Gordon Brown – 2004 Speech at the British Council Annual Lecture

The speech made by Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 7 July 2004.

Can I say what a pleasure it is to have the privilege to deliver the annual British Council Lecture.

To celebrate this year an exceptionally successful seventy years of an institution which has played and continues to play such an important part in British society and in Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Now last month in a speech at the Mansion House, I argued how in the last half of the last century post imperial Britain came to be defined to the world by perceptions of national economic decline.

And I said that in the first years of this new century we can begin to identify how:

  • a once stop go British economy is now stable;
  • a once corporatist British business and industrial culture is seen now as more enterprising and more flexible;
  • a country once characterised by high unemployment now enjoys record employment;
  • a country which can now, on a rising tide of confidence, aspire to become one of the great success stories of the new global economy.

But if we are to fully realise the economic potential of Britain my view is that we need something more.  For the twelve years I have been Shadow Chancellor or Chancellor, I have felt that our country would be better able to meet and master the challenges of ever more intense global competition if we could build a shared sense of national economic purpose. Indeed, over half a century, Britain has been damaged by the absence of agreement on economic purpose or direction: lurching for narrow political reasons from one short term economic panacea to another, often public sector fighting private, management versus worker, state versus market in a sterile battle for territory, that deprived British businesses and British workforces of confidence about the long term and held our country back. So when in 1997 I made the Bank of England independent my aim was to build a consensus across all sections of society about the priority we all attached to economic stability.  A shared purpose not just across macroeconomic policy but across the whole range of economic questions is, I believe, even more essential now not just to face up to global competition from Asia as well as Europe and America but if we are to have the strength as a country to make the hard choices on priorities that will determine our success.

Creating a shared national purpose also reflects a deeper need: to rediscover a clear and confident sense of who we are as a country.

I believe that just about every central question about our national future – from the constitution to our role in Europe, from citizenship to the challenges of multiculturalism – even the question of how and why we deliver public services in the manner we do – can only be fully answered if we are clear about what we value about being British and what gives us purpose and direction as a country.

Take the vexed question of Europe. I believe it has been a lack of confidence about what Britain stands for that has made it difficult for us to feel confident about our relationship with, and our potential role in, Europe.  And as a result led many to believe – wrongly – that the only choice for Britain is between splendid isolation and total absorption. As with the debate over all international questions, the debate over Europe is, at root, about how the British national interest is defined and what we should stand for as a country.

Take our constitution and all the great and continuing debates about the nature of the second chamber, the relationship of the legislative to the executive, the future of local and central government.  Our approach to resolving each of these questions is governed by what sort of country we think we are and what sort of country we think we should become.

Take devolution and nationalism. While the United Kingdom has always been a country of different nations and thus of plural identities – a Welshman can be Welsh and British just as a Cornishman or woman is Cornish, English and British – and may be Muslim, Pakistani or Afro Caribbean, Cornish, English and British – the issue is whether we retreat into more exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory, or whether we are still able to celebrate a British identity which is bigger than the sum of its parts and a Union that is strong because of the values we share and because of the way these values are expressed through our history and our institutions.

And take the most recent illustration of what challenges us to be more explicit about these issues:  the debate about asylum and immigration – and the debate about multiculturalism. Here the question is essentially whether our national identity is defined by race and ethnicity – a definition that would leave our country at risk of relapsing into making a misleading ‘cricket test’ or, worse, colour the determination of what it is to be British.  Or whether there are values which shape our national identity and which all citizens can share – thus separating citizenship from race – and which can find explicit expression so that they become a unifying and strengthening force.

And this is important not just for tackling these questions – central as they are – but for an even larger reason.

In a growingly more insecure world people feel a need to be rooted and they draw strength from shared purpose.

Indeed if people are to cope successfully with often bewildering change then a sense of belonging is vital.  And that, in turn, depends on a clear shared vision of national identity.

