Nike, St George and Destitution: Make England Great Again

In the week it was announced that 300,000 more children were plunged into absolute poverty in a single year at the height of the cost of living crisis, amid soaring levels of hunger and food bank use, the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems all united to condemn Nike’s new St George Cross design on the England Euro shirt and demand a return to the original. Rishi Sunak told Nike: “Don’t mess with our national flags.”


In post-Brexit Britain nothing unites the English political parties like a flag crisis.
With nearly one fifth of the population struggling with basic needs, the thing that causes real outrage and condemnation from the political class is: a Nike football shirt. Poverty campaigners reported that as the cost of living crisis hits there are now 12 million people in absolute poverty – equivalent to 18% of the population, including 3.6 million children. In the three council areas of England with the largest rises in child poverty over the past decade, Nottingham, Birmingham and Leicester, they have over 40% of children in poverty. So much for levelling up.

The grim stats can be read at something called the ‘Households Below Average Income on the DWP’s site here. The reports full of dire statistics and facts about destitution and social inequality. One stands out: we can see that the number of people experiencing very low food security rose by 68% in one year – from 2.2 million in 2021/22 to 3.7 million in 2022/23. Why is this happening? A researcher from the Joseph Rowntree Trust explain that, for millions across the country, incomes have been inadequate to keep pace with food prices rising by 30%, alongside other soaring prices like rent and energy. But rest easy, landlords and energy companies are doing just grand.

Meanwhile the BBC paused briefly from its coverage of Kate Middleton to give us ‘Breaking News’ telling us that “the FA has defended the St George’s Cross design on its new England kit, saying “it is not the first time” different colours have been used. It added the fresh 2024 home kit was “meant as a tribute to the 1966 World Cup winning team”.

As a mounting sense of national crisis grew. Labour’s Emily Thornberry took to the tv studios to denounce Nike and state: “You wouldn’t expect Nike to look at the Welsh flag and change the dragon to a pussycat.” By now your socials were jammed with people threatening to boycott Nike. on ‘X’ ‘Dave’ thundered: “Hit the only place it matters to them….in their pocket. Anyone wearing the virtue signalling rag. Will be mocked endlessly by other fans no doubt.”

Of course there’s a causal relationship between the veneration of symbols of Nationalism and social destitution. With the Conservatives tanking in the polls and facing electoral oblivion, rolling out the St George’s Cross is a winner, and Labour and the Liberals will not be out-flagged. Still with Frank Hester’s money in their pockets the Tories are resembling rodents deserting the proverbial listing vessel. But the sense of profound crisis goes beyond the electoral prospects of one party. The news that Malaysia had rejected an offer to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games, after Australia had also rejected to be the host. The situation means its highly likely that the Commonwealth Games will not be played again, a symbolic ending to a tournament that has long ago lost its appeal and is a tired anachronism of colonial rule.

Over at GB News – fresh from their latest Ofcom ruling – presenter Martin Daubney discusses the latest happiness index: “If you remember back, Britain was at its happiest – many say – when we were at war. We had a sense of purpose, of national identity.” I mean, apart from the obvious weirdness of being happy in war, wouldn’t you have to be 79 or over to remember this state of glee? 

Never mind, polls show Reform UK (they used to be UKIP remember?) have hit a record 15% in the polling, just 4% behind the Conservatives. If things get worse then they’re going to replace the feckless Rishi Sunak, who Tory bigwigs fear will wilt like a Truss lettuce in an election campaign with the shiny Penny Mordaunt.

This may not be enough to save them. As they stagger towards local elections in May, we’re told that Sunak keeps reiterating “We have a plan and the plan’s working.” The ruling government. we’re told are pinning their hopes on flights to Rwanda being ‘in the air’ by May. Just consider that, a political party reduced to hoping that sections of the electorate are so racist that forcibly deporting vulnerable people to the middle of Africa will be enough of a vote-winner to save them.

Think on that.
Ex-Labour MP, David Marquand, who has been chronicling British identity and decline for years has written (‘England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales – time for all to jump in to the debate’) reflecting on the Brexit vote: “A plebiscite called on the assumption that the United Kingdom is a homogeneous polity revealed a yawning chasm dividing the British state and people against themselves. The United Kingdom has never been a unitary state, but it has been a union state. Now it is a disunited state – a ‘Divided Kingdom’ as the Welsh commentator and polemicist John Osborne once called it.”

