Gordon Brown returned to the theme of British identity this week, using his Hugo Young Memorial Lecture to make the case for ‘a distinctively British set of ideas about ourselves and our role in the world.’ (hat-tip to Gareth at the CEP for the link).
In many ways it was an excellent speech, one which obviously reflects sincere and deeply held views.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the subtext of Brown’s championing of Britishness. If he succeeds in becoming British Prime Minister he will control the government of England on devolved issues which do not effect his Scottish constituents.
Brown’s former spindoctor Charlie Whelan summed up the agenda best back in March:
for the sublest rulers of the Raj, epitomised by Brown and by the former defence secretary George Robertson, the thing is to keep banging the drum for the UK. Let the devolution settlement keep the Nats at bay in the north; keep the Britishness to the fore in the south, to preserve the union. This might be labelled the enlightened policy. (Sunday Times)
The problem for Brown is that the democratic deficit this entails for England is at odds with the ideals he claims to be defending.
Indeed his own speech highlights the fact that those ideals have themselves dictated opposition to undemocratic British governments.
So powerful did the British idea of liberty become that – perhaps ironically – the American war of independence was fought by both sides "in the name of British liberty."