September 06, 2012

What it means to be British? A debate we need to have now…

Great Britain

Please discuss one single issue that you are most passionate about. Explain why it is so important to you and what you have done to promote or highlight this cause. This can be a personal, local, national or international issue?

One issue which I feel most passionate about is our national identity: Britishness. What it means to be British; what characterises us as the British; and binds the British people together whilst distinguishing us from the rest of the world. Furthermore what are the values that best describe us and make us proud to be British.

National identity is of vital importance to me because it is such an essential cornerstone to many of the monumental problems we currently face. Problems such as: how to integrate ethnic communities into society and deal with immigration; or what our role within Europe should be; and how we confront home-grown ‘Islamist extremism’; but also whether we can maintain our Unitary state; and our purpose on the international stage. Problems which I strongly believe we can better solve if we embrace a greater sense of who we are and what we stand for.

Britishness is also of personal significance to me as someone who is not a native of this great country. I was born in a former colony of the British Empire, Uganda. Nevertheless I’ve been raised in South West London since I was the age of 7 and consider Britain to be my home as well as myself to be as British as anyone. However my search for belonging ever since the day I arrived hasn’t been easy, mostly because the locals were searching for it themselves but what has increasingly become clear to me, especially since getting involved in politics, is that the British people have a burning desire to want to demonstrate their patriotism. In fact about 65% of Britons now view Britishness as important to their identity.

Before I could promote our national identity effectively, I had to study it for myself through watching a series of documentaries like ‘50 things you need to know about British history’ and reading books like the ‘Factopedia on British History’. In my studies I discovered that one of our most cherished values is British tolerance, a value that has allowed Britain to endure through the ages as a multinational as well as a multicultural state.

Another value I discovered, this during my studies of the Reform Acts is the British belief in liberty which has constantly extended its reach through the generations - from the Magna Carta; and the 1689 bill of right; to Wilberforce’s abolition of the slave trade; the reform acts and the suffragettes. This belief has endured to this very day.

Last but not least is our conviction in the equality of every citizen. It is this quality that perhaps best describes the British character. It’s what led to the creation of the National Health Service - healthcare free of charge to all those who need it, a system that is the envy of the world. This quality truly distinguishes us from the rest of the world.

I’m currently attempting to promote these values which are at the heart of our island nation through Bite the Ballot - a youth organisation trying get more young people involved in our democracy. Through Bite the Ballot I’m arguing for a more robust citizenship course to be taught in our schools, as it is in America, so that the next generation feel a part of their community and our country, and so they feel a responsibility to play a role in our democracy. I’m also in favour of a British national day of celebration, equivalent to the American’s 4th July, to show we’re proud to be British; proud of our values and proud of what we contribute to the world.

Furthermore, when I was in South Africa a while ago volunteering with the leading youth-led development agency Restless Development, whose mission is to place young people at the forefront of change and development, I took that opportunity to show South Africans the true face of Great Britain – a compassionate and friendly nation which believes deeply that no matter who we are or where we come from, we are all connected as one people - we are our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper - and we have an obligation to care for one another as we would care for our own. That is our place in the world and that’s why we’re so proud to be British.

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