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Global Britons Manchester Seminar

Article by Foreign Policy Centre

September 15, 2006

Mark Leonard: This is the first in a series of seminars which is going to form the backbone of the Global Britons Programme, a year long research project which aims to revisit the notion of Britishness and explore what an inclusive British identity means in practice for political cultural and public institutions. During the course of the next 6 months we are going to be holding similar forums in the Midlands, London, in Scotland and in Wales. And at the end of that process, and of a process of research a report will be published in 2002, which tries to draw some of the lessons from each of these events.

This programme is taking place on the 50th anniversary of the Festival of Britons and in the shadow of debates which have been very fractious and important over the last few years about devolution and about asylum, about Europe and more recently the experiences in towns such as Oldham and Bradford. The title and the form of this programme reflect the need for a different approach to the celebrations in 1951. The idea behind the tittle is to start with the people who inhabit Britain rather than the institutions, to put the spotlight on the nation and regions of Britain rather than simply seeing it as a London based phenomenon, and also to try to define the values and the qualities that will allow Britons to thrive in a global context, rather than trying to define some kind of homogenous unchanging identity for a centralised nation. But these events aren’t meant to be abstract debates about British identity, they are meant to bring together practitioners from all sorts of different works of life to discuss how diversity and identity can be looked at in practical terms, and what it means for politics and politicians, for schools and academic centres, religious organisations, for the arts world for broadcasters and the media, and for public, private and voluntary sector and for policy makers as they go about their business.

This seminar is very much a collaboration between organisations form different parts of the country and from different walks of life, between Aurora, the BBC (who are kindly sponsoring this and also playing an active part in thinking about these issues as one of the institutions that carry and promote Britishness, one of the most obviously British institutions), The Foreign Policy Centre and the Stone Ashdown Trust.

The idea behind this really, is to try and move away from a lot of the soul searching and nostalgia and some of the more fruitless attempts to define what the British genius actually means in the abstract, and to look at what it means in practice. It’s based on a very firm belief that this shouldn’t just be questions for the seminar room or the academic paper, because they have a real impact on our decision and policies in specific situations, but should be based on the idea that we are not actually going to be able to settle many of the most important policy questions of our age – from adoption policy to joining the Euro, from school curriculum to whether we should send troops to Kosovo, from immigration rules to news programming. Until we’ve resolved many of these basic questions about what it means to be British, what our attitudes to diversity are and how we actually go about adopting those concepts in practice. I think it goes beyond even important questions, which have occupied a lot of media attention, such as asylum and immigration, or whether we need a Northwest Assembly. It is about creating a framework through which very very important questions about distribution, representation can be resolved, and for that reason will hopefully form the bedrock on which almost all policy decisions and policy discussions are based, and a lens through which these things are seen.

That’s why I think it’s particularly important that we do have a national debate about it, because often what happens is different groups will have debates and discussions amongst themselves and this is something which is a shared discourse, which everyone takes part in. Yasmin’s written very eloquently about how, certainly in multiculturalism debates, it tends to be people from so-called ‘ethnic minorities’ often talking to themselves, with white people seeing themselves as a homogenous block that doesn’t need to engage with these issues, rather than actually exploring the diversity within those communities and the questions which arise between them.

Andy Griffee: I guess the first thing I’d like to do is apologise for my job title: ‘Controller of BBC English Regions’. It’s hardly a job title that resonates with concepts of democracy, diversity and open-mindedness. However any temptation on my part to believe it signifies anything at all is quickly undermined at home, where my children call me the Fat Controller. And my wife who is actually moving house today without me, she’s moving house on behalf of us but without me, refers to me as the remote controller.

First of all let me say this, that there’s never been a better time to be the Controller responsible for two and a half thousand staff working across 40 BBC local radio stations and 11 television regions that the BBC runs in England. Why? Quite simple because we have record high audiences for a start. Each week on average 32million viewers, that’s almost 60% of the population, tune in to watch their BBC regional television news programme. The BBC regional news at 6.30 is the most popular news programme on British television, that’s national or ITV. And even here in the Northwest, so-called ‘Granada Land’, Gordon Burns and BBC Northwest Tonight, will occasionally get more than a million viewers to one of its evening programmes at 6.30 and always beats its Granada rival. In local radio, we also have much to celebrate. One in five of the population tunes in to the BBC local radio station each week. BBC local radio’s share of the total radio market is now 12%, again a record high, all the more dramatic when you consider the explosion in the number of commercial local radio stations.

BBC local radio credits that success frankly by investing in intelligent news and speech about the places that people work, live and play. 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. Now, I am drawing your attention to that unprecedented popularity for BBC local radio and BBC regional television, not to gloat, well a bit, but to actually suggest that it’s evidence of something quite real that is happening amidst all the sound and the fury of the current debate, the debate that we are involved this afternoon about Britishness, about Englishness, devolution, diversity, and sense of identity.

After the events of last week, the world seems quite terrifyingly small. We have global terrorism, global alliances, global technologies, multinational giants whose commercial best interests lie in producing more of the same for as many people as possible. And yet as the terrible news came in from America last Tuesday, I know so many people who just instinctively reached out for the comfort, contact, and the connection of their friends, families and communities. I think, perhaps, this explains why the popularity of our local programmes and services is so high at the same time that the forces of globalism seem so strong. Tom Peters describes global and local as flip sides of the same coin, saying that as people feel increasingly bewildered and powerless in the face of such global forces they will reach out for and renew or rediscover the values of their local networks. And you cannot begin to reflect those global networks unless you truly value, nurture and cherish those things that fundamentally make people different. So we cherish the differences of voice, the differences of accent, language, faith, geography, and the distinctive culture or attitudes. Because as a local broadcaster it defines us, and it defines our audiences.

