Britishness Brownian Rule No.1 – Speak English

In a Radio 4 interview Brown places the English language at the centre of Britishness, supports the history test introduced for immigrnats and wants more of it in the school curriculum too. Later in the day he went on to attack economic nationalism in Europe, arguing it hampers the development of a real and efficient single market.

  • Keith M

    It’s nice to see the PM in waiting putting Britishness at the top of his agenda and having such a common sense approach

    It’s something we should also introduce here in this country. All immigrants moving to Ireland should be required to take English lessons, and also Irish Gaelic if they move to the Gaelteacht areas.

  • Trollspotter

    Troll!

  • Ken A. Biss, Finland

    I’m a bit confused here. How can learning English be at the centre of Britishness? Why not learn British? Oh, sorry, there isn’t any such language. Generally speaking, people who move to a country where a different language is spoken usually find it is well worth while for them to learn the local language, without having to abandon their own, of course. The Nordic countries encourage immigrants to learn the local language, and provide them with plenty of training it free of charge if they want it. They get on better economically and are better placed to have an input. So leave it to market forces, as Thatcher would have said before she went gaga. Gordon Brown should instead reflect on why he no longer speaks his own country’s language. He obviously hasn’t gotten used to Sasana. Just look at all the grimaces he makes and all those queer lower jaw movements when he speaks the language of his colonial masters. He is no longer to be taken any more seriously than his boss Mr. Blare, who seemingly has not learnt any Italian despite all the time he spends in that country.

  • Keith M

    Ken, English is the language of Britain and has been since the original union of England and Scotland, over four hundred years ago. Therefore any talk of “colonial masters” is clearly silly.

    The problem with allowing things like this being dictated by market forces is that the it is possible (though obviously not desirable) to economiically survive in the U.K. without English in large parts of the country where immigrants form a majority of the population. This kind og ghettoization is almost unknown in the Nordic countries.

    “Gordon Brown should instead reflect on why he no longer speaks his own country’s language.”

    Brown is the MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, a part of Scotland where Scots Gaelic all but disappeared several hundred years ago.

  • Keith M

    “Brits (and Irish) are the worst in Europe for speaking other languages.”

    The reason for this is that we are lucky enough to speak the number one language in the world for international communication. We speak the language which dominates the world in music, cinema, television and the internet.

    For us speaking a foreign language is a “nice to have”, rather than in other European countries where you are disadvantaged if you don’t speak English.

    I’m not saying that this is a good thing, but let’s not beat ourselves up over it.

  • IJP

    I would agree that residents of the UK should be able to speak English to a reasonable level, but not that this is central to Britishness.

    Indeed, what is central to Britishness is the tolerance, an example of which is the flourishing of the most successful minority language movements in Europe (most obviously Welsh).

    Much of what is central to Britishness is linguistic diversity, in fact – not only through the Celtic languages on the fringe, but also the huge array of dialects found within the English (and Scots) spectrum on the island of Great Britain and, indeed, in Northern Ireland.

  • Bill

    Even Canada has realised that it is good idea that people speak the local language. Still it is nice that he has got around to recognising commonsense at last.

  • Ciaran Irvine

    I have to admit all this semi-theological carry-on across the water is both amusing and slightly perplexing.

    Why is Brown doing this in the first place? Surely he’s just asking for ridicule by opening this particular can of worms? From my own personal point of view, “British” doesn’t really mean anything at all and never did, it was just a convenient propaganda piece to make the various Celtic nations feel less subjugated in England’s core Empire. But that’s perhaps besides the point.

    Is the Tory threat under Cameron, and resentment amongst English voters to the whole West Lothian Question, really so strong that Brown feels he could lose the next election purely on the grounds of his Scottishness? That’s the only reason I can see for this. Unless he is is secretly pushing the case for Scottish Independence by pretending to argue for Britishness, thus exposing the inherent flaws in the whole concept that are instinctively understood by any Irish Nationalist…now that’s cunning 🙂

  • I don’t think there are any non-English speakers in North Queensferry and few that refuse to learn or speak the language in the rest of Britain. English is now the world language and knowledge of it does not make you British.

  • Nevin

    [i]Brownian motion: the random motion of small Scottish particles suspended in Westminster hot air[/i]

  • Dec

    Brian Feeney nailed this particular piece of nonsense (‘Happy British day, everyone’) from Brown in last weeks Irish News as a desperate attempt from Brown to try to disguise the fact that (whisper it) he’s not actually English, which some, in that great United Kingdom of theirs, might view as a disadvantage if you want to become PM. Telling everyone you meet how much you want England to win the world Cup and devising some ridiculous ‘one size fits all’ notion of Nationality won’t alter the fact that 50 million people don’t want to be led by someone with a celtic accent (as Neil Kinnock would testify). Of course, its amusing to see Fair-Deal actually seems to be believing this crap.

  • DK

    Dec: “50 million people don’t want to be led by someone with a celtic accent”

    Well, John Smith would have won if he hadn’t had a heart attack & he was Scottish. There are plenty of non English MPs representing English Constituencies (e.g. Ian Livingston who was/is MP for Norwich South).

