The reach of Britishness

IPPR research highlights that those with the greatest identification with Britishness are the immigrant communities. Whites tend to identify more strongly with the constituent nation they are from. Meanwhile the UK capital will see the largest New Year celebrations in the world outside of China. In Northern Ireland there is a week of events and the event at St George’s Market was very successful today. Kung Hei Fat Choi.

  • mickhall

    “IPPR research highlights that those with the greatest identification with Britishness are the immigrant communities. Whites tend to identify more strongly with the constituent nation they are from.”

    I rest my case, the most incredible thing about the Unionist community in the north, is that despite many of their families having immigrated across the Irish sea to Ireland generations ago, just like many of their Republican counterparts, they still appear to outsiders uncomfortable in their nationality.

    Normally with newcomers this lack of confidence passes within two to three generations. For example most of the off spring of those who came to England in the 1950s from the West Indies now regard themselves as English, as indeed they are, even if some of their kids rap like they come from east LA.

    Those families who came to Ireland from Italy in the first part of the 20th century today regard themselves as being Irish as the next person; and I have no doubt that the same will be true of those newcomers who came to the north from Poland in recent times.

    The reason deep down Unionists continue to claim they are British, is deep down they know the partition of Ireland was not a natural phenomena, but a political act which will not out last the test of time; and they feel if they admit otherwise they will be betraying their forefathers.

  • parcifal

    fair-deal
    Amazing discovery,…that means that most whites in norn iron regard themselves as Irish/British?

    Maybe the DUP manifesto publications and videos, with all those Union Flags flying in every shot, are out of touch with Ulster people?

    Some-one should give them a call in the morning. Have you got the time fd to let them know? 😉

  • parcifal

    mickhall,
    Quite brilliant dissection. I find you much more convincing on the subject of identity, than on class; as lets face it in employment terms : norn iron is separated by those on social security and those who work for the public sector.

    If I’ve confused you with another Mickhall, then I apologise, its quite confusing.

  • Mick Fealty

    It amazes me how frivolous the responses we get to perfectly serious research. There is nothing particularly new in this finding. Darcus Howe’s study for C4 a few years ago, The White Tribe, found something similar.

    Can someone tell me why such a post gives rise to a sectarian rant against Unionists, other than the fact that for a large number of our commenters it seems the perfectly acceptable thing to do – regardless of the subject in hand?

    Really guys, just try to take a look at this from the outside!!

  • Henry94

    Ah yes the great “what it means to be British” debate. Badly needed.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/my_club/ulster/6373433.stm

  • British

    “Can someone tell me why such a post gives rise to a sectarian rant against Unionists, other than the fact that for a large number of our commenters it seems the perfectly acceptable thing to do – regardless of the subject in hand?”

    Thanks Mick, I thought it was just me who thought that, see above post for confirmation.

  • mickhall

    “Can someone tell me why such a post gives rise to a sectarian rant against Unionists,

    Mick F,

    I am completely bewildered here, but am open to explanation or fair criticism if you feel I am engaging in sectarianism.

    Regards

  • eranu

    mickhall, could it be perhaps that people here are british because they are born in part of the UK? its simple really. whats odd is that there are people born in this corner of the UK that pretend they arent british! they actually think they’re part of another state even though they werent born there, dont live there and only visit it for the odd holiday or rugby match 🙂
    anyway, this is a well worn rant which im not about to get into.

  • british with a small b

    Thanks Mick, that needed said. Why on earth this provoked a sectarian rantfest against the Prods, I have no idea. I’m a nominal Catholic btw. I don’t give a sh*t about religion, and I’m largely comfortable with being British in the new dispensation. You can choose to be exactly as British or Irish as you want. Those who wear either on their sleeves just seem bizarre to the British and Irish of GB and ROI.

  • middle-class taig

    Mick Fealty

    Where was the sectarian rant? I couldn’t see one. That was an off-hand, ill-considered charge of sectarianism, and you should, in my view, apologise. Eranu and bwasb have been similarly blithe throwing the s-word about. Mickhall’s post was part observation, part political comment and part conjecture. Some of it was, in my opinion, naive; particularly the observation about black Britons. The comments about the nature of unionist identity were, to my mind, hopelessly simplistic. However, a charge of sectarianism is an hysterical over-reaction.

