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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world

Articles and Briefings

Global Britons?

Source: Global Thinking, The FPC Newsletter

The Foreign Policy Centre has embarked on a yearlong study of British-ness. What does it mean to be British in multicultural, post-devolution Britain? Is "Britishness" a historical convenience invented for the Age of Empire? We asked these questions at seminars in Birmingham and Manchester. Music impresarios rubbed shoulders with inner city headmasters, Afghan Refugees swapped experiences with Birmingham school kids. Luckily, someone remembered to bring along the tape recorder:

There was a newspaper society survey only last month that said that the vast majority of the British population live, work and play within just a 14 mile radius of their home. BBC local radio strives to give each community an outlet to express its views simply by picking up the phone. That often makes us a crucial lifeline for everyone in the community when major news affects their lives. I believe BBC radio came into its own in the last year partly because of the three 'f's, floods, fuel and foot and mouth" One farmer's wife in Shropshire wrote to me, calling her local radio station the only sanity in a time of gossip and muddled media hysteria. The unprecedented popularity for BBC local radio and BBC regional television is evidence of something quite real that is happening amidst all the sound and the fury of the current debate about Britishness"

Andy Griffee, Controller of BBC English Regions - Global Britain Manchester Seminar

This year The Guardian arranged a conference to discuss the report on the North-South divide, and guess what? It still exists. It's about poverty up here and not so much poverty down there. Shock horror. The report basically was saying, yes, our city centres have undergone lots of regeneration, really happening, bar culture, you know, Manchester bars have shiny floors. But you drive a couple of miles out of those wonderful city centres, and there is real poverty and real problems. But the report also shows that over the last 30 years, GDP per capita in the regional cities of France has grown slightly more than that in the very high profile and very happening city of Paris. So why, does Northern England have a growing poverty gap with the Southeast of England when the French don't? It is entirely because of the serious commitment to devolution of power, and because of the existence of mayors. I've always thought my feelings were emotional and tribal, but they are practical and real.

Tony Wilson, Founder of Factory Records and Cultural Entrepreneur

The whole problem it seemed to me with the multicultural discourse in the 21st century is that it assumes that there is a thing called the nation that is largely white. Whereas the rest of us are delighting in our differences all the time, having our separate schools in this very strange country called multicultural Britain, playing marbles in the ghetto and not interfering with the nation. And so there is talk about setting up these black cultural centres in London in places such as Tower Hamlets. Excuse me, why should my son who is twenty three, who grew up here, went to Edinburgh, why should he go to a place deliberately designated for him as a black cultural centre? Why should that be the assumption? He may want to go there, he may not. He may want to go to the national theatre and see Chekhov but with a very integrated cast. Pray, what's the point of having an arts centre in a place which is deprived and angry, which has so many white people of various sorts who feel let down by the new economy and so on, and placing a black arts centre in the middle of such an area. How many minutes before it's going to be vandalised, how many hours before people are going into it are going to be resented?"

Yasmin-Alibhai Brown, Senior Researcher, The Foreign Policy Centre

One of the things that people have to pull away from in this society is the fact that the traditional rivalries that existed from the subcontinent and other places people have come from, really aren't functional in this day and age anymore. Those things have to be overcome. We need to look at how children are going to be able to grow up in this society to be able to work together. I quite appreciate people wanting to pass on their heritage, their culture, and their religion to the children: there is nothing wrong with that. What one should do it take the best of that. Only last weekend there was the Diwali festival here. We have the Eid festival in Birmingham and the Carribean festival. So we have a variety of all those things. But do we get many people from the Hindu community coming to the Eid festival, and vice versa? I think some of the funding streams still need to reflect that. I'll be pushing for some of the funding that goes out into individual organisations to allow organisations and people to link together and to be more representative – issues related to communities as a whole, not segregated communities

Khalid Mahmood MP

I actually think the cricket test is a false test. How can I possibly say that all my life I have done other than support England? I spent 22 years as a doctor near Paddington station. Half of my practice was in Notting Hill where I got more and more involved in my local community, particularly when young black people where swept up by the police, and you could hear the police jumping up and down on them in the police vans. They asked me to come and examine them to make sure they were all right, as their families were worried. The more I got involved in Notting Hill, the more I found myself rooting for the West Indies and I have to say that when England are playing the West Indies, I have no problem, I could root for both. I think that's terribly important. It's a false test, why should I have to pick one or the other, I can support both sides in my view.

Richard Stone, Chairman of the Stone-Ashdown Trust