And I want to suggest that our success as Great Britain – our ability to meet and master not just the challenges of a global marketplace but also the international, demographic, constitutional and social challenges ahead – and even the security challenges facing a terrorist threat that has never been more challenging and demands upon those charged with our security never greater – depends upon us rediscovering from our history the shared values that bind us together and on us becoming more explicit about what we stand for as a nation.

But if these issues around national identity are so important, my starting question must be: why over decades have we as a country singularly failed to address them and yet we see – as Jonathan Freedland has so eloquently described – other countries, principally America, successfully defining themselves by values that their citizens share in common?  The real answer, I believe, lies in our post war history – in a loss of self confidence and direction, even a resignation to national decline, a loss of self confidence that is itself now becoming part of our history.

I was born in mid century in what you might now call middle Scotland – 1951. And while much was changing around us, Britain was still a country of fixed certainties that – echoing Orwell’s ‘Lion and the Unicorn’ – were well understood, virtually unquestioned and barely stated.

The early 1950s was the world of Sir Winston Churchill, a coronation that was reported with almost religious enthusiasm, an unquestionably United Kingdom, and around us symbols of an imperial Britain.  I grew up in the fifties and sixties on maps of the world with a quarter of it pink and on British books and comics and then films which glorified the Blitz, the spitfires, Sir Douglas Bader and endless reruns of the Guns of Navarone.

This was, of course, a Britain whose confidence was built – unlike the USA – not on aspirations about the future but on real achievements of the past:

  • the Britain that could legitimately make claim to be the first country in the world to reject the arbitrary rule of monarchy;
  • the Britain that was first to make a virtue of tolerance and liberty;
  • the Britain that was first in the industrial revolution;
  • the Britain that was centre to the world’s largest empire – the global economy of its day;
  • the Britain that unlike continental Europe was never subject to revolution;
  • the Britain that had the imperial mission which made us a world power and then a ‘defence of the West’ mission which appeared to justify a continuing sense of ourselves as a world power;
  • the Britain that – unlike America which as a country of immigrants had to define itself by its belief in liberty and opportunity for all – did not feel its exceptionalism called for any mission statement, or defining goals, or explicit national ethos. Indeed we made a virtue of understatement or no statement at all.

This is a long way from the image of Britain of recent decades  – what now goes for ‘post war Britain’ – that long half century of uncertainty:

  • the Britain of managed decline – at home and abroad
  • of failing corporatism
  • of sterile self defeating struggles between public and private sectors, management and unions, state and market.  (In the fifties it was said we had managed decline, in the sixties mismanaged decline, and in the seventies we declined to manage).
  • the Britain
    • of doubts and hesitations about Europe
    • of the growth of secessionist movements in Scotland and Wales
    • of, as immigration rose, a retreat by some into defining Britishness through race and ethnicity, what was called the ‘cricket test’
    • and then, as the sun set on the empire, the failed attempts to root our post 1945 identity simply in the longevity of our institutions alone – indeed in the idea of unchanging institutions.

It was almost as if we looked backward with nostalgia because we could not look forward with hope.  And so as the gap between imperial myth and reality grew, so too the view grew that Britain was not, in fact, underpinned by any strong sense of Britishness at all.  And it led to a questioning of the very existence of Britain, right across mainstream opinion. Indeed Andrew Marr now the political editor of the BBC choose to entitle his ‘state of the nation’ book ‘The Day That Britain Died’, writing ‘I have a profound belief in the likelihood of a British union dissolving within a decade.’

For Neil Ascherson from the liberal left all that remains of Britishness is ‘a state, a flag and armed forces recruited from every part… just institutions…not social reality’.   And with a similar eloquence his fellow Scottish writer Tom Nairn has argued that because there was little that is British left to underpin Britain, what he called ‘The Break Up of Britain’ was inevitable.

