Patriotism. Noun. Devoted love, support, and defence of one’s country; national loyalty.
The right, as epitomised by the Daily Mail, have co-opted patriotism, whereas for the left patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
What is a country, that we can love? It is a set of institutions, people, history and values. It is a myth, but there is no reason that this myth cannot be loved.
The title of this blog mis-quotes a famous Daily Mail headline Who will speak for England? It is increasingly the Daily Mail and their ilk that is defining patriotism, in this blog I will explore what the Daily Mail means by patriotism and where this gets us.
In a now infamous article, the Daily Mail attacked Ed Miliband, via his father Ralph Miliband, describing Ralph as “The man who hated Britain”. According to the article, he was a socialist, opposed the Falkland’s war, and opposed Britain’s class and privilege system, and was a hypocrite for legally avoiding inheritance tax by gifting his home to his children. These may be heinous offences, but they do not make him “hate Britain”. In my opinion, it is a very un-sporting and hence un-British to slur someone who doesn’t share your political views. It really is not cricket to attack someone’s dead father – even David Cameron supported Miliband on this. It is British to point out rank hypocrisy – the chairman of the Group that owns the Daily Mail was discovered by Private Eye to be avoiding tax by falsely aiming non-dom status.
Ralph Miliband was taken in by Britain when he fled for his life from Nazi Germany. These are the same Nazis who were praised by the Daily Mail in the 1930s, which predicted “The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany” and at the time supported the British fascists. When in Britain, Miliband Snr served in the Royal Navy, and massively contributed to Britain’s intellectual life; coincidentally last night I listened to a podcast produced by the Ralph Miliband Programme at the London School of Economics. His sons, inspired by their dad, went on to become pillars of the British establishment.
Ralph Miliband is buried near Karl Marx, another refugee who found exile in London. Because people like Karl Marx and Miliband could work freely in Britain, there has been no communist revolution here. Instead Marx’s British followers adapted his ideas for British circumstances, compromised, eventually founding the Labour party and the welfare state, to the great benefit of this country. As Ralph Miliband himself pointed out, the welfare state has saved capitalism; the majority of the population becoming bought into the system.
On the other side of Hampstead Heath is the Freud museum, where the great Austrian psychoanalyst spent the last years of his life, also having been given shelter in Britain. On a much more modest scale, my grandfather was also given refuge here, where he started a small business, contributing to the British economy and employment. This is the Britain that I am proud of; one that gives refuge to foreigners and then integrates them into the economic, social and intellectual life of the country.
Problems that progressives have with patriotism, may also be down to Britain’s history, where we have done lots of bad stuff. But we also did lots of great stuff too, not only being the first major power to abolish slavery, but employing the Royal Navy to police the seas to stamp out the slave trade globally.
In “Our finest hour”, Britain stood alone against the aforementioned erstwhile friends of the Daily Mail. We didn’t quite stand alone; during the Battle of Britain, the RAF recruited Polish pilots who had escaped the German invasion of their country. At first reluctant to use them due to prejudice, the RAF only turned to them when things got desperate and they were running out of air crew. The Poles proved to be the RAF’s best and most fearless pilots, earning so much respect from their British colleagues, who ended up giving them their own squadrons and copying their tactics. Some argue that intervention of the Polish pilots was decisive for the outcome. This respect was not shared by the British government, who shamefully did not let the Pilots and other Polish servicemen join the victory parade for fear of offending Stalin. It is these heroes’ hard working, law-abiding and skilled descendants who the British people don’t want in this country.
What could be more English than a cup of Tea? A Chinese leaf, grown in India, served with sugar; an Indian plant grown in the Caribbean by slaves, indentured labourers shipped in from Africa or India. Served in a China tea set. In the 1980s TV drama Auf Weidesehen, Pet the British bricklayers based In Germany are appalled when the staff of an Indian restaurant in Germany can’t speak English. “What could be more British than a curry?” One of them asks. The street is two ways, I read an article by an Indian intellectual who described cricket as an Indian game which happened to be invented by the British.
The Britain that I love is a welcoming Britain, which gives shelter to people from other countries, gives them a chance to work in freedom and in return they contribute greatly to British life. I do not share many of Marx or Miliband’s views, but Britain has been made immeasurably better by their presence here. The Britain that I am proud of is open to and absorbs ideas from all cultures and is international. A Britain that was not this way would be barely recognisable, we would not have our language, institutions or culture – we might not even exist at all.
The Britain that I love also has some typically British characteristics; a sense of fair play, standing up for the underdog against tyrants and hypocrites, is polite; listens and is respectful to others who do not share your views, believes in freedom of speech and dis-interested rule of law. But this is not the patriotism of the Daily Mail; this is a “patriotism” that despises British institutions (for example the recent headline “Enemy of the People” attacking British judiciary) abuses press freedom by attacking individuals for their views who cannot defend themselves, and is implicitly xenophobic. And we have seen where this kind of patriotism ends – supporting the Nazis.
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