Who and what represents Britain today? Our country has changed significantly in the last few decades; but, a batch of YouGov polls published this weekend suggest that traditional notions of what is British remain remarkably unchanged. The public was asked to choose which prominent people they think reflect Britain today. Members of the Royal Family occupy four of the top five positions — the Queen, Prince William, Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge — while fifth spot is represented by the nouveau riche Richard Branson:
David Beckham is the only mega celebrity to have made this list. There are plenty of actors present (Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley), but it’s great to see ‘Britishness’ embodied by a variety of characters from Stephen Hawking, JK Rowling to former Spectator editor Boris Johnson. The only other politicians who feature are Nigel Farage and David Cameron – both of whom appear way down the list.
We also still love our institutions. When asked what is seen as important to Britishness and being British, the monarchy and United Kingdom are still ranked very highly. Even the beleaguered House of Commons and BBC are seen as important by a significant majority:
What about our individual characteristics? In a separate YouGov poll, English people still appear to be suspicious of foreigners. But they also keep a stiff upper lip between bouts of patriotism and drunken hooliganism:
On this evidence, it would be hard to differentiate the Englishman of 2014 from Basil Fawlty of forty years ago. Both have a great respect for institutions and establishment figures, yet apparently dislike foreigners. Perhaps these attitudes explain the rapid rise of Ukip, the only party who dream of a Britain long ago. But I’m sure that Farage and co will be surprised to see how people feel about our green and pleasant land.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.