What is Britain? This question doesn’t seem to have been asked much in the many arguments around the Daily Mail’s vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s father. Ralph Miliband, the Mail maintains, ‘hated Britain’.
Is ‘Britain’ simply a geographical area? Or does the Mail really mean the United Kingdom, which is a political entity? Or the British people? We talk so much about countries that we can easily forget that nationality is an abstract and ill-defined concept.
The Daily Mail’s deputy editor Jon Steafel now seems to have come up with a definition of Britain that few British people would recognise.
Defending his paper’s claims, he attacked Ralph Miliband’s ‘views on British institutions, from our schools to our royal family to our military, to our universities to the church (of England)’.
Steafel’s implication is that to oppose powerful institutions in Britain is to hate Britain. This is nonsense. There is more to Britain than its rulers. It is possible to love a country’s people, to love it as a place and to oppose its political and economic systems. Indeed, love for a country’s people should surely lead to a desire to be rid of unjust institutions that harm them.
I’m not too keen on the United Kingdom as a political entity, but I love the places and people within it. You may be surprised to hear that I also love many aspects of its politics.
I love British traditions of free speech, religious liberty and fair trials (although they’re abused). We have these things because people went out and campaigned for them, not because our rulers kindly handed them down.
I love the radical traditions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Radical egalitarian forms of Christianity became popular in these islands in the seventeenth century, just after England had abolished its monarchy (over a hundred years before France did so; sadly, it didn’t last).
I love the stunning scenery in Snowdonia and the Antrim coast. I love the mix of cultures, languages and religions on the streets of London. I love the friendliness of Cardiff and the feeling of homecoming as the bus goes over Magdalen Bridge in Oxford. I love the rural Midlands roads that I walked down as a child, greasy spoon cafes in Birmingham, the sight of the castle in Edinburgh and the passion of people whose poverty is no barrier to resisting injustice. I love the British people.
The Daily Mail stirs up hatred of the British working class, British Muslims, British LGBT people, British people who were born outside the UK and British people who claim benefits. It is the Daily Mail that hates Britain.
Symon Hill is an Ekklesia associate and co-founder of Christianity Uncut. His latest book, Digital Revolutions: Activism in the internet age, can be ordered in the New Internationalist bookshop.