19th century caused some 79,000 European immigrants to leave Britain for America in addition to 210,000 Britons (Oakland, 1995:50-55). Although immigrants had formerly been allowed easy access to Britain, an increasing number of restrictions on newcomers imposed a gradual curb on immigration. At the 1871 census the number of people born outside the British Empire was quite low - 157,000 out of 31.5 million. But in spite of these low figures, immigration became increasingly a matter of concern in the 1930’s, when a lot of Jews fled persecution in other parts of Europe to settle in Britain in the East End, traditionally a centre of immigrant concentration. They were victims of rural depopulations as ferocious as the Irish famine. A general xenophobic feeling spread, whilst nationalism and the spymania generated by the First World War increased. More and more people asked for immigration control. An Alien Restriction Act in 1919 was supposed to curb immigration substantially. However more refugees and immigrants arrived in the inter-war period during

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the world economic recession. A large number of Poles, Latvians and Ukrainians streamed into the country after World War II. Political and economic refugees - Hungarian, Czechs, Chileans, Lybians, East African Asians, Iranians and Vietnamese continued to arrive in the 1950’s. Before World War II most of the immigrants to Britain came from largely White Old Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In the late 40’s this pattern was to reverse in favour of the largely coloured Commonwealth nations of India, Pakistan and the West Indies. However, in the face of this coloured Commonwealth∗ immigration, racist attitudes and severe forms of discrimination greeted the arrivals. These people from the New Commonwealth way back in the 40’s were specificly invited by
The Commonwealth was the result of the process of decolonization which had begun before 1939 with the Statute of Westminster (1931), and perhaps even earlier with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, gathered momentum after 1945 (much to the dismay of some famous politicians such as Winston Churchill who once declared that he had not become the King’s Prime Minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire). The granting of independence to India, Pakistan , Ceylon and Burma in the late 40’s was accompanied by withdrawal from Palestine in 1948 and in 1954 from the Suez Canal Zone. An attempt to restore British influence in the Middle East with the Suez expedition of 1956 broke down in the face of American opposition. During the 60’s withdrawal from empire continued under Harold Macmillan and his colonial secretary Iain MacLeod. At the same time there were approaches to the EEC. Macmillan made the first application to enter Europe in 1962, but Britain was only admitted to membership in 1973 together with Ireland.

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government agencies to fill the vacant manual and lower paid jobs of an economy that had been shattered by the war. The Caribbean blacks were welcomed to work in public transport, manufacturing and the National Health Service. The first group of 492 Jamaicans arrived at Tilbury Docks on the MV Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948 (a successful three-month BBC TV series was launched on the 50th anniversary of the event). Tens of thousands followed in the 50’s, reaching a peak in the early 60’s (especially after 1953, because of the restrictions imposed on entry into the United States by the MacCarran Act of 1952). By the 1970’s coloured people had become a much more familiar sight in such towns as Glasgow, Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester. In the 70’s a wave of Asians expelled from East Africa arrived, many of whom were in business or professional workers. The East African colonies were granted independence from Britain in the 60’s and during the colonial period Indians had settled there in large numbers with the encouragement of Britain. Now the newly independent colonies began to implement policies of Africanisation leading to this mass exodus of Indians, mostly to Britain. In 1969 the new Irish immigration was estimated at 750,000 from the Irish Republic and many thousands from Northern Ireland. In the 70’s and 80’s came Hong Kong Chinese and refugees

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from Vietnam, many of whom went into the catering business. As to the integration of these ethnic minorities, many think that a kind of deep-rooted institutionalised racism inherent in the British continues to manifest itself. I consider such remarks grossly essentialist. I think credit should be given to the British for a whole range of attitudes, institutions and structures that developed in Britain with a view to accommodating, integrating and providing equal opportunities in all fields for people belonging to ethnic minorities. However, moments of intensification of racial hatred are quite frequent. One can easily recall the 60’s when immigration legislation becomes harsher, and it was also in the 60’s that in addition to dilapidated housing and racial discrimination in employment, and also at times at the hands of police, there was the added hazard of racial bigotry in older urban areas. Yet, attempts to whip up nativist hysteria along lines which recalled anti-Jewish and anti-Irish propaganda fell largely on deaf ears. In April 1968 perhaps in an attempt to challenge Edward Heath’s leadership of the Conservative Party, Enoch Powell, a right-wing Cassandra, forecast with inflammatory rhetoric ‘rivers of blood’ in British cities on the lines of race riots in the US. Powell made a speech which has been compared to Randolph Churchill’s playing of the ‘Orange card’ (symbolic of Protestantism as against the green card of Catholicism). A former Professor of

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Classics, Powell declared that, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. We must be mad, literally mad as a nation, to be permitting the annual flow of some 50,000 dependents… It is like watching a nation busily engaging in heaping up its own funeral pyres.”∗ He spoke very emotionally of a formerly quiet street, which had become a place of noise and confusion and where a single old white lady had been shouted at by her coloured neighbours and had excreta pushed through her letter-box. Immigration legislation in 1962 and 1968 aimed to enforce a two-strand policy: on the one hand to restrict the number of immigrants entering the country and on the other hand to pass laws to protect the rights of those immigrants who were already settled in Britain. Eventually in 1971 the Heath government introduced an Immigration Act which had the effect of treating all Commonwealth
It is interesting to compare Powell’s discourse on race to that of Margaret Thatcher, whose rhetoric is more politically correct that Powell’s but very firm in its insistence on total assimilation and not integration of immigrants. Eventually she suggests that the phenomenon should be drastically curbed: “We are a British nation with British characteristics. Every nation can take some minorities and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this country. But the moment a minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened.” Terms like ‘flooded’ and ‘swamped’ add to the imagery and register of her racialised discourse: “Some people have felt swamped by immigrants. They’ve seen the whole character of their neighbourhood change…Of course people can feel that they are swamped. Small minorities can be absorbed but once a minority in a neighbourhood gets very large people do feel swamped.” (both quotations from Solomos, 1993: 187, 97).

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citizens as aliens. One loophole in the act however was that the Commonwealth people who were either born in Britain or had a parent or grandparent born in Britain (patriality) had the right to appeal for a British passport, to claim British citizenship and to live permanently in Britain. This patrial rule, whose significance has been decreasing lately, in practice, meant that New Commonwealth people were effectively barred from automatic entry. However, acceptance for settlement does not mean automatic citizenship. Naturalisation can only take place when certain other requirements have been fulfilled together with a specified period of residence. New conditions for naturalisation and a redefinition of British citizenship are contained in the Nationality Act of 1981. The history of immigration has produced today’s uniquely diverse nation. There is now a minority ethnic population of 3.3 million people forming just under 6 per cent of the population. The Office for National Statistics projects that the minority ethnic population will double over the next 25 years (all ensuing figures are taken from the Foreign and Commonwealth publication Ethnic Diversity in Britain, 1999). Ethnic diversity has shaped Britain’s cultural life and the quality and breadth of the arts and popular culture have been enriched through the contribution of individuals from many backgrounds and traditions. Now British-born black, Asian and other ethnic minority individuals and communities

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are also making their mark on the new face of Britain as a centre of style, fashion and pioneering ideas in popular culture and the arts. British cinema, television, fashion, youth subcultures, Britpop and literature all owe a debt to the creative and talented input from the many people who have come here to settle, over the years∗. The diversity creates a unique identity as different traditions and approaches fuse to create a quite distinct hybrid, which is contemporary British life and culture. In order to protect immigrant rights the Labour government passed the first Race Relations Act in 1965, which was followed by further acts in 1968 and 1976. These acts make it unlawful to discriminate against another person on grounds of racial, ethnic or national origin. The Race Relations Act of 1976 marked an important step forward in combatting racial discrimination and promoting equality of
A typical Booker Prize (the most important British prize for fiction) shortlist like that of 1993 features one Irishman – Roddy Doyle, who won the Prize that year; David Malouf, Australian; Carol Shields and Michael Ignatieff, Canadian; Tibor Fischer, Hungarian and Caryll Philips, West Indian. The cosmopolitanism of this list is a confirmation of the growing view that the best novelists in the Booker’s bizarre catchment area are not English. Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Timothy Mo, Hanif Kureishi, V.S. Naipaul, Anita Desai (shortlisted three times) are some more examples of famous British writers who in their works reflect the intricacies of the process of interacting with another culture, ‘holding a mirror’ in which the other culture is reflected from different angles, thus enriching and challenging the self-image of a group’s identity (see Pia Brînzeu’s Corridors of Mirrors, especially pp. 37-66 and 147167).

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opportunity in employment, education, provision of goods and facilities. The Act also distinguishes between two main types of racial discrimination: direct discrimination, i.e. treating a person, on racial grounds, less favourably than others are or would be in similar circumstances, and indirect discrimination applying a requirement or condition which puts people from a particular racial group at a disadvantage compared to others. The more recent Racial Acts include the Public Order Act of 1986, which makes incitement to racial hatred an offence. This covers the production and circulation of printed material. The act outlaws threatening abusive or insulting behaviour, causing harrassment, alarm or distress. New offences of racially aggravated violence, criminal damage and racial harrassment were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998. The Football (Offences) Act makes racist chanting at football matches an offence. A very important structure created for combating racial discrimination was the Commission for Racial Equality – CRE, set up under the 1976 Act. Its main duties are: to work towards the elimination of racial discrimination; to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations between persons of different racial groups and to keep the working of the Act under review. The CRE is empowered to issue codes of practice, to carry out formal investigations and to issue non-discriminatory notices after findings of unlawful racial

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000 people in 1997. In May 1998 Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted this challenge in the name of the government. education. launched in 1997.discrimination. The Forum advises on issues affecting minority ethnic communities and acts as a voice for minority ethnic interests in the heart of the 89 . Recent initiatives include The Leadership Challenge. There are Race in Media awards for the promotion of excellence in the handling of race issues in all parts of the media and Visible Women awards seeking to raise the profile of ethnic minority women’s potential and the specific problems which they face. Failure to observe a code may be admissible in courts and tribunals. A Race Relations Forum was set up by the Home Secretary Jack Straw in June 1998. inviting British leaders to declare their commitment to the principles of diversity and racial equality and to take practical measures to promote racial equality in their organisations. The codes of practice covering employment. housing and the health service provide guidance on the operation of the law. Racial equality Councils are on hand locally to assist in cases of discrimination and to promote race equality. The Roots of the Future educational exhibition promoting Britain’s ethnic diversity was visited by 500. There are 87 such councils funded jointly by the CRE and local authorities. They have conducted over 100 such investigations that resulted in significat changes in employment practices and housing allocation policy.

The UK has agreed to the Treaty of Amsterdam. legal framework and structures created. because of their family patterns. 1997.government. These are large families more than four in five of such families live well below the national average income and have high rates of male unemployment. The data have been invaluable for understanding the continuing inequalities and for providing a firmer basis for future action. Yet despite the very vibrant and significant presence of the ethnic minorities in British life and culture and despite the fruitful attempts at shaping harmonoius race relations in Britain today. Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are the worst off.000 applications Yet Indians and Pakistanis are becoming ‘the new Jews of Britain’. There were 28. which provides a legal base for community action to combat discrimination based on race. numbers. This is an important follow-on from the EU Joint Action on Racism and Xenophobia. low rates of women’s economic activity. low wages∗. age distribution. to which the UK is also a signatory. we are still confronted with a wide range of problems. It enables member states to take action to combat criminal acts of racism and xenophobia and to promote the security of citizens. etc. household size. The 1991 census was the first to include a question on ethnic groups. It produced the first hard facts on Britain’s minority ethnic population with their socio-economic circumstances. with all the underlying institutions. Richard Ford says in an article published in the Guardian of 12 June 1996. They enjoy rising prosperity through hard work while retaining  90 .

for asylum in the UK in 1996 of which 2. though some minority ethnic groups fare better.100 exceptional leave to remain. Somalia. Although people from minority ethnic groups are now beginning to play a more active part in representative democracy they are still very much under-represented in national and local decisionmaking bodies.200 were granted asylum and 5. As regards the stated equality in employment. living in council or housing association property. such as Indians. black communities particularly. joining the ranks of professionally qualified white collar workers. There are about 650 ethnic minority local councillors in a strong belief in the family. 91 . The main applicants were from Nigeria. being working class wage-earners. especially in some ethnic groups. moving into their own homes. On the other hand. a third of whom are in managerial and professional jobs. Unemployment affects particularly black minorities. Pakistani and Bangladeshi) was three times higher than for the majority population. Pakistan and Turkey. pay gaps continue to exist. also black African and Pakistani women had unemployment rates four times higher than the rate for white women. They emulate the upward mobility of the Jewish community in starting their own business. In Parliament there are nine black and Asian MPs. whilst in the House of Lords there are 10 Black and Asian working peers. the Bangladeshis and the AfroCaribbeans face an ‘Irish’ future. India. The unemployment rate for young black people (Carribbean and black. Minority ethnic workers are more likely to be found in lower-paid manual jobs.

