The Year 9 homework that I got roped in to help with last night was asking this question. It's a bit of a conundrum really, in spite of the best endeavours of the politically correct class who talk of cohesion but can't produce it in reality.
The reflex response is to talk about good old British values, fair play, trust, tolerance, decency. You only have to scratch the surface though to see through this veneer.
Fair play - Does that explain our ability to be plucky losers in most major sporting competitions? Happy just to be taking part & getting stuffed by the Germans/Australians (delete as appropriate). Our society is about as unfair & class divided today as it's ever been with the rich getting richer & the poor, well...poorer. More than poverty, it's the lack of opportunity, the closed doors to developing your destiny, that which became the American dream is a British nightmare.
Trust - I'm not sure how we have ever been able to claim this as some unique British characteristic? Does a society based on trust fill it's cities & town centres with CCTV, or require Dad's taking their lads to football to have CRB checks?
Tolerence - Hmmm....I remember the race riots in Oldham, just a few streets away from us. Neighbour against neighbour solely because of culture, colour & creed. Never mind race, anyone who is different really is fair game. Gordon Brown today apologised for the hounding of Alan Turing, who took his own life 53 years ago. This brilliant Cambridge Mathmatician of the Enigma Code fame deserved plaudits, but instead was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The French, the Germans, the Irish, the Asians, Gays, Chavs, MP's, Estate Agents, Bankers.......tolerent Britain?
Decency - Thanks to all those CCTV cameras in our town centres, we can at least watch 'Indecent Britain', live on a Friday or Saturday night. Even if you escape it all by going abroad, you're likely to encounter the kind of Brit who loves to party, fight,vomit & copulate all over the resort. Indecent Britain means we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, terrible stats for marriage breakdown, all kinds of exciting new STD's that never existed when I was a boy, & a favourite leisure pursuit of internet porn. Happy days!
Before this sounds like a message board for the Daily Mail, let me tell you that I think there is plenty that is good about being British. Every society has something positive to offer, some glimmer or spark of humanity made in the image of God, however deeply it is buried in the mire.
This is surely a challenge for the church to rise to, that we could build true community based not on any national characteristics, but on our new shared identity in Christ. We have a promise to chase, that even in degenerate, broken Britain, we might shine like stars & show people a better way to live.