    Unionist identity is not, on any objective basis, an entirely consistent, coherent or stable phenomenon. Unionists are often charged with appearing strangely uncomfortable in their own skin, both by outsiders and by their republican neighbours. While the “unionism as false consciousness” narrative is by no means a satisfactory analysis on its own, it is entirely justifiable to posit that it has a part to play in making up the whole picture of modern unionism. Similarly with the “unionism as justification for the unjustifiable” narrative. If you find fault in Mickhall’s analysis (and frankly, who whouldn’t?), point it out. Don’t squash debate with charges of sectarianism. If you’re discomfited by frank debate as to the underlying psychological reasons for the fissiparous nature of unionist identity, why the hell did you set up the site in the first place?

    FairDeal

    Was in London yesterday for New Year. Great buzz. Can’t say fairer than Ken on immigrant community issues.

  • eranu

    mct, i didnt use the ‘s’ word or imply it so dont accuse me of it please.

  • Mick Fealty

    MCT,

    It’s not a word I use often, and it may have been used in a moment of complete bewilderment of my own. I’m sorry if it offended anyone. But the routine nature of the prod bashing is certainly pass remarkable. Take Mick’s opening gambit:

    …the most incredible thing about the Unionist community in the north, is that despite many of their families having immigrated across the Irish sea to Ireland generations ago, just like many of their Republican counterparts, they still appear to outsiders uncomfortable in their nationality they still appear to outsiders uncomfortable in their nationality.

    Now I am not suggesting that Mick is in the least sectarian by nature. That would be of a piece with the kind of stupid and pointless ad hominem statement we see time and again passed as a damning judgement of all Unionists over and over again here on Slugger, without the least sense that it needs to be proven before the rest of us start listening.

    I labelled it sectarian not to push it off the field, Mick clearly meant something by it, but because it is pulls together a people and their politics and then implies there is something wanting in Unionism simply because they cleave to John Bull’s Other’s Other Island rather than the totality of ‘this’ one.

    You might as well ask why the antecedents of the founders of Irish Republicanism now won’t touch it with a bargepole! I suspect that an honest answer to that question would be considerably more difficult for anyone who still believes in the eternal virtue of a thirty two county republic, than trite condemnation of a whole people for not sharing the same vision as their Catholic neighbours.

    Now, about Britishness…

  • middle-class taig

    Mick

    My point is, “sectarian” is a big word, not to be used lightly. I think you’ve taken that point.

    “That would be of a piece with the kind of stupid and pointless ad hominem statement we see time and again passed as a damning judgement of all Unionists over and over again here on Slugger, without the least sense that it needs to be proven before the rest of us start listening.”

    There’s just as much blithe bashing of republicans, yet the word “b1got” is banned on the site, whereas “terrorist” is not.

    “You might as well ask why the antecedents of the founders of Irish Republicanism now won’t touch it with a bargepole!”

    Indeed you might. And the answer would be “Politics, dear boy!”.

    “Now, about Britishness… ”

    Indeed. To my mind, British identity does not exist in the outside world (ie, not the six counties), save perhaps in the minds of nostalgic, gin-swilling ex-pats in Kenya and certain aspirant immigrant communities. In the form in which today’s English culture likes to envision it, it’s a palimpsest, a veneer, lacking in depth, roots or foundation.

    Eranu

    Quite right! You just engaged in mindless whataboutery. I do apologise.