Political devolution has of course given shape to some of the larger national differences within the UK, and as the British Broadcasting Corporation we had to decide how we were going to respond to those constitutional changes, in the event BBC devolution was perceived by the BBC as an opportunity rather than as something to be feared or resisted. The BBC spent 22 million pounds more on a package of new programmes and services, which would report, analyse and interpret the Scottish parliament and Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies. We also sensitised all of our staff to the new and complex division of governmental responsibilities with special road shows which went to every corner of Britain as well as to every corner of broadcasting house and television centre. These also proved of enormous help in taking staff on a journey, which now sees network programmes doing much more to reflect the new UK to audiences across the UK.

In places like Scotland too many people thought the BBC was too Londoncentric. And before you say it, yes, in places like the Northwest too many people still think the BBC is too London centric. but I personally believe that the devolution genie is out of the bottle. Devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hasn’t just re-awakened a vigorous debate about Englishness but has been happening in parallel with the growing importance of regional development agencies, the arrival of the first elected mayor of an English city, and I am sure the eventual arrival of regional assemblies.

The BBC must respond to this devolution as well. How? Briefly, well first the BBC will continue to fulfil a distinct role as a national broadcaster by providing the part of the glue which binds Britain together. This actually means doing better at reflecting the diverse parts of Britain back to the whole, and that’s why more BBC television drama is being set here in the north of England. Mersey Beat is the latest example, Linda Green comes to air very soon. There are a lot more northern dramas in production and in planning. It’s also why our new factual radio production unit is now to be based in Manchester by the end of the year aiming to make radio 4 a lot less Londoncentric.

The second distinct role for the BBC is an international one. As one of the few British institutions which has world wide reputation which brings great credit to Britain, not least via the BBC World Service and its 46 language services. But the third distinct role for the BBC is of course, its Britain’s most extensive local and regional broadcaster. Apart from our current record high audiences, that’s why its’ a great time to be Controller BBC English regions. My 186 million pounds annual budget was enhanced this year by a further 12milion pounds. That money has enabled us to begin rolling out as many as 50 new local on-line sites, Manchester being one of the first. Down the road in Blackburn we’ve opened our first centre and mobile zone, new facilities that provide education and training in digital technology to anyone who wants it. The pilot has been so successful that nine other local stations in the north of England are going to get one too.

We’ve doubled the length of our late evening regional new bulletin at 10.30, and we’re launching more local radio and TV services in many parts of the country. As being part of this national debate about identity, next year, every single one of our 40 local radio stations will be putting out their own special documentary series called Sense of Place. We have many other expansion plans in the pipeline for BBC local and for north of England, but as the DG himself is going to be announcing during these during the coming weeks, I will refrain from talking about them now.

Finally, last week Tessa Jowell gave approval for the BBC to develop the BBC Asian Network into a national digital radio station. This station began as a tiny service out of Radio Leicester just five years ago with a handful of staff and a meagre budget. For me its growth and success into becoming a network station epitomises the fact that we have responded as no other broadcaster has to challenge of major changes in the structure of the UK. But more importantly perhaps we have recognised the need to invest more in reflecting the true richness of life and culture in every community. Thank very much.

Andrew Miller: One of the things that disturbs me tremendously as an expatriate Londoner, somebody who moved to this area in 1977, is how remote this 200 miles makes us, and as Mark said, this taking place as we are on the 50th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, it makes me sort of think a little further because a that time I lived outside of Britain and didn’t move in back into the UK until 1959. So as a young teenager I found may of the people that grew up in my parent’s hometown in Ealing and Southall in west London were culturally part of Britain, where I was the outsider. So subsequently as a young man living on the south coast of England, did I ask myself whether I was British or not? Well it didn’t cross my mind. There was a presumption that I guess comes with years of living overseas, but in an environment where Britain was a colonial power, course I was British despite the fact I’d live outside the country all of this time.

When I first moved to the Northwest in 1977, it was a huge cultural shock because I just realised how different parts of Britain were and I’d been active in politics at that time – a dozen or so years – at the time I would have said quite unequivocally there is no need for any of these daft regional assemblies ideas, Britain is a single homogenous nation … is it heck? You have to travel around a bit to realise not just how diverse it is, but how disadvantaged some of the regional players are in terms of some of the important debates that will confront us the next few years. I suppose returning back to my opening remark I would fail the Tebbit test, because when I first came up here I found myself supporting Portsmouth as a football club and Hampshire as a cricket club. I don’t do that too loudly these days, but it makes me reflect how young people in particular, want on the one hand to retain their roots in the background and the culture they were brought up in, but at the same, time absorb and become more and more part of the society in which they live. And are the two mutually contradictory? No they’re not!

One sees some difficulties when cultures start to mix and I was just thinking of my youngest son. I remember Eddie’s first day of primary school in the Northwest, he’d done one term of school on the south coast of England and he talked with a very heavy Portsmouth accent at that time. And so he had this very heavy southern accent, went to school on his first day, came home absolutely full of tears. Nobody in his class could understand him. There he was a five year old having difficulty communicating, and yet it’s not about how children play, how they start to develop a shared identity and so on, but it’s how they make that first connection. And somewhat later I remember my daughter in France solving this problem, at the time when she spoke a little bit of French and the children with her spoke a little bit of English, they solved this problem of playing games at night by inventing a game called bilingual scrabble. Children can make things work and become part of a single group, but at the same time retaining their chosen cultural identity and languages.

As a young person I suppose I saw a curious side of Britain, as I said it was mostly based upon Britain as the principle Commonwealth player at the time in the Mediterranean. I didn’t really experience some of the worst sides of the British psyche, the white British psyche should I say until I moved to the Northwest. I remember my first few weeks in Liverpool I was staying at a hotel and the landlord couldn’t quite understand, when he was talking to me, why it was I had enjoyed myself the year before quite so much living in Stoke Newington. And I realised at the very early stage of this conversation that the roots to his observations were clearly racist when eventually he said to me ‘didn’t you have any real problems?’ I said no, I didn’t have any problems because my brother-in-law with whom I was living is 6 foot 6’ and comes from Barbados. The fellow never spoke to me after that and it seemed to sort of solve the problem. But it just struck me as extraordinary in the centre of Liverpool, a city with an extraordinarily rich cultural diversity, with a Chinese population in particular, that goes back in time longer than the Irish population.