Marquand, reflecting on Milton, Shakespeare (England as a ‘precious stone set in the silver sea’) and Blake’s Jerusalem notes: “In all of these, the message is clear: England is a special, providential nation: a nation with a unique history and a unique vocation; a nation summoned by a higher power to pursue a uniquely glorious mission.”

But now, this exceptionalism looks grim. The statistics of poverty in Nottingham, Birmingham and Leicester are frankly disgraceful. England is hungry and poor and being offered flag-outrage and Penny Mordaunt. The response to these catastrophic social problems is 30p Lee and Reform UK outdoing the Conservatives to indulge in a horrific desultory blame culture.

In language that would be denounced if written by a Scot, Marquand writes: “So where do we go from here? England is the problem: if there is to be a solution, it will have to be English. Anthony Barnett has wrestled with this in The Lure of Greatness. The path to a solution is littered with paradoxes. The Dicey/ Powell constitutional orthodoxy has impinged on England as least as damagingly as on the non-English nations of the kingdom – perhaps more so. There are four legislatures in the United Kingdom. Those in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast deal with specifically Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish questions. But the London Parliament is both the English Parliament and the Parliament of the entire Kingdom. England – a nation of some 50 million inhabitants – has no Parliament of her own.””The question is, why? The answer lies deep in the cerebral cortex of the Anglo-British political class. For most of their histories, the London-centred elite saw the non-English nations of the Kingdom as colonies. They were governed tactfully and even sympathetically, with due regard to local traditions and ways of life. But in the last resort they were fiefdoms of the British state. Devolution was an ad hoc device – or rather a series of ad hoc devices – designed to keep the natives happy. There was no over-arching plan, still less a coherent constitutional doctrine. Muddle and mess prevailed.”

He is right, it’s a muddle, its a complete mess, and it’s not going away.

We have at least three concurrent threads of change happening here.

England’s spasm of decline and deteriorating (repressed) self-identity is a phenomenon we’ve seen spooling out for decades. To an extent it’s boring because it doesn’t ever reach its full-blown conclusion. English energies for self-expression are contained within British nationalism, as writers like Marquand and Anthony Barnett have written about. But those energies, presently directed towards Reform UK and Faragism, may be hijacked as Labour’s ascendant government disappoints. It’s a dangerous prospect to promise nothing to a nation hungry and broken. It could go either way, English nationalism has the prospect of both turning even further into Powellite bigotry, or, miraculously into more progressive politics.

Second, the developing reality of Irish politics can’t be ignored. It’s a subject that the commentariat looks at through its fingers, terrified by the prospect of what it might mean. This week saw the State of the Union Report by Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones showing that for the very first time the majority of people in Britain are now in favour of Irish unification.

The publication creates what it calls a ‘A ‘360 degree’ view of the Union and builds on the pioneering Future of England Survey whose findings have been most comprehensively discussed in Henderson and Jones’s book ‘Englishness: The political force transforming Britain’.

Thirdly, the glee with which the Unionist media and wider public have documented the travails of the SNP masks the fact that support for independence remains remarkably high given a) the disarray of the governing party b) the continuing, lingering Branchform Inquiry into SNP finances c) the complete lack of coherent strategy for independence. Support for independence survives despite the SNP. This is remarkable and supports the assertion that independence is the settled will of about half the electorate, and this is decoupled from the party that was once seen as the only vehicle to deliver sovereignty.
The Secret People

But if the Union is cracked and cracking, it is the first of these three forces that will disintegrate it further.  As Henderson and Wyn Jones argue, Englishness is the political force transforming Britain. We are often blindsided to this, precisely because Englishness itself is elided by Britain. The next general election will accelerate this with Starmer and Sunak (and Tice) slugging it out over particular English political obsessions: a polity reduced to the three words ‘Stop the Boats’, fiscal conservatism, language forged in the tabloids, and cosplaying Thatcherism, as Rachel Reeves and David Lammy did this week.

It’s frequently said that Starmer is the heir to Blair, but this incoming government is not Blairite. It is far to the right of that and with a party discipline and centralism that would make Peter Mandelsson look lack lustre. Crucially, Starmerism is Blairism shorn of the programme of constitutional change as Gordon Brown’s long-heralded plans were unceremoniously dumped a few months back.