according to a Survey by the Local Government Management Board in 1998. which heard evidence in mid-1998. The first ever judicial inquiry into a racist murder was announced by the Home Secretary in July 1997 following public concern about the investigations of the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence. but there is still a long way to go to reach racial equality and racial harmony. There is a growing understanding and practice of difference and multiculturalism in the British society of today. The terms of reference of the inquiry.498 local councillors.England and Wales. the late Stephen Lawrence’s mother) Police statistics recorded 13.1 per cent of the 21.” (Doreen Lawrence. which represents 3. He was well-loved and had he been given the chance to survive maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white.900 racial incidents in 1997-98. 92 . The Crown Prosecution Service monitoring racial incidents found that out of the 1510 defendant cases handled by the CPS in England and Wales in 1997-98 the police identified 37 as racial incidents and the CPS 63.” Factfile: The Lawrence Case “I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. As someone said in a recently published report on racism in British institutions: “They are en route but there is still another two miles to go.

in the media. The inquiry resulted in the well-known William Macpherson Report. Let us look at some aspects of the Lawrence case and consider some elements of the coverage of the murder and the consecutive investigation. which made 70 recommendations to be followed by the main institutions and decisionmaking authorities in Britain. uncomfortable look into the mirror to examine “not just the people we pay to protect us but ourselves”. a very promising student who was stabbed to death one night in April 1993 in Eltham while waiting for a bus. just a boy. to date in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned from the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes”.” The Macpherson report points an indicting finger at a police culture riven with prejudice and ignorance and at a chance to make amends. A churchman 93 . The Macpherson Report into his death marked a rare moment in Britain’s national life.were “to inquire into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April 1993 in Eltham. published on 24 February 1999. As The Home Secretray said in an admirable statement to the House of Commons: “Sir William Macpherson’s searing report opens our eyes to what it is like to be black or Asian in Britain today. Who was Stephen Lawrence? Not a famous man. to make a watershed in the relations between Britain’s races. It forced everyone to take a long. south-east London.

Several initiatives were announced which reformers were invited to embrace. the newly retired Met 94 .3 per cent of the Metropolitan police (the Met) are drawn from ethnic minorities while 20 per cent of the wider London community comes from a minority background. retention and promotion of minority officers for all police services. including Sir Paul Condon. and even higher in areas of high concentration of ethnic minorities. At present just 2 per cent of the police officers in England and Wales are from ethnic minorities.662 black and Asian officers by 2010. Jack Straw has already signalled his intention of setting much higher targets for the recruitment. The setting up of the Racial and Violent Crimes task force is a major step forward and it is an exceptionally challenging task for the Met to reach the Home Office target of 5. 3. The Home Secretary insits on a rise to 7 per cent nationally. The police along with several other institutions should be brought within the ambit of the 1976 Race Relations Act. In the meantime it became possible for Lawrence’s parents to sue 42 officers involved in the failed investigation of their son’s murder.told the inquiry that for more than 30 years black Britons have been consistently over-policed and underprotected. as they should have been from the very beginning.

Acting through a lawyer. victims or their families have a right to be joined as civil parties to criminal proceedings.commissioner (Guardian Weekly. The ineptitude of the police back in 1993 included failing to arrest swiftly the five suspects. unlike in France for example. recognisable and enforceable duty in law to take on board the right 95 . In Britain police. Under French criminal procedure. Another fundamental flaw in the system of criminal justice highlighted by the Stephen Lawrence case was the fact that in Britain. 6-12 January 2000). the principle in accordance with which a person cannot be tried twice for the same offence (three of the suspects in the Lawrence case have been acquitted and cannot be tried again for murder in conformity with this principle). the victim has no right to justice. There are proposals that the Court of Appeal should be given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented. destroying or mislaying documents. ignoring witnesses. the victim or family has the right to be kept informed of major steps in the criminal investigation. The Law Commission was called upon by the Minister to challenge the ‘double jeopardy’. losing evidence. prosecution and courts have no formal. The recommendations made in the Macpherson Report suggest however changes of an unprecedented breadth and depth.

” Making victims and their families civil parties to criminal proceedings provides an obvious answer to what he calls “the glaring gap in the English criminal justice system” (‘Victims of Crime Have Rights too’). In an article published in the same paper a few months ago (Amelia Gentleman. 1999).of the Lawrences to justice for their dead son. with a right enshrined in law. culture or ethnic origin. It also suggests amendments to the National Curriculum to promote cultural diversity and tolerance in schools. In the English system there is no one who is formally entitled. 96 . to keep an eye on the interests of the victims and their families. ignorance. Sir William Macpherson’s report asserted with undeniable force that expressing racist language should be a crime and that the CRE should be given statutory rights and powers to investigate the police. As Jean-Gilles Raymond says in an article published in The Guardian Weekly of January 24. He defines institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate professional service to people because of their colour. thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping” (‘Report Lays Bare Met Police Racism’. March 7. attitudes and behaviour which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice. 1999: “This is the real scandal highlighted by the Stephen Lawrence case. in Guardian Weekly. It can be seen or detected in processes.

It is a study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. So there is a lot of concealed racial victimisation. analysing in detail their experiences . The Rowntree Foundation report is based on in-depth interviews with 74 victims in Belfast.” 97 . Cardiff. Glasgow and London. a lot of abuse passing unreported or underreported.‘Race Hate Victims Face Daily Abuse’. because of fear that police or other agencies would fail to respond in a supportive way. Most of the victims of low-level and mosly daily abuse are reluctant to complain or seek help until the harrassment becomes intolerable.common and recurring themes throughout the interviews. June 27. stress. 1999) we read that routine racial harrassment is placing a burden of “devastating stress” on victims and has a damaging effect on all areas of their lives according to a recent report on racist victimisation in Britain. I came in from work at night and my daughter was crying. Unusually in this case the report focuses on the emotional impact of harrassment rather than on the statistical prevalence of abuse. depression and sleeplessness . She said: ‘Why are they calling me names?’ It was getting to the stage that she didn’t like who she was.anger. One mother explained that she kept her daughter inside : “When she was going out to play it was ‘You are a Paki bastard’.

” (Guardian Weekly. 9 May 1999). who has responsibility for the area where Duwayne Brook lives. the true minorities. Duwayne was Stephen’s friend. In an embarrassing twist. Lately three people were jailed for the racist killing of black musician Michael Menson. Though a protected person. whose family won belated justice three years after his 98 . East London. centre of the black community. he said he did not feel safe anymore and planned to leave after police failed to offer real protection. an eye witness to his friend’s murder and has feared ever since for his life. the violent criminals who hate that vision of Britain and try to destroy it. The Prime Minister said at the time: “The true outcasts today. Dennis O’Connor. are not the different races and religions of Britain but the racists. the statistics were released by the officer in charge of the Met’s race relations strategy. In April 1999 two nail-bomb attacks were targeted at the centre of the capital’s Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane. and to 115 in the same period in 1999. The number of complaints of race discrimination against officers rose from 51 in April to June 1998. those truly excluded. Another nail bomb went off in Brixton.Figures released in September 1999 showed that complaints of racial behaviour against police officers doubled in the months after the Lawrence report was published. the bombers.

”(Guardian Weekly.it is the fear. 2000: 8). one issue emerges . March 2-8. and it can make societies profoundly and deeply antihumane in their capacity to live with difference. The notion 99 . Conclusions. I feel under attack from the police. Ethnic/National/Cultural Identity in a Globalised World Analysing racism today in its complex structure and dynamics. I don’t see anything happening.murder. with the sole exception of the Met most police forces have significantly failed in hiring black or Asian officers (overall recruitment figures for them stand at 260 out of 5. Also in March 2000 a disappointed Doreen Lawrence remarks that one year on from the the publication of the Macpherson report.000 new recruits). This fear arises in consequence of the fatal coupling of difference and power. The police are still very angry about the report and he fact that they have to make changes. The investigation of the murder had striking parallels to the bungled Lawrence case. atavistic fear of living with difference. a terrifying. This is what she declared: “I was hoping they would recognize that they’ve made mistakes and say we live in a society that’s multicultural and we should police everybody in the same way. Only 17 forces have met Sir William’s demand that they train staff fully in racial awareness and cultural diversity.

Writers on globalisation have often pointed to a paradox: the increasing transnational flows of culture seem to be producing not global homogenisation but growing assertions of heterogeneity and local distinctiveness (Sibley. There is also clear evidence of a counterreaction in the field. shared undestandings and loyalties. Identity implies a distinct. there has also been clear resistance to updating Britain’s self-image to accommodate the multicultural reality of British society and its history. evolving and dialectically related identities. 1995:183-184). homogeneous common culture marked by common values. Meyer and Geschiere argue that contemporary global flows of culture tend often to provoke reactive attempts at cultural closure: “There is much empirical evidence that people’s 100 . like individuals. The notable absence during the V-Day celebrations in 1995 of the recognition of the major contribution made by Indian and Caribbean soldiers in Britain’s armed forces during World War II was one example among many. Apart from a clearly manifested multicultural attitude and behaviour. The reality in a society with class. To attribute identity to a community of millions spread over vast expanses of space and time makes even less sense.of a single national identity is untenable. a nation does not have one identity but many: an individual is a bearer of multiple. Moreover. gender and regional differences is totally different.

Although we might have abandoned in the contemporary world assumptions of objectively bounded societies and cultures. The first would employ a rhetoric of cultural pollution and the other a rhetoric of cultural appropration. 1999:2.awareness of being involved in open-ended global flows seems to trigger a search for fixed orientation points and action frames as well as determined efforts to affirm old and construct new boundaries… It looks as if in a world characterized by flows a great deal of energy is devoted to controlling and freezing them. many authors argue that communities may often mobilize themselves by representing themselves as having clear boundaries which are endangered. above all. piracy and theft. Such boundaries are sometimes reasserted for fear of the intrusion of foreign cultural forms. operative in struggles about the construction of identities” (Meyer & Geschiere. An illustration of the role of notions of purity and pollution in the 101 . The difference discussed earlier between Self and Other here takes the form of boundaries (ethnic or cultural) between one’s own group cultural identity symbols and those of other groups. Grasping the flux often actually entails a politics of fixing. a politics which is. whilst in other cases it is the threat of foreign consumption or misappropriation.5). as having essential qualities or distinctive ways of life that are under threat from the outside.

A site of bloody interracial conflicts in the 50’s. Brown. 1998: 193-222). it has become internationally renowned for its carnival. economically and culturally overwhelmed by larger and more powerful unities such as English Canada and the US. steel bands  102 . The streets of west London turn into a riot of noise and colour. where whistles blare.construction of ethnonationalist identity is Handler’s study of cultural politics in the province of Quebec in Canada. the entire range of ways in which the cultural knowledge. Fundamental to Quebec nationalists are cultural icons. Abner Cohen wrote a fascinating study of the history of the Notting Hill Carnival∗ and of the key Notting Hill in west London. Quebec nationalists feel their nation menaced with being politically. or the damages sought by the Pueblo community for the unlicensed use of their sun symbol as an emblem by the state of New Mexico. traditions and identities of minority peoples can appear to be exploited by others. a major tourist attraction held on August Bank Holiday. An interesting case in point would in this direction be the West Indian Culture in Britain. An example would be the action taken by communities in an attempt to resist the unauthorised use of cultural imagery in advertising or publicity (Lakota people vs a beer distributor over the use of ‘Crazy Horse’ as a trademark. has the largest street festival in Europe. Identity piracy refers mainly to cultural appropriation. images of a nation as an entity bounded against the defiling cultural Other.

103 . but that a group must safeguard its cultural identity by play and revellers clad in sequins and feathers dance the bank holiday weekend away (Anghelescu Irimia. 1993: 10-20). 1993:910). 1999:251. police harrassment and poor housing conditions. the novels of Dickens and scenes from Victorian England. Although several ethnic communities were involved (Irish. a process accomplished through the deliberate removal of all artistic and cultural content not deemed to be West Indian. Turkish-Cypriot and Czechoslovak bands) the overall symbolism of the carnival was predominantly British or English. For the first five years of its existence (1966-1970) the carnival was a relatively small working class event attended by a few thousand people. The implications of all these works is not that cultural ghettoisation is recommendable in any way. During the first half of the 1970’s a collective West Indian ethnic identity developed in London. Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture.role it played in the emergence of the West Indian identity in Britain (1993). Within a few years the carnival had become exclusively West Indian in its leadership and in musical and cultural form. and this emergent community adopted the carnival as its focal symbol. Politically the carnival expressed opposition to landlords and local authorities over issues such as housing shortages and extortionate rents (Cohen. arising out of shared experiences of unemployment. the themes of the masquerade including English monarchs.

