I am a patriotic Brit. There you go, I said it. Phew.
In the last decade, patriotism has become an uncomfortable, thorny subject. It has been hijacked by the extremes. Populist political leaders, world over, have used it as a vehicle to carry people on their prejudices. And it has worked. Brilliantly.
In some cases, this is painfully obvious. American patriotism – the sort wielded by Trump and his base – is laced with entitlement and exceptionalism. Even the milder forms of American patriotism are caught up in the unpleasant aspects. It carries weight and influence, but there is a resistance. Unsurprisingly, it is growing out of America’s college and university campuses, with more and more students shunning traditional historical subjects to take international studies and learn second languages.
Patriotism in Britain is a different beast, but political extremes have tightened their grip. It has become a catalyst for populist movements, like Brexit, and been used to whip up hatred and division.
In turn, the left have abandoned it.
While some of the stories of Jeremy Corbyn’s uncomfortable relationship with his country were clearly falsehoods – his response to the Salisbury poisonings and inability to answer difficult questions on Northern Ireland allowed the image to take roots. Since then, several election post mortem examinations have pointed in that direction. It is clear to see how love of country binds together a lot of the issues Labour lost on.
It was little surprise to see Kier Starmer plant the Union Jack on the Labour Party’s front lawn this week. He used his first major speech as party leader to address the working class, ‘Red Wall’ voters that deserted them for Brexit in 2016 and the Tories in 2019.
While Starmer lays out his red, white and blue stall, we have a part to play too. Patriotism – for all of us – needs to be reclaimed.
Firstly – let’s be honest with ourselves – our past is uncomfortable. It just is. The debates around statues of unsavoury characters and buildings named after slave traders are difficult, painful and fraught – but they are necessary in our strides to make progress. I don’t quite know how I feel about what can be perceived as an eradication of history – but I know it can’t be easy, as a black person, to walk through Bristol city centre and under the shadow of a man held aloft who would have, at one time, enslaved you.
But to conflate that with patriotism is wrong headed. We should be able to confront those sensitivities – and be proud of the progress we have made.
For me, patriotism is about community. Pride in Britain is about pride in the role we have played in the last century. Defeating fascism in Europe – as much as that has become, ironically, a pin up moment for a far right ideology that has more in common with the minds we fought against – and from the rubble of which we built those most British of institutions, the NHS and the welfare system. Institutions designed to sit at the heart of our communities – where people come together and nobody is left to fall through the cracks.
It is also wrongly conflated with isolationism. To love your family doesn’t mean you have to hate all others. To be house proud, doesn’t mean you want to tear other houses down. We don’t have to think we are better than others. We can know that we are stronger and safer when we are all strong and safe. If your house isn’t safe, it makes my house less safe by default. British has a tradition of recognising that – and setting up to lead the change. Entangling patriotism with exceptionalism and isolationism is a choice – they don’t have to come as a package.
The tussle for patriotism will be a defining factor in the next few years – so we need to have the conversation. On Sunday’s show, the Telegraph’s Benedict Spence and former Mirror editor Paul Connew join us to figure out who, if anyone, will win the day – and what it means to be a patriotic Brit in 2020.
There are no points available for recognising that the tussle for patriotism is central to the US election, and I imagine it will rear its head as we return to the Road to the White House. Ed Hardy and Greg Swenson join us as the legacy of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg is laid before America and her death creates a political rupture.
And as the fall out from Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s winter economic plan continues, we’ll try and figure out how a patriotic tussle may affect a big, unexpected question facing Her Majesty the Queen this year. With the Monarch’s revenue increasingly dependant on income from tourists visiting their palaces, a summer in which no tourists were able to visit their palaces has left them… strapped for cash. So how do we plug the £35m hole – and do we actually want to?
See you in the morning.
Weekend Early Breakfast with Darryl Morris – Sat / Sun – 5am-7am.September 29, 2020 | No Comments