Every opinion poll shows that Labour will be ascendant not because of any real enthusiasm for Starmer’s fragile programme but just at absolute despair at the Conservatives’ Britain. Labour will, most likely, win a huge brutal victory because the right-wing vote is split between two hard-right parties, that of Lee Anderson and Richard Tice and that of Priti Patel, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman. Labour look to win a huge landslide but on a programme that is threadbare, promising little and inspiring few. It will be an electoral spectacle, but an empty one, and from a Scottish perspective it will be based on nothing at all.

Some commentators believe that a deeper change is possible despite this. David Marquand again: “Only the people of England – the ‘secret people of England’ as Chesterton called them – can solve the English problem. In management-speak, they will have to ‘own’ the solution; and to ‘own’ it they will have to shape it. The Scottish Constitutional Convention that paved the way for Scottish devolution offers a model. It stimulated a wide-ranging, sometimes passionate debate through which the Scottish people found themselves and reached a consensus about their political future. Citizens’ Juries, and even Citizens’ Assemblies, as used in parts of Canada, offer a complementary model. A solution would have to include is a codified constitution, with an English Parliament alongside the existing legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and an elected Senate in place of the swollen and quintessentially anti-democratic House of Lords. But constitutions are only words on paper. What matter are the values they embody and transmit. The real question is whether England’s political culture and traditions are rich and diverse enough to enable Chesterton’s secret people to discover (or perhaps re-discover) the compassion and generosity of spirit that the Irish displayed in their abortion referendum.”

Such ideas are laudable but they don’t seem to have any tangible expression or any vehicle to make them real. There is no public equivalent of the movements for devolution that Marquand describes. There is no Constitutional Convention. None of the mainstream political parties ascribe to any of what he describes. England’s Secret People remain very quiet.

Instead what we are left with is the DWP’s own report showing us what most of us know already, a country where nearly four million people experienced destitution in 2022, a condition defined as when individuals are unable to afford basic living essentials like food, energy, bedding and clothing. The report show that more than two-thirds of UK children in poverty lived in families where at least one parent works, putting a lie to the decades-long tabloid and Tebbit line about ‘scroungers’ and the work-shy.

None of this made the media splash that the Nike football strip did, sending the masses into apoplexy at the grave national travesty of changing a logo. As Owen Jones wrote in his resignation letter to the labour Party this week: “The Tories’ chance of winning is infinitesimally small. What matters now is whether anyone who wants to redistribute wealth and power is denied a voice in Starmer’s administration. That is certainly the ambition of his lieutenants. When inevitable disillusionment with a government rooted in deceit and lacking any solutions to Britain’s woes seeps in, it will be the radical right that stands to benefit.”

That’s a dismal prospect if a likely one. It accelerates the urgent need to distance ourselves from such a state and mark our own way as an independent country again.

Comments (18)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    Crusader culture, symbols, language, priorities, preparation, and increasingly, goals.
    Of course, Shakespeare’s rulers had views on crusades too, something about busying giddy minds with foreign quarrels to take heat off shaky, quasi-constitutional and unpopular domestic government.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I think the future of the crumbling union depends to a fair degree on whether ‘the secret people of England, actually find their own voice. For years, the media and British politicians have portrayed ‘the secret people’ in John Bull, roast beef, beefeater, ‘island nation’ vox pops, which always included a strong measure of racism, xenophobia, anti Catholicism, anti Semitism, anti Islamicism. While the Union flag is still present, the flag of St George is increasingly evident and now hugely outnumbers the Union flag at English sporting events. When Sunak, Starmer et al are interviewed the union flags are ever present, but draped in such a way that the cross of St George is emphasised.

    This is Rule Britannia transforming into Rule Anglia.

    This can go two ways – it can go into a xenophobic little Englandsnderism, which harbours colonising ambitions or it can transform into the more humane, internationalist cooperative civic nationalism which is favoured in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

    It is the latter that The Tories, Labour and the LibDems fear, because it indicates a preference for a more communitarian polity with strong rights distributed amongst the population and generous investment in public services. By refusing to countenance constitutional reform, including electoral reform, they are clinging to the largely unaccountable and grossly disproportionate power FPTP confers on the cliques controlling The Tories and Labour.