In the Daily Telegraph leader of October 8. in any particular period. of essentializing 104 . If it does not protect its cultural boundaries it will be absorbed and dissolved back into its environment: “The distinction between the cultural Self and Other depends irreducibly on stopping at least some transmission of culture between them: on regulating the movement of foreign culture inward or of local culture outward. if not the utter preposterousness. or both. are reciprocally confirming. 1999:10-13). 1995 the results of the opinion poll appeared. meanings and values which we can properly call dominant and effective… not merely abstract but… organized and lived… a set of meanings and values which as they are experienced. Some years ago the Brits were invited by a prestigious paper to respond to a questionnaire regarding the cultural icons of Britishness. It constitutes a sense of reality for most people in society. so as to preserve this critical yet imagined boundary against erosion” (Harrison. as practices appear. in most areas of their lives” (Raymond Williams). What becomes apparent is the difficulty. I wish to end on a lighter note as indeed I started this chapter. a sense of absolute because of experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult for most of the members of society to move. because in any society. “there is a central system of practices.controlling the flow of cultural forms into and out of its repertoire of symbolic practices.

owned by one party alone. in a dystopic effort of selling off England’s past as the future of other European nations . Oxford/Cambridge. Marks and Spencer. Shakespeare. Whilst Scottishness and Wellness were more and more confidently expressed in the 80’s. Like Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt in Richard II (“This royal throne of kings. pubs. the debate on Englishness is more hesitant. 1991). Francis Drake. emotional frigidity. The Times Newspaper. Others attribute to Britain icons and traditions. BBC. In some cases using Britain for England represents an attempt to find a term that sounds more pluralistic than England∗∗.to such a degree a very complex and heterogeneous phenomenon like British society today∗. stiff upper lip. 1996:129). not washing/bad underwear. When the English are debating Britishness they are really debating Englishness. Julian Barnes’s England. Union Jack. namely coming to terms with  105 . for so long seen as a “conservative project with racial overtones”(Andrews.  ∗ In political terms ‘Englishness’ seems to have been traditionally the appanage of Conservatives. Battle of Britain. This also means a major shift in Labour philosophy. In Blair’s New Britain there is a real prospect for a new intellectual grounding in which Englishness. can flourish in England alongside other identities. hypocrisy.‘a tourist mecca set in a silver sea’. Almost any cultural commentary in a London broadsheet will throw up the confusion. Harrods they also include. snobbery (1998:83-85). The Conservatives were considered the national party of England (Crick 1990. cricket. which are deeply English. Queen Victoria. perfidy/untrustworthiness. They are called the Fifty Quintessences of Englishness and besides the Royal Family. whingeing. this scepter’d isle”) many see England as an island. England we come across a substantial list of cultural icons whose purpose is that of constructing a kind of marketable heritage England. Magna Carta. Robin Hood and his merrie men. class system.

A realistic approach to England and Englishness requires jettisoning romance and leaving behind pessimism. Spitfires (aircraft flown by the British in World War II). The Last Night is a very special occasion when the second part of the programme always consists of some well-loved tunes which the standing crowds sing along with. overthrowing both the pessimistic and naively romantic approaches. thatched cottages. net curtains. cricket on the green.  ∗ The Proms are concerts in which parts of the audience stand. the Salvation Army playing carols outside Fortnum’s∗. open and optimistic approach to Englishness. walking the dog. because in that case the patriotic majority who believe in equality and accountability will be alienated. ducks on the village pond. the machinery that ran it is still mostly intact as Bragg (1995) says.  Fortnum and Mason is a famous food store in Piccadilly in London which sells quality goods and is thought of as being a place where rich people buy their supplies and go for their afternoon tea. church bells. Brief Encounter (a famous British film directed by David Lean in the 50’s). N-W England).Some of the cultural icons that surfaced were: vicars on bicycles. nearly all the interviewees agreed upon five items of ‘Englishness’: fish and chips. However. They were established by Henry Wood in 1895 and have become a great national event. and the Last Night of the Proms∗∗. We should add however that over 90 per England. would lead to a more inclusive sense of national identity. pubs. The programme ends with Sir Edward Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory and people sing it while waving Union Jacks (Longman Dictionary of English 106 . These performances of classical music are held over a period of several weeks every summer in the Royal Albert Hall in London. A more positive. The Right should not be allowed to set the agenda on Englishness. Although the British Empire has ceased to exist. changing trains at Crewe (an important railway junction in Cheshire. orderly queues.

who was the first king to be anointed with the holy oil which conferred near-priestly status upon the king. The present-day Queen can claim a royal lineage stretching back virtually unbroken to the West Saxon King Cerdic in the 5th century. it turns out to have been anything but British. (It is true that in 1973 there were great festivities in Britain marking the millennial of monarchy. Most British institutions provide us with ample evidence against a purist. the mongrel pedigree of these institutions. In this case the originator of modern-style monarchy was considered to be Edgar. We see people obsessing here with visions of the way things never were or with a bizarre medley of objects and events that would offer an extremely narrow and ludicrous view of Britishness. exclusivist view of such national products. that most village cricket teams are packed with advertising executives who object to the noise of church bells and that most pubs can’t even raise a decent pickled egg. setting him above human judgement. 739) 107 . can be astounding. We are not only referring here to the motto of the Royal House. the phrase that belongs to the Royal Family’s coat of arms but also to the sacred institution of monarchy itself. The syncretism of the most unlikely ingredients. In the 1000 years since the death of the last English Language and Culture.) But if we look in detail at the Royal Family tree. 1993: 1053.cent of the fish and chips shops are run by members of the ethnic minorities.

Colchester. Rather than try to naturalise themselves by marrying into British stock these foreign kings and queens have made it their habit to marry a succession of French.” People can hardly think of a more typically British festive occasion than Christmas. When the English-speaking countries have a traditional Christmas Dinner. Danish. who presented them in a keynote address to the Fourth TETA Conference. followed by a pudding spiced with subtropical preserves. 19th and 20th centuries. Italian. Norwegian. the Yule log is Viking (the most favoured etymology for the Romanian Crăciun originates in the same pagan ‘invincible sun’ festivities of the 108 . German and Greek consorts. Welsh Tudors. Spanish. The Royal Assent to bills by parliament is still proclaimed by the Clerk of the Commons in French: “La Reine le veule. they eat an Aztec bird by an Alsatian tree. October 1995). Scottish Stuarts. Similarly. there have been neo-French Normans in the 11th.monarch Harold Godwinson post-Viking in the 10 th century. 13th and 14th. Timişoara. French Angevins in the 12th. Prussian. a Dutch Prince of Orange at the end of the 17 th century and the Germans Hanoverians throughout the 18th. Portuguese. while in England itself the most popular of Christmas carols still tells us of a Bohemian king Wenceslas to music taken from a Swedish Spring song (for some of these examples I am indebted to Julia Cleave from the English Study Centre. Santa Claus is Dutch.

e. Danish and German. alcohol) Gujarati (bungalow). four in Rome and four in Greece. pantomime is Italian and crackers are French.winter solstice. characters and inspiration for his plays. Paris. a further 10 in Italy. yet a decisive one. Spanish. 109 . Florence and Marseilles. an institution in himself. Old French or Latin. Only 10 of his 37 plays are set in England. Maybe no other language is so promiscuous in its provenance. Italian. Both the Ukrainians and Albanians call the log that is traditionally burned on the shortest night of the year to ‘help’ the waning god kërcum or keregum i. two in mythical Ancient Britain. Shakespeare. All’s Well that Ends Well has scenes in Rousillon. whose vocabulary is another example of heavy ransacking of the lexicons of the many cultures they came into contact with. Then maybe a last argument. in Danish ‘yule’). but also Arabic (soda. The sources of Hamlet are a Latin history of Denmark and a story from a French collection of Histoires Tragiques. Old Norse. five in France. Portuguese. Not only Dutch. a supreme celebrator of Englishness was happy to ransack the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome and of medieval and Renaissance Europe in search of plots. The vocabulary of English is a heterogeneous multilingual hotchpotch. The legacy of multiple linguistic invasions is enshrined in Modern English and again this should relativise any claim to linguistic imperialism. comes from the English language.

Polynesian (tattoo). in being Welsh. There is a double consciousness about being both Welsh or Scottish and at the same time British or British and European. Pluralism in England requires expansion of the vision of what it is to be English. Scones and crumpets traditionally served with tea are both Dutch words. Haitian (potato). Widely spoken languages include Punjabi – 52 per cent of British Asians speak it. Linda Colley says that nationalities are not like hats. Persian (caravan. For many it may mean accepting and embracing their own Englishness before they can recognise and respect the identities of other people. Britain is a multilingual country par excellence . Hindi. toast and marmalade are French and Portuguese respectively. human beings can and do put on several at a time. Bengali. Cantonese. Australian (budgerigar). 110 . Urdu. sofa). Maybe there is a triple consciousness as in the case of the athlete Linford Christie. Chinese (tea). Mandarin. with a quarter of London’s school pupils speaking another language at home. Gujarati. In the Black Atlantic Paul Gilroy speaks about a double consciousness. Mexican (tomato).Hindi (chintz). Vietnamese and Caribbean Creole/Patois. British and black. The Arthur Conan Doyle syndrome of hybrid identity is increasingly becoming the rule in our world.today Londoners alone speak nearly 200 languages other than English.

We live in a world where it is possible to hold. value and reconcile separate identities. the English beheaded a king only to feverishly set about the restoration of monarchy after a short respite. the game of golf and the English park. The Body Politic. they fought for centuries their traditional enemies across the Channel whilst 111 . Chapter Two How Strange a Country! Monarchy and Parliament “The essence of the British political system is that it is more important to travel peacefully than to arrive” (Ian Gilmour. 1969:140) A fairly young Romanian scholar sees British political institutions at the turn of the millennium in a far from flattering light: “Against the backdrop of innovations such as the spleen.

they have a monarchy. they still go fox-hunting. of course. “Ultima familie.” (Andrei Cornea. Their traffic keeps to the left. alternative families undermine more and more the standards of ‘normalcy’. Britain is eccentric and solipsistic. a mythsaver in a world that keeps debunking all myths. they preserved an oasis of aristocracy in a democratic sea that they themselves had sown the seeds of. colonised half the world just to find themselves the subjects of the most ample cross-fertilisation in modern history.voraciously absorbing at least three quarters of the polished French vocabulary. its time-defying exquisiteness set it apart from the touch of real life. In this sense the British Royal Family is ‘the last family’. artificial insemination. transsexuality. Despre monarhie la britanici” in 22. 112 . Cloning. The Romanian philosopher and political scientist chooses to make the British monarchy in a way ‘anti-representative’ because its strong ties with the past. The ‘last family’ like the last Chinese Emperor is a bizarre fossil in a world where sophisticated technology calls the tune. no matter how narrow and how parochially exclusive. What follows attempts several answers to Andrei Cornea’s questions concerning monarchy and the constitutional order of Britain. 23-29 March 1999: 16). cook abominably and. and monarchy provides a last link with a past of austere and clear-cut values but fails to inspire contemporaries.

or b) a spirit or style of politics.  113 . in mid-19th century. the civil service. This means that the rudiments of the Of the various interpretations of the British Constitution which have been put forward over the years. a constitution is a body of fundamental principles. the best known is the classical liberal view which is associated with the 19 th century writings of Walter Bagehot and A. rules and conventions according to which a state or other organisation is governed. Thus. Dicey. the terms ‘constitution’ and ‘constitutional’ usually refer to: a) an authoritative document or set of rules which describes the powers and duties of government institutions and the relations between them. the national party organisations were not yet established and there was no civil service. however. Britain has a constitution but not according to the first definition. that when they wrote their books. One has to be aware. in the modern sense of the word. there was no significant extension of the franchise. media or public opinion. Their view holds that the House of Commons is the supreme political institution with the power to make and unmake governments. The constitutional order of the United Kingdom is based on the material constitution. yet Living and on the Move According to the generally accepted view. They accord subsidiary constitutional significance to the Monarchy and the House of Lords as well as to political parties. usually one in which there is a balance between the different institutions or which provides for a restraint on the holders of power (Jones and Kavanagh. One cannot say that it is unwritten but it is nevertheless uncodified. pressure groups. pass any laws and debate the great political issues of the day.Constitution: Uncodified. 1998: 56)∗.V.