    But why ruin a good story – sure all 50 million English are racists.

  • DK

    Well, John Smith would have won if he hadn’t had a heart attack & he was Scottish.

    That is just conjecture. Fate stepped in before he had the chance to contest an election as a potential PM, so we cannot say for certain whether he would have won or not.

    Dec has a point there. When Kinnock was leader of Labour, he was referred to by the tabloids as “The Welsh Windbag.”

  • Dec

    Well, John Smith would have won if he hadn’t had a heart attack & he was Scottish

    If ‘Ifs and Ands’ were pots and pans we’d have no need of tinkers GBS

    I again refer to you to Neil Kinnock – are you seriously suggesting his welshness played no part in his lack of appeal?

    sure all 50 million English are racists

    Wasn’t really what I was saying but to clear up any misunderstanding here’s the main thrust of the argument: why should English people vote to be governed by a Scottish PM, when Scottish (and Welsh)people have an assembley that excludes English involvement. Personally, I think the English people are one of the most patient races in the world, considering their own particular identity is constantly suppressed to keep Unionists of all origins happy.

  • Keith M

    manfarang “English is now the world language and knowledge of it does not make you British.”

    Of course not, but to put it in reverse, an inability to speak English makes it all but impossible to be fully British.

  • Dec

    Keith

    How would you define ‘fully British’. And who would you define as being only ‘Partially British’?

  • elvis Parker

    I think the Irish language should be put at the heart of Irishness – and Gerry Adams deported!

  • pid

    I suspect Brown is reacting to focus group feedback. My own very unscientific feedback from English men suggests Brown’s Scottishness is a negative factor. The Tories shied from Scots, The LD’s have a less Scottish Scot, and Labour are centripetalizing into English and Scottish Labour. GB cannot stop this, he’s at the wrong end of an historical process. If England do well in the World Cup, it will affect the leadership race IMHO. Strange, but true.

    And as for

    “English is the language of Britain and has been since the original union of England and Scotland, over four hundred years ago.”

    where does one start?

    Scots Gaelic? Scots? Welsh? Irish? The word Britain? The original Britons? Wales?

    Nice post IJP, though I note that the British virtue of tolerance is a self-appointed one.

  • DK

    Kinnock lost because they hadn’t lost their old labour baggage. Michael foot was equally ridiculed. John Smith winning is unknown, but it was very likely and, as I pointed out, other MPs of “celtic” origin represent English constituencies.

    By quick google hunt we have also had Lloyd George and Callaghan who were Welsh. The Earl of Bute was the first Scottish “PM” in the 1760s, and there was also Ramsay Macdonald & probably others. There have even been British PMs with Irish ancestry including, erm, Tony Blair.

    Glad that Dec no longer considers all 50m to be xenophobic. Small progress. The PM should be the best man/woman for the job. They can come from anywhere.

  • Dec

    DK

    Part of the reason Kinnock lost was his overt Welshness. Deny that and you only fool yourself. The list of non-English PM’s is impressive save taht it’s all rather old news. Using the example of the Earl of Bute (250 years ago, you say) is so hardly relevant to today. (Ps Jim Callaghan was English and he never won an election as Labour leader). Your other examples lived in an age when large swathes of the population didn’t know what their PM looked like let alone had heard them speak.

    Glad that Dec no longer considers all 50m to be xenophobic

    Never actually said they were xenophobic. Though in using the example of the Earl of Bute as proof that Gordon Brown’s Scottishness will not work to his disadvantage, does make me consider you idiotic.

    The PM should be the best man/woman for the job. They can come from anywhere.

    Agreed

    They can come from anywhere.

    Bradford of Pakistani heritage?

  • Kinnock lost because they hadn’t lost their old labour baggage.

    They hadn’t lost it all before Smith’s untimely demise either. Clause 4 didn’t go till Blair was in charge.

    Labour were slightly ahead in the polls going into the 1992 election. The Sun chose to attack Kinnock personally (rather than Labour collectively) on polling day itself.

    A lot of the animosity that the tabloids had for Kinnock’s Labour was personal against him, and his nationality in particular.

  • pid

    Correct. ” Welsh windbag” was the phrase. Callaghan represented a Cardiff constituency but was coy about his Irish descent; people were back then. I think he was born in Southern England.

    The old Labour party was anti-Celtic nationalism. They saw it (probably still see it) as divisive and anti-working class. Jack Straw fears a consequence of Celtic separatism will be a resurgence of English nationalism. I think he might be right.

    He wants a UK football team.

    Of course there was a Yugoslavian football team not so long ago…..

  • DK

    So Dec, you come up with one example of a “celtic” prospective PM (Kinnock) to prop up your theory that “50 million people don’t want to be led by someone with a celtic accent” and then discount all the other examples of actual PMs. I thought you might focus on the fact that one that I named was from a long time ago, while ignoring all the rest – and ignoring all the non-English MPs all over England.

    But then you have another agenda to push, and potraying the English as a race that hate the celts suits that agenda.

  • Dec

    Dk

    One last time: Neil Kinnock is the most glaring and recent example.

