2012 promises much for Britain, culturally at least. New think tank British Future commissioned a State of the Nation poll (as covered in the The Observer), which shows that most people expect the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee to have a positive effect on the nation’s mood and on the way Britain is perceived by the rest of the world. Yet, it remains to be seen whether either occasion will live up to its billing.
People in Britain are all too aware that while the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee are good reasons to be excited, 2012 looks set to remain a year of economic gloom: seven in ten are pessimistic about Britain’s economic prospects in 2012 (73%), while increasing prices and bills, unemployment and cuts to public services are seen to be the biggest challenges this country faces in the year ahead. Nevertheless, many remain optimistic, rightly or wrongly, that while the country may continue to suffer, their personal prospects for 2012 will fare much better (52%).
The poll compares how we view ourselves as a nation today with how we think our country has changed since 1948, the year in which Britain last hosted the Olympics. Positively, the British public think women now have more choices (88%) and Britons are less discriminatory towards gay people (72%). Many also feel relations between ethnic groups are better (44%), although three in ten disagree that this is the case (29%).
While many feel Britain has not become any more classless in sixty years, the sense that Britain has become a more tolerant and open society is reflected in other findings. For example, the majority of people in Britain disagree with Norman Tebbit’s ‘Cricket test’; immigrants should be free to support their countries of origin in sporting contests (60%), while most Britons think the Government should either encourage or directly act to create ethnically mixed schools (68%).
Public attitudes towards immigration are more nuanced. Britons are much more positive than negative about the contribution immigrants have made to art and literature (net +26%), entrepreneurship (net +36%), food and restaurants (net +60%), film and music (net +29%), fashion and design (net +27%) and premier league football (net +25%). Where the public are negative about the impact of immigration is in relation to the availability of housing (net -60%), jobs (net -56%), public services such as schools (net -25%), the NHS (net -14%), and levels of crime and disorder (net -48%).
Whilst we have become more open to other cultures, Britons remain without a clear sense of British identity, finding suggest however. The majority disagree that we are as proud to be British now as we were in 1948 (52%), and the public are more likely to feel a sense of belonging to England (72%), Scotland (83%) or Wales (82%) than they are to Britain (66%), while the issue of Scottish independence continues to divide. The majority think Britain is a less religious place now (72%), while politeness, Britain’s greatest civic virtue, is no more prevalent now than in 1948 (74%).
Looking back, the public can see how Britain has changed in sixty years, but we seem less sure about what it means to be British in the present. There is every possibility that with the world’s attention trained on us in 2012, we will have to think a bit harder about who we want to be seen as.