Examine the Claim That Britishness Is Defined by Shared Values

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Evaluate the claim that British identity is defined by shared values.

“National identities are only one among the many identities that people can hold”, (Clarke, 2009, p.212). How people perceive themselves and are perceived by others as British poses the question as to what Britishness is and who counts as British? To evaluate the role, shared values play in defining the British Identity it is necessary to examine how it is formed through place, culture, ethnicity, diversity and imagined community, without judgements being made as to who should and should not be included.

Individuals if asked to describe themselves will do so in many different ways, but will give reference to family, peer groups, ethnic groups, gender and class, all of which play a part in defining a British Identity. However identity is socially constructed and therefore is flexible adapting to changing circumstances and situations. National identity needs to be redefined over time to make way for a modern diverse society and the political desire to define Britishness as it is today.

To examine a contemporary view of the British identity we need to attempt to define Britishness. The Home office provide information for those wishing to become British citizens, it states that “In the United Kingdom, national identity and citizenship do not always mean the same thing”, (Home Office cited in Clarke, 2009, p.210). It goes on to explain how people from different countries in Great Britain may describe themselves. For instance the Scottish and Welsh will regularly sate their nationality as Scottish and Welsh whilst stating they have British citizenship. In Northern Ireland the identity they choose to describe themselves by, “depends on their political and cultural allegiances”, (Home Office cited in Clarke, 2009, p.210), as they may state they are Irish, British or both. Whereas the English are more likely to state both nationality and citizenship as British. Alternatively Vron Ware sees Britain as “a composite nation, a patchwork of anomalies, mistakes and inconsistencies”, he refers to the fact that there is “an anthem, a flag and a queen, but there is no patron saint.....or founding date of an original constitution to be celebrated”, (Ware cited in Clarke, 2009, p.210/211). These points demonstrate that Brtishness cannot be defined simply through place, the views of its citizens, their culture, rituals and values need to be given consideration.

However for shared values to be significant in forming the basis of what defines Britishness they need to be shared by a sufficient amount of people. Values need to be able to stand alone and not rely on more established definitions such as those of place of birth, language, citizenship, politics and history and be unique and distinct from those of other national identities. Blunkett referred to those values as “tolerance, of openness and internationalism, our commitment to democracy and liberty, to civic duty and the public space”, (Blunkett cited in Clarke, 2009, p. 221). Phillips however refers to “deeper values of tolerance, egalitarianism and so forth......and the way we behave towards each other is the outward manifestation of our values”, (Phillips cited in Clarke, 2009, p.223). These shared values could be what engenders trust and links society together, forming an identity to which we relate to and become known.

How people relate to identity, and who we think we are, is not just about “’having an identity’, but involves negotiations with themselves and with different groups of significant others (from officials to networks of friends to political opponents...)”, (Clarke, 2009, p.214), resulting in people taking on multiple identities. The idea of Britain being defined by shared values is making the move towards a more exclusive idea of Britishness. Parekh feels that it is necessary to “rethink the national story and national identity” in order to “develop as a community of citizens and...
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