I’m not sure at what point I became embarrassed or awkward to be associated with the English flag. If I wasn’t already, then that image above would have done it.
I know I’ve always been a bit embarrassed about the English National Anthem, which compared to other nations – Wales, say, or France, or Germany – is such a dirge. I remember watching An Audience with Billy Connolly back in the 80s, and thinking he had it spot on:
Although, over the years, I’ve come to think of this as a decent substitute (not necessarily this version, mind) although in the back if my mind there’s a good reason why it shouldn’t be this, which I can’t quite recall at the moment:
Actually, if I’m totally honest, I’d much rather this was the National Anthem:
But we’re not going down this route this morning, otherwise I’ll be talking about Keith Allen, his involvement with New Order’s World in Motion and then comparing it to Three Lions, and you’ve probably read articles discussing which is best 1000 times already this summer, and every summer a major football tournament is on.
No, I’m here to talk about the appropriation of the English flag by wrong ‘uns: your bully boys, your beer boys, your fat bald tattooed cheerleaders, your racists, your…dare I say it…Brexit voters, your Conservative MPs.
And so probably the first time I was aware of the bad connotations, of the gangs it was associated with, was when Morrissey flounced on stage back in 1992, at a gig where he was supporting Madness, who – much as we love them – have a higher than most ratio of skinhead fans, which I’m sure is in no way related to Suggs being a Chelsea fan.
I’ve never quite understood why that association survives; ska music is a perfect blend of cultures, tapping into reggae rhythms and often lyrically articulating the woes of the forgotten working classes, and yet still there they sit, the racist fuckwits, loving the music but utterly missing the point.
The sort of person who, for example, will claim to be cheering on the England team, but will boo the team’s decision to take the knee before games, in a show of unity against all forms of inequality:
When Morrissey came on stage at Finsbury Park that day, he was waving and wrapping himself in a St George’s flag, seemingly, it would seem, to provoke that small section of the Madness crowd. And he performed this song:
Now. If I were being kind, I’d say that is clearly written in the third person and is not necessarily representative of the writer’s views.
There is no challenge to lines such as “England for the English”, or “You want the day to come sooner when you settle the score”; there’s no pay-off explaining these are hideous views to hold in these modern times.
And so people began to look back through his work, and found songs like Bengali in Platforms which includes the lyric: “Life is hard enough when you belong here”.
And to old interviews, when he was quoted as saying things like “All reggae music is vile.”
And because at the time he was the darling of the indie-world, nobody challenged him on these points.
Until that day in Finsbury Park, when, credit where credit’s due, the NME went: hang on a minute….something’s not right here.
And then, twenty odd years later, having stropped and refused to speak to certain publications, and protested his innocence – “My mother’s Irish, how could I be racist?” – he turns up on TV wearing a For Britain pin badge:
For those unfamiliar with it, For Britain is a far-right political party. Even Nigel Farage believes it is made up of “Nazis and racists”.
But I haven’t come here to talk about Morrissey.
The English flag has become a focal point again, all because of not just our beer-swilling racist football fans, but because of things that members of our current Government have said.
Here’s Tory MP asking new director-general Tim Davie why the BBC’s annual report does not feature any images of the union jack:
Answer: because it’s a report, not a picture book.
Shortly afterwards came a whole slew of Conservative MPs being photographed or screen-grabbed from Zoom conferences, with the Union flag displayed proudly in the background.
Here’s Robert Jenrick MP in an interview with the BBC:
And here’s everyone’s favourite smirking bully Priti Patel in an interview with LBC:
And here’s…seriously, there’s loads of these, and the message they were supposed to send was clear: being a Conservative is your British duty. And if you don’t have a British flag, then you’re unpatriotic.
Around the same time, and amplified more recently, we heard new rhetoric, where various issues – the customs border between England and Northern Ireland, the issues with exporting sausages to Ireland, the problems our fishermen and farmers now face are all the EU’s fault.
That’s right: their fault for implementing the “oven-ready” deal Boris agreed and signed up to, either without reading and understanding it, or with no intention of upholding it – I’m not sure which is worse – just so he could add Prime Minister to his CV, along with the stuff about being sacked twice as a journalist for lying, for agreeing to help have someone beaten up, the infidelity and lies (of course he couldn’t sack Hancock for having an affair, this is the very stuff that we’re supposed to admire in Johnson) – the usual stuff one expects a PM to have hidden in his closet.
And then there is James Wallis.
Wallis is the Conservative MP for Bridgend in South Wales comprising mainly of farmers, Young Conservatives, young Conservative farmers, and slightly more dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives who have moved out of Cardiff because there are too many ‘ethnics’ there nowadays. On Thursday, Wallis stood up in the House of Commons with the notion of giving a rousing speech about the Union Jack. He began by bemoaning the “fact” that the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament) had banned the display of the Union Jack, which wasn’t strictly true: they have banned the display of all flags, not just the Union Jack.
He went on, dressed like this:
Out of shot: Union Jack socks and matching Y-Fronts.
He went on to say how despicable this untrue thing was, because people “across Wales are proud” to fly the Union Jack, which represents all four nations of Great Britain: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and….oh….perhaps just three then. His speech stumbled to a halt and he sat down again.
Some flag songs:
Remember how we used to be able to spot Donald Trump dog-whistling the lowest common denominator from his following, calling them into action? Remember how we laughed and said that couldn’t happen here?
Well, that’s exactly what this sabre-rattling, flag-promoting is, a call to arms for those thick enough to follow, but a little more subtle and easier to say “Who me? I never started this” afterwards.
Just ask Chris Whitty.