Hell’s teeth I wave the Irish Tricolour at a sporting event and so I am not sure why it upsets me when folks say that the Union Flag has only recently become acceptable. I think it is a matter of who says it but also that it is so patently wrong. Saturday saw another encounter with folks who are without doubt good people. Nice people. But also, utterly deluded academic lefties. And I lost my temper. The Union Flag has always been “acceptable” to most people in this country. Indeed for most folks it has been – quite rightly – a source of pride.
The thesis of the Guardian reading classes is that somewhere along the line the red, white and blue was high jacked by extreme right wingers of the National Front and BNP and thus became a flag that could not be flown with pride. It was only somewhere between Austin Powers and Cool Britannia (1997) and Mo Farah, the Queen’s Jubilee (2012) that it once again became universally acceptable.
On Saturday, the thesis of the left was pushed even further with a claim that the Windrush generation of immigrants experienced racism on arrival and could not associate with the Union Flag anyway because of post Imperial resentment and that for them it has taken until 2012 or whenever to start to associate with it. My blood was boiling at this stage.
Starting with the Windrush immigrants and other arrivals in the UK. All the evidence that I see is that many immigrants flocked to what they termed “the mother country” not because they hated the British because of our wicked imperialist ways but because they saw an opportunity to gain better employment and a better life in a country which had – via Empire – established systems of life, law, education and Government that they felt quite happy with. There was no seething resentment of the Flag in that generation. These are the same folk from the Colonies who volunteered (yes, bloody Guardian readers accept that fact, they signed up voluntarily) to fight for “King and Country” in two world wars. Just because they did not have a white skin, it did not stop them appreciating so much that was good about Britain. With his or her tainted world view, a Guardian reader finds that hard to believe but it happens to be a hard fact.
Those immigrants and those of prior waves (the Jews and Eastern Europeans who dominated the East End in the 1880s for instance) clearly did encounter some racial hostility. But within a few decades the Eastern European and Jewish communities of the East End had integrated, many had left the ghetto and were almost universally proud to be British. They died for King and Country just like 30th generation Brits did, fighting under the same flag.
They did not need Citizenship tests and neither did the Windrush generation. Look at photos of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 from Notting Hill and you see thousands of happy Afro-Caribbean faces smiling in streets bedecked with Union Flags. They are, and were, proud to be British and proud of that flag. With a touch of green blood in me I too find some pride in standing alongside such folks as fellow Britons.
Nationalist parties waved the Union Flag in Britain just as Nationalist/Racist parties fly their national flags in other countries. But for fifty years or so the Union Flag has also remained a central part of other aspects of our lives. Dead servicemen coming back from Ulster, Iraq, the Falklands or wherever came back in a coffin draped in our National Flag. They fought under that Flag and sometimes died for it. The Flag flies wherever the Queen goes. The Flag flies on poles across the countryside. It always has.
That the liberal elite regarded it as a badge of shame or claimed that the Far Right had appropriated it was because it is never their sons who die for their country. They have no contact with that world. They would rather not think about Old fashioned institutions like the monarchy and regard the attitudes of country folks who kill poor little foxy woxy, fly the national flag and don’t regard same-sex marriage or electoral reform as the key pressing issues of the day, with undisguised contempt. So in their narrow world view the Far Right appropriated the Union Flag and thus it had to be shunned. Their world view was wrong. Maybe it took the Olympics or another Jubilee to show just how out of touch they were but for most folks in the United Kingdom the Union Flag was never a badge of shame.
Of course these days there is another Flag we see across England – the Cross of St George. The breakup of the Union and thus of our National Flag may happen. There are folks in Scotland who wish to break away. There are a lot of us in England who would rather welcome that for a range of reasons.
And so perhaps we feel less strongly about the Union Flag than we used to but most of us never regarded the Flag with shame. There was no need for guilt or post-imperial anger. Britain has always welcomed folks from the colonies – be it my father’s mother’s family retreating from Eire or the Windrush migrants and most people have always accepted that once here the new arrivals became British and enjoyed standing next to them underneath our country’s flag.
It is not just that the Guardian reading classes are wrong on every issue, it is that they seek to re-write history to justify a set of beliefs which are insulting to the way that the vast majority of folks live and think and have done so for generations.