Blairite Britain: On BNP and Cool Britannia
By Lawna Elayn Tapper
Amidst this potpourri of cultures that now make up the British society, we have the extreme right-wing British National Party (BNP) gaining strongholds locally.
The climate is ripe for the sort of propaganda and hysteria they seek to raise amongst the masses; the nation’s schools are brimming with children who speak no English and teachers’ time is diverted away from the curriculum. They’re taking all our jobs with their willingness to do cheap labour; even our newly-built or empty long-awaited homes are going to immigrants. Yes, the BNP are gaining seats; surely, that’s the crisis!
A real hotchpotch, that’s the British. It’s no wonder New Labour thought to launch a new identity for the nation. New Labour’s election victory in 1997 and the approach of a new millennium created what seemed ideal conditions for Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” schemes of the same period. Britain’s youngest Prime Minister appeared ready to take new risks to renew Britain’s identity.
By invitation to a party at 10 Downing St, Blair formed an association with young pop and art icons: Blur, Oasis, the Spice Girls in Union Jack dresses, as well as Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Austin Powers, and the like. Britain was ripe for rejuvenation after an 18-year Conservative reign. And what better way for a leader to show acceptance of that than to stand with those who are young, vibrant, and ready to make a statement?
But the whole scheme was actually even cleverer than that: the BritArt and BritPop world’s alignment with New Labour was no natural progression; it was being mindfully engineered as far back as the days of Neil Kinnock and Mo Mowlam. No wonder Blair went to the Brit Awards in 1996! The aim was to give the Party an image that would help to garner young voters who might be influenced by their idols.
“Cool Britannia” didn’t necessarily want to lose Britain’s image of a country of quaint traditions and heritage, and a people persistently uttering “sorry,” “thank you,” and “please.” It was more concerned with highlighting British cultural and technological innovations, its creativity, and establishing the nation’s place on the map as a global centre for high quality goods and services and a vibrant workforce. Nothing wrong with that!
But when related to Britain’s minority communities, how inclusive did it seem? Did New Labour’s pride in Britain’s multiculturalism, epitomized by the Notting Hill Carnival, seem tokenistic? In any case, years on the “Cool Britannia” scheme are criticized for being as faddish and short-lived as the Millennium Dome; remember that?! Even now we can hear a bewildered nation whisper: “What was that about?”
Faces of Blairite Britain: Trevor Phillips (left) and David Lammy MP (right) are very close to Tony Blair
Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Blair became overwhelmed and realized that he, himself, didn’t understand what the British identity is or has become. Should he encourage diversity, the young voices that truly believe in diversity? Could he dare to go for something so new and fresh from maverick and rebel types, trusting to let it unfold, not knowing where it would take the nation? Did someone nudge him discreetly and say, “you’ve got the votes, now jump ship”?
Still, the fearful can rest assured, Britain is still white. It’s only when you visit its cities, particularly London, that you get a sense of the global village. London is known for its vibrancy, and no group better typifies that than the youth. Cultures have crossed and no one is unaffected; journey into the cities and you will see the true homogeneity of Britain’s youth. You’ll see it in their walk, hear it in their music, and even in their talk.
The street style of dress, formally considered the “black” style of dress, is now everybody’s style of dress. White boys, Moroccan boys, and Indian boys bop through our streets in expensive trainers and baggy trousers that sag beneath their bum cheeks. Tops are big and hooded, bandannas tight, and caps askew. White girls don cane-row and find baby hairs to gel down onto the side of their faces, highlighting big hoop earrings just like the black girls in their crew. Boys and girls: they all do the bling thing!
America has Eminem, and Britain has Tim Westwood, but it’s the UK hiphop/garage scene that’s in tune with our youth. The likes of Lethal B, Kano and Asher D lead Lady Sovereign and other white characters in N-Dubs who show how well they can all “chat the lingo”:
“Nar, man, your beggin’ it, your on a nex’ ting – a long ting, das dred, trus’ me, you get me, Blood.” (kissing of teeth) “Safe, Rude Bwoy, gone!”
Confused? Talk to anyone young and street – white, black, Chinese…
What is going on in Britain? We even saw the crossing of cultures seep its way into the royal family. Remember when Princess Diana was dating and in love with an Arab, Dodi Al Fayed? I wonder who’ll be the next royal that lives to do the same?
But enough banter! Does all of this indeed constitute a crisis? I guess that depends on one’s outlook. If to be British must mean something in particular, something one-dimensional and ordered, then perhaps it is. On the other hand, if one believes deeply in the transience of humanity, then Britain’s current inability to form a clear perspective on nationhood, patriotism and identity might actually be quite exciting.
Britain is going to host the Olympics for the world six years from now. Let us watch and see what new perceptions that might bring. Perhaps time is presenting our nation with the opportunity to be a real vanguard of diversity. If the British embrace this challenge and acknowledge the value of all its various offerings, what a lesson for humanity that could be!
Perhaps concepts of patriotism, nationhood and identity, as we now know them, belong to a different time: a time that is past. Maybe something new is happening, unfolding.
Maybe divine seeds are looking to fall on a land that is open, honest, fearless and generous on a people who will lie fallow a while and be nourished until it is time for goodness to grow and be yielded.
Lawna Elayn Tapper is an editorial staff with Ricenpeas - an award-winning independent film production outfit.
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