David Cameron is Leader of the Conservative Party. He replies to last week's open letter from ConservativeHome Editor Tim Montgomerie; 'A patriotic plea to David Cameron'.
Thank you for the open letter on ToryDiary. It made a thoughtful point and seemed to start quite a debate, so I wanted to offer a response.
Britain is a great country that has shaped the world
I very much agree with the spirit of your argument – that patriotism is important and that we need to strengthen our national identity. We must never forget that Britain is a great country with a history we can be truly proud of. Our culture, language and inventiveness has shaped the modern world, and ensures we are still a significant player on the world stage.
But whilst Britain has so much to celebrate in every field of endeavour, we seem to be better at achieving greatness than at celebrating it. I think this sense of understatement is itself an intrinsic part of being British. So whilst we should do more to celebrate our national identity, I think how exactly we do that as a political party – and as a country – is up for debate.
As a political party, we Conservatives are patriotic to the core – I don't think anyone doubts that. Yes we have embedded the Union Flag into many of our banners and backdrops. But more than that, we have worked hard to put our belief in the United Kingdom into action.
Conservatives believe in the unity of the United Kingdom
We are the only party that has representation in every region of the UK – including Northern Ireland. We will fight the SNP every inch of the way over their attempts to break our Union apart. And when it comes to the EU, we will always be a strong voice for national sovereignty.
But I don’t think politicians should claim patriotism exclusively for one party or one political tradition. Patriotism should transcend politics. Its value is as a unifying force, not a divisive one. So we’re not going to get into a “my flag is bigger than yours” contest with Gordon Brown.
And for the same reasons we will do all we can to counter the rise of BNP. I’ve said some strong things about this party, and I stand by what I’ve said. As your excellent campaign says: there’s nothing British about the BNP.
Gordon Brown gets patriotism wrong
In terms of what we should do as a country to strengthen our sense of national identity, I believe any initiative has to naturally be in tune with our cultural attitudes. This is where I think Gordon Brown often gets it wrong.
His approach to Britishness can seem too artificial, rather than instinctive. He comes out with grand top-down schemes which don’t live longer than the headlines. Remember Britishness Day? The oath of allegiance? The national motto that would boil Britishness down into five or six words? And who could forget "British jobs for British workers"?
Britain is bigger than the government it has. Ultimately, Britishness is about Britons. It grows and evolves from the bottom up. It can never be defined by one motto or one politician, but by millions of individuals whose identity is the product of many ingredients. So if we’re serious about strengthening our national identity we should do whatever we can to give these individuals reasons to feel pride in their country. There are three key ways of doing this.
We must abandon 'state multiculturalism'
First, it would be easier to promote a national identity if everyone felt like they were part of one country – not a “community of communities” as one government-commissioned report argued. We need to bring our country together, and that means moving away from the wrong-headed doctrine of state multiculturalism by, for example, making sure all new arrivals to our country can speak, or will learn to speak, our common language.
We must teach the whole narrative of British history
Second, as you referred to in your post, it’s vitally important that we bring back proper teaching of British history in our schools. We won’t get very far in promoting Britishness if people don’t have a feel for Britain’s history and heritage.
It is a tragedy that we have swept away the teaching of narrative history, and replaced it with a bite-sized, disjointed approach to learning about historical events. And the results of that recent survey you linked to highlights only too well what happens when you shift away from learning actual knowledge, such as facts and dates. This failed approach has led us to the great irony that most British-born citizens would struggle to answer the questions on our citizenship tests.
We must defend our armed forces, our monarchy, our democratic traditions
Third, Gordon Brown talks about British values like liberty, fair play, openness. He’s right to pinpoint these values, but they are not exclusively British. What is required is more emotional connection with the institutions that define Britishness such as our monarchy, our armed forces, and our parliament. These institutions are a vital part of what it means to be British, but they have consistently been undermined by this government.
For example, it is not standing up for Britishness when you undermine our Houses of Parliament by passing more and more power to Brussels without giving people the referendum you promised.
So there is much to be done. But there is hope. Those who are old enough – or who know their recent British history – will remember what happened thirty years ago.
When the last Conservative Government came in it gave the country a new confidence that we weren't the sick man of Europe, and that by our common endeavour we could restore Britain's standing in the world. In short, it restored the nations’ pride. I can think of little that would make me prouder than if the next Conservative Government did the same.
From tomorrow ConHome begins an eight part series on patriotism.