You don’t solve a nation’s problems by putting out more flags

History teaches us that when patriotism is defined not by what we are and what we do and achieve but solely by our rhetoric and our symbols it is shallow and worthless. You don’t solve a nation’s problems by putting out more flags. Or by creating phoney “Values” when all around us is moral turpitude, xenophobia, corruption and pompous jingoism.

Symbols can trivialise and be designed to cover up failure. The same with slogans. At a time when Britain has chosen a path of nationalist disconnection from the world to spout nonsense about “Global Britain” is intellectually bereft of logic.

Flag-waving is not in itself patriotic, it needs a context. I was in the Olympic Stadium when Jessica Ennis won her Gold Medal back in 2012 – she proudly displayed the Union Flag a few yards in front of me. I cheered myself hoarse along with tens of thousands of others. I was proud of her and very patriotic. That flag meant something. Nobody told Ennis to wave the flag, nor me to cheer.

Totalitarian states need symbols to reinforce their hegemony and their power. Whether the symbol is a hammer and sickle or a swastika. Confident nations may display their flags and symbols with genuine pride, not to boast but to celebrate. But what matters is not their flag and symbol but why they are confident – it usually comes from respect. Wearing a Stars and Stripes badge on his lapel as he dragged America into the reputational mire didn’t make Donald Trump a patriot.

You can’t buy respect by wittering on about “Queen and Country” , by singing “patriotic” songs about our “glorious past” and by a surfeit of flags. My personal patriotism is at a low ebb , unsurprisingly given the shallowness of the politics all around us. But it’s not dead, just sleeping. Give me a reason to be proud of my country again and I’ll cheer myself hoarse again. Actions speak louder than words. Or flags.

2 thoughts on “You don’t solve a nation’s problems by putting out more flags

  1. The thing is that it’s not even subtle. This flag-waving is but a display of the cheapest and tackiest form of plastic patriotism. Some say ”Well if the Americans can do it…”. However, the US has a history of displaying its flag more prominently. And done whether there is a Democrat or Republican in the White House. In today’s Brexit Britain, this has appeared very quickly when before there was not such a tradition. This is just yet another battle to be played out in the culture war created by the Tories, the right-wing media and the most ardent Brexit supporters.


  2. Evelyn Waugh wrote a novel that indirectly illustrates the English ruling classes belief in flags. The book is actually called “Put out More Flags.” Johnson reminds me of one of the main characters, Basil Silk.
    The book is supposed to illustrate that the coming of war gave the English aristocracy a sense of purpose.
    The parallel with Johnson is uncanny. He believes the British now have that same sense of purpose to make Brexit work after decades of happy prosperity or subjugation depending on your point of view.
    He knows Britain has lost something excellent and wants us all to believe that jingoism and flag-waving can replace it. Quite who he fooling remains to be seen but I see a sticky ending coming.


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