Flying The Flag

One of the marked features of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations was the presence of thousands of Union Flags, whether waved, worn or featured in the 1,500 miles of bunting which were sold by Tesco alone. It was an interesting contrast with the Coronation, or even the Silver Jubilee of 1977, news footage of which shows that flags were few and far between among the crowds. In some important respects, patriotism and the monarchy have become much more explicitly linked.

Of course it is perfectly possible to be a republican and patriotic. It’s pretty impossible, however, to find a monarchist with no sense of national pride. In which case, looking at the record levels of support for the monarchy registered over the jubilee period, we also can conclude that British patriotism is in rude health.

This is borne out by a recent survey carried out by the once-Blairite think-tank Demos, which found that 79 per cent of those asked considered themselves proud to be British. Many find this remarkably high, which is not so surprising when you consider how used we have become to living in what you might call an anti-patriotic cultural atmosphere, with the very idea of nationhood under attack on all fronts.

Certainly for some time there has been something almost covert about expressing patriotism. Attitudes to the flag itself provide a good example of this. Concerned liberals tell us that far-right groups such as the British National Party have spoilt it for all of us. They have stolen it, left it tainted and us ashamed, and understandably we have become very nervous about displaying it. Occasionally there are calls to “take it back”.

 But where is the evidence for this? Will victorious British athletes at the Olympics think twice about draping themselves in the flag, for fear of being seen as BNP supporters? Did the Indian-run shops in my local high street discuss the risk they were taking before selling jubilee bunting? I don’t think so. There is the flag, and then there is the BNP using the flag: telling the difference between them causes most people little trouble. 

 The truth is that those who tell us that extremists have hijacked the flag and made it unusable are not genuinely concerned about this “problem” because they tend to think that fondness for the flag is extremist anyway. They have an instinctive antipathy to such symbols. They are the ones who make an immediate connection in their minds between flags and bigotry, and then assume that others must too. And in a wonderful circular movement, they can then claim that because it has, as they say, been hijacked, anybody who displays or waves it must therefore be a rancid chauvinist with racist tendencies. Surely the Diamond Jubilee must have put this one to rest once and for all.

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