The State of Patriotism in the UK | Ethan Liddell
In my years of being actively involved in politics, whether that be through campaigning or academia, I have personally seen how political issues and topics can shift. Some for better and some for worse. One shift I’ve noticed more recently, which is definitely for the worse, is non-partisan issues being appropriated by one side of the political spectrum, in this instance I wish to focus on patriotism. I focus specifically on patriotism due to the way it is being treated, mostly by the political elite, but also by the politically active citizens of the UK.
In around 5 years or so, we have seen a huge division grow between the left-wing and right-wing of the political spectrum in general, but also concerning the idea of devotion to your country. On one hand, we have a large amount on the left side saying that it’s racist if you have pride for your country, which is not only incorrect but shows how they nit-pick through our history and associate patriotism with the worst parts. It must be noted that it isn’t usually the ideologically centre-left voters, it tends to be the far-left that hold these views, it became much more of a problem when the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shifted the party to the left, in came the younger generation advocating socialism and out went the older red wall voters that felt betrayed by Labour’s new identity. Those on the right, on the other hand, seem to have patriotism largely exclusive to them as of now. Which wasn’t necessarily intentional because a lot of people who voted for the Conservative party in the 2019 general election came over from UKIP and Labour, the Conservatives accepted this and have recently been promoting patriotism more than ever. I have no problem with political parties in the UK promoting patriotism, I’m advocating for it, but my issue is specifically that one party cannot be a home to all those that feel a level of devotion to the country, it should be spread across all parties. If we want a more patriotic feeling in the UK and less of a toxic divide, we should encourage it to be held by all parties that wish to represent the British public. It should be seen in a simpler light, being a feeling of pride and devotion, not a partisan issue.
If Labour are to become more patriotic, as Labour and patriotism are “two sides of the same coin” according to the Keir Starmer, they need to do it properly. It cannot be trojan horse patriotism, in which they put on a patriotic mask and express fake love for this country, just to gain power and then do the complete opposite by allowing the anti-British sentiment to grow, along with implementing policies that threaten our history and culture. Those who associate themselves with the far-left consistently prove that they want to completely change British culture and alter our way of life, which is why it is so important that Labour does not allow these views to take over. Where I do respect Starmer’s push for patriotism to return to the Labour party and his apparent open pride for his country, his actions seem to completely contradict his words. Like when he made Labour’s policy for a second referendum on Brexit, when he chose to bend the knee for Black Lives Matter (who have been pushing an extremely anti-British rhetoric and tearing down monuments), and when he said he would reintroduce freedom of movement if he became Prime Minister. The only reason he seems to hint at a more patriotic tone in articles, like the one above, is to save himself the time and effort of properly reforming the party. I personally have doubts about his care for genuine patriotism.
This is further supported by the party’s history of attacks against patriotism, not realising that they could well be attacking their own base. They seem to keep making the mistake in believing patriotism should be partisan and is something to be looked down on. In 2014, Emily Thornberry MP resigned from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet after tweeting a photo of a house in Rochester that had Saint George’s flags hanging out of the window with the caption ‘Image from #Rochester’, essentially trying to promote the idea that flying your own flag is a bad thing to do. It may seem odd that one tweet or one comment could cause such a commotion and drastically affect a politician’s career, but it shows the deeper issue Labour has had for years. Labour MPs and even top figures in the Labour party consistently attack the proud working-class, then they are surprised when voters shift to another party. The key point here is that being patriotic and encouraging it has proven to benefit Labour, I’m saying this as a staunch Conservative, they would benefit massively and wouldn’t alienate voters like the way they have recently.
The point I wish to stress is that when patriotism is used as a tool and is made into a partisan issue, just like the example above, it hurts everyone. It hurts patriotic Labour voters that feel attacked by their own party for having pride in their country and it hurts those who want patriotism to be more common as it becomes a niche in the political sphere. Anything surrounding politics can be debated, I am not saying that patriotism cannot be questioned in certain situations and that you cannot critique your country’s actions. I am also not saying you are required to feel pride for your country, no one is forcing you to do so. The problem I have is the complete lack of general promotion and encouragement of British values that the country was built on. From what I’ve experienced, those who are anti-British or maybe just don’t like the idea of patriotism try and censor people who do have devotion to their country, they do not want debate, they just wish to silence an opposing view. I find it unacceptable that institutions like universities, schools and businesses try to take away someone else’s right to representation and demean their political opinions just because they wish to pander.
After my expressions of support for patriotism, you may ask, why do I promote it? I promote it so passionately, not just out of my own love for my country, but out of sustainability and preservation because you cannot run a country on the basis of hatred for it, no country can successfully function in that way. We can see this from the increase in businesses getting involved in political issues, usually in support of left-wing values, they create a divide between themselves and citizens by not focusing on their main purpose: to provide a service and make money. In terms of regular citizens, those on the left wish to stay in the country that they openly express hatred for even though it has a great way of life, free healthcare and amazing public security, just to trash it and say that the UK is awful. A ‘have your cake and eat it’ situation. If you have patriotism as a basis, the country would be significantly less divided, it will allow people to focus more on actual issues that have negative influences on society like gang violence and alcohol/drug abuse.