I do get concerned by the use of some language. I have written down two words that deeply concern me in terms of last week’s tragic events. On the one hand the use of the word ‘holy war’ and on the other hand the use of the word ‘crusade’, an abuse of the English language on both parts if I ever heard them.
We’ve got to find ways of communicating with people on issues of the macro level and at the micro level in a way that avoids the complications that can emerge if we don’t get the language right because I think, if I can just finish on this point, I think that we’ve got to make sure that the forces that on the one hand attract some of the neo-nazi group and the forces that attract some of the fundamentalists groups are kept at bay. And we will only do that by engaging with people, making sure that their needs and aspirations are fully met.

Anthony Wilson: First of all I get confused by language as well. I think there is an implicit confusion right at the heart of this. I am going to ask this – Which word are we using? British? Or English? I am using the word English. Are we English or British?

Michael Woods the TV historian has a very lovely book at the moment, full of delightful essays on Glastonbury, and other things English, in which he makes a very specific point: now that the Welsh and the Scots have devolution we are English again. First of all the Michael Woods book is fascinating. I’m English. I know that as well, I too have always felt I am English and I’m going to talk about knowing yourself in the same way that this region of Britain absolutely knows who it is and what it is. I’ve never felt Scot, or felt Welsh, I feel English, and I think suddenly we have to come to terms with that. We need to decide at a meeting like this whether we are talking about Britain or about England, and by my concept of England I also mean what I call ‘New English’ or something, which is precisely revelling in the multiculturalism of my region.

This isn’t about tribes and emotional things. For example, I am always interested in the fact that the British public or the English public don’t want the Euro. Nevertheless, the British who went to Europe for the weekend found it very useful how to ask prices in Euro because they didn’t have to work out or look in the currency chart.

It has long occurred to me that if you ask the British public ‘Do you want monetary union?’ they don’t give a toss. Monetary Union is not a problem for the British public, but loosing the word ‘pound’ is. The only person other than me I have ever heard say this is actually Michael Woods in his book. Have we ever asked people if we had monetary union and we had a thing called a pound, and the pound and the franc were exactly the same value, would you have a problem with it?

So I am talking about the emotions of regions and the emotions of tribes and how it all works. I have spoken about knowing who we are. The Northwest of England knows exactly who it is where it is, where it is and what it is. There is slight confusion because North Wales is part of England’s Northwest. However we know exactly who we were and where we are. England’s Northwest is all the people who live in this area on this side of the Pennines, on top of it you’ve got the Lake District and at the bottom of it you’ve got the nice life land of Cheshire where all the rich buggers live.

We know exactly who we are, our identity is engrained in all of us who were brought up here, and I’m sure infiltrates into anybody who has been here more than a few months. The Northwest doesn’t have to invent itself; it is here already in some completeness. Now, I always like a quote from Sir Bob Scott who I sometimes don’t get on with, but on this occasion I’ll remind myself again what a wonderful speaker he is. And he used to always say there are two kinds of cities in the world; there are those in countries where the capital is not the main town, and there are cities in countries where the capital is the main town.

If your capital is Ottawa, then Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver can thrive. If your capital is Washington, then New York, Chicago, LA can thrive. If your capital’s London, then you are screwed in my humble opinion. This is seen to be an emotional thing. When we read our newspapers, and our newspapers are national, (it’s a joke), national newspapers. The news from the art galleries, which art galleries are in our national newspapers, etc, etc, etc which is the most important gallery in Britain? The Tate Modern. Where do you get all these ideas from, where it was all experimented with, The Tate Liverpool. Anyone know that? Anyone say it? Of course they don’t. We live in this kind of situation. Now when I thought about that, I also had this truly emotional tribalism on my part. Like the need to actually be aggressive towards the South was somehow, I felt purely emotional and was okay, until one night about 4 months ago, in the theatre over here, directly under our feet, very wonderful small theatre, The Guardian arranged a conference to discuss the report on the North-South divide, and hey guess what? It still exists. It’s about poverty up here, and not so much poverty down there. Shock horror. It was bit of a shock since we obviously have had wonderful regeneration in our northern cities, which we are very proud of. 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. The report said, you drive those roads, you drive a couple of miles out of those wonderful city centres, and there is real poverty and real problems.

I came along to talk about the report and made one of the gaffs, for which I am famous and stupid, in that I sat opposite Professor Brian Robson, Vice Chancellor of Manchester University, and he said what do you think of the report, and I said well saying that it is still dismal up north is typical of these bloody southerners. Now I actually agree with the report, but began like that. And Professor Robson said; ‘It’s my report’. Well I retreated very quickly into my shell, but having done my research and read the one page précis of the report, on the metro coming here, I spotted in paragraph five a most extraordinary paragraph, and that paragraph was about France, and the actual report was about five pages. And when I arrived with quotes from Bob Scott, I would often use the example, and not if you live in a country where London is the capital, I would usually say; If you live in a country where Paris is both capital and main city, and you live in Lyon, you’re screwed. But guess what this report in some detail says? It 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. And that to me was a shock. So in my embarrassment at accusing Brian Robson of being a bloody Southerner I said ‘excuse me sir could you tell that very weird statistic, I was shocked, is that actually…I am sure it’s true, but isn’t strange.’ He said, ‘It is strange, and it’s central to our report. I said ‘so why, why do we have a growing poverty gap with the Southeast of England and our capital city, and why don’t the French?’ And he said it would almost appear to be entirely because of the serious commitment to devolution of power, and because of the existence of mayors, those two things. I’ve always thought my feelings were emotional and tribal, and to hell with those people down the bottom of the M1. They are actually not emotional, they are practical and real. And we as individuals are impoverished by the divide of power and the concentration of image and impact on our centralised country, on our centralised state of London.

