Stop the guff about British resolve Gordon, only the Royals can unite us all

Why the Queen and the Royals remain important, especially at times of crisis...

Stop the guff about British resolve Gordon, only the Royals can unite us all

5th July 2007
Daily Mail

Something that's been bothering me all week is Gordon Brown's solemn statement to the TV cameras after the failed attack on Glasgow Airport: "I know that the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong."

I mean, what a ridiculous thing to say. If a man sidled up to you in a pub and came out with a line like that, you'd rightly think him bonkers and beat a hasty path to the door. So why is it thought somehow all right for Prime Ministers to spout such a load of old tosh?

It's the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from a trainee spin doctor. Something big happens and he feels he's got to say something portentous, but can't think quite what.

So he comes out with an utterly vacuous formula, which he hopes has a sonorous ring to it, and prays that nobody will notice: "In the face of this terrorist attack/ hurricane/ flu epidemic/ economic downturn/ Henman defeat [delete as applicable], one thing is certain: the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong."

Poor Mr Brown was clearly determined to say something Churchillian to mark the first proper drama of his sojourn in No 10. It's just a pity that his words didn't actually mean anything.

What does all this standing together, unity, resolution and strength entail? It strikes me that if a bomb goes off in an airport terminal or outside a packed nightclub, no amount of unity, resolution or strength is going to save the wretched victims from being blown to shreds.

More to the point, who are these 'British people' who are supposed to be standing together? Not so long ago, of course, we all knew exactly what was meant by the phrase. We were an instantly recognisable national entity, bound together by dozens of invisible ties.

We may have been a nation of mongrels (my own ancestors include Englishmen, Irishmen, Scots, Dutchmen and Poles - and that's only within three generations).

But by and large we spoke the same language, watched the same programmes on TV, learned history from the same Anglo-centric viewpoint and shared a distinctively British outlook on life: anti-authoritarian, unsentimental, humorous, sceptical of all ideologies, tolerant much of the time but capable of bloody-mindedness - especially when we came up against petty officialdom.

All right, this is a caricature - and there were always plenty of Britons who didn't fit it. But enough of us did to give some sort of corporate identity to the nation beyond the mere coincidence that we were all entitled to carry British passports.

As I look around me on my daily commute, listening to my fellow passengers jabbering into their mobiles in a dozen different languages, I wonder if these are the British people who Mr Brown thinks will stand together in the face of the terrorist threat.

If so, I'm afraid he'll be sadly disappointed. Certainly, we often stand together - but that's only because there are so seldom any free seats (which I don't think was quite what the new Prime Minister meant).

Otherwise, most of us have absolutely nothing discernible in common apart from our membership of the human race and our presence on the same train.

True, I live in London, where a staggering 2,288,000 of my fellow residents were born overseas - very nearly one in three of the population, up from 23.8 per cent ten years ago. (That's according to the latest official figures from the Office For National Statistics, so you can add at least a few tens of thousands to account for illegal immigrants and others who have escaped the statisticians' notice).

But though other parts of the country retain what would once have been called a distinctively British identity, London is by no means unusual in having a huge and rapidly growing population of settlers born elsewhere, with no native loyalty to Britain.

This is one of the reasons, of course, why Mr Brown keeps banging on about Britishness (the other is to try to make us forget that he's Scottish - though it has the opposite effect: the more he repeats the word 'British', the more we're reminded that the speaker is the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath).

The fact is that Tony Blair's most lasting legacy to this country was his destruction of Britain's nationhood.

Only now, ten years too late - and with the NHS crawling with zealots determined to blow up as many of us as possible - has Mr Brown woken up to how precious that nationhood was.

It gave us a community of identity, purpose, interest and feeling that is further diluted with every coachload of Eastern Europeans, every planeload of Pakistanis and Middle Easterners who land on our shores - in numbers far too huge to be comfortably absorbed, like the waves of immigrants who came before them.

I'm afraid that the new Prime Minister was a decade too late when he told the Commons on Tuesday: "We must give new life to the very idea of citizenship itself."

Does he honestly believe that by 'improving citizenship education' he will turn young Muslims away from Al Qaeda and towards the Boy Scouts?

Does he really think that by flying the Union flag on public buildings every day of the year - instead of only 18 - he will make the congregations of every Bradford mosque rejoice in being British?

That brings me to a funny thing about Mr Brown: he does like to go on about the flag. I can't help feeling that's rather un-British of him.

Americans, of course, are crazy about the Stars and Stripes and they're forever swearing allegiance to it. But in Britain, our loyalty has never been so much to a piece of cloth as to the living, breathing symbol of the Union and the nation - our reigning monarch.

Has Gordon Brown shown enough appreciation of the unifying capabilities of the Royal Family?

You'd think that Her Majesty's Prime Minister, of all people, would appreciate that. You'd also think he might talk less about 'British citizens' and more about 'British subjects'.

How strange that in his Commons statement on the constitution, Mr Brown mentioned the very pinnacle of that constitution only once - and that was when he promised to 'surrender or limit' the powers exercised in the name of the monarch.

I'm all for doing away with the Royal Prerogative, which ceased centuries ago to be exercised by the Crown and has given Prime Ministers far too much power ever since.

But I do wish that Mr Brown would publicly recognise the value of the Monarchy as a focus of national feeling and one of the strongest of those invisible bonds that held us together for so long.

Twice this week, we saw how the Royal Family operates as a unifying force for the nation.

OK, perhaps Princes William and Harry weren't all that articulate when they spoke at their late mother's birthday concert at Wembley on Sunday. And perhaps Prince Charles looked a trifle comic in his dinghy when he paid his second visit this week to the areas devastated by flooding.

But didn't most us feel a much softer spot for the young princes than we'd ever feel for a flag? And if you were up to your waist in water, homeless and with all your belongings destroyed, wouldn't you much rather have a comforting word from the Prince of Wales than a visit from Hazel Blears?

Come along, Mr Brown. Less of this rubbish about the Union flag. Let's hear it for the Queen. Speak up for her and I'll stand right by you - united, resolute and strong.
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 6th, 2007 at 05:53 AM..

Since when does being scottish preclude you from being British? Being Scottish by definition makes you British.

If one meant to say "English" instead of "British", they should say just that and admit they themselves do not see themselves as part of a larger Britain but a tiny England.