Jack wants to tell a story

In the World Today, the Chatham House magazine, Jack Straw has returned to the theme of developing and teaching a positive British story. He first argued for this at the Cyril Foster lecture in January and has been a theme of Gordon Brown, who’s leadership campaign Jack is running. He wants freedom to be at the centre of the narrative:

That means freedom through the narrative of the Magna Carta, the civil war, the Bill of Rights, through Adam Smith and the Scottish enlightenment, the fight for votes, for the emancipation of Catholics and non-conformists, of women and of the black community, the Second World War, the fight after that for rights for minority groups, the fight now against unbridled terror.

However, one local commentator, Brian Feeney, is unimpressed although his historical justification is flawed. Straw also highlights a uniqueness of British history in the European context:

“…we are the only European nation – the only one – which has not within memory faced an existential crisis of dictatorship, occupation, defeat or the moral hazard of neutrality in a just war.”

The representation of “the civil war was an English civil war in which the Scots intervened” is simplistic and ignores the contribution of the Scottish Covenant and Charles reaction to the destablisation of the British Monarchy and the scope of the conflict. As for the claim that the “Magna Carta, again it was an exclusively English matter,” is myopic as well. For example, King John was granted the Lordship of Ireland by the Council of Oxford in 1177 and played a key role in expanding Norman rule in Ireland plus a revised Magna Carta was applied to Ireland in 1297 and the Dail didn’t get around to repealing it in the Republic until 2005 .

  • kensei

    You are largely right on the English Civil War, but the Magna Carta? The fact that it was applied here does not stop it being essentially English.

    ““…we are the only European nation – the only one – which has not within memory faced an existential crisis of dictatorship, occupation, defeat or the moral hazard of neutrality in a just war.””

    Except, the British have faced the moral crisis of occupying others, getting involved in various dubious wars and meddling in the affairs of other nations. also, it was involved in the slave trade, and Catholic emancipation only came about because Catholics were suppressed in the first place.

    It is right to celebrate good things about a nation. I’m not convinced pushing a narrative is the way to do it – history should be the study of sources, evidence and evaluating complex positions.

  • BP1078

    Sadly for our diminishing number of Union flag-wavers here, when Jack Straw and Gordon Brown and their ilk talk of Britain, they mean England, Scotland and Wales

    Really?
    Isn’t it about time they dropped NI from their speeches on “Britishness” then?

    Gordon Brown 27th February 2007:

    Indeed a multinational state, with England, Scotland, Wales and now Northern Ireland we are a country united not so much by race or ethnicity but by shared values that have shaped shared institutions.

    Jack Straw September 2006

    And the reverse would certainly be true. A broken-up United Kingdom would not be in the interests of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but especially not England

  • heck

    Jack Straw is the best example of britishness. What better defines britishness than the invading of other people’s countries, the oppression and killing of foreign peoples and the self righteous claims that it is to civilize the natives or that it is for their own good.

    Jack Straw was Honest Tony’s right hand man in the lead up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. Imperialism a good British value

    Hypocrisy, another British value, was on display when Jack Straw lectured the Syrians at the UN about covering up murder while he was responsible for hiding Gordon Kerr in the British embassy in Beijing. Hypocrisy another good British value.

    Jack Straw’s racism is another fine British value. Take his opposition to women wearing a veil. Replace the work veil in his statement with the word yarmulke and see how it reads. Racism –how about that one.

    If Jack Straw is an example of Britishness then you can keep it.

    By the way fair deal-hasn’t Brian Feeney got two PhDs in history.

  • It seems the sands of time are running out for the British Story – it’s nearing the end…..

  • fair_deal

    heck

    He may very well have two Phds but that does not mean he has a comprehensive understanding of every aspect of history.

  • I’m not convinced pushing a narrative is the way to do it – history should be the study of sources, evidence and evaluating complex positions.

    Kensei and I agree – shocka!!!! 😉

  • mickd

    It seems to me that a focus on national identity of any ilk hides the real struggles and social conflicts fought out over centuries, that led to progress in human rights and civilised behaviour. In other words, the power elites of which Jack Straw is most certainly a loyal servant did not hand the NHS, the forty hour week or the emancipation of women to the masses on a plate, because of their inherent ‘Britishness.’ Rather, the masters fought tooth and nail to retain their privileges and still do, relenting only when their choices are forced by political pressure from below. They will claim the credit after the fact, of course.

  • The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly each got their first ethnic minority members last night and both of them were nationalists.

    They obviously didn’t buy into Labour’s attempts to sell Britishness as the more inclusive identity.