    Ironically despite the furore over the cross of St George on the England football kit, the manager, Gareth Southgate has been a dignified humanising presence, as exemplified by his persistence in encouraging his team to ‘take the knee’. He is the first English England football team manager in my lifetime who has not being bombastically jingoistic and xenophobic.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Alasdair Macdonald, oh, I’ve seen Gareth Southgate’s mask slip a couple of times as England manager, just as I’ve seen ex-archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ mask slip a couple of times. Both are practitioners of the dark arts of appearance and deception. When England men or women footballers ‘Take the Knee’, this gross holier-than-thou hypocrisy is vilely directed at international opponents; and perhaps ‘begging for honours’. And of course, Williams was keeping skeletons locked in Anglican closets leaving his successors to deal with the fallout.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      I mean, whatever the origin in the USA (an alternative to standing for their national anthem to protest against racism there), when England do it on the pitch before commencing battle, it pours off a real crusader vibe:
      It even featured in an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Henry (Western graverobbing father of similar son) says:
      “Now then… he who finds the Holy Grail must face three challenges. First, is the Path of God: Only the penitent man shall pass…”

      It must really piss other teams off when hypocritical England teams, after kneeling for absolution of future sins, go on to cheat so enthusiastically on the pitch (a habit England’s women broke, to their credit, in a recent game where they cleanly drubbed a tawdry Scotland). But that’s the Crusader Mentality, innit?

  3. SteveH says:

    If I didn’t better it reads a bit like a racist rant.

    What if an Englishman wrote something in the a similar vein about Scotland and the Scottish people?

    Scottish, Irish and Welsh people were extremely willing participants in the Empire, enjoying wealth and privilege they could not achieve on their own.

    Pretending that the Non-English of these islands were victims is a pretense to align with the minorities whom our elites now identify as victims despite their enjoying more freedom and opportunities then they would in their familial countries of origin.

    Clever prose and well used cliche and tropes that appeal to the other anti-English bigots cannot hide your own prejudice.

    1. There’s nothing remotely racist about this, nor is it a rant. It is allowed to comment on English rather than British politics, though it is rare, as indeed many English nationalists point out.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @SteveH, are these sword-wielding Christian biker gangers some of those hard men you dream about having good end times with? Episode 2:
      I was particularly interested in the evangelical recruiter who expected access to 200,000 of 450,000 recruits freshly minionised by their basic training trauma to preach holy war to them.

      I suppose the question is: how religious (and how Christian, and how Evangelical etc) are British Armed Forces? In around 2018, said that they were significantly more religious- and Christian-identifying than general population. I guess when you’ve been brainwashed into one sect, you’re more vulnerable to military indoctrination and reminionisation, although demographic factors will account for some of the differences.

      1. SteveH says:

        Actually, I’m a pagan. I have mostly contempt for the destructive dogma of Abrahamic religions in general.

        My view about the Christian tradition is that it was a unifying influence in Europe. Then we grew up, and through the enlightenment developed Liberal social justice, critical thinking and scientific rigour, but has given way to the critical social justice religion derived from Neo-Marxism and Postmodernism

        This has been driven by a new educated privileged elite who judge who is worthy by their dogmatic adoption of contested ideologies (brain farts) put out there by the likes of Marcuse, Foucault, etc., and trotted out in blizzards of “academic” papers, which we now know often entail plagiarism on an industrial scale.

        Someone pointed out that like the academics in soviet times, they could not stray from the accepted marxist or communist dogma, but was required to parrot it faithfully. Social science today, and academia by association, has become utterly discredited by this behaviour.

        The mad thing is that today’s CSJ’s religion adherents hate traditional Western and tolerant christianity, praise the intolerant, bigoted, violent and unenlightened practice of Islamism.

        The decline of shared national identity and religious beliefs has made us more vulnerable than the failed firing of a Trident missile or the madness of recruiting service personal based on diversity rather fighting ability.

        Young working class white men are now utterly despised and neglected by the educated and privileged elites. They are driven out of man-only spaces, and denied an identity other than that imposed upon them by misandrist, racist and destructive ideologies who pass it off as “enlightened” thinking.

        There is a cost to this madness. You elites have taken away those things that kept us strong and kept us civilised.

        There are signs that this disenfranchised group will polarise, with some even converting to Islam for the certainty and self-esteem such acceptance and belief brings.

        I hope the self-satisfied, smug, arrogant educated elites amongst you are happy with the social engineering experiment you have wrought on our society, and the subsequent self-destruction that is happening.

        I advocate for a truly inclusive focus on shared values that allows a true bringing together of different communities. You may sneer at the idea of values based on shared national identity but you have ignored the perils of not having it.

