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The article is appropriately entitled Britain Seeks Its Essence, and Finds Punch Lines.
It was a lofty idea: formulate a British “statement of values” defining what it means to be British, much the way a document like the Declaration of Independence sets out the ideals that help explain what it means to be American.
The proposal, part of a package of British-pride-bolstering measures announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s new government over the summer, raised a host of tricky questions. What does it mean to be British? How do you express it in a country that believes self-promotion to be embarrassing? And how do you deal with a defining trait of the people you are trying to define: their habit of making fun of worthy government proposals?
Detractors spread the rumor that the government was looking not for a considered statement, but for a snappy, pithy “liberté, égalité, fraternité”-style slogan that it could plaster across government buildings in a kind of branding exercise.
Nor did it help when The Times of London cynically sponsored a British motto-writing contest for its readers.
The readers’ suggestions included “Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco” (Asbo stands for “anti-social behavior order,” a law-enforcement tool, while Tesco is a ubiquitous supermarket chain); “Once Mighty Empire, Slightly Used”; “At Least We’re Not French”; and “We Apologize for the Inconvenience.” The winner, favored by 20.9 percent of the readers, was “No Motto Please, We’re British.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/26/world ... motto.html