Professor Linda Colley whose ground breaking historical research had demonstrated that the ‘United Kingdom’ was founded on great but ultimately transient historical forces – the strength of anti French feeling, the bonds of empire and Protestantism  – concludes:

‘The factors that provided for the forging of the British nation in the past have largely ceased to operate.  Protestantism, that once vital cement, has now a limited influence on British culture, as indeed has Christianity itself. Recurrent wars with the states of continental Europe have in all likelihood come to an end, so different kinds of Briton no longer feel the same compulsion to remain united in the face of the enemy from without. And crucially both commercial supremacy and imperial hegemony have gone. And no more can Britons reassure themselves of their distinct and privileged identity by contrasting themselves with the impoverished Europeans or by exercising authority over manifestly alien people.  God has ceased to be British and providence no longer smiles’.

And the historian Norman Davies, even lists 18 British institutions which according to him have defined Britishness and which he now suggests have lost their authority, putting the existence of Britain in doubt.

And this view of decline and decay – and then a profound sense we have lost our way as a country – is, if anything, held more forcibly today by writers and thinkers from the right – Roger Scruton (whose highly challenging study of Englishness is entitled ‘An Elegy’) Simon Heffer, Ferdinand Mount.   For them the final nails in the coffin of Great Britain are not just devolution but Britain succumbing to multiculturalism and to Europe. For Mount, quoting Orwell that ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality’, our nation could become  ‘one giant cultural mall in which we would all wander, free to chose from a variety of equally valuable lifestyles, to take back and exchange purchases when not given satisfaction or simply to window shop’.   And Melanie Phillips concludes ‘the big political divide in the country is now clear…it is over nothing less than the protection of liberal democracy and the defence of the nation itself’.

Yet as I read these writers and thinkers I detect that beyond the battleground on individual issues – our relationship with Europe, devolution and the constitution, asylum and immigration – some common ground does exist: it is the recognition of the importance of and the need to celebrate and entrench a Britishness defined by shared values strong enough to overcome discordant claims of separatism and disintegration.

Take David Goodhart’s recent contribution to the multiculturalism debate. In questioning whether there is an inherent conflict between the need for social cohesion and diversity he argues that he wanted to emphasise that what we need is ‘a core set of social norms…who are we does matter’.

And while Melanie Phillips argues that a culture war is raging she has a remedy rooted in shared values of Britishness. There is hope, she says, because ‘if citizenship is to mean anything at all Ministers must sign up to an overarching set of British values’.

Interestingly while Sir Herman Ousley, former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, directly assails her views and indeed those of David Goodhart, he too returns to that same starting point – that there are British values all can share. Echoing Orwell’s ‘England My England’ his biographer Sir Bernard Crick argues British ‘people should have a sense of allegiance, loyalty, law and order and political tolerance’. Even Tom Nairn writes of Britishness that ‘there is a residual and yet still quite comfortable non-smallness about the term’.

But when we ask what are the core values of Britishness, can we find in them a muscularity and robustness that neither dilutes Britishness and British values to the point they become amorphous nor leaves them so narrowly focused that many patriotic British men and women will feel excluded? Of course, a strong sense of national identity derives from the particular, the special things we cherish. But I think we would all agree that we do not love our country simply because we occupy a plot of land or hold a UK passport but also because that place is home and because that represents values and qualities – and bonds of sentiment and familiarity – we hold dear.

And it is my belief that out of tidal flows of British history – 2000 years of successive waves of invasion, immigration, assimilation and trading partnerships that have created a uniquely rich and diverse culture – certain forces emerge again and again which make up a characteristically British set of values and qualities which, taken together, mean that there is indeed a strong and vibrant Britishness that underpins Britain.

I believe that because these islands – and our maritime and trading traditions – have made us remarkably outward looking and open, this country has fostered a vigorously adaptable society and has given rise to a culture both creative and inventive.  But an open and adapting society also needs to be rooted and Britain’s roots are on the most solid foundation of all a passion for liberty anchored in a sense of duty and an intrinsic commitment to tolerance and fair play.

The values and qualities I describe are of course to be found in many other cultures and countries. But when taken together, and as they shape the institutions of our country these values and qualities – being creative, adaptable and outward looking, our belief in liberty, duty and fair play – add up to a distinctive Britishness that has been manifest throughout our history, and shaped it. ‘When people discard, ignore or mock the ideals which formed our national character then they no longer exist as a people but only as a crowd’, writes Roger Scruton. And I agree with him.

