London (CNN)They are two patriotic songs that, for decades, have been a staple of the final extravaganza in the "Proms" series of classical music concerts that bookends the British summer.
Britain's latest culture war is about a classical concert. Critics say racial justice is a bigger issue
But this year, "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Rule, Britannia!" are at the center of a toxic culture-war debate that many say is distracting from the country's real problems with systemic racism.
Fury erupted when a newspaper claimed that the BBC, which organizes and broadcasts the event, was planning to replace the anthems out of concerns that the songs' lyrics -- which laud the country's past glories -- might be out of place in an age of historical reckoning.
The BBC's subsequent announcement that the "Last Night of the Proms" event on September 12 would feature orchestral versions of the songs, without the contentious lyrics, has done little to dampen the furor from critics who claim that too much ground is being ceded to "politically correct" agitators. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, waded in to express outrage.
"I think it's time that we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions and about our culture, and we stop this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness," said Johnson, who has repeatedly been accused of stoking divisions that emerged from Brexit.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted that he had raised the "concerns of many" with the BBC, which is funded by a compulsory license fee, while Business Secretary Alok Sharma told Sky News he "would like to see the lyrics sung."
But anti-racism campaigners, academics and political commentators said the condemnation of the BBC -- already under fire from the Conservative Party over its alleged liberal bias -- from government MPs and right-wing newspapers was disingenuous.
"You hid from accountability on Covid deaths and made not a single statement on the A-level [high school exams] fiasco. But on the proms you're hard. Big guy," author Nesrine Malik tweeted at Johnson.