A national “Britishness Day” should form the heart of a new drive celebrate this country’s heritage and values, Birmingham MP and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne has said.
It would be part of a package of patriotic measures including a new Bill of British Rights, money to clean up and restore historic landmarks and greater acknowledgment of the contributions made by armed forces veterans.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) said immigration was good for Britain - but warned that the country also needed “shared standards” which everyone understood.
In a speech to left-wing think-tank Progress, he said everyone would celebrate a Britishness day in their own way. However, a number of themes had been suggested by members of the public, he said.
“History, the royal family, a queen’s speech, Remembrance, young people, schools, singing, street parties, carnivals, music, concerts, dance, food, drinking, art, sports, discussions, ceremonies were all mentioned as good ways to celebrate both traditional British culture and to recognise the diverse cultures from other countries that now make up the UK population.”
The Minister added: “There was of course no consensus on the date. The Queen’s birthday, May Day, All Saints Day, St George’s Day, Hastings, Trafalgar, Magna Carta, Empire day all got a mention. As did Pancake Day, Whitsunday, and Easter
“I myself, have become convinced that the August bank holiday weekend – what someone has called ‘the Great British weekend’ - has the virtue of being in the summer, and already being a bank holiday; there are other arguments for linking something to Remembrance Sunday or another apposite date in the Autumn.”
The national day would be part of a package of measures designed to strengthen national unity, he said.
“The Statement, or Bill, of British Rights and Duties is perhaps the most constitutionally prominent opportunity to set out a picture of the contract that binds us together.
“The Olympics will be an extraordinary stage of which the UK will have the chance to set out our national story and traditions. Renewed investment in our history and the sites, landmarks, monuments and markers of our shared heritage provides not just a way of enticing tourists to Britain, but a focus for local interest and pride.
“Many in the UK would like to see greater honour accorded to our veterans and leaders like the Chief Rabbi have argued for greater attention for inter-generational exposure to the sacrifice of others.
He added: “In our schools, the citizenship curriculum has come on miles since 1997.”
Labour needed to take public concern about immigration seriously, or the Conservatives would win support over the issues, Mr Byrne said.
“After four months on the road, travelling all over Britain, talking to people about what those standards look like, I am convinced that in essence people want no more of newcomers than four commitments.
“To learn English; to work hard and pay taxes; to follow the law, and to make an effort to integrate. That to me does not sound over the top, chauvinist or reactionary
“This appetite for shared standards is, however, acute in Britain today, and this is the lesson of the immigration debate for Labour’s wider agenda.”
“My warning is that unless Labour takes this argument seriously the Tories will seek to take this ground.”