Well, Andrea Leadsom’s really put the cat among the pigeons with her comments about our broadcasters needing to be a bit more patriotic, hasn’t she? (for those who haven’t seen it, it’s from 3:14 on attached link)
About bloody time, is what I say.
It’s one of the things that I found most disturbing during the Brexit debate – the realisation that for a fairly significant proportion of the country, overt displays or professions of patriotism are seen as something to be avoided, or embarrassed by – the preserve of common, loutish, uneducated people, the little Englanders with their white vans and football flags displayed on sides of houses, sneered at by politicians such as Emily Thornberry; that the proud waving of British flags can only ever be tolerated at a very limited set of events such as the Olympics, or the last night of the Proms, or a street party in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday – that the more enlightened, virtuous position is one of pointing out all the ways in which the UK is weak, and cannot stand alone outside the EU. And of course that it’s racist to want Britain to be independent of the EU – that the ultimate virtue is to be found in proclaiming oneself a citizen of Europe rather than of Britain.
Where does this notion come from? When did it become acceptable, or even fashionable, to actively denigrate the country in which one lives, to gloss over and even dismiss its strengths while loudly proclaiming any perceived weaknesses to the rest of the world?
I know the answer, of course. It was made clear to me yesterday, in the course of a long and torturous debate on Twitter – if a series of tweets to and from numerous different people can be constituted a debate.
It was in response to a couple of journalists tweeting the video clip of Ms Leadsom’s comments, outraged at the idea that she appeared to be suggesting that any opposition to Brexit is unpatriotic. I of course waded in and pointed out that that is not what she was saying at all – she was simply pointing out that our media appear to be constantly focusing on areas of perceived weakness in our negotiating position, and never highlighting any of our strengths (of which there are many).
I have to admit to having been gratified to see just how rattled many Remainers were by the perceived accusation that they are not patriotic. It is reassuring to witness that despite what they may say about the UK being weak, they clearly do see patriotism as a virtue, and are understandably outraged at the suggestion that they are unpatriotic. In fact one tweet, which got a multitude of “likes”, suggested that “if anything, I’d say it’s patriotic to try to stop the country you love fucking itself over on a stubborn whim”.
Well, yes, I’d have to say I agree. For those who genuinely believe Brexit to be a mistake, and who feel that it would damage the country, of course it is patriotic to try to prevent it.
But that’s not what our press are doing – or if it is, they’re going about it in a strange way. By constantly pointing out the ways in which we are in a weak negotiating position, they are not preventing Brexit happening – all they are doing is ensuring that when it does happen, it will be a disaster. Which may give them a small amount of satisfaction in being able to say “I told you so” but rather epitomises the term “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. And ultimately, it is an extremely unpatriotic act – deliberately pointing out what you perceive to be the weaknesses in your own country’s negotiating position, can only ever be harmful to its chances of success.
More importantly, by doing this, the press are alienating the large proportion of the country for whom patriotism is not an uncomfortable position, those who either voted Brexit in the first place, or who voted Remain but who, above all else, are immensely proud to be British and who are now willing Brexit to be a success.
This disconnect between the liberal press and the majority of the populace, was summed up by one Twitter user who asked “What is wrong with being unpatriotic?” Which led another user to point out that patriotism is not necessarily a good thing – because it leads to nationalism and populism, and of course then Hitler got the obligatory mention for the fact that he was both a nationalist and a populist – and let’s not forget all those young men dying for their country in World War One.
Now, two things struck me about this particular argument. The first is that it sounded like the person was simply regurgitating, parrot-fashion, what she had been taught at school or university. And the second was that it’s a particularly lazy argument – demonising one term by throwing around two other terms, which themselves are needlessly demonised by our press. As I pointed out in response, neither nationalism nor populism are inherently bad – nationalism is defined as “an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries” and populism is defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people”.
Personally, I feel that support for the concerns of ordinary people is something to which politicians of all nations should aspire. And as for a feeling of superiority over other countries – quite frankly, I believe this is something we should all be allowed to feel about our own countries. After all, I get that many people are not able to choose where they live, but given a choice, why live in a country if you don’t believe it’s the best place in the world to live? And if you don’t have a choice, surely you’re better off believing the country you live in is special, for whatever reason, than constantly telling yourself you’d be happier elsewhere? It seems to me to take a special kind of masochism to tell yourself you’re living in a horrible country.
The problem is that too many people appear to believe that it is impossible to proclaim one’s country to be greater than others, without wanting to colonise, invade or otherwise subjugate or destroy those other countries. Children are taught in schools about the evils of the British empire and colonialism – ignoring or glossing over the ways in which the British involvement in those countries actually improved the economies and infrastructures at the time – and these are held up as examples of why we should not proclaim ourselves proud to be British, why we should actually be ashamed of our history and should constantly apologise for the sins of our forefathers and at all costs avoid any stirrings of patriotism that may lead us to repeat such atrocities.
But it’s human nature to want to feel part of something bigger than oneself. And to want that something bigger to be something great, of which one can feel proud. Constantly telling people they should have to apologise for who they are, or where they come from, is a recipe for resentment and disaster.
In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that increasing numbers of people are becoming radicalized within western society. When the society in which they are living tells them they should not be proud of its culture, should not wish to defend it but instead should embrace “multiculturalism” – a term which for all its good intentions essentially means that young people are left confused as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour, or what values they should embrace – is it any wonder that some of them find themselves drawn to the authoritarian teachings of the radical Islamic preachers, who quite clearly tell them that the path they are on is righteous, that they are fighting for a great and worthy cause, and that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their struggle against the “infidel”?
And is it any wonder that ordinary, predominantly working class men – and increasing numbers of women – who do feel deeply patriotic about their country, and proud of their culture – are starting to take to the streets in protest at the way their identity is being suppressed in the names of multiculturalism and avoidance of the dreaded Islamophobia? Or that sick individuals such as Thomas Mair or Darren Osborne end up lashing out at innocent victims in the twisted aim of protecting a society that they feel has been abandoned?
The UK is going through a period of great uncertainty and political turmoil at the moment – now more than ever we need to stop treating patriotism as a dirty word, stop heralding multiculturalism as the ultimate goal, and focus instead on integration, on highlighting our common ground, and on protecting our culture and our values.
As to what those values are – the values I have always seen as inherent to the UK are equal rights for all people, regardless of colour, faith, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability, and openness to trade and co-operation with the rest of the world. We are not Little Englanders – or even Little Britain – but nor are we simply a subset of the EU. And while we are open to all faiths, we must have the right to challenge elements of Islam, or any other religion, that preach intolerance towards women, or towards gays, or towards those of other faiths.
Patriotism is defined as “vigorous support for one’s country”. That does not have to mean dying for one’s country, as mentioned in the Twitter discussion I had yesterday – but it does mean defending its values, cheering its successes and trying to strengthen, rather than simply highlighting, its weaknesses. So let’s stop focusing on the areas in which Britain is perceived to be weak, and instead focus on strengthening our hand.