Sunday 18 April 2010

So, does ANYBODY count as truly British, Mr Dacre?

Twice in two days, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday have again lapsed into advocating a "blood" theory of who is British.

Yesterday, it declared Nick Clegg is "by blood the least British leader of a British political party", as we discussed last night.

But I think they go further today when, in a "United Nations of Clegg" piece, the Mail on Sunday offers this headline (in the print edition).

His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about LibDem leader

Can that all be good, knockabout stuff. Surely not, when it is the BNP theory of who is British, surely rejected by this country when we won the second world war against fascism.

And I had been confident of winning my battle for citizenship education to be extended to the Daily Mail newsdesk.

Last year, the Daily Mail apologised for their mistake and published my letter, by way of correction, when I challenged their news report criticising the official classification of the British-born children and grandchildren of immigrants as British in immigration statistics.

Today's Mail on Sunday news report suggests some vague sense that English ethnic origins and being British are different things, in reporting Clegg's sensible response to a silly question.

When it was pointed out that he was only a quarter English, he said: ‘Well, biologically...yeah. But I was born here, brought up here, went to school here, and I feel very proud to be British. I have been very fortunate to have different bits to my identity. That’s enriched me.’

Yet Paul Dacre's newspapers have now raised the bar signficantly with today's new Britishness test, in which you are less British if you:
* were born to parents who were born abroad;
* marry somebody from abroad;
* work abroad
* work with anybody from abroad;

Never mind being born abroad yourself. It may be some small sign of progress that I can not imagine the Mail explicitly applying this British "by blood" theory to individual black, Asian or mixed race politicians, like Sayeeda Warsi, Shaun Bailey or Sadiq Khan, to challenge their citizenship or patriotism - though they would all fail it. The fact remains that, among over 4 million non-white British citizens, barely a single one of us could hope to pass the Britishness test which the Mail applies to Mr Clegg, though we are far from alone in that.

There is Nothing British about that BNP argument, as a conservative-led 'Nothing British' campaign has communicated punchily, as one of many campaigns challenging the BNP's values.

The suspiciously multilingual Mr Clegg isn't the first person of suspicion to somehow sneak under the radar and pass for Britishness. Take this motley crew, somehow voted top ten 'greatest Britons' by the great British public in the BBC's series and poll a decade ago.

Next Left has put these so-called "greatest Britons" through the Mail's Britishness test so we could find out if any of them should really count as British in Dacreland.

1. Winston Churchill, (1874–1965), Prime Minister (1940–1945, 1951–1955)

Not British: mother was American.

2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, (1806–1859), engineer, creator of Great Western Railway and other significant works

Not British: his father was a Frenchman by birth.

3. Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997), first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales (1981–1996), and mother of Princes William and Harry of Wales

Not British: married husband who was second generation immigrant of highly mongrel Greek-German stock. Got divorced. So plenty of grounds for disqualification, without relying on final liasion with the Egyptian millionaire Dodi Fayed.

4. Charles Darwin (1809–1882), naturalist, originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection and author of On the Origin of Species.

British (provisional): Passes the ancestry test, though family had unorthodox Unitarian religious beliefs. Extensive travels abroad on five year voyage, and use of his theory to challenge religious orthodoxies may call patriotism into question.

5. William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English poet and playwright, thought of by many as the greatest of all writers.

Not British (Rejected, pending appeal).

We have few biographical details of the English playwright's life. Highly disreputable choice of career. Evidence of continental travel and "lost years" in Rome, and hypothesis that he could have been secret Catholic, mean application for proper Britishness rejected, or at least held pending awaiting further evidence.

6. Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727), physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist.

British (provisional), pending appeal. It appears the great English scientist would pass the Dacre Britishness test on ancestry or marriage. Mother's remarriage when very young may have held him back. But not an unblemished patriotism, as close engagement with continental scientists and philosophers, and heretical religious views may offer stronger grounds for disqualification on appeal as Nick Clegg's employment of a German-born press spokeswoman.

7. Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603), monarch (reigned 1558–1603)

Not British: Famously did not marry. However, seriously entertaining the claims of foreigners, such as the Duke of Anjou, sent wrong message as role model. Dacre editorials could have praised and cultivated cult of virginity, though failure to marry and insistence on putting career first could be seen as disappointing.

Studied Latin, French, Greek and Italian. Her mother was schooled in the Netherlands, while her father married two foreigners.

8. John Lennon (1940–1980), musician with The Beatles, philanthropist, peace activist, artist

Not British: Married a Japanese-American woman. Also failed to cut his hair properly and travelled extensively abroad. Expressed unsound views on war and peace. As 'sixties icon, can be held responsible for broken Britain more generally.

9. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758–1805), naval commander

Not British or questionable at least: Married wife who was born in the Caribbean, in Nevis, though to a wealthy plantation famiily. And became estranged from his wife. Also briefly attempted to learn French. Daily Mail has been among those to debunk apocraphyl claims that his final words were "Kiss me Hardy".

10. Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector.

Not British, surely. Overthrew the Monarchy, though kindly put it back afterwards. No obvious ancestry bar though wife's maiden name, Bourchier, may repay scrutiny. Mail could surely have directed fire at her, using one line of attack or another.

Popular royalists, unlike their republican opponents, did not object to the very presence of a court culture. However, Elizabeth, who was known on the street by such endearing nicknames as "Old Joan, Old Bess, Old Bedlam, Old Witch, Old Hagg, [and] the Commonwealth's Night Mare" was simply too plebeian to be the official icon of the court ... For republicans, she was too royal, for royalists, too republican ... Either she overfed a commonwealth meant to be slimly republican, or she starved what was supposed to have been a jolly fat monarchy fit for a king. In both cases, she was a rotten cook whose unappetizing fare was said to have sickened the body politic.


