Ministers argue for new holiday to boost British patriotism

Proposed "Britain Day" meant to help restore pride in a country challenged by immigration and terror.

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June 5, 2007 19:11
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A new national holiday devoted to celebrating Britain is needed to promote patriotism, two government ministers said in a pamphlet to be published Wednesday. The proposed "Britain Day," a British version of America's Fourth of July, is the latest sign that the left-leaning Labor party, once suspicious of overtly nationalist displays, now wants to emphasize British values to help restore pride in a country challenged by immigration and terror. Communities in Britain risk becoming alienated from one another unless more emphasis is placed on what they have in common, Liam Byrne, the immigration minister and Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary, said in a pamphlet published by the Fabian Society, a think tank associated with the ruling Labor party. "We must develop a meaningful sense of what we all - whatever faith, ethnicity and wherever in Britain we are from - hold in common," they wrote. The pair's suggestions included the creation of a "Britain Day" to celebrate the country's history and achievements and the institution of a points-based program for earning citizenship. Unlike the United States and many European countries, Britain has no official national day. Instead it has more locally focused holidays, such as St. George's Day in England on April 23 or St. Andrew's Day in Scotland on Nov. 30. Britons are not great wavers of the Union Jack, and aggressive national passions much more often focus around sporting events involving English, Scottish or Welsh teams. Surveys have shown that few Scots or Welsh identify as British. But even among the English, only half think of themselves primarily as Britons, according to a 2000 IPSOS-Mori poll. Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is taking over as prime minister when Tony Blair steps down at the end of the month, has also expressed concern about Britishness. His worries appear to reflect not only divisions opening within Britain but also an unease about assimilating immigrants in the nation. The growth of homegrown Islamic extremism has prompted some politicians to argue that Britain has been too shy in promoting its values. Kelly and Byrne argued that diversity had to go hand-in-hand with loyalty. "What we hold in common ... has tended to be implicit in Britain - not stated and debated clearly as in some countries like France," they wrote. "But today, more than at any time since the Second World War, we need a more vigorous debate about what it is that holds us together and how we express these links more clearly." Their call echoes the one Brown made last year. In his speech before the Fabian Society, Brown said Britain lacked a day celebrating "who we are and what we stand for," pointing to the Fourth of July and France's Bastille Day as examples of holidays celebrating their country's spirit.

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