Gordon Brown’s efforts to ‘defend the Union’ continue to define Britain in his own image, Gordon Britannia, much like the Blair rebranding of Cool Britannia. He will ultimately fail if his government continues to act in such a way as to undermine the very values he purports to defend.
The Prime Minister dismisses anti-unionists as ‘those who argue for Scottish Separatism’ or ‘English Votes for English laws’. He assumes that we must all agree what a threat these people must pose to the Union. But neither of these groups appear to have plans to bomb the City of London.
The Union is not under attack. Pragmatic Scots are more likely to wish to have their cake and eat it, while the Scottish National Party are certainly enjoying their cake at the expense of the strategic and tactical ineptitude of ‘opposition’ parties.The demand for English votes for English laws is a consequence of Labour’s largesse to its voting heartlands, which, despite the investment, remain the most unproductive regions of the UK.
The Prime Minister is right to laud the Union. Its most outstanding value is that Scots, Irish, English and Welsh, and all myriad of communities in Britain, need not be unhappy to be described as British while defining themselves also by religion, ethnicity or country of origin. This is certainly at the heart of Gordon Brown’s own instinctive sense of Britishness.
The problem for Brown lies in the lack of an agreed definition of ‘British’. It is reasonable to suggest Britishness it is an evolved and deep-rooted sense of freedom (from government or rude interference by others), fairness and tolerance (in a live and let live way) and fickleness (protective of personal space and defensive of encroachments, whether that be to territory or lifestyle). Against which we would have to rate Gordon Brown’s government generally as quite un-British – though he is for the most part only following were Blair first led.
It is not just the 42 day detention: it’s the poor woman sent back to Ghana to die. It may be right, but it’s not British. It’s not the need for anti-terrorist legislation; it’s that Labour’s legislation has been used by local authorities to spy on where you live and the school your child attends. It may be right, but extends beyond its purpose; it’s not British. While taxation is surely justified for education and health, the Government raiding the Lottery to pay for the Olympics smacks of a) the Dome b) taking from the poor to pay for vanity (the Dome again). It’s just not British.
Gordon Brown would do better in defending the Union by leading his Government with intellectual honesty. Policy delivery of universal application, rather than selective promotion of favoured groups or projects, would be a start. Showing greater concern for freedoms, fairness and diversity in the practical implementation of policy would underpin Britishness and regain much of what was lost under the Blair premiership.
The problem for Gordon Brown is that because he has defined Britain in his own image, it’s not an image that Britons want to share.