John Bercow reflects on the British spirit

PUBLISHED: 15:58 18 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:58 18 April 2016

John Bercow ponders a point. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

John Bercow ponders a point. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

2009 Getty Images

Speaker of the House of Commons and Buckingham MP John Bercow reflects on the British spirit and sense of continuity that shape our lives

Readers may be familiar with the scene in Richard Curtis’ film Love Actually in which Hugh Grant, playing the Prime Minister, stands in front of the world’s assembled media and lists the things he thinks make Britain great, including The Beatles, Sean Connery and Harry Potter.

But what is it that really puts the ‘great’ into Great Britain, and what is meant by the British spirit? We – as a nation – are far more than a homogenous tea-drinking, cricket-watching, queue-forming, roast dinner-eating, Radio 4-listening band as we are sometimes unsympathetically portrayed. In fact, I would contend quite the opposite. The British spirit is, I believe, best captured by this country’s diversity.

There are, of course, differences between us. Yet there is also a unity. A unity derived from shared societal ideals, the country’s historical identity, and a mutual respect for and understanding of one another. We live in a society in which men and women are treated equally under the law and valued as individuals, irrespective of how they look, what they worship, where they come from and who they love.

In 2012, I paid tribute to Her Majesty The Queen on the occasion of her 60th year on the throne. This year, The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday. I think that it is only right to remark again upon the huge contribution that she has made to British life. Most notably, in embodying a sense of continuity which has enabled societal change to flourish – and succeed.

The stability and resilience that The Queen brings to Great Britain have enabled us to change within and outside as well. Not only are we a diverse and tolerant country – far more so than when she came to the Throne – but one which has met with vim the challenge of competing in a fast-paced, increasingly globalised, inter-dependent world without deserting or damaging our national identity. The Queen is the abiding embodiment of, and an unrelenting ambassador for, what is great about Great Britain.

We may complain about the weather incessantly and preserve a stiff upper lip at all times, but being British is about far more than being a predictable stereotype. Yes, we are the country of Shakespeare, Stonehenge and Stephen Fry. But more importantly, we are pluralistic, proud and outward-looking. And that, for me, is what is meant by the British spirit. 


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