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OPINION: Rule, Britannia! shouldn’t fall victim to another cherry-picked attack on our cultural history

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 August 2020

The audience enjoying the BBC Last Night of the Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Orchestral versions of Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms with no singing, the BBC has said. The confirmation comes after The Sunday Times said organisers feared a backlash because of the perceived association the traditional anthems have with colonialism and slavery

The audience enjoying the BBC Last Night of the Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Orchestral versions of Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms with no singing, the BBC has said. The confirmation comes after The Sunday Times said organisers feared a backlash because of the perceived association the traditional anthems have with colonialism and slavery

News that a traditional song won’t be performed in all its patriotic might has stirred the passions of columinst James Marston

Here in the east we are rightly proud of our links to not only Admiral Nelson, but also the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and nurse Edith Cavell. Here in the east we are proud of our architectural and industrial heritage, indeed our agricultural heritage, though none of these things have been achieved without the exploitation of others – difficult though that might be to admit.

This week, the BBC has announced it will be dropping the traditional sung performances of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory from the Last Night of the Proms.

I had hoped that this tradition might be spared the attention of the vociferous pressure groups.

The BBC, which blames Covid-19 for the changes, can, of course, chose their own programme, but this move, which seems to be being made on the basis of an interpretation of wicked lyrics, shows a misunderstanding of their context and message and to unilaterally ignore and suppress certain aspects of our heritage goes to create social discord.

Indeed Rule, Britannia! is a song of liberty in the face of tyranny, not a song of oppression and to say so is an act of misappropriation. Our liberties and struggle against tyranny are worth celebrating and remembering – and we traditionally do this in song on that night.

And I, for one, am getting a little tired of these woke, cherry-picked attacks on certain aspects of the history and culture of Britain. I am not ashamed to be British, I am not ashamed of our history, for all its good and bad, and I am not ashamed of our freedoms, or our traditions – including our patriotic songs. They are part and parcel of the make-up of the country we live in today – still the best in the world if you ask me.

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Our history, our traditions, our cultural expressions all merge together to define our present and our future – that is why we keep traditions and identify with them, so we can learn from them and bring our nation together in celebration of who we are – warts and all.

This doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, is completely unaware of some of our nation’s flaws, historical mistakes and outrages as well as the challenges we face today. Yet I think we can remain proud of our country, a tolerant oasis in a world of intolerance and tyranny, where freedom of speech still exists and is still valued.

Britain is a country whose past, glorious and otherwise, will reflect and inform its future. And I think Rule, Britannia! or Land of Hope and Glory are reflections of both our glorious and inglorious heritage and celebrate and commemorate a Britain that has not only oppressed but alsofought against oppression and learned much from its history and past.

To deny this aspect of our culture is a mistake, it is too simplistic to erase history because history itself is a story of light and shade, of nuance and degree. And not to face up to it or build upon what has gone before is a dangerous road to go down; to ban and shut down threatens the very freedoms we hold so dear.

Nonetheless, I remain open to being convinced otherwise and to learning more about these songs. View and minds can, and often do, change.

And change, particularly deep set cultural change, is best achieved via education, and consensus through informed debate and discussion, a building up of knowledge not through an unedifying blanket banning of things.

Simply forcing a view or interpretation on others is often counterproductive and leads to yet more division, distrust and entrenchment of position.

Furthermore, being offended is sometimes is the price we pay for freedom of speech – a freedom that we must preserve and celebrate at all costs, for without it tyranny ensues.

What do you think? Are you offended by traditions? Is James right to feel fed up at woke attacks on British heritage? Write to him at james.marston@archant.co.uk


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