HERE’S something I definitely am: British.
No doubts about that. No arguments. No ambiguities. I have not a known drop of exotic blood in me. I had eight great grandparents born and raised on this island.
Someone once told me the harsh vowels of Drury were Scandinavian. But that was a boat journey made long before the collective memory of my father’s family.
I am British. It’s an indisputable fact.
Here’s another: I’m not half glad I don’t have to sit the Home Office’s new British-ness test. I’d fail.
The government, in its infant wisdom, has decided foreign nationals wanting to settle here should only be allowed in if they can answer questions on such significant subjects as the workings of Parliament, the writing of Chaucer and the music of Purcell. Overseas nationals will need to pass the exam before they are given permission to stay. Other typical topics will be the Glorious Revolution and - of course! - the details of jury service.
“Bow down to our way of life, Johnny Foreigner,” isn’t quite how immigration minister Mark Harper put it. But basically it’s what he meant. And almost certainly what he wanted to say. In a Grant Mitchell voice, probably.
And, yet, let’s take stock. If faced with those topics and told we must answer questions correctly or we’d be deported, how many of us would assume we’d fail, pack our trunks and get our fingers crossed for a sunny destination before we’d even seen the test paper? Plenty, I reckon.
Because...well, we’re British, aren’t we?
Not American, where you’re patriotically indoctrinated from birth. Not French where one must j’adore the Republic. Not Chinese where criticism of the state tends to end with sensitive bits placed between electrodes.
We’re British, and official patriotism doesn’t sit so well.
Which, I think, means when it comes to the country we come from, the default attitude is generally: Nice to live here, hope the football team doesn’t lose to Germany, like the NHS and a good queue, quick mention for The Beatles, Shakespeare and the Rovers Return, didn’t-them-Victorians-do-well, me-nana-worked-the-factories-in-the-war, etc etc...
But as for state-sponsored appreciation of the nation? No thanks. Bit sinister. Bit social engineer-y. Bit weird, frankly. Unless it involves a Bank Holiday and then just give me that Union Jack and point me in the direction of a beer garden, Ma’am.
Or, at least, that’s my concept of being British.
Yours is probably different. That’s sort of British too, isn’t it? We’re not a homogeneous people, and it’s not a homogenous concept. To each individual a different interpretation; an effervescent idea always vaguely out of grasp.
And to put that in some poxy pop-quiz that tests some false notion of nationhood for newcomers is surely nothing but a waste of their time and our money.
Because surely wannabe Brits should only need to answer two questions: Will you obey the law? And will you do your best to benefit others (by paying tax perhaps)?
And if the answer is ‘yes’ to both then why should, for instance, knowing John Bercow’s job title matter?
Because I am as British as any man here. And it is for that reason I look at a state-set quiz and say: I care not a French fig if newcomers know none of these things as long as they bring good to this, their new British home.