Red, White, and Brit

Gordon Brown is trying to make political hay suggesting that Britain needs to be more patriotic… like America:

In his speech Mr Brown will embrace the patriotism of the US, saying: “In any survey our most popular institutions range from the monarchy to the army to the NHS. But think: what is our Fourth of July? What is our Independence Day? Where is our declaration of rights? What is our equivalent of a flag in every garden? Perhaps Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are the nearest we have come to a British day – unifying, commemorative, dignified and an expression of British ideas of standing firm for the world in the name of liberty.”

So much irony: They don’t have an independence day, like us, because they didn’t fight for independence from themselves. And this movement comes from the leader of the left, who says he wants to recapture the flag from the right (sound familiar?). And isn’t it the Europe, especially the European left, that criticizes American patriotism as jingoism?

And the surprises keep coming:

The English language, he will say, should be made an essential element of citizenship, through mandatory language courses for jobseekers found wanting.

Try arguing that here.

  • Again the non-sports-loving BuzzMachine has failed to grasp the impact of sport in defining nationalism in the British Isles.

    It was England (not Britain) that beat Australia at cricket last year. It is England (not Britain) that is playing in the World Cup this summer. Flag waving among national supporters features the English flag (of St George), not the British one.

    Gordon Brown, a Scot, may be galled by the fact that — yet again — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are made to disappear as the category “English” stands for “British.” His insistence on the British flag may be as much a celtic protest again Anglohegemony as it is an appeal to generic unspecified patriotism.

    As for stating that the command of the English language is an “essential element” of citizenship, he may have meant this in a normative rather than a prescriptive way. He did not, for example, call it a prerequisite of citizenship. He may have meant nothing more controversial than this truism: to be a fully active citizen one needs to engage in civic discourse (using language) with one’s fellow citizens.

    I cannot imagine that Brown is suggesting that Welsh speakers, for example, be deprived of citizenship because they live outside the Anglophone zone. Just as in this country, no one would suggest that Navajo speakers are not Americans.

    We should note that Brown’s “mandatory language courses” are a suggestion for participating in the labor market not in civil society.

    As for never fighting for independence, the history of the Scots, Welsh and Irish is riddled with repeated, bloody, unsuccessful military independence struggles. Meanwhile English republicans fought a bloody civil war against the absolute monarchy in the C17th century. Maybe they do not celebrate it with a holiday because their victory was only temporary. The monarchy was restored.

    The truth is not that they did not fight for their independence. It is that they did fight…but lost.

  • To disagree with the end pf the previous comment. I think you could make a strong argument that the Glorious Revolution that installed William & Mary was a successful revolution.

    It seems likely that all this “Britishness” is intended to head off English nationalism, something which is growing as ZANU labour continue to hand over additional power and money to the celtic fringe. I don’t think it will work because the English are proud of being English not British and gettign more and more annoyed at the antics of the “Scottish Raj”, as epitomized by Gordon Brown

  • Francis–good point about the Glorious Revolution. And I agree, the English think of themselves as English, not British.

    And come to think of it, in what way is Brown’s argument from the “European left” as BuzzMachine puts it?

    Labo(u)r already does have its own national holiday, Brown’s protests notwithstanding. It is called May Day. It has nothing to do with celebrating Britishness. In fact it is a repudiation of the concept. It celebrates the international workers of the entire world…which is the ideal that Labour was founded on in the first place.

  • I think Brown’s intentions are to claim back the Union Jack from the racist political group, the British National Party (BNP). The BNP have adopted the Union Jack and now it seems if a patriotic person has the flag somewhere on display they are considered racist.

    And when he asked the question about where is our independence day, I don’t think he is specifically asking for an ‘independence day’ itself, but to have some kind day of appreciation for our history and heritage. After all, we have loads of it.

  • I feel as if I have just barged into an English tea party wearing my American shorts and knobby knees. But I’m quite enjoying it. Brilliant. Carry on!

  • Amy

    I am one English person (among many) who thinks of myself as British. I am very proud to be English but equally, perhaps more, proud to be British. I will always be British first and English second. Although I have to admit that since spending five years at uni in Edinburgh, and hearing what the Scots think of us, I am much more aware of my Englishness!

    Stephen Davies’ point about the BNP is well-made. When the British talk about reclaiming the flag from the Right, it isn’t in the same sense as is meant in America. Our Union flag became associated with the racist fascist BNP. We are not talking about reclaiming it from the Conservative Party, whom, as a Labour supporter, I see as allies in the face of BNP bigotry.

    But let’s not give those racist losers more credit than they deserve, they are hardly an electoral threat, and I don’t believe it’s true to say they have hijacked the flag nowadays. There was an element of that once, but I think some people are over-sensitive about that now. I resent Gordon Brown suggesting that we need to rediscover our patriotism; I feel very patriotic just now, thanks. I don’t need to shout about it, but neither am I embarrassed by it. When I see the Union flag, I never think of the BNP, or any other racist crap, I think of the islands I love, and of a society of which I am proud. (Brown did highlight three institutions which would be top of my list too – the monarchy, Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the National Health Service.)

