Daisy Cooper slams “barmy brainwashing” One Britain event

When I heard that some schoolchildren in the UK are going to be asked to sing a song saying how great Britain is on Friday, to be honest, I thought someone was just having a laugh. Surely nobody could be so crass?

I was wrong. As The Independent reports,

The Department for Education this week announced it would encourage schools to celebrate One Britain One Nation Day on 25 June.

Celebrations for the event include singing a song called the “OBON Day Anthem 2021”, which ends with the children repeatedly chanting, “Strong Britain, great nation”.

It also includes the chorus: “We are Britain and we have one dream, to unite all people in one great team.”

I find the whole thing nauseating.

I was very relieved to see our Daisy Cooper calling this nonsense out:

“Boris Johnson’s barmy brainwashing event, where he wants children to sing a silly song without any history or tradition, feels the most un-British celebration of Britain ever,” said Daisy Cooper, the education spokesperson of the Liberal Democrats.

“Parents didn’t ask for it. Wales wasn’t consulted, and Scottish school children will be on holiday. There’s nothing One Britain about it.

“What children need and parents are asking for is real investment in our children’s futures with a fully-funded catch-up plan – not weird made-up rituals.”

There is something quite distasteful about attempting to instil nationalistic fervour in our young people. The Global Britain that Boris Johnson and his cronies are trying to present is, well, more Emperor’s New Clothes than anything else, lots of hot air and tub thumping to try to disguise a rapidly diminishing national reputation. 

The Conservatives are all about oppressive conformity and we as liberals should not have anything to do with it. If I still had a child in school, I’d either be keeping them home tomorrow or encouraging them to make some form of dignified protest.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • Peter Roberts 23rd Jun '21 - 10:05pm

    “…. and tub thumping”

    Now there’s a thought and it sums up Boriss’ Brexit Britain very well, do you think Chumbawuma would object?

  • Nigel Hunter 23rd Jun '21 - 11:08pm

    Interesting that court cases are going the rounds re Johnson,s govnt plus a shock loss of a ‘safe’ seat.
    Equally interesting that this OBON comes along AND a planned? military incident to distract people.and gives the press lovely headlines.

  • Paul Barker 24th Jun '21 - 9:35am

    The song itself has a distinctly North Korean/Maoist flavour to it. The emphasis on Oneness & Strength is something normally associated with Dictatorships.

  • What a disappointing article!

    As far as I can make out, One Nation One Britain is a local organisation based in West Yorkshire, that has been campaigning for about 15 years for – according to its website – “kindness, pride, respect, and a tremendous desire to help others.” linked to patriotism and willingness to be proud of our country. Reading through its aims, I can’t see anything that is incompatible with liberal ideals. But, hey, it’s about Britain and features the Union Jack so progressive politicians have to diss it and rubbish it, eh? No matter that Daisy Cooper is basically rubbishing a well-meaning community group that is trying in its own way to make the country a better place (isn’t that what Liberalism is supposed to be about?)

    I really wish MPs like Daisy Cooper would talk to ordinary voters and try to understand that – for many of us – patriotism and being happy to be British is actually a *good* thing. It’s certainly not something to view with distaste or to dismiss as ‘brainwashing’.

    Having said that, the execution of the idea is awful. I’m not sure of the exact sequence of events, but it looks like the Government somehow bounced itself into supporting the campaign without thinking through the practicalities when applied to the whole nation. Not checking whether schools in Scotland would be open on the chosen date is mind-numbingly incompetent. And as Ian Sanderson points out, referring to ‘Great Britain’ rather than the United Kingdom is also wrong and arguably a bit insulting towards Northern Ireland. These are perhaps understandable mistakes if you’re a community group focused on your local area, but not mistakes a Government should be making. But surely you can criticise those mistakes without rubbishing the whole concept of celebrating our country?

  • Barry Lofty 24th Jun '21 - 9:55am

    Goodness me if this story is true it has a very worrying similarity to another, not too distant, episode from the past. What an a–e we have at the head of this government, just when we need diplomacy and common sense.

