This was the Prime Minister today:
“I cannot believe… that the BBC is saying that they will not sing the words of Land Of Hope And Glory or Rule Britannia! as they traditionally do at the end of The Last Night of The Proms. I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture.”
The first point to make is that the BBC has made it clear that the decision is nothing to do with politics. It’s come about as a result of the live performance restrictions under lockdown, and the songs will be sung again next year.
It’s obvious what Johnson’s doing here. The right wing press all led this morning with lurid claims that the BBC is engaging in culture wars against cherished traditions, and he’s all too happy to play along with this narrative.
Take a close look though at the language that he uses – “our history, our traditions, our culture.” I’ve written in my book about the culture of these islands, and the idea that there’s one unified culture is ridiculous. The culture of Highland pipers, Cornish fishermen, or the travelling community is just as much a part of this country’s tradition as the music of Sir Edward Elgar. And culture doesn’t have to be centuries old. I daresay that Johnson would cringe in embarrassment listening to a grime artist from Hackney, but to many people that is a special and uniquely British culture.
“Our history” is an even more egregious concept. The working classes have little common history with that of the ruling elites. The history that I celebrate includes winning the right to vote, the right to organise in trade unions. Britons never shall be slaves ? Do you really imagine that they sang this in the cotton mills, or in the workhouses ? And how revealing it is of the racist mindsets of the likes of Boris Johnson that they subscribe to a idea of a common history that excludes millions of Britons who can trace their origins to countries formerly under British imperial rule.