‘We love our city and belong to it. Neither of us are English; we’re Londoners, you see,” wrote Hanif Kureishi in his screenplay for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. The film touches on a theme that has become even more powerful since its 1987 release – the idea that to be a Londoner is to transcend nationhood and, in particular, Englishness. Economically and financially, London has diverged from the rest of the country. Culturally and politically, there are signs that its 7.8m inhabitants are doing the same.
According to the old saw, the past is a different country. But different countries are keener on their pasts than others, as this chart from IpsosMori suggests:
This is one of many fascinating findings in the pollster’s Global Trends Survey, an annual report produced from samples from 20 countries. One theme that emerges is the divergence between the US and China on issues such as how keen people are to embrace new technology, new brands, and how optimistic they are for the next generation. In general, China is looking forward while the US is looking back.
Buried in a folder somewhere in my flat is a piece of paper certifying that I am not a sex offender. During university holidays I worked for a charity that tries to help young people with learning disabilities. Before I could start I had to be approved by Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish government that maintains lists of people banned from working with children and disabled people, and advises organisations so they can “make safer and more informed recruitment decisions”.
I worked with children who had, inter alia, Down’s syndrome, autism and Asperger’s syndrome. As well as helping to run a summer school, I worked one-on-one with children in an effort to improve their confidence, learning and health. Giving parents a break was part of the job, as was taking advantage of Edinburgh’s cultural and sporting highlights. My work took me all over the capital. Physical contact was unavoidable – for example, when crossing busy roads. Some of the children I worked with liked to go swimming and some would need help getting changed. Parents needed to trust me to take care of their vulnerable children in vulnerable situations.
Not content with writing brilliantly about one wizard, JK Rowling has blogged about Alex Salmond. In a post on her website the Harry Potter author explains why she is donating £1m to the No campaign – and will be voting against Scottish independence.
I encourage anyone interested in the referendum on Scottish independence to read Ms Rowling. She expresses more clearly than most unionists the idea that patriotism is compatible with scepticism of independence. Ms Rowling may also help to explain why the Yes campaign is struggling to convince women. Hers is a proud, quiet and pragmatic defence of Scotland within the UK, one that will chime with many voters.
With the honourable exception of the pupils who have to take their GCSEs in a climate of ill-informed hysteria, there is something for everyone in the Birmingham schools story. It is evidence of too much and too little central control. Religious schools are part of the problem and part of the solution. Responses by politicians tell us something (or nothing) about the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour.
On Monday, Ofsted published details of its inspections of 21 schools in and around Birmingham. The schools inspector found five of the schools to be “inadequate”, its lowest of four possible overall ratings. Deploying various euphemisms about a lack of “safeguarding” and failures in “governance”, Ofsted alleges that it discovered evidence that pupils were being exposed to extreme Islamic views, or at the very least, that they were not being encouraged to be tolerant. In some cases it received evidence from teachers who said that incompetent school governors with radical views were playing increasingly influential roles in the running of the school.
“Devolution will be and is the salvation of the UK”, Tony Blair said in 1999. Fifteen years later, as Scotland prepares to vote in the referendum on its independence, some might say devolution will be turn out to be Britain’s downfall. But that is not stopping politicians from giving the former prime minister’s gambit another try.
On Monday, the Conservatives became the third of the three main Westminster parties to publish proposals for powers that could be devolved to Scotland in the case of a No vote on September 18. In part this is belated realpolitik. Further devolution, rather than independence or the status quo, is not on the ballot paper. In hindsight, Prime Minister David Cameron may come to see that decision as myopic. It is an option that remains popular with Scottish voters, as politicians from both sides know.
The prime minister’s short-termism notwithstanding, the Conservative offer should be seen as part of a response to longer-term trends. Centrifugal forces are undermining British cohesion. Scotland is the most obvious manifestation of this trend but it is also apparent in Wales, Northern Ireland, and don’t forget, England.
As well as revealing how British pluralism is more popular among minorities, Tuesday’s Policy Exchange report into diversity in the UK includes data on educational performance across different ethnic groups. Two trends stand out.
First, the poor average performance of white Britons. Second, the success of Indians.
What do the data below tell us about Britain?
The table is taken from A Portrait of Modern Britain, a report published on Tuesday by Policy Exchange, a think tank. It presents the answers of respondents from the six biggest ethnic groups in the UK to the question how would they describe their national identity given the following options: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Other (respondents were asked to identify what they meant by Other.)
The data, taken from the 2011 census, suggest that only about 14 per cent of whites report a “British only” identity. Respondents were allowed to list more than one identity but the figure only rises to a quarter when a dual British identity is included. Sixty-four per cent, however, say that they have an English-only identity.
The Uses of Literacy (1957) by Richard Hoggart, who died on Thursday, was a book that shaped how many Britons see their culture and politics. Published the same year as Michael Young’s Family and Kinship in East London (1957), it showed the rhythm and cadence of lives in industrial communities, which had been muffled by the haughtiness of Britain after the second world war. As the historian David Kynaston tells us in Modernity Britain (2013), Alan Bennett said The Uses: “made me feel that my life, dull though it was, might be made the stuff of literature”.
Not everyone felt that way. Kynaston also quotes from Kingsley Amis’s typically lordly and disdainful review of The Uses: “It would be pleasant to say of the book written out of such obvious earnestness and decency of feeling that it represented an achievement, but it is only an attempt.” You can see where Martin gets it from.