complex act of basic law. In the case of Britain we are dealing with a flexible and ‘on the move’ constitution and we cannot. by the constitutional norms of case law as expressed by individual court decrees and by the conventions of the constitution which are not treated as legal norms. that is traditions or customs administered by the old ‘common law courts’. France in 1958). the British constitution is based on the Common law. As I have already said. assign it to a certain date. as in the case of most countries. This state of things leads one to the conclusion either that the British constitution does not exist (Alexis de Tocqueville) or else that it is perceived “as a rig-rag of statutes and judicial interpretations thereof. Most written constitutions are adopted by states which acquire their independence or that mark an important rupture in their evolution (cf. which came to be accepted as constituting the law of the land. The British system has been highly admired and Britain has often been asked to write constitutions for the colonies that won their independence from the British Empire. such as freedom of expression. 114 . endowed with the highest legal authority. of the Law and Custom of Parliament. in the sense of a single. of common law principle and jurisprudence” (Bogdanor. Finer and Rudden.British system of government are not recorded in the constitution. 1995:42-43). of conventions. but that they are regulated by the constitutional norms of statute laws.

is the basis of the contractual British monarchy. clearly overriding hereditary right. Although the document provides rights for Englishmen at large . the basis of English liberty. is perhaps the best known constitutional document∗. 1997:4)  115 . 1966:30). The Bill of Rights of 1689 was of great significance. But the Charter is a decisive break and a transition from the age of traditional rights preserved in the nation’s memory to the age of written legislation of Parliaments and statutes which was soon to come. The Charter of Henry I formed the basis of the whole document and the additions to it are for the most part formal recognitions of the judicial and administrative changes introduced by Henry II.. Clause 61 -which established a council of twenty-five barons who were to ensure that the sovereign observed the charter and they were consequently entitled to wage war on the monarch if he did not . namely the freemen: “No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned. And it did not claim to establish any new constitutional principles. consolidating the powers of Parliament at the expense of the Crown. or dispossessed or outlawed or in any way brought to ruin. which had formed the basis of the restored constitution of 1660..their rights to justice. We will not go against any man nor send against him save by legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. it only set out to liberate a tiny proportion of the English folk. and thus enabling the accession of William and Mary to the throne The Great Charter. was in itself no novelty in the land. revered as the earliest monument of English freedom. is but… a commentary upon it” (quoted in Bogdanor. security of person and property and good government. Such is the significance of the Great Charter that in the 19th century the medieval historian Stubbs said: “the whole of the constitutional history of England. To no man will we sell or deny or delay right or justice” (quoted in Brown. Magna Carta. signed by King John in 1215.Laws statutory or parliamentary form the bulk of the British constitution and they override common law and provide a substantial written part of the constitution.

1989:12) postulated that only an Anglican could accede to the throne of England. but the presumption is nowadays that the sovereign is in fact a member of the Church of England (Bogdanor. The Act of Union with Scotland followed in 1707.e.abandoned by James II. It also gave further definition to the idea of constitutional monarchy and it constituted at the same time a breach with the hereditary right of succession as in terms of hereditary right there were over fifty descendants of the Stuarts who had a better claim to the throne than George I in 1714. The Act of Settlement of 1701 described as “an Act for the further limitation of the Crown and the better securing of the rights and liberties of the subject” (quoted in Forman. i. German Lutherans. constitutional monarchy (Bogdanor. marking thus the change of monarchy into a parliamentary. 1997:7-8). declaring in Article 3 that the “United Kingdom of Great Britain is represented by one and the same parliament to be styled the parliament of Great 116 . There has been no statutory requirement however that the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England (not its Head which is Christ) should actually be a member of that Church – two notable exceptions were George I and George II. 1997:44). It reinforced the fundamental constitutional rule that parliament had the right both to determine the succession to the throne and the conditions under which Crown was to be held.

but they are regarded as binding because of being in force for so long. The Treaty with the Irish Free State was signed in December 1921. The Parliament Acts in 1911 and 1949 regulated the relations between the two Houses of Parliament and confirmed the legislative supremacy of the Commons. the resignation About one adult in twenty-four possessed the vote after the Reform act of 1832. Later the Reform Bill of 1832 was designed among other things to extend the franchise at parliamentary elections. the Representation of the People Act in 1969 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. 1989: 12). about one in six after 1867 and one in four after the Reform Act of 1884 – this established popular democracy in principle though not yet in practice. and the Ballot Act of 1872 introduced the secret ballot for all elections∗. which do not have the force of law. A few examples are: the convention that the Monarch should send first for the Leader of the largest single parliamentary party after the result of a general election or the demise of a Prime Minister in office. and the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800. ministerial responsibility. collective responsibility. Conventions based on historical practices and established customs are rules. All these Acts have helped to shape the Constitution as it is today. The Local Government Act in 1888 established elected County Councils for the new administrative counties. As late as 1911 only 30 per cent of the total adult population of the UK was entitled to vote.Britain” (Forman.  117 . Full male suffrage was delayed by war until 1918 and women did not get full and equal voting rights until 1928.

even Major and very much. Local and regional authorities only derive their powers from central government and these may be easily rescinded. However.all these are the product of convention. The main characteristics of the British Constitution are: the absolute and unlimited power of Parliament: an Act of Parliament is not constrained by any higher law and the courts can only interpret statute law and not alter it in any way. a royal prerogative exercised on the advice of the Government and not subject to parliamentary approval. as with the abolition of the Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland and the reintroduction of direct rule from Westminster. The example quoted is the principle of the Cabinet’s collective responsibility which has been dealt decisive blows during the premierships of Thatcher. A good example would be the treaties that Britain has signed as a member of the EU. including the momentous Treaty of Accession to the EU. apparently. which was signed in the name of the government by Heath.of the Prime Minister following defeat on a noconfidence vote in the Commons. the monarch’s Assent to a Bill passed through Parliament . The only exception to the absolute authority of Parliament is the provision of treaties. 118 . Jones and Kavanagh remark that the force of a convention depends a lot on its being observed and continued breaches certainly contribute to the erosion of their strength. under Blair.

the current Foreign Secretary. At the moment there is not an adequate basis for representation from the national parliaments to come together to discuss Europe and somewhere within the broad family of European institutions there should be room for that. 1998). which means that it is pragmatic. The British Constitution is not legalistic. has been constantly advocating over the last two years the need to curb the power of Brussels by the creation of a second chamber in Europe made up of MPs from Westminster and other national parliaments: “The European Parliament does a very useful job but the missing link is tying in the national parliaments with the work of Europe.” (GuardianWeekly. flexible. All these treaties are beyond the jurisdiction of domestic law and it is in this context that Robin Cook. open. August 23. and different from the legalism found in the constitutions of most Western states.under the force of the royal prerogative without his having to consult Parliament. 119 .

membership of the EU. such as the reform of the Lords in 1910-11. Besides the referenda mentioned since the new government came to power.That the constitution is very flexible is attested by the recent innovations implemented: referenda. have usually been resorted to when the issue in question was divisive for the ruling party. devolution for Wales. 1989: 18). a referendum was also held on the election of a mayor for London and further ones are promised over the electoral system and in the event of British membership of a single European currency. something which had not happened since the open agreement to differ in the National Government in 1931 on the issue of tariff reform (Forman. One may remark that referenda as means of direct democracy. The most powerful demands for referendums have always been voiced in connection with constitutional matters.g. referenda have become part of the constitution. If prior to 1997 they had been regarded as consultative and not binding. entry to the EU.  120 . with the election of new Labour. demands for a Bill of Rights. Labour over Europe at the time of the 1975 referendum∗ and again on devolution in 1979. e. The Wilson government was so seriously split on the issue that it was necessary to suspend the convention of collective responsibility for the duration of the referendum campaign so that Senior Cabinet members could freely argue against each other in public. devolution. Scotland and Northern Ireland.

but which up to 1998 had not been enacted into British law. 121 . This would enable citizens to take cases direct to British courts and it would also grant citizens the right of privacy. we could mention the formal incorporation of the provisions of the European Conventions of Human Rights into British law. an act which Britain ratified in 1951.e. that is not to be overriden by Parliament. which might be used against media intrusion.In the case of demands for a Bill of Rights that will be entrenched. i.

which I have already touched upon and will discuss also in the following chapters. Some express concern regarding the eventuality of conflicts between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Senedd. problems may arise which go beyond the fear of this being a stage in the break-up of the UK. Both countries already have more MPs at Westminster than their electoral populations justify.e. Some have voiced dissatisfaction at the continuation of Scotland’s and Wales’ larger share of public spending per capita than England’s whilst also having their own 122 . the right of Scottish MPs to vote on UK legislation but the inability of nonScottish MPs to vote on Scottish legislation. i. Another bone of contention is the West Lothian question.As regards devolution.

 123 . About the envisaged reform of the House of Lords I shall talk in another section.” It is believed that unless the system of distributing public funds to the regions is fundamentally overhauled. with minor adjustments in 1992. a bias was revealed in favour of Scotland and Wales in terms of need calculated in relation to money spent.parliaments∗ . 1998: 61). 1998:58). In 1978 a formula was devised by Joel Barnett. (and to a lesser extent that of Wales). However. complained in November 1997 that the Barnett Formula is no longer necessary or just: “We (the North East) are now the poorest region in the UK. When a needs analysis was conducted in 1976. Cabinet domination over the Commons. His formulation boiled down basically to: England 85 per cent. appease backbenchers and respect opposition rights in the Commons. after devolution opinions have swayed and Sir George Russell. has improved substantially there were demands in the Cabinet to reduce the funding allocated. to distribute public money fairly to the Celtic fringe. in the exercise of self-restraint and acceptance of the need to bargain with groups. becomes actually “an elective dictatorship” (Jones and Kavanagh. This is quite a serious matter. Scotland 10 per cent and Wales 5 per cent. against the backdrop of the waning powers of monarchy and Lords. but they were overcome by the prediction that cuts would play right into the hands of nationalists. with an adaptation for Northern Ireland allowing for security costs. Labour ’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The Constitution remains the only check on an executive supported by a majority in the House. This policy has been in place ever since. Chairman of the Northern Development Company. In a famous lecture in 1976 Lord Hailsham argued that these checks were no longer sufficient since. over parliamentary sovereignty. progress towards devolution will run into severe political storms (Jones and Kavanagh. As the economic situation in Scotland.

as well as members of the major political parties in Britain. it cannot fully control it. for many years the Lord Chancellor. pressure groups or public opinion. whilst it can normally get its legislation through Parliament. written constitution have raised the issue. Recently. Lord Hailsham also argued that a Commons where the party whip applied was no longer an adequate defender of the citizens’ liberties. have lobbied for the issue. there is little point in doing so if the implementation is unduly restricted by the negative force of the civil service. A further paradox developing from this one is that the government also has limited powers because. which he thought would ensure a legal limitation on the powers of parliament whilst at the time reducing the power of the executive. In his book The Dilemma of Democracy he quotes arguments in favour of introducing a 124 . Within the Conservative Party it is Lord Hailsham. although this it is not the dominant way of thinking among constitutionalists. such renowned academic centres as the London Institute for Public Policy Research. a number of supporters of a codified. Nevertheless. Subsequently he became a fervent supporter of a written constitution. who has been the most dedicated supporter of a written constitution. because although it is stated to be legislatively supreme and is capable of criticising the government.A deep paradox lies at the heart of the matter: the Parliament’s power is limited.

).133 ff. 125 . They state that the traditional views have become obsolete and ineffective and the basis of these traditional assumptions – namely. to create the office of president. 1993:124 ff. and 225 ff. the Privy Council and the House of Lords. In the Labour camp Tony Benn. entitled The Commonwealth of Britain Bill and published in 1992. contains some truly radical views on the reconstruction of the British system of government (Benn and Hood. the norms of the European Convention of Human Rights and devolution of state central authority require a written constitution.) According to Hailsham such important political issues as membership in the EU. The draft.constitution in the form of a single basic law (1978: pp. Their proposals to abolish the monarchy. It has become obsolete because it deliberately sets out to ignore the scope and complexity of public administration and governmental activity in modern political conditions. that their civil rights and political liberties are more secure if founded upon the custom and practice of the common law. should be resisted. well known for the radical views which made him the leader of the left-wing of the party in the 70’s. is the author of a draft of a codified constitution. Together with Lord Scarman he has argued the case for a new constitutional settlement based upon a new Bill of Rights and a codified constitution which would be protected and interpreted by a Supreme Court.