    PMs. I thought you might focus on the fact that one that I named was from a long time ago, while ignoring all the rest

    Reread my email and you’ll see I addressed your other examples eg I helpfully pointed out that Callaghan was English.

    But then you have another agenda to push, and potraying the English as a race that hate the celts suits that agenda.

    I did no such thing and indeed clarified my original post going so far as to praise the English for their patience. Please tell me how constantly accusing me of ‘Xenophobia’ despite my clarification of my original remarks is helping this debate. But I’m open to hearing your explanation why the Scottish Gordon Brown, and Gordon Brown alone, is suddenly pushing his ‘Britishness’ theme on the eve of him taking over as PM.

  • PHIL

    I think that Dec is partially right in that there probably is some snobbery with regard to Mr Brown’s accent, but that would be true if a prospective PM had a strong Geordie, Scouse, West country or Cockney accent so I don’t believe that it is an anti “Celt” thing. The problem that I and most English people have with Gordon Brown becoming PM is that he represents a Scottish constituency. If he were MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed or Penzance then there wouldn’t be a problem. He would effectively have no mandate to govern England on devolved matters and no power to implement his own policies over his costituents.

  • DK

    Dec, your “50 million people don’t want to be led by someone with a celtic accent” is a pretty xenophobic statement. You are tarring an entire race with a single brush – this is your agenda. I am trying to address this – for example, by pointing out the large number of present non-English MPs, and ones in the past that have been PMs. But then a tabloid calling Kinnock a “Welsh Windbag” is obviously more important

    If Brown is best for the job, he will win. Even if he is against Cameron (a Scottish name itself?).

  • lib2016

    Whoever emerges at Westminster won’t change policy here. In Wales where they want to keep the union they try to defeat the Welsh lobby with kindness and fund the language and TV in Welsh generously.

    In NI where they just want out they put obstacles in the way of TG4 and permit unionism to continue its petty harassment.

  • DK

    Lib2016,

    What do you mean want to keep the union with Wales – didn’t they make a major effort to foist an assembly on them despite a large amount of opposition, a bit like, erm….

  • kensei

    “What do you mean want to keep the union with Wales – didn’t they make a major effort to foist an assembly on them despite a large amount of opposition, a bit like, erm….”

    What, the one where a majority voted for it in a referendum?

  • Dec

    DK

    I mentioned the ‘celtic’ accent because Scotland and Wales have fully functioning assemblies which by definition exclude English MPs. I’m sure the irony is not lost on English voters that whilst their MPs can have no influence in the Scottish or Welsh assemblies it is entirely feasible for A scottish (or Welsh) MP to become PM. Gordon Brown is aware of this paradox and is banging his ‘British’ drum to try to distract English voters (who ultimately decide what PM Britain gets) from this fact.

    Your tiresome harkingg back to the mid-18th century and the early 20th centuryu is totally irrelevant. Neither Scotland and Wales had an assembley then so the paradox (the West Lothian Question writ large) did not exist.

    Try reading my posts before you waste your time wittering on here about Fair play, may the best man win and lashings of ginger beer all round.

  • IJP

    Elfinto

    I note your insistence on taking the debate back into the distant past.

    The point still stands. That Welsh is in a lot better position that Breton would, by your own logic, indicate that France is still a lot more imperialist that Britain. And your logic may well be right.

    Pid

    An entirely fair and important point.

    The ‘British value of tolerance’ means, of course, a very British sort of ‘tolerance’.

    As for Yugoslavia, it’s not just its football team that would have benefitted from it staying together. Some eejits in the West paid too much credence to ethnic nationalism, whose day has long past, and all hell broke out. But that’s another debate, albeit one not without resonance to our own comparatively minor riddles.

  • The English hate the frogs!

  • páid

    IJP

    France is still a lot more imperialist that Britain.

    On the subject of ‘who were the greatest cultural imperialists? The French or the English.’ . . . I’m with the late Douglas Gageby, who wrote in the Irish Times on 11 December 1996 wrt to the French invasion of 200 years before:

    “All of you can fantasise now on this: if the French had succeeded, would they have stayed on as conquerors? Tone obviously thought not. But if they had, there is one thing you can be sure of. We would all now be French speakers – as the first language. Great cultural imperialists, our friends the French.”

  • fintan

    Note to admin:

    The person who posts on here as elfinto is ripping off both my previous handle on this site and my e-mail address. I would appreciate it if they would: 1. stop stealing my identity, and 2. identify themselves.

    I have not posted on slugger since I was redirected to CBBC for objecting to comments which were: inciting the murder of Martin McGuinness; victimising an employee at Short Bros on DUP-inspired sectarian grounds.

    I am glad to see that Slugger is still a lively forum for debate and I check in from time to time. However I would appreciate it if steps were taken to stop someone from poaching my identity and especially the use of my e-mail address.

  • harpo

    ‘Brits (and Irish) are the worst in Europe for speaking other languages. A load of nationalistic crap if you ask me.’

    Elfinto:

    Come on – most of the Irish can’t use their supposed own language to any decent degree.