If I talk about real devolution for one moment, real devolution is not assembling a very large bunch of the great and the good. I despise the great and the good, they are Britain’s last great disease or England’s last specialist disease. The people themselves who are the Great and the Good, some of them are my dear friends, they are wonderful individuals, wonderful people who, on their own in businesses and companies have achieved great things. You put them round a table in a committee and they are the dead hand on British culture. It’s a simple fact of life, it doesn’t exist. However, it exists in Scotland and Wales, it’s our problem, it’s doesn’t exist on the continent. I was overjoyed when Mandelson lost out because of the Dome. Mrs. Thatcher had done her bit to distance herself from the great and the good culture, and when New Labour came to power, they had two choices. And the choice was to snuggle right up to the old Great and the Good, and that to me was a dreadful thing. It was the Great and the Good – because I met them – who built the Dome – the most ridiculous waste of effort, time and money.

I want to say one or two more things. To get this regional government, which is so obvious, we have to fight, and there’ll be many people fighting against real regional government. When government is out of office, wonderful are theories of giving away power, of devolution. As soon as they get power, it becomes a lot harder. I always said the Scots and the Welsh got under the gate before it closed. I think the gate is partially closed, I know that Blair and his people are making statements about devolution (no money for it); I’ll believe it when I see it.

A second force to fight against will be some of our regional MPs. Not all of them I hope. Power is intoxicating and it is very difficult. And even that one area of having mayors, which no one doubts is one of the prime reasons why the regional cities and the regions of France have not declined into a poverty gap with the big boys in Paris. In some of our cities, not this one, the one just across the way there, we are not allowed to talk about mayors. Delightfully in Liverpool they are much more intelligent, they really discuss mayors, they have meetings about it until you get the feeling about it that those guys over there figured out what our guys over here are doing, which is: don’t mention mayors because you will loose out as well. Why on earth would you be allowed to discuss mayors, if the mayor is not going to come from the present ruling group in a particular city?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: I think one of the first things I want to say, and this is not in anyway patting ourselves on the back, is that a group like this is rarely seen anywhere discussing these themes, and I think we should be extremely appreciative. We are more or less equal in terms of gender. But also, quite remarkably, suited, extremely distinguished, powerful white men are seating side by side with a whole range of women, I guarantee, quite a lot of them will never have actually exchanged real ideas.

I am going to take on a few of the points made, and also explain why Global Britons came about. I, for the last five years, have been on a kind of journey trying to work through what is happening to Britain, what is happening to all of us, where we’re headed, and what some of the pitfalls are, and how what seems right at one moment on this journey through a changing country that we now inhabit, and ours is not the only country that is changing. What seems right at a certain time in our development actually becomes a terribly difficult problem and an obstacle just a couple of years on.

I was at the IPPR four years ago, and I wrote a book called True Colours, which was a very sort of simple book in some ways, looking at how politicians had singularly failed since 1948 particularly, to inform, enlighten, engage with the British population, so that fifty years on from the Windrush, and that was of course not the beginning of immigration – you know ever since Francis Drake went out on that boat in search of spices and sex and whatever it was that drove the Brits out, this country diverse from that day – but let’s take ’48 as the beginning of the most recent massive change, that politicians throughout that period had played games, had not engaged with, had not consulted either with white or with black Britons, and that the failures we now see are entirely due to that complete and criminal neglect on their part – cowardice and a peculiar kind of self-interest.

That was book number one, but as I kind of looked at it more, I began to realise almost as the book was written and published, we were already on to a different landscape, where it was no longer enough just to talk about multiculturalism, that since devolution was being discussed and coming to fruition, the whole landscape was changing, and old multiculturalism, the way we spoke about it, and the way it had become a kind of solution in some ways to this problem of the strange people who arrived with Windrush and thereafter, people who one could never actually understand, and therefore we had to kind of give them a little space called ‘multiculturlal spaces’, that that was also outliving its usefulness and was creating a new set of problems. So when I came to The Foreign Policy Centre, one of the first things I did was to write a short pamphlet called After Multiculturalism, which deals with many of the issues that have been raised very eloquently, which were very much to do with knowing ourselves, knowing yourself as an individual, the multiple alliances and identities that we all have, the emergence of an English identity, and you know I was very pleased that Anthony brought that up because one of the first things I wrote about three years ago was; let us look at the English, let the English look at themselves. And by that I do not mean myself, I do not think of myself in English, I don’t want to be English, I have no problems with the English developing their own identity, I feel very comfortable being British because I think for me and you know this is my view and of course other people may disagree, that the British identity has become some kind of canopy identity many of us like Bedouin tribes are trading under that canopy. I think that for me feels most comfortable.

So I completely agree that the emerging English identity has got to be encouraged and that it’s completely and utterly wrong that every time the English talk about wanting an identity, liberals, particularly down in the hated South, start panicking and saying that they are all going to turn out to be football hooligans. I think that is childish and probably extremely unwise.

