Year 2000 No. 58, March 29, 2000

Blair’s Speech on "Britishness":

Most Reactionary Chauvinism under the Guise of "British Values"

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Blair’s Speech on "Britishness":
Most Reactionary Chauvinism under the Guise of "British Values"

Car Monopoly Merger News
VW to Buy Stake in Scania
DaimlerChrysler Takes Stake in Mitsubishi
Losses Put Takeover of Rolls-Royce in Doubt

News In Brief
What New Nurses?

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Blair’s Speech on "Britishness":

Most Reactionary Chauvinism under the Guise of "British Values"

There is no shortage of evidence with which to hang Tony Blair if only the implications of speeches are exposed and correlated with the backward and anti-social direction the Labour government is taking society on behalf of the bourgeoisie.

The Prime Minister used the occasion of a conference of regional newspapers yesterday to argue that devolution is necessary for keeping the United Kingdom together. The question of "keeping the United Kingdom together" Tony Blair regards as positive, not even posing the issue in a modern way and considering the rights of the Welsh people and the Scottish people, not to mention the people of Ireland, as nations. Not recognising such rights, which pertain to those peoples objectively, Tony Blair can then also proceed to do the same for the English, pouring scorn on the Conservative policy of "English votes for English laws" – which itself is a half-baked muddle – by posing this issue simply in terms of voting strengths of MPs representing constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales and thereby reducing the issue to the absurd.

The Prime Minister said in his speech that it was not "unchanging institutions" which defined "Britishness" or held the Union together. Tony Blair said that his argument was as follows:

  • Britain is stronger together, than separated apart.
  • True Britishness lies in our values not unchanging institutions.
  • The Constitutional changes we have made and a new attitude of engagement with Europe are not a threat to British identity but on the contrary are the means of strengthening it for today's world.

Therefore, he said, "Standing up for our country means standing up for what we believe in. It means standing up for our values and having the strength to realise them in the modern world. It means standing up for the core British values of fair play, creativity, tolerance and an outward-looking approach to the world. It does not mean an unthinking resistance to change. It does not mean railing against the outside world."

It is an extremely backward notion defining national identity in terms of "shared values", or of "core British values".

First of all, it exposes the reactionary nature of the Prime Minister’s conception called "Britishness", since it seeks to define a whole population who are citizens of Britain or the United Kingdom in terms of a set of values which they are imputed to hold – or, by implication, which they must hold if they are not to be classed as un-British. To seek to impose such a definition is, at base, in breach of the right to freedom of conscience, since all citizens should have the right to hold whichever set of values they choose. It can therefore be said to be a medievalist conception, negating the achievements of the enlightenment in this regard. The sinister implication is that not to hold such values as Tony Blair decrees is to become, in Margaret Thatcher’s infamous words, "the enemy within". In fact, it is precisely a further development of such a conception – which is not only chauvinist and racist, but also anti-worker, as will be recalled from Thatcher’s use of it against the miners – under the guise of "modernisation" and being against the forces of conservatism. In "Third Way" mode, Tony Blair, while himself railing against what he refers to as a British identity "rooted in 19th century conceptions of territory and blood", is promoting the racist and chauvinist conceptions of British colonialism, which saw everyone except the "British" as inferior.

Secondly, the rights and duties of citizens, in this case of the territory of Britain, cannot and must not be defined in relation to any set of values whatsoever. They must only be defined in relation to a body politic. Whether this body politic should be Britain, or England, Scotland, Wales, or even Europe, is a point which is at issue, but this cannot be allowed to confuse the issue that citizenship must not involve considerations of values, political beliefs, religion, background or any such discriminatory criteria. In fact, such matters have for a long time been deliberately confused by the bourgeoisie, which has divided the polity on a racist and religious basis, a confusion which has become enshrined in the law of the land, with its different categories of citizens according to national background. The very name of the "British Nationality Act" betrays its character.

Thirdly, the Union itself is constituted not on national lines but through subjugation or incorporation of nations into the state of Britain or the United Kingdom by the English bourgeoisie. Tony Blair declares, "The breakup of the postwar international order and globalisation are calling into question systems constructed around the nation state." He continues, "In this new world, it has become increasingly fashionable to predict the death of the nation-state. A world in which capital crosses national frontiers at the push of a key, where air travel has made the outside world personally familiar to millions, where television has brought it into the homes of millions more, a world where supra-national organisations like the EU and WTO play an increasingly important role is a world where questions are inevitably going to arise about the continuing significance of national identity." And goes on to ask the question, "What is the answer to such a challenge? Not to retreat into the past or cling to the status quo, even if it cannot sensibly be justified; but to rediscover from first principles what it is that makes us British and to develop that identity in a way in tune with the modern world."