For there is indeed is a golden thread which runs through British history of the individual standing firm for freedom and liberty against tyranny and the arbitrary use of power.  It runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215 to the Bill of Rights in 1689 to not just one but four Great Reform Acts within less than a hundred years. And the great tradition of British liberty has, first and foremost, been rooted in the protection of the individual against the arbitrary power of first the monarch and then the state.

But it is a golden thread which has also has twined through it a story of common endeavour in villages, towns and cities – men and women with shared needs and common purposes, united as neighbours and citizens by a strong sense of duty and of fair play.

And their efforts – and that sense of duty and fair play – together produced uniquely British settlements that, from generation to generation, have balanced the rights and responsibilities of individuals, communities and state and led to a deeply engrained British tradition of public service.

First, liberty. It was Montesquieu who wrote in the 18th century that ours was ‘the freest country in the world’.  I would suggest that it is because different ethnic groups came to live together in one small island that we first made a virtue of tolerance, welcoming and included successive waves of settlers  – from Saxons and Normans to Huguenots and Jews and Asians and Afro-Caribbean’s, and recognising plural identities. Today 85 per cent believe a strong sense of tolerance is important to our country’s success. And I would suggest that out of that toleration came a belief in religious and political freedom – illustrated best by Adam Nicholson’s story of the creation of the King James Bible: different denominations coming together in committee to create what was called ‘irenicon’, which means a symbol of unity for the whole nation.

Liberty meant not just tolerance for minorities but a deeply rooted belief – illustrated early in our history by trial by jury – in the freedom of the individual under the law and in the liberty of the common people rooted in constantly evolving English common law.  When Henry Grattan – the 18th century Irish politician  – attempted to sum up our unique characteristics, he said that you can get a Parliament from anywhere but you can only get liberty from England. Indeed so powerful were the ideas continued in the 1689 Bill of Rights which led to liberty associations all over Britain that both sides in the American War of Independence fought ‘in the name of British liberty’ and before America took the word to be its own, liberty was, in fact, identified with Britain.

Of course liberty is, in Matthew Arnold’s words, ‘a very good horse to ride, but to ride somewhere’. And history is strewn with examples of how we failed to live up to our ideals. But the idea of liberty did mean, in practice, that for half a century it was Britain that led the worldwide anti slavery movement with engraved on the badge of the anti slavery society a figure of a black man and the quote, ‘Am I not a man and a brother’.  Indeed at home no slave was ever permitted and abroad the Royal Navy searched the world to eradicate slavery.

And this view of liberty not only produced the Bill of Rights and the anti slavery movement but caused Britain to lead the way in restricting the arbitrary power of Monarchs and then onward to the far reaching democratic reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

And at every point this British belief in liberty has been matched by a British idea of duty as the virtue that reinforces neighbourliness and enshrines the idea of a public realm and public service.  A belief in the duty of one to another is an essential element of nationhood in every country but whether it arose from religious belief, from a ‘nobless oblige’, or from a sense of solidarity, duty in Britain – for most of the time an unwritten code of behaviour rather than a set of legal requirements – has been, to most people, the foundation of rights rather than their consequence.

And the call to civic duty and to public service – often impelled by religious convictions – led to the mushrooming of local and national endeavour, of associations and clubs, a rich tradition of voluntary organisations, local democracy and civic life.

From the guilds, the charities, the clubs and associations – which bred amongst other things the City of London’s unique structure  – and from the churches, to the municipal provision of public amenities like libraries and parks and then to the mutual insurance societies, trades unions and non governmental organisations, the British way is to recognise and enhance local initiative and mutual responsibility in civil affairs and to encourage and enhance the status of voluntary and community organisations – Burke’s ‘little platoons’ – in the service of their neighbourhoods.

