Ursula von der Leyen News – In the culture war era, we can no longer afford to write off flag waving as un-British

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Ursula von der Leyen News – In the culture war era, we can no longer afford to write off flag waving as un-British

If you truly couldn’t care less about flags, fair enough. We’re all uninterested in some things. I happen to like flags, but I struggle to work up an opinion about polenta or jazz. Still, I can’t help noticing that a lot of the people who claim to be indifferent to flags are strikingly selective in their indifference. If you were truly left cold by the Union flag, why would you need to keep saying so? And why would you feel impelled to poke fun at those who like to see it flapping about?

Even more striking is the flag snobs’ selectiveness about which flags they disdain. Union flags and St George’s crosses are fair game. But how often do they extend their vexilo-scepticism to, say, the blue-and-gold EU banner? All week, BBC comedians, Twitter poseurs and a handful of Labour politicians have been mocking the idea of flying the Union flag permanently from government buildings – an idea supported, according to a YouGov poll on Thursday, by 58 to 19 per cent of the electorate at large – but no one, as far as I can tell, has complained about the fact that the 12-star flag flies permanently from EU buildings.

It isn’t really bits of dyed cloth per se that rouse the cleverdicks’ scorn, of course. It isn’t even nationalism: they’re fine with nationalism when it’s Palestinian, Venezuelan or Irish. No, their real quarrel is with the United Kingdom. The Union flag, in a sense, is doing precisely what standards are supposed to do, namely serving as a representation of its nation.

There is nothing new about the peculiar disdain British intellectuals feel for their own country. It is, though, a bizarre affliction. Few countries have done more to advance the causes of toleration, equality before the law or representative government. If, down the centuries, you had to pick somewhere to be born poor, female or in a religious minority, you wouldn’t hesitate for long.

Still, if you are determined to find fault, you will. You will convince yourself that we were monstrous slavers, and overlook the fact that it was our altruistic campaign that eliminated a previously near-universal trade. You will come to believe that it was really the Soviet Union that defeated the Nazis – forgetting that they were on the same side for the first third of the war. You will maintain, despite a mass of polling data showing the opposite, that we are an unusually racist and intolerant people.

Your Angloscepticism might lead you into some strange alliances. Jeremy Corbyn made excuses for almost anyone who was sufficiently anti-British – Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, even Vladimir Putin, whose reactionary, militaristic and authoritarian regime he would, in any other circumstance, have detested.

In a milder form, Angloscepticism makes people overlook the flaws in, say, Nicola Sturgeon, or Ursula von der Leyen. It’s not exactly that they get misty-eyed about Scottish patriotism, or that they are blind to the corrupt and self-serving nature of EU institutions. It’s more that they like sticking it to the sorts of people who hang Union flags in their windows.

Which is why the majority of us, those who are gently fond of the Union flag but wouldn’t dream of making a fuss about it, can’t remain completely quiet. Flag snobbery is a proxy for a campaign to traduce Britain, to smear it as bigoted and bellicose, to knock down its statues, to divide it into smaller pieces or even – though they mostly accept that this is now a nostalgic fantasy – to dissolve it into a bigger European polity.

Yet a world without the UK would be a poorer, meaner place. Who has done more to spread private property, jury trials, parliamentary elections, habeas corpus or personal autonomy? Who has made such a contribution to scientific and medical advance? A world without Britain is a world in which darker and more authoritarian forces – from Bonapartism to Stalinism – would have gone unchecked. A world in which the UK broke apart would be a world in which there was less trade, less prosperity, less innovation – and in which the coalition for freedom was feebler.

The flag is a symbol of British liberty, a symbol everyone can adopt, regardless of where their grandparents were born. A country that derides such symbols will struggle to assimilate newcomers: without a shared sense of identity, there is nothing for them to integrate into. Which is why those of us who, until now, have been mildly and diffidently pro-flag, should make a bit more of an effort. We did not want this culture war; but, like it or not, we are in it now.

Ursula von der Leyen News – In the culture war era, we can no longer afford to write off flag waving as un-British