  • I share Caron’s disgust: the whole notion is utterly revolting. And under that desire to puke lurks and smirks a chill of dread. What kind of ‘democracy’ is it that attempts to impose such horrors upon us, and what kind of fathead? How has this happened?

    We all must trim our Liberal pride, and do more to collaborate with the forces pushing for PR: with other parties, perhaps . . . .?

  • Simon Foster 24th Jun '21 - 10:32am

    Spot on Karen and Daisy. As one of the UK’s leading PSHE authors, this project has filled me with disappointment. Exclusionary as it ignores the Northern Irish and immigrant communities such as the Windrush generation, this would get a fail from any Ofsted Inspector under the Government’s own inspection guidelines.

    Twitter has ripped this to pieces. UK twitter to trended #hitleryouth in reference to the Government the other day as a result of this.

  • Simon Foster 24th Jun '21 - 10:33am

    *UK twitter trended – apologies for the typo.

  • Neil James Sandison 24th Jun '21 - 11:07am

    National anthems are frequently sung at sporting and commemorative events so we already have pride in our nations .This is just jingoism promoted the far right of British politics to hide their policy failures like Brexit and racially inspired actions like the Windrush affair . This suggested action is just another distraction to hide behind and is more appropriate for a totalitarian state where false pride hides a corrupt system of social injustice . singing a nationalistic song does nothing to improve the education or promote the achievements of our young people.

  • I am against politicising children..The song says the country is “united forever, never apart”. that will please Scotland’s largest party,,,

    Children are encouraged to dress in the colours of the British flag (red, white and blue). Gavin Williamson called the project “amazing” and said it was “incredibly important that schools take part”.

    As an aside…In 1968 I was in Mao’s China (Shanghai) we were regularly treated to school children, dressed in ‘boiler suits’ (the people’s national dress) singing such ‘patriotic songs’..The translator explained the frequent references to ‘Paper Tigers’ (USA) and their ‘Running Dogs’ (the UK?)..

    We aren’t there yet but, given the current fanning of anti-EU retoric…Hmmmmm

  • George Thomas 24th Jun '21 - 12:00pm

    “I really wish MPs like Daisy Cooper would talk to ordinary voters and try to understand that – for many of us – patriotism and being happy to be British is actually a *good* thing.”

    The strength of the UK has been recognising this is a union based on consent. As a consequence of setting it’s eye on attacking devolution in Scotland and Wales and seeing Northern Ireland as disposable, this government in Westminster is attacking the very union they claim to love. It’s a waste of energy and money (don’t forget that £15,000 has recently been spent on loud and ugly UK government signage in Cardiff) as you’re either doing things that population will be proud of or you need to push awkward songs to convince them that you are. It’s very rarely that a government does both.

  • General consensus at the School gate yesterday afternoon was, “Whose bloody daft idea is that, have they nothing better to do”.

  • “This is just jingoism promoted the far right of British politics to hide their policy failures like Brexit and racially inspired actions like the Windrush affair ” Eh? Have you actually looked at the OBON website to see what they stand for? You can see what they stand for here: https://www.onebritainonenation.com/our-vision. Take a look – you’ll see there’s nothing far right about it. You could probably quibble about some of the details but as far as I can see in principle, most of it is generally pretty consistent with a liberal vision. As for Brexit and Windrush – I think you’ll find they’ve been around for 15 years – they started when Tony Blair was PM – so unless you think they have a time machine, there’s no way their campaign has anything to do with either. (Of course, it’s possible that the Government jumping on it and suddenly supporting it now may have other motivations).

    Might I suggest that perhaps too many people here are seeing the UK flag and the fact that some Tories have expressed support for OBON, and have instantly jumped to unpleasant conclusions without bothering to first check out what OBON is actually about.

  • Ooops my bad – posted that last comment too hastily. According to wikipedia, OBON were founded in 2013, so NOT in the Tony Blair years – but still pre-dating Brexit and Windrush coming to light

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jun '21 - 2:15pm

    Looking at the OBON website, I think rather than an active anti-devolution stance, the campaign as Simon says actually originates in a north-of-England attempt to promote a soft-British-nationalist semi-conservative/semi-progressive concept as a response of north-of-England specific culture / race / religion / regionalism issues.