Alongside that a passionate commitment to duty, Britishness has also meant a tradition of fair play. We may think today of British fair play as something applied on the sports field, but in fact most of the time it has been a very widely accepted foundation of social order:  treating people fairly, rewarding hard work, encouraging self improvement through education and being inclusive.  In his last speech to Parliament in March 1955 – the speech that urged the British people to ‘never flinch, never weary, never despair’ – Churchill described the essential qualities of the British people and at the forefront was fair play. For other nations, he said, ‘the day may dawn when fair play, love for one’s fellow men, respect for justice and freedom, will enable tormented generations to march forth triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell’.

And this commitment to fair play – captured in Orwell’s word ‘decency’ – has animated British political thought on both left and right over the centuries, right through to the passion for social improvement of the Victorian middle classes and the Christian socialists and trade unions who struggled for a new welfare settlement in the 20th century.  It was a settlement – making opportunity available to all, supporting the most vulnerable in society, inclusive, and ensuring what we would today call social justice  – which over nearly half a century brought forth agreement across party and across social classes.

So the British way has always been more than self-interested individualism.  Even in the heyday of free market philosophy society was always thought to rest on something greater than harsh organised selfishness. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam Smith described the ‘helping hand’ that matched the ‘invisible hand’ of his ‘wealth of nations’. And he believed that the drive for economic success should be combined with traditions of social obligation, public service and a broad moral commitment to civic improvement. And this has brought forth tens of thousands of local neighbourhood civic associations, unions, charities, voluntary organisations – the space between state and markets in a Britain that has always rejected absolutism and crude selfish individualism – that together embody that very British idea – civic society – that was discovered in Britain long before ‘social capital’ ever entered our dictionary.  And it is an idea that Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks captures eloquently for our times when he talks of British society and citizenship not in terms of a contract between people that, in legalistic ways, defines our rights narrowly on the basis of self interest but a British ‘covenant’ of rights and responsibilities born out of shared values which can inspire us to neighbourliness and service to others.

So while we talk in economics of the Anglo Saxon model – the pursuit of economic individualism through free markets – Britishness has always been more than just the ‘freedom from’ restraint but also stands for civic duty and fairness  And these two qualities of British life – the notion of civic duty binding people to one another and the sense of fair play which underpins the idea of a proper social order – come together in the ethic of public service. And this gave rise to great British public institutions admired throughout the world  — from the National Health Service and our army, navy and air forces to our universities, including the Open University, and the expression of civic purpose and social inclusion in culture and arts – our great national and municipal art galleries, museums and the BBC – not least the BBC World Service and the British Council.

Alongside these values have been found what I regard as essentially British qualities: an ability to adapt, and an openness to new ideas and new influences which have made us, as a country, both creative and internationalist in our outlook.

To have managed change for three hundred years without violent revolution is unique.  I find it extraordinary that some appear to believe that it is somehow British to defend the idea of a constitution that never changes.  It is precisely our ability to evolve our constitution that characterises the British way. So stability in our society does not come from rigidity:  it comes from the ability to accommodate and master change.  ‘A state without the means of some change’ Edmund Burke famously declared ‘is without the means of its conservation’. ‘Change is inevitable’ Benjamin Disraeli said in 1867, ‘in a progressive society change is constant’. And a willingness and ability to adapt enabled Britain to embrace the opportunities of the industrial revolution with unprecedented vigour and success and, more than a century later, to mobilise from peace to war to survive and triumph in two world conflicts.

And our very openness to new ideas and influences also means that at the heart of British qualities are a creativity and inventiveness – from the first agricultural revolution to the pioneering work of Babbage and Turing that made possible the computer and information revolution; in science discoveries from DNA to cloning; in engineering the work of Brunel and the inventions from the steam engine to the TV; and in medicine from penicillin to interferon – an inventiveness that has ranged right across medicine and science to the arts and music.  And so it is not surprising that as we rediscover these qualities, British dynamism is leading the world in some of the most modern and creative industries – communications, fashion, film, popular music, art, architecture, and many areas of science and the environmental technologies.

