Has Britain Lost Its Mojo?

Posted on: 20 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

As Gordon Brown announces his new literary assignment, we ponder what Britishness really means today.

For a Prime Minister in a leadership crisis, it is extraordinary that Gordon Brown has announced that he is writing a book on ‘Britishness,’ which will be available to buy in February 2009.

The fact he has time to write this book in the wake of a political crisis and an economic downturn is staggering.  The fact he has already written two books in the past four years, plus a short story released last week in which he reveals his childhood hero was Scott of the Antarctic, is also astonishing. 

Is he really a frustrated writer?  Or is this yet another PR stunt, woven together by Labour's spin doctors, who are highly skilled in their art of embroidering the truth in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the nation? 

At the Edinburgh Book Festival last weekend, Brown discussed his idea with crime fiction writer Ian Rankin, who, according to the publishing house, will be a contributor.  The fact Brown was once a director of the very same publishing house is also notable. 

The founder of Edinburgh’s Mainstream Publishing, Bill Campbell told the BBC:

"It was an original idea from Gordon and there has been a substantial personal contribution from him.  He has approached several archbishops and other religious leaders for their views, and Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling and Sir George Martin are among the other contributors. It's quite a wide list and the book is meant to reflect on the diversity of what it means to be British in the modern day."

It doesn’t sound the most riveting read - but it did lead me to wonder, what does being British mean to us today?  Is ‘Britishness’ something the Government can reinvent?  Which British traditions are dying out, and what has already been lost?

Personally, I think this Government has done more to erode our traditional British way of life than any other before it, and so it is quite ironic that they are happy to cultivate and utilise this idea of Britishness for their own ends. 

Gone is free university education for all, post offices are being closed down across the country, and only last month Hazel Blears said that rules to protect the countryside should be torn up so more homes can be built on green belt land, just so they can meet their self-set targets to build 662,500 homes in the South East by 2026 - a figure which is actually 14% over the most intensive development local councillors wanted to accept.

The reality of the loss of our traditions, for me lies in the demise of the traditional British pub, the closure of local Post Offices and the fact ‘chain’ coffee shops are more popular than tea shops.  As once ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ we are now slave to the supermarkets, our strong British work ethic is harder to find in today’s teenagers, and the image of politeness and decorum for which we used to be known around the globe, has metamorphosed into the brash, brawling, intoxicated Brit abroad.   

I could go on for days, but I would like to hear what you think about all this.  Should the Government attempt to rebrand Britishness?  Are they doing enough to protect our British ways of life? What does being British mean to you? And in our rapidly changing society, what traditions do you think we have lost, and which ones would you like to see preserved?

You can share your thoughts in the comment box below, or email me at editor@50connect.com

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