2007 - 2021

Keir Starmer’s Progressive Patriotism

From ’96 to 2012 I followed England to every Euro, every World Cup, and through innumerable qualifying campaigns from Albania and Belarus to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, with most countries in between too.
For a chunk of that period I was a fan activist, pioneering what became known as England’s fan friendly culture. So in my book, literally (I’ve written 5 books on the subject, and an IPPR report too), there is nothing wrong with progressive patriotism. I’ll argue ’til the proverbial cows come home this point.

But to be effective it has to be authentic, popular and not forget the progressive prefix. So how does Keir’s measure up?
Authentic? Yes I do have a problem with Keir’s sudden wrapping of himself in the Union Jack. It is so damn obvious, what’s it rooted in, an image make over or a fundamental realignment of Labour values? Is it about re-appropriating a strand in British history, birthplace of the first revolution The English Revolution, or looking good in front of the camera. A nation of establishment values or reforming values? I fear I know the answer to that little lot.
Popular? With the quadrennial, exception of a two and a bit week Olympics there is no Union Jacked major sport. Eric Hobsbawm had it right: “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.” Yes the Union Jack bunting makes it out for Royal and Military Events but apart from that? England, Scotland, Wales in the Euros this summer will see the usual abundance of flags but not the one Keir is wrapping himself in. And the former connects with the popular and the political in ways the latter no longer does.

Progressive? What’s the plan Keir, Labour the party of the Union, Defender of the establishment, the unelected House of Lords? An entirely unrepresentative electoral system? Has it been thought-through how race and nation intersect with Britishness, how can we expect Labour to negotiate this? Britishness, but particularly Englishness, is drenched in the deferential, no other nation in the world would have a 21st Century anthem with the words “Happy and Glorious, Long to Reign Over us”. We do, well, not ‘we’ actually, with the Scots and Welsh sensible enough to choose their own anthems. So Keir beyond ‘I love my country’ what is the progressive project here? Which is it to be subject-hood or citizenship? And when these are raised will you be prepared to weather the storm of accusations that to ask such questions is unpatriotic, the very label you are so patently desperate to shake off.
Sorry, but this has all the makings of a gatecrasher arriving just as the party’s ending and without so much as a decent sized carry out of ideas to keep it going.

Comments (7)

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  1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    Britishness consists in nothing more than participation in the civic life of the imagined community that is the UK, just as Scottishness consists in nothing more than participation in the civic life of the imagined community that is Scotland.

    Ditch the dirigism of ethnic nationalism, and the curse of regressive patriotism disappears.

  2. John Macleod says:

    Good article Mark.
    Perhaps “Sir” Keir was experiencing “flashbacks” seeing all those Union flags in the background when being knighted!!

    Yes, the way forward for a party on it’s knees in Scotland.

  3. Martin Rodgers says:

    Yes, speaking as a self-hating Englishman, a descendent of immigrants and as a Labour Party member who voted for “Sir” Keir, I think we must re-examine and embrace our many progressive, working class reasons to be patriotic.

  4. James Mills says:

    ” Patriotism – the last refuge of a scoundrel !” Discuss !

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      I believe Johnston used the statement of William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham, the so-called ‘patriot-minister’, who was wont to shout his ‘patriotism’ just so that he could abuse his rivals as ‘traitors’.

      A lot of that scoundrelry went on during the last two referendum campaigns, which was hardly edifying. Not our finest moments.

  5. Tim Hoy says:

    This pretty much sums up my thoughts on Starmer and on everyone’s selective memories and choices when it comes to flag waving and clappping in the streets.

    I turned down an MBE a few years ago because, like Benjamin Zephanaire before me, I toook exception to the word “Empire” and it’s horrible racist, murderous history. A gong that would have been presented by someone I didn’t elect, but have paid for all my tax paying life. That Starmer would kneel before Brenda and happily take a gong, like the other usual suspects who wore “this is what a Feminist looks like” T shirts and also happily endorsed “The sUN”” with it’s own brand of judgemental hatred and misinformation is just another example of empty rhetoric.

    It’s lazy. Sincerity is very hard to fake and despite his qualifications as a lying bastard (oops sorry lawyer – same thing) he woudn’t get an equity licence for anything I’ve seen to date.

    Great piiece Mark. Thank you.

  6. Jim Monaghan says:

    Hi Mark, I share your cynicism of this move. On the subject of flags and football, there is a stark difference when looking at footage from the World Cup in England in 1966 and the Euros in England in 1996. In 66 the English fans are all carrying and waving union flags, in 96 they are almost 100% carrying England flags. What, do you think, was the reason for this?

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