    I do like the idea of having a national day, but I strongly disagree that it should be Remembrance Sunday. The beauty of the latter is that it has always been a non-nationalistic occasion marking sacrifice by people of ALL nations. Sure, we proudly remember our own fallen, and especially our victories over tyranny, but it has never been about boasting. I believe many in the Royal British Legion would be against the “nationalisation” of remembrance, and Brown may have made a mistake there. On Remembrance Sunday I gladly sing our national songs, but in my thoughts are the dead of Britain, Germany, Argentina, Iraq, and everywhere else we have fought down the centuries. I don’t want the poppy I wear each year with pride to be replaced by a flag.

    I’d say the Queen’s birthday is the closest we come to a national day, and I think it would be a good idea to expand the Trooping the Colour ceremony to an all-day national celebration. The Golden Jubilee weekend was one of the best events we’ve done for years, so why not have a mini version each year?

    If we had such a day it might give us an outlet for our patriotism other than football, cricket and rugby. (Though don’t get me wrong I’ll still be out there wearing my England shirt and singing the Three Lions!)

    Re the independence day thing…I think part of the reason we’ve never traditionally had a day like this, is, contrary to popular belief, we’re actually very secure in our nationhood. We’ve been around for a bloody long time and we know it. I don’t feel like I need an anniversary event to remind me of our achievements or what we stand for. I just know it instinctively, and I think that’s true for most of us.

  • Steve

    “…this movement comes from a leader of the left”. That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day (granted, it’s still early over here)! Have you checked out so-called New Labour’s policies recently?

  • I think the very fact that we have this confusing state of Britain (or United Kingdom) and then England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is where half the confusion lies.

    I for one (British/English), am unsure what it is best to say I am in a country that is getting so policitcally correct that the only people that have an outspoken opinion, are to some respects extremist.

    Britain is a great nation – taking pyschical size against global weight. A great history that is getting eroded, and a nation that want to still live in the past glories and battles. The dislike between The Scots v. English goes back centuries and doesn’t relate to the modern world (or am I being naive?). And, to some extent, it’s all about marketing – hence St. Patrick’s day is more celebrated in England than St. Georges Day!

  • ZF

    Before you get too excited about what Gordon Brown is saying about this you should be aware that it’s all rhetoric. Some of what he describes may find it’s way into high-sounding bits of legislation, but none of it will ever be enforced.

    Britain actually has quite tough laws against indiscriminate immigration on paper, but very, very few immigrants once in the country ever get repatriated unless they are dumb enough to leave under their own steam.

  • kat

    Britain needs to protect her nationalism or lose it. There are those who want to get rid of the ‘red’ that Jeff refers to because it offends them, just like that little cross on the LA seal offended the ACLU. When immigrants come to your country and pledge allegiance to your flag and then demand you change your flag because it offends them, then maybe you need to take notice and say screw you, this is Britain, like it or leave it. Don’t worry about reclaiming your flag–worry about preserving it. That little red cross may have to go.

  • Eric M

    Her’s an idea- depose the monarchy and celebrate THAT day.

  • Amy

    Dunno if you’re British, Eric, but that ain’t gonna happen. Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy is one of the most stable and most efficient systems of government. There is a lot to be said for separating the head of state from the head of government. I’d go mad if we had a politician for head of state. The sovereign serves us all, Left, Right or indifferent.

  • mamapajamas

    Amy, you have some very good points. The Constitutional Monarchy serves the needs of Britain in a way that it never could in the US. The Queen represents a long line of stability stretching back into prehistory. For all of the occasional hiccups involving the rest of the government, the Monarch remains.

  • Amy

    Hey, mamapajamas,

    Yes, different systems for different countries. British and American cultural needs are quite dissimilar. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

    You’re right about the monarch surviving the hiccups. I trust the Queen to do the right thing and appoint the right Prime Minister, if she needed to in time of crisis. It saves a hell of a lot of 25th Amendment intricacies!

    I know it’s gospel in America, and I understand why, but I do think strict separation of powers in the U.S. has resulted too-often in political stalemate. The President’s hands are tied by Congress.

    No easy answers…

  • greeneyeshade

    What worries me is that when party bigwigs have to start talking like this, it may be too late.

  • zt

    Amy: “…strict separation of powers in the U.S. has resulted too-often in political stalemate.”

    That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. As we’ve seen in both the UK and in Canada, a Prime Minister with a weak opposition party can do anything he wishes, including abolishing free speech.

  • CanUKe

    I liked the idea of Trafalgar Day. Having individual saints days is nice, but as an Englishman in Canada I notice that on February 17th the entire world turns green and Irish but that on April 23rd I’m the only one wearing a rose.

    I know Trafalgar Day was considered a little on the offensive side for the French, but hell I thought that baiting the French was one of the key uniting forces of the Isles that make up Britain!!

    Oh, and since we already have a Trafalgar Square with its main hero aloft a pigeon stand of some proportions, the festival could be done fairly economically also.