Azara Blog: Gordon Brown: patriot or scoundrel?

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Date published: 2006/01/14

The BBC says:

Britain should have a day to celebrate its national identity, Gordon Brown has proposed in a speech portraying Labour as a modern patriotic party.

The chancellor used his first major speech of 2006 to urge Labour supporters to "embrace the Union flag".

In an address to the Fabian Society in London, he said it is important the flag is recaptured from the far right.

Mr Brown said promoting integration had become even more important since the London bombings.

"We have to face uncomfortable facts that while the British response to July 7th was remarkable, they were British citizens, British born apparently integrated into our communities, who were prepared to maim and kill fellow British citizens irrespective of their religion.

"We have to be clearer now about how diverse cultures which inevitably contain differences can find the essential common purpose also without which no society can flourish."

He said society should not apply a narrow "cricket test" to ethnic minorities but needed a "united shared sense of purpose".

In the wide-ranging speech, Mr Brown said it is time for the modern Labour party and its supporters to be unashamedly patriotic as, for too long, such feelings have been caricatured as being tied up with right-wing beliefs, when in fact they encompass "progressive" ideas of liberty, fairness and responsibility.

"Instead of the BNP using it as a symbol of racial division, the flag should be a symbol of unity and part of a modern expression of patriotism too," Mr Brown said.

"All the United Kingdom should honour it, not ignore it. We should assert that the Union flag by definition is a flag for tolerance and inclusion."

The speech to the left-of-centre think-tank included references to the July 4th celebrations in the US and the common practice of many citizens having a flag in their gardens.

"What is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for?" Mr Brown said.

"And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in the United States in every garden?"

As everyone knows, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. And United States politics has proven that again and again (Bush just being the latest example). Perhaps this all is just a cynical move by Brown to grab Tory ground. But the British national day is (or should be) Guy Fawkes Night. You can celebrate a typically botched British job (Parliament was not blown up) and even root for the underdog. The weather is usually cold and damp, perfect for a display of the British stiff upper lip. And at the end everybody can succumb to their inner love of pyromania (when the bonfire starts). And although symbols count for a lot in the US, over in the UK, grown ups believe that actions count for more than flag waving. Do we really want to take politics even further downhill in the UK? Evidently New Labour does. Presumably voters should not worry their little heads about policy, just vote for the politician who waves the flag longest and hardest (that's pretty much how Bush got re-elected).

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