Alex Massie

Britishness parties? No thanks.

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The government hasn't given up on plans to compell us to celebrate our Britishness. Immigration Minister Liam Byrne:

is due to make the case for the August Bank Holiday to be a national British day in a wide ranging speech on national identity to New Labour think tank Progress.

The immigration minister will say a "clear majority of people" support the idea of a national day of celebration, based upon his own discussions with voters in recent months.

He will tell Progress there is a "strong sense that the time is right for Britain as a country to do more to celebrate the things we have in common".

"And one way to do this is a day or two of celebration of what we like and love about living in this country," he will say.

But, he will add, there was widespread disagreement on what it might involve - from street parties to discussions* - and when it should be held.

"I myself have become convinced that the August Bank Holiday weekend - what some have called 'the great British weekend' - has the virtue of being in the summer, and already being a bank holiday.

Oh dear. This "great British weekend" (a phrase I have never heard used until now, incidentally) doesn't even exist since, as the SNP pointed out in their usual chippy fashion, Scotland and England actually have different holidays in August. Not for the first time a government minister conflates England with Britain.

But that's the trivial observation. More importantly, the idea of a day to "celebrate Britishness" is itself oxymornic. It's un-British. But of course, because the Americans have their Fourth of July* celebrations, so we must have an equivalent (just as we should, for reasons unspecified, have an American-style "Veterans Day" too). But Britain is not America, just as it isn't Russia or Trukey or any other place that feels the need to have a Ruritanian celebration of what makes their patch of the planet better than all the other patches. This sort of thing is fine, I suppose, for them as likes it, and the Britisher abroad can even gaze upon such plumed and solipsistic displays of breast-thumping with a certain amused, detached, wry pleasure. They are quaint after all.

But they're not British. And thank heavens for that. A certain reserve, a moderation and, above all, an awareness that such displays are, like Sir Roderick Spode and his followers marching through London in their footer bags, ridiculous.

This common-sense owes much, it must be admitted, to the English. The Scots, I fear, are too likely to be enthused by a (whisky-fuelled) sense of Wha's Like Us? braggadocio. (The Irish are just as bad, mind you.) There is much to be said for old-fashioned English reserve even if, or perhaps even especially when, that reserve bore an implied superiority that rendered such displays of nationalist sentiment unecessary.

*Aaargh! What could be ghastlier than New Labour's idea of "discussions" on Britishness?

**Bear in mind too that the greatest of American holidays, Thanksgiving, is a notably more modest, familial,  affair than the tub-thumping, Sousa-soaked 4th of July. It's really, I think, a moment for personal reflection and pondering the blessings of family and friends and all the rest of it. And a bloody good feast of course.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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