Sunday 13 February 2011

Mr. Cameron and Our Identity

As my first blog this post caused me numerous headaches. Day-to-day I muse over many things, but when I came to write them down I realised how obscure many of them were. I settled on this and then set about it like a spoilt child, attempting to engage a topic that would take at least a hundred blogs. So here I will leave you with my general musings, and probably more questions than answers, but I promise you it is due to no lack of thought.

Cameron’s speech a week last Friday was a political point scorer, designed to capitalise on the general shift to the right common across Europe. Embracing Britishness would not deter extremists. I do not know any personally but I cannot imagine they would be swayed by more fish and chip suppers. The speech was the kind of empty talk common from the Prime Minister. For instance it clashes hopelessly with the flagship free schools policy; an invitation to develop and teach a separate identity.

Another clash is the adherence to market forces of this ‘child of Thatcher’ (a tag he has defended). The free market brought the large swathes of immigrants that now frustrate Cameron through lack of integration. At a lower level it erodes our heritage. It has rundown industry, seen the replacement of terraced houses (symmetrical as these things look they vary massively between areas) with mock Tudor estates, soulless bowl-shaped football stadiums with commercial names, and the growth of postmodern style shopping centres in seemingly every town. Now obviously these are matters of regional not national identity, but you need this diversity for wider unity. Without it you would have a nation of uncomfortable clones.

So maybe the Big Society and localism is the answer? The thing with identity is that it must be spontaneous, one of the few generalisations you can make on the topic. This confusion has lead to Cameron’s horrible phrase, ‘muscular liberalism’, liberalism enforced, which is not liberalism at all. He talks of reigning in ‘rootless’ Brits. He never suggests evolving our identity to encompass all (no political points there). I do not see why an identity need be fixed. For me the way the British people like to see themselves is rooted in the Second World War and the underdog spirit, though it also draws on earlier history. There must have been some identity prior to this. Consult any contemporary commentator on the issue, and they will almost certainly tell you their identity is in crisis, or at least in transition. I am not saying any transition would be painless, but it might be possible, and perhaps it is already underway.

The point I mused over most, is do we need an identity? I was tempted to write a blog arguing no, and in concrete terms I struggle to see a drawback, but I could not do it. Imagine if someone threatened to remove yours, it is an uncomfortable feeling. God knows I could never feel Southern. What would be the implications if I had to? I once raised this point with a friend, who said, ‘to love another you must first love yourself’. A lack of feeling for your identity and history is liable to make you ruthless and less humanitarian. Just look at the Chinese state, chavs and management students.

Perhaps I am over thinking things. During a major international tournament, observe how many football fans will tell you the country is pulling together and feels united. This is without thought for extremists, what the bankers did, or the fact that even in England’s biggest games, less than half the population watch the match. Perhaps therefore creating cohesive feeling is as easy as Dave hopes, and I am over-romanticising, for as much as I deplore the reduction of regional identity I have no desire to live in an industrial terrace and work in a coal mine, but clearly he is endorsing some clashes of interest. It would be unfair to say he did not think his speech through, as he was not talking to me, the pedantic lefty, but it would be refreshing to hear less empty talk.