Flagging Loyalty

The cross of St George is everywhere, and is a symbol of the militant ugliness of countless English people

(PA Photos) 

I abhor the English flag: not for aesthetic reasons, of course, for there are many less attractive flags in the world. Not for lack of love of my own country either, but because of the circumstances in which it is flown and the uses to which it is put. 

For most of my life, one rarely saw it. And those who used it were either xenophobic primitives or (at best) taxi-drivers with a correct apprehension that the country was going to the dogs. 

Now the cross of St George is everywhere, more particularly since devolution, at the expense of the Union flag. The same phenomenon, of course, is seen in Scotland and Wales. It is now rare to see the Union flag flown in either of these countries, though both are highly dependent economically on subsidies from England. Dependence on others, however, is not a guarantee of gratitude towards them, rather a source of resentment. This is so obvious a feature of human psychology that it should require no further proof. 

The English flag is, for me, a metonym for English cultural and aesthetic barbarity and for the militant ugliness of so many English people. It is not the fault of the flag itself, but of the people who use it. 

How many repellent beer bellies does a T-shirt bearing the English flag now tightly but incompletely cover? It is particularly unpleasant during the World Cup, when a kind of crude, bullying patriotism, rather like the crude, bullying sentimentality that followed the death of Princess Diana, brooks no dissent, and when to express doubt about the importance of football is regarded as akin to treason. 

The fact that the English are not much good even at the trivial pursuit which they are most enthusiastic about does not occasion serious national reflection, only an aggressive defensiveness. 

Because of the metonymy, I cannot see a car flying English flags during the World Cup without experiencing an emotion composed of rage and despair: which means, of course, that for the duration of this ghastly competition, I had to stay indoors if I am not to live in a state of rage. 

For the flying of the flag stands for exactly the opposite of what I once most valued in England. The English flag stands for the militant ugliness of a very conspicuous proportion (I won’t say what proportion) of the English population. Where Satan once said: “Evil, be thou my good,” this portion of the English population says: “Ugliness, be thou my beauty.” Nowhere in the world — at least in no part of it visited by me, and I have been to 80 countries — are there so many people as in England who have done their utmost to make themselves as hideous as possible to the eye of others. It is their only means of asserting themselves in the world: that, and their vile, crude behaviour. 

I exaggerate? Observe the English abroad, listen to what foreigners say of them. No, I hate the English flag.

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