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Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Patriotism: the politics of the desperate.

The first example that Brown has few ideas about where to take Labour, except for continuing Blair's legacy.

Gordon Brown will propose today that Remembrance Sunday should be developed into a national day of patriotism to celebrate British history, achievements and culture. The chancellor envisages a "British Day", equivalent to the Fourth of July independence celebrations in the United States.

In his speech Mr Brown will embrace the patriotism of the US, saying: "In any survey our most popular institutions range from the monarchy to the army to the NHS. But think: what is our Fourth of July? What is our Independence Day? Where is our declaration of rights? What is our equivalent of a flag in every garden? Perhaps Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are the nearest we have come to a British day - unifying, commemorative, dignified and an expression of British ideas of standing firm for the world in the name of liberty."

Either way, he believes the British flag needs to be recaptured from the far right. "The union flag should be a British symbol of unity around our values ... and we should assert that the union flag is for tolerance and inclusion."

The chancellor's aides believe that a renewed patriotism, celebrating all the elements of modern Britain, is an agenda that the Conservatives cannot readily follow because in their hands it would look backward-looking and even chauvinistic.

He will say the centre and the left have failed to understand that the values on which Britishness is based - fairness, liberty and responsibility - owe more to progressive ideas than to rightwing ones.

It's all very well to look to America and admire the seeming instinctive patriotism which seems to flourish there, but it's also worth examining what that patriotism means to their culture. Critics of the Iraq war and Bush have constantly been accused of being either un-American or unpatriotic. It's been a brush to tar criticism of any sort. The other thing that makes Americans patriotic is the dream - both imagined and real - and the constitution itself. Britain has never had a written constitution, and the attacks on liberty by the government of which Brown is a part of has shown the need for one. As for a dream, has there ever been a British one? The empire has long gone, and was acquired and controlled brutally. Our finest hour and most admired part of history now seems to be WW2 - standing up to Hitler, albeit too late, the blitz spirit and of course, the old warmonger himself, Winston Churchill.

If anything though, that time is starting to look like the ancient history it is - if it only really was 60 years ago since the allies were victorious. The intervening years are already starting to blur. Instead of admiring and learning from the lessons of the cold war, we started to believe Francis Fukuyama when he said that it was the end of history. Since September the 11th, the world seems to have become more fragile again, and the politicians have realised this. They have since turned to using fear to keep in power, and turning to patriotism to make the people feel both good and to keep them from being too critical.

This is not to say that Brown's intentions are purely malign. A celebration of our lives and values should be welcomed - but only if it is purely progressive and forward looking. Brown's suggestion that the monarchy is one of our most popular institutions seem to be very much at odds with this. A group of inbred dsyfunctional people, thrust into the limelight as a result of being born is just such an example of backwards thinking and how far this country has to go. How can Britain be equal when we have a monstrosity of a woman sitting as head of state purely because of whom she was born to?

Britain should celebrate that it is a democracy and that we ourselves are reasonably free. But why should we celebrate it when we have a government that seems to be at odds with a lot of our values? Blair is trying to introduce summary justice, has tried to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without charge, wants to introduce ID cards and has had his previous home secretary repeatedly attack judges. It's a sad fact that many of our basic freedoms are being upheld either by the unelected House of Lords, or by the European Court of Human Rights. It doesn't really inspire you to be proud of who you are, does it?

If we are to have a celebration of being British day, it does need to be separated from Remembrance Sunday. That day still shows the humility and respectful nature of Britain, as we remember our dead who fought for our freedom in the only truly justified war of the 20th century. It is not militaristic or jingoistic, rather a day to reflect on what may have happened and to say thank you for the sacrifice of a previous generation. Any British day should not have that almost somnambulistic atmosphere, but should also not be jingoistic. We have much to celebrate, but the way that Brown has brought it up in this way shows his lack of ideas, and how quickly the New Labour project is running out of steam. When you turn to relying on the electorate's love of their country to lift your poll ratings, it's time to realise that everything else is certainly not going well.

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