With so many of the usual suspects out of the running, here is our challenge. Can we please hear who is on the top ten list of Mr Dacre's Greatest British thoroughbreds (no funny foreign blood allowed) and we'll put up our Best of British Mongrels team to take them on.

That way, we might finally sort out the argument about exactly what it is that has made this country great.


Braveheart said...

Not to mention Paul Dirac, Britain's foremost Quantum Theorist, on a par with Bohr and Heisenberg, whose father was a French citizen who took UK nationality.

BTW, Dacre: what sort of name is that? Sounds suspicously foreign to me....

And didn't the previous Lord Rothermee live in France? Where does the present Lord R lve? Has he sold the chateau?

Newmania said...

Look at the phone book , how many foreign names are there ? Some , a good few but the population even now is overwhelmingly indigenous .
It was a silly story but your determination to flood the country with foreigners and dilute the ethnicity of the Nation is equally nutty and dangerous .
The problem you have is that from the obervation that a concepts has blurred boundaries you conclude it has no reality at all
Wrong . I can easily tell the difference between the English and French languages despite enormous intermingling as indeed I can between English people and , for example , the French. What aspect of this confuses you ?

I believe I have Jewish ancestry as well as being distantly related to Harriet Harman via the Packenham Family . My wife is of part Trinidadian descent and my children ..whatever that makes them.

We are not confused about what we are which is English and we wish the country to remain English. Thats all, I am not sure what you want exactly but its sounds like a sort a meaningless partch of land which no-one may have a stake in any affection for or loyalty to.

I daresay this is just another ploy to tar Patriots and Conservatives as Fascists and racists ...

Mussolini - Italian Socialist Editor of Avanti
Moseley - Labour Party member whose black shirts developed from the eerily familiar Green shirts

I could go on.

louis vuitton spring summer 2010 collection said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sunder Katwala said...


I have no problem with the Daily Mail asking Nick Clegg whether it matters that he is a quarter English by ethnic origin: a question he can answer simply and well. But they aren't saying "is there anything English" or that he is "less English by blood" or ethnic origin.

To suggest he is "less British by blood" is simply to misunderstand what Britain is about: since the Mail is very keen on instilling an understanding of our history, culture and traditions, I am just trying to help them get that right.

Arguing you are less British if you have a foreign parent (Churchill) or marry a foreigner (the Queen, Henry VII twice), etc is very silly and deserves to be laughed at.

To question somebody's patriotism based on who they were born to deserves to be called; on who they choose to marry is perhaps odder still. If one does want to take it seriously, it is a BNP argument, which implies the Mail questions the citizenship and patriotism of all of the 4.5 million non-white British citizens as well as many others - like Clegg - who have "foreign blood".

My problem with the first article - complaining at "second and third generation immigrants" being counted as British rather than immigrants in immigration statistics - was that it was an obvious nonsense, which the Mail acknowledges. I do find it completely bizarre that, since I was born as a citizen here in 1974, a national newspaper is proposing that my children, born here in the last 5 years, are "immigrants" and somehow less British than their friends.

Sunder Katwala said...

I have no intention of tarring (all) conservatives as fascists or racists. I have frequently welcomed the Conservative Party selecting candidates who fall short of the Mail's xenophobic tests: two are mentioned in this article. I don't think the Conservative Party would make this line of personal attack at all.

The Mail has come some way on race, having been explicitly pro-fascist back in the 1930s. It was vocal in an important way in the Stephen Lawrence case a decade ago. I recognise that I think it probably wouldn't attack a black politician as "less British by blood" - though clearly if it wasn't nonsense, it would be most true in those cases. But if it is making an implicitly racist argument, I can't see how calling the newspaper on what it is arguing for is out of order.

Anonymous said...

I'm not British either.

There I was having grown up here all my life, going to British schools and universities, eating fish and chips, watching English football, reading British newspapers and books and watching British TV, having a British passport and citizenship since birth, feeling myself very British and consciously deciding that I was, if I was anything, British.

But turns out all bets are off because my mum was born in France. Sure, she has British citizenship now. But I guess it's too late. I must resign myself to the fate of being labeled a mongrel half-caste don't-belong-anywhere-outsider.

Thanks Mr Dacre. We'd never guess that your paper once supported Mosley and Hitler, would we?

Anonymous said...

While I appear caucasian my Mother is Black British, and though I have a British passport I was born in a British miltary hospital in Germany - calm down, calm down, I'm already turning myself in to the relevant authorities

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks for comments - and welcome to the Best of British Mongrels squad.

One or two colleagues are a bit worried that they may in fact qualify for the Dacre team, and are keen to work out how they can best refuse allegiance to it.

Newmania said...

The Labour Party was apologizing for Stalin unitl the 1970s an altogether less forgivable crime. Quoting the Daily Mail`s attitude to the European Facsists is an pointless piece of reading history backwards.
Mussolini was widely popular until a very late stage and if you are suggesting the Daily would have continued a slander with no its support in the knowledge of what the Nazis were to do , it is a quite groundless slander
We cannot say the same of Michael Foot or the Unions currently funding the Labour Party and their close links with the Soviet Union

Frankly Sunder with the Liberal Manifesto being perhaps the biggest lie ever tried on a British electorate you ought have bigger fish to fry. Righting the deficit with 100% public spending cuts, starting later and therefore cutting deeper quicker whilst offering a £15 billion tax give away ?

This is insulting crap and you ought be saying so rather than scoring silly points.. or is the thousand year progressive Reich already up and running ?

Newmania said...
This comment has been removed by the author.