David Aaronovitch has a good piece in The Times today about patriotism and the Union Flag. 🇬🇧 In his he cites the London Olympics as a model for good patriotism. I agree.
I was a Gamesmaker at London2012 where I spent six weeks in the Olympic Village rubbing shoulders with the athletes of a hundred and more countries. As David says it was indeed a model for national pride kicked off brilliantly by the opening ceremony. The pride was not jingoistic or phoney, Danny Boyle managed to capture the best of British from the NHS to our diversity. It was also uproariously funny and self deprecating at times. Today such a celebration would be dismissed as “woke” by half the country – including, unfortunately, those attempting to govern us.
In 2012 in Stratford there were flags on display everywhere – indeed the national teams’ residencies were most easily identified by the flags the athletes themselves displayed from their windows. The “interdependent” world was very visible. And for me there were treasured moments of patriotism. I was in the stadium for Super Saturday and took a photograph of Jessica Ennis proudly displaying the Union Flag after her Gold Medal win. I was later able to get her to sign the photo for me.
This was not faux patriotism of the “Hang out more flags” variety. Ms Ennis, herself very much a 21st Century Englishwoman, used the flag appropriately to signify her achievement. That is very different from using flags as props to attempt to disguise your failures and the emptiness of your rhetoric. There is nothing new about hiding behind your flag and spouting “My country right or wrong” platitudes. But today it has become the default position because we get so little right.
Essentially we are insecure because having been advised by many to find a post Imperial role in Europe we couldn’t hack it and have run away. Inevitably this failure (for that is what it is) leads us to get the flag out to reassure us we’ve done the right thing. The flag is accompanied by words like “sovereignty” and “independence” which are just shallow cover for xenophobia. “The British, the British, the British are best I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest” as Flanders and Swann didn’t (quite) sing !
The Union Flag is now a symbol of English nationalism. It’s used sparingly in Scotland and Wales and only by the Unionists in Northern Ireland. The irony is that its days are surely numbered. Both Scottish independence and a United Ireland are inevitable consequences of Brexit. You can’t have a “union” flag when there’s no longer a union. England will have to recover the flag of St George from the football hooligans and the white van men.