  • “the UK capital will see the largest New year Celebration in the world outside of China”
    Never heard of Singapore?
    I expect there will many more people at this years Chinese New Year celebrations in Nakorn Sawan in Thailand’s central region as there were in Bangkok’s Yaowarat(China Town) yesterday.
    As they say in Taechui-“Sing jia u ee”

  • mickhall

    Mick F,
    This is not about people and their politics but what they feel themselves to be. I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong here, but many Unionists these days would claim they are British before Irish. Thus it is not I who is making this a sectarian issue but those Unionists who claim this.[imo]

    Forgive me for repeating myself, but prior to partition most Unionist would have made Irish their first choice followed by citizen of Great Britain and Ireland or some such. This thread is not about which country one gives their allegiance to, as it is of course possible to live in one country yet give your allegiance to another, my own partner does it, as indeed do many jewish people for example. Yet if you were to ask her who she is she would be firm and clear and my first post centered on my belief that many unionists do not show such clarity, they bundle in politics with their claim to be British.

    Mick, to put my cards on the table from your reply I can only conclude you accused me of making a sectarian rant and by doing so I have to say I am surprised that you would makes such a claim and I am truthfully offended that you would do so and I feel you owe me an apology.

    What I wrote may well of been crap in your opinion but it was not a sectarian rant.

    British with a small c

    My point is when asked this question, few people who were born anywhere else in the UK bar ‘NI’ would claim to be British, because to do so is to give a political answer to a question that has no bases in politics but is a matter of Geography.

  • middle class
    Britain has no working class?
    Lor luv a duck!!!

  • Mick Fealty

    Mick,

    I don’t want this conversation to self consume itself in even more ancillary issues than it has done up to now. But I will try to deal with the ‘S’ word.

    It means, “adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan”. Therefore it is not that big a deal. It persists in such elevated places as Westminster and Leinster House: especially between the likes of FG and FF Deputies. No doubt most of us can be accused of it at one time or another.

    In Northern Ireland it has been elevated to a cardinal sin, and (this it seems to me is the rub of some of the difficulty here) it is mostly ascribed to one side only.

    Why did I use the term? Frist you you did very little to address the primary material in the original post. The research shows that ethic minorities (not just aspirant minorities MCT) relate warmly to the term British, which, I think, may have been FD’s point in posting it:

    The study, by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think tank close to Labour, quotes research finding that 51% of ethnic minority Britons describe themselves as British, compared with 29% of whites.

    By contrast, 52% of whites describe themselves as primarily belonging to one of the United Kingdom’s four constituent nations, compared with just 11% of blacks and Asians.

    The report suggests that, while Englishness and Scottishness are seen by minority groups as primarily ethnic terms, Britain, its flag and institutions are perceived as more neutral.

    There is a completely false premise to this whole conversation and it arises (it seems to me) because Unionism was made the centre of attention without the least reference to what was being talked about above.

    Bernard Crick:

    “To the immigrant, Britishness is essentially a legal and political structure. It doesn’t mean the culture,” said Crick. “When the immigrant says I am British, he is not saying he wants to be English or Scottish or Welsh.”

    Crick added that blacks and Asians preferred the term British because it can be combined with their own ethnic or racial origins to form terms such as British Pakistani or British black.

    “Britishness does not threaten their own culture. It is not an all-embracing term,” said Crick.

    I was also puzzled by this line:

    The reason deep down Unionists continue to claim they are British, is deep down they know the partition of Ireland was not a natural phenomena, but a political act which will not out last the test of time; and they feel if they admit otherwise they will be betraying their forefathers.

    I don’t doubt that you sincerely believe this to be the case. But, what evidence outside your own belief do you have that this is the case? In the absence of such the argument is clearly both dogmatic and partisan, even if, as I firmly believe, you are not.

    Do you see what I mean?

  • Ziznivy

    I doubt he even read the article posted. But that’s par for the course on here with so many posters just looking to go off on one about unionists or to air their particular hobby horse. Note also the Paul Bew thread as a classic example.

    Probably why less and less unionists are posting on the site.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s one reason for trying to put a marker down. I have no intention of asking Nationalists to make a space for Unionist commenters. But the sheer din of anti Unionist invective (as opposed to reasoned argument) often makes it a pointless exercising a pro Unionist point of view.

    A couple of years ago, this thread would have been the sole preserve of those who were actually interested in the content. Now it’s just another opportunity to ‘bash the Prods’.

