A Right British Hodgepodge
This Government continue to make fools of themselves with their codification and promotion of 'Britishness' and their Citizenship Tests and Citizenship Ceremonies.
Margaret Hodge is now in hot water for taking a swipe at the Last Night of the Proms, an occasion that is not much to my taste but is simply an end of season party and the worst that can be said of it is that it distracts attention from the weeks of fine concerts that precede it.
Something that has attracted less attention in her speech was the suggestion that British citizenship ceremonies should be held in castles, theatres, art galleries and historic houses.
"Being made a British citizen in those kind of surroundings allows people to associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons and then offers them a chance to build a longer-term engagement", says Hodge.
This suggests another money-spinning opportunity for Longleat House in Wiltshire. For any immigrant whose faith or culture sanctions polygamy, Lord Bath and his 73 'wifelets' would not only introduce them to the glories of British eccentricity but make them feel at home. But should they be deeply religious, it might be better to keep them away from the explicitly erotic murals that His Lordship has painted on some of the walls. (Best to also draw a veil over Lord Bath's father's obsession with the Nazis).
Another venue for citizenship ceremonies might be Cliveden in Berkshire. Our new citizens could be shown the swimming pool where Jack Profumo met Christine Keeler and learn about the fine old tradition of Tory Ministers having 'sex romps' with prostitutes and then resigning in a blaze of tabloid headlines.
Or what about Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire and its John Prescott Memorial Croquet Lawn? New Britons could learn how, in their new land of opportunity, a working class lad rose to the rank of Deputy Prime Minister and learned to play croquet on staff awaydays, when he wasn't shagging his Diary Secretary.
Chatsworth, I feel, is rather too large and overpowering for the newcomer of humble origins. So what about an English country cottage? The very cottage in the grounds of Chatsworth where former Home Secretary David Blunkett played Blind Man's Bluff with Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn. Our new citizens could reflect on the mysteries of the British caste system: the cottage was loaned by the Duchess of Devonshire; David Blunkett was a working class, Methodist, Labour Minister; and Kimberley Quinn was the wealthy, married publisher of the right-wing Spectator magazine.
But putting frivolity aside - and if you didn't laugh, you'd cry - doesn't Hodge's proposal represent the hackneyed association of Britishness with symbols of the wealth and privilege of the ruling class, the imagery that fills a thousand calendars and lures a million American tourists?
If we must have these absurd ceremonies, which are as un-British as anything you can imagine, let them celebrate the culture of the ordinary people who built the wealth of the country. Let's have them in a pit museum or a redundant shipyard or a Northern workingmen's club.
And let's face it: a lot of National Trust members won't take kindly to finding the State Dining Room is roped off and full of Poles and Pakistanis, even if they're singing God Save the Queen.
'coming over here, taking over our stately homes.......'