For over 30 years I’ve made a point of celebrating the new year in London. When asked why I do this I’ve replied, tongue-in-cheek, because I believe it’s important to start the year in a civilised country! Initially I meant that as a joke but over time I’ve come to realise it’s uncannily close to the truth. Today I have no doubt of that and I want to share with you why I’ve come to this conclusion.
There are many qualities you could admire about Britain. If you’re a tourist the list would include the theatre, museums, Madame Tussauds and shopping. If you live there you would be aware of the great respect the Brits have for your privacy, their humour, the unrivalled television entertainment and, of course, the English countryside. And if you’re a student there’s little to beat Cambridge, Oxford, the LSE, the Inns of Court and the British Library.
However, there’s something beyond all of this. It’s far more important but also less obvious. Yet if you observe carefully you can spot it and once you have it’s difficult not to recognise its uniqueness and value.
Britain is a truly multi-cultural society. Of course, the vast majority are white but whether in Parliament or on TV, on screen or on the stage, in newspapers or in sport you see, read, admire and relate to Brits of all colours, creeds and communities.
Just consider a few of the facts. The House of Commons has 41 MPs who are of Asian or African origin. The House of Lords has 45 such peers. The Archbishop of York is black-British, three of Theresa May’s ministers are Asian-British, the former editor of The Independent has Indian parents and the country’s top sculptor is a product of the Doon School.
I don’t believe the United States, France, Germany or Japan can claim to be as well integrated or to have shattered so many glass ceilings. I’m not overlooking President Barack Obama but the change contemplated by the British monarchy is far greater. Prince Charles is going to dispense with the centuries-old designation of the British monarch as Defender of the Faith. He wants to be Defender of Faiths.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Not for a moment do I claim there aren’t instances of racism or xenophobia. Or there is no inequality or injustice. Of course there is. But that’s true of every country, including India. We all have our downside. But the upside of Britain cannot be denied because of this.
Nor will I hide the fact some Brits are not happy with the concept of multi-culturalism. A small but vocal minority resents it and yearns for the days of Rule Britannia. However, don’t let that mislead you. This is a shrinking number. Slowly, steadily, at times painfully and on occasion contradictorily, Britain is becoming multi-cultural and that can only be because the majority wants it to happen.
Today Britain is a small island with a glorious history, an uncertain present and, possibly, a doubtful future. The sun has long set on its empire and now the shadows of Brexit are darkening its shores. But this island’s gifts to the world continue. Democracy and the English language are two well-known old ones. I can now identify a third: How to strive to be multi-cultural without losing the unique Britishness that makes this country special.
The views are personal