Rightwing culture warriors do not define Britishness


Show caption ‘When the elite talk of what they regard as true Britishness, they now mean Queen or the Rolling Stones.’ Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images Rightwing culture warriors do not define Britishness Letters Readers respond to Kojo Koram’s article about the Tory preoccupation with dictating our national story Wed 18 Aug 2021 17.58 BST Share on Facebook

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Kojo Koram provides a useful corrective to the common, narrow perception of culture he describes (Here’s what the right gets wrong about culture: it’s not a monument, but a living thing, 16 August), but the “fossilised version of British culture” he identifies is not easily separated from the equally prevalent narrow, prescriptive notions about history that underpin it.

Too many people (and “culture war” fantasists in particular) approach history as an indisputable account of the past, when in fact historical understanding is a continual work in progress. This misunderstanding of history, both as a discipline and as an account, helps to entrench the view that culture is something fixed and unchanging and just as frequently invokes the equally problematic notion of “tradition” as a supposed trump card in arguments about both culture and history.

Even if culture was more successfully liberated from the bell jar display case in which a “traditional British hierarchy” seeks to preserve it, I doubt that it would make the slightest difference to the phoney war being prosecuted by the right. The issues that currently bedevil Koram’s “stately homes, Oxford university common rooms, [and] the Last Night of the Proms” would still provoke historical perceptions as intransigent as they are shortsighted.

Paul McGilchrist

Colchester, Essex

• Why do we have to be constantly at war over “Britain’s culture”? Why can’t we just accept that, especially since the middle of the 20th century (that is, during my lifetime), Britain has become a wonderfully multicultural society that we can all take pleasure in, instead of constantly and nastily bickering over definitions of “British culture”? So many countries in the world take pride in their cultural diversity. Why can’t we?

Philip C Stenning

Eccleshall, Staffordshire

• While sympathising with much of what Kojo Koram says, I feel that he misses out the phenomenon which I refer to as the Elgar-isation of rock, where rock music – in complete denial of its origins and the fact that it wouldn’t exist without Black people – is promoted by modern rightwingers in a nativist way, as if it were wholly indigenous to Britain, and has become a central tool of elite oppression and attempted (and in the mid-2000s successful) marginalisation and ghettoisation of the young and the poor.

The full extent of double standards today cannot be fully understood unless it is acknowledged that, when the elite talk of what they regard as true Britishness, they now mean Queen or the Rolling Stones every bit as much as Elgar or Vaughan Williams, if not more so. It must also be mentioned that, rather wonderfully, the right’s beloved market economics help to legitimise Dave and Stormzy, anyway.

Robin Carmody

Weston, Dorset

• The founders of the National Trust and the BBC Proms would be very surprised by Kojo Koram’s view that the aspects of culture they promote are “something that only a few people can access”; both were founded in order to broaden access to “places of historic interest and natural beauty” and classical music, respectively. They would have been just as shocked as he is by the current government’s policies which, as he rightly says, are making life so much more difficult for artists of all kinds.

Carolyn Beckingham

Lewes, East Sussex

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