If Tony Blair were going back to first principles he would examine dispassionately the question of national rights within the territory of Britain, as well as the history of English nationalism, beginning with the Tudor monarchs, under which the English bourgeoisie constituted themselves as the nation, and plundered the world on this basis, forging the figment of "Britishness" in the process. He would examine how this English nationalism is now a spent force, and that to make Britain great again can only have meaning either as a reactionary rallying call for the workers to join in the barbarity of globalisation, or as the working class constituting itself the nation. Perforce, this must be within sovereign states of England, Scotland and Wales. It will be directed precisely at the English bourgeoisie itself if then these modern sovereign states decided to constitute a free and equal union. Britain can only truly become great in a modern sense, where the people themselves are in control of their own destinies.

Rather than this powerful conception, Tony Blair can only say, "What makes Britain and Britishness important, valid, as necessary today as ever is a powerful combination of shared values and mutual self-interest."

And here we come to the nub of what Tony Blair is calling for, which is the Labour Party’s programme of "constitutional reform", allied to Britain’s imperialist ambitions on the world stage. The rhetoric and ideologising is the stuff with which Tony Blair prefaces and underpins the objective reality of what the "pride" which "comes from strengthening British values" actually is. It is one domestically of "reward for hard work", "rights matched by responsibilities", "reform of welfare". Internationally, it is "an outward looking vision that believes in Britain’s place in Europe, but believes Britain will always be much more than that. A ‘pivotal’ nation – a bridge between East and West, between the United States and the EU."

The struggle against the "Britishness" promoted by Tony Blair is an integral part of fighting for the victory of transforming Britain into a new and socialist society.

Article Index


Car Monopoly Merger News

VW to Buy Stake in Scania

Volkswagen have had the ambition to move into the heavy vehicle market. It has now announced that it is acquiring a stake in Scania, the Swedish truckmaker.

VW is Europe’s biggest carmaker, and had moved into the takeover of Scania after the European Union vetoed a merger between Scania and Volvo, its Swedish rival, on competition grounds. Volkswagen will acquire 34% of the voting rights and 18.7% of the Capital of Scania from Investor, the investment vehicle for Scania.

Scania’s president and chief executive has welcomed the move by VW, saying it is a "considerable advantage" for Scania to have an industrial owner such as VW which is a stable enterprise.

DaimlerChrysler Takes Stake in Mitsubishi

DaimlerChrysler, the US-German carmaker, secured on Monday a strong foothold in Asia by buying a 34% stake in Mitsubishi Motors, Japan’s fourth largest carmaker.

Asia is the world’s fastest-growing car market. The deal will make DaimlerChrysler the third largest company in the international car industry. The deal will mean that the merged enterprise will span three continents and is the latest development in the move to create cross-border alliances in the vehicle industry. Apart from the recent VW/Scania deal, last month General Motors and Fiat swapped shareholdings to expand in Europe and Latin America.

The deal, which has been struck ahead of a deadline that allows Mitsubishi to take full control of a European car plant joint venture with Ford, falls short of giving DaimlerChrysler access to Mitsubishi’s truck and bus business. Instead, the latter has confirmed its plan to continue an alliance on trucks agreed with Volvo in October 1999.

Losses Put Takeover of Rolls-Royce in Doubt

BMW’s planned takeover of Rolls-Royce was thrown into doubt when last Thursday it emerged that losses have soared at the luxury car company. Volkswagen is at present the owner of Rolls-Royce and is thought to be diverting resources and product development to its Bentley cars.

VW will run Rolls-Royce until 2003, when ownership is planned to shift to BMW.

Article Index


News In Brief

What New Nurses?

As part of his Budget announcements, Gordon Brown said that 10,000 extra nurses were promised to the NHS.

It has, however, emerged that this generous offer is part of the 15,000 nurses announced two years ago. The 10,000 nurses had been said by the Chancellor to be the result of the Budget’s "extra resources".

It also emerged that the projected level of health spending of 7.6% of GDP by 2003-04 also includes money spent in the private sector.

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