Last month the Labour MP Emily Thornberry made a terrible blunder in showing her contempt for the “common man.” In the run up to the Rochester and Strood by-election – which was won by UKIP’s Mark Reckless – Mrs Thornberry tweeted a picture of a “white van man’s” home. The picture of an England flag draped house revealed Mrs Thornberry’s true feelings about the local constituents. The fiasco resulted in a fierce backlash of comments online and her eventual sacking. Michael Heaver, a UKIP spokesman commented on the affair saying, “If you don’t want snobby Labour MPs knocking on your door ahead of May’s election, stick an England flag up.”
Despite the clear implications of Thornberry’s tweet she has since tried to defend herself by saying, “I think people are having a go at me because I am an Islington MP. People are just showing their prejudice about Islington.” The nerve of this desperate statement is almost laughable, as well as ironic. It was she who showed her prejudice, and not the other way round. However, I must confess that I also share a distain for the flying of the flag of St George, not for the people who fly it, but rather for the inward looking nationalism that it can represent.
Since the Second World War Britain has been a country in decline. It is fading away, on life support. I have always thought of myself as British first and English second, as have many other English people. This idea is becoming less and less popular. With Scottish nationalism gaining support, devolved power in Wales and now even talks of a new English Parliament or Assembly, the thin threads holding Britain together are in danger of dissolving. There has recently been a bizarre renaissance of small nationalism and regionalism. This is most obviously manifest in Scotland, but even Cornwall – the county in which I used to live – is having a go. Cornish people are now classified as an ethnic minority group comparable to the Scottish. Where does this desire to retreat into small islands of solitude come from and why is it increasing?
This form of nationalism appeals to the basest, most tribal prejudices of people and is incredibly easy to rally amongst the discontented, especially at times of economic hardship. When things aren’t going their way people feel let down, unrepresented. They run back to their tribes in order to selfishly defend their own interests while ignoring those of other people, in the same country, who may well feel the same. I can empathise with these people in as much as I understand why they feel this way. They are unrepresented by a government that declare the economic crisis is over and that living standards are going up, despite no evidence for it. They are alienated by a European Union that they do not fully understand, the mass immigration that alters their communities and threatens to subvert their own monoculture.
I understand all of this; but it seems to me that fragmentation and a reversion to ancient ethnic groups is not the way in which to deal with these problems. The people of our small island share in a common history, culture and language. Separation, looking inward from the outside, harbours division and resentment. Sticking together as a country in the face of these problems is surely favourable to dissolving ourselves. I sincerely hope I do not live to see the day that Britain ceases to exist. A perverse result of the Scottish independence result was that the Union, rather the being strengthened, has now come under yet more pressure of separation with people on all sides demanding devolved power to their tribe. People should perhaps not be so quick to defend people’s patriotism when it encourages the reinstatement of borders that have not existed since the time of Elizabeth 1st.
Photo credit: THOR