The whole problem it seemed to me with the multicultural discourse in the 21st century is this: that it assumes that there is a thing called the nation, and I can’t remember which one of the speakers said we are in the business now of building a new nation, but that nation is largely white. And if you are not white you think that all whites are the same, they are all privileged, all powerful and they all have an identical set of attitudes. A couple of them may marry one or two of us, but actually when the chips are down the whites are kind of this homogenous lump. Whereas the rest of us are different, very different, delighting in our differences all the time, dancing our dances, having our separate schools in this very strange country called multicultural Britain, very far away from the centre, somewhere in the fringes, really, you know, playing marbles in the ghetto and not interfering with the nation. I think that’s terribly unhelpful for everybody because I don’t believe it fair anymore to talk about a white identity for all the reasons we’ve heard described so eloquently. Nor is it useful to talk about our cultures in terms of non-white Britons as steadfast, standing still, enclosed, so precious that we cannot surrender any bits of it, needing to be preserved in some sort of extremely expensive vinegar. I think we have to be very careful of that kind of thinking, because of course policies come out of that, damaging policies come out of that. I have been in a huge quarrel with Ken Livingston recently because he’s simply defrosted his anti-racist policies that he put into a freezing compartment whenever he was last in power. I have a lot of admiration for Ken, but I think when it comes to his race and culture in politics he just took the freezer top away, box out and defrosted it. He has simply not understood how London is now a very different place from the place he knew.

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 is happening quite a lot, not enough, a little bit, you know see Chekhov but with a very integrated cast, that is what he might want to see. Pray, what is the political sense in going to a place like Tower Hamlets which we all know about, just kind of became at one time like Oldham now is or Burnley – a symbol of deprivation and separation. 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 do feel let down by the new economy and so on, 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 are going to be resented. Why can we not have, as somebody said, I can’t remember was it you? A sense of place. Build a sense of place and localities, a shared sense of space where you can of course, like I said, excel in trading your differences, exchanging ideas, getting together on some projects and separating out on others.

I think it is extremely important to move beyond the idea of multiculturalism of the traditional sort and think about another place, and that completely bring us to the regional assemblies and identity issues. But here I then pause because I am not overly romantic about the idea of regions and local politics unless people are extremely self-aware. You know there was this great romance about Scotland and the Scottish parliament, and I’m delighted that the Scottish have found their nation again, and incidentally I must congratulate the BBC for the way they handled that whole change and how very subtly the way Scotland and Wales began to be reported and described completely changed from the way it was a year before devolution. You know it is depressing when you look at Scotland today from where I stand. You have a wonderful new parliament, which is all white. The very fact that everybody including left-thinking liberals was enthusiastic about this devolution in Scotland is no reason not to be very critical.

In this country how can it be that the Welsh assembly ended up being all white? I know that they had Shirley Bassey singing away when it was opened, but that doesn’t seem for me good enough really. There are other problems. I mean, I think the Yorkshire identity is a very interesting one. The pride is remarkable, but that pride, if it is part of an ancient Yorkshire pride, which is often you know: I’m a Yorkshire man, I speak my mind, which I often hear from some of the worst columnists who attack me in the papers, I don’t’ want that kind of pride thank you very much whether it’s Yorkshire or Pakistani. Those are damaging and extremely dividing things that ought not to be encouraged. I think there is a danger of overly exaggerated ethnic identities for the same reason. I am delighted there are so many black and Asian women in the audience because of course whenever anyone talks about ethnic groups or religious groups the only people they’re ever speaking to – and forgive me the gentlemen from these communities in the room – it is always the blokes who are out there speaking on our behalf. The whole of Burnley happened, the whole of Oldham happened, did you see anything about what the women were thinking? Did any woman tell you how she was feeling as a Muslim in those areas? So it’s like when the aliens land, take me to your leader, as long as we remain aliens there will this idea of take me to you leader and the leader will always be middle-aged, self-selected and a bloke who doesn’t speak to the women.

I think there are great dangers of an exaggerated, and a very old-fashioned sense of what community means. Out of all the European tribes the English have been the most promiscuous culturally and sexually. They now have the highest rates of mixed race love affairs any where in the western world. They also love curry. They’ve made it their national food. No other European tribe had ever done that. But the problem with that is of course because it’s been so porous; the reactions against diversity are also ugliest in parts of England. It’s almost as though things have gone too far. And we do have to take these things extremely seriously. So I don’t believe that the solution is going to be only in devolution, I don’t like this idea of the four nations either, thank you very much because it puts us down the ladder again into fourth class, fifth class citizens. I don’t think one should talk about a four nation country, we are much more complicated than that. Yes let’s encourage a sense of place, let’s encourage localities, let’s encourage regional identities, but always as a censor for changing region not an ancestral blue heart version that we are getting increasingly in Scotland or the ‘I’m a Yorkshire man’ that you might get in Yorkshire and other places.

I still feel incredibly committed to the idea of Britain. It’s ironic these days, more black and Asian people are more proud to call themselves British than a lot of English people, Scottish people and Welsh people. So just as the white Britons are disengaging from this identity, the old children of the empire are kind of grabbing it. We really love this Britishness I must tell you, we love the flag these days, which is so ironic and very interesting in how history produces something like the empire and a relationship like a kind of good and bad marriage which has brought us here, which made people go there, and in the end that Britishness maybe, will be fought for hardest by people like myself who feel that it is this canopy identity.

I’ve had a very interesting experience this week, and some of you will be aware of it, I was on the infamous, actually, I thought one of the most brilliant Question Times last week, and have had an extraordinary time since then, both good and bad, over 1,000 e-mails saying it was a wonderful programme from all sorts of people. But a lot of very unpleasant reactions too. The unpleasantness of the reactions have been fascinating. Underneath the objections was this idea that Question Time, Any Questions, and some of these key programmes belong to white Britain. This is where the white Good and the Great sit and talk in a nice English way, to polite English people. It is not a place where somebody like me sits on a panel, and certainly not a place where women in hijabs start expressing emotional things. For God’s sake where is the country going? And I thought that was such an interesting event because it goes back to what I started to say right at the top, that if we believe we are making a new nation, and that that nation demands of us equal participation, we need to be equally self-critical and I mean extremely self-critical. For instance about some of the ways the Muslim community has behaved, is in danger of behaving, otherwise we will fail in the enterprise, and we will get many more Oldham and all sorts of other splits because we would have generated this idea that every community be it English or Scottish or the groups in Northern Ireland has an absolute right to behave badly because they you know they’ve got these cultural rights.

