Gordon Brown’s campaign to promote British values was exposed as a sham last night after it was revealed he personally approved a decision to remove Britannia from the 50p coin.
The patriotic symbol – based on a Roman goddess – will no longer be on any British coin for the first time in more than 300 years, as part of a redesign by the Royal Mint.
An overhaul of all coinage in April, being billed as the most significant change to the currency since decimalisation, will see it replaced with a representation of modern Britain.
Well, they’ve got some ideas depicted, but except for the speed camera, none of them really do it for me. I’d probably have to go with a sort of visual medley of Celebrity Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing, or else the logo for the Health and Safety Executive, or else a screaming bearded man holding a sign saying “Behead Those Who Insult Islam”. Any of those would be fine.
To be effaced from the coinage is the final insult for poor, abused Britannia. There may have been a time when her image inspired uncomplicated patriotism, as her invocation in James Thomson’s 18th-century lyrics can still do. More often, though, she has been subjected to all manner of indignities by cartoonists.
When we think of Britannia, we are likely to think of a busty soprano clutching a toy trident, or a Gillray drawing of a toga-clad girl being pawed at by swarthy foreigners. Worst of all was the ghastly “Cool Britannia” phenomenon, in which the new Blair government sought to conscript the Roman goddess to the cause of Britpop and the Millennium Dome.
Meanwhile our notes and coins keep shrinking – in anticipation, no doubt, of their intended abolition and replacement by euro-tin. Small wonder there is no space for Britannia on them any more.
I can’t believe they’re doing this. Surely any minute now some mandarin will step to a microphone and say “Uh, never mind, we ran a cost-benefit analysis and did some polling and ran it past some spin doctors and no we haven’t seen the Telegraph at all this weekend and we’ve decided to leave Britannia where she is, on our coins, a proud beacon representing this government’s commitment and fondness for our shared British culture and blabiddy blah blah…”