“Do you love this country?” It’s a question frequently put to those espousing left-wing ideals. Alan Rusbridger was asked it by Keith Vaz when The Guardian was accused for undermining national security by publishing the Snowden files, and then more recently, Channel Four News’ Jon Snow put it forward to Jeremy Corbyn.
In Jon Snow’s defence, his was not as serious as that put by Keith Vaz. But it does show something startling about how the right perceive those who fight for social justice, civil liberties, peace and government transparency. The left has always battled against nationalism in context of fighting racism; it was corrosive and ugly, dividing people unnecessarily. And for those whose internationalist frame of mind means they don’t have huge regard for flags or borders, patriotism can sometimes be that thing you have to politely respect whilst disagreeing with passionately.
To me, patriotism is often when a flag is wrapped around your eyes and you are made blind. To the right-wing, patriotism means loving everything that is good and bad about the country, and supporting it regardless. Those who criticise strongly the British Empire are often seen as hating Britain. 5Pillars deputy editor Dilly Hussain suffered this when he criticised the British Empire once on the BBC. Similarly, those of us who strongly challenge government foreign policy get labelled as traitors or unpatriotic. The latter, yes, the former, not really. And then there’s the love for the monarchy, a family born with privilege and power who are a symbol of the hold the ruling elite had over Britain.
As a left-wing republican, I despise the monarchy as I despise our foreign policy record and the British Empire. These are some truly awful stains on our history to be proud of. Much was made of Corbyn refusing to sing the national anthem. This is a man whose parents offered their services in World War II. But instead he is seen as unpatriotic. Yet consider this: who is more patriotic and respectful to the soldiers who died, the people who sing passionately whilst sending soldiers to needless wars to die on battlefields against an enemy not restricted by borders, or a man who wants to learn lessons of history by not sending anymore soldiers to needless conflicts?
If patriotism is about defending the values of our country then it is really those on the right who are traitors. They betray British values at every turn. They undermine democracy, freedom and human rights at every opportunity. They undermine civil liberties with the most draconian policies imaginable, be it attacks on people’s privacy, attacks on The Guardian for being journalists or surveillance of the British Muslim community. They undermine democracy by not offering electoral reform to create a fairer voting system or by clamping down on trade unions, restricting heavily people’s right in workplaces to collectively organise. They betray British people by propelling the NHS, a cherished British institution, into the private sector and hugely cutting the BBC.
The left often shies away from patriotism but that depends on the history you choose to look at. Why not focus on a history that includes the fights for democracy by the Levellers and Chartists, the feminist struggles of the suffragettes or the fights against racism and fascism? Why not celebrate those trade unionists who fought for social justice to give us fairer workplace conditions and those who gave us the NHS and the welfare state?
Why as a society, do we love the grotesque parts of Britain that are nothing but entrenched pillars of the establishment, be it the monarchy or the idea of a government that watches everyone and sends soldiers wherever it likes? Why not instead celebrate democracy by having an elected Head of State?