So really the final point is that I think the British Identity is even more important as we develop the localities, regions, and devolved Britain. Also, because all of us non-white Britons in this room – I’m sorry the terms are awful but there are no other easy terms – are changing everyday single day of our lives. There is no way any of us can believe that we can maintain a kind of thermos flask of something called culture. Everybody, even my 80yr old mother has changed more than any body else in our family. Since she started watching Coronation Street on the day she landed, her values changed. I am not exaggerating. She has bought Bob Geldoff’s picture and put it next to Allah on her wall. Those are the two people she most admires. And therefore the idea of us being in cultural pots also is ridiculous. All of this will inevitably require a real thrust to make us more equal, to give us all access to power and influence and to demand of us a kind of loyalty to citizenship culture rather than these funny little cultures that we’ve been made to be committed to thank you.


Cllr Abdul Razak: I’m quite confused really at the opening remarks by everybody on the panel. I’ve got a leaflet in front of me that says Global Briton. Everyone’s talking about regional devolution. I don’t understand where all this is coming from. Up until the point I came here, I thought I was quite well within myself. I’m of Pakistani origin, I live in Britain and that’s my identity. What I’ve heard so far is: you are not only of Pakistani origin, but you’re English, you’re not quite English, but you have to be British as well. What do I contribute towards that Britishness? Hmmmm… I have this particular cultural value here, that’s nice, but I’m also asked to take on board more. What about the English or the British cultural values, how do the two things intermingle? So what I’d actually like to say here is if you’re going to talk about multiculturalism or multicultures and then you’re looking at English as well, then further devolving that into English regional or northwestern regional issues, how are you going to encompass everything in that? How are you going to take that all on board?
YAB: Right any other points? Thank you.
HB: Hilary Burrage from Hope Streets in Liverpool. I think, young people can say so, young people define themselves by activity and interest as their elders do. My daughter is in Amsterdam today, she was in Helsinki last week. She works with people of every possible ethnic origin and or genders in fact in a professional capacity in a team of that sort. I think those identities are as strong for young people, in other words for the generation that is growing up as other identities are, such as having a mom who comes from Winchester. And perhaps that encompasses every single one of us in this room, in one way or another professional teams, action teams, arts teams, informal teams, because of the way people can expand their communication far greater than before and in far different mixes of identity. I think we should welcome and encourage that alongside our own local needs and regional needs, which are also critical.
YAB: Can I just say one thing, I was going to, at the end of the seminar talk about the global side of it. I’m not neglecting that, but returning the point about the young people that you’ve made; there was an MTV survey and another survey I think last year of young people across Europe and what was very alarming is that, I’m sure what you’ve said is true, is that young British people came out most xenophobic, and most non-internationalist out of all the other young Europeans. So I think I’m sure in some ways what you’re saying is true, but some of the evidence we’re getting is that it’s not necessarily so.


AW: I’m just aware that while I talked about regionalism and the rest of it, history of politics, everything, the global dimension, these seem to based around their emotions and wanting to be parts of families, and our life and everything that means anything to us is a series of serial families. I’m absolutely aware that Manchester vs. Salford, Manchester and Salford vs. Liverpool, Manchester, Salford and Liverpool the northwest vs. those buggers on the other side of the Pennines. And there’s this row of serial families from which we all take strength. The more dis-empowered we are, the more we take strength from the wrong family groups, the wrong gangs where we find solace and whatever else. What I’m very much aware of is when we talk about post-multiculturalism, is that it is movie called East is East which was made just outside these windows here. And in it, it had that vision of the revolt of young kids, ethnic kids against the family traditions. I wonder whether we all felt at ease with the fact that somehow that was the way it was, you know the McDonalds and drink and everything else would seep in and everything would be cool, and the walls would fall down. But what we find I think is that we all need families, and the more needs we have inside ourselves emotionally the more we find them. In some way in the last 10 years maybe more walls are going up, walls that make us feel good inside but then create the distinctions. I don’t have any answers to this, I’m just responding to that. But even the events at the World Trade Centre have to do with people who feel parts of families and how they experience that. I am just wondering my own little personal obsession in the region where I come from, that I want the England’s northwest to part of a region of Europe, whether there are thoughts of other families that might take away some of the families who fight against other families, just thoughts, if one could construct that or if is even possible within the emotions that human beings have.

Andrew Miller: If I may answer the question from the councillor, I think it was a perfectly sensible question. But the answer is that we need to just reflect on how rapidly the world’s changing. In the early 70s I was part of a campaign against Britain joining the European Union. By the mid-80s the effects of globalisation whether we like it or not had impacted Britain’s economy to such a degree that it would have been crazy for us to try and reverse and become an independent island state ever again. By 1988, places like Estonia right across the whole Soviet Empire, suddenly had thrust upon them the merits of otherwise of the western world. Despite the fact that the Right would claim that it was..that brought that the Soviet Empire, it was actually the power of modern communications that had more influence on real people’s desire to reach out and grab things that we take for granted in Britain. So the world is changing, it’s changing very rapidly and as a consequence we need to find the units that work in practical sense to match some of the advantaged that I’ve certainly seen in other parts of northern in Europe, in nations that are either a slightly smaller size or in some of the regions of France or the Lander in Germany. To just touch on the point that was made by our last speaker. I don’t think it was the case that Scotland and Wales slipped under the gate, unfortunately the political process, you and I as part of the political process failed to convince the Welsh in sufficient numbers that he assembly was a good idea. They are now beginning to realise that actually it was a good idea, the tide is slightly swinging back towards, say, a more positive yes but had there been a bigger yes in Wales I think we would have seen the role of the northeast and northwest much closer towards having a serious devolution debate here. I hope to see it come, and I say my principle in this huge rapidly moving, global entity that we live in, we need to find a unit that will practically work to deliver things for the people that we seek to represent here in the northwest.

