One Britain One Nation song means well but national pride cannot be faked – Ayesha Hazarika

One of the highlights of working for former Labour leader Ed Miliband (stay with me) was his tour de force 2012 conference speech, delivered without notes but with bags of passion, which centred on a simple crowd-pleasing slogan: One Nation.

The audience and commentators loved it. Miliband borrowed the concept from former Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli, and outlined his vision for Labour to be an inclusive “One Nation” party which would rebuild a fairer Britain out of the financial crash which would help working people.

Sound familiar? One Nation is a cracking concept. It never ages. It appeals to pretty much every part of the political spectrum. So it’s no surprise it’s been rehashed by the original owners, the Conservatives, to try and inject some much-needed positivity and unity, five years on from that Brexit vote when we feel more divided than ever and are at each other’s throats on social media 24/7.

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Today is One Britain One Nation day. The government is encouraging schools across the country to come together and sing a “patriotic” song to foster a “spirit of inclusion with a collective purpose” (sample lyric: “Strong Britain, Great Nation!” repeated four times). The original idea was from an impressive retired police officer, Kash Singh, who has a noble ambition to improve community relations.

The concept is well-meaning. They always are. It’s just that when governments get involved with this kind of national pride business it becomes really difficult, weird and ripe for satire because the words do not match the deeds.

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Government encourages children to sing this 'One Britain One Nation' song on Jun...

It’s hard to feel a great sense of inclusion when this week, politicians have been using the legitimate concept of “white privilege” to stir up division between disadvantaged children from different ethnic backgrounds. It’s hard to feel a sense of purpose when kids are going to school hungry. It’s hard to feel a bracing sense of pride when Gavin Williamson is UK Education Secretary.

Pride in your country is important. But pride has to be organic, a force too powerful to resist. It cannot be demanded by gimmicks. Like forcing every home to have a portrait of the Queen, as suggested by Tory MP Joy Morrissey. I have a lovely bone china mug with her Maj on it but that’s my personal naff Hyacinth Bouquet choice.

Ed Miliband championed the idea of 'One Nation' politics but national pride depends on actual achievements, not gimmicks (Picture: Yui Mok/PA)Ed Miliband championed the idea of 'One Nation' politics but national pride depends on actual achievements, not gimmicks (Picture: Yui Mok/PA)
Ed Miliband championed the idea of 'One Nation' politics but national pride depends on actual achievements, not gimmicks (Picture: Yui Mok/PA)

Instead of a portrait, how about extending the £20 Universal Credit top-up? Or getting some laptops out to homes which need it?

You can’t fake or force national pride. Your love for your country doesn’t come from soil, buildings or old statues, but from people, culture, achievements and collective endeavour, whether it’s the vaccine roll-out, sporting feats or the stunning art and culture we produce.

Pride also comes from customs and kindness. The way we came together as neighbours during the pandemic made my heart burst with pride about this country. As did the fact that the bins still got collected.

People sharing life experiences creates a powerful, true sense of pride. British people in all their technicolour glory, from all walks of life love, and want, to have pride in these shores and celebrate the best of us from the global superstar to the local hero. But we don’t need hollow gestures which don’t pass the smell test.

We desperately want the government and institutions to bring us together, to encourage us to see the best in each other, rather than stoking this constant, exhausting, dangerous culture war. That would be genuinely One Nation, and a tired, frayed nation would be ever so grateful.

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