Yes, I posted a Union Flag. Correctly named. and even the right way up. That must mean I love my country, right? Because the the only way you can possibly love your country is to wrap yourself in the flag, isn’t it? Oddly enough, right now I don’t really love my country very much at all, but that is mostly because of the kind of people who keep telling me I don’t love my country if I don’t love the flag. They’re every-bloody-where. Especially on television, telling us just how much they love the flag, and how anyone who doesn’t is some kind of weirdo to be treated with suspicion.
It’s just another little fusillade in the ongoing phoney culture war, designed to distract us from things like a lack of other things, like honesty, integrity, and basic competence in Goverment.
It’s funny. When I was growing up, we didn’t see all this flag waving idiocy. The only times you saw the Union Flag was either during the Silver Jubilee, or when people were advertising Buy British campaigns, like this:
Mostly, national pride wasn’t centered around a piece of cloth, and those who tried to were very much at the margins, such as the National Front. And it’s strange to wonder why that was, because in the early 70s this country was going through exactly a moment like this. At that point we were the “sick man of Europe”. The colonies and the Empire had fallen away and there we were, the country that had once had the largest Empire the world had ever seen, blinking in the stark realities of a post-war world where we were no longer a superpower. We had to work out what our future was going to be.
Many of those who had fought in WW2 believed that future lay with closer ties with Europe, and most of the post-war consensus centred on fostering those ties. Sadly, in true teenage rebellion style, many of their children’s generation have managed to tear that consensus up, lining their own pockets as they’ve done so. The mess they’ve made will take decades to clean up, but they don’t much care. Others might if they notice, so distractions are required. Meanwhile, we are cast adrift. The rhetoric about “Global Britain” is empty and perfidious as most of our allies now view us with a mixture of suspicion and pity, as we pull away from the outside world and focus increasingly inward.
The whole flag “thing” didn’t really start at all, in my memory, until the mid 90s, with Euro 96, and the Cool Britannia/Britpop bubble. Suddenly, the flags started appearing in people’s gardens, or painted on walls, in much the same performative way as the things went in September 1997. And you what? It was always the same people who did it. It’s not enough to feel patriotic, or have any sense of national pride without that you have to stand on a platform and shout it at anyone unlucky enough to be passing. And if you don’t, there’s clearly something not normal about you.
It also seems that the amount of noise being generated is in inverse proportion to the amount of confidence in the country. Maybe the reason we didn’t wrap ourselves in flags is that we didn’t need to. We were surer of our place in the world, and in the stability of the institutions that underpinned out life. Now, when some people are barely sure of having a roof over their head, or being able to eat, confidence is in pretty short supply it seems. So some have to bolster it somehow, with exhortations to a piece of cloth, and anchoring themselves to something, even if that something is mostly an illusion.
Besides, “pledging allegiance” to a flag is something that other countries do. For years, we looked at them, more askance than any other way, in their classrooms every morning, parroting their oaths, wryly amused that they felt the need to do that. Of course, the other elephant in the room is that right now, we know (subconsciously at least) that the end of the monarch’s reign is not far off, and that her successor will be different, however much we try to convince ourselves that things will stay the same. There has been a decade of turmoil and strife, and we know there is more to come. Some people need symbols to cling to. And there those who know that, and are willing to exploit the uncertainty and disquiet for their own ends.
Seeing the likes of Robert Jenryck decorating his office with a flag purely for the benefit of the cameras raises the hackles more than a little. The theatre of the whole thing makes me more than a bit bilious. This is not dog whistle politics anymore, it’s using a PA system. And strobe lighting. Worse, when anyone dares to mention the ridiculousness of it all, or even vaguely poke a bit of fun, they’re shouted down as “unpatriotic” by all the usual suspects(1). Inevitably you can see advertisers and retailers jumping on a bandwagon, so now flags are everywhere, so the madness spreads, because of course what I really want to know when I go shopping is that my ice is British.
At some point, I hope (but God alone only knows when), we’ll come to our senses, and see this period as some kind of weird loss of our collective marbles. But right now I’m not at all hopeful. We’re in the midst of the collective delusion peddled by a bunch of principle-free chancers using nationalism as a vehicle for their self-interest. England’s Dreaming indeed; we need to wake up, and soon.
(1) On social media, for example, you can pretty much guess what their profiles and bios look like. Still, it makes them so much easier to mute and ignore.