Come on England!

Here’s a confession: I feel really quite sorry for people who don’t like football. For the next month, it’s inescapable. We have now entered the four-yearly month-long period when football emerges out of its pop culture bubble, and becomes the dominant theme of media and social life. But for those of us, like your dear author here, who like nothing better than listening to a South Korea v Greece group game as they type, the next month is as close as it gets to heaven on earth.

This evening, of course, is the biggest day of all- England’s first game against the USA. But thinking about this has led me on to a slightly different tack- the curious relationship between being a Liberal Democrat, and being a British nationalist. The two may seem like an unlikely combination, but the fact is, I consider myself to be both. And furthermore, I personally think that by not emphasising this, I think we are scoring an own goal as a party.

Considering the reaction of the majority of people you meet who fly the Union Jack over the house to you when you say you belong to ‘that bunch of  multiculturalist traitors’, this may seem like an odd combination of political beliefs. But the thing is, I see no incompatibility between loving my country, and accepting the multitude of cultures which now comprise it. After all, we have had a multicultural country- with English, Welsh and Scottish cultures (and Manx and Cornish and Irish) ever since the 1707 Act of Union. What difference does it make if that cultural mix now includes Pakistani or Polish or Nigerian? Britain is a country whose culture has been changed fundamentally by waves of immigration in the past, from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, to the Huguenots in the 17th century and East European Jews in the 19th. What always gets me about the ‘nationalist’ demand for cultural uniformity, is the fact that the people making those demands don’t speak ancient Brythonic, the language similar to Welsh spoken before the Roman occupation. Even the words in which Nick Griffin speaks and the Daily Express writes are largely imports brought in by immigrants.

So essentially, in my opinion, the majority of people who call themselves ‘nationalists’ or ‘patriots’ are nothing of the sort. They do not love Britain as it exists today; they simply love a fraction, or a mirage, a dream of what it never was. If people truly love their country, they would love it all- green fields, grey cities and all. Certainly, don’t agree with everything that happens there; but love it all the more for that.

This may seem a controversial point of view- I accept this. But the fact is that liberals, and the Liberal Democrat party, have effectively conceded the argument over British national identity. Part of this is down to the internationalist principles of some of our members; these are their beliefs, and if they are strongly-held, that’s fair enough. But there also, with many people, a genuine embarrasment about expressions of nationalism- since these are instantly associated with Eurosceptic Toryism, or worse. This is perfectly understandable; but it is also very damaging. We have effectively allowed people like Bill Cash, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin appropriate the symbols and rhetoric of our country!

And I personally think that this is not only damaging culturally, but damaging in a more tactical, political sense. People who identify themselves as patriotic are far more likely to vote Conservative by default, even if they disagree with large amounts of what the Conservative party say or do. One of the great surprises to me in political life is the phenomenon of the working-class Tory. The party he or she supports, after all, is one which fought the election campaign on a pledge of cutting inheritence tax for millionaires, and often has a disturbingly fetishistic attachment to money. But the reason why hundreds of thousands or millions of people vote Tory, against their economic interests, is because the Conservative MP or candidate will be unafraid of standing in front of a flag on their election posters. I’m not saying that the Liberal Democrats should instantly become a populist, anti-EU party- but I am saying that we are missing a trick here.

So, in short, be proud of all you are- be liberal, be tolerant, but also shout “Come on England!” this evening all the louder.

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Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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