Rule, Britannia! row as Labour minister claims the patriotic Proms anthem is 'alienating' for many Britons

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Labour's shadow culture secretary has been criticised for claiming the Rule, Britannia! is "alienating" for many Britons.

Thangan Debbonaire said the anthem was "not her favourite piece of music" but added it was up to the BBC whether to include the patriotic song in the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Critics of Rule, Britannia! say the song evokes the slave trade and should be stripped of its pole position in the annual festival.

The tune has come under renewed scrutiny after cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason said it should be axed from this year's Proms as it makes "a lot of people feel uncomfortable" due to its associations with Britain's colonial past.

Labour's shadow culture secretary Thangan Debbonaire said the Rule, Britannia! is "alienating"

The patriotic song has come under renewed scrutiny after cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason said the tune should be axed from this Summer's proms.

Speaking to The Spectator, Mr Debbonaire said: "I think it’s a decision for the people who run the Proms. It shouldn’t be politicians who tell people how to run cultural events.

"I think for a lot of people, it feels like a very sort-of British moment. That has to be respected. But for a lot of people, as Sheku Kenneh-Mason said, it will feel alienating.

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“I want the Proms and culture to be accessible to everyone. It’s a good debate for us to be having.”

Downing Street previously dismissed calls for Rule, Britannia! to be scrapped, saying Rishi Sunak was comfortable celebrating British traditions.

But the Conservative party have rallied to criticise Ms Debbonaire's comments.

Deputy chairman Jack Lopresti, said her remarks confirms Labour intends to "run roughshod over national traditions”.

Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, added: “Rule, Britannia! is an integral part of the Last Night of the Proms. Without things like Rule, Britannia!, what on Earth is the point of it?

“I think this just gives everyone a sneak preview of the political correctness that we’d be likely to see from a Labour government and one that basically has very little pride in Britain and its history and its tradition.”