This is so good, I had to reproduce the whole thing. From today's Times.
No Great Britain day, please, we're British
If the Chancellor thinks he’s on to a vote-winning idea, he simply doesn’t grasp the essence of our culture
THERE IS AN advertising billboard at Upton Park, home of West Ham United Football Club. Visit Britain, it says. Now what is the point of that? Who is going to read this message and think: well, that would make a nice change of scenery. One would imagine by the time a person had reached the lower end of Green Street, bought a ticket and taken a seat in the West Stand, he would be somewhat aware of his location on the globe.
True, the nationality of the right-back might create confusion, but it is fair to say nobody, except perhaps an illegal immigrant previously stowed away in the load of a driver with a shaky grasp of the geography of northern Europe, could reach London E13 without having some awareness of being on British soil. And illegal immigrants cannot afford to watch Premiership football, anyway. Much like the rest of us. Visit Britain was this country’s silliest and most redundant instruction, until Gordon Brown unveiled his plans for an outbreak of Britishness. Celebrate our culture, Chancellor? We’ll do that every day if you let us.
We’ll do that by not visiting the churches of England (unless in a white dress or pine box), by not planting flags on the front lawn and by going about our business without showing any great desire to force our way of life upon the rest of the world (well not anymore, anyway) or even upon our own citizens. Now that indicates a strong national character. This Government, and Brown is a significant voice within it, may wish to promote Western democracy globally, but the majority of its people just want to be left alone to get on with the ironing, which has been stacking up all week. And that is what makes us uniquely, spectacularly, superlatively British.
Nobody has ever strapped on a bomb and taken a carriage-load of innocents to oblivion on behalf of the main religion within this country. Nobody ever will. Spitting Image captured it best. There was a knock on the door. A man answered. “Do you believe in God?” he was asked. “Of course not,” he replied. “I’m Church of England.”
Now there is a faith worth promoting. Some religious leaders spew hatred. Ours organise jumble sales and coffee mornings. When my uncle died recently, the vicar began: “Sid didn’t believe in God. So I’m hoping that wherever he is now, he’ll be very surprised.” The service included the deceased’s favourite song, Ruby, by Kenny Rogers, no hymns and ended with Dean Martin singing Little Ol’ Wine Drinker, Me. No other religion on earth could have given that man the send-off he deserved. Now there is a culture worth preserving.
Not with self-conscious bank holidays or a flag in every garden, as Brown thinks. There is a cross of St George flying three fences down from me, and it looks as ridiculous and misplaced as “Visit Britain” at a football ground in East London. You want a commitment to Britain? Just pay your taxes. Why should a bloke with a 200 grand mortgage, giving almost half his income to the State, waste good money on a flag? What more does he have to prove?
The cliché is that everything America gets happens here ten years later — apart from The Larry Sanders Show broadcast at a sensible time on a channel somebody watches — and if Brown wants us wrapped in a flag annually, then that is another bad idea imported bang on schedule. America loves a flag. Every house, every car, every public building, a giant Stars and Stripes flutters above. Means nothing. When members of Congress and Senate gathered on the steps of the Capitol to sing God Bless America in patriotic solidarity after 9/11, they held tiny flags given to them for the ceremony. Made in China, every one. In all, even before the attack on the World Trade Centre, 1.3 million Old Glories were Chinese-made and that number is unlikely to have decreased in the frenzy of flag-flying, sticker-affixing and apple pie baking that has accompanied the war on terror. Even now, the iconic stars and stripes flapping over a Rockwell-like white picket fence could well be a boon to a burgeoning Communist economy. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.
Like Brown’s eye-catching, vote-winning patriotism, America’s flags are a stunt. One on the lawn there, two in the yard next door, a whole row above that stoop and, my, look at the local Cadillac dealership, there must be a hundred. Jeez, those guys love our country. And they’re offering the best deals in town. This is not patriotism; this is marketing.
Brown wants us to work too hard at being British, which is not British at all. Leave us alone and we’ll show you British. Christmas. Trees and lights and little nativity plays, all the stuff that makes your council twitch. The right to laugh at everybody and not watch what we say, which means laying off Jimmy Carr and football fans going to Germany, now being piously lectured on not mentioning the war.
What truly makes a country great is not some puffed-up ceremony, stage-managed to further a man’s political career, but the fabric of its daily life: the humour, the tolerance, the kindness displayed by British people of all colours and faiths, who feel no need to wave a Union Jack or launch into speeches about our great democracy. It is because of this that we remain perplexed by the rise of Hitler and the motivation of suicide bombers.
We are so happy in our skin that we do not need Great Britain day. In fact, let us alone and every day can be Great Britain day again. Nice idea, Chancellor. But to coin a very British phrase: bollocks to that.