Last week at Kultwerk West we celebrated the 60th jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. I used Skype to set up a video link with four people I know from my time in Birmingham or through work, and was really proud to show Britain as a diverse, internationally oriented, and quite relaxed country.
I baked some scones, which went down well; people even liked the Marmite (which I was surprised about) and the owner of a local British Shop, Robert Berridge, was on hand to sell British products, souvenirs, and - most importantly - beer. We sang God Save the Queen and Jerusalem. We even had very British weather.
Over the video link, I spoke to:
I got good feed back from those in attendance, and I was very pleased that people really understood how Britain's imperial past and its enduring links to the Commonwealth affect its attitude to Europe - we welcome international ties with Europe but also beyond Europe.
The side of Britain I was most proud to show to Germany was the ethnic diversity, and how that is a part of Britishness and doesn't exist alongside it. As Waseem said, things aren't perfect in Britain but he and Abigail are unquestionably British and it would be absurd to suggest otherwise. I'm not sure that can be said for other countries, including Germany.
It was also very rewarding to hear Sigrid saying that the use of Skype as a video link will open up new opportunities for Kultwerk West -- in just one evening, I think we were able to gain new perspectives on much-discussed topics, and the possibility to talk to people from far across the world will enable Kultwerk West to be even more of an agent for dialogue and change.
Off the top of my head, here's a brief summary of what we talked about:
Debra Davis, leader of CityTV bid in Birmingham, former Head of Communications and Public Affairs at Birmingham City Council, former Canadian diplomat
Canadians are generally in favour of the Monarchy, which they also perceive as being their monarchy and not necessarily imposed by outsiders. Of course there are those who are against the Monarchy but the fronts are positioned similarly to those in the UK. Whenever the royals visit, there is a huge crowd of people who want to see them (which is good for the economy). Debra has met the Royals on several occasions, firstly when she was organising the royal state visit in her native Canada in 1994, and later as a diplomat in London.
Waseem Zaffar, Labour Councillor, active citizen in Birmingham, UK
Waseem Zaffar told us about his recent participation in a European conference for worldwide leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds and found that the US and UK are generally ahead of other nations in terms of accepting people of ethnic minorities into the fold. He emphasised that he is very much British, and one of the things that makes him most proud to be a Briton is its progress in integrating citizens of ethnic minority backgrounds. He gave us an example of his experience as a magistrate in a case where all of the court legal staff were from ethnic minority backgrounds. In many other countries, for example Pakistan, where his parents come from, this would be unimaginable.
Britain's attitude to Europe is coloured by its links to the Commonwealth, which means that Britons often don't understand what the EU is for. Britons think of Australia, India, Pakistan and Canada and not just France and Germany. His recent European trip opened his eyes, too.
As a councillor for one of Britain's most deprived areas, the Jubilee is nevertheless relevant to his constituents, who are planning several street parties over the Jubilee weekend. Because of the link to the Commonwealth countries, where many constituents have their roots, the monarchy is popular. Events like the Jubilee are a good opportunity for people of ethnic minorities to demonstrate that they are British and for all Britons to come together. Indeed, the European Championship in 1996 was a defining moment for Waseem when he realised just how English he was after Gareth Southgate missed that penalty.
Abigail Kelly, opera singer, Birmingham
Abigail Kelly, an opera singer from Birmingham, told us about her work and her many national and international engagements. She says that a very particular form of politeness is what makes Britain unique. When someone bumps into us in the street, we apologise! In other countries, such as the US, people are more direct and are better at confronting issues before they become a problem.
Abigail's grandparents and her mother are all Jamaican, and her father is British, having been born and brought up in the UK. She said that, although Queen Elizabeth is also the Queen of Jamaica, Jamaican celebrations of the Jubilee will be overshadowed by this year's celebrations of 50 years' independence from the UK.
Abigail told us that there is a lot of media attention dedicated to the Jubilee, and the Queen's popularity is at an all time high, thanks also to the royal wedding between Prince William and Catherine last year. Popularity for the monarchy is also high, partly due to the Palace's very effective PR team, but when Charles takes the throne, confidence in the monarchy could be shaken. Many people subconsciously imagine the crown passing straight to William.
Andy Williamson, former adviser to the governments of New Zealand, Australia and the UK
New Zealanders (Kiwis) are generally in favour of the monarchy, particularly because there is no viable alternative and the Monarchy is paid for by the British. Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State of New Zealand and has a Governor General, who represents her and acts similarly to a president as a symbolic head of state. There is little appetite to replace the Governor General with an elected head of state.
New Zealand has a special connection with the UK, and there are great cultural similarities between the two nations. This does make it easier for people like Andy, who are comfortable with both cultures, to move to and fro; but on the other hand, Andy has lived in the US and fits in there two.
Whilst Britons and Kiwis are in some sense similar, New Zealanders are more laid back and flexible, and have more of a "just do it" mentality, rather than just talking about doing things. In the UK, they are valued for this and their innovativeness. People in the UK are somewhat envious of New Zealand because they see it as a paradise with lovely beaches and countryside, but like any place, when you live there the reality hits home. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. New Zealanders have stronger links with Australians and are more similar; although on the surface they feel different from Australia, in reality they are very similar.
Asked whether British people's attitute towards the monarchy, which is at the moment very positive, could change when Charles comes to the throne, Andy said that it could. Prince Charles' popularity amongst British people is not the same as Elizabeth's and a succession could be problematic.
- Thanks to Günther von der Kammer for taking the photo.
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