Cromwell can claim a place among the precursors of the liberalist philosophy of a later date. Most historians remark that this document is highly characteristic of the Protectorate in confirming the political rights of the upwardly mobile middle classes. namely the constitutional document issued during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. The document in question contains a draft of the constitution of the UK written by John MacDonnald. Scotland and Wales were regarded not only as most radical but also most contentious by the British public at large. 1993:374-377). An official document was published in June 1990 entitled We the People – Towards a Written Constitution. Moreover by laying it down in the form of a written constitution. This document resonates with the 126 . The Liberal Democrats of the 90’s gave the issue pride of place in their manifesto and electoral campaign. 1998:46). QC (Queen’s Counsel). entitled The Instrument of Government (Morrill. as well as a commentary to the constitution compiled by the study group. No other period saw such a penchant for paper constitutions (Zieba. the most progressive sector of the population. From a historical point of view the above initiatives pertain to the constitutional tradition initiated by the acceptance in December 1653 of the only known written constitution in the history of Britain.institute a state council and an elected higher parliamentary chamber as well as separate national parliaments for England.

when the system of government and the constitution came under serious stress. There was pressure for codifying the organisational and procedural rules. referenda for devolution in 1979 .abiding concerns of the 70’s. 127 . competences and mechanism of all the changes entailed in the renewed institutions and practices. The rise of nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. the rights. the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland and the consequent suspension of the Stormont Parliament in 1972. The Charter 88 movement also helped in the late 80’s to keep the issue of constitutional reform on the agenda.all required reforms of the system and especially a major constitutional settlement.and the need for certainty and clarity about ‘the rules of the game’ (in the case of many conventions. the constitution becomes what the governments decides). for example. the need for statutory protection of individual liberties . with the reintroduction of direct rule from Westminster as a corollary. The supporters of a written constitution put forth the following arguments: power in Britain is too centralised and the sovereignty of Parliament is much undermined by the executive.a Bill of Rights .

” 128 . the Conservative arguments of tradition. They also think that any change would be extremely time-consuming. as the British style of conducting politics is bound to cause a lot of difficulty in agreeing upon a new constitution. revival of local government and protection of civil liberties. Monarchy “his will is not his own. For on his choice depends The safety and the health of this whole state. Carve for himself. as ever. After the 1997 election it proved its commitment to devolution. For he himself is subject to his birth.The more traditional defenders of the status quo invoke. of redundancy: a written constitution would only double the provisions that have long been in operation. reform of the Lords. the Freedom of Information Act. Tony Blair’s real radicalism has turned out to be constitutional rather than economic or social. It is true also that the Conservatives themselves have become more open to constitutional reform since 1997. as unvalu’d persons do. he may not. He saw the decrepitude of Britain’s constitutional order and embarked on perhaps the most far-reaching series of reforms ever tried by a modern British government. The Labour Party accepted much of the traditional liberal reform agenda and supported change.

Coins. Hamlet. after the Glorious Revolution that secured the succession of William of Orange as William III of England. Other ancestors include Charlemagne. the monarch is ominpresent. Although said to be a figurehead. Also all major institutions bear the queens’s imprint: the post is carried by the Royal Mail. the ships in the Royal Navy are Her Majesty’s Ships. official letters are sent On Her Majesty’s Service (OHMS).(Shakespeare.Cromwell’s Protectorate. On the other hand. every monarch reigns with the consent of Parliament in addition to their hereditary right. stamps. Her Majesty’s Government is made up of Her Majesty’s Ministers. The present-day sovereign can claim unbroken descent dating back to the Anglo Saxon bretwaldas Cerdic in the 5th century. a detainer of symbolic and not real power. scene III) Let us see whether the monarch in Britain is that ceremonial hollow space that Cornea referred to in his article. all these institutions that append the prefix ‘Royal’ or ‘Her Majesty’s’ cannot 129 . Act I. extremely unpopular and self-righteous. Since the Bill of Rights in 1689. most visual images of Britain bear a picture of the Queen’s head – a primordial national emblem. The British have always been ruled by a monarch except for a very brief period. Malcolm II of Scotland and even the emperor Barbarossa. a dystopia of austerity and self-denial .

domination. strength. power is a concept that should be revisited. but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together rather than from any action that then may follow” (Arendt. a cognate of) community and its ethos than we might be inclined to think. in fact primordially. Power for Arendt is much more associated with (indeed. Hannah Arendt. the famous philosopher of politics (who has always resented any connection with feminism). distinguishable from authority. So we encounter here a problem that recalls the famous quarrel of medieval philosophers: name or substance? are names real in themselves or are they conventions..possibly benefit from the supervision of the monarch and the prefixes are tantamount actually to ‘State’ or ‘British’. thirst 130 . Power is the ‘glue’ that holds the community together. connected to public life: “Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert. Power is significantly. the means by which the community is constituted and even “the means by which immortality is attained and death overcome”. This type of power. An agonistic understanding of power as sheer force. conflict. fictions? I suggest that the answer to this problem could also come from the interpretation of the concept of power. etc. is what keeps the public realm in existence. According to feminist reconstructionist theories. 1969: 52). symbols. bases her theory of power on ancient Greek sources.

In this definition she is very much concerned to discuss the way in which the exercise of ritual power can make for the coherence of a community. 24-26). is real power. who argues that power should be distinguished from domination since. She distinguishes between ‘power over’ and ‘power with’. the production of intended effects need not be the achievement of intended effects through coercing other people (Emmet. or ‘coercive’ vs. She cites the example of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as a ritual that gathered up a number of aspects of the non-coercive kinds of power (Emmet. although she does not go so far as to refuse to include domination in her definition of power. Like Arendt. Emmet believes that power is not a thing but a capacity or relation between people (ibid. this ritual power of holding people together and imparting a feeling of community and belonging to them.for domination is also undermined by Dorothy Emmet. 1954:4).:19). ‘coactive’ power. and discusses the advantages of freeing the latter in both cases from its association with domination (1954:9). 1954:18). she thinks. This ‘gelling’ of the community. call 131 . but also wants to include in it the aspect of psychological or psychic energy or manna (1954:22. which is no minor matter in the context of fragmentation and erosion of social cohesion today. She has hopes for a redefinition of power as a way of referring to any kind of effectiveness in performance.

they come to the conclusion that the ceremony of the Coronation fulfills the same social functions as more strictly religious rituals. but I think it is real power. By analysing all gestures. affirming and celebrating the values of community: “The nation was coming together to reaffirm for itself a sense of common identity and thereby to renew its collective self-confidence. this sacred kingship no longer holds today in our secularised societies. Anthropologists have long been aware of the functional importance of monarchies. Shils and Young (1953:63-82) argue that the coronation of Elizabeth in 1953 was one of those occasions when the whole nation came together filled with a sense of common values and a desire to affirm their commitment to the collectivity of the nation. What the limits to the exercise of this kind of power are in the context of contemporary Britain we will see later. such as the conviction that the social and political order is guaranteed by the spiritual and transcendental position of the monarchy. In this respect the king’s person in several cultures. stages of the ceremony. has been regarded as the guarantor and mirror of the social and environmental prosperity of the nation. 71-73). also confirming the primacy of family life for the nation” (67. but some think that there are residual beliefs. Of course. words. in different historical periods. Nairn contends that presidency is still in many quarters 132 .it symbolic if you wish.

such as his hostility towards Indian self-government.  133 . The Royal Prerogatives The Queen appoints the Prime Minister.regarded as deplorable precisely because there are no divine sanctions associated with it (Nairn. The last Prime Minister to sit in the Lords was Lord Salisbury. so Curzon to his bitter disappointment was passed over. because he thought again that in times of war a Prime Minister should sit in the Commons. who was chosen to succeed Macmillan. who decried the so called “magic circles” of decision making in the party at that time (Irwin. and that choice attracted a lot of criticism from Conservative MPs like Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell. when again the favourite was Mr Butler. many people thought that R. rather she confirms as Prime Minister the elected leader of the largest single party in the Commons∗. when Sir Anthony Eden retired and Macmillan took over. But the King thought that the place of the Prime Minister in this century should be in the Lower House. In 1957. Churchill had also aroused widespread distrust during the inter-war years through his erratic political judgements. Functions. his resentment towards the General Strike of 1926 which singled him out as an enemy of the labour movement. The choice has not always been along these lines. 1994: 8-9). 1988: 59).A. In 1940 George VI chose Winston Churchill to succeed Chamberlain. Elizabeth II does not actually choose. who resigned in 1902. George III chose and dismissed Prime Ministers almost at will but he was the last monarch able to do that. Again at times the Lords were favoured over the Commons as in the case of Lord Home. his support of Edward VIII. In 1923 George V asked Stanley Baldwin to form a government in succession to Bonar Law. the Foreign Secretary. It is a The monarch exercised more freedom in the choice of Prime Minister in the first half of the 20th century. Butler was the stronger candidate. when his personal preference would have been for Lord Halifax. when the next in line seemed to be Lord Curzon.

Then in October 1963. Macmillan was taken ill. In 1940 George VI had some influence on the choice of Winston Churchill to succeed Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. In February 1974 the ∗ In 1931 George V played a vital role in encouraging Ramsay Macdonald to form the National Government in order to get through the Commons the deflationary economic measures which were not acceptable to a large part of the parliamentary Labour Party. That happens in the case of a ‘hung parliament’ ∗∗ when no single party has an overall majority in the Commons and it is up to the monarch to designate a leading political figure with a better chance of forming a government which could command the support of a majority in the lower House. no fewer than five have failed to yield a clear result – in January and December 1910. in 1923. This has occurred more frequently than it is thought. In January 1957 Anthony Eden fell ill. and the Queen took advice from Macmillan in hospital and invited Lord Home to form a new government.  134 . 1989: 126). Of the twenty-five general elections in the 20th century Britain between 1900 and 1997. as the latter had been discredited by a significant number of abstentions within the Conservative Party at the end of a crucial debate of confidence on the conduct of war (Forman. with the exception of some special cases when she can have more real power. so the Queen took advice from Winston Churchill and the Marquis of Salisbury and invited Harold Macmillan to form a new government. The Queen was confronted once with a ‘hung parliament’ produced by the General Election of 1974. 1929 and in February 1974.residual prerogative then.

to persuade his party. The dissolution of Parliament is again formal since the Queen can only do that at the request of her Prime Minister within the five-year maximum lifespan of a Parliament. Both George III and George IV managed to delay it. So a few days later the Queen invited Harold Wilson to form a minority Labour government. Charles II managed to postpone or quash bills. the leader of the Liberals. leader of the Ulster Unionists and consequently offered the Conservative whip to seven of the eleven Ulster Unionists. The last monarch that exercised this prerogative in an independent way was Queen Anne. He also reached out to Harry West. The Royal Assent to legislation is another royal prerogative and it is through applying the royal rubber stamp to Bills that they become Acts of Parliament. after his government was defeated in the election. George III declared not without justification that anyone who voted for Catholic Emancipation would be his enemy as in the Coronation oath he pledged himself to maintain the 135 .Queen was very close to being attracted into political controversy by Edward Heath’s attempt to retain power for the Conservatives by offering a coalition pact to the Liberals. which he disapproved of by pretending that he had mislaid them! The same happened in the 19th century with controversial laws related to Catholic emancipation. The latter declined the offer and it was impossible for Jeremy Thorpe.

Later the honour was also bestowed upon Dennis Thatcher. were given hereditary peerages. the Prime Minister’s husband. when the names of the newly created peers appear in the Honours Lists. a distinguished Speaker of the Commons. happens twice a year when the Honours Lists are published. This.Protestant religion (see Act of Settlement above). A hereditary earldom was conferred upon Macmillan in 1984.  136 . The monarch is also involved in granting a range of honours. when William Whitelaw. which he accepted although he had refused that honour in October 1963 when he ceased to be Prime Minister. 1993:403). Creation of peers is mainly on the advice of the Prime Minister∗. although the terms of the Treaty fell short of the British expectations (Langford. Queen Anne again was the last monarch to veto legislation. civilian and military. and George Thomas. Appointments are usually made twice a year. but this was reversed under Margaret Thatcher’s rule after 1983. There was a time when this Royal prerogative was very important. Since 1964 life peerages have been the order of the day. as in the case of the creation of peerages. a staunch and loyal supporter of Thatcher’s. In 1711 Queen Anne created twelve new peers to ensure parliamentary ratification of the Treaty of Utrecht. In 1831 the threat of William IV to create new peers helped to ensure the passage of the first Reform Bill and in 1911 the willingness of George V to create as many as 400 new Liberal peers caused the hereditary majority of Conservatives in the upper house to give way to the Liberal majority in the lower House. The War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713) created the impression of ‘English Hegemony in Europe’.