    They don’t seem to have see the devolved Celtic nations coming at all. It doesn’t seem consciously unionist apart from in a woolly way but it is tin-eared and naieve to not realise the implications beyond England.

    How much the UK Govt did and didn’t see the Scottish and Welsh aspects of it when co-opting the project (which I think originated outside govt), is another thing entirely.

    A lot of it is actually the same kind of stuff Gordon Brown was trying to say in 2008, 2009, in an attempt to face down perceived BNP / UKIP seepage among the labour vote but got away without major backlash – to an extent (although many people had some reservations) – because he was Scottish.

    All that said, I don’t think getting children to chant ‘Strong Britain’ is at all helpful or necessary without more thought about what is meant or implied. From an SNP / Plaid (even Irish nationalist) perspective, it is an utter gift to be cherished and savoured and nurtured and used to the hilt and there is a conscious provocation in the way Sturgeon is playing it but she can’t be blamed when the Tory own-goal is that obvious, outside of their heartlands.

    Also, I heard the project founder on the radio this morning. No clear reference to UK history; his narrative of why he started out on this path was entirely based on his experience of Indian attempts to create a ‘strong’ national identity (which does suggest at some level he might actually ‘get’ devolution, in that India has federal structures, but does nothing to suggest he has a workable understanding of cuktural and constitutional issues across the UK, or of devolution outside English policing (which is his professional background).

    And tbh he’s now in partnership with a department of Education who wanted a few years to remove all English local oversight over schools and place it in the hands of centrally-controlled commissioners, so even if they don’t have the celtic nations in their sights they have no concept of devolution in England anyway and a desire to impose whatever their masters’ latest narrative is, in a top-down way.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Jun '21 - 3:20pm

    “I heard the project founder ”
    But what was it sinking about?

  • John Littler 24th Jun '21 - 4:05pm

    Why not
    “Tomorrow is Our’s.
    That’s the way the UK ( England ) is going

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Jun '21 - 4:32pm

    Lord Dholakia, Steel, Carlile, plus Joanna Lumley, are supporters of this charity, sorry, Daisy is out of touch if she only thinks the BBC, forced national pride, is to the countrys taste, yet not this group!

    the song and govt support might be sickly and a bit much, but the aims are excellent, and inclusion ‘s the theme, on race, disability , all.

    This party would like us to only be international, well some iof us like what is at the heart of the UK, and it is not just vaccines and NHS, it is far and away about culture, bottom up, not imposed , and if a community group created this, why not back it cross the political divide.

    We ought not let the devil have all the best tunes, or the Tories for that matter either!

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jun '21 - 4:35pm

    Jenny — badoom, tish.

    Kash Singh, CEO and Founder of OBON, former Inspector with West Yorkshire Police (up to 2012, when he founded One Britain One Nation). An LSE article from 2012 outlines the state of the ‘Britishness’ debate at that time. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/28765/

    The offending song appears to have been allegedly ‘co-written’ with school children. It all reminds me of an appalling song I had to sing at school celebrating the 100th anniversary of Berkshire County Council, which was drivel. But Berkshirian identity was much less of a hot topic in those days (before the attempt to put a wall along the Ridgeway to keep Oxfordshire out).

    Joking apart, I know nothing of this man and his relationship with the conservative party, and its not abundantly clear he had one before this year (although he could well have).

    It seems to me its rather fuzzy and naieve politics could or could not make way for a toxic kind of nationalism but it doesn’t have to. It may probably have authoritarian tendencies (but so, as has been pointed out, did Blair and Brown) but thus far without any other evidence I’m going to assume it is an essentially Northern English and centrist project, and not inherently right wing as such. Note I say ‘centrist’, not ‘liberal’ or even necessarily inherently ‘democratic’.