        I expect a pile-on of convoluted “academic” comments and sneering, but I also know that many of you will know in your hearts that the history of mankind is on my side; that destruction of a civilisation comes from inside brought about by the very privileged parts of society who had the biggest say.

        As a working class white, straight man who has seen the real world in all its madness I say: Thank you for nothing, and damn you for bringing down your own people and nation.

        1. Frank Mahann says:

          Poor old elites getting it in the neck again!

  4. Satan says:

    Absolute poverty is usually defined as living on less than £1.70 / day, the UK definition is living on less than £24.90 / day (or four England football tops per week). Universal credit + jobseeker’s allowance is about £25.40 / day if you are over 25.

    1. Drew Anderson says:

      “…Universal credit + jobseeker’s allowance is about £25.40 / day if you are over 25.”

      And who, pray tell, gets both?

      Google (other search engines are available) is your friend. A quick search informed me that UC replaced JSA and that the maximum amount, either benefit, for over 25s with no supplementary claims, is £84.80 per week; £12.12-ish per day.

      Maybe if you’d checked, or knew, the price, you’d know that 4 England tops at £124.99 (£119.99 for the child’s version) is a bit difficult to achieve, in a week, by saving £24.90 a day.

      Seriously, please check your facts before inflicting this kind of nonsense on people.

  5. Satan says:

    The quickest way for the UK to reduce the number of people in absolute poverty would be to change the definition. The EU definition of extreme poverty includes not being able to go away somewhere for a weeks holiday.

  6. Derek says:

    The Today programme had Peter Shilton on as part of the England strip discussion. He opined that only red, white or blue should be on the strip because they were the only colours on the flag.

    Maybe it was a bit early in the morning for him.

  7. Chris Ballance says:

    I hate when people claim Blake’s Jerusalem as a hymn of praise to England. The ghastly pomposity of the Victorian musical accompaniment directly contradicts the meaning of the words.
    Say “here” and “these” with distaste and disbelief to understand the poem:
    “And was Jerusalem builded here? In these dark satanic mills?”.
    As the second verse makes clear the answer is a resounding NO!

  8. John says:

    Brexit has exposed the true nature of AngloBritish nationalism- insular, small minded, backward looking authoritarian with a deep mistrust and dislike of foreigners.
    The inability of the three UK political parties to even discuss the implications of Brexit for fear of electoral repercussions in England has exposed how deluded many people in this country have become.

    1. Niemand says:

      Like a fair bit of Scottish nationalism them?

      I mean John, does it not occur to you that saying ‘true’ AngloBritish nationalism is ‘ insular, small minded, backward looking authoritarian with a deep mistrust and dislike of foreigners’, is of itself prejudiced?

      This site is in danger of tipping over into out-and-out prejudice; articles and comments.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Niemand, maybe, but English nationalism has been more deeply institutionalised than Scottish nationalism partly through the Anglican Church, and the Anglican Church has been apologising like crazy these past few years. I’m not going to enumerate the topics, but here’s a taster on what happened when Anglicanism was spread to Canada:
        These are not fabricated grievances, but grievous admitted crimes, from an English institution led by the hereditary ruler of England, stemming from a culture of racist superiority. I don’t see a Scottish equivalent, although Scottish missionaries were surely committing similar crimes, and the Catholics worse in Canada and elsewhere.

        I mean, what other kind of institution in the UK could effectively admit it was nurturing and perpetrating evil for hundreds of years up to the present and just… apologise and move on? Well, royalist kinds, obviously.

      2. John says:

        Niemand – I am referring to the AngloBritish nationalism as espoused by the proponent’s and supporters of Brexit some of whom are also Scottish, Welsh and Irish. I would challenge you to give me evidence to show that my description of this type of nationalism is incorrect. Listening to debate in Westminster and in media on many issues makes me feel like I am living in a nation (UK) that I do not recognise or respect any more.
        If you consider my opinions on Brexit form of AngloBritish nationalism biased that is your opinion but I am sure there are many people not only in Scotland but throughout UK who would agree with my viewpoint.
        There are strains of Scottish nationalism, (especially in 70’s & 80’s) which are anglophobic and inward looking and I have no doubt that they still exist today but I would contend this is more of a minority in the 21st century.
        I am Scottish and British by birth and up until 2016 I was sympathetic to but not convinced by independence for Scotland. The Brexit vote and the path that the political debate has taken since 2016 has convinced me that I would rather live in an independent Scotland as opposed to the UK of 2024.

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