Although most nominations are made on the advice of the Prime Minister. as in 1982 when honours were awarded to those who took part in the Falklands campaign. certain occasions might arise when special investitures can be made. who was awarded the Royal Victorian Order for his personal loyalty to the Crown in continuing to act as Her Majesty’s Governor of Rhodesia after that country had declared its unilateral independence from the Commonwealth in 1965 under the apartheid regime of Ian Smith (Forman. Mother Theresa was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen on her visit to India. when she opened the 1983 Commonwealth Conference.Nevertheless. some of these honours remain in the personal gift of the Monarch: the Order of the Garter. “Honi soi qui mal y pense” are the words that the King is thought to have uttered on the occasion and they are to this day the motto of the Order.  137 . It is said that only 16 people can hold the Order of the Thistle at any one time and they are mainly Scottish men of high rank. Only 24 people can have the Order of Merit at any one time. It is said that its origins are in an embarrassing situation that the countess of Salisbury found herself in during a ball at the court of Edward III. However. occasionally they do have political significance as in the case of Sir Humphrey Gibbs. ∗ The Order of the Garter is the highest degree of Britsh knighthood together with the Order of the Thistle. just recognising and rewarding some outstanding personalities. 1989: 129-130). The Order of Merit is a special honour given to British people who have done something unusually good in military or civilian life. More often than not they have no political significance. the Order of the Thistle. the Order of Merit and the Royal Victorian Order∗∗.

of the Defence Secretary for the armed services. of the Home Secretary for the police and of the Lord Chancellor for judicial appointments. Pardons are granted only in very rare situations when there is some special reason why a sentence should not be carried out or a conviction expunged. declaration of war. the police. All important positions in the civil service. as well as all ministerial appointments. The prerogative of mercy and pardon is again devoid of meaning. e. include the conclusion of international treaties. However. the introduction or amendment of colonial constitutions (meaning actually the states that have won their independence after World War II and are now part of 138 .Public appointments refer again to a formal function. it now seems that this particular aspect of the royal prerogatives has also fallen into disuse. these are done again on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or of the Foreign Secretary in case of senior appointments in the Diplomatic Services. Since the House of Commons voted in 1965 to abolish the death penalty on a provisional basis. the discovery that the evidence on which these were based was false. and since that decision has subsequently been confirmed in successive free votes.g. of which most are redundant or meaningless. Other formal functions. the BBC and the Church of England are filled in the name of the monarch. the judiciary.

On November 6. Malaysia. following the entry of Mozambique and Cameroon . In the conduct of foreign policy the Royal prerogative was used in the past in less formal situations. such as Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. In 16 countries. Although the sovereign is the head of the executive.nearly one-third of the world’s independent states with a combined population of over 1. 1999 the Australians organised a referendum on whether to retain the Queen as the Head of State or form a republic headed by a president. Cyprus. There are 53 states within the Commonwealth. a future Liberal minister. India.. are republics and six of them. Lesotho and Tonga have their own royal families. in 1884 when he considered Australia’s position in a commonwealth of nations to be the right thing (Mansergh. The term as such was for the first time used by Lord Roseberry. the vast bulk of the prerogative powers of the Crown –over 95 per cent of them – are exercised not by the sovereign personally but either on the advice of ministers or by ministers themselves. Pakistan. like Brunei. she is also head of State. Heads of government and ministers of these states meet and consult regularly on a number of matters from trading relationships to cultural and sporting exchanges. 1969:19). around one quarter of the total population of the world. including Canada and Australia.the Commonwealth∗) and the establishment of public corporations. The Queen is recognised as Head of the Commonwealth. Thirty countries. Bangladesh.5 billion. Guyana. etc. remain dependencies of Britain. The 1972 Treaty of Accession which took Britain into the EC was signed by Edward Heath as Prime Minister in The Commonwealth is a loose association of states with no formal constitution or rules. like Zimbabwe. Ghana. For many Australians who voted against the republic and for maintaining the Queen as Head of State the most commonsensical comment was: “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”  139 . in fact in such a very momentous and controversial matter as entry to the EC. among which only a few.

they are promulgated or changed in the name of the Monarch. like Sussex and Essex built in the 60’s and 70’s. As to colonial constitutions. 140 . also the new universities. The Queen has a very important representational role reinforcing her symbolic functions. These messages are unique since they are not made in the queen’s capacity as Queen of the UK. various new towns like Milton Keynes and Telford built after the war. nor as queen of her other realms. The creation of public corporations is also done in the name of the Monarch by granting royal charters to the bodies concerned. The constitution of Zimbabwe which British Ministers negotiated with the representatives of all parties at Lancaster House in 1979-80 was eventually promulgated in the name of the Queen and given statutory authority in the Zimbabwe Independence Act of 1980. The BBC became a public corporation by Royal Charter in 1926. They are delivered on the Queen's own responsibility and not on advice. She is immensely popular with millions of people in the world. were established in a similar way. and her many state visits serve the purpose of promoting British values worldwide. Her annual Christmas broadcast to the people of her country and of the whole Commonwealth is a major highlight of Christmas festivities in the British Isles. 1989:131).Brussels without having to secure prior approval of that move by Parliament (Forman.

ethnic minorities. imparting a sense of unity and common purpose to them and raising their morale (a good example would be the commemoration of the dead of the two World Wars and other conflicts at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday every year).  141 . unemployment and in the environment. As a ‘dignified’ part of the constitution (Bagehot). They usually meet every week on Tuesday evening and then for several days in the late summer when she is on holiday at Balmoral in Scotland. initiative and achievement. since in almost 50 years on the throne she has had 10 Prime Ministers and 15 Some examples are: The Prince’s Trust set up in 1976 by Prince Charles to provide recreation and leisure facilities for deprived young people. Her experience of the affairs of state is unrivalled in modern times. He has also taken a special interest in inner cities. The Queen leads her people on important occasions. the right to encourage and the right to warn” (1978:11). the Queen has regular and confidential contacts with the Prime Minister. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme through which awards are made to young people between the ages of 14 and 21 for enterprise. they promote excellence and equal opportunities in the many trusts and funds that they have initiated and steadfastly support∗. enjoying what Walter Bagehot calls “the right to be consulted. Princess Anne has gained worldwide recognition and admiration for her tireless work as President of the Save the Children Fund and the late Princess Diana’s most laudable initiatives in the campaigns against anti personnel land-mines and against poverty and disease.The members of the Royal Family are actively engaged in many charitable organisations.

unlike temporary politicians. 9 million viewers and 2. On 7 January 1997 “Do you want a monarchy?” was the question put to a nation in an interactive media show which was without precedent in history.different governments. broadcast across the nation with 3. Public attitudes to monarchy have swayed from considerable support in the 70’s and 80’s to the very critical attitudes of recent years. she has a greater knowledge than them of domestic and international politics. Sixty per cent of the voters agreed on the preservation of monarchy. In an opinion poll whose results were published in the Guardian of 22 July 1981. A 1969 opinion poll demonstrated that only 13 per cent thought it was a dated institution. Only 30 per cent of them thought that the monarchy cost the country more than it was worth. 14.000 telephone lines. The programme showed that monarchy and its crisis are issues of more than national proportions. as many as 80 per cent of respondents thought that the Royal Family was a marvellous example to everyone of good family life. and about 50 per cent thought it was good value as long as it was willing to adapt to changing times.6 million phone calls. Also 90 per cent of those questioned preferred the British monarchy to a republic of the French or of the American type. Broadcast by satellite all around the world the referendum was 142 . As a permanent fixture in the British political system. 30 per cent thought it should continue unchanged.000 live guests.

a custom dating back to the offence perpetrated by Charles I. as all monarchs have been since 1641.  143 .in an attempt to stamp out opposition to his discretionary rule∗. nonpartisan symbol of national unity (Jones and Kavanagh. She opens Parliament. accommodation and service in the House of Lords. In that year Charles I. Then he has to rap three times with his ebony stick (hence his name) and only then is the door opened. the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod who is also Sergeant-at-Arms in attendance upon Lord Chancellor.a showcase of British culture. So pro-monarchists think that one argument definitely in favour of monarchy is its unifying influence that goes beyond the ideological claims of any political party. in breach of parliamentary autonomy from the kings’ power. but she takes no part in its deliberations and in fact is forbidden to enter the chamber of the House of Commons. The Queen is to be An officer of the House of Lords. responsible for security. is sent as a messenger to the Chamber of the Commons to summon MPs to the Lords. 1994:8). The Queen is a permanent. debating the British understanding of democracy in what could be called a virtual networking interactive global studio. Edward Coke and Thomas Wentworth were his most vociferous opponents . 1998:120). ordered the arrest of five members of whom he disapproved . The monarch is the personification of the British state and this is an extension of her symbolic function (Irwin. always on a Wednesday in November (since 1537). As he approaches the Commons chamber the door of the Commons is slammed in his face.among them John Pym.

As Cornea well remarks in his article it is almost impossible to mark off a portion of the sovereign’s life which is truly private. It was also rumoured that the Queen was not at all inclined towards the policies and personal disposition of Baroness Thatcher. as George VI’s private secretary Sir Alan Lascelles puts it very memorably: “We serve.E. because. Gladstone and she also distrusted his party. one of the ∗ It is well known that Queen Victoria detested the liberal leader and four times Prime Minister W.”(1993:18). may I remind you. not being engaged in chief executive functions. So she is a full-time Head of State and very experienced and skilled at her job. In June 1986 it was rumoured that the Queen disapproved of Margaret Thatcher’s oppositions to economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Queen is scrupulously neutral but occasionally she hints at personal views∗∗. Nevertheless she was compelled to accept him as Prime Minister. in modern times there can never be a holiday from the work of government and the sovereign can never be completely ‘off duty’ or ‘on holiday’ in the traditional sense. like the US president. This is what Margaret Thatcher says on the matter: “Anyone who imagines that they are a mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite wrong.  144 . she can perform hundreds of engagements and overseas visits each year. official papers will arrive on a regular basis for scrutiny. Even when on holiday. they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience.distinguished from other Heads of State.

Wilson.” said 145 .very few men in this world who never gets a holiday at all and who. She is a superb ambassador. Blair have proved such staunch royalists.” George V called his work ‘a life sentence’ (Bogdanor. to social and constitutional reforms. the monarchy is needed even more with its offer of legitimacy to a reforming administration. The Queen has great representational functions that derive from her ritual power. unlike the rest of us. again a predominantly ceremonial role strictly matching the ceremonial power of the Commonwealth itself. for his service never ends. Monarchy offers fixed constitutional landmarks and a degree of institutional continuity in a changing world. She does the unifying. the Queen acts as a focus and a binding influence for this loose association of states: “ Queen Elizabeth is the bit of glue that somehow manages to hold the whole thing together…and I suppose it is to some extent a matter of worry that clearly her personality is a major factor to all of us in the Commonwealth. Attlee. with a New Labour government so committed to sweeping changes. Pro-monarchists think that especially nowadays. she is very popular and able to attract a lot of interest wherever her visits take her. In her quality of Head of the Commonwealth. That is why the overwhelming majority of the prime ministers of the Left – Gladstone. 1997: 193-194). Asquith. can look forward to no period of retirement at the end of his service.

the world’s only international monarch. Bogdanor thinks. but it is good value for money. People think that the monarchy is good value. Monarchy generates lots of money. The most important claims are that in a democratic age hereditary rights should be invalidated and heads of state should be popularly elected. deference to social status. The opponents of monarchy put forth several arguments against monarchy.the Civil List . 1997: 275). It is sometimes believed that the Civil List is remuneration for the sovereign. since the values that the monarch stands for cannot be depoliticised. former Prime Minister of New Zealand (quoted in Bogdanor. It may cost more than the royal houses of Holland or the Nordic countries. They think that the monarch’s neutrality is only apparent. She is undoubtedly. and reinforce the conservative values of wealth. when it is actually used to meet official expenditure necessarily incurred through the sovereign’ duty as head of state or head of the Commonwealth.to meet the expenses of the nearly 400-strong royal household. In the 80’s the supporters of monarchy argued that spending by the NHS on appetite suppressors exceeded the costs of the Civic List (see below). the Establishment. They also think it is very costly. Around 70 % of it is spent on the 146 . class.David Lange. The first Civil List Act was passed in 1697. tradition. The Queen used to receive an annual grant of nearly 6 million GBP .

