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Is British Identity of No Relevance in Modern Britain? Essay

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Updated: Jan 3rd, 2022

Identity cuts across different facets like history, politics, gender issues, media, and culture among other elements and British identity is not different. There cannot be a declining British identity if it never existed in the first place. British identity has been in existence for a long time having being constructed historically. Nevertheless, this identity has been on the decline in recent times and even though some critics suggest that, it is of little or no relevance in modern Britain, there are some important aspects of it still in. Different people running from national leaders to conventional citizens have stated on different occasions the relevance of this identity in contemporary times. No matter what critics say concerning this issue, British identity is certainly relevant in modern Britain.

As aforementioned, British identity is historically fabricated and because many Britons do not understand these historical constructs, they are caught up in an ‘identity crisis.’ In contemporary times, many people living in Britain do not identify themselves as Britons, English, Scottish, or Welsh; they fall in the ‘other’ category. According to Bechhoffer and McCrone, in 1992, 63% of people living in England identified themselves as Britons while in 2006 this number had dropped to 39% (Matley, “Multiculturalism in the UK”). This trend was similar in Scotland and this portrays an identity crisis. Nevertheless, this trend is understandable given the changing perspectives of identity. Kiely et al posits that while British identity is based on state identity, ethnic identities define that of England, Scotland and Wales (Matley, “Multiculturalism in the UK”). Additionally, British identity rotates on citizenship and rule of law as opposed to that of England, Scotland, and Wales based on belonging and culture. Nevertheless, Bogdanor notes that, “the nationalist parties provide a useful indicator of the strength of Britishness…the Scots feel more British now than they did in the 1970s.” This is an indication of remnants of British identity presently. However, there are differences in the way view this identity.

The establishment of Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly all in 1999 was the genesis of these differences in identity perspective. Essentially people would want to identify with their ethnic identities and even though this affects state identity, it does not mean that British identity is lost. In the late Nineteenth Century, England started to drift away from the general shade of Britain becoming consolidated as a ‘nation’ thus chiseling her own national identity from what was emerging as nationalism. The game was changing with the emergence of cultural nationalism, which emphasized on common ethnicity as opposed to the old state citizenship that defined Britain. The new hallmarks entailed in cultural nationalism were language, race, history, and religion. These elements defined the ‘soul’ of a nation and England as a nation wanted to be a nation with a soul. Therefore, to become fully established, English intellectuals started developing these elements to achieve that ‘soul’ of England. For instance, James Murray invested a lot in developing and polishing the English language. These elements among others explain why there has been declining British identity in the contemporary times. Nevertheless, as aforementioned, there are still remnants of British identity in contemporary times and they cannot be overlooked in what some would call ‘irrelevant British identity in modern Britain.’

Tony Blair comes in handy in this case of New Britain in the contemporary times. During his 10-year reign between 1997 and 2007, Blair tried his level best to reform the Labor Party into New Labor Party and even attempted to re-brand Britain as a cool and creative country. Blair once said, “We are one of the great innovative peoples. From the Magna Carta, to the first Parliament to the industrial revolution to an empire that covered the world, most of the great inventions of times came with Britain stamped on them. Even today, we lead the world in design, pharmaceuticals, financial services, and telecommunications…” (Matley, “Multiculturalism in the UK”). These comments are clear indications that not all is lost concerning British identity in contemporary times. Britain remains one of the forces to reckon with politically, economically and culturally. In 2009, David Cameron pointed that, “Ultimately, Britishness is about Britons. It grows and evolves from the bottom up. One motto or one politician can never define it, but millions of individuals, whose identity is the product of many ingredients…reasons to feel pride in their country” (Matley, “Multiculturalism in the UK”). Surely, Britons have a reason of pride about Britain and this seems to have been achieved according to polls carried out in 2004.

According to BBC News, results from a poll conducted in 2004 on attitudes to Britishness, showed that 83% of Britons were proud to be Britons while a miniature 4% felt otherwise. This massive feeling of pride is a clear indication that British identity is still relevant in modern Britain. If this were not so, then the numbers would be different and as the common adage goes, figures do not lie. This overwhelming response about pride is just but an indicator of many bigger things about British identity. There has been massive immigration to Britain in the recent past making Britain a culturally diverse entity. If people from world all over did not have something to identify with in Britain, they would have migrated to other parts of the world. However, because there is something unique about Britain, her identity, people choose to migrate there. Perhaps due to her business world class, another important contributing factor to British identity in contemporary times.

As indicated earlier in Blair’s comments, Britain remains to be an economic giant and many Britons feel that their beloved country contributes largely to the world thus they have a reason to identify with her. Results published by BBC News in 2004 concerning people’s views on Britain’s contribution to the rest of the world showed important but ignored facts about British identity. The results showed that, “26% said it (Britain) was to offer financial help to poorer countries, 25% said intervening and peacekeeping in the world’s trouble spots was our most important role, 16% said being at the heart of Europe was our most important role, 7% said maintaining our special relationship with America was important” (BBC News). These results speak volumes concerning the relevance of British identity in modern times. Britons feel that Britain is a force to identify with in world matters. This feeling deepens the pride of Britons concerning their country.

Finally, there are remainders of “Thatcherism” in modern Britain rooted deeply in art. Roberts, posits that, “The fact that Lady Thatcher is still a hate-figure on the British Left…is also a sign of her continuing political relevance and success. There is presently a play being performed entitled The Death of Margaret Thatcher…” (Para. 6). This indicates how Britons still identify with the British identity through ‘Thatcherism’, an important figure in Britain’s history. Moreover, Sheffield notes that, “British’ means a society virtuous in truth, honour and gentleness” (Para. 4). These values have been the core values of Britons even in the contemporary times. In conclusion, British identity is not lost in modern Britain even though it has diminished; this identity has some relevance today.

Works Cited

BBC News. 2004.

Bogdanor, Vernon. Prospect. 2010.

Matley, David. “Multiculturalism in the UK”. Language Skills and Culture Lecture. English Department, University of Zurich. 2008.

Roberts, Andrew. “Thatcher’s Determination Remains Undented.” The Telegraph. 2008. Web.

Sheffield, Ken. BBC News. 2004.

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