“The English, the English, the English are best, I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest.”
So sang Michael Flanders and Donald Swann during the 1960s in their ‘Song of Patriotic Prejudice’, and the English laughed because they understood the joke — they really did think they were the best, and yet at the same time they realized that this attitude was not frightening or embarassing but hilariously funny.
What made it even funnier was that there was apparently so little to justify it, as Flanders and Swann also observed:
And all the world over, each nation’s the same,
They’ve simply no notion of playing the game,
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won,
And they practise beforehand which ruins the fun!
For England to lose at football or cricket, you see, wasn’t proof of a flaw in our character but in everyone else’s!
Yet at the same time, there was a deep underlying conviction that, when push came to shove, the English would come through, and English patriotism didn’t have to assert itself because it was, in the end, deeply secure. It was in the English character to lose every battle except the last one, but it was the last one that would count and that would reveal the truth about the English.
Well, that was then and this is now.
Then, the English didn’t even have a national dress. The Welsh had funny bonnets, the Irish had shelalaghs and upside-down pipes and the Scots had tartan skirts. But the nearest the English had to a costume was a bowler hat and an umbrella.
Today, however, we are being urged to celebrate ‘Englishness’ and fly the flag for St George’s day — and this creates a dilemma.
On the one hand, there is no doubt that Englishness has been eclipsed. On the other hand, true Englishness isn’t something that is worn on the sleeve, or even flown from a flagpole. Making a big deal of St George’s day is itself an ‘un-English’ activity.
Nevertheless, something must be done, and quickly! Why? Because “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined”, as Jesus once said. And if ever that applied to a nation in history it applies to England now.
In sober corners of government it is now being admitted not only that ‘multiculturalism’ was a policy failure but that mass immigration has brought massive, and unaddressed, problems. Behind all this is a growing, if still reluctant, awareness that a country cannot simply become a ‘dormitory state’ and hope to survive. Moreover, as I suspect the May elections will show, there is an increasing indigenous backlash from people who feel that their voice has not been heard and their fears have not been addressed. Why else would the British National Party be able to field over 750 candidates?
The problems we face are immense, and the time is short. There is, however, one simple step that could be taken immediately, and at little expense, to instil a sense of nationhood, and that is to require the daily flying of the union and St George flags from all public buildings in England, beginning with local government offices. (Currently, there only seem to be some seventeen or so days on which the flag must be flown.)
It is astonishing how the displaying of these flags has been a matter of controversy, and even refusal, amongst many local governments in the past two decades, even whilst other emblems have happily been flown. The justification that these flags are ‘associated with right-wing groups’ is only possible precisely because of the deliberate policy of non-display!
In what other country would the nation’s own flag be treated with paranoid suspicion? I cannot think of a single one. Institutionalized fear of our own flag is surely a sign that something is deeply wrong within our national pysche. And what better way to overcome a fear than by confronting it? So, let the flag be flown, not to show that we are proud of it (that wouldn’t be very English), but so that we can begin to get used to it! Once that has happened, perhaps we could try something a little more low-key.
Revd John P Richardson
21 April 2007