“The Progressive Patriot”, the first book by Billy Bragg the novelist has warmly received by critics and lovers alike. In this second part I discussed with Billy the culture and politics that aligned the modern world and asked him what he felt it was to be English.
Do you think Englishness is important and why?
“Yeah I do, Identity politics seems to have come to the front with the debate around Immigration, I think things such as the veil are linked to the persons own rights, I’m not a big fan of it but it’s the persons own decision to decide whether to wear it or not in the end. It’s not the governments and it’s certainly not a papers. I feel it’s also important to create a better more understanding society to be English is not about kings and queens and battles centuries ago, it’s about a fair and open society and treating people in the proper a respectful way.
How would you reclaim such an idea as Englishness?
(Smiling) “I would buy it all up and put it in a big sack, seriously I think setting an identity around a set of values and engaging with each other. We need a debate and a discussion based around human rights, but a proper and intelligent debate not a pandering to one side debate.”
What Qualities would you describe as being English?
“I feel that one of the very few qualities that are English or belong to Englishness are qualities like fairness, you can find fairness throughout English history such as the welfare state and immigration this is the kind of qualities we should be patriotic about not some war that happened centuries ago.”
Are the Unions still important in today’s capitalist dominate society?
“Very important, they are our only defence against the capitalism and multinational globalisation that as you said seems to be dominate in today’s world.”
How should the Union appear in the 21st century?
“The union should appear as being straight and to the point, they need to appear modern and more out there, they were they in Barking when the BNP was trying to whip up the tensions in the area, and they were out there with these bands forcing the message home.”
Is it important to get involved in a union?
“Almost essential I always stand up for the unions after all they stood up for me.”
How do you feel about Labour or New Labour as they call themselves now?
“I don’t agree with the name or the agenda that Tony has taken upon himself, I don’t want and the country doesn’t need a New tag to tell them, they need to be convinced through the polices that this is a version of Labour that is modern.”
And what about Gordon Brown?
“Well he’s a great idea, but he is only that because he is not Tony, we’ll see until then he is only a great idea.”
Why do you think the country is apathetic towards politicians and politics?
“Couldn’t give a fuck about apathy, It doesn’t exist. The thousands who marched on that anti war march showed that this country wasn’t apathetic, and the ones who marched in various towns showed the government they weren’t apathetic. The public have become cynical about this government and politics in general, they are never allowed to debate or it seems to put there arguments forward, people sadly have lost believe.”
How is the Billy Bragg different from the Billy Bragg 20 years ago?
“He is more interested in activism than interested in playing songs, hence the book being written and so forth. The Billy today feels that there is more to activism yet he will still continue to write don’t worry (smiles).”
Do you still like touring and writing music?
I still get a buzz when I go out on the road, now I have a family I sometimes before tour wonder if leaving my family is the right thing but once I get out there I realise this is the best job in the world in fact it’s not a job. (Grinning) I love it and I get paid for it, what a lucky bugger I am (laughs).
What is the meaning behind the book “The Progressive Patriot”?
“Basically it’s to justify and mix the two ideas, to go forward with the traditional idea. To reconcile tradition with radicalism, to live in the present while looking both to the past and the future.”
What do you feel about Journalism?
“Good journalism can be positive for everyone, agenda setting journalism without it’s positives is a dangerous path we need not to go down.”
How do you see yourself politically?
“I see myself as one man trying to reform the system for a better society with rights and freedoms and not economics.”
Do you think Literature is still important as apposed to the celebrity culture and television in educating us?
“I believe that they are more important than ever before and it’s books and not music or some other idealistic item. Hugo Chavez didn’t wave a clash album about, he waved a book around by Chomsky about that sky rocketed to the top of Amazons best sellers list…..I wish he’d wave my book about.” (Laughs)
And the final question, what do you feel about the environment?
“It’s the biggest issue in mankind’s history, it’s the one thing we all have to address at some point in the near future, if we don’t address it unlike Englishness or immigration this could mean the end of the world. Maybe the next book should be how to convince China.”