The World Cup often brings out the greatest display of supposed patriotism found on the British Isles. Though 99% English patriotism, only the Jubilee can top the almost obscene amounts of flags hanging out of windows and hearing, “I’m proud to be British” a good few hundred times in the local pub. For some, the World Cup puts the country on show, though often through a very Englandcentric medium. For many, mostly a scary mix of Daily Mail readers and“Britain First” supporters, demands for “more flags” and anthem singing reaches its four-year high.
However though, is this the best we can do? Is British patriotism embedded only in the occasional Jubilee celebration and a few football matches? Of course, on one hand we can argue patriotism, nationalism now often used as a synonym, is dead in the UK. Just a relic of the past which only Michael Gove and David Cameron fascinate over with obscure terms such as “British values”? British values certainly exist but maybe Gove mistook them for British history. As I type this on my American designed laptop built in China whilst munching on my Indian meal, it can be quite difficult to pinpoint what homogenous and shared “British values” really are. Of course though, especially on the 799th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, a certain set of values have been carried on into the present day.
To quote George Bernard Shaw, “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”. When both Britishness and Englishness are defined in hundreds of terms that few will ever agree on, we actually present ourselves with the answer to what makes up “British values”. These values are ones that are carried on by the march of history but are so numerous; our “Britisness” is marked by an array of different beliefs, cultures and traditions. As the leading nation in the entire world in the 19th century especially, our Britishness was more secure than ever. Yet tourists to the UK who marvel at the historical buildings and artifacts are most certainly mesmerised by what they see in London, but maybe not for the rest of the country.
Despite being the leading nation in terms of economics and empire for some time, the way in which our history has expressed our Britishness have always been modest. The Palace of Versailles in France or the Forbidden City in China represented power and grandeur and were designed to be the plug built on shaky foundations to hide the national instability below. The sheer size and decoration of such statements of imperial power dwarfed any similar British venture (Just look at the size of Buckingham Palace). Why? Because such demonstrations of cultural sabre rattling were unneeded in any futile attempt to galvanise a disaffected people. Despite their majesty, neither building could save France from the revolution of 1789 or China from the dismemberment of their nation in the late 18th and early 19th century. Even in recent times, flags, bands and flyovers have become the trademark of a nation desperately clinging onto state defined values of what it means to be a certain nationality. Only a month ago did the 69th May Day parade march through Moscow celebrating the defeat of Nazism during “The Great Patriotic War”- an obvious and forced display of what the state believes is patriotism and part of the superiority complex Russia in particular has held for centuries.
Yet how does this echo into the present day? Because the intense and sudden appearances of mass flag waving and overt “patriotism” is massively un-British. Yes, patriotism with inverted commas. For Britain, this display of pride is ad hoc and quite out of place. The subconscious stability of the nation has always rested on our ability to be quietly proud of ourselves without the need to rely on overt displays of patriotic fervour. Our Britishness is defined in a number of ways, but has always been grounded in a confident yet solemn approach to being proud of our country. It is of no surprise that overtly boisterous displays of patriotism are what verges on the fringe of xenophobic nationalism which history has often exemplified. Only north of the border, the pro-independence voice in Scotland has already shown its thuggish side when Scottish patriotism quickly transcends into anti-Englishness.
So when the next person in the pub says we need a flag on every street corner, consider why people think that. Is the UK slowly losing the subconscious pride that has bound our nation together for centuries?