Saturday, 2 July 2016

What's wrong with Britishness?

A very cultured blog writer I greatly respect complained about two Labour politicians, neither of whom I have much time for; Emily Thornberry - who tweeted an “Image from Rochester” of a white van man, and Pat Glass - who referred to the village of Sawley in Derbyshire as “wherever this is.” He spoke of the tweeted image as “a blameless white van and England's national flag.” But is it truly “blameless”? What does England’s national flag mean?

If an Italian, a Frenchman or even a German paraded his national flag in the streets, at home or abroad, during, say, a football tournament it would seem harmless, colourful and praiseworthy. As I mentioned above, I have little time for Emily Thornberry but, in suggesting that the display of the flag bearing the cross of St George, in contrast to this, was somehow unappealing, I think she was on to something. And her locating that something does not equate to merely the sneer of the liberal self-loathing intelligensia who look down on a thing so base as patriotism. What is this something? It is the unavoidable fact that the quality of English, and often British, nationalism which the national flag represents is different from that of other European nations.

This is because the flavour of a country’s nationalism emerges from its history and the history of the British over the last century is unique and peculiar to us. Uniquely among European nations we saw, in the first 50 years of the 20th Century, a decline from being the world’s superpower to being a nation more befitting our geographical size and dependent on the new superpower, the USA. Ever since this seismic shock to our national ego we have been floundering and struggling to adapt to the new order of things, much of the time in denial of it. We have inherited, for this reason a fragile national psychology which swings between a sense of entitlement, resentment, brittleness and anger. Its like someone who has never gone successfully through the five stages of grief after a bereavement and cannot come to terms with it. Or, perhaps, it’s like a playground bully who has been disarmed by the teachers and is now at his most dangerous. Because of this the England flag is dangerous.

When a French shopkeeper during the Euro 2016 competition sees the flag he is on his guard in a way in which he never would be on seeing the Swedish flag. Fans who cannot get over the fact that they are no longer exceptional but wish to assert that they are, are to be avoided especially when drunk.

Of course, given the special nature of our wounded national psyche, there is much that can be exploited by our press who profit by whipping up the resentful embers of our ‘greatness’ and demand, unreasonably, of, for example, our football teams that they rule the world once more. As a result, otherwise highly talented English footballers borne down by an unbearable weight of national expectation go to pieces on the big stage. Their emotional fragility simply buckles under the strain of trying to be something that they know in their hearts they are not. No amount of changes in the coaching staff will ever remedy this collective psychological frailty. The Welsh team, for example, on the other hand, enter the fray with none of this baggage rejoicing in their status as underdogs and using it to fuel real acts of heroism.

In the BREXIT referendum much trading on this bruised national mentality went on. Nigel Farage’s performance after the vote was in, in the European Parliament, was a perfect example of a British person giving himself permission to behave boorishly on the grounds of a flawed conception of who he is.

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