Although those estates officially belong to the Crown.9 million GBP in 1991-92).cit:124).  147 .salaries of those working directly for the monarch and it is audited annually by the Treasury (Bogdanor. as has happened since George III. for example. op. 1997:186). no monarch could keep them if they considered. Critics argue that the tax-payers should not have to cover the Queen’s personal expenses. though with a huge allowance and exemption from inheritance tax for the Prince of Wales (Jones and Kavanagh. paintings (her stamp collection alone is said to be worth over one million GBP). In July 1990 a new arrangement was introduced whereby the Queen receives an agreed sum over a ten-year period with more money being made available in the early years (7. On 11 February John Major announced that the Queen would pay income tax from April that year. the Queen has a considerable personal fortune in addition to jewellery. The Queen is granted the Civil List in return for handing over the Crown estates to the Exchequer. Nevertheless. that the Civil List was not to their liking.Market and Opinion Research International. when she is actually one of the richest women in the world. A MORI∗ poll in 1990 showed three-quarters of the population favoured taxing the Queen’s income. those of the royal dependants. The Sunday Times of 8 April 1990 calculated her personal fortune at 7 billion A MORI poll is a special survey of opinion in a country done by a company .

in theory by the Crown. her annual opening of Parliament. And many commentators like Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian and Andrew Ransley in the Observer have 148 . in fact. heads of corporations . a rich system of patronage. for instance NHS hospitals are run by the state. appointment of the Prime Minister. They also invoke the argument of the breach of royal prerogatives by the executive. on whose advice she elevates people to such titles. Thus the so-called immunity of the Crown from democratic control is far from absolute. Cabinet. the support for monarchy in Britain. signing of treaties. 1998:120). who has long campaigned for greater accountability of monarchy to the Commons. Some of her other functions. The death of Diana (to which we will return later) in August 1997 damaged. granting pardons. they argue – declaration of war. so they cannot be taken to court if their kitchens are a health hazard (Jones and Kavanagh. The Queen. creates for the Prime Minister. bishops. A wellknown example is that of the left-wing Labour MP Tony Benn.GBP. some say beyond repair. they say. though this was dismissed by the palace (quoted in Jones and Kavanagh. knighthoods and sundry medals.are meaningless. Lords of Appeal. Her critics also think that the functions that the Queen holds are mostly meaningless and absurd. 1998: 119). by dispensing honours such as peerages. thus strengthening the Prime Minister’s manipulative powers.

Still 74 per 149 . The Queen described the year 1992 as annus horribilis. Charles. into the intimacy of their love affairs and marriage problems. ossified in rituals and artificial conventionalism. when there was vivid discussion of the future role of the royal family. 1998: 122). The Tragic Death of A Princess and Calls for the Reform of the Monarchy In a poll published in the Observer in September 21. The ratings plunged from 71 in 1981 to 10 for the Queen and from 58 to 5 per cent for Charles. There was a general feeling of dismay and profound dissatisfaction with a monarchy that had become more and more aloof from the problems of common people. Princess of Wales.called for the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic. there were marital scandals surrounding her son Andrew and the heir to the throne. In the following years the prestige of the institution was dealt further blows that came to a head in 1997 with the death of Diana. 1997 it is evident how the Queen and Prince Charles plummeted in popular support. In the years that followed the monarchy seemed to be transformed into a “sleazy tabloid soap opera” (Jones and Kavanagh. It was the year the media most feverishly burrowed into the private lives of the younger members of the royal family.

the princess precipitated a crisis in the Royal Family as severe as any she had caused when alive. August 1997. When Diana died in a car smash in Paris in the small hours of Saturday 30. Initially the Queen withheld any public expression of sadness. had been able to touch people’s hearts in a unique way and to win widespread support for the many charitable causes she championed. It was even rumoured at the time that the Queen had been so disaffected with the maverick Princess' ways that she actually forbade the mention of her name in her presence. 79 per cent thought that the monarchy was out of touch with ordinary people in Britain. The Queen was more or less forced. whilst 53 per cent thought that the Crown should go to Charles’s son William.cent of the interviewees thought that the institution should be maintained but they added that an overhaul of the institution was mandatory and only 12 per cent thought that the status quo should be maintained. by this tidal wave of grief and dismay at her behaviour to go 150 . only 38 per cent thought that Charles should be the next in line. But it seems that the royals had miscalculated the national mood: millions expressed their sorrow in a near hysterical week of national grieving over someone who. To a last question concerning the succession to the Crown. 81 per cent thought that the Royal family should become more informal and less concerned with preserving their traditional ways. despite her erroneous conduct at times.

a massive state affair. was the only public figure who found the words and the sensitivity to express the nation’s feelings. in a bid to win back some popular sympathy. Diana’s death confirmed how dramatically the royals in Britain were poised at the watershed between traditional values and modern/post-modern times. and thus at a certain distance from that tragic event. The spontaneous applause which washed into Westminster Abbey from the crowds outside reminded the royals that it was Diana who had captured the nation’s hearts and not Charles or the Queen (Kavanagh and Jones. Tony Blair. 1998:122). At the funeral. Consequently.on air and express deep sorrow at the death of her daughter-in-law. the Royal Family was bitterly criticised by Earl Spencer. the debates about the possibility of restoring the title to her posthumously and the pointed remarks of Earl Spencer at the funeral come as no surprise. was mean-spirited and illegitimate. Diana’s brother. The Prime Minister. reflects on the fact that Diana’s death forced the British to look in the mirror where they could no longer see that fictional self-image they thought they still harboured. despite the fact that the Princess was technically no longer a royal and had been stripped of her HRH title by the Queen. In fact many people thought that the bickering over Diana’s claims to royal status that seemed not to have been resolved at the time of her death. in an article published in the Guardian one year after Diana’s death. Andrew Marr. Instead 151 .

more liberal and emotionally open Britain.” It shook the Brits awake from the slumber of complacency. reticent. a political symbol because of her royal fate and her choice of charities. expressionless people. the phlegmatic belief in coping. they could see what in fact Diana stood for: she was the queen of another country . deference. She was only a symbol of social changes happening already.a multicultural. She was a force of nature. seem to be more and more out of sync with a changing world: “Let me repeat. “the patron saint of the pierced people who are all around us. natural look of deference. It provided a much needed shock. emerging Britain just as surely as Charles and his mother represent an old nation” (“One year on. all the things Charles stands for. the buttoned-up stoicism.of a tight-lipped. The stiff upper lip. her baseball caps. but hardly El Niño. It became clear that the old Roman virtues of endurance. The author of the article thinks that this was the major effect of Diana’s death. a disruption to everyday rituals which allowed for communal self-recognition: “The moment 152 . self-sufficiency and conservatism. With her emotional fragility and selfrevelation. friends. 30 August 1998:13). words and gestures. has Britain changed?” in Guardian Weekly. hedonistic enjoyment of material things and her complicated sex life. she was representative of the new. Diana didn’t cause this. understatement and dignity in public and the public school ethos of gentlemanliness were dying out.

it is safe to say that Diana’s death changed the country” (ibid.when we stared at the crowds and bouquets. that the 153 . And because to know oneself is to change. the Church of England. political and social features of a society which has been struck by far-reaching economic and social problems and which is still marked by the powerful impact of the politics of Tory leader Margaret Thatcher (1983:19-39). The Royal Family. stability and continuity as Stuart Hall asserts in “The Great Moving Right Show”: the major significance of the monarchy is its capacity to continue to forge links among constitutional. all appear to be disintegrating. Britain as a great power. yes. then a year on. It offered in the proper sense a moment of national reflection. we stared at ourselves and thought. but Conservatism. One may say that Tory values and policies are a matter of the past and that its totems have lost a lot of their lustre and glamour. It affected the government of John Major and there are clear indications. continues to operate as an undercurrent in the policies of Thatcher’s successors. The monarchy as an institution has to dovetail with modern times whilst preserving the nearly sacred status that many of its supporters hold dear: tradition. the aristocracy. bloody hell. so that’s what we’re like. as we are going to see in the ensuing two chapters. high moral standards. especially in its British variant Thatcherism.:13).

a clash recorded on the postmodernist. In the way the British newspapers constructed the Princess Diana subject there is a clear clash between traditional and modern values. shunning and attracting the media simultaneously. There has been a lot of talk about the symbiotic relationship that Diana had with the media. I would like to consider for a moment this subject construction of Diana as a mega mediastar from the point of view of the conflicting images of the monarchy as mirrored in the British public. A discourse analysis of all the articles relating to Diana. fragmented.New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and his party are planning to elaborate on the positive sides of Thatcherism. and many considered her to be a subject entirely constructed by the media. published by the Independent and the Sun over a period of time (110 days from October 1995 to the end of February 1996 ∗) seeks to highlight the It is actually the time span between the first time Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles met in public and ends with the certainty that Diana and Prince Charles would be divorced in accordance with the Queen’s wishes. the Iron Lady wished Tony Blair the best of British luck with the continuation of what she had started. especially by the British newspapers. Interviewed by the BBC on the morning after Tony Blair’s triumph. paralogical and contingent terrain of the mass media. The interview which Diana gave in the BBC programme Panorama on 20 November 1995 can be seen as a  154 .

 The Sun is the most widely read paper in Britain. The 215 articles published in the Sun∗ elicit for the ‘private’ thematic area ambivalent representations of Diana’s sexuality. In the interview Diana talked about the break-up of her marriage. Sexuality is the main topic of the journalist discourse and the material can be assigned to two areas: a private one . her health problems. Her looks.strategies deployed by the media in a political and social climate which had been dominated by the Neo-Conservatives for 17 years (Bünger. 155 . The two papers in their coverage of Diana perform a double trick on her. her body and health . a lot of ink is spilt over her assumed mental illness: when she is trying out a new diet: “Diana is a fruit climax. When it comes to her body and health. Its main aspiration is to appeal to ordinary people. politics and economy. family values. having a readership of over 4 million and although in the run-up to the last general election in 1997 it swung from its former Tory orientation towards New Labour. it had been for the last two decades the major mass medium outlet of Tory thought to ordinary people. women as wives and mothers. her vigour and youthfulness bring fresh air into the dusty and rusty structures of the monarchy (“It’s blade-y Di” one headline puts it referring to her craze for roller blades).Diana’s sex appeal. for soundbites and an important feature is that it reports abundantly on the Royal family.and the public area that comprises the media and publicity. The nation was split into backers and opponents. The TV programme was broadcast by satellite all over the world and the Palace had not been informed in advance. etc. her lovers. 1998: 4154). it has a marked preference for puns. her problems with the members of the Royal family. modernity. This led to a heated public debate on monarchy.

two-thirds of its readers welcomed the Princess’s confession. “She gave her husband grief so he chopped off her head. 1998: 45). quotes Queen Victoria but also brings in associations with the topical BSE. in this first area of the construction of her subject through reliance on her sexuality.” The Sun also adopted a very moralist stance in connection with the revelations of her affair with James Hewitt. The night before. she is depicted as an enemy of monarchy and of the traditional values that legitimate that institution. The title “We are not a-moo-sed”. a typical Sun pun. even “Diana’s lies over Tiggy” (Bünger. on the one hand her feelings about Camilla are discussed in a sympathetic light. the coverage ranged from a Victorian fable to an outlet of medieval culture and thought (Bünger. So. Again there is ambivalence when she appears as the betrayed wife. The Panorama interview was covered extensively and although according to a poll conducted by the paper. she 156 . is treated ruthlessly: “Di has a big diggy at tiggy”. but her jealousy of Tiggy Legge-Bourke. 1988:44). the Prince had applauded a Munich theatre’s production of an opera about Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Prince Charles learned about the interview while on a tour of farms in Germany. mad cow disease and mental illness in general. The article comments.and nut case” or the comments after her Panorama interview: “Di’s in advanced stages of paranoia”. the nanny of the Royal sons.

Imran Khan.000 copies daily. but there is also the populist side to it when she is reconstructed as a media megastar and an ambassador projecting with glamour and diplomacy Britain’s image abroad. But on the other hand. So. she has a new role in the world. on the one hand the deconstruction of the Princess as a member of the Royal family can be seen as part of the authoritarian. only about 300. 157 . “she heals wounds”. and no political affiliation. when it comes to the public realm.the educated middle class . She is an ambassador of Britishness in the world. moralist. she is destabilising and seen as a threat to this cluster of values and institutions underlying them. She appears to the Sun as very deft in the field of diplomacy and the highlight is her visit to Pakistan.is the black sheep that is obviously straying from the straight and narrow. she is seen in a much better light. She is saluted for her sane decision to separate the political situation of Pakistan from the controversial political role of her host. the legendary cricket player and former captain of the Pakistan cricket team. targets a different section of British readership . It is famous also for keeping Royal Family reporting to a minimum (only 99 articles were published on Diana in the selected period of time). She is “our queen”. The Independent. as a quality paper.and it has a much smaller circulation than the Sun. law-and-order aspects of Thatcherism.

shines through these articles as well. Her actions are much more prominent than her body or health.The Princess’ sex appeal plays a modest part in the coverage. Her mental health is frequently discussed: “Was that madness in her eyes?”. there is hope that she might spur the modernisation of the monarchy. “The Princess of Wales paranoid. as well as her private and sex life. cultural and intellectual spectra. of a paper of such calibre. In his article “When the Monarchy went into Showbiz” (the Independent. persecuted or simply exercising power?” The Panorama interview is seen as a media battlefield for royal broadsides. showing that neoConservative values were widely shared across the political. 158 . 1997:15) Anthony Sampson maintains that if it is not possible to adapt monarchy to modern times. 22 December. The Independent is highly supportive of her ‘Queen of Hearts’ quality and as far as home policy goes. though praised for her humanitarian campaigning. But the double trick that we remarked in the Sun coverage of the Princess transpires here as well. as expected. her role as ambassador is judged with caution and criticism. 1998: 48-50). but she is found wanting in the field of diplomacy. the call for which is an undercurrent common to all Independent articles (Bünger. the call of ‘back to basics’. The ‘roll back discourse’. in fact. it ought to be abandoned altogether.