And out of that same openness to new ideas and influences, an outward looking internationalism that made us not just the workshop of the world but as a country of merchant adventurers, explorers and missionaries the greatest trading nation the world has ever seen. Many people have made much of the fact that Britain was a set of islands.  But unlike some other island nations British history has never been marked by insularity.  We are an island that has always looked outwards, been engaged in worldwide trade and been open to new influences – our British qualities that made us see, in David Cannadine’s words, the Channel not as a moat but as a highway.  An island position that has made us internationalist and outward looking and not – as other islands have become – isolationist and inward looking.

Of course all nations lay claim to uniqueness and exceptionalism and many would choose or emphasise the qualities of the British people in a different way from me. And in highlighting this view of British history – one which places what I regard as intrinsically British values and qualities at its centre  – I do not want to claim moral superiority for Britain nor romanticise the past. And I do not gloss over abuses which also characterised our past. Nor do I claim the values and qualities I have described are not to be found in other nations. But I believe that they have shaped our institutions and together they have been responsible for the best of our past — creating a distinctive British identity that should make us proud, and not reticent nor apologetic, about our history. But most of all these values and qualities should inform any discussion of the central questions affecting our future.

In fact the two ideologies that have characterised the histories of other countries have never taken root here.  On the one hand an ideology of state power – which choked individual freedom making the individual slave to some arbitrarily defined collective interest – has found little or no favour in Britain. On the other hand an ideology of crude individualism – which leaves the individual isolated, stranded, on his own, detached from society around him – has no resonance for a Britain which has a strong sense of fair play and an even stronger sense of duty and a rich tradition of voluntary organisations, local democracy and civic life.

And this is my idea of Britain today.  Not the individual on his or her own living in isolation sufficient unto himself but a Britain of creativity and enterprise which is also a Britain of civic duty and public service.  And in this vision of society there is a sense of belonging that expands outwards as we grow from family to friends and neighbourhood; a sense of belonging that then ripples outwards again from work, school, church and community and eventually outwards to far beyond our home town and region to define our nation and country as a society.

And we should not only be explicit about our British values but express them fully in way we organise our institutions. Let me suggest the agenda that flows from this.

First, start with Burke’s ‘little platoons’ which reflect both a British desire for liberty and a strong sense of civic duty and fair play.

If the British way is to encourage and enhance the status of voluntary and community organisations in the service of their neighbourhoods then we should recognise that aspects of post war centralisation fell short of our vision of empowered individuals and vibrant communities. The man in Whitehall never knew best; the woman in the WRVS and local community service usually knew much more. And so the question is how from the foundation of British values we refashion the settlement between individual, community and government.

Today in Britain, there are more than 160,000 registered charities, more than 200,000 non-charitable voluntary and community organisations, around 400,000 in total, one for every hundred of the adult population – defining Britain as such a thing as society: an estimated 16 million people who do some kind of voluntary work – and nearly two adults in every five who give of their time to help others at least once in the year – and we best reflect our British traditions of civic duty and public service by strengthening our community organisations and making them more relevant to the challenges of today.  Take community service by young people. If America has its Peace Corps and now its Ameircorps, South Africa its National Youth Service, France its ‘Unis-Cite’, the Netherlands its ‘Groundbreakers Initiative’, Canada its Katimavik programme, should not Britain – with far greater and deeper traditions of voluntary and community service – be building on those traditions to engage a new generation of young people in service to their communities?  And should we not be doing far more to provide nationally and locally the means by which young people find it easy to participate?

I am sure that following the Russell Commission on young people, we will wish to consider establishing a national youth community service; to ensure that poverty should not be a barrier to a gap year option for a young person; to promote a range of opportunities nationally and internationally that back up the marvellous work already done by volunteering organisations; and to secure a business engagement in this that can translate the widespread social concern that exists among employers and employees alike into effective action for the common good.  And I am sure we will also want to do more to translate community values into meeting new needs through new means like the internet and community television and so carry on the British tradition of voluntary service into the next generation. Take mentoring – underdeveloped in Britain – where I can envisage a new initiative for the future of Britain where through the internet, TV, local organisations and personal contact, we could establish a new network of mentors to befriend, advise, support and link those who need help and advice to those who can help.  And because sporting activity as so important to defining our country’s view of itself I believe we should also look in detail at the proposal to revive and expand participant sports in our country for a new National Sports Foundation.

