“Everybody has two flags”

Posted on 11 June 2012 - 5 Comments

Photo: Paul Foot

The upsurge in belief in an English identity over the past five  years is not the threat to modern Britain that many English liberals believe it to be, says British Future director Sunder Katwala in a new interview.

Katwala’s comments are part of an interview with youth project Headstart in the build-up to their Two Nations event, an inquiry into who Londoners want to win the Olympics and why.

He added that wanting the right to be both English and British is effectively a claim for recognition of more than one identity. By recognising that everybody has more than one identity, it is easier to accept others having more than one themselves.

Drawing on his own personal experience of being pushed to exclusively support the English sports teams as the child of Indian and Irish parents living in England,  Katwala explained that if integration is not separated from assimilation it can polarise the debate and lead to a rejection of British identity.

Katwala highlighted the extent to which national identity and integration have changed in Britain over the last fifty years. However, while most Britons would be fine with those with Greek roots supporting Greek national teams, there exist different levels of concern depending on ethnicity.

Noting the long British history of searching for an ‘enemy within’, Sunder emphasised the role some of the media has played in halting the process of integration by not reporting on the large number of its successful examples: “There isn’t any good news in the everyday, mundane story of no flash points.”

The rise in English identity over the last five years is therefore an opportunity to further reinforce a multi-ethnic, pluralist Britain through its claim for the recognition of dual identities, he argued. Accepting that everyone has more than one identity reinforces a pluralist, inclusive British identity, which is vital for integration to succeed, he said.

As Katwala told Headstart: “everyone’s got at least two flags”.

Listen to the interview below:



  • Comment by Alex Asher at 11:35 on 13.06.12

    English NOT British.

  • Comment by Phil at 23:25 on 13.07.12


  • Comment by Tehmina Goskar at 10:43 on 31.07.12

    You are missing a crucial part of Britain: Cornwall or Kernow. Until the 16th century the sovereign of ‘Anglia et Cornubia’ and there has been no formal union or absorption into England of Cornwall, also the Duchy of Cornwall–the status of the Duchy itself is shady to say the least. Many in Cornwall are working to improve outside understanding of why Cornwall is different, why it isn’t really part of England and why it needs a voice of its own in discussions of Britishness, on a par with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Kernow has its own flag, its own language and distinct cultural traditions. There are more reasons and history than I have said here as to why Cornwall is not England. There is a lot of education to undertake.

  • Comment by Sam at 00:34 on 20.10.12

    We have one word, identity, for two different things: where you live, and who you see yourself as being. Nowadays, to be ‘British’ one has merely to live in Britain, nothing more, taking for yourself this identity requires no intrusion into who you are, your culture and perceived heritage. This identity cannot therefore be also, who you see yourself as being, if it was, I could become Dutch by moving to the Netherlands, while knowing inside that I was no such thing.
    This is why English identity has witnessed resurgence as it still speaks about culture and heritage; the things that mark you out as belonging to one people group or another. If this was not important, then you wouldn’t be reading this now. For those who feel proud to be part of a diverse and undefinable Britishness, why not take the time to celebrate your Humanness? ‘British’ now, is unfortunately a vacuous term that allows one to be, without belonging. I should add for clarity that this ‘who you are not where you are’ identity is not exclusive to any, certainly not on superficial terms of ‘race’, a dangerous concept that I reject completely. All can join in, provided they feel, or aspire to feel a sense of fraternity.
    Being English is not additional to be being British, this is an absurd statement. If I am from Liverpool, is any identity I may derive from that additional to feeling proud of being from Merseyside? If I felt European, or Western, or Sikh in addition, would I have to rank my identities in order of preference, as if they happened to be playing each other in a hypothetical football tournament?