Red, white and blue? Jack it in

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The Independent Online
The Tory party is fast acquiring a new name - the English National Party. The re-writing is well under way in Wales where the party's chief link is the impending marriage of William Hague to Ffion Jenkins, a 24- carat daughter of the crachach, Wales's surrogate aristocracy described by the Labour MP Kim Howells as "probably the most effective back-scratching organisation outside Sicily". Scotland, like Wales, a country which dismissed the Tories in short order on 1 May, harbours fellow feelings.

But never mind. The Tories believe they can deploy a not-so-secret weapon. Xenophobia is on the march, the Union Jack its camouflage. I feel a sense of shame at the quickening pace of English nationalism, especially when I travel to countries where there is real concern over the shrill sense of superiority. "Storm in the English Channel, Continent cut off" is a headline from the past still held close to closed minds.

After the flag was folded in Hong Kong for the last time, television news beamed across the world a pathetic cameo of drunken twenty-somethings wrapped in the Union Jack "celebrating" in the rain-soaked former colony. On the Costas T-shirts, shorts and even underpants bearing the symbol of a "greatness" fast disappearing down history's plug-hole are as de rigueur as a daily intake of lager.

The last night of the Proms is more for waving flags than appreciating music, turning the event into a photo-opportunity. Football has long been plagued by a plethora of the symbol. The Red, White and Blue spreads to Lord's and the Oval, favourite venues of John Major who as Prime Minister sat on his hands while the xenophobes quietly dug in.

At Wimbledon, faces painted with Union Jacks split wide with delight yesterday when Tim Henman volleyed to victory over the Dutchman Richard Krajicek.

The Spice Girls are big on flags. So is their putative granny Baroness Thatcher and no doubt the old girl has instructed her protege young Hague, a graduate of the Marcus Fox Yorkshire charm school, in the importance of the standard.

I don't know if Mr and Mrs Hague will bed down under a Union Jack bedspread. For many such an accoutrement would be, well, an incentive to settle for a good book. Certainly not Evelyn Waugh's splendid Put Out More Flags in which a Chinese sage, Lin Yutang, stresses the importance of running up lots of colours. Incidentally, neither of Cardiff's largest departmental stores contacted yesterday could help. "We don't stock such items," they both assured me.

Advertising agencies are threatening to stuff the Union Jack up our noses, perhaps in an attempt to stem the whiff of decay. And fashion shoots are becoming infected with flags as well as anorexic teenage models. The Red Flag of Labour has softened to the Red Rose. The Tory torch flickers dimly and in Wales and Scotland lies burned out. Searching for a future the Tory party waves the Union Jack at a time when more and more people want to wave the flag farewell.

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