Also.the latter a privilege of the male heir. stops short of recommending abolition of the monarchy. scrapping of the monarch’s political powers and the ending of the role of the sovereign as supreme governor of the Church of England.Denmark.(1997:59)  159 . the eldest daughter of the monarch can only be heir presumptive. Further recommendations in the report. especially in the last decade. automatic right of succession to the throne to be abolished. that have large Catholic populations. aimed at root-and-branch reform of the monarchy included the use of state schools and the NHS by the royals.Royalists think that despite more and more vigorous calls for its modernisation∗. Norway and Lately there have also been suggestions for reform although the Labour government is not eager to take the idea on board. Prohibiting a Roman Catholic or someone married to a Catholic (the case of Edward VIII) from occupying the throne is deeply offensive to Catholics but also to Commonwealth countries. he thinks. a member of the Downing Street policy unit. social. were to give the public the right of veto over a new king or queen. headed by Geoff Mulgan. never heir apparent . The leftleaning think-tank Demos. such as Canada and Australia. Monarchy. in an era of equality of opportunity it is deeply anomalous for male heirs still to take precedence over female ones . they believe. He thinks that it is absolutely aberrant to maintain rules that reflect the religious struggles of the 17th century. Britain and monarchy seem to be still strongly connected. They argue that of the continental monarchies . but argues dramatic reform is needed if the institution is to match public expectations. political and economic asset to the national structure of Britain at the turn of the millennium. They also discard any correlation between republicanism and modernisation. on the other hand.cf. Vernon Bogdanor firmly expresses arguments in favour of reforming the rules of succession. Some of the radical measures proposed. since as long as the incumbent monarch lives there are hopes for a male descendant that would become heir apparent. that Tony Blair immediately expressed indignation at. still means an important cultural.

She said that there were many lessons to be learned from Diana’s life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. It is truly said that on all those occasions when crisis struck the Crown was saved by the Prime Minister of the day. 160 . Not only this broadcast of the Queen’s address was unique. They say that people should not worry about the ratings of the Queen. as they still beat those for Tony Blair and Prince Charles. In a blatant capitulation to public and media pressure the Palace flew the Union flag at half-mast for the first time in history.are clearly more egalitarian and socially progressive than Britain and they also provide a higher level of social welfare for their citizens. during the weekend of the funeral. In Japan industrial success without precedent proved to be perfectly compatible with a monarchy of a highly traditional kind. the constitutional historian.Sweden . from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. she almost humbly accepted the lessons that Diana’s life at her court and her death taught her ∗∗ Lord Blake.” She came to understand that the chilly formality and the permafrost aloofnesss that she deemed appropriate were found repellant by many. Lord Melbourne  ∗ In a remarkable break with tradition the Queen paid tribute to Princess Diana on the eve of her funeral in an unprecedented television and radio address to the nation. The Queen is a tough woman with a strong sense of history. She has been through a bad patch. praised the Queen for her positive response: “You have to admire her courage in circumstances that are very painful and difficult. A series of gestures made by Buckingham Palace revealed a fundamental break with the traditional protocol that dictated to the Royal family how they should act.

He was mainly supported by the radical mayor of Birmingham. It diminishes and infantilises us in our own eyes. Disraeli transformed the reclusive widowhood of Victoria into the elderly grandeur of the Empress of India. who seems likely to try to reform the institution along the lines of the bicycle monarchies of the Nordic countries. however. Polly Toynbee. “Abolish the Monarchy and all its Trappings”. who told Dilke in 1871 that “The Republic must come and at the rate at which we are moving it will come in our generation. It makes Britain the laughing stock of the world. 1999)∗. Guardian Weekly.”(quoted in Thompson. 1990:104). The first MP to declare himself a republican was an… aristocrat .694. It attributes all the infantilism and the fascination with relics of the great past. the vitality and the viability of the institution Polly Toynbee’s article is little short of vitriolic. as well as the rejection of modernity. In 1882. 13 September. When in 1923 the Labour Party Conference last debated republicanism it was very heavily defeated by 3.reinvented the young Victoria as a fairytale princess.Sir Charles Dilke . Although I think that some of the republicans’ views are far too radical (cf. Dilke repudiated his republicanism as ‘opinions of political infancy’ and since then there has been no significant republican movement in Britain. Joseph Chamberlain.000 votes to  161 . Besides the Cromwellian Interregnum there have been only isolated attempts at installing a republic. It seems that the current monarchy expects the intervention of Blair. Stanley Baldwin helped the throne to weather the 1936 abdication crisis. Given the chance to vote on it the people might well decide it was time to put away these childish things and grow up” (Guardian Weekly. 13 September 1998:12). to the existence of monarchy: “Abolition would free us from our national idolatrous obsession with these people… we are reduced to absurd primitivism in our national fascination with such trivia.a descendant of no less than three men who had condemned Charles I to death.

can only be supported by a sincere commitment of the royals themselves to change.000 while in December 1936. A Brief Historical Outline of Parliament It is often said that Britain has the “mother of parliaments”. 162 . could ask the barons in the Great Council . By way of a last word on monarchy here is a quotation from Vernon Bogdanor’s The Monarchy and the Constitution: “As the 20th century draws to a close. in the aftermath of Edward VIII’s abdication.to grant aid in an emergency. with a history dating back to the elders’ councils of traditional societies and to the Witan of the Anglo-Saxon kings or their successor in early Norman times .”(1997: 309). far from undermining democracy. in which. such as war. if the conjunction of monarchy and democracy may seem a contradiction. In the thirteenth century however. The very first parliament in Britain was held in 1241. constitutional monarchy survives in a small number of favoured nations mainly in Western Europe. a republican motion in the Commons attracted only five votes. a gathering of leading men who met several times a year . and. it serves to sustain and to strengthen democratic institutions. who were expected to meet all royal expenses private and public from their own revenue.the Commune Concilium. Until then the medieval kings. it would be well to bear in mind Freud’s aphorism that it is only in logic that contradictions cannot exist.the true source of the two chambers. not only private revenues but also baronial 386.

This rather than Magna Carta was the beginning of the idea that there should be “no taxation without representation”. an excellent administrator and diplomat. Edward I. The commoners would have gladly avoided this ‘honour’ but they were afraid to anger the king. Nicolescu. as they held very little prestige at the time and despite the etymology of parliament (‘to meet for parley or discussion’) the commoners had 163 . preserved this representative system in what was to become the first real parliament. Edward I was the first to create a representative institution which could provide the money he needed. In 1275 he commanded each shire and each borough to send two representatives to his Parliament mainly to get their assent to extraordinary taxation.grants of support were no longer sufficient to meet the expenses of government. 1999:257-259). A Speaker was for the first time elected in 1376 and voiced the objections of the commoners or their agreement. as later claimed by the American colonists of the 18th century in the Boston Tea Party episode of the Independence War (cf. In Simon de Montfort’s ‘parlement’ of 1265. 1991:30-31. McDowall. This was the germ of the House of Commons and it contained a mixture of gentry (knights and other wealthy freemen from the shires and merchants from the towns). two knights represented each county for the first time and there were also two representatives of each borough.

during Cromwell’s Protectorate and the civil wars preceding it. from 1547 to 1834. later on. they were only supposed to listen to the great feudal magnates. there were notably less carnage stories than in. The upper house too proved stable: even in the most critical moments of its history. the English parliament has almost from its very beginning been bicameral.no right to speak in parliamentary sessions.the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. represented in the councils. The old and honourable institution of Parliament channelled towards social utilitarianism a nation that has been eminently active and pragmatic 164 . the Commons were hosted in St Stephen’s Chapel. the French Revolution. the question of eradicating the nobility never arose. It is interesting to note that while in most other European countries there were three important social categories. also founded by Edward III. But the increasing might and authority of the Commons can also be accountable to its markedly homogeneous social structure underlying the socio-political stability and the economic prosperity of England. let’s say. Anyway. as the debates leading to the Speaker’s address were extremely noisy and boisterous. ‘estates’ or classes. The explanation lies in the fact that the former strife between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities led to their inclusion in one chamber. Edward III decided to allot a special chamber to commoners .

and that has at least tried to solve all major national controversies through public debate. but starting with the right of individual commoners to present petitions. Although the main function of the Commons was juridical. Originally the king’s legislation needed only the assent of his councillors. namely “by the Commons with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal”. The Great Reform Act ended the Lords’ control over the Commons by extending the franchise to the lower middle classes and removing the Lords’ ability to nominate members. In 1832 the relative harmony between the two houses was shattered. their bills) the form of law. By the middle of the 14th century the formula had appeared which in substance was the same as that used nowadays in voting resources to the Crown. A similar advance was made in the legislative field. The subsequent development of the power of the House of Commons was built upon these foundations. the Commons as a body gained the right to participate in giving their requests (i. The constitutional developments of the 17th century led to Parliament securing its position as supreme legislative authority.e. over the course of time they began to realize the strength of their position. as Salvador Madariaga beautifully puts it (1982:374-394). In 1407 Henry IV pledged that henceforth all money grants should be approved by the House of Commons before being considered by the Lords. The Commons now ensured a very solid base in 165 .

Although there was a Liberal majority in the Commons. by 350 votes to 75 (Jones and Kavanagh.society. and the growth of the Liberal Party reflected this change. it could force the government to disclose secret information. Durham and Winchester and the 166 . the Bishops of London. There were further proofs in the first part of this century of the contempt in which the Lords held the Commons. in two elections in 1910. remove individual ministers. the Lords threw it out. When in 1909 the Liberal Chancellor declared implacable war on poverty and squalor via a package of tax increases. what with a small electorate. they came to represent wider interests. The House of Lords The Upper House consists of the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal. “the House could sack Cabinets. it set up select committees to carry out investigations and it rewrote government bills on the floor of the house” (Mackintosh. The Lords Spiritual are the Archbishops of Cantebury and York. loose party discipline and MPs with private incomes who did not rely too much on party affiliation for reelection. 1977:613). 1998: 124-125). Conflicting interests were manifested in a series of clashes between the liberalcontrolled House of Commons and the Conservativedominated Lords. George V had to threaten the Lords with the creation of sufficient non-Conservative peers to make them give in. By the mid-19th century.

Great Britain and the United Kingdom. since 1963 it has been possible to disclaim hereditary peerages within 12 months of succession. The average daily attendance is 320 and they receive no salary for their parliamentary work. although not all the peers with a right to sit in the House of Lords attend the sittings. The House of Lords is also the final court of appeal for civil cases in Britain and for criminal cases in England.200. including the Lord Chancellor. and disclaimants lose their right to sit in the House but gain the right to vote and stand as candidates at parliamentary elections. Moreover. the life peers tended to play a fuller and more regular part in the proceedings. but can claim for expenses incurred in attending the House. At the start of each session the Queen’s speech to Parliament outlines the Government’s policies and proposed legislative 167 . The Lords Temporal consist of all hereditary peers and peeresses of England. Although until very recently the House has still been disproportionately hereditary.22 of them.following 21 next most senior diocesan bishops of the Church of England (26 in all). Scotland. The average number of sitting days is 150 in the Lords and 168 in the Commons. The number of Lords exceeds 1. of life peers created to assist the House in its judicial duties and the Lords of Appeal or ‘law lords’ . Parliament stands prorogued (suspended) for about a week and then the new session opens. Wales and Northern Ireland.

distinguished scientists or academics. Easter. Lord Carrington was Defence Secretary in the Heath Government and Foreign Secretary in Thatcher’s government. Some of them however date back to the Middle Ages: the Barony of Mowbray. weekends. the largest single category of life peers is formed of former politicians from the 168 . 1483 and 1442 respectively. the Dukedom of Norfolk and the Earldom of Shrewsbury. A significant number of hereditary peerages were created during this century and an important number of them under the premiership of Lloyd George (1916-1922). Christmas. Over 750 of the peers are hereditary. Lord Home was Foreign Secretary under Macmillan and Heath. They may be former civil servants or diplomats who retired at the top of their profession. successful industrialists or prominent trade union leaders. Life peers have been created since 1958.programme. Hereditary peers however do not always keep such a low profile and they are not always ‘backwoodsmen’. However. Lord Shackleton was a senior member of Harold Wilson’s government. 1283. There are adjournments at night. the late Spring bank Holiday and during a long summer break starting in late July or early August. the vast majority of them being distinguished men and women from a wide variety of walks of life who have been so honoured in recognition of their political or public services. distinguished soldiers who rose to the highest military rank.

House of Commons or local government. 1998). the second was a Nazi sympathiser and hated Scottish landowner and the third was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for making an insurance claim on Ferraris he had concealed in a lake (E