    However, given the largely horrified and ridiculing reaction post-Sturgeon picking on it, it would be reasonable to assume that if he wasn’t a Tory partisan before now, he will be from here on in.

  • A few points about OBON.

    It is clear from their website that promoting patriotism is its main aim and inclusivity etc is secondary.

    In my view patriotism is something to be earned by a country and given voluntarily by a citizen. It is not something to be taught to or required of primary school children. It is clear from social media that children are being required by some schools to attend school on OBON day wearing red, white and blue and patriotism is compulsory.

    The laudable aims of community cohesion etc do not require unquestioning patriotism. OBON does not as far as I can see produce any teaching material or resources relating to these aims nor undertake campaigns on them other than promoting its “One Britain, Great Nation” message.

    OBON wrongly defines the state it is promoting as Great Britain and the educational institutions it is working with seem to have no issue with miseducating their pupils about a fundamental point.

    Finally, Kash Singh is not a political innocent. He supports the One Nation, One Britain parliamentary group convened by the right wing Tories Andrea Jenkyns and Andrew Rosindell ( who wanted to compel all UK schools to fly the union flag).

  • Given I’ve had over fifty years participating in and latterly observing politics (including the predictable antics of the Conservative Party) am I the only one to connect this Naff so-called ‘patriotic’ nonsense of ‘One Britain’ songs in the school playground with de Pfeffel Johnson playing a dangerous Russian Roulette with the Royal Navy off Crimea ?

    How come the press (including the BBC) have got reporters on HMS Defender and HMS Queen Elizabeth with the Head of the Royal Navy on board and available for interviews ? As a very different Johnson (Dr Samuel Johnson who did love Scotland) once said,

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” – Samuel Johnson (Boswell’s Life of Johnson)

  • John Marriott 24th Jun '21 - 7:18pm

    Singing quasi patriotic songs can get you into loads of trouble. We laughed at the Hitler Youth, when it sang “Unsre Fahne flattert uns vonan” (our banner flutters before us) or when the Communist Chinese waved their little red books. We ever find it vaguely amusing when US citizens cover their breast when they play “The Star Spangled Banner”. We don’t do cheesy things over here!

  • Barry Lofty 24th Jun '21 - 7:21pm

    David Raw: I had forgotten Dr Samuel Johnson’s words so very apt for this latest patriotic nonsense!

  • If the Lib Dems really think that patriots are scoundrels you have absolutely no chance of ever being in power. The way you guys carry on the Tories will get over 50% of the vote at the next GE – without even trying.

  • @ Malc “If the Lib Dems really think that patriots are scoundrels”.

    As the son of a decorated Typhoon pilot inWW2, who risked his life every day for his country for nearly four years, I would gently remind Malc that’s not what was said.

    If Malc exercises a bit more thinking he might just realise that it’s a case of a scoundrel playing the patriotic card.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Jun '21 - 9:18pm

    There’s a big difference between the kind of patriotism where people want their country to be doing the right things and themselves work towards that and the “My country right or wrong” type of patriotism – which I perceive as a problem in the USA. And it reminds me of film showing Hitler ranting about “Unser Deutsches Volk”.

    “My country right or wrong” seems to me potentially downright dangerous.

    And highjacking children to participate in this nonsense is a disgrace.

  • Simon Foster 25th Jun '21 - 7:52pm

    As a PSHE author and teacher, I was horrified by the Government’s politicisation of this song, and question the motives of this project for involving a bunch of innocent schoolkids in this. So wrote a follow up article which can be found here:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/hitting-the-wrong-note-68014.html

  • During my year as Lord Mayor of Bradford (2016-17) the Lady Mayoress and I attended an open air event in the City Centre organised by Mr Kash Singh under his OBON banner. As a result Chris and I flatly refused to attend his next event – a rare response during a civic year when we tried to respond positively to more or less all invitations when we were free. In our view he was abusing the national flag and using schoolchildren in an inappropriate way. His attempts to manipulate council officers was not a pretty sight. It was a painful confrontation but we stuck to our guns. Don’t touch OBON with a bargepole.

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