Failing the Tebbit Test

In Brexit Britain, one of the things being weakened often seems to be tolerance towards people who have different views on things. The most obvious one is that between Brexit Leavers and Remainers, yet it seems to go much wider than that. The craziest example perhaps being people getting triggered that a chain of shops started to stock vegan sausage rolls. This intolerance can be taken as simply being not liking the fact that other people like or are interested in different things. Or more strongly, an objection to people thinking through issues more than they are prepared to. A little flippantly, there is the view that the British were too tolerant, accepting rubbish coffee. Again I would argue that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, that it isn’t about tolerance levels, but rather a rejection of nonconformism, that there is some unstated worldview that we must all adhere to to be truly a particular kind of ‘British’.

A Victorian view of Britishness that a ‘Briton is any mans equal’, ‘Britons shall never be slaves’ suggests that to be British is to celebrate nonconformity, within the rule of law. Creating social politics of argument for those laws to be changed. However in recent times a rival view of Britishness seems to have emerged, of promoting conformity to the values of the British establishment, coming from the Brexiteer minority. This rival view of Britishness was exemplified by the Tebbit test…

I was never a great fan of Cricket when I was a child. However I became ill for a few days when a test match was on the telly and I ended up watching the whole match, between the West Indies and England. I began to understand the game and got more and more out of it as I learnt more about the game. As the days passed I found myself rooting for the West Indies team. By the end of the match there were my team.

Some time later, cricket came up in conversation. I mentioned that I support the WIndies [West Indies as it appears shortened on television screens] and was told that I also fail the Tebbit test. The Tebbit Test is a test of British nationality. To pass this test you must support the England cricket team. The test was a response to many people in England supporting the teams of family and cultural tradition. For example the grandchildren of immigrants to the UK from India, would support the Indian cricket team, despite being more British than Indian. Tebbit’s view of British nationality was that they should support England as it is the national team of the country where they live. Yet here I was a white person whose family have lived in Britain for as long as it is possible to tell, supporting a team other than England and failing the Tebbit test.

Generally, I do tend to support my own national teams, it’s the obvious first choice. There is no Welsh cricket team, so I felt myself to be a free agent. It was only later that it was pointed out that the England cricket team is actually the England and Wales cricket team, but the Wales bit is rarely mentioned. So technically I’m not supporting the Welsh team. Technically this is true, but support of sports teams is a commitment for me. I had already nailed my colours to the mast, I couldn’t change, even if I wanted to.

Supporting teams isn’t really a choice. You don’t sit down with a list of teams, weigh up the pros and cons of each team and make a rational decision. I feel that teams choose you, that there is some connection made that makes you scream “Yes, I am with you”. It often is the first team you are exposed to, which is why we tend to support our own national teams, the one that shows you what that particular sport is all about.

Yet here in Cricket, perhaps more so than in other sports these two rival views of Britishness clash [over five days of intense competition under a blazing sun]. The ‘Victorian’ view of tolerance within the rules and the ‘Tebbit’ view of intolerance of non conformity. I am very solidly in the ‘Victorian’ view camp. It may simply be being Welsh. Being Welsh we both love the whole of Britain and most of its people and culture yet oppose the British establishment that still treats Wales as a colony of England rather than an integral part of Britain. It may just be not being part of that white English conformist establishment, that the Welsh share with the descendants of migrants from the former British Empire countries, or those who fail to conform by being LGBTQ or Catholic and so on.

The cultural divisions of Brexit seem to have broken along these two rival views of Britishness. Sadly this isn’t a matter to be decided over a civilised game of cricket, with the honours won only until the next test series. It seems instead to be a political divide, quite different to the traditional left right spectra and one with the potential to turn ugly. Britain could be walking towards a disaster based on these two visions of what on earth Britishness is anyway clashing, whilst the Brexit debate seems caught up in the backstop debate over the UK border in Ireland. Worrying times

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