whose fundamental British values?

Following the Conservative Party Conference, the BBC’s celebration of National Poetry Day entitled ‘We British’ might have seemed like a chance for more flag-waving. There were lots of surprises.

In the final programme, Hollie McNish performed her new poem on British identity:

British was not a word I heard in my home
manufactured in tea factories branded by a royal stamp
British was a concept slapped across my cheeks in Queens’ Speeches
and privileged politicians attempt to huddle up together
banging fists like kids in Westminster,
we were all British when they wanted something it seems

British was a language never spoken by any members of my family
their Glasgow accents still refused to be seen intelligently
in the BBC English of British radio or TV
growing up, British was an identit
I could never see as anything other than political

So, I’ve never said that I’m proud to be British
it is a word I’ve always found hard
for brought up in the south of England by two Scottish parents
our two stories were too far apart
I’ve never said I’m proud to be British
a business so chiselled in sin
an economy floored on forced labour abroad
working-class deaths and chimney sweep kids

And I would have liked for my family to feel British some times
it would have made me less of the English black sheep
but the imperial lands, slave ships and handbags
makes the concept too wrapped up in tweed for me

And I could borrow a bag from dear Mary Poppin,
pull out all of the things I love and grew up in
rummage for Yorkshires, mashed potatoes and peas
Health and Safety at work and maternity leave
ice cream vans, tunnocks and a good cup of tea
minimum wages and voting and freedom of speech

And I can see that I’m blessed to be born in a place
where your passport is gold and your rights are encased
where regional accents are now heard on TV
where the poor go to school and healthcare is free
but I’ll be damned if I’m crediting Britain for these

When elites still hold sway and claim meritocracy
and Eton is still subsidised as a charity
where we can argue democracy till Aslan is stone
but still the Lords have a home
and inherited wealth holds a bright golden throne

Where moaning about this is deemed spoil
and not singing God save the Royals makes Corbyn a threat
as we British politicians pop out rallying chests
yelling to me that British is best
as if everyone here is the same
everywhere else necessarily less
as if we could not learn from anyone else

And yes, flowers may grow,
the roses are beautiful
the heather and daffodils, oak trees and thistles,
the climate is honey
the green grass is verdant
and the smell of the dew in the morning is perfect

And my love for these lands and the people and progress
doesn’t stop my feeling that this concept is bogus
and I don’t know where that leaves me
but I’m sick of the brags and our sense of identity
being so branded by flags.

 

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