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About A Week: Don't Call Me British

Don't call me British, says Englishman Peter Hinchliffe.

In the seventh decade of my life I've decided I no longer choose to describe myself as British.

I'm an Englishman born and bred, happy to print ENGLISH in the nationality identification box.

This declaration, should it come to their notice, will not please Brit Prime Minister Gordon Brown or Alan Johnson, the U.K.'s former education secretary.

Both are evidently alarmed by the drift away from an identification with Britishness.

The results of a British Social Attitudes survey announced this week revealed that only four out of every ten English folk would describe themselves as British, Only 14 percent of Scots and less than 30 percent of the Welsh would describe themselves as Brits. Both Scotland and Wales now have their own parliaments.

The announcement of a shift away from British identity came in the month in which the 300th anniversary of the political union of England and Scotland was marked. In the present climate the word "celebrated" would be highly inappropriate to link with this anniversary.

Johnson, during his time as education secretary, announced that schools in England will soon be compelled to teach Britishness.

Secondary school pupils up to the age of 16 must learn about shared values and life in the United Kingdom in citizenship classes.

Scotland and Wales control their own schools.

Mr. Johnson commissioned a review of how schools teach citizenship in the wake of bombings in London by Islamic terrorists who were British citizens.

That report recommended that pupils should now study free speech, the rule of law, mutual tolerance and respect for equal rights. Currently there is not enough emphasis put on British identity and history.

Mr. Johnson said youngsters should be encouraged to think critically about issues of race, ethnicity and religion.

New topics for citizenship lessons will be immigration, slavery, the legacy of the British Empire, the European Union, the rule of law, democracy and equality.

Mr. Johnson added, "More can be done to strengthen the curriculum so that pupils are taught more explicitly about why British values of tolerance and respect prevail in society and how our national, regional, religious and ethnic identities have developed over time."

The new ingredients in citizenship lessons are titled "Identity and Diversity: Living together in the U.K."

Addressing a conference arranged by the Fabian Society before he became Prime Minister Mr. Brown said, "While we have always been a country of different nations and thus of plural identities -- a Welshman can be Welsh and British, just as a Cornishman or woman is Cornish, English and British -- and may be Muslim, Pakistani or Afro-Caribbean, Cornish, English and British -- there is always a risk that, when people are insecure, they retreat into more exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory -- when instead, we the British people should be able to gain great strength from celebrating a British identity which is bigger than the sum of its parts and a union that is strong because of the values we share and because of the way these values are expressed through our history and our institutions."

Whether bold words such as those of Mr. Brown or classroom instruction and debate can stem the ebbing tide of Britishness remains to be seen.

My passport emphasizes that when I go traveling I shall still be identified as a Brit. It contains the words:

"Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary."

Britannic. There's no escaping that tag, British.

I'm all in favor of co-operation, particularly when countries share a small island. But I would like to be identified as English. Sorry, Mr. Brown. Sorry, Mr. Johnson. I wish to be identified by the country into which I was born.

By the way, we English, Scots, Irish and Welsh do share a keen sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves. I hope there's room for laughter in the new high school lessons in Britishness.

These offering gleaned from the Internet could be used for starters.

We're proud to be British because:

-Only in Britain can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.

-Only in Britain do supermarkets make sick people walk all the way to the back of the shop to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

-Only in Britain do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet coke.

-Only in Britain do banks leave both doors open and chain the pens to the counters.

-Only in Britain do we leave cars worth thousands of pounds on the drive and put our junk and cheap lawn mower in the garage.

-Only in Britain do we buy hot dogs in packs of ten and buns in packs of eight.

-Only in Britain are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.


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