Bob Seely is a former journalist who served with British forces in Iraq from June 2008 to February 2009.
Benedict Rogers’ excellent post on Shariah got me thinking about patriotism, and why it may well turn out to be the next big idea to hit British politics, as well as a potential dividing line between the Left and Right.
Patriotism has always been a tricky subject for many Britons. Like a good suit, it has generally been worn in an understated way. Even Conservatives, especially the more urban elements of the party, have sometimes appeared uncomfortable with patriotism. Overt displays, such as in China where schoolchildren sing the national anthem twice a day, are inconceivable in Britain, and would be greeted by near hysteria from the ‘liberal’ Left were they ever proposed.
Yet viewed from Shepherd’s Bush rather than the salons of Notting Hill, I believe that a moderate patriotism is not only important – as ConHome’s articles on the subject have already shown – but that it has the potential to play a major role in energising our inner cities as part of a wider renaissance of English civic and national identity.
First, what patriotism isn’t. Patriotism isn’t an excuse for being nasty to foreigners, as the Left shamelessly pretend, and it’s not a genie that once unleashed, will play into the hands of the racist right and re-create a new generation of Oswald Mosleys – indeed quite the opposite, it’s patriotism that’s likely to defeat the BNP, not define it.
Patriotism is a very natural condition, it’s a desire to love, cherish, and care for one’s society. Apart from love of family, it is about the most fundamental instinct known to mankind. Patriotism through much of modern history has often been seen as a moral virtue – during the 18th century, for example, supporting the anti-slavery movement was seen as an example of enlightened patriotism. In the US patriotism is the natural condition of (almost) every American, including new immigrants.
Not to foster patriotism is an act of selfish destructiveness – sadly what the cultural and educational Left have often done, ashamed of their country and its history and frustrated by their own inability to understand the British people. Until recently our State – despite running an open door policy to immigration – appeared determined to make people ashamed of Britain when they got here. Indeed, for much of the past decade it has actively encouraged separated identities amongst different ethnic groups. The only shared identity our State has wanted to encourage is a common trait of dependency. We’re now seeing the limitations of that policy.
In some parts of Britain, community identity has broken down. This has happened amongst both immigrant and indigenous populations. Amongst some immigrant communities, there is little sense of being part of a wider community. The rise of Shariah is one example of this disengagement. On the other side, some whites have reacted with hostility to the new waves of immigrants competing for jobs and housing. Some have turned to the crude nationalism of the British National Party, which has been one of the few gainers from this miserable state of affairs.
The result on both sides is alienation, a ‘them and us’ mentality and a vacuum where a sense of positive, shared identity should be. One should not exaggerate the problem. It affects and minority, but it is growing.
A greater sense of patriotism, and a realisation that we need to educate people about the worth of our country and its values, would create a greater sense of shared purpose and pride amongst very different groups of people, including working class whites and new immigrants to this country. It would help both to understand that being part of society is about contributing, not taking – about responsibilities rather than just rights. I believe also that it would fatally undermine the BNP.
Fascinatingly, this is happening in our country already. There are many reasons; in some cases it is happening off the back of local Conservative councils promoting, not patriotism per se, but a traditional return to civic pride. But there are other reasons too:
- The war in Afghanistan: Regardless of the outcome, and regardless of the foreign and defence policy issues, the tales of bravery to emerge from that country – and Iraq – are remarkably potent examples of men and women fighting for their flag and monarch in a way that hasn’t been seen since World War II. Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are, in the true sense of the word, shocking for the many people in our society raised to question the worth of fighting or dying for anything.
- Europe: I think that eurosceptism is going to increase (good) as more and more people see quite how flawed the EU is. The sense of frustration that the EU is holding this country back is going to become a spur to those wanting something better. It’s no surprise that our leading eurosceptics, such as Dan Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP, are also doing some of the most creative thinking about our society and its governance.
- Scottish independence: England and Scotland’s political cultures are moving in opposed directions. One wonders how long before Scottish independence becomes the least painful alternative, and independence for one is freedom for both.
We’re facing a possible landslide victory next year. Labour are likely to face a deserved hammering. Yet in many ways the battle for the future of England has only just begun. Whilst politicians from the Left are likely to be thrown out of power next spring, the unelected Left – in the media, in the welfare state and in our education system, are likely to remain powerful and influential, maybe too much so for an incoming Government keen to keep the Guardian-reading classes on side. The cultural and intellectual battles have not yet been joined. There is both huge potential for change and achievement – and a danger that we will miss a generational opportunity to reshape our future.
Patriotism is one of ConservativeHome's big themes and it will be addressed by Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Home Secretary, at a meeting next Monday morning (5th October) at the Manchester Party Conference. It will be at the Bridgewater Hall, a stone's throw from the main conference venue.
Details of our full Conference programme are here.