Multiculturalism & The British Empire – An Evolution of National Identity

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 1, 2023

Over the last century, the nature of British identity and nationalism has changed dramatically, reflecting broader trends in global politics and societal values.

British national pride has traditionally been tied to ideas of imperialism and national superiority, with an emphasis on Anglo-Saxon history and culture.

In recent decades, however, the perception of being British has evolved to include a more diverse and inclusive understanding of national identity.

The increasing diversity of British society has contributed to this evolution, with large-scale immigration from former colonies and other regions creating a more multicultural society. This has resulted in a greater appreciation for the importance of ethnic and cultural diversity in defining British identity, as well as a shift away from the notion of a single, homogeneous British culture.

After World War II, the concept of British identity began to shift. With the fall of the British Empire and the rise of the United States as a global superpower, the concept of British exceptionalism began to fade. Instead, there was a growing sense of the need to forge a new kind of identity that was more inclusive and reflective of British society’s changing realities.

This shift, however, has not been without controversy, with some groups opposing what they see as a dilution of traditional British identity.

The rise of far-right nationalist movements in the United Kingdom, such as the English Defence League, has highlighted the tensions and divisions that can emerge when discussing issues of national identity and multiculturalism.

At the same time, global trends towards nationalism and populism have influenced the changing nature of British identity.

The Brexit referendum, in which the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union, was motivated in part by a desire to reassert national sovereignty and a sense of British exceptionalism. This reflects a broader global trend of nationalism, with many countries seeking to assert their independence while rejecting internationalism and globalisation.

The relationship between nationalism and identity, on the other hand, is complex and can be both positive and negative. On the one hand, a strong national identity can foster a sense of community and common purpose, as well as serve as a foundation for political action and social cohesion. Nationalism, on the other hand, can lead to exclusion and discrimination, particularly against minority groups who do not fit into traditional conceptions of national identity.

Some well-known British nationalists held their own distinct beliefs and ideas about what it meant to be British. They had been:

  • Winston Churchill: Churchill is perhaps history’s most well-known British nationalist. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, he was instrumental in uniting the country and instilling a sense of national pride and unity.
  • Enoch Powell: Powell was a divisive British politician best known for his 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech. He warned of the dangers of mass immigration and called for strict limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country.
  • Farage is a well-known British nationalist and the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). He is well-known for his anti-immigrant stance and calls for Britain to exit the European Union.
  • Griffin is a former leader of the extreme right-wing British National Party (BNP), which advocates for strict immigration controls and a British-only policy. He has been accused of espousing racist and anti-Semitic viewpoints.
  • Tommy Robinson: A controversial figure in British politics, Robinson is known for his anti-Muslim views and calls for strict immigration controls. He founded the far-right English Defence League (EDL).

Finally, the changing nature of British identity and nationalism reflects larger changes in global politics and societal values, and it is likely to continue changing in response to these influences. As the UK struggles with immigration, multiculturalism, and national identity, it will be critical to strike a balance between celebrating variety and inclusivity and maintaining a sense of national pride and unity.

In recent decades, the nature of British identity and nationalism has undergone significant changes, reflecting broader global politics and societal values trends. Traditional conceptions of British identity have focused on Anglo-Saxon heritage and national superiority; however, the increasing diversity of British society has led to a more inclusive and multicultural understanding of national identity. However, this shift has not been without controversy, and tensions over national identity and multiculturalism remain. Finally, the changing nature of British identity and nationalism reflects broader trends towards nationalism and globalisation, and will continue to be shaped by these factors in the coming years.


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