It follows secondly that if the British way is to restore and enhance local initiative and mutual responsibility in civic affairs we should be doing far more to strengthen not just voluntary organisations but local institutions of government. Rather than asking people to look upwards to Whitehall to solve all their problems, the British way is surely to encourage more and more people, from their own localities, to take more charge of the decisions that affect their lives.  Today with devolution, elected mayors and new local energy and enthusiasm, many cities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are undergoing a renaissance and as they become centres of initiative influencing our whole country, the whole of Britain can learn and draw from the energy of each of its parts.  And a reinvigorated local democracy can, I believe, emerge to empower people in their own neighbourhoods to deal with the challenges they face:

  • anti social behaviour where the engagement of the whole community is paramount;
  • schooling, where the participation of parents and the local community is vital;
  • the health service where the direct involvement of patients and prospective patients matters.

Third, a Britishness that thrives on a strong sense of duty and fair play and a commitment to public service means taking citizenship seriously. And like David Blunkett who will also focus on these issues in a speech today, I would welcome a national debate on what the responsibilities and rights of British citizenship means in practice in the modern world. I believe strongly in the case for citizenship lessons in our schools but for citizenship to matter more, these changes to the curriculum must be part of a far more extensive debate  – a debate that, like the wide ranging debate we see in America about what it is to be an American and what America stands for, includes our culture and history as well as our constitution and laws. And I believe we would be stronger as a country if there was, through new literature, new institutes, new seminars, new cross party debate about our Britishness and what it means.

And what of the institutions and symbols that best reflect citizenship and thus give importance to national identity? These must be symbols that speak to all our citizens so I believe that we should respond to the undermining of an inclusive citizenship by the British National Party by not only fighting their racism but by asserting at every opportunity that the union flag does not belong to a vicious minority, but is a flag for all Britain – symbolising inclusion, tolerance and unity; and that England, Scotland and Wales – whose celebration of national identity is to be welcomed and encouraged – should also honour not just their own flags but the union flag for the shared values it symbolises.

There is also a more substantive issue about the importance of integration set against respect for diversity. Of course we live in a multiethnic as well as multinational state but because a multiethnic Britain should never ever have justified a crude multiculturalism where all values became relative, surely the common values that we all share should be reflected in practical measures such as those David Blunkett is outlining today to avoid religious hatred and to encourage – and in some cases require – the use of the English language.  Take an economic example.  Because many cannot find work because of language difficulties it is surely right to pilot mandatory language training for those jobseekers whose language needs are preventing them from getting jobs.

Upholding British values summons us to do far more to tackle discrimination and promote inclusion. And I believe that there should now be greater focus on driving up the educational attainment of pupils from ethnic minorities and a more comprehensive New Deal effort to tackle unacceptably high unemployment in areas of high ethnic minority populations.

If I am right, the British way is to develop a strong cohesive society in which in return for responsibility there is opportunity for all. And our British belief in fairness and our commitment to public service makes the NHS founded on health care based on need not ability to pay one of the greatest British institutions – an NHS that both reflects the values of the British people and is being modernised for our times in accordance with these very values. And we should never lose sight of the importance of the NHS not just to our view of Britishness but to the worlds view of Britain. If, in the twenty first century, we cannot make the NHS work in Britain we must ask what hope there is for millions in developing countries struggling with ill-health and disease who cannot afford private health care. But if we can show that the NHS, health care based on need not ability to pay, is indeed the best insurance policy in the world then we give to the developing countries a model of modern health care – and hope.

Rediscovering the roots of our identity in our shared beliefs also allows us to address complex questions about our relationship with the rest of the world.

