Flagging up difference

Putting some black in the Union Jack would cause more problems than it would solve.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Cross purposes

For years now various individuals have voiced their desire to ‘reclaim’ the Union Flag. It should not be the ‘preserve of the far right’, they say, or less maliciously, the totem of crusty old Little Englanders, football hooligans or bad-tempered Ulster loyalists. It should reflect Britain’s strength in diversity, an inclusive symbol of a ‘vibrant’, ‘confident’ nation that looks forwards without fear.

The latest effort in this regard has come this week from the campaigner Peter Turner, who has gone so far as to redesign the old standard. He has added a black saltire to the flag, so that it sits alongside the St Patrick’s Cross, and a black fimbriation on the St George’s. Both amendments are designed to address the old racist taunt which itself has become a protest slogan: ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack.’ (1)

Turner has contacted MPs about his project – ‘Reflag’ – and already has the backing of Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, who called it ‘a fantastic idea [for] celebrating the diversity of the modern United Kingdom’. Turner himself enthuses: ‘It’s time we made a positive statement about the progression of a multicultural and multiracial society.’

Defenders of the Union Flag will point out that it already embodies multiculturalism, being three national flags in one. If not reflecting multi-racialism exactly, it does promote the idea of strength through diversity. And this is the point: this latest gesture will raise more problems than it solves.

The Scots themselves are hardly going to be happy that the main part of their saltire will be obscured, leaving the St Andrew’s cross as mere fimbriation itself. The Welsh won’t be overjoyed that they will remain omitted still. And what of Britain’s other minorities? Perhaps we should demand the inclusion of other colour saltires that will reduce the flag to a technicolour blur. South Africa went down this road after apartheid, trying to have all its peoples represented on one flag, and a right dog’s dinner the result was too. It’s a horrible mess that cannot be drawn very easily, commending no sense of awe and reverence.

Of more serious consequence is the damage to race relations. Like the campaigns to ban hot cross buns from school canteens for fear of offending other religions, these sorts of gestures are always the brainchild of well-meaning but rather dim white people. Normal people from ethnic minorities have no desire to meddle in such a way. They are often strongly opposed to it, realising that such tampering is fuel for fascists who will start bellowing on about the plan to abolish Britain.

Agitators who want to ‘reclaim’ the Union Flag are oblivious too to the contextual nature of a flag. It means different things in different places, whether it be flown at a National Front meeting (meaning: ‘we’re racist’), at an Orange march (‘we want to march down this road’), at the Last Night of the Proms (‘I’m rich and speak in a shrill voice’), on the Parker jacket (‘I’m a fake mod’), in people’s front gardens (‘save the pound!’), on a t-shirt (‘I’m an Italian tourist’), or hung from a shop in Calais (‘there’s booze for sale here and you don’t have to speak French’).

  • French whine

Indeed, I couldn’t believe the number of Union Flags I saw in Calais on Saturday. It was also remarkable how many shaven-headed, tattooed British people were there as well. It was like being back in Portadown.

The four of us were doing our bit to protest against the British state’s taxation war on alcohol and tobacco. And a fun day out it was, except for listening to my brother and a friend in the backseat, moaning and complaining about how ‘stressed out’ they were.

This was because we had trouble finding places that sold cigarettes at a discount. The warehouses are all very well for wines, but none of them appeared to sell fags. We drove around town for an hour-and-a-half looking for a supermarket that did at bulk. The two backseat passengers were at the point of going into full tantrum mode when we did chance upon a store. It was lucky because all their whining about being ‘stressed’ was starting to get on my nerves.

On the return, the ferry was full of many ex-servicemen who had returned from the fifty-ninth anniversary commemoration of the Normandy landings. On the seats adjacent to ours was a group of ex-Merchant Seaman. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying but I didn’t hear them complain that their big day out in France was ‘like, really stressful’.

  • Australian swine

Mel Gibson is regarded as something of a swine by most Englishmen. From Gallipoli to Braveheart to The Patriot, he seems to harbour a pathological hatred of the English – derived either from his American revolutionary complex or his quintessentially Australian chip on the shoulder. Whatever the case, it now transpires that Gibson’s work may have really had a role in shaping world affairs.

Apparently one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite films was Braveheart. According to the UK Observer’s Euan Ferguson, he used to show it repeatedly, every night, ‘to demonstrate just what bastards the English were’. This seems to jar with what Saddam told George Galloway, about his love of red double decker buses and Quality Street confectionary. And I wonder if the moustachioed ex-dictator appreciated the irony that the British army that conquered southern Iraq was disproportionately Scottish.

Still, Gibson must be feeling proud of himself. That his outrageous rewriting of history has been digested so widely is something to be admired. One can only but wonder how his forthcoming film on the life of Jesus is going to turn out, but suffice to say Pontius Pilate is going to be a supercilious English rotter, and the disciples are going to be stallions of men who promise to ‘find Emperor Tiberius and kick his ass’.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

(1) See reFLAG

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Topics Politics


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