Nigel Jones

What Ukraine can teach Britain about patriotism

What Ukraine can teach Britain about patriotism
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I live near the small Sussex seaside town of Selsey. It’s the sort of place that gets right up the well-bred nose of Labour’s Emily Thornberry with her famous disdain for flag wagging patriotism. For in normal times the many flagpoles in the tidy gardens of the resort are flying the St George’s flag of England, or sometimes the Union Flag.

Not this month however. Suddenly, most of the same poles are sporting the blue and yellow flags of Ukraine. In a touching show of solidarity with that faraway country of which we now know all too much, the patriots of Selsey are putting out more flags to demonstrate their disgust at Putin’s barbaric invasion.

In Ukraine itself, displaying the national flag is ubiquitous: it is everywhere. The people of that suffering country are showing that they are prepared to pay a high price in blood for their love of their own land, and their wish to live in freedom and without fear of foreign domination and occupation. In a word, they are patriots.

That’s a word and a concept that is oddly alien to the middle class Metropolitans who have taken over the Labour party, the higher reaches of academia, and large swathes of the media too. They find such raw and instinctive emotions as patriotism primitive, distasteful, and frankly faintly embarrassing.

Things have not changed that much in the eighty odd years since that great patriotic socialist George Orwell wrote the following damning passage in 1941 at the height of World War Two in his essay ‘England Your England’....

‘In intention at any rate, the English Intelligentsia are Europeanised. They take their cooking from Paris and their politics from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country where intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always thought that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God Save The King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British’.

Doesn’t this uncannily reflect attitudes today? The isolated ‘island of dissident thought’ that are left-wing opinion formers amidst a sea of general patriotism goes a long way to explain both Brexit and Labour’s loss of patriotic Red Wall seats at the 2019 General Election. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn once stood silent while the national anthem was played at a Battle of Britain memorial service. And however much his successor Sir Keir Starmer now attempts to wrap himself in the Union Flag, the damage to Labour’s reputation as a patriotic party is probably permanent.

Nor is the negation of patriotism confined to Labour. Starting under David Cameron, it is Tory governments that have run down Britain’s military capabilities and strength to scandalously low levels. We have now reached the point when the Army has fewer soldiers than at any time in living memory and the Navy and RAF are similarly weak. Even such harmless displays of patriotism as the Last Night of the Proms prompt displays of foot shuffling discomfort.

It may not be too late to turn things around. History shows that when push comes to shove the patriotic spirit of the people can be roused from its slumber. In 1933, the Oxford Union debating society passed a notorious motion that ‘this House will in no circumstances fight for King and country.’ Yet within a few years the same sort of pacifically inclined young men were fighting in the skies in the Battle of Britain to thwart the Nazi bid to subjugate their country.

As Nato leaders mull their response to Putin’s war, the example of the Ukrainian people’s brave resistance to a similarly barbarous attack by another monstrous tyranny should be a wake up call to us all. In the final analysis freedom has to be fought and even died for. It is no end of a lesson.

Written byNigel Jones

Nigel Jones is a historian and journalist. His next book ‘Kitty’s Salon: Sex, Spying & Surveillance in the Third Reich’ will be published by Bonnier next year.

Topics in this articleWorldPolitics