Now that "Britishness" has officially replaced "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" in Conservative dogma, the officially almost-outgoing leader
of the rabble has deigned to give us his idea of what it means.
The first thing it means is that the presence of "home-grown" suicide bombers should cause us to engage in "a good deal of soul-searching ... about the role of minority groups in our society." Soul-searching about the role of government policy in driving people to murderous lunacy is so far off the agenda as to be unmentionable.
The second thing it means is that "most people in this country want to share a strong sense of British identity while recognising that that is not incompatible with a continuing attachment to other traditions." Ah yes, British identity. Michael Howard's father was fiercely proud of his British identity. Michael Howard's mother is still fiercely proud of her British identity. For all I know, Michael Howard himself is fiercely proud of his British identity. But what does it mean to be proud of one's British identity? What is one actually being proud of?
By golly, Michael Howard has an answer. "At its core is a profound respect for, and allegiance to, the institutions that make Britain what it is, and the values that underpin those institutions." Well, it is understandable that the values and institutions that made Michael Howard Home Secretary might have some small sentimental value for Michael Howard - an antiquated parliamentary system, a class structure which does not discriminate unduly against the well-spoken shyster, and a post-imperial elite lusting for glory being prominent among them. But surely this is merely a matter of personal preference. How comes it that "institutions" make Britain "what it is"? Surely the fact that Britain is "what it is" is a cause of dissatisfaction to Michael Howard; otherwise why does he seek to persuade us to think what he is thinking?
Later, Michael Howard tries to define "the British identity we all share" and of which he is, for all I know, fiercely proud. It consists of "our democracy, monarchy, rule of law, history" and "the values that are the hallmark of Britain - decency, tolerance and a sense of fair play." The specific British institutions which embody these British values are not specified - not even the British Home Office.
As to our democracy, I may be doing Michael Howard an injustice, but any fierce pride he may have in, say, trial by jury or habeas corpus
has not been very obtrusive in light of Tony Blair's removal of them in the name of counter-terrorism. His attachment to the rule of law as Home Secretary was, I seem to recall, remarkable for its flexibility; and as he has not yet called for George Bush's fifth column in Parliament to be hauled before a war crimes tribunal, it seems we may assume that this flexibility has not deserted him.
Quite what we have to be proud of in our monarchy escapes me. Quite what is uniquely British about having a history escapes me also. I am not aware that there is any country on the face of the planet which fails to practice decency, tolerance and a sense of fair play within the limits of the decency, tolerance and sense of fair play practiced by its ruling elite. Obviously I am in dire need of citizenship classes.
Michael Howard ends with a suggestion as to how we may make meaningful the sense of allegiance to the various abstract nouns he has put forward. "The government has powers to revoke the citizenship and right to remain in this country of people who acquired those privileges by naturalisation. These should be used more widely, particularly in respect of people who make it clear that they do not recognise any allegiance to our country, and could constitute a threat to national security."
So it seems we must enforce people's allegiance by deporting all those who fail to share Michael Howard's little fetishes and who could constitute a threat. Not, you will note, those who do
constitute; much less those who have been found by due process to
constitute a threat. In these dangerous times of home-grown suicide bombers who call into question Britain's whole relationship with its ethnic minorities if not its relationship with Washington, we cannot afford such luxuries as the rule of law or a sense of fair play. People must be kicked out pour encourager les autres
- not on the basis of anything they have done, but on the off-chance of their doing something in the future. Doubtless, the power to make the decision as to these people's deadly potentialities will rest with the Home Secretary of the day, in accordance with those British values and institutions - "the merits of our national community, and our virtues as a nation" - which Michael Howard so fiercely cherishes.