Christina Patterson: Raise a flag for democracy

When did someone decide that Norwegians could be proud of their country, but that English people couldn't?

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In the middle of a forest in Norway, or by a fjord, or a wheat field, you'll often see a patch of red cloth. The cloth hangs from a pole in the garden of a red wooden house. It has a blue cross on a white cross. It goes up when the sun rises, and down when the sun sets.

In Sweden, you'll see even more of them, but the cross is yellow and the cloth is blue. And in Denmark, you'll see even more. A red cloth. A white cross. Fluttering in the sunshine. Fluttering in the breeze.

In Scandinavia, you're allowed to be proud of your country. You're allowed to stick your nation's flag on the flag pole in your garden, or in the garden of the little hut where you spend your summer holidays, and you're allowed to sing folk songs about your country, and you're allowed to say that you're glad you live in that country, because it's beautiful, and you like a lot of its values, and it's home.

In England, you're not. In England, you're allowed to wave a flag if the heir to the throne is marrying a young party planner, because it looks nice for the cameras, and because tourists like it, and because you're going to need a lot of tourists to make up for the damage that an extra bank holiday does for the economy, and you're allowed to wave a flag if you're a big fan of classical music, and have queued for hours to get into the last night of a very, very long music festival, and if you get very excited about not all that much.

But the flag you wave, on these special occasions when you're allowed to wave it, can't be English. It can only be the Union Jack. You can only wave the English flag, or the St George's Cross, which is what you're meant to call it, during a special religious festival called the World Cup. Or if you're a member of a political party that has the word "British" in it, like the British National Party, or belong to a political protest movement that has the word "English" in it, like the English Defence League. If you're a supporter, in fact, of the anti-immigration far right.

When did this happen? When did someone decide that Norwegians, and Swedes, and Danes, could be proud of their country, and so could Italians, and Americans, and so could the French, and the Spanish, and so, even, could the Scots and the Welsh, but that English people couldn't? Was it after the first wave of immigration from what was then the West Indies, and from India, and Pakistan? Was it after Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood"? Was it after the second or third wave of post-war immigration, and then the National Front, and then the Anti-Nazi league, and then the BNP?

And who was it who suddenly decided that you weren't allowed to say that you were proud to be British, and you certainly weren't allowed to say that you were proud to be English?

Was it the people who did degrees in post-colonial studies, or who taught them, and who decided that because some terrible things had been done in the name of the British Empire, it was best not to mention the word "Britain" if you could help it, or England, if you could help it, unless you also used the word "shame"? Was it the people who worked in the media who decided that if you said you were proud to be British, or to be English, that meant you didn't like people who weren't? That meant, in fact, that you were probably racist?

Or was it the politicians, who were so keen to look as if they were very welcoming to everybody that they gave a lot of taxpayers' money to festivals that celebrated St Patrick's Day, or Diwali, or Eid, but not to ones that celebrated St George's Day, or Christmas, or Easter?

Or did it just happen because the English are, on the whole, fairly polite, and because they don't, on the whole, like to show off, and because they prefer, on the whole, not to make a fuss? And because, if you bump into them, they say "sorry"?

"The gentleness of the English civilisation," said Orwell in his essay "England Your England", "is perhaps its most marked characteristic". No politician, he said, "could rise to power" by promising the English "conquests or military 'glory'". No "Hymn of Hate", he said, "has ever made any appeal to them".

Seventy years after he wrote those words, they remain true. There are people in this country – confused, lost, angry people – who do try to sing hymns of hate, and who try to use the flag, and name, of this country as symbols of their hate. There are people in other countries who do the same. And there is, in solitary confinement now, a young man who made links with some of those people and who told them, as he made the plans to blow a nation's heart to pieces, "to keep up the good work".

But a small bunch of the lost and the lonely can never speak for this country, just as a mad mass murderer can't speak for his. England, for all its failings, is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Like Norway, and long before Norway, it opened its heart, and its borders, and its purse. The result, as in Norway, isn't Utopia, but it also isn't Armageddon.

On Monday night, more than 120,000 Norwegians marched in remembrance of those they had lost. In the face of hate, and in the depths of grief, they marched for "democracy" and "tolerance". Let's not wait for grief to celebrate ours.



c.patterson@independent.co.uk;



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