Monday 22 April 2024

Labour is the party of English patriotism

The build-up to St George's Day 2024 was a busy one for Keir Starmer. His first offering was an article proclaiming Labour to be the true party of English patriotism.

I’m proud to be English precisely because it’s a place where we can disagree – whether that’s a debate in the House of Commons or in the local pub – and still celebrate a common identity, a shared history and a future together. That’s what makes Britain the strong democracy that’s the envy of the world.

As Caroline Lucas pointed out, the article conflated England and Britain.

Having watched Labour spend the English local election campaign referring to England as Britain and only using the Union flag on campaign literature, it was strange to read, only a day later, in another article, that Starmer had written to all Labour's general election candidates asking them to 'celebrate St George's Day with enthusiasm' and to 'fly the flag' on St George's Day. One presumes he only wrote to candidates in England, though the Guardian did not make that clear.

Why only on St George's Day? Why not fly the flag of England all year round? The problem, of course, is that the Labour Party is not an English party. It is a UK Party. It can only do English patriotism as a sideline, on special occasions, like St George's Day or when England is in a football tournament. To be a patriotic English party year-round would alienate the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.

There is something to be said for banal nationalism. It might provide a sense of cohesion and make English identity more inclusive if Labour occasionally used England's national flag. But for a party to be truly patriotic, they need to have a vision of the type of country they want England to be and a means of achieving that - they need policies and a manifesto for England.

A third article, one that this time did not conflate England and Britain (possibly because it was only about sport), showed that maybe Starmer had set his mind to trying to articulate a vision for England, albeit within an extremely limited set of sporting parameters.

“The pride we feel in our sporting heroes and national teams runs deep in the country’s psyche. It forms our identity and is a cornerstone of our national life, and our national teams exemplify so much of what it means to English,” Starmer said.

“When I speak to young people up and down the country, the confidence, pride and patriotism that comes with national sport is clear for all to see. And that patriotism is a force for good in English sport.”

“We must widen access for the next generation, because if playing team sports is the preserve of a handful of children, we will simply miss out on the talents of so many. Only by harnessing our pride and patriotism can we reverse this damaging decline, develop the talent of future stars and cement national pride in sports for years to come.”

It's really the ultimate affirmation of England as a 90-minute nation. Our national teams exemplify so much of what it means to be English because sport is one of the few explicitly English forms of expression we're permitted. This just had to be the policy announcement for St George's Day.

And how must the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish feel about a UK party referring to 'our national pride' in regard to English national pride? Surely only a Labour Party England should make such a statement.

Later that day it was revealed that, far from being England's truly patriotic party, Labour voters were the most likely to consider the Cross of St George racist. 

But let's not be too downhearted. From small acorns grow might oaks. Though this was a feeble St George's Day policy offering, it was nevertheless an offering that portrayed England as a political community bound by ties of patriotic feeling that could be utilised as a force for good. In that respect, it was something of a revelation from a party so often fearful of English national identity.

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