ML: I think your point is right, that we are grappling with all sorts of different identities and I think Tony’s point earlier that a lot of those identities aren’t about place but there are different types of communities which are about what we do, what our values our, what our emotions are, there are all sorts of communities which could have completely disembodied and which are virtual networks etc. They are an important identity, but as these things go on, national identities, regional identities do become more important, because they are some of the only ways of creating the social glue, of having progressive politics which actually takes care of people who are left out, who start within auspicious beginnings, and which allows us to have institutions which do deliver for people, which re-distribute wealth, and which create a measure of social justice.

But in order for those institutions to exist and in order for us not to shatter into ever smaller tribes, we need to see identity as a constant battle-ground almost, a site of conflict, and it’s something to be engaged in. One of the things I think is really positive is that the centre-left within the UK has actually come to that realisation. Orwell used to complain that the English left were suckers for anyone’s nationalism but their own. And that they’d support any sort of liberation cause anywhere in the world, but were desperate not to engage in discussions about Englishness or Britishness. I think that’s a caricature but it’s quite a fair caricature of the way that liberals and the left have treated it. I’ve often had a sense that even in family that they’d rather sort of close their eyes and hold hands and hopefully wake up in a world where we’re all global citizens and internationalists, and there were not any types of nationalism or national identity. Of course that’s not true, and if the left and progressive voices disengaged from those discussions, other people will forge those identities and they will be identities that are not inclusive, which are defined by the Tebbit Cricket test or other sorts of hoops which people have to jump through. There will be negative and exclusive and will not deliver the sorts of things that we’re talking about.

That’s why I think it’s so important to have these discussions. One of my worries about the government for instance is that it’s very good on Britishness. Tony Blair is one of the first leaders of the Labour party to really take national identity seriously, to try and create a new set of myths, a new set of narratives which are about values, which are about the sorts of things we can all unite around, but which don’t exclude people. So it’s a very different sort of patriotism that he’s expressing. But there’s a certain defensiveness when it comes to different kinds of identity. For example the English identity is a debate where the government refused to engage in. If anyone mentions the idea of Englishness, they all say it’s nonsense, no one feels English, Scottish, Cornish, Welsh possibly, you know those are real identities, but Englishness isn’t a real identity. It is for some people, it isn’t for other people. But refusing to talk about it isn’t a solution. I think there are incredibly powerful reasons not to have an English parliament, and I’ll argue with anyone about whether we need an English parliament or not, but I think we have to have the same debate about Englishness that we had about Britishness and define that as an inclusive identity, which is about values, about other sorts of myth, rather than an ethnic identity. I mean apart from the fact that it would be a completely hopeless cause to try and turn it into an ethnic identity, given how promiscuous English people have been through out the ages. I think it’d be negative, I think the discussions you’re having about Northwestern identity are at another level. I think that fight has to be fought at every single level and that’s something which I think we need practitioners to engage with, so you have a debate which is about reality, about real choices, about ways of distributing things and that we cut through a lot of the myths which sometimes actually result in completely unfair and cosmetic decisions, which have been part of a lot of the old debates about identity, and where the left has actually often ended up supporting completely regressive and counterproductive policies in the name of social justice or multiculturalism.

JH: Jim Hancock, political editor of the BBC in the Northwest. If I could make a contribution on some of the detail about regional devolution and where we are or where we aren’t and tie it in with what we are talking about today in terms of diversity, because Tony has talked in general terms about his desire for mayors and regional government. I would just like to, as far as I can give you my perspective on it, tell you where we are on those two subjects and then maybe later on in our discussion we can actually find out whether people, particularly those from the diverse communities, actually care about it. One of the things I think these mayoral debates and regional government debates have completely lacked is contributions from the diverse communities in the Northwest as to whether they see it as valuable or not. In terms of mayors, the debate was basically being shut down in Manchester by a pact between Labour and the Liberal democrats. They were both opposed to the concept, formal consultation took place, there was a tiny response, and the issues died. Even more alarming in Liverpool which was at one time seen as…
AW: Tell the truth Jim, tell the truth, they announced in the Town Hall that 97% of Mancunians were not interested in mayors. And then some asked if they did a massive survey, and then people did a survey to find out if anyone had been surveyed, and no one had been surveyed, no one even knew it existed. They announced this on the front page of the evening news. The most thing disgraceful they’ve seen in years.
JH: In fact, the survey was allegedly done by people separate from the Town Hall. That is the position. In Liverpool where we saw it as being a pioneering concept, a democracy commission, a colleague of mine here, working very hard in a private capacity, once again very small turn out, no sign of it. Some people, Peter Killfoil said the powers – and this I think is crucial to this whole debate – the powers weren’t going to be there for the elected mayor, and that the boundaries were wrong. Moving on briefly to regional government. I think what many people who are advocating it are talking about is real power for a regional government, that is powers coming down from the government office Northwest, which presides over this region from their offices, which you can see in the Sunday buildings. They govern the Northwest, but those are the powers that would come down to regional government. There actually is, though you may not realise, a consultation at this time. If you feel really strongly about it, you can go to Carlyle on Friday and join the other twenty people who will turn up for a consultation. And I’m not saying this in a mocking way. I’m just telling you that this is actually going on at the moment. And my question perhaps to Andrew (Miller) at some point is, what has happened to the devolution agenda by the government? It seems to have ground to a standstill. This is my final point. I absolutely agree with Tony that what we do no want from a regional government is a regional government of the old faces of political parties, and I think some radical thinking would have to be done, like reserved places on these regional assemblies for particular interest groups. Now a final challenge is, if the government really do believe in this, why don’t they legislate on it. I mean we don’t legislate on laws to do with the home office and tax and all that sort of thing. If this is right for this country, let’s have legislation on elected mayors, let’s have legislation for English regional government, but it’s just something I am interested in hearing from other people as to whether anyone cares about it, because at the moment, those two concepts are going into the dust.
YAB: Right I’m going to actually be ruthless, and say we probably need to break up and discuss these details on the tables. I’m going to read out what we thought would be interesting to discuss at each table, and maybe people can choose which ones are most relevant to what they do.