This is not a subject for today – not least because it will be discussed endlessly for many months to come – but a far more detailed speech. But two observations follow from my remarks today. The first is that globalisation is fundamentally changing the nature of Europe. In the past European integration was built on the idea of a European trade bloc dominated by European flows of capital, European wide companies and European brands. Today we are in a completely different world of global movements of capital, global companies and global brands. As a result, the old integrationist project – the single market and single currency followed by tax harmonisation, federal fiscal policies and a quasi federal state – the vision of a trade bloc Europe – is fatally undermined. For to succeed economically Europe must move from the old model – the trade bloc or fortress Europe – to a new globally oriented Europe that champions economic liberalisation, a reformed social dimension and a more open rather than protectionist approach to trade with the rest of the world.

The second observation is that while we must continue to learn from successes in other European countries, British values and qualities -particularly our outward looking internationalism that led us to pioneer free trade – have a great deal to offer in building the Europe of this new global era.  Indeed British qualities and values can play a leading part in shaping a Europe that must reform, be flexible, be competitive, be outward looking and build better trading and commercial relationships with the USA. So being fully engaged in Europe need not threaten Britain with subjugation inside an inward looking trade bloc but can mean Britain and British values playing a full part in leading a global Europe.

A Britain that thinks globally not only builds from our traditions of openness and outward looking internationalism but builds upon huge British assets and strengths – the British Council itself, the BBC, the World Service, our universities and our long felt sense of obligation to the world’s poor.  And in addition to our well known proposals for international development  – including debt relief and the International Finance Facility for development – that represent a new deal between the richest and the poorest countries, I believe with you that we should build on the great success of the British Council internationally and do more to put one of our greatest assets – the English language, now the language of the internet and business – at the service of the world. 1.5 billion people now speak English. Our aim should be that that no one in any continent is prevented by poverty, exclusion or educational disadvantage from learning the English language.

Thinking globally in an insecure world – and more important in the world since September 11th – requires us of course to take necessary steps to discharge a British government’s first duty – the defence of its citizens, the people of Britain.  And as we look forward to next week’s spending review, I will make available the resources needed to strengthen security at home and take action to counter the terrorist threat at home and abroad.  Those who wish to cut in real terms the budget even for security will need to answer to the British people.  We will spend what it takes on security to safeguard the British people.

I started this lecture by asserting that the British way is to embrace not fear reform and the challenge of the 21st century is not just to express our Britishness in the evolutionary reform of individual institutions but to continue to evolve towards a constitutional settlement that recognises both our rights and aspirations as individuals and our needs and shared values as a community. But as we discuss how our evolving British constitution can best reflect our British values, what is very clear to me is that even if a significant section of the Conservative Party has ceased to see itself as the Conservative and Unionist Party, our Labour Party must stand resolute as the party of the Union. And indeed all decent minded people should, I believe, stand for and champion a Union that embodies the very values I have been discussing: a Union that, because it reflects shared values, has achieved – and will in future achieve – far more by us working together than we could ever achieve separate and split apart.

So, in conclusion, there are good economic reasons for a new and rising confidence about the future of Britain.

There are social and cultural reasons too for a new British optimism, a rising British confidence.

We should think of Britain as a Britain discovering anew that its identity was never rooted just in imperial success or simply the authority of its institutions, nor in race or ethnicity.

We should think of a Britain rediscovering the shared values that bind us together. Indeed the ties that today bind us are the same values and qualities that are at the core of our history…the values that should shape our institutions as they adapt, change and modernise to meet and master future challenges.

So standing up for Britain means speaking up for British values and qualities that can inspire, strengthen and unify our country. And we can stop thinking about a post war Britain of decline – the Britain that was – and start thinking about the Britain that we can become: Britain, a great place to grow up in.

A Britain believing in itself;

A new era of British self confidence;

Not just a Britain that is a beacon for economic progress but a Britain proud that because of its values and qualities, progress and justice can advance together, to the benefit of all.