    Having said that, it would be good to get a few on topic remarks before we veer wildly off course again. 😉

  • Dec

    There is a completely false premise to this whole conversation and it arises (it seems to me) because Unionism was made the centre of attention without the least reference to what was being talked about above.

    Mick

    Quite right. The report does not refer to Northern Ireland.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Dec!!

  • middle-class taig

    Ziznivy

    “less and less unionists are posting on the site”

    Really? I hadn’t noticed. Empirical evidence?

    Even if true, the causality you attribute to this asserted phenomenon is, in my view, open to serious doubt. Many unionists who drop off this site pop up on other NI politics sites. I often find get the impression this is because they find the company there more congenial – no need to speak to republicans. Mutual reaffirmation rather than robust debate.

    The unionists who remain here tend to be the strongest – those better prepared for debate and more comfortable discussing their ideas.

    Mick

    I used “aspirant” as descriptor not qualifier. However, I think you’re wrong that ethnic minorities in general identify with Britishness. Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis, yes, absolutely. Caribbeans, also. In my experience, fewer and fewer muslims do (particularly African muslims, but also Bengalis, Indonesians, Middle-Easterners), reducing numbers of ethnically Chinese, and almost none of the (albeit recent) Latin American and Eastern European immigrants. That is, however, only my experience!!

    Also, look at what Crick says. “To the immigrant, Britishness is essentially a legal and political structure. It doesn’t mean the culture”. While I find the expression “the immigrant” to have overtones of Johnny-foreigner, I find it instructive that this immigrant Britishness isn’t about cultural identity. It’s about integration into the system. Are immigrants observing British mores? Yes. Are they “feeling” British? Apparently not.

    By the way, I genuinely don’t have an axe to grind here (roll your eyes all you want). I’m not trying to do my unionist neighbours down by poo-pooing Britishness. I genuinely think it’s something of a chimera which inhibits cultural understanding and development in these islands.

  • middle-class taig

    Dec

    Actually, the hijacking of this thread resulted more from the hysterical overreaction than from the alleged “prod-bashing”. This is after all a site on “NI politics and culture”. One assumes that the thread was posted as some kind of stimulus to debate on how cultural issues relating to identity in Britain offer a window on those issues in the North.

  • marty (not ingram)

    less and less unionists are posting on the site

    They’re all over at that new garden centre blog :O)

  • middle-class taig

    funny

  • Dec

    MCT

    The point I was trying to make was that, in the context of this report, it was irrelevant drawing northern identity issues into the debate. As the report states:

    We have not been able to refer here to Northern Ireland, which is very different in so many ways from the rest of the United Kingdom and whose inclusion would have significantly widened the scope of the work.

  • middle-class taig

    Dec

    I heard you the first time.

  • Dec

    MCT

    I really don’t think you did.

  • slug

    It’s wonderful to read all these comments on what it is to be unionist and British and the various flaws and shallownesses of such a way of thinking.

    I speak as one afflicted by both diseases :).

    I remember a historian called Marc Mulholland noting that nationalists have had a tendency, down through the years, to underestimate what he called the ‘integrity ‘of the unionist position. I think he didn’t mean the ‘moral’ integrity, I think he meant the internal health, appeal, strength, and/or stability of the viewpoint.

    As such he thought many nationalists have an ‘optimism bias’ in their presumtion that unionism would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions/ wrongness/ shallowness etc. I believe I see this bias coming through in a lot of the posts on Slugger (although I think a lot of the posts are attempts at winding-up unionists).

    I make it a rule not to comment much on that (i.e. nationalist thinking) about which I don’t know much, so I am only passing this on for what little it is worth.

  • British

    “I make it a rule not to comment much on that (i.e. nationalist thinking) about which I don’t know much, so I am only passing this on for what little it is worth.”

    Comment away, how are you supposed to know if you dont ask.

  • Middle class
    (I am not aware of a large influx of Latin American immigrants to the UK)
    “almost none of the recent Eastern European immigrants identify with Britishness”
    That may be because most of them are EU citizens
    and not immigrants in the proper sense of the word.
    Nearly all the Polish people that form part of the community that came to the UK after the second world war do identify with Britishness and have become anglicised.