· Is there any sense in talking about British identity, the shift towards regional, devolved, local and ethnic identities? Will the irreversible thrust of globalisation mean that this is a hollow can?
· Is there any point in thinking about an identity anyway? Linda Colley, the very fantastic writer and thinker thinks that we should just be talking about citizenship.
· Is it easier for regions and newly devolved nations to see themselves in Global terms rather than as uneasy and uncertain nations?
· The same question can be asked about the EU. Scotland seems to be easier about the EU, and Britain seems not to be. Is there a problem with the nation-state?
· How can the story of the nation, regional locality change in global terms without surrendering all that is unique about the areas and the people?
· Is protectionism needed to keep the balance? Do people in positions of power need to be thinking about interventions, projects, and deliberate policies to ensure that which is unique and the result of any important evolution is not swept away and ensure also that there is no perilous fall back into a frightened kind of conservatism?

Britain can be described in many ways. Each story brings with it implications for education, the arts, local government and culture. We could reinforce the myth that this country is an indomitable island-race that has an uninterrupted continuity and homogeneity and that all that has happened has become a threat. Or, the story could be of a place made and re-made through the arrival of various war-like or ambitious or dispossessed people, each wave adding another layer of interest, value, conflicts and challenges. Each will produce its own imperative, its own policies. The new internationalism of globalisation is not a wholly positive development. The tragedy in America is one example. When you have links worldwide, and you take up one set of grievances, and you can actually operate as a worldwide organisation through the Internet, you can see the dangers of that kind of globalisation. So I think we shouldn’t become too romantic. Neo-nazis know the importance of that kind of globalisation too.

Finally a quote from Gordon Brown, is it easier said than done? The quote is:

“As the Tebbit cricket test and the Stephen Lawrence case illustrate, there are those who would retreat from an expansive idea of Britishness into a constricted shell of right-winged English nationalism. My vision of Britain comes from celebrating diversity, in other words, a multi-ethnic and multinational Britain, as I understand Britishness, has been outward looking, open, internationalist, with a commitment to democracy and tolerance”.


1. Politics and Political Institutions: We’ve been discussing politics and political institutions and how we can involve people. I think at the end of the day if I was summing it up I would say that while there are people like me who are anoraks obsessed with structure and that sort of thing, the consensus was this: any question of devolution, elected mayors, issues like that had to relate to what services people wanted delivered and work from that basis. So find out what people want, how their services are not being delivered properly and work from the grass root up, and then see what institutions are appropriate to that sort of top down approach. In fact in many cases politicians are causing the division between people and people have got to come together for themselves and identify with each other rather than politicians dividing people.

There has to be talk about winning arguments or there is at the moment always talk about winning arguments and not enough about persuading people. One member of the group said in actual fact in this country, it’s extremely difficult to have consensual politics. Not only between parties, which perhaps one could not take much exception to, but even within political parties, that the dialogue has become very non-consensual.

We did discuss this need to define mechanisms to deliver services and then go for it, but then there was another view that it is difficult for people, unless the consultation mechanism was extremely sophisticated and well presented to actually bring people together. They need to be affected for it, otherwise it just becomes a dialogue of the middle class. An observation was made that single issue organisations like for instance, Friends of the Earth, have been very successful in enthusing people, getting members, campaigning, and that has been marked contrast to political parties. There was a feeling, in terms of more consensual politics in Britain that an opportunity had been missed with House of Lords reform to actually accurately reflect our diverse community.

We obviously, as I am sure other groups would have done, came to discuss the whole question of apathy in this country. It was felt that where areas have actually received urban aid money or single regeneration, that in those wards there was some evidence that there was a higher participation in politics than areas where less money had been spent. Rather than become discontented and involved, that sometimes communities where there is deprivation just turn off completely, and where if one begins to work with communities and reform you actually do generate aspirations for more involvement.

2. Media, Arts and Culture: Islam UK was an undertaken on the BBC especially in its regional and local broadcasting recently, and there was appreciation and welcome for it as an exercise. It was of great benefit, but the programme should really have been broadcast at more appropriate times, not between 2 and 4 in the morning. But there was also a need to build upon it, it was all a bit rather about having Islam UK as an exercise, as a sort of benchmark for the BBC to say, yes we recognise this large and important and indeed growing community but the question some colleagues posed was ‘what next?’ How do you build on it? How do you take that on?

There was a short discussion about radio phone-ins, in which some callers with more atavistic attitudes weren’t challenged enough and that presenters should do more to do that. One colleague expressed a fear that multiculturalism could degenerate into separatism and in the broadcasting sphere we had a chat about whether programmes which were designed for specific ethnic minority groups were really the best way ahead, and whether perhaps we should introduce these sort or programs into the main stream output, and not sort of put them in little broadcasting ghettos. Andy Griffee made the point that the old Reithian values of informing, entertaining and educating, upon which the BBC had been built over the last 70 odd years should be added to a fourth value, which was connecting. And finally there was an agreement that as broadcasters, the media should really stress and reinforce what w e have in common and not focus on that which divides us, so often and so much.

YAB: I think the connecting point is crucial. Since there are so many people in the BBC here, would the BBC have the nerve, to ever do a very challenging programme on Islam, which wasn’t just talking about what is wonderful about Islam? I’m a Muslim, and I’m very happy about that. You know there is quite a lot that we Muslims are worried about, about what’s going wrong within our own. Is there nervousness about that? I was on the nation programme yesterday in this really open debate, but I know that within the mainstream BBC there’s nervousness that you mustn’t be at all controversial know, you mustn’t offend.
Response: Example. The level of coverage that false marriages have had is unprec

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