Returning to the very un-British subject of Britishness, as I mentioned in my earlier post on this subject this topic has been exercising the Guardian just as much as the Telegraph since 12th July (the date on which it was announced that the London bombers were British).
The Guardian asked various people the question, “What does it mean to be British?”. Given that the Guardian is the polar opposite of the Telegraph in many ways, it’s interesting to see how many of the same themes emerge here as in the Telegraph: tolerance, pluralism, freedom, history, a certain national character and way of looking at things.
Thomas Kielinger, London-based correspondent for Die Welt of Germany:
The greatest virtue of Britain is tolerance, towards itself and others. The flip side of that is negligence and slovenliness and a sense you don’t care too much about defining yourself, but now you need to because you are under threat…
You’ve lost the knack for calling a spade a spade and admiring your own historical greatness. It’s not called “Great” Britain for nothing. There’s no need for this country to become so open to other societies that it’s oblivious to its own culture and historical centre.
Jeremy Paxman, journalist and author:
You have a perfect right in this country to do what you want without anyone asking what you are doing or why you are doing it. People may say we are cold, but what is wrong with being less demonstrative?
…I would not want to work anywhere but Britain. Elsewhere the media take themselves so seriously and are pompous and dull. The premium here on being interesting and engaging is something I like.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright and actor:
We are miles ahead of everyone else when it comes to cultural relations. On the question of naked integration we are streaks ahead of even North America…
What I do associate with Britishness is our intellectual vigour, our sense of irony and our liberal sensibilities – not some idea that once we ruled the world or some sort of stiff upper lip.
Boris Johnson, Conservative MP and editor of The Spectator, currently writing a book about Britishness:
We gave the world industrialisation, democracy and football. In other words, we gave the world its economic system, its political system and its main leisure activity, and we continue to be a hugely beneficial civilising force across the planet. There is a distinctive British culture, cast of mind and set of values. It’s not just tolerance, though tolerance is part of it…
I also think it’s quite unBritish to keep bashing on about Britishness. One of the things we are most valued for abroad is our understatement and our refusal to keep asserting, the way the Americans do, that “we are the greatest nation on earth”. We might secretly believe it, but we don’t see any particular advantage in saying it. But you could mount a very good case.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain:
The values of Britain are the very values I am proud to be part of as a British Muslim, as part of my faith. Tolerance, respect, understanding, care for your neighbour are very important concepts that should be inherent in any Muslim…
Michael Boyd, artistic director of the RSC:
The thing I like most about Britishness is its messiness and incompleteness … I like the unfinishedness of the idea of Britishness and I think that’s what is shaping about it…
There is a British anti-intellectualism and a fear of pretension which is quite difficult for people in the arts, but this same impulse means the British are able to resist the sweep of big ideas and things like xenophobia and the BNP. I hope we will always be a messy, pluralistic place.