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Date: 15/01/06

Not Waving But Flagging

It would be laughable were it not so pathetic.

On Saturday, Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and anointed heir to the throne of King Tony the Terminally Deluded, stood up in front of the Fabian Society (that natural home for people who like to think of themselves as progressive, but who think Socialism is too daring) and demanded that his party's remaining supporters should "embrace the Union flag".

The reaction has been interesting. Such initiatives have always been the resort of a government in serious trouble and trying to focus attention away from its incompetence. Indeed, John Major has supported Brown's position, having desperately tried something similar a number of times during his own tortured premiership.

What has been more surprising is the apparent support coming from Billy Bragg. How the mighty radicals have fallen, eh? About fifteen years ago, Bragg wrote a song called The Few, about English football hooligans. It contains the lines:

"And the society which spawned them
Just cries out, "Who's to blame?"
And then wraps itself in the Union Jack
And just carries on the same."

Nothing has changed. Except, perhaps, that it would be at least as likely to be the flag of St George nowadays. And that's the other interesting thing. The BBC's news website has been publishing comments from viewers upon Brown's speech. It has been fascinating to see how many of them now claim (loudly in many cases), "I'm not British, I'm English!!!!". Many of those who profess pride in their Englishness also seemed worryingly unable to spell, punctuate or observe the basic rules of grammar of their own language.

They don't stop there, of course. The one thing that the English seem to love doing nowadays is to whinge on about how oppressed they are (poor darlings!). They want their own Parliament now, would you believe? Presumably to take the place of the House of Commons, where a mere 80% of the MPs represent English constituencies. They want St George's Day as a national holiday, the insolent jades: after all, it was their government which told the people of Wales and Scotland that they couldn't have holidays on their national days because it would cause inconvenience to businesses.

Most of them missed the point time and again, suggesting that the proposed British Day should be held on St. George's day, making one want to hit them over the head with a card saying "England ≠ Britain!" (you'd have thought they'd have got it right by now, wouldn't you?).

Among other days suggested were Trafalgar Day, the anniversary of Waterloo, the anniversary of the Battle of Britain (do you see a pattern forming here?) and, of course, one of the birthdays of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha von Battenburg (she has two; presumably just in case she's disappointed with the presents from the first one).

There's a deep and joyous irony in all this. For generations, the peoples of the non-English parts of this island were told over and over again that their petty little identities were of no consequence compared to the unsurpassable benefits of being part of the British 'nation'. All seems now to have changed, and soon the only people holding on desperately to a 'British' identity will be the old Stalinists of the Labour Party in Wales, who traditionally have always sung God Save The Queen with greater fervour than they found for Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau or, indeed, The Red Flag.

The so-called 'United Kingdom' may, at last, be on its way to the historical knacker's yard. And not before time, too. Ironically, it may be the English who kill it off, with their current obsession with how downtrodden they feel themselves to be. I mean, people have been arrested for flying or carrying the flag of St. George! Or so they claim. I do know that, at the time of the last World Cup, one of the minority of Welsh people living on a housing estate in Welshpool was threatened with arrest for hanging his country's flag out of his bedroom window while no action was taken against the English people on the same estate who had draped theirs across the fronts of their homes.

On a more serious note, Brown draws a comparison with the Fourth Of July in the US. It seems, at least in the popular imagination, that every house in America has a flag flying in front of it not only then but every other day as well. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited in schools throughout That Great Land Of Theirs, and heaven help you if you decide that you do not wish to go along with any of this or that For Which It Stands. A swift phone call, and there are the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security waiting to ask you some questions about your political beliefs. 'Patriotism' of that sort has little to do with actual thought or commitment, and more to do with a combination of unconscious habit and a sort of sullen conformism which can brook no reason. Do we really want that over here? Especially when we already have The Sun?

Whatever day this new excuse for a piss up would be held on, what form would the celebrations take? It has been suggested that, given the modern British way of completely cocking up such events, it would most likely involve Sir Cliff Richard singing Rule Britannia while standing on top of the Millenium Dome, backed by Phil Collins. The whole thing would be presented live on the BBC by Davina McCall and Graham Norton, and be sponsored by Sainsbury's.

Perhaps I can suggest an advertising campaign? It would be based around the reworking of a Pepsi commercial from the 1970s, and would sum up what Britain means to itself and to the world. You can see a sneak preview here.

Footnote: Thanks to RSA for spotting that I'd ballsed up the coding on this piece originally. Viewers in Infernal Exploiter and its derivatives were getting the second half of it in Greek script.