In 2006 he asked:
"What is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for? And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in the United States in every garden?"This prompted me, bringing in Rudyard Kipling to support my case, to argue that there is something very unBritish about that sort of display.
When, the following year, Brown proposed "to work with the public to develop a British statement of values," Prospect magazine asked 50 writers and intellectuals to give us their thoughts on this statement and what should inform it.
One of the 50 was a rising young Conservative MP, and he took very much the same line as me:
There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness. Rather like trying to define leadership, it’s a quality which is best appreciated when demonstrated through action rather than described in the abstract.
As a Scot who, like Brown, has made his career in London and whose family are now rooted in England, I feel immensely fortunate to be a citizen of a cosmopolitan state where nationality is defined not by ethnicity but sustained by the subtle interweaving of traditions and given life by a spirit of liberty.
Britishness is best understood as an identity shaped by an understanding of the common law, refined by the struggle between the people’s representatives and arbitrary power, rooted in a presumption in favour of individual freedom, enriched by a love of the quirky, local and unique, buttressed by anger at injustice, constantly open to the world and engaged with suffering of others, sustained through adversity by subversive humour and better understood through literature than any other art.
But if you really want to understand Britishness you need to ask why the British find Tracey Emin loveable, regard Ealing comedies as sacred, look on the world of Wodehouse as a lost Eden, always vote for the underdog on Big Brother, make the landscape the central character in their Sunday evening dramas, respect doctors more than lawyers and venerate their army but have never had a soldier